Growing up is hard, especially when your father is obsessed with sandwiches and your mother shot your father in the leg. Is that the identity you’re stuck with, though—how can you be someone different? Faith Gardner captures the pain and longing of puberty and makes all that strangeness familiar, even as the story twists and turns through the odd landscape of a boy’s life. —Matt Salesses, Good Men Project Fiction Editor
Toby’s fellow students at Avery Elementary referred to him as “Sandwichboy.” He didn’t like the nickname, but he didn’t like his given name either. He accepted both without anger.
“Hey Sandwichboy, you smell like sandwiches.”
“Thank you, I consider that a compliment,” he’d say.
“Hey Sandwichboy, do you eat sandwiches for breakfast?”
“Yes,” he’d say. “With eggs.”
Toby’s parents owned the downtown location of a well-known sandwich franchise. All of Toby’s school projects seemed somehow to circle back to the deliciousness and affordability of such sandwiches. He sometimes even wore a forest-green polo shirt embroidered with the sandwich franchise’s name on the right breast, and his full name Tobias on the left. He did, indeed, smell like sandwiches—more specifically, a combination of pickles, mustard and perhaps even a hint of just-baked bread.
Once Toby graduated elementary and entered junior high he found his old nickname “Sandwichboy” to be preferable to his new nickname: “That Boy Whose Mom Shot His Dad.” The nickname wasn’t born from cruelty, it was just something everyone knew, in a small California town (Avery, Central Valley, Population 8,693). The Incident took place the summer between elementary school and junior high, July 23rd, a date hard for Toby to forget, even though The Incident occurred during summer school hours. Toby’s dad spoke about The Incident only once, the day after it happened. He relayed the story calmly despite his crutches and cast, sitting at the kitchen table at home as the two shared a footlong turkey and bacon sandwich.
“There was an attempted robbery last night,” Toby’s father said. “And your mother took out a gun and she misfired it. Into my leg.”
“Did the robbers get away?”
“Does your leg hurt?” asked Toby.
“Like hell,” said his father.
“She’s taking some time off.”
“No,” said Toby’s father after a moment.
“Where is she?”
“She’s resting. At a friend’s.”
“Are you mad at Mom?”
“Are you getting divorced?”
His father was a short, hairy man with a square but good-looking face and a puffy 1980s anchorman haircut. He always wore his forest-green polo shirt with the buttons open, exposing his hairy chest and a gold chain. And now he had a limp.
Toby’s best friend was James Go. James had thick glasses and wore sweatpants to school and was in college-level math classes already. He designed video games, was a prodigious piano player, and besides school days and recitals, he never left his house.
“Do the kids at school talk about me?” Toby asked James after their seventh-grade year began. “Do they say stuff about my mom?”
“I haven’t noticed,” said James, staring at the big-screen and thumbing away at the game controller in his hands.
“I hear them say things,” Toby said. “They said my mom shot my dad on purpose. They say she’s in jail.”
“Well, isn’t she?” said James.
“I don’t know,” Toby said. It had been four months since he’d seen her. If it hadn’t been for his father making him work afternoons and weekends at the sandwich shop, Toby would have been worried sick. As it was, he was too tired to be worried and too busy to be sick.
His mom and dad used to fight a lot. He always heard them at night, talking loudly about money. Basically, it all boiled down to his mom wanting more of it and his father never making enough. His mom drank a lot. His dad didn’t drink at all. Sometimes they fought about that, too.
Now, in a weird way, things were easier with just him and his dad. Of course, he missed his mom, and he hated being That Boy Whose Mom Shot His Dad, but he and his dad had a lot of fun. They blasted the radio at work and sang along to Journey and the Rolling Stones. They closed shop together at night, and Toby’s dad remarked often on what a hard worker his son was. They came home and played video games side by side on the carpet, something the two of them had never done before.
“I used to hate the sandwich shop,” Toby told his father one night as they played a game of virtual bowling. Toby’s voice had started to waver and break and change, and even he noticed how fast he was growing. “I hated smelling like sandwiches all day. I hated that I wanted to build a volcano for the science fair and you made me test the deliciousness of different sandwiches.”
“I’m sorry,” his father said. “But think of it this way: this family is made or broken on the business.”
“I don’t mind so much now,” said Toby quickly. “I get it. Where would we be without it?” He didn’t even quite understand his own words, but hoped his father would be pleased.
