Madonna & Child, Delayed

Her knee jiggles. Incessant anxious energy has made its home in her veins, moving through her as steadily as blood. Today, though, the anxiety is a physical manifestation as it plays on her nerves. It is a violation of spirit.

“Mrs. Klein?” a voice calls?

She jumps in her seat, feeling like it could send her to the moon. “Yes, yes, I’m sorry. That’s me.” She pushes her hair out of her eyes, little pieces of corkscrew that never find themselves tamed.

“We’re ready for you now—the doctor said it would be all right.” She focuses on the broad details of the face: lean nose, big green eyes, angular cheeks, a name tag that says: Leon. He offers his hand, eyes full with the pity she is used to at this point.

Officer Leon’s weight is sure, easily pulling her slight frame from the chair. He guides her down a long hallway that seems like it should be dimmer considering the late hour, but the lights twinkle. Time doesn’t matter here. She steadies herself against a blue uniform. She’s had dreams like this, only the hall is usually longer, endless. Sometimes there’s water up to her waist—her therapist suggested that it was her subconscious dealing with maternal fears. Needless to say, she’s looking for a new therapist.

“It’s right over here.” Officer Leon nods toward a cracked open door with another policeman standing beside it. “Are you okay?”

The question comes through a fog, but she responds half-heartedly, “Fine.”

Officer Leon places her hand against the wall.

“Just a moment, Mrs. Klein.” A familiar-looking doctor appears next to her.

“Yes?” She’s trembling again, preparing for bad news.

“He’s asleep now—we thought it would be best, considering…We’ll be doing further tests throughout the night, but it shouldn’t bother him. I’m concerned about a possible bronchial infection, but that’s nothing to worry about. You should count yourself fortunate.”

She doesn’t feel fortunate. She hasn’t felt fortunate in a long time. “May I sit with him?”

“Of course.”

She pushes open the door. An eerie shroud cloaking the bed’s occupant is a dim light that allows the nurses to work. Approaching with fear, she at last stares at a bedraggled, long-haired creature; its eyes closed so that she almost recognizes it.

He was different in the pictures.

*

“This is Officer James Smith, badge number 636,” a new officer says clearly for the churning tape recorder set just off to the side. “It is January 9, 1996. The time is 3:24 A.M.” He looks up at her with red-rimmed eyes. “Would you state your name for the record?”

“Savannah Alice Klein,” she says, rubbing her bare arms against the icebox temperatures of the precinct. She would rather be back at the hospital, but the officer and doctors had insisted, for the sake of them both. “Can we get this over with?” She has been in enough police departments to know about the pomp and circumstance. Nothing but a bullshit parade.

The officer sitting across from her is big and dull, almost as if he has something better to do. Savannah’s hand clenches against her jeans. “Ma’am, when did your son disappear?”

“Really?” she asks in frustrated disbelief. “It’s on file; I know it is.”

Officer Smith raises a comically bushy eyebrow. “Ma’am, there’s no need to be hostile. I just need it stated for the record.”

A single pulse of rage pumps through her body before retiring back into her heart as she realizes that she doesn’t have the energy for violence. “June 7, 1989,” she growls. Savannah’s so tired of telling this story. Even after all of this time, everyone remains interested in her tragedy. And tomorrow morning, when the newscasters hear, all hell will break loose. The Morning Show will undoubtedly want to interview just like they did after her son’s disappearance.

Officer Smith makes a notation in his little book. “All right; now, would you mind telling me what happened that day?”

“Why don’t you check the last deposition? You know, when my son disappeared?”

The eyebrow remains glued in an upward position. “Ma’am, I’m just doing my job.”

How easy would it be to reach across the table and hit the man? More importantly, what would the punishment be? Would the satisfaction be worth it? Probably not. Savannah keeps her hands to herself. “Alright, I’ll tell you just like I told another cop seven goddamn years ago. Not to mention every other major news broadcaster in the county.”

“Ma’am, that deposition wasn’t in our system—like I said, this is for the—”

“Yeah, yeah, the report. I get it.” She lets out a whooshing sigh that flutters a piece of paper. “We were getting ready to go visit my parents. My husband and I took Tommy to the mall for sneakers. While I was trying on a pair, I thought Tommy was with my husband. My husband thought he was with me…” Savannah closes her eyes against the image but only succeeds in reinforcing it. “But, you know,” a slight hitch in the throat, “he wasn’t. Mall security tore that place apart. No Tommy.” A single tear threatens a flood. “He was wearing a Superman t-shirt my mother bought him for Christmas.”

