Conway RidesIan Breen
Mr. Nelson says, “Hi, Ginny. How are you?”
“Oh, just fine and dandy.” His mother smoothes her hair and smiles without showing her teeth. “I mean, you know.”
Mr. Nelson sighs. “Yeah.”
“Hi, Kayla,” Conway says.
Mr. Nelson asks a few questions about things down at Dr. Smolensky’s, and then suddenly his mother is crying again. She leans against Mr. Nelson, who hugs her and looks around as if to see who might be watching. Conway runs his fingers over the stitching of a Denver Broncos shirt and tries to pretend he’s not paying attention.
His mother raises her head and wipes her eyes. “I’m just so embarrassed, Ed, you know? I feel like everyone’s laughing behind my back.”
Mr. Nelson glances at Conway and Kayla. “Why don’t you two take a walk and see what kind of board games they have?”
Conway thinks his mother will say no; she doesn’t like him to go off by himself, especially lately. She surprises him, though.
“That’s a good idea. Connie, meet me near the checkout counter in ten minutes, okay?”
He and Kayla head toward the toy section in the rear of the store. He looks back before they turn the corner and sees his mother with her face pointed at the floor and one hand shading her eyes like a visor. They walk slowly, not speaking. As Kayla trails one finger along a shelf stocked with puzzles, Conway studies her profile, pretending to read the names on the cardboard boxes.
After the board games aisle, they come to a wide-open space with rows and rows of bicycles. A line of them lean on kickstands and more hang from hooks by their rear wheels. Whenever his father took him to K-Mart they always came here. Conway would place his nose next to the rubber tires and inhale the smell that was different than new sneakers, yet somehow the same. His father told him that someday he was going to buy him one. “Which do you like today, Con-man?” he’d say, and then help him onto the seat and stand behind him, his scratchy chin resting on Conway’s shoulder.
He is searching for his favorite bike when Kayla startles him by saying, “So what happened to your dad?” She is smiling slightly.
Conway stuffs his hands into his coat pockets. After a long pause, he says, “He robbed a bank.” He expects her to be impressed, like some of the kids at school. Instead, she raises her eyebrows.
“Oh, yeah? That’s not what my mom told me.”
An announcement is playing on the fuzzy overhead speaker, something about a sale on Sunday, and the words seem to tangle with Kayla’s, confusing him.
“What do you mean?”
“She said he ran off with some rich woman.”
Conway stares at her. His fingers twist the loose fabric at the bottom of his pockets savagely. “That’s a lie! Take it back!”
“No,” she says, grinning now. “my mother doesn’t lie, so it must be true.” She laughs. “She says he’s a real screw-up, so I bet he would get caught if he tried to rob a bank.”
He squeezes his teeth together and tenses his muscles so hard that his legs shake. “Fuck you!” The words, which he has only uttered on the playground, burn in his own ears.
“Uh-oh, looks like somebody’s getting ready to cry. Don’t cry, little boy.”
Conway wheels and starts to run. Behind him, he can hear Kayla making kissing noises into her hand. His feet carry him past the electronics section, where Big Bird capers on dozens of TV screens, past stacks of school supplies and bulging bags of pet food on sale two-for-one. When he finally stops he is surrounded by tackle-boxes and lures and fishing poles propped in square bins. He pants loudly and covers his eyes.
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