So far, I had never encountered angels in the astral plane. There were no celestial bodies setting outside my window, no blue tendrils of light creeping into my cerebrum, jolting me with enlightenment. Personally, I felt the astral plane was a more domestic thing than that, not a small thing, but transcendent, like waking at night from a dream where you’re being devoured by squealing foxes and going to the window to see a dog tied to a post, yapping, like those two things could be the same thing—it’s almost incomprehensible.
Which is how I felt seeing Demetrius’s shoes by the front door, placed neatly apart suggesting a boy still in them. I kept blinking away sleep, trying to conjure him in those shoes with the force of my opening eyes. New shoes: red and blue, streaked with a lightning bolt. It was difficult to tell if I was in the astral plane or disoriented after waking from an ordinary nap Everything was blurry. I couldn’t remember what time it was, didn’t know how long I had slept, but the sunlight blanketing two thirds of the couch told me it was past three. I knew this time intimately, the time I waited for the bus to stop at our driveway and let Demetrius out.
Rising above my grogginess, I scoured the house in search of my son. “Metrius? Tree?” I called, went into his bedroom and reached for the Big Book of Bugs opened to the page on fire ants. Instinct told me he was missing, shoeless somewhere in the wilderness, having wandered beyond the backyard, maybe searching for fire ants where he would maybe fall into a ditch or walk out in front of a car. I doubted his ability to get unlost, to not be maimed.
But I couldn’t just call the hospital to see if he’d turned up there. First, because they knew me there. They would say, “What’ll it be this time, V?” like they were mixing drinks. They thought I was hypochondriac, which wasn’t true because I only ever claimed one symptom: it just happened to be multi-dimensional, a consequence of getting trapped in the astral plane for extended periods of time. It confused them. They sent for counselors who said things like: “You jumped into parenthood so young. It’s normal,” they said, “to wish for the options you had back then.”
Second, I had mentioned to them before that my symptom might be Demetrius’s fault, a chronic post-pregnancy ailment, but not post-partum depression, which they saw all the time. It started with sleep paralysis—dreams I couldn’t wake up from where I’d find myself hovering three feet above my sleeping body—then evolved into full out of body experiences. I could drift around wherever I wanted, all over the house. When I fell asleep, I never knew whether I’d wake up in the physical world, or floating above it in the astral plane.
I didn’t want to sound self-righteous, to declare that my pregnancy and its product were special, evolutionary somehow to the concept of motherhood, but it did feel that way. Since no one else had given birth to Demetrius, no one else could understand. Now that he’d gone missing, I was afraid the authorities would chalk it up as child neglect and ignore the real problem.
They always ignored the real problem.
In the yard I yelled his name a few times, squeezing damp blades of grass between my toes, an affirmation of reality, that I was awake and not a fly on the wall. I felt solid, but sometimes there was trickery even in that. The school hadn’t called to tell me he was missing, but maybe they hadn’t noticed. Or, in a display of independence, Demetrius had ditched his shoes and went straight outside, without waking his sleeping mother on the couch to say hello. People liked me better asleep—it made their lives easier. I trekked further into the backyard, still shoeless, in honor of my son. I closed my eyes tight and started thinking his name as hard as I could. “Demetrius,” I accidentally whispered—silly because of course he couldn’t hear me. He wasn’t close enough, but if I thought his name over and over, maybe we would form a psychic connection, like I’d always imagined we would. He would come to me.
Ever since The Big Book of Bugs, Demetrius always wandered off, following a trail of pill bugs up a tree or moths flapping towards the light. “Look but don’t touch,” I would tell him when he set his sights on a bee or something with pinchers—all equally unique individuals to him, strangers he was eager to meet. I wondered if he valued them more than people or if he was still just discovering what it meant to be alive around other living creatures. Who to choose to love? He was still learning. He was only nine.
There was a marsh further back behind the house. If I knew my Demetrius, he’d be looking for new friends in the soggy undergrowth, mucking around in his light-up Keds.
