The Surprise

“Mama, you told me I was getting my surprise today.”

He sat at the kitchen table, feet just over-hanging the chair’s edge, chin barely clearing the table-top. To say he was small fell well short of accurate.

“Mhmm… Paul, eat your breakfast. We’ll be leaving as soon as you’re done.”

Distraction permeated her tone, but Paul was unaware. His eyes grew wide in anticipation of their destination. What Paul lacked in size he made up for in heart; a more genuine boy had never lived.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll find out when we get there.” She turned from the sink to look at him. “You know how much I love you, right baby?”

“Yes Mama. Are we going to get there soon?”

“As soon as you’re done eating baby.”

They drove past the toy store, Paul craning his neck to see in the window; past the book store where the newest Harry Potter book had come out, Mama had just finished reading him the last one; past Deborah’s Chocolates, where Deborah would always have his favorite fudge ready for him when he walked through the door; past the soccer field where Mama would take him to play; past all the places where he thought his surprise might be.

When they finally got there Mama led him into a big square room that had white walls, a few chairs and tables, and a big door at the back. It was filled with lots of toys and children; some bigger than him, some smaller, some playing, some not, all sort of sad.

Paul tried to take everything in, tried to remember if he’d ever been in a place like this before. It felt a little like Dr. Flynn’s office, except there was no cat clock hanging from the wall, no eyes and tail going back and forth as it ticked to distract him from the shot he might be getting, which his mother wouldn’t tell him about beforehand because she wouldn’t want him to be scared.

He wondered where his surprise was, if this is where he’d be getting it. None of the other children looked like they were getting surprises. They all looked sad or scared, like they might be about to get a shot from the doctor. He hoped this was a good surprise.

“Where are we Mama?”

Now Paul noticed that she looked different, a little like the children, a little like she might have a doctor’s appointment today that she didn’t want to go to. He wished he could make her feel better like she always made him feel better. Maybe they could go to McDonald’s afterward. Paul was still considering this when his mother’s broken voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Can you listen to me Paul? Look into Mama’s eyes. Right here baby.”

And with a hand on each of his shoulders, she crouched down to his level, looked into his big blue eyes and, as her own filled with tears, told him what she’d been holding back for months.

“Paul, your Mama’s going away today. I’m in trouble and I have to go away for a while.”

“Like when Mr. Reese put Hannah in time-out during recess?”

“A little like that baby.”

“What’d you do?”

“It’s kind of a secret, but if I don’t go away for a little while, they might take you away from me.”

“You gonna come back soon?”

“I don’t know baby.”

“What about my surprise? Do I have to wait till you’re back?” Her tears spilled over at this.

“No baby. You’ll get your surprise today.”

“Okay, Mama. Don’t be sad, Mama. Mr. Reese told me everyone messes up sometimes. And I can wait for my surprise if you want.”

“No, it’s okay. Turn around baby.”

Paul turned around. Paul looked up. Paul looked into eyes as big and blue as his own. Paul reached out to a hand that clasped his tiny one in a grasp that felt familiar.

“Hi Paul. I’m Simon.”

Simon looked over at his mother, who was still crying, and Paul wondered why he hadn’t met him before. Since Paul’s money was at home in his piggy bank, maybe Simon would buy his mother McDonald’s. He seemed nice. He was so tall.

“Hi Simon.”

“Paul, you’re going to be staying with me for a little bit while your Mom’s away.”

“Okay Simon.”

“We’ll have fun, alright buddy.”

“Okay Simon. Do you like Harry Potter? There’s a bookstore on the way home that’s got it.”

“We’re not going back to your house Paul, but I am sure we can find it somewhere.”

Simon looked up at his mother again, and Paul followed his gaze. He thought she was trying to smile. Maybe she wasn’t so scared after all.

“I love you baby.”

“I love you too, Mama.”

Simon took Paul by the hand again, and led him through the other children, toward the big double doors at the back of the room.

“Bye Mama.”

“Bye Paulie, I’ll see you in just a few years baby.”

Only this time she was crying so hard he didn’t hear her. He was watching the children, watching Simon, and still waiting for his surprise. When they reached the double doors Simon opened one and ducked his head down to pass through it. At the last minute Paul remembered something and turned around with all the force his little self could muster.

“Mama! Are you going to be back for dinner? I wanted to invite Tommy over later. Could we set another place for Tommy? Please, please, please!”

His big blue eyes fixated on her mouth, waiting for a response, till the final second the door closed, but it was too late.

“I’m so sorry baby” she said to no one.

“I’ll just ask her again later.” Paul said to Simon.

© 2008 Alix Purcell

The Surprise

Alix Purcell

New York, United States

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