She and Sam were waiting for the bus when he started to get upset. She knew not to speak to him when this happened: he did not like her voice. He preferred other sounds: nonsensical sounds, and he made them now: ticks, and grunts, and shrieks. He crouched in the bus shelter and rocked back and forth, making noises and hitting his head. Everyone stared.
Why can’t you be normal? she thought, and then immediately hated herself.
Outside, there was a discarded coffee cup, and maybe this upset him. The bus stop was usually very clean. She picked up the cup, flattened and smeared with a muddy boot-print, and discarded it into the bin at the corner. Please calm down, she prayed. She did not have money for a cab, and Sam’s therapy session was the only hour where she got some peace. Where she could close her eyes for just a minute, and not worry about an outburst.
The bus approached and Sam had calmed significantly, but a man in a coat was annoyed. She could tell he was hesitating, which people sometimes did. They debated whether to wait for the next bus, rather than ride with her son.
Sam held her hand, but did not look at her. They stepped onto the bus and she paid the fare, and the man got on behind them.
They took the bus at this hour because it wasn’t crowded: the first seats were usually available, where Sam liked to sit. He sat there now and looked at his fingers.
“HOW OLD?” boomed the man behind her.
“Six,” she glared.
“He shouldn’t sit in the disabled seats!”
Now she was angry. Wasn’t it clear that her son was disabled?
No, she would not apologize for Sam. The man shuffled past, muttering under his breath. As the bus pulled away she fought back tears. She was tired. She needed a hug, but Sam hated that: hated to be touched. A hug would set off an episode, so she would have to do without. Isn’t that what children were for? To give hugs? She turned away, and looked out the window, hiding her tears.
Leah Jane Esau is an award-winning playwright and fiction writer. Her fiction has appeared in PANK, Bodega Magazine, Monkeybicycle, The New Quarterly, Grain, The Dalhousie Review and upcoming in the South Dakota Review. Her short story “Dream Interpretation” was a finalist for the Writer’s Trust of Canada’s Bronwen Wallace Award.