Or, he was with Luke, whose truck wasn’t in the driveway. Sometimes Luke didn’t tell me his plans. Really, which alternative was worse? At least alone and outside, he could be figuring out the world for himself without Luke crowding him, telling him he was special or “exceptionally gifted,”—phrases that felt dangerous in my gut spoken while Demetrius was listening.
“He’s nothing,” I would whisper to Luke. “Just let him be nothing.” I didn’t want Demetrius growing up thinking he had to live up to anything he couldn’t live up to.
I didn’t try to think about all the places Luke could be. Instead I gripped the smaller more tangible possibility before me—that Demetrius was beyond the marsh, that he had made a life for himself already amongst a pack of foxes, that he had forgotten his name. I imagined that Luke was right, that he was special but not in an exceptionally brilliant way—instead in the way that made him not human. My son was a fox! The other parents would never believe me.
Luke would be less than thrilled to find this out. He’d probably blame me for it. “Well, at least we tried to raise a human,” he would say.
Marsh water seeped in between my toes. I squished around in the mud, thinking: What if I could be Demetrius?
I looked at the water skimmers, the stark fronds jutting into the soupy sky. There was a pile of feathers, dead looking, wedged in the crook of a tree. It reminded me of Demetrius in a way I couldn’t understand. Seeing it, I understood all at once—I was not in my physical body after all but the astral plane. A part of me must have known all along. The clump of feathers was different from the other swamp things—it had a crispness, a light to it, like a halo. Other people with OBEs described this halo in their visions. Of course I couldn’t find Demetrius, then—I could never find Demetrius in the astral plane. Being outside my body, in the astral plane, was like a fever. I would have to wait it out.
I went back inside, and sure enough there was my body napping on the couch. How could I have missed her before? Peasant skirt hanging like mauve drapery, white blouse unbuttoned at the bottom and tied into a knot at her waist, one sandal falling off her foot, the other discarded on the floor. My waist, my foot. Those parts of my being occupying the physical world without me. I tried to curl up inside her but could only float an inch above, the astral plane refusing to give me up, like there was still something I had to find.
Hovering above the couch, I held my arms straight out like wings and tried to sink down from the astral plane. I imagined Demetrius as a fox again, in the yard. It was not the first time I had imagined Demetrius as an animal. Each time I imagined a different scenario, I couldn’t wait to break the news to Luke, to watch as he slowly disassociated from us, ashamed of his hooved or winged son. It was most common when I was pregnant with him—wishful thinking, maybe, that he would pop out with fur and a snout, something obviously not Luke. It didn’t matter if he didn’t look like me; he came from me, so he could look like anything at all for all I cared. “A miracle baby!” I would say at the end of those dreams. Luke wasn’t by my bedside for the grand reveal anyway, not in the dream or in the hospital room when it actually happened. I would have had to play it out, dramatize it for the nurses.
Luke didn’t take any interest until Demetrius’s first birthday party when he noticed his son had two different colored eyes. He thought it was a trick of the light, the tiny candle flames dancing in his ambiguous irises. After the candles went out, Luke tapped my shoulder and said, “Whoa, V. That’s wild. Have his eyes always been like that?” I didn’t know how it took so long for him to notice. “What does it mean? What’s underneath there?” he kept asking me, infusing a landscape of possibilities inside those wet eyes.
Soon after, mostly out of convenience, Luke moved in with us.
Of course, when I met Luke, being with him felt like anything but “convenience.” We were teenagers, and he’d lift me out of my window (only a few feet off the ground) in a nelson hold. From the bushes under the window, I’d trip over my own feet to get to the backseat of his car. We would drive to the barn behind his uncle’s shabby estate where I’d unwrap the condoms I had carefully poked holes into with my foster mother’s sewing kit, wanting to trick him into creating a life with me. But Demetrius was not conceived in a barn. No, Luke and I got back together later, when we were nineteen. By then he was too reckless to even ask about condoms.
