One block from home after a Black Lives Matter event, blue strobes flash in the rearview mirror. The irony does not escape me. I bend to pull my wallet from under the seat. Beyond irony, a stunning privilege. I feel around the floor. My hand closes around leather. I pry it out and set it on the passenger seat.
Face down. Flung across the bed. He cries and cries, body shuddering with sobs. Something has happened outside.
I heard about it first from an upstairs neighbor who called me after witnessing the melee from her balcony. Then two little girls, teary and clutching each other, filled me in on oh-so-many details of Bug punching one of them. The bigger kids arrived in a pack to corroborate.
My boy, the one who hits.
My boy, the object of this witch hunt. Hiding somewhere. Shunned.
Little holes in the bag of rice gave it away. Three and half years living in this place, and here was the first sign of uninvited guests. On our next trip to town, we stopped at the hardware store for traps. Despite Bug’s insistence that we buy the $39 ultrasonic pest repeller, I opted for Tomcat traps. A four-pack for four bucks.
We smeared on peanut butter and tucked it into the cabinet corner. The next morning, we heard a snap. Big brown eyes, white fuzzy belly, limp broken body. “Oh, he’s so cute,” Bug said sadly. Into the weekday rush we crammed this death. We shrank it down to fit. School, work, a morning meeting and already late. I dumped the trap, mouse and all, into the garbage. Another dab of peanut butter on a clean trap, and off we hustled into our overfull day.
He asks. I fumble. Events crash past, plowing under a vocabulary both dated and outgunned. My words like vestigial limbs grasp at an extinct terrain.
As we drive the short distance home, NPR wallops us with our nightly load of federal ordure. The new Congress just voted to pave the way for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Our representatives exhumed an old law which will allow them to slash the pay of any federal worker down to $1. In a stage play of quasi-constitutionalism, those who ask the toughest questions wield no power. The men in charge anoint a public opponent of civil rights as the nation’s Attorney General and an oil tycoon as Secretary of State.
My mother is taking a Spanish class. This is her retirement. She also teaches ESL several days a week and is active in two book clubs. Each spring, with a gaggle of bibliophiles, she travels to the UK for a mystery writers’ conference. She goes to church, putters in the garden, cooks a meal almost every evening to share with my dad, and shows up at Bug’s school events. She even pops by my house to give Noodle a daily walk while I’m at work.
All of this, and now Spanish.
“I need to do something to keep from being bored,” she says.
We are at the midpoint of our nine days together. On the first night, I arranged to pick up my son’s little buddy from down the hall to join us for the free Seldom Scene bluegrass concert at a local park. Bug snarled and fussed while I packed up watermelon and blankets. Then at the show, the banjo twanged, the audience swayed. Bug and his buddy rounded up a half dozen other kids and played soccer in a clearing until the trees twinkled with lightning bugs. He rode home flushed and grinning.
Yesterday morning, when packing up to go to the Spark!Lab at the Smithsonian, Bug fought until he cried. Then on the train, he thrummed with questions and leaned forward in his seat peering out the front window down the dark tracks. At the museum, he spent 2-1/2 solid hours building laser mazes, a sonar rover, a helmet with night vision and echolocation.