One dollar. Jeez, the cool one was just one dollar more, Evan thought. That’s all, just a stupid dollar, but no, we can’t spend one more stupid dollar to get the damn boogie board with the red flames on it. Stupid mom. Stupid money. Stupid boogie board. What kind of stupid dork rides a boogie board anyway? Stupid beach. Stupid fucking vacation. This is going to suck. Totally suck.
Thunk. The boy slammed the door to the old Ford Fairlane. What an ugly dumb old car. Why don’t we have a decent ride like regular people, he thought, before he heard the screaming.
Jesus, what’s that sound, he thought, covering his ears as the desperate noise grew louder. It was like no sound he’d ever heard before. What the hell is going on? He swung his 13-year-old body, all legs and shoulder blades, around back to the Ford Fairlane, back to the back door of the back seat where his knees had ached moments before as he’d tried to sleep, pretzeled in between the dinged up ice chest and the discounted flowered boogie boards his mom insisted were good enough for one round at the beach, never mind how juvenile they made him look, like some kind of teeny bopper, girly girl, and why couldn’t he have a real surfboard anyway like normal kids, like the cool dudes really doing it, really riding the waves, not just boogie boarding with his dumb old mom, he thought, as the howl grew louder and stranger and louder and stranger until it surrounded him.
“Mom,” he started to call, but then he saw her there in front of him, with this horrible sound coming out of her. “Mom!” he shouted, scared now that his mom, was suddenly screaming bloody murder like some woman in a horror film. “Mom!” he screamed himself.
“The key,” she screamed, “Get the key out of my bag! Unlock the door, Evan, unlock the fucking car door!”
What the fuck, he thought, and then he saw it, his mom who never stopped moving, never stopped taking care of business was frozen to the side of the Ford Fairlaine, the little finger on her left hand pinned in the door jamb of the car’s back door he’d just slammed shut.
She was yelping “nnn…nnn…nnn,” like a wounded dog.
He looked around. Where the hell was her bag, this thing that was like a part of her, like some black hump that grew on her side? Where? And then he saw it, sitting peacefully on the hood of the car, out of her reach.
And finally, with the quickness honed from hundreds of wipe outs on his long board, he lunged for the bag, dug his hand into its bottomless unknown and pulled out the keys with the keychain of the wooden cheetah he’d carved for her out of a tree branch at summer camp four years before. He found the car key, unlocked the driver’s side door and, in one motion, unlocked the back door and swung it open.
His mother slumped to the ground beside the car, whimpering, her body folded over her hand like the corner kids lighting their cigarettes on a windy day.
He slumped down beside her and put his arm around her and rocked her back and forth the way she had done to him, jeez, like a million times before.
“God, I’m sorry, Mom,” he said. “I’m so sorry,” and suddenly they were both crying, stupid laugh crying, and rocking back and forth together there on the asphalt in the parking lot at the end of the beach while streaks of grey sand blew across it.
“Here,” he said, and he reached for his mother’s injured hand, limp and helpless as it was. One by one he gently rubbed the other fingers, her ring finger that still wore her wedding ring even though his dad had been dead, what, five years now, and the middle finger he saw her raise only once when a road racer nearly ran them down on their way to his first baseball game, and the index finger and thumb that were always busy chopping or folding or typing something.
“Coach Wells taught me this after I jammed my finger in practice once. You remember, it swelled up like a boiled hot dog you said. Thanks a lot by the way,” Evan said. “Took me a year before I could eat a hotdog again.
“Anyway, it confuses your nerve endings, Coach said. They’re so busy sending massage messages from the other fingers that there’s not enough juice left for the pain messages. Cool, huh?” Evan glanced over at his mom.
“Yeah, cool,” his mom said, her voice quiet and shaky.
“Is it working?” he asked.
“Uh huh,” she nodded and closed her eyes.
“I’m sorry I made a fuss about the boogie board, mom,” he said, rubbing her ring finger with both his hands. “It’s just a dumb boogie board; it doesn’t matter. I just want you to be alright.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry I was such a tightwad about the extra dollar, buddy,” she said, opening her eyes. “All I ever really want in life is for you to be happy and for me not to worry any more. That’s worth so much more than a dumb dollar.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, pressing more gently on each of her fingers. “I’m already happy, mom. I just want your pain to stop.”
His mother laughed suddenly and ruffled his shaggy hair with her other hand. “That’s the sweetest thing a boy can ever say to his mama. You keep saying that until you’re 35, OK?”
“OK, mom,” he said. “OK. I promise I’ll say it all the time.”
ELIZABETH BRUCE is a native Texan writer and theatre artist based in DC. Her debut novel, And Silent Left the Place, won Washington Writers’ Publishing House Fiction Award and distinctions from Texas Institute of Letters and ForeWord Magazine. She’s published in Gargoyle, Bare Back Magazine, Lines & Stars, Paycock Press’ Gravity Dancers, Long Short Story, and Washington Post, and received grants from DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, Poets & Writers, and the McCarthey Dressman Educational Foundation. Bruce co-founded Sanctuary Theatre with Michael Oliver and Jill Navarre. Her work has won Carpetbag Theatre’s Lucas Award & has been produced at Capital Fringe Festival, Adventure Theatre and Sanctuary Theatre.