But I had loved him. Tightly, snuggly, like pulling a drawstring bag shut and holding something frightening inside. He was pure, or the impression of pure, and I wanted every part of him to be mine. It began as a wave of romance, small and feathered in the palm of my hand, ready to leap, but I squeezed it close to my chest to feel it strongly—unfiltered and aromatic. It took a long time to settle for convenience, but we did.
Usually, when I got stuck in the astral plane, I thought about things to reground myself: shoes, heavy furniture, scuffs on the floor of the mudroom, bath mats—mostly just things concerning the ground. But I couldn’t focus. The digital clock on the DVD player was blurry and warped, time becoming an unfathomable, imaginary thing in the astral plane, so it was possible Demetrius was still at school. Or, it was lottery ticket night, and Luke had taken Demetrius to the gas station to pick the numbers. I could picture Luke whispering in Demetrius’s ear, “C’mon, buddy, what’s your gut telling you?” Demetrius would prod his skull with his fingers and say the numbers real slow as they came to him, pretending he knew, maybe half believing it.
Ignoring my body on the couch, I looked out the window to see if Luke’s truck was rounding the corner. Instead, I spotted the Asian lady beetles congregated on the sill, their pale orange spotted shells lifting and folding, contemplating flight. I called them ladybugs until Demetrius informed me otherwise, and I felt betrayed by the imposters. He had been infatuated by bugs since he was six and we had an ant problem in the dishwasher, a colony he wished to foster rather than decimate. I set out poison, sugary drops the worker ants took back to the rest of the colony, a slow extinction that could have been mistaken for resettling. I told Demetrius they were happier wherever they were.
The lady beetles were peaceful, but when I looked at them, I felt empty. “Who are you?” I asked them. “Why are you here?” They seemed so useless. I hated that Demetrius vied for their affection, that he coveted them like miniature housemates—the novelty of these insects living in abundance right alongside him, like the ants all over again. He cupped them in his h ands, brought them so close to his face I was afraid they would crawl into his mouth or eyes.
The beetles had nothing for me, so I went to Demetrius’s room to find the book still open on his bed. In the beginning, during his toddler years, I had mistook my son for a ghost—sometimes I could see him; sometimes I couldn’t, a trick of the lighting. I would wake up from a nap and he’d return, a real solid boy in the physical world, a mist in the astral plane, which he couldn’t quite cross over into. Aside from the absence of his body, there was every possibility that he was in the room with me, but now I knew that it wasn’t an issue of his form, of his fluctuations—it was me, my sight, my existence. I was in flux.
Or he really was missing. When I was sixteen, Maxine said kids were resilient. She told me because I had to watch the other girls, my foster sisters, in her care every Wednesday night, but she withdrew the comment when she found out that I didn’t want to wait to have children.
“Easy?” she said. “When did I ever tell you having kids was easy?”
Of course I never thought it would be, but deep inside I felt a part of me waking up. In school they gave us pamphlets about abstinence. I folded it over to the center panel with the anxious girl holding a wailing baby, a spit up rag slung over her shoulder, her arms stiff and tender at once and hung it under my desk lamp. Her struggle looked so meaningful, so pure, the way her whole body pulsed with the needs of a newborn, even if she was acting, even if the baby belonged to someone else in real life. I had to push a child into the world in order to become who I was supposed to be. I knew, even then, that pregnancy would be transformative, like going on a retreat.
I searched Demetrius’s room for other things, stuffed animals, furry or feathered toys, something like the thing I had seen in the marsh. What had it been? A bird, or just something a bird had created? The idea kept dinging in the back of my head, flashing up the picture, saying, here, remember this? I pictured things Demetrius brought in from outdoors, things he could pet if he got lonely or pose questions to. He asked questions to a lot of things. When nothing turned up, I felt relieved.
