“Mommy, I need a band-aid.”
Lea tried to push down the sick feeling that rose in her stomach. It’s nothing, she told herself. He’ll be all right. He took his pill this morning. We all took it. We do it every day.
“Let me see,” Lea said. She went to the front door where Mason stood there, looking miserable, a red scrape on his knee, one thin line of blood running down between the thin, white hairs on his leg.
“What were you doing?” Lea tried to keep her voice from sounding too hard, but the fear was there, goading her.
“I was trying Tyson’s skateboard,” Mason said. “He let me try it.”
“Mason, you know you shouldn’t do anything like that without pads. Didn’t he loan you his pads?”
“He wasn’t wearing pads, Mom. No one does.”
Lea groaned. “Come on in the bathroom,” she said.
“Help me count,” Lea said, as she rubbed the antiseptic soap into Mason’s knee. He sat on the side of the bathtub, his little shoulders tense, hands clenched on the rim. “One, two, three,” they counted together. When they got to a hundred, Lea turned on the hot tap and rinsed Masons knee. She wondered if the pipes were clean, or if maybe the germs were there, in the water she used to clean the wound. Maybe she should have boiled it.
Don’t be silly, she thought. He took his pill.
“Am I going to get sick?” Mason asked.
“No, of course not,” Lea kissed him on the forehead. “You took your pill this morning, right?”
He hesitated, and in a flash Lea could see his face in a coffin, like little Connor across the street. She shoved the image away, but Connor’s remained, his face puffy, black and purple and red splotches that makeup could not entirely cover. The pastor had said as Lea went by, “They did a beautiful job with him.” Lea had just stared at the pastor, not knowing what to say. That poor baby in the box had been the most horrible thing she’d ever seen.
Connor had fallen off a chair and split his chin on the tile floor, and his parents had taken him to a clinic to get the cut closed up. Clinics were the worst. He might have been fine if they’d kept him at home.
Mason nodded. Lea had almost forgotten what the question was. The pill, yes, he’d taken his pill this morning. Lea rumpled his hair. “You’ll be fine then,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
With his knee bandaged, Mason went back outside to play, but he didn’t stay long. He came in and spent the rest of the morning quietly in his room with his toys. Lea worked at her computer, occasionally her mind forgot that Mason had scraped his knee on some filthy sidewalk, but the anger and fear would not forget. They paced around the edges of her mind, occasionally slinking into the light so that she would wonder what they were doing there, and then she’d remember.
At bed time, Mason was crying as Lea tried to tuck him in.
“Are you still scared about your knee?” Lea asked.
“I didn’t, Mom,” Mason choked out the words. He reached for her and she bent down so he could squeeze his arms around her tight and shaking.
“What’s the matter, baby,” Lea asked.
“I didn’t take it, Mom. I don’t like it, it gives me a stomach-ache.”
A flash of fury washed over Lea. She grabbed Masons shoulders and shook him, flopping his head against his pillow. “No,” she said in a strangled scream.
Mason’s face crumpled and he howled in terror, shame, and sorrow.
Lea turned away, stinging inside. If he dies, she thought, you’ll remember how you did that. You didn’t comfort him, you blamed him
“Mommy’s sorry,” Lea said. She put her hand to his forehead. Fever, maybe? She peeled the bandage away from his knee.