Toby’s dad limped over and hugged him. “You’re a good kid,” he said. “You’re 10 times the boy I was at your age.”
It was the nicest thing he could remember his father ever saying to him.
At the end of seventh grade, James Go went into an independent study program. Toby no longer had a lunch buddy or a lab partner in biology class. When he hung out with James on Sundays (Toby’s day off from the sandwich shop), James ignored him and played on his computer the whole time. On a particular Sunday, out of nowhere, James Go pulled up a local news article online from July 23rd of the previous year. It was nearing the year anniversary of The Incident, which Toby had become good at forgetting. He had convinced himself he was forgetting his mother, whom his father never spoke of, even when Toby asked.
The article read:
LOCAL WOMAN ATTEMPTS TO ROB HUSBAND’S SHOP WITH LOVER, SHOOTS HUSBAND
July 24, Staff
Local husband-and-wife shopowners Terry Thompson, 43, and Tiff Thompson, 31, got in a “tiff” of their own yesterday afternoon. At two PM, Tiff and lover Benicio “Brass Knuckles” Lopez, 23, entered the sandwich shop armed with handguns and attempted a holdup.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” Terry told reporters. “I mean, I thought it was a joke.”
Terry, suffering a bullet wound in his shin, knows now it was no joking matter.
Tiff fled the scene with Benicio after firing her weapon, and the couple is at large. Relatives of Lopez believe the couple fled to Mexico. Anyone with information on their whereabouts is asked to notify the authorities.
“Why’re you showing me this?” Toby asked James Go.
“Because,” said James. “My mom showed me. She said your family’s bad news.”
“Not my whole family. Just her.” Toby shook his head. “I wish you hadn’t shown me that.”
“Why?” asked James, blinking through his glasses. “Don’t you like knowing things?”
Toby had never thought about it, but now, for the first time, he decided he did not. After that afternoon Toby quit stopping by the Go house. The sandwich shop needed extra help, anyway, in the summer. He didn’t mention the article to his father, but he did start locking the house at night, fearing Benicio “Brass Knuckles” Lopez and his mother would come around to shoot his father again.
The happy boys-being-boys period between father and son receded back into a boring routine. Toby had realized increasingly, since the shooting, his father was kind of a fragile man. He was small, he limped, he drove slowly. He wiped away tears when he watched sad movies on television. The customer was always right at the sandwich shop, which often left him in the wrong. Toby witnessed it all the time.
As the summer months breezed by, Toby seemed suddenly two inches taller than his father. His father now asked him to reach the pickles, up on the highest shelf. This realization of his father’s feebleness filled Toby with anxiety and sadness, feelings he drowned in the long hours of bread-baking, condiment-spreading, fixins-sprinkling. He worked for minimum wage that summer, started a savings account, and remembered and tried not to remember his mother. He remembered only the worst of her—her drunken yelling, the way she told Toby to shut up all the time, an imagined scene of her cocking a gun and shooting his father’s leg. He didn’t let himself remember the way she used to dance around the house with the broom, or help him with his homework, or announce to the apartment, “I love my Boys!” All of that was gone.
When eighth grade commenced, Toby noticed he had gone back to being Sandwichboy again, to his great relief. The whole tragedy, his crazy mother, his shot-in-the-leg dad, all seemed to have washed away and faded into the town gossip’s past.
“Hey Kelsey,” he overheard a girl say to another girl in physics one day. “You should go out with Sandwichboy.”
“Gross, and smell like mustard all the time? I’d rather puke.”
He had begun to notice the budding figures of junior high girls, painfully, because they only seemed to ignore him or even laugh and use his nickname as an insult or a threat between each other. There was a girl Lindsay with crossed eyes in Toby’s PE class, who had an obvious crush on him and came in for sandwiches every weekend, but that was the only girl who paid him any attention.
Toby knew what woman he wanted, to whom his mind wandered nonstop: his English teacher, Miss Aden.
She was barely five feet tall, china-white skin, curvaceous. She had a passionate face and a twinkle in her blue eyes that made her appear as if she might burst into tears at any moment. She had a slight lisp, she wore lavender suitskirts and white pantyhose, she paced the room in her high heels and read Lord of the Flies and Of Mice and Men with a tremble in her voice. She enunciated Every Word She Said like it truly mattered. She wrote Fantastic! and Wonderful descriptions! on his assignments in impeccable purple penmanship. When he came to her at lunchtime, feigning ignorance of simple grammatical rules, she patiently sat next to him and corrected his “mistakes” on pieces of lined paper. And during these intimate meetings, Toby snuck a glimpse of perfection through the V of her lavender suit jacket.