I was aware that I was floating, that even when I sat on Demetrius’s bed, I hovered. The astral plane had a tint, a partial darkness that infected everything. I could see air, atmosphere—it held a wave, a texture, like heat rising from a pot, that warped when you walked through it or when the wind picked up. It was so subtle that it was never the first thing I noticed, and even in the physical world, sometimes I imagined it was there. The transitions between planes used to be wrenching—I would wade through what felt like hours of sleep paralysis, dreaming of people knocking on the door and shaking me before I’d burst forth in another plane, but anymore, it was so subtle like falling asleep riding in a car on the interstate and not knowing the distance the sleep carried you. It only came with disorientation.
Waiting on his bed, I expected Demetrius’s form to flicker in beside me, his face bluish from the astral plane’s tint, reading silently, not seeing me. The Asian lady beetles crept around his windowsill. Nothing could be done about them. They would be dead soon, all on their own, and I knew I would miss the sounds of their gentle landings, the occasional taps on the wall. Unlike my son, they were not invisible to me—they could even plunk in and out of the astral plane. If I pushed against their hard orange shells, I could feel their substance slightly pressing back in a phenomenon I would maybe never understand—how an insect could be more tangible than a boy.
When the out of body experiences got bad, I considered seeing a medium or a healer, but Luke’s insurance wouldn’t cover that, so I went to the hospital, telling the attendants I was in danger of splitting myself in two. They jumped to conclusions, put words in my mouth and told me how I was feeling, about motherhood, about being young and raising a toddler, about my relationship with Luke. They showed me diagrams of organs and glands. A nurse even recommended a parenting website off of some silly pamphlet. I kept thinking eventually someone will treat me who’s seen this before, and they’ll know what to do. They’ll tell me it’s normal.
The hospital was also a way to meet people, an opportunity to over-share. Maxine didn’t like me blabbering about my problems to her foster girls, and she didn’t like to stay on the phone with me too long because she said our conversations were too one-sided. It was true that sometimes instead of listening, I’d count how many times she’d say “reckon,” then how many words she could fit in one breath. I usually called Maxine to pass time while waiting for the school bus or for Luke to return Demetrius to me.
The week before, I had myself baptized. People on the OBE forums said pursuing spirituality was a good way to get the most out of the experiences—like a dietary supplement. I went to bed with my hair still damp with baptismal water. Luke asked me why I did it. “I did it for myself,” I told him. “To feel empowered.” I’d meant for it to be a religious experience, but then it just felt good to be able to emerge from a pool of water, undrowned, clean.
“That isn’t how it works, V.”
With Luke asleep, I had gone to see if Demetrius was still awake, pushing lightly on his barely closed door.
“Metrius? Tree? Are you still up, sweetie?” For years, I had been trying to find nicknames that stuck, but nothing felt right. I was afraid his friends would get to him first, assign him some new name that I had no control over. I loved “Demetrius,” the weight of it, the meatiness of a four syllable name that I hoped would make him confident one day. I would hate for him to just be called “D” or change it legally when he turned eighteen.
“Did you say your prayers before bed?”
I heard his comforter rustle. “I don’t have any tonight.”
I sat at the foot of his bed and pressed on his foot underneath. “Think of some.”
“Dung beetle, inch worm, mayfly, Asian lady beetle, aphid.”
“No, Tree, prayers—to Jesus.”
“Praying mantis,” he finished.
“Ask him for things. Tell him about your day. You know—like we used to do?” Meaning before he started remembering things, when I was still trying to learn how to work the breast pump, before I switched to formula.
“Dear Jesus, help my mom find her way back into her own bedroom. Amen.”
“Okay,” I said. “Okay. Good night.” I wondered if he was an atheist. Maybe it wouldn’t be a problem. I hadn’t felt any different since my baptism.
If I really wanted to find him in the astral plane, I was still convinced I could will it to happen, that I could just open my eyes and force myself to see. There had to be that chance. But instead I stayed by the window with the beetles, their solidness.
