It had been a long, dry summer. Rocks kicked up around my tires as I pulled up to the house—Jim’s house, now, not mine anymore.
David was sitting on the cement steps of the back porch, watching the toes of his sneakers kick patterns in the gravel.
I stepped out of the car and called, “Come on, let’s go. I’ve got supper started.”
He looked up but he didn’t smile. His father was nowhere to be seen, but I was sure he was close by, listening.
David kept his eyes down as he shuffled to the car. His grubby tennis shoes scuffed up small clouds of dust. The sunlight haloed his bent head. His sandy brown hair laid soft and thick around his face.
I glanced once toward the tightly draped windows of the house. Was it my imagination, or did that crack in the kitchen curtain twitch a little wider? I sat in the car to wait. The back of my neck tingled.
David opened the car door and pretended to examine the latch mechanism. Finally, with an elaborate shrug, he got in and slammed the door. Inwardly, I sighed. Every weekend this summer had gotten worse. One day, I was afraid, he would refuse to come at all.
“Put your seatbelt on,” I said.
He ignored me, leaning his elbow on the window as he gazed across the yard.
We’d been through this one last time.
“Look,” I said, “I’m tired of this. I shouldn’t have to explain to an eleven-year-old. You can put your seat belt on and be safe, or you can take a chance on getting killed in an accident. Your choice.”
I backed onto the county road. By the time I shifted into forward gear, David was reaching for the safety belt.
“The way you drive, I guess I better,” he muttered. He avoided my eyes.
We drove the seven country miles in silence. As we turned into my driveway, a swallow flew out from under the eaves of the front porch and dive-bombed the car. I laughed as I stopped in front of the garage.
“Remember that nest the swallows built?” I asked. “Wait till you see. The baby birds are hatched now. You should hear how noisy they are when the front door is open.”
I sighed and watched as David walked to the house, head down, shoes scraping the sidewalk.
At supper, David picked at his green beans, just eating the seeds from the inside like he used to when he was little. He ignored the potatoes. The limp slices grew a thin coat of cold grease.
“What’s for dessert?” he asked, still not looking up.
“You know the rule.” I pointed to his plate. “No dessert unless you finish the meal.”
He pushed the plate abruptly across the table, knocking over a salt shaker and empty plastic glass.
“That’s stupid,” he said. “You have stupid rules in this house.”
“It’s the same rule we had when we lived at Dad’s. Now if you’re done eating, clear your place at the table.”
“Why do I always have to do what you tell me to?” His voice was high pitched and uneven. His face had grown flushed. Our eyes made contact for a split second but he broke away.
“Because I’m your mother.”
“No, you’re not. You divorced Dad.”
“I used to be your mother, until you started spending the summer at your Dad’s. What’s so different about now?”
“Now I know what you’re really like. I’m not brainwashed anymore.”