Colston called his Halloween costume “Fat Man.” The costume was the simplest means to an end, she knew. It consisted of a mint green button-down shirt his father left behind stuffed with an old pillow stained with what looked like dirty cumulus clouds.
The shirt and pillow had been discarded on the floor alongside Colston’s tennis shoes, white socks, and wadded blue jeans. The shirt was one Cynthia had given her ex-husband for Christmas. At the time, he had looked at it unsmiling for fifteen seconds before saying, “Thanks,” then taking a drink of coffee.
He wore a similar expression during a youth basketball game in a church gym when Colston was nine years old. Another boy, faster and more athletic than Colston, picked the ball cleanly from Colston’s hands three different times just as he tried to shoot it. After the third, Colston ran red-faced and crying after the boy. When the boy slowed at the opposite end of the court to take a shot of his own, Colston clubbed him with both fists in the back of the head. The ball flew, whistles squealed, parents jumped from their seats aghast, the boys tumbled to the floor. The referee pulled a still-flailing Colston away saying, “Easy, easy, easy.”
When the reverberating sounds finally calmed to hushed chatter, Cynthia and her husband remained on their feet as their only child was ejected from the game, the church, and the league. Once there was nothing left to do but collect him, Colston’s father said, “Go get your son,” before he stepped out the gym’s side door. Flushed, her head dipped as in prayer, Cynthia remained to pick up the mess.
On this Halloween, her role remained much the same. Cynthia stepped over a Target bag, lumpy with candy, and gathered the empty wrappers that littered the flecked berber carpet like fallen leaves. Colston lay on the floor asleep, face-down, arms splayed under and over his head. As if he tripped and fell, then just stayed there. At thirteen, he was too heavy for Cynthia to carry to bed. She dislodged the remote from beneath his ribcage so she could turn off Adult Swim, and took his cell phone to charge.
A few hours earlier Colston had come in quietly and set to eating candy. She came from her bedroom and patted his shoulder. She asked him questions about his night that elicited answers ranging from “fine” to “good.” He never took his eyes from his telephone screen, where a barbarian horde laid waste to a village. Cynthia returned to her hermitage and her Netflix queue.
With Colston asleep and the TV off, all that stood between Cynthia and her own slumber was putting their pug Jango out one last time. She clicked her tongue to rouse him from a knot of blankets on the couch. Jango snorted to his feet and came to the door. She flipped the switch at the back door, then recoiled when the light drew back the darkness. On the concrete patio alongside her outdoor furniture was the unmistakable form of a motorized scooter of the type intended for the elderly and infirm. Why she glanced at her sleeping child—who would offer no answers—was not clear to her. That he had ridden the scooter home was immediately so.
There was no point in waking Colston. When cornered, his response to hard questions was other questions. After he was banned from the neighbors’ pool for holding their young son underwater, he asked, “Why does he get to splash me in the face?” Two days later, after the pool was littered with rocks and dirt, he said, “Why does everyone just assume it was me?” When Colston’s father told him he had paid $1,500 to replace the neighbors’ pump and filter, Colston only wanted to know why.
Cynthia slipped on open-toed sandals—two months past season—and stepped onto the patio with Jango alongside. Cool air chilled the water in her eyes. Jango smelled the red and black scooter comprehensively before losing interest and sauntering to the yard.
. . . she gazed into the new November sky. It was a mass of gray potter’s clay. She watched it undulate and slide, waiting for it to form something: an object, an image, anything.
The scooter’s frame had the words “Jazzy” and “Elite 6” on it. The name “Evelyn” was affixed to the candy apple body in sparkling silver stick-on letters. Alongside the name was a decal with the interlocked initials of The University of Kentucky.
Cynthia stood with her hand on her chin and her index finger over her lips, staring at it, the silvery smell of autumn in her nose. It took her a moment to recognize the oxygen tank bracketed to the rear of the seat. Her head lolled back and she gazed into the new November sky. It was a mass of gray potter’s clay. She watched it undulate and slide, waiting for it to form something: an object, an image, anything. It remained in motion, continually becoming nothing. Eventually, she dropped her head, called Jango back, and put him in the house.
When Cynthia climbed aboard the scooter, the cushion huffed out trapped air. The cold seat worked through her black cotton track suit to the backs of her thighs. She pulled the jacket’s hood over her head. The joystick at the end of the right armrest sat atop what looked like the business end of the world’s smallest plunger. She pushed it forward and the scooter lurched with a mild whine. Her next press of the stick was more resolute.
