June 28, 2016
The Vertical Spectrum
Liam says he can do it, that he’s going to make it, but I have my doubts, and here’s why:
First of all, Liam is small. He’s always been on the lower end of the vertical spectrum. Sure, he’s healthy, his pediatrician says he’s growing at a normal rate, but in comparison to his peers, he looks four instead of six.
A few months back he was named Student of the Month in his class for Perseverance. All us parents sitting in uncomfortable steel foldout chairs, the air so cold in the new school that we couldn’t strip off our jackets and scarves and hats and sweaters, the kids miniature body builders with their quilted coats, a whole gang of them lining up to receive their certificates and coupons, and there was Liam in the middle, hands clasped at his front, standing quietly while the others twisted and shaped themselves above him. A Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
But something happened. The woman handing out the awards mispronounced his name, something I never knew was possible. She transposed the a and the i and called him Laim, or, to be more precise, Lame.
I wanted to cry. I expected him to cry.
Instead he ignored the situation and strolled across the stage, shook hands with the principal, took his certificate and coupons and walked quietly back to his seat while I shouted words of encouragement and hoped none of the other parents were judging me or whispering about how difficult of a life little Lame will surely have. And while his composure was heartening, I couldn’t help but paint the vicissitudes he may face in the future, well after my death, even.
Second, Liam is hesitant. He second-guesses himself constantly. Even now as I watch him standing on this gigantic wooden castle, fire pole two feet in front of him, I can see that he is surveying the possible outcomes while simultaneously attempting to search my face for the doubt I am feeling, the doubt which I instilled him with the words, “Just be careful, please.”
I feel pretty rotten about it, too.
Had I not said anything, or said something along the lines of, “Go for it!” or, “Awesome!” he would not be so tentative, would have not stopped to think, would have already made the leap. Now he’s imagining all the things I’m imagining. And could he live with the worst-case scenario, because the worst-case scenario would not be broken bones or cuts or bruises, it would be asking for my help, it would be my climbing into the castle, weaving around the other kids, taking him by his small hand and leading him back through those same kids down the safe steps until the woodchips cushioned his feet.
And so he reaches his arm out a little, pulls it back, reaches the other arm, pulls it back. He lets another kid, bigger, probably around eight years old, go ahead of him and studies his method and movements. He looks at me and I wave, smiling too much and giving a thumbs up. He returns the thumbs up and lets another kid take their turn.
Thirdly, Liam is not the most athletic. He still uses training wheels on his bike because he doesn’t pedal fast enough. He enjoys running with me, but the idea of sports makes him weary. The idea of losing terrifies him.
I am not the most athletic. I never played sports. I was a bookworm at his age. My mother, his grandmother, taught me how to read when I was three. I was a nerd. I was picked on. When I ran back then I looked as though I was on a constant verge of collapse. During these moments with Liam I get a pang of shame for not carrying what are considered more masculine traits. I deliberate over whether or not to start dating again, how the presence of a man might make him feel. Would he be welcoming or defensive? Would I be welcoming or defensive?
But I can see that Liam has already decided. He’s run out of time. And now I’m annoyed that there never seems to be enough of it. He’s tired of waiting. The other kids behind him are tired of waiting. He reaches his hands to the pole, his body thrust forward at such an angle that there is no turning back. His face is pressed against the curved steel, his pale cheek squished and eyes on mine. My heart races as I pull out my phone to take pictures. I force myself to watch as he finally gives in, his legs losing the surface, falling and swinging through the air.
Nina Ficenec currently resides in the Southeastern United States. Her work was recently featured in The Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions of 2016.
The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.
—Cervantes, Don Quixote
© 2016 The Indianola Review