And then it happened, the way it often did—knelt before my sleeping, physical body, I examined my eyelid, the small wrinkles, looked closer than I ever did in a mirror at the fine hairs above my lip. Soon, I was so close that my earthly body took me back in.
I woke up groggy in a wrinkled shirt I wouldn’t bother to change. I kicked my sandal off to join the other one already on the floor. I couldn’t understand the ringing at first, thinking it was a residual sound from the astral plane, but sounds from the astral plane were softer, more inviting. The phone went to voicemail, and Luke’s voice filtered in, as if on cue. “Honey, we’re at the store. No need to call and check up, okay? Then we’re going—” Static. Some other words, useless. He hung up. Going home? Going skiing? Going to the west coast and never coming back?
At the front door, Demetrius’s new shoes were still on the mat, not the holey ones he was likely wearing, which he refused to stop wearing. Luke wouldn’t have minded taking him out in holey shoes, but if they fell apart at the store, he wouldn’t know what to do about it, either. All I could do was wait for them to return. If I tried to call, his phone would be off—he’d explain later that the battery died, or his pay-as-you-go plan expired. He’d never been easy to reach. He honed in on things when he was determined, shutting off all other distractions to focus on one thing, and lately that was Demetrius.
I filed my nails while I waited. I thought about painting them. It seemed like the perfect thing to do when expecting something to happen because I was always drawn somewhere else before the first coat could dry, evidenced in the streaks of red and pink etched into the walls, the cabinets. They’d interrupt, and I would say, “There’s my boys!”—smudging a streak of orange on Demetrius’s coat.
I was shaking a bottle of polish, admiring the crispness of the color, not muddied by the astral plane’s tint, when the phone rang again. I answered immediately, but it was only Maxine.
“I’m busy, Maxi,” I said into the receiver, using the nickname she loathed.
“I need you to take the girls to the mall.”
“I don’t care.” I cradled the phone on my shoulder, dipping the brush in polish.
“Bring Demetrius. Buy him those Dip n Dots things. He’ll like that.”
“Demetrius isn’t here. He’s at Mathletes.” Demetrius was not in Mathletes, but only because Luke kept taking him out of it early, and the teacher finally said he couldn’t compete with so many absences.
“Then you’ve got nothing going on. Be here in ten.” She hung up.
I capped the polish. Going to the mall would at least be less tedious than waiting.
Mostly I hated the girls, what they stood for and everything they were, which was everything I used to be. Teenaged, mother-less, wearing animal print for no occasion. They painted their eyes unflattering colors and tried to water marble their nails but wound up staining their cuticles. They crisped their hair with flat-irons and hairspray. I wished Maxine would return them for new ones, but she never made returns. She kept me, after all.
I wanted the girls to see me for who I really was, a success story, the way I flourished as a mother, the way I could bury my problems instead of displaying them in the form of cheap tattoos and mopey, big-lipped selfies. Instead they treated me like a burn-out. They should have looked to me for guidance in navigating this big bad world, but they had trouble identifying role models at that age—so said the parenting books I read when I was pregnant.
Maxine’s lungs were crafted by God with the strength to yell over the sound of six or seven wayward girls screaming at once, only breaking in the middle slightly from her smoker’s rasp. The screen door slapping batted Maxine’s last words as the girls exited one by one with Erin—her koala backpack stuck on the door handle—bringing up the rear.
I stood by the car, not wanting to see Maxine, hearing her muffled yells. “Always with the drama,” I said, feeling better than all of them, a graduate of the house they were still stuck in.
“You letting me drive or what?” Keya said. Of all the girls, I had the highest expectations for her. She got along the best with Demetrius. I once messaged her a link to my OBE forums to see if she might be interested. She typed back a quick, “Weird stuff, cuz.” I let it go.
“Don’t let that crazy bitch behind the wheel!” Sasha screamed from the back seat, her voice breaking on “bitch,” incensed with delirium.
“Just get in the car already?”