Oh, Miss Aden! Lovely, pink-mouthed Miss Aden! Toby imagined what her lips would taste like on his lips, what her body looked like beneath the pastel professionalism of her outfit. He could smell her on him all day long after one of their lunch meetings—that perfume, musky, sweet, lingered around him until he reached the sandwich shop for the closing shift.
Every time the bell-on-the-door jangled, he hoped the customer was Miss Aden—she had come in only once, with a tall, lanky man in a jogging suit that Toby hoped was her brother. And sometimes, with a start, Toby would fear the door’s jangling was his mother, gun in hand, brass-knuckled lover beside her.
Miss Aden read a poem by William Blake to the class in her usual sweet lisp:
“My mother groaned, my father wept,
Into the dangerous world I leapt;
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
Struggling in my father’s hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands,
Bound and weary, I thought best
To sulk upon my mother’s breast.”
And then her fierce eyes glazed over, her face pinked and tears flowed down her face. She sputtered and wept into her hands, dropping the book.
“Oh, how embarrassing, I’m so sorry,” she said.
Toby’s heart, somewhere beneath the forest-green polo, swelled with sympathy. He wanted to hug her and hide her from the snickering he heard behind him. His eyes pricked with tears.
“I—I need to get myself together,” she said. She wiped at her eyes and picked up the book. “I’m so sorry, guys, I don’t know what got into me.”
And she continued on with her lecture then as if nothing happened, but her voice shook slightly and she looked relieved when the students funneled out at the bell.
Toby returned to her classroom at lunch. Miss Aden always ate homemade food out of Tupperware dishes while she pored over a thick novel at her desk. Toby, of course, ate a footlong sandwich for lunch. Today he offered half to Miss Aden.
“No, thanks. That’s very kind of you, but I’m a vegetarian,” she said. “You need help with something?”
He opened his mouth and shrugged, heart hammering.
“Have a seat,” she said. “What’s up?”
He pulled a chair next to her and cleared his throat. “Why were you crying?”
She sighed and closed her book. Her eyes flashed and her lip quivered again, and Toby wished he could hold her and tell her it would all be okay.
“It’s personal,” she said. “I’m so very sorry that happened.”
“Is it your boyfriend?” asked Toby.
She cleared her throat and looked at her desk. Toby remembered what she had said on the first day of class—it was only her second year teaching, and she was only 24 years old. That was just 11 years between them. When she was 31, he’d be 20. When she was 40, he’d be almost 30. And so on.
“I shouldn’t talk about my personal life with students,” she said.
“I just hate to see you sad,” he said. He put his hand on her hand, on the desk, and he could feel sweat breaking out on his forehead and something awaken in his pants.
“Toby, that’s very sweet,” she said, pulling her hand away and laughing nervously. She looked him in the eyes. “Really, I appreciate your concern.”
“Is it your boyfriend?” Toby asked again.
She paused, her mouth open as if offended. But then: “Yes.”
Toby was surprised she’d admitted it. He was even more surprised when she kept on.
“Yes, we fought. Fought over whether or not he wants a—oh, I shouldn’t be telling a student this, this is terrible!” Her eyes spilled over.
So yes, she had a boyfriend, most likely the jerk in the jogging suit Toby’d seen once. Toby felt a bold rush from limb to limb, reached out, hugged her and, amazingly, she let him. He could feel the burst of her stiff, suit-covered breasts against his polo shirt, and he imagined the two of them naked and kissing and doing it. She pulled away after a moment and wiped her eyes and stood up.
“Thank you for your concern, but I shouldn’t have said that,” Miss Aden said. She took a small mirror out of her jacket pocket—so that’s what she kept in there! Toby had always wondered. She straightened her makeup and blinked at herself and said, “Okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” Then she put her mirror back.
He watched her and felt a hint of what it must be like to be older, to want to take care of things more vulnerable than you.
“Tobias,” she said. She had called his full name the first day of class and Toby had been so smitten he had forgotten to correct her. He soon accepted it gladly, like a distinctive nickname she had for him. “You’re a very kind young man. Thank you.”
“You deserve the world,” Toby told her. “You deserve everything you want.”
“No, I don’t,” she said. Then she smiled at him. “Nobody deserves that. But thank you.” When he turned to leave, she said, “Tobias, one thing: you’re a very talented writer. Do you know that?”
