A Better Use


By Tommy Dean

          Her son has hidden her keys again. Now that he's six, the mop of hair that partially covers his eyes no longer reminds her of innocence, but of deviance. She's tried everything including hiding his things—the power cord to the X-box, his iPod touch—but he always manages to find them. She stopped spanking him four years ago; it had left them both with furious tears, glaring at each other until she broke down and bought them both ice cream.
          His father used to hide things from her too. Money, drugs, women.
          She checks under the sink in the kitchen and both bathrooms. She checks the bottom drawer of her dresser and both corners of his toy box. Here she finds an earring and a fifty-cent piece of some significance she's forgotten. He watches her, poking his head around the screen of her laptop, careful not to let her see him smile.
          She’s late for another date, though she's told her son that she's working some extra hours at the nail salon. She was meeting Kirk at the coffee place around the corner. A date in the middle of the afternoon because she didn't feel comfortable leaving Kyle home alone at night. Too young to stay by himself at anytime, but she was desperate. Her parents only made excuses when she asked them to take him. He hid their things too. Once he hid her father's pills, causing a minor emergency that her parents vowed never to repeat. She didn't understand his compulsion, though she has no problems blaming her husband.           
          It doesn't help that the house is a mess. He could have dropped them in a pile of clothes. She rummages through the shirts and pants left on the loveseat, finding a necklace and a miniature candy bar she has been saving for an especially hard night after Kyle goes to bed. Leaning against the window ledge behind the curtain, she finds an invitation to a Tupperware party and a summons for jury duty. Both are days away from expiring.
          She clacks across the fake wooden floor of the kitchen, stopping behind her son. The heels are a bit too much, especially for a day date, but she likes how tall she looks when she wears them. It forces her to stand up straight. It reminds her to look the men in the eye when she talks. Poised, her mother would say.
          “Dammit, Kyle. Where are my keys?”
          “I didn't touch them.” He continues facing the screen. Soldiers run across the bridge, firing machine guns. The sound is turned off, but the way the soldiers fall, limbs sprawled everywhere, is real enough without the noise.
          “I need them. Right now. Please.”
          “Would if I could.” He shrugs as if everything is out of his control.
          It’s a phrase she’s sure he picked up from his father. She’s starting to think that he somehow encouraged all of this hiding business too.
          None of this will work: the yelling, the begging, and especially not crying, which she feels coming so strongly that she turns away from him. She walks back into the living room. They really need to get their life together.
          There on the corner of the entertainment center lay her keys, the keychain flashing her name like the billboards in Times Square, a place she's only seen on TV. She swears they weren't there a minute ago, while she was frantically pulling out both doors and rifling through the DVD cases. She grabs them roughly, a key jabbing her pinky. She looks at the clock. She's already fifteen minutes late with a five-minute drive to go. If she were meeting the man at a bar, he’d probably still be there, but who hangs around a coffee place by themselves? She has to try though, so she gathers her jacket, slings on her purse, and opens the front door. She wants to hug and kiss Kyle, dangle the keys in his bratty face, but it'll only make him mad, resolute to find a better hiding place next time. She calls out “love you” and walks out the door.
          Inside of the car, she fumbles with the keys, mentally checking each one. House key, key to the back door of the salon, the key to her parents’ home are all there, but no key to the car. She slams her palm down on the steering wheel, holding down the horn, blaring everything else out, until Kyle comes to the door. He puts his hands up, asking her “What?”
          She rolls down the window and he opens the storm door.
          “Come on, I'm taking you to get pizza. Come on.”
          He frowns at her, takes something from his pocket and holds it up.
          “Just you and me. I promise.”
          He holds the key out like a javelin and rushes towards the car. She waits for him to get in and buckled up before asking for the key. She reaches behind the seat, shoulder turned awkwardly, palm up. It reminds her of when he was a toddler, the way he’d wait until they were moving before giving her things. Now he takes everything, making her chase his love and affection, so much time wasted, but squandered together.
          She backs down the driveway, the front wheels bouncing off the curb. She's tempted to drag him on her date and make him sit there next to her while she makes small talk and murmurs over the lip of her coffee mug.
          “We really going to get pizza?" he asks, voice guarded, as if she is setting a trap. 
          “Yes, we are. Then maybe we can visit your dad. Maybe put this talent of yours to better use.”
          “What talent?”
          “I've got a few things of your dad's I'd like you to hide.”
          They share a look in the mirror and she forgets all about her date.
 

Tommy Dean is the author of a fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in Watershed Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Boston Literary Magazine. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.