“Daley needs a special place, a safe place, to live. Somewhere they can take care of him. I thought there might be a school, a special school for little boys like him.” She wet the tip of her finger with the tip of her tongue, and picked up an ash that had escaped onto the table. She flicked it into the ashtray, and she said, “There is a special school, but he has to go live there all the time.”
I looked at Mama, and then I looked at Daley.
“When?” I asked.
Mama pulled another cigarette out of her pack, and lit it. I drained the last of my ice tea. That was the sweetest part, the end of the glass, when the crystals that hadn’t melted flowed into my mouth with the tea.
Finally the ice cubes in Daley’s hands were just two little puddles in his palms. Mama checked her watch, “ Ten minutes, thirty three seconds. How does he do that?”
“Happiness runs, happiness runs,” he crooned. He kept repeating those four words as he counted out a new batch of toothpicks and started filling the next hole in the pegboard. Mama started crying again.
I tilted my glass and stuck my tongue inside it to get all the sugar off the sides.
“Happiness runs, happiness runs,” Daley sighed, as he broke the ends off the toothpicks in the hole he’d just filled. He pulled out eighteen new toothpicks and began filling in another row.
The next day I stayed home and helped Mama pack up Daley’s clothes, all his Lego blocks, his picture puzzles and his dominoes. We left the pegboard screwed into the wall. It was too big for the trunk of the car.
It took a long time to get Daley out of the house. Open spaces make him stiff as a board. Finally, I sang him the entire happiness song, and he followed me across the yard to the car.
It took two hours to get to his school. Mama didn’t cry on the way home, neither did I. We didn’t talk. She stared ahead, and I stared out my window.
When we got back to the house it was dinnertime. She smoked cigarettes as she made dinner, and I set the table and carried the plates. She filled two glasses and set one down above my plate.I pushed the glass off to the side, and said, “I don’t like ice tea.”
Per Contra Summer 2007