He shook his head. He really didn’t know it: she was the first to ever tell him.
“But I’d love to read something about something other than sandwiches,” she said. “You know?”
Toby nodded. It was a deal he and his father had: everything was an Advertising Opportunity. Every conversation, every wardrobe choice, every assignment. It had always been that way; in elementary school, it had been mortifying, but once junior high hit, and his job there started, it was as much a part of him as the sandwiches themselves were. Advertising Opportunities were simply a part of his identity now, inescapable. Toby wondered suddenly if that’s why his father had no friends. If that was why his mother left.
“I will,” he said. “I’ll try to write about something else.”
Miss Aden closed her classroom at lunchtime after that day, but Toby lived off her hug and that meeting for weeks. Every day, he closed his eyes at some point and imagined her perfume, her tiny soft frame, her breasts pressed up against him.
“I’m in love with my teacher,” he told James Go online. They still chatted online, but Toby had grown tired of the musty stink of James’ room and the constant distraction of games and machines.
“Gross,” said James.
“I’m in love with my teacher,” Toby informed his father as they mopped shop one night.
“Oh, Toby, no, you’re not,” his father said. He looked so tired, bags under his eyes, his haircut fluffed all wrong to one side. Toby wondered if his dad even heard what he’d said.
For his English assignment, a non-fiction story, Toby turned in five pages of painstaking work titled, “Why I’m afraid of my mother” and received an A++, a grade so high Toby almost doubted its very existence.
Gloriously, on a weekend in late fall, the shop bell jangled and Miss Aden came in, alone. Toby’s father was in the back doing The Books. So it was just the two of them, teacher and student, customer and sandwich artist, the low buzz of classic rock on the radio, the ceiling fan and artificial light hissing overhead. She smiled big and Toby knew they could love each other one day, anything was possible. As he put on his plastic gloves, his heart soared.
“Hi there,” she said.
“That was an amazing story you turned in, Tobias. I hope you’re proud. It’s not often I give an A++.”
She smiled again, and Tobias wondered what next—more compliments on his story? A confession? But instead, she took a breath and said, “I’ll have a veggie delight, on whole wheat bread, please.”
“Whole wheat bread?” he said. So hard to listen when she stood in front of him and licked her kiss-me-pink lips. He sniffed, hoping to catch a whiff of her across the counter, and grabbed the largest, freshest bun of breadbread bun in the house. “Oh, yeah. Okay.”
He made her the sandwich and then refused to ring her up. “Where’ve you been at lunchtime?” he asked her.
“Tobias,” she said. “Really, I must pay.”
“It’s on me,” he said.
“Tobias,” she said. Then she laughed. “Well, thank you.”
She stood for a moment, then waved with her car keys in her hand and left. At least she let him buy her a sandwich—they’d practically had a date, just now.
When he tried to tell his father about it, about how he’d reached 1000 dollars savings now and was thinking of buying Miss Aden jewelry—girls liked jewelry, right?—his dad seemed distracted. Lately it had been that way; his dad was too tired for video games or talks. He spent a lot of time on the computer. He was as boring as James Go.
“I’ve programmed a new gaming software my father wants me to get patented,” James Go typed to Toby online.
“I’m thinking about buying diamonds for the girl I like,” Toby typed back.
Lately they seemed to be on journeys to different worlds.
Toby continued to work at his English assignments with extra verve. He wrote free-verse poetry about loving a woman older than himself; he wrote a sonnet to Lady Lisp. He wrote a “fictional” story about a woman who left her jerk boyfriend, who wore jogging suits, for a younger man who worked at a deli. He looked forward to the sight of that violet A on his paper each day, to the wink he swore Miss Aden gave him as she passed back papers.
And then, like nothing had happened, Toby’s mother returned home one rainy Sunday afternoon bearing gifts. Mexican blankets and packages of Chiclet gum. Little painted figurines and gold chains for Toby’s father. Toby, stiff now, grown, and skeptical of his mother who appeared fatter and fashionably altered in her wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, watched his father for reaction.
“I’m glad you’re back,” his father said, nodding. “I’m glad you’re well again.”
“You’ve grown,” Toby’s mother said to Toby suspiciously, lowering her sunglasses and revealing a pair of sad brown eyes.
“What’d you expect me to do,” he said.
She shrugged. His father made up a bed in the guest room and brought his mother a sandwich cut neatly into fourths, ringed with grapes. His mother slept all that afternoon.