I made small talk with them, pointed out pretty houses and stupid bumper stickers. I turned the music up and hummed along, plugged every space where they might interject more drama—contrary to parenting book’s suggestions to make “safe spaces” for teenagers “to talk about their feelings.” They weren’t my teenagers. What did I care?
“Did you see that?” I reached across Keya and pointed out her window at the gray thing scurrying into the grass. “An armadillo! A live one!”
“Nuh-uh, V. That was a squirrel.”
Before the bugs, Demetrius loved armadillos because of a stuffed toy I gave him that we named Dilly Bar. I would hide Dilly Bar all over the house, and Demetrius would cackle every time he found him. He wanted so badly to see a live one roll up into a ball like on the nature channels, but none of the parks we went to had armadillos patient enough to withstand my son. Now was my chance to get a picture.
“It’ll only take a second,” I said, pulling off the road.
“Oh, come on, V! He’s nine,” Sasha said, “I’ll find him a picture on the Internet. He won’t know the difference!”
“What a waste of my time.” Erin pressed her forehead to the window, prodding at a scabbed-over zit.
“None of you understand adult responsibilities.” I wanted to believe that Demetrius had an intimate sense of trust in me that other moms couldn’t or hadn’t instilled in their sons. Although he didn’t now, if I could bring him into the astral plane with me, he would see who I was, would absorb this other plane into his whole sense of knowing. But until that happened, all I had were his beloved tangible creatures to give him, to show him my investment in his world.
“Stay in the car if you don’t like it,” I told the girls.
Only Keya came with me. She’d never seen an armadillo either.
“Did you see where it went? Can they climb trees?”
She shook her head. The grass moved, but from wind or armadillo? Whatever was in there would want to hide or trick me like things in life were prone to do.
“You keep your eyes peeled, Keya.”
I sat down on a rock to unlace my boots and wished the passing cars would slow down—the whoosh of them picked up pieces of garbage and whipped gray exhaust-damaged leaves into a dance in front of my face. How far could armadillos run? I ditched my boots by the side of the road and crept towards the rolling grass sock-footed.
“What are you doing with your shoes off?” Keya asked softly, carefully, like she was speaking to a child.
“When you’re a mother, you’ll understand,” I hissed and knelt inside the grass where she couldn’t see me. I made sure the yellow highway grass, thick with vegetation and Demetrius’s many-legged kin, surrounded me before I bowed my head and lifted up out of my body. Sometimes it was so easy to leave my body, when I was focused.
I knew I couldn’t take a picture if I was floating around outside my physical self. Obviously. There were things I couldn’t do outside the tangible world, limitations to being me and to being outside of me. No one else could understand these things because they just had the one vessel, their physical presence. As ignorant as Luke and Maxine and the girls were, they couldn’t possibly understand what it meant to be anything else in this world.
But I imagined armadillos to be of the same substance as Asian lady beetles, transferrable. I could hoard one away under my skirt, bring it back into the physical world. The girls could hold onto it in the backseat so it wouldn’t get away.
The dingy yellow grass was muted by the tint of the astral plane. Everything shook ever so slightly, as if there was a disturbance, or the way it sometimes did when I forced myself into that plane. Every rock beneath me could have been a trembling armadillo for Demetrius to lie down next to, stroking his beloved creatures. I hoped they were docile. Keya had her arms crossed by the road. She shouted something to the car full of girls, pointing her hip, agitated.
I floated, searching.
I thought about Luke and Demetrius, probably already home, but I’d stall just a little longer, drive the girls to the mall to ensure the timing was right. They had to come home first, so that when I entered through the front door, armadillo stuffed under my arm like a football, I could reveal my selfless act of love, they could behold Dilly Bar.
I hungered for my son. The more I thought his name and tried to conjure him there in the wilderness I conceived for him, the heavier I felt, the spiritual tendrils that tethered my astral body to the physical one yanking, ever so sweetly saying come down now, girl, before you get hurt. There was never enough time when I needed it, unlike other times when it would drag on, holding onto me. There were no real armadillos in the grass with me; when I thought I saw movement, it was just my imagination giving me what I wanted and friskily pulling it away. “Is this a game to you?” I asked, voiceless, to the void.