Officer Smith hands her a Kleenex that she takes with some reservation, dabbing at a memory so often ripped open that it has never had the chance to even scab over. “Did the search extend to the surrounding neighborhoods?” he asks, pen poised over paper.

Savannah sniffles as she gives a pathetic laugh. “Oh yeah. The whole damn city spent weeks looking for him. All we ever found was a shoe in the parking lot.”

“And what about your husband? Where is he in all this?”

A freight train screams into Savannah’s chest. “Um…” her voice cracks, so she swallows to alleviate the pressure. “He, um, he died a few years ago.” Brilliant red explodes across her vision. “You know,” her voice turns soft as she lowers her eyes, “it’s hard to lose a child. There are thousands of support groups to help parents cope with that sort of thing. But losing your child and not knowing if they’re alive or dead…it’s different. You have hope and…despair at the same time. And,” the tears are coming freely now as she remembers happier moments in the kitchen that have never been the same, “some people just can’t deal with that.”

He doesn’t say anything for a minute, so she looks at him with tears glittering in her eyes and bitterness bubbling in her heart: “Will that be all, Officer?”

*

“Mrs. Klein,” starts the sharply dressed doctor who sits across the desk from Savannah. “We’ve almost finished running the blood work, but I thought I’d share what we know so far. Thomas is suffering from acute bronchitis. Fortunately for the both of you, we’ll get him on an IV and some antibiotics, and he should be as right as rain.” He’s smiling softly now, the lines on his face suggesting that it is not something that he does very often. “He’s awake if you’d like to see him.”

“I’d like that very much. Thank you.”

*

A new officer is posted right outside the door. The young woman’s face is soft as she acknowledges Savannah. “He’s awake,” she reports in a hushed tone.

Standing with a flat palm against the door’s wood, Savannah breathes deeply before opening it.

He sits in the daring morning light that peers in from the window with his back propped up by a barricade of pillows. He watches cautiously, blue eyes that are familiar yet foreign. Their likeness only has been captured in a flash of nostalgia. Everything else may as well belong to a stranger, but there throbs remembrance. The two stare at one another long enough in silence that a casual passerby might think this room an art exhibit, perhaps thinking for the briefest moments that a single silken strand connects the two, mother and son, blinking softly as it tries to hold out despite the tension.

“Mama?” the young boy says, at last, his fifteen-year-old speech resembling more of an infant’s babble.

Simplicity often stirs about the strongest memories as it does with Savannah now. She recalls the first words Tommy ever said, then his first steps, then his first day of school, always with a gentle cadence of “Mama.” In an instant, the emotions of seven years catch up to her, and she feels as though she will drown beneath an onslaught, gasping for breath. Wooden steps take her at last where she goes and sits on the bedside of this creature, touching the recently shampooed tendrils that remind her more of her late husband than herself. She takes inventory of a once-familiar face. She finds little nicks, old bruises, a single scar amidst fuller lips, and a flatter nose than the features that grace gently curled photographs.

Guilt is too short, too simplistic to adequately describe the pain that ruptures throughout her, hiding in tears that sleuth down Savannah’s face with little regard to her or Tommy. But the world has little regard for anything. Mouth agape in a soundless cry, Savannah presses her forehead to her son’s, his wasted arms strong as they pull her closer, his body convulsing in an endlessly human gesture of catharsis. They close their eyes, tears intermingling just as intimately as when he had been in the womb so many years ago now. Savannah repeats a sacred motherly chant: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Any questions that have been on her mind, on the pages of her journals, in the ink of newspapers, they all fall to the unintelligible mutterings of the distraught. All that exists here is a mother and son as they hold onto one another amidst seas of chaos. Savannah will not tell him that his father is dead, that she had contemplated following after, that the world will soon come and find their peace and parade their tragedy. Tommy will not tell her of horrors, how many nights he had thought of ways to die, that he had dreamed of only her.

Not now. Maybe never.

For this moment, the two will revel in a small miracle of a mother and son finding one another. They will not think of tragedy, of therapy, of night terrors, of an inability to pick up the pieces of an old life shattered so many years ago. They will never ask: “What now?”

bam

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