“Why’d you let her come back,” Toby said, watching his father eat a small bag of potato chips in the kitchen.
“Your mother was in rehab.” Toby’s dad crunched his chips. “She got a hold of me a few weeks back. We’ve been chatting through email. We want to patch things up.”
“She shot you in the leg,” Toby reminded him.
“She was crazy, hopped up on pills. You ever heard of Oxycontin?”
Toby lied and said he had.
“Well, then, you know,” said Toby’s dad vaguely, throwing the chip bag in the trash.
From then on, Toby watched his mother’s every move. Making eggs in the morning: Was she high on drugs? Apologies, heartfelt, hand-patting talks: Was she lying to them? Doing laundry, cleaning house again: Was she going to rob them, shoot them? Toby felt a new fury toward his father’s passivity. When Toby looked in the mirror, he hated himself, his puff of brown hair, his lanky pale frame, his forest-green polo shirt. He wished he had a different life, a different smell, a different story. He found himself walking the long way home so he could pass the jewelry store, where he pressed his nose up to the glass and imagined buying all the sparkling, dripping gems and charms for Miss Aden. He built entire worlds and lives and dialogues and steamy scenes inside his head. He knew it wasn’t impossible, and that was enough.
When Miss Aden was gone one day—just gone, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, no warning, replaced by a balding substitute—Toby became afraid something awful had happened to her. After a week, he was even more worried.
“Why’re you worried?” his mother asked him, waltzing past his doorway with a broom.
Toby just stared at her, at her hanging hair with the roots growing in, at the mysterious scar that had appeared on her neck and that she wouldn’t discuss, and thought, you are a stranger to me now. He didn’t tell his mother, but she had been gone long enough for him to realize he didn’t need her anymore, and apparently, vice versa.
“You never called,” he said. “You never wrote.”
“I meant to,” she said. “I thought of you everyday.”
“Sure you did.”
She stopped smiling and dropped the broom. “I didn’t have to come back, you know. I came back because I love you. I love our family.”
“When you love people you don’t shoot them in the leg and leave for Mexico. And whatever happened to Brass Knuckles?”
His mother pointed a finger at him. “Shut up,” she said.
Once the Christmas lights appeared on houses, and shopfronts were painted with Santas, and windows glowed with trees, Toby decided he would find Miss Aden and wish her a happy Christmas. But really, he just wanted to scratch the painful itch inside him that her absence had left. Rumors floated around school she was moving, or getting married.
On a Sunday, in a borrowed dress shirt from the back of his father’s closet, Toby stopped by James’ house. “Looking sharp,” said James, somehow without looking up from his screen. James clicked away on his desktop computer and helped Toby locate Miss Aden’s address. Miss Aden’s first name was Ava. Ava Aden. Her full name made her even more loveable to Toby. James helped Toby map out the bus route to her house, which was in the foothills. They printed out directions and James wished him luck.
“I’d come too,” James said. “But my skin gets so easily sunburned. Plus, buses make me carsick.”
“It’s okay,” said Toby.
Two hours later, after waiting and dreaming and bussing and transferring and bussing and walking three blocks in the wrong direction and then six blocks in the right direction, Toby found Ava Aden’s house—a cottage, the same color of lavender as her suit.
“Tobias!” she said when she opened the door. She wore a loose white shirt and blue jeans, and the sight of her so underdressed caused Toby a little breath of desirous pain. “What on earth—”
“Where’ve you been?” he said, in a tone much whinier than he had rehearsed. A neediness took over him, and he felt himself shrink before her eyes. “How could you just leave us like that?”
The house behind her was neat, small, filled with books. Something was cooking and filled the air with warmth, spicy smells. He wanted her to invite him in, he expected her to, but she didn’t.
“I—” Her small pink mouth dropped open, and she shook her head. “This is taking me completely off guard.”
“We need you,” Toby said, stepping closer. “We don’t want you to go.”
“I’m taking temporary leave,” said Miss Aven, crossing her arms. “Not that it’s your business, but I’m pregnant.”
Toby looked at her doormat, which lied that he was WELCOME. His eyes filled with tears. “With your boyfriend.”
“Yes, with my boyfriend.” Miss Aden shook her head. “Tobias, I’m much too old for you,” she said finally.
“People with age differences fall in love sometimes,” he said.
“That’s true,” she said. “But I don’t feel that way about you.”