All that came to fruition was the dank feathered thing, haloed and glowing, resting in a shallow ditch, and it wasn’t ready yet, whatever it was, its purpose undetermined—astral junk. Keya grew restless, her static-y form reaching into the grass for me. No time. I had to go back. I let the tendrils pull me out of it.
I pulled up a handful of grass to be certain I was back. It was dry and left a thin cut behind. “C’mon, V, we gotta’ go. Rednecks are leering at us from that gas station over there, and Erin’s about to go talk to them.”
“Sure, sure,” I said as she pulled on my collar, a physical affirmation that I had returned.
“You find your ‘dillo?” Keya stooped over to look. “What’s in there, anyway?”
“No. We let him get away.” She peeked over my shoulder one last time to see, shrugged, and led the way back to the car.
The cut on my hand suggested a longer line, the way it broke in places like the dotted blue lines on Demetrius’s homework sheets that bisected the space between two solid lines. It bled only sparingly, but enough to prove it was real and not just something I borrowed from the astral world. “Hey, V, I just sent you an armadillo picture. There’s more on Facebook. I’m sending you the link.”
The problem with being a mother who occupied separate planes was the part where I missed my son. The way the astral tendrils pulled me around, the fact that they grew stronger and more insistent over time, meant I was away when I shouldn’t have been. All he saw was his mother napping, or he didn’t see me at all, closed up in my bedroom if, in the morning, I woke up in the wrong plane. It used to be that I could see him through the astral plane’s filmy lens, but still, at least I could see him even when I was gone. But then he started to disappear. I could know exactly where he was: in his bedroom reading or laying on the grass outside. I could stand by the window in my body looking at him. I could wave. “Hello, Tree.” And then I would depart from my body, peer out the window just to see an empty juice box, no son. I would get stuck in that place without him even while all the rest of the world—his father, the insects—could be near him.
He was unlike the beetles, the armadillo. How could his being transfer through planes if there wasn’t even a window to pull him through?
I left the girls at the mall. At first I circled the department stores looking for and texting them, but what was the point? It was all one of Maxine’s charades, setting me up for failure, letting the girls bear witness so they could see how not to grow up. Someone else would pick them up. Sasha’s boyfriend, maybe, who’d drop the other two off at the house before knocking Sasha up in the backseat. Her birth mother being Catholic, she would have the baby. Then she’d half understand what it was like to be me and wouldn’t blame me for the way I turned out.
When I got home it was already getting dark. I saw the shadow of Luke’s car in the driveway, the outline faintly glowing by the porch light. They must have gotten home moments before. I didn’t know for sure, but I guessed.
Demetrius was sprawled on the floor in front of the TV, one arm wedged under his torso and one leg bent so his foot sprang upward, completely absorbed in cartoons. I wondered if that was hazardous—the amount of TV we let him consume at such awkward angles. Luke wasn’t in the room—probably, he was in his office, which was really the unfinished garage where he played online poker and watched fishing tournaments on a crappy TV.
“Hi, Tree,” I said. “Where’s dinner?”
He kicked a socked foot in the direction of the kitchen. “Spinning,” he said.
The Big Book of Bugs made a tent on the kitchen chair. What if I lurked through all his most important years, floating? Would it be fair to want him to float with me? I tried to bring the book to him but stopped, caught up in the image of my son, the TV glare flickering in his entranced eyes, pupils yellow as bees in the dark living room.
The microwave timer beeped. Demetrius breezed through me in the threshold, my solid boy, coming in for pizza, his hips and arms brushing against me, the soft swish of his clothes. I wanted to take him in my arms, wrap him up in so many blankets, to see the shape of him underneath and know he was there. The microwave clock said 7:35, crisp red numbers.
I hoped my son was not special.