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by Charles C. Cole

In the busy neighborhood park, pre-school children cheered as they pushed each other on the creaking roundabout. From the front seat of his car, Lane observed a young mother and her toddler son sitting on a bench nearby. Audra, his wife of 32 years, concentrated on her Sudoku. She loosened her collar to catch the warmth of the sun on the side of her neck.

“That teen-aged mother still hasn’t wiped her boy’s nose,” said Lane.

“My phone’s in my purse if you want to call the police,” Audra teased.

“If he were my son...”

“You’d be married to someone a lot younger than me,” Audra joked.

“Some women aren’t equipped to be mothers,” said Lane.

Audra flinched. “Not her. Lucky girl had all the right ingredients.”

Lane knew it was a sore subject, but he forged ahead. “Take my mother: a high school kid. She was so young.”

“Old enough to know better,” said Audra. “We weren’t much older when we started.”

“She tried,” said Lane. “She had the wrong friends, that’s all.”

“Poor dear was an alcoholic before it was fashionable,” said Audra.

“It wasn’t easy being a single parent then,” said Lane, “not like today.”

“You’re making excuses for her,” said Audra.

“She had her faults,” Lane admitted. “But what do they say? ‘Nobody picks on my mother but me.’ She was my mother after all.”

“She certainly was,” Audra agreed.

“Why doesn’t she stop texting and take care of him?”

“One. More. Word.”

It was a familiar threat. He changed the subject. “Do you want some help with your puzzle?” he asked. “I’m not very good at Sudoku.”

“You’re terrible at Sudoku,” said Audra.

“Maybe you could go a little easy on your old man today,” said Lane.

“I call them as I see them,” Audra answered.

“Speaking of, how are those new glasses working out?” he asked.

“Fine,” said Audra. “We should get back. Logan will be landing within the hour. I want to give the house a quick once-over before he arrives.”

“You can’t improve on perfection, Audra. One more once-over, and he’s going to choke on the aerosol fumes. Then his allergies will kick in, and next thing you know he’s spending the night in a hotel.”

“Are you suggesting I overdid it?” Audra asked.

“I would have told you at home,” he said, “but you probably would have made a scene.”

“And I won’t make a scene here?”

“We’re in public,” he said.

“Wait until we’re not,” she said evenly.

“Oh, come on!” Lane protested. “Logan’s practically here. He doesn’t need to see us at each other. It’s been almost a year since he stopped by. Let’s not chase him away.”

“You’re right,” Audra conceded.

“I tell you what,” he offered, “let’s save our next fight for our anniversary. We’ll take today’s little spat, box it up and put a ribbon on it, like a present.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Audra.

“I was planning a quiet celebration, but I’m okay with fireworks.”

“Is there something on your mind?” she asked.

“Logan’s not stupid,” he blurted.

“For which I thank God every day,” she sighed. “Who knew a homeless teen-ager was capable of such a gift?”

“He’ll see my stuff in the spare bedroom,” Lane explained, “and he’ll figure things out.”

“We’ll tell him your snoring finally got to me. That’s not far from the truth.”

“Chicago’s not far from Miami if you’re standing on the moon.”

“I love that boy and he loves me,” Audra declared. “He’s not going to judge me by our present living arrangements, not after I raised him.”

A soccer ball bounced against the side of the car. “Sorry,” called a little boy’s mother. “My fault.”

Lane waved.

“I never told you, I was putting my stuff in the dresser and the drawer wouldn’t close, so I pulled it all the way out. I found something of his mother’s.”

“Not now,” Audra said.

“It was a do rag, a kerchief. Remember? She was wearing it when we brought her home.”

“Can we talk about this later?” asked Audra.

“I washed it. It’s the only thing we have of his mother’s. And, one day, when we tell him the truth about where he came from...”

“That was very considerate,” Audra said. “There’s more going on in your head than I give you credit for. Knowing you, I’ll bet you keep it right on you, always ready for the moment to reveal to our son that he once belonged to someone else. It’ll kind of make the far-fetched story seem more real.”

“That’s right,” he agreed.

“Can I see it?” she asked. “Let’s see the great laundry job. I’ll bet you ironed it.”

“It looks brand new,” said Lane, removing it from his pocket. He handed it to her.

“It does look new,” said Audra. “I can smell the starch. You’re one surprise after another today. And sneaky. I didn’t think you were sneaky.”

“I still have a few tricks up my sleeve,” said Lane.

“That was a lovely gesture,” said Audra. “Now let’s go home.”

Lane reached for the kerchief.

“But before we go,” Audra continued, “I want you to give this beautiful artifact to the teen-aged mother so she can wipe her child’s nose. Because that rag is never coming into my house again and neither are you so long as you hold onto it. Am I clear?”

“But it’s part of his—”

Audra cut him off. “It’s nothing but a fancy sweatband off the head of a feverish street urchin, doomed to die in the gutter. No one could save her, but we saved her baby. We did something great and generous. Get rid of it or I’ll tell my son that you are sleeping in a separate bedroom because you tried to strangle me in your sleep due to some latent PTSD from your days in the military. Got it?”

“Okay,” he said tentatively.

“Let’s go home,” said Audra. “I’ve got some last-minute cleaning to do.”

Copyright © 2013 by Charles C. Cole

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