The nurse left work at 5:00. She was happy, really happy, elated, smiling to herself, pleased with the sound of her rubber soles in the parking ramp, nodding to her shadow in car windows, elated, relieved, excited, happy, just plain happy. So she didn’t notice the boy in the back seat of her car when she got in. She tossed her purse back and didn’t see him duck. She didn’t even hear the sharp intake of breath when her heavy bag landed in his lap.
She was humming some song—she didn’t know the name—never knew the names of things—and was turning on the radio, backing out of the parking space and saying “Roland Roland Roland” into her Bluetooth until it connected.
Scattered showers today. The radio.
Ring. Ring. The phone.
The boy in the back was quiet. He held her purse gingerly. It had fallen open against his chest and he could see her wallet, a crumpled tissue, a brush, a pen, mints. He wouldn’t have put his hand in a woman’s purse except for the mints.
She turned the radio up a notch. Roland’s phone rang, then clicked over. “Roland here. You know what to do.”
Roland’s message was so loud that the boy heard it—a man telling him what to do. Go for the mints, Boy. You’re hungry. She won’t care. You know what to do.
“Shit,” she said. Her first unhappy word. The glow was fading. She turned the radio off, but didn’t hear the rustle in the back seat, didn’t hear the soft fall of two mints into a dirty hand, didn’t hear his mouth receiving them or the click of the box closing. But she smelled mint.
“Mint,” she said as she pulled out of the ramp. “I smell mint.” That made her happy again.
© Kathleen Coskran 2011