Cynthia wheeled the scooter around the corner of the house, veered left to avoid the three color-coded waste and recycling containers, then eased back right to her driveway and down it. Before reaching her mailbox, she headed up the street on the sidewalk.
It had only been twenty minutes since the month turned. The change seemed to have brought a stilling to the world, amplifying the scooter’s sounds. Each time Cynthia crossed a new sidewalk panel, the wheels of the scooter tick-ticked across the crack. When she descended to a street and crossed, the timbre of the rumbling wheels changed, then changed again when she tick-ticked back up onto the sidewalk.
Cynthia followed the route she took on her daily walks, past the hodgepodge of mature and newly planted trees in shallow leaf-strewn lawns. She had started walking again after Colston’s father left for Tucson. He had turned down the transfer three times previously, so it surprised Cynthia when he relented. The check for the pool equipment had just cleared.
“How soon would we have to go?” she asked. He looked at Colston the same way he had his Christmas shirt, then turned his blinking eyes to her, drawing air slowly into his nose. He moved to Tucson alone. Colston and Cynthia took one visit. It was cut short. That was two years ago.
Countless little drafts pierced the pinholes in Cynthia’s clothes as she rode the scooter, bristling her arms and legs. She wiggled her toes for warmth, but already the keenness of feeling in them had lessened. She drew her left hand into her sleeve and balled her fist around the opening. Her right index finger extended out of the other cuff like the elongated neck of a softshell turtle. She had it wrapped around the base of the joystick.
The sound of a vehicle engine came on behind her closer and quicker than she would have guessed it could. The headlights filtered over the street and landscape just as fast, causing iridescent numbers on mailboxes to quickly catch fire, then go out. Cynthia dipped her chin into her left collarbone and looked out of the edge of her eye at the approaching lights, bracing for flashing blue. As it came abreast and slowed, she recognized it as a burgundy Jeep Cherokee.
Cynthia let her tongue sag from her mouth and lowered her brow. The passenger window was down and the face of a teenage girl with drawn-on Raggedy Ann freckles, a red yarn wig, and a cornflower dress peered at her from the front seat. Without making eye contact with the girl, Cynthia turned her forehead in that direction and groaned loud and long from the recesses of her chest.
“Oh my god you guys!” the girl squealed as the Jeep accelerated away. When the taillights were very small, Cynthia drew her tongue back in, raised her chin, and leveled her eyes to the sidewalk ahead. She was only feet from the entrance to Kirklevington Park: her destination.
Cynthia turned into the park, putting the street and sidewalk behind her. She churned over the coarse parking lot to the walking trail, then past the gray block bathrooms adjacent the fenced tennis courts. She navigated through an open gate onto the surface of the first of the four courts, matte green within the boundaries, rust-colored outside the sidelines and baselines. The intensity of the rumble beneath her slackened on the smooth surface, then abated altogether when she reached a white service line and stopped.
Cynthia dismounted the scooter without a glance or hesitation. She strode across the rear of the other courts to a different gate, then out into the darkness of the grassy park. Instead of turning right toward the sidewalk she had just travelled, she turned left and onto the park’s rolling lawn.
Both Cynthia’s hands were now drawn deep within her jacket sleeves, her arms wrapped across her breasts, her knuckles digging into her triceps. Not until she entered a copse of trees did she look up from the ground in front of her. Black branches fractured the gray clay sky above. She wondered at the sky above Colston’s father. The sky of not only a different place, but a different month. After clearing the trees, Cynthia looked up again. Her sky remained in motion, but still had not changed.
A coating of cool dew had descended unseen to the ground beneath Cynthia’s feet. She felt it there as it seeped into the soles of her sandals, under her toes and the balls of her feet. The way home was longer than the route she had taken getting to the park. It would seem even longer in the cold wet shoes. She didn’t expect anything different. She didn’t expect easy. She kept her head low, her eyes on what lay just in front of her, and she walked.
Wesley Browne owns a small pizza shop, practices law, and lives with his wife and two sons in Richmond, Ky. His prose has been published by Appalachian Journal, drafthorse, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and others. He is a past recipient of the Gurney Norman Prose Prize. He is Kentucky liaison to the Narrative 4 global organization which promotes empathy through storytelling.