The boy sits in the passenger seat. The belt runs across his neck. The summer sun cascades through the windshield and his window is rolled down. He squints at the words on the page. They shine on the white sheet.
His mother opens the hatchback, and lugs the paper sacks filled with groceries into the back. She climbs into the drivers seat and with her index finger, props her glasses close to her face. The chocolate brown interior makes the car feel warmer. She rolls down her window, and asks the boy to roll down the ones in the back. He clambers back and reaches for the rollers, inching forwards when the rotation demands. The boy sinks back into his seat. His mother is holding a chocolate bar in front of him.
-That’s for being patient. She rubs his head like a dog when she says it. The boy smiles. He takes the chocolate bar and strips off the wrapper and lets it fall to the floor. The entire bar is in his hands, hands unprotected from melting chocolate. Soon his fingers are a smeared brown. His mother shakes her head and smiles, making him promise to clean himself before he returns to the book.
She pulls her jacket from the back of the car, and begins to pick through her collection of used-wadded-up-tissues, searching for a proper one to give to the boy. Even though it’s hot, she still has her jacket with her. Dressing down only happens under desirable circumstances. She hands him a napkin. The boy wipes his fingers clean, and then thoroughly licks the remaining melted chocolate off, wiping his damp fingers off on the car seat and then his pants.
He goes back to the story. He reads the sentences out loud, pronouncing the string of words with an adult’s temperance. He seems so big for his age. They climb the hill and arrive at a stoplight. His mother lights a cigarette, a menthol, long and thin, and tosses the match out the window. The boy struggles with a word, his mispronounces it. His mother corrects him.
-You’re saying it like “Frisbee.” The first syllable is the first three letters.
-Do you know what that word means? she asks. She exhales a plume of smoke and tilts her head towards the boy. He shakes his head and squints at the glove-box.
-It means to distinguish, to understand something.
-Well then also it can mean that you understand something compared to something else, something a lot like it. Something so close to it that you can hardly tell the difference. Follow?
-But no matter how close it may be to it, if you really understand it, then you can always tell the difference, you can determine which one is which.
-Do you want to give me an example if you’re feeling up to it?
The boy thinks. They make eye contact, and he opens his mouth to say something, but pauses. He closes his mouth and starts to look out the window.
-Think about something you really like. That’ll help, she says.
He looks out the window a bit more.
-Baseball, he says.
She slides the burning cone out of the cigarette and closes the ashtray to let it burn out.
-Baseball is good. What’s your idea, I’ll help.
-That’s okay I already got it. When we watch the Cubs, he pauses dull, combing his tongue for the right combination. When we watch the Cubs, he continues, I always know where they are playing, even if I don’t remember at first. If there’s no ivy on the wall, it’s not Wrigley. And if there is ivy on the wall, it is Wrigley.
She smiles broadly and rubs his head, like a dog. His smile comes in through the clofts of hair, and her forearm and hand obstructing the view of his face.
-That’s my boy. You sure are going to discern yourself from the rest of the kids in your class. That’s a good way to remember, “there will be a discernable distance between you and the other kids.” You’re a smart boy.
She sips at her lime soda. It’s grown flat with time, and warm with the sun. The boy would have thought it was hot yellow tea in a can, if he didn’t read the label.
He goes back to the story. A with his girlfriend is chasing a gang of men who had stolen stuff from his car, while he was with the girlfriend at this beach, passively seducing her. He runs towards their getaway car, frantically memorizing license plates. It’s all a wasted effort. He jumbles it. He forgets. Things change. He swears.
The boy continued to read aloud. And what he stumbled or stuttered, or seemed unsure of himself, his mother would appear, and help him along, a following tide to correct his mistakes.
She pulls the car into the driveway. They sit together on the couch, the television aglow with the chatter of strangers, pictures and words from other worlds. Different lives. The dog places his front paws up to the screen, leaning against it. She encourages the boy to throw something, and he flings a shoe at the dog, it doesn’t hit him, but it does come close, and he scampers off into another room.
He yawns. She carries him to bed. She slides the sheets over the outline of his body. He sure is small for his age. She kisses his forehead and gently closes the door. The sun had sunk. The world had dried. The empty gray space of night breathed out slowly, sharing, always sharing. And the boy breathed it all in.