The mother clutches a worn wallet-size photograph with both thumbs and index fingers, looking down as if reading a tiny magazine. A crooked grin briefly graces her face, tarries a bit and then vanishes. Her thumb brushes away a lone tear, then a second. As she always does before returning the picture to her wallet, she breathes in his scent. She can still smell him, his cheek smooth against her lips.
She gazes unseeingly into the darkness, trying to imagine one million dollars. One dollar for every second he’d lived. Or every minute, maybe. Or every hour. Sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour. Twenty four hours in a day. Could she use the money to buy back a few seconds? A minute, maybe? She would gladly hand it over, every penny for one last glimpse of his face.
Extinguishing a cigarette, she returns the picture to her wallet and makes her way to bed, where she will lie for hours gazing unseeingly at the ceiling.
Sitting alongside the unmarked grave, illuminated by moonlight, the mother clasps a small canvas sack to her chest. Crickets cease their chirping, heralding the arrival of an unseen presence. Sensing no malevolence in her visitor, she begins to dig with her hands. The sod and soil come up easily and she soon reaches the casket. The lid is surprisingly light.
Setting the sack into the casket, her hand lingers atop its drawstrings. Timeless moments pass before icy fingers shyly reach out, intertwining with her hand. As she did when he was a child, frightened by a bad dream, she holds his hand until the fear passes.
Daytime television provides background noise as she studies the paperwork. The lawyers share, family members shares. Legal terminology and phrases she has to research. Several times each hour she can see his face before her, imagines if only he were here the things she could now buy him, the places they could visit. If only.
She looks into his beautiful face, reaches out to touch his cheek. “Baby I’m gonna buy you a car, any kind you want”. Her face beams with happiness. “Brand new“.
“Mama!” little kid voice giggles. “I can’t drive a car!”
The face morphs into her youngest, little kid face smiling up at her. “Can I have lucky charms for breakfast?”
The mother smiles crookedly. “I think we’re out of lucky charms. Think we just got cocoa puffs“. Reaching out to hug him, her shoulders convulse and tears stream down her face. She gasps for breath, hugging him even tighter.
“Mama it’s ok we don’t have lucky charms”. Scared little kid voice. “Don’t cry mama, it’s ok. I like cocoa puffs too“. Smiling up at her hopefully, his lower lip begins to tremble and he buries his head against her.
Flashing lights and harsh voices slice thru the evening gloom. It’s not too late, then. There’s still time to buy back his life. The mother begins to run.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot him. Please! I have money, it’s yours, all of it, only please don’t shoot!”
Multiple gunshots ring out, and she pitches forward onto the asphalt, face and knees taking the brunt of the impact. Dazed, she rolls onto her back and squints up at bright lights. The asphalt roadway has gone, replaced by cool linoleum. She is enclosed by curtains, a sheet-covered gurney beside her. Beyond the curtains are the busy sounds of hospital personnel. Rising slowly, she peels back the sheet and cradles his face to her chest, her lips moving soundlessly. Stepping back, she picks up the the sack of money, pushes aside the curtains and enters the hallway.
“I have money. I can pay, as much as you want. Just bring him back, please. Bring him back, only for a second! I just want to say goodbye. I promised him. Just one more second!”
“Pleeeaase, just for one second.Pleeease, I wanna say goodby, I just wanna say goodbye. What good is this fucking money, I don’t want no fucking money, I just want my baby“.
The mother has been watching the rainfall all morning. It is all she wants to do. Lighting another cigarette, she takes the picture from her wallet. Memory fills in what constant handling has caused to fade. She smells his scent, rubs it against her cheek and lips, smiling into his eyes as he grins crookedly.