The father came into a room and saw the mother standing silent with her fingers in her ears. The mother’s long fake neon nails made the plugging mostly ineffective, but still the mother would not answer. The mother’s eyes were open but she would not look directly at the father. She kept turning more and more away.
The room was full of stuff they’d had to stop using as a precaution of the son’s disease. They were supposed to have thrown it out. Burned it. Burned the ashes. Buried the ashes in a sealed jar. Razed the land the jar was put in. Razed their minds of all if and else. No one had come to make sure that these things happened, and so they had not happened. Instead the mother hid these things away. They were supposed to have gotten rid of his Mickey Mouse pajamas, his sheets, his loose hair and teeth—the teeth he would have lost eventually anyway and the teeth he should have worn forever—his unopened Study Bible, as well as any photographs taken of him during the period and any cards or other mail that bore his name. They were supposed to change his name. They were supposed to forget everything the son had said aloud up to that point. The father, at least, had done that. In the room the mother stood wearing the white mask, holding the precautionary plaster cast she’d made of the son’s chest—already crumbling—against her own chest, humming one long sound.
The father had tried to convince the mother that it was best to get rid of these things as they could hold the sickness in their fibers, but whenever he brought it up like that the mother would get down on her knees and scream and scream until he said okay.
Eventually the father had even begun to want them for himself.
He did not tell the mother how for weeks he’d slept with a long lock of the child’s hair until he’d woke and found he’d ate it.
The father took the plaster molding from the mother and sat it on the carpet and unplugged the mother’s ears and clasped her hands and squeezed. He put his mouth against her head.
Do you want to go to McDonald’s? he said. Do you want to go to Chili’s? Do you want to go to Outback? Do you want to go to Miami Subs Grill? Do you want to go to the Container Store? Do you want to go to Sharper Image? Do you want to go to Hooters? Do you want to go to Chi-chi’s? Wait, Chi-chi’s is out of business. Do you want to go to Kenny Rogers Roasters? Do you want to go to Denny’s? Do you want to go to Great Clips? Do you want to go to Taco Bell?
The father did not know what had made him talk like that.
The father could not laugh.