Tina lowered the shirt she was working on. Ben was sitting on the floor in front of her, inside a rough semi-circle of toy vehicles. He was not looking in her direction.
“What is it, sweetie?” She watched as he reached out a careful finger to roll an excavator back and forth, marveling at how gentle he could be.
“When will I look like everyone else?”
Suddenly, Tina was glad that he wasn’t looking at her, because she knew her face must have shown the sudden pang. Part of the adoption process had been preparing for just that sort of question, but the longing tone of it made a hollow in her heart. She took a deep breath.
“Ben, you know that Daddy and I don’t look like each other. Right? He’s much paler than I am, and I’m shorter than he is.”
A nod. The excavator stopped, and a black steam locomotive started to describe figures of eight in the air over it.
“And Mrs. Wei next door doesn’t look like anyone in this house, but she’s nice.”
“I like her cookies.” The locomotive was swooping from side to side. Tina couldn’t tell if he was relaxing or becoming agitated. He was a calm child, had been since the day they brought him home, but kids were kids and she couldn’t help worrying.
“If I looked just like Mrs. Wei, how would you know who to call Mama?” She said it lightly, trying to draw a laugh. It was a little selfish, because she loved the way he laughed, but also… if he was laughing, then he couldn’t be upset.
“Braeden called me fatty.”
Braeden had been the prime source of misery in Ben’s life, one of those little rotters that seems to lurk in every classroom. The one time Tina had been called to the school, Braeden had been at the bottom of it, but of course it was Ben that was in trouble for the broken desk. Braeden had only been asking Ben “what happened to your real parents,” over and over, as if Ben hadn’t told him about the crash on the first three rounds. The principal hadn’t seen Braeden’s culpability in the event. At least at the start of the meeting. Tina had brought him around.
“Braeden…” She sighed, digging herself out from under the shirt. She reached down to stroke Ben’s hair. He kept weaving the engine in the air, but did not pull away. “Braeden is jealous.”
“Really?” Finally, he turned and looked at her, the sudden movement throwing her hand from his head.
“Sure. He’s only ever lived here. You’re not even eight years old, and you’ve been on two planets.” He frowned, confusion rather than anger, and she touched his cheek. “You were born on Burlington, remember?”
“No.” A smile, a little mischief in his eye. “I was too little.”
“You know what I mean,” Tina said, leaning in to close. She had not thought, when she first saw him and knew he was to be her child, that she could love him any more, but every day seemed to stretch that pliable emotion a little more.
“So Mrs. Wouters is jealous, too.”
That damn witch, Tina thought of the neighbour on the other side. She had been the one drawback to the neighbourhood, only apparent a month after moving in, a constant stream of fault-finding and gossip that would apparently never dry up. Tina had made a policy of avoiding Wouters as much as possible, but as much as possible was never, sadly, the same as absolutely and at all times.
The day before, she had been going out as Ben and Tina were coming in, and she had offered a venomous compliment on the way Tina altered Ben’s clothes to fit. Tina had thought that Ben, still innocent of so many layers of adult conversation, had missed that, but apparently not.
“You bet she’s jealous,” Tina said, inventing quickly. “You think she had anyone who can lift her fridge when something rolls under it?”
“No, she does not! I’m a very lucky Mama!” She slid out of the chair to kneel beside Ben, careful to sweep a bulldozer and lunar ore hauler from under her knee. “Give your lucky Mama a hug.”
Carefully, Ben put his thick arms around her and gave her a squeeze which did not quite make her bones creak. She smiled, and returned the hug with all the pressure she could muster.
“Now, come help with supper,” she said. “Daddy will be home soon.”
She stood and took a step back. Ben, her little boy, as wide as he was tall, straightened his legs, and with the enthusiasm of his age bounded up. In one third the gravity his ancestors had been engineered for, the leap took him as high as his mother’s head, and he pantomimed a kiss at her in the moment between up and down.
She followed, heart full of love, but also worried for the future. He had to turn sideways to get through doors now; what of five years hence?
“Inktober 2019 – Husky” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.