Chapter Ten

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Bring a hammer, bring a wrench, the tools to free me from distress and sing to me while you chip away the mess. -Jackson Killian

Chapter Ten

Quinn and I got to McDonalds early. I gripped Quinn's hand as he squirmed and tried to get away from me. We stood in line surrounded by the scent of grease and melted cheese—always more appetizing than the actual meal. Our turn came, and I ordered a coffee and two apple pies.

"And fries," Quinn instructed. The cashier leaned forward to inspect Quinn over the edge of the counter, the beaded chain of her half-moon glasses swinging.

"Mom?" She turned to me for confirmation and I nodded.

"Small."

She punched the button on her console with a knobby finger. "That it, hun?"

I handed her a ten.

A moment later our tray was assembled, and I took it into the play place with Quinn prancing at my side. The dingy smell of dirty rubber and unwashed feet swamped us as I pushed the door open. Quinn immediately sat down to yank at the straps on his sneakers, his head turned to watch kids scramble over the brightly colored stairs, ladders, and slides.

I found a table and slid my tray onto it before returning to where Quinn sat scrubbing his heel against the black mat, frantic to get his shoes off. He whined impatiently as I slipped off his shoes, then rolled onto hands and knees and crab-walked over to the jungle gym. I stuffed the shoes into a cubby and pumped some sanitizer into my hand from the dispenser on the wall.

My purse wasn't huge, but it did have room for two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in plastic wrap. I pulled them out and put them on the tray. I peeled back the lid on the first of several tiny creamers and dumped it into my coffee. I was just putting the lid back on my cup when another tray slid into my vision.

Held by hands I would always recognize and bearing his standard McDonald's order—two double cheeseburgers and a Mr. Pibb—the tray came to a stop just touching mine. Jack stabbed a straw through the lid on his soda and smiled at me.

"Hi."

"Hi."

Our eyes held a long moment before he looked to the play structure. "Where's Quinn?"

"There," I said, pointing to the platform where Quinn was visible behind a red rope net. Jack waved, but Quinn was focused on positioning Uma to go down a slide and didn't see him.

Jack swiveled in his seat and picked up one of the flimsy paper-wrapped hamburgers. I sipped my coffee as he shucked the shriveled looking food product and took a big bite of it.

I watched him chew, the muscles in his jaw clenching with every grind of his teeth. He ran his tongue over his molars; I could see it move under his cheek.

Just a human eating.

It seemed suddenly obscene, somehow. The mastication of food, pulverizing it down and swallowing it—watching Jack, I was struck by a sort of cognitive dissonance. Like when oversaturation of a word causes it to lose all meaning—some kind of internal disconnect was separating me from normalcy.

I felt very real, and conversely, trapped outside myself as I contemplated doing something as important—as critical—as eating, while other people watched you, spoke to you. It was almost like going to the bathroom, like popping a zit, or getting yourself off. It should be done in private.

It felt wrong to watch him nourish himself—it was something unexpectedly violent, distractingly intimate: the delicacy of his mouth, the vulnerability of its shape contrasting with the savagery of how it could move and the work involved in getting nourishment into his body. I sat, invasive in my witness of it and disoriented by the absurdity of the emotion.

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