Someone was watching TV a few rooms down. The sighs of the elevators. Everything would be okay. He lay down on the carpet outside the room. Maybe everything leaves a ghost. Maybe his ghost was still inside the room. Maybe another ghost was at a slot machine. Maybe Maxine’s ghost was a whimper in the dark. It was Maxine who’d always loved Vegas. But he didn’t have to care about that anymore.
On her way to work Brenda stopped by her kid’s house to help clear the leaves out of the gutter. He shuffled out in gym shorts and a tank, worked his bare toes into the squelch of the lawn, it had been raining, Brenda wore a 7-Eleven bag over her hair to keep out the damp. Well, she said, and her kid’s head snapped to, it was clear he knew he was supposed to do something, get something, offer something, but he couldn’t figure what. Brenda said, Ladder, in a gentle but questioning voice, and he answered, I know, I was just, but he didn’t finish what he was just, and the mean part of Brenda, the oozing eggplant-colored meanness hissed, He wasn’t just anything, and get a load of those love handles, beer-drinking monkeytoed lumberdummy that he is, but Brenda swallowed that down and concentrated on how nicely the aloe she’d planted was coming up, it seemed to love its new pot, orange clay pot, ochre, the word ochre, ochre ochre ochre. Her kid dragged the ladder over, stared at Brenda with his eyebrows raised, like, What now, lady? Brenda let him hold her purse, he slung it up and over his shoulder and stood with his arms folded over his stomach. Don’t fall now, he said. The boy had enormous brown eyes, puddles of fudge, moist and glittered, Brenda could see why the girls loved him, penis fool that he was, Lord, delete that, delete it please and thank you but he does swing that penis around like it’s tossing candy coins over a parade of sluts, sorry forgive me delete delete delete. Brenda secured the ladder up against the house, debated, but in the end kept her heels on, she was good on her toes like that. Her kid stood with her purse and his feet in the earth, squinting, the bottom of his tank rolled up a little and the hair on his stomach exposed, Feel a breeze? Brenda asked him, but he didn’t get it. Brenda began her climb. Good thing you ain’t wearing a skirt, her kid called up to her, else I’d be seeing something I don’t want to see. He snorted, Yes ma’am, I’d be awash in barf if that was the case. Brenda prayed to sweet, delicious Jesus. Grace. Strength. Whatever else. During her pregnancy all those years ago she had anticipated a bond so strong that she would die for it. That had been true. But also true was how often she considered harming her child, just a little. Taser gun. Mace. Roundhouse kick. Judo chop. Good old windmill. Tires crunching over toes. She had never done any of it, she had once lobbed a small decorative pumpkin at his head, but that was the extent. Thank you Lord of Light, thank you chariot God. The gutter was caked, Brenda would need a tool of some sort. Trowel? she called down. Spade? Her kid emitted a low, indignant Uhhhhhhhhhh that Brenda interrupted with Spatula? Her kid trudged into the house, pausing to drop her purse into the dirt. The sky was pale blue now, all the gray diluted and drained, Brenda looked for the sun but didn’t find it. The boy came out of the house with a small metal spatula Brenda recognized as her cookie spatula. Jesus was a child, Christ in a canoe, nature, nature, nature. Sweetest, Brenda said, ain’t that the spatula I asked you about a few weeks ago? Oh yeah, the boy said, here it is, I guess, catch. Brenda watched the spatula blading through the air. Glinty arc. She caught it and her boy said, You need me out here the whole time? He bent to pick at a toe. I got shit on pause is the thing. But yell if you need anything. Brenda said, I got it, precious treasure, microwaved honeybun, go on inside. Brenda hacked at the gutter