“In 10 years you might,” he said. “You never know. In 10 years I’ll be your age, and you’ll be 34.”
She nodded. “Yes, but . . . even if that were true, I’m not attracted to you like that. I’m sorry, Tobias.”
Toby’s eyes filled with tears and he let them come. “Why?” he said. “Why? What is it about me?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I think you’re such a sweet boy. A wonderful writer. A hard worker. A handsome boy.”
“Why did you leave us?” he said again. “Why do you want to hurt me?”
Miss Aden’s mouth dropped open and she looked at him. Then she closed her mouth again and shook her head. “I have to go. Dinner’s burning.”
“I’ve been saving for you—I could buy you a ring—” Toby said, raising his voice.
“Go home, Tobias,” she said gently, and shut the door.
Toby walked home bawling, not caring who saw him. It was a long walk, 40 minutes or so, and he was sure he saw a couple gawkers near the downtown strip with the jewelry store and the sandwich shop. Look at Sandwichboy, not wearing his sandwich shirt, crying like a baby up Avery Avenue. Look at Sandwichboy, rejected by his teacher.
When he returned home that night, his legs hurt, but his chest hurt more. Toby sat on the edge of his bed and looked around him. His eyes focused on the forest-green pile in his corner, and he thought of his father, who made him proud and yet made him want to shape his own future into something resembling the opposite. He heard his parents making love later on that evening, through the wall, and shuddered. He had violent and explosive dreams that night.
The new substitute teacher in English made the class read Of Mice and Men again. Delighted by the easy work, no one told him they’d read it the month before. Toby hated Mr. Muntz. He was nothing like Miss Aden.
After school, Toby was late to the sandwich shop. When he got there, the smell of mustard and pickles stung his eyes.
“Your shift starts at four,” his father reminded him.
“Yeah, I know,” said Toby.
His father had a bit of an extra swing in his limp. Making the sandwiches, he threw the condiments around with the fervor of a bartender making a cocktail. He blasted the radio station and belted along with it. Toby watched him with a heavy heart, imagining his mother shooting his leg.
“I don’t want to work here anymore,” Toby told him. His heart raced, his stomach cramped, dreading confrontation.
“What?” said his father, turning down the radio.
“I’m tired of making sandwiches,” Toby said. “And wearing the uniform.”
His father watched him, nodding, but his eyebrows furrowed like he didn’t understand.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” Toby said.
“Fine,” his father said, holding up his hands. “No one’s making you.”
“You’re not mad?” asked Toby.
“No,” said his father. “I’ll admit, I’m a little disappointed. You’re my favorite person to work with. You work hard. And I thought you liked this job.”
Toby shrugged. “Mom can come back now.”
“Yes, Mom will come back,” said his father, nodding. “Soon, when she’s up to it.” Toby watched his father run a plastic-gloved hand through his hair.
“Dad, I’m sorry,” Toby said. His chest clamped up. “Things have been really hard for me. I mean, things—things haven’t felt like they had time to stop.”
“Things never have time to stop,” said his father, wiping off the counter with a rag. “That’s life, Tobe. It keeps on going no matter if you like it or not. No matter if you forgive or forget, life keeps going.”
“Yeah,” said Toby.
His father tossed the rag in the sink and looked up at his son. “So you might as well forgive, that’s my philosophy.”
The door jangled. It was a family. A man, a wife, and two small children. They looked bleary-eyed, hungry and annoyed. One of the children was whining for cookies.
“Go ahead,” Toby’s father told him. “I can close alone tonight.”
“You sure?” said Toby.
“Yeah.” His father clapped his back. “Get out of this shirt. Go have some fun.”
Toby shuffled outside, watching his shadow on the sidewalk, skinny and tall and still. He thought about turning around and saying he was sorry. He had expected a lecture, maybe even a fight. From outside, he watched his father through the window, leaning across the glass counter to listen to the order, limping to the oven for fresh-baked bread. He would see his father at home later. He would see him tomorrow and every day after that, nothing was lost. He turned from the window and walked across the parking lot, passing cars and strangers with shopping carts and bags. He would pack away his polo shirts first thing. He sucked in air, he felt the possibility of tears, for Miss Aden’s baby, or his father’s bad leg, but his eyes were dry. He shoved his hands in his pockets, walked faster up the tree-lined streets and decided it was good that things never stopped, because when they stopped, that’s when the hurting started.
—photo Flickr/Pink Poppy Photography
–William Blake poem is “Infant Sorrow”