“Is that Trent?” Allison asks, pointing at the only picture remaining on the kitchen wall.
“Allison,” Steven hisses through gritted teeth as everyone takes a seat around the table.
“Hush, Steven,” Ms. Haas responds. “Allison, you’re welcome to ask whatever you’d like. And yes, that’s my Trent. My little angel. God’s little angel.”
An impromptu moment of silence rushes through the kitchen like the chill from an open freezer.
“Sometimes I still see him, you know,” Ms. Haas says, disrupting the silence, but maintaining the tension. “Not in a horror movie sort of way. More like one of those dreams where your body’s asleep but your senses are firing on all cylinders. I’ll be sitting here, reading the newspaper, and before I can get to the Sudoku I hear, More oatmeal, Mommy!”
“That was me, Mom,” Steven interjects. “Trent hated oatmeal. He was terrified of that creepy Quaker on the container.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh, well maybe it wasn’t oatmeal. Maybe he says, More Cheerios, Mommy! Regardless, I look up and he’s sitting there, smiling at me, joy radiating from that adorable little dimple in his left cheek.”
“Do you see a dimple in that cheek?” Steven asks, pointing to the picture. “Jason is your dimply son.”
“I know Jason has a dimple, Steven,” she says, turning around in her chair for confirmation, “but I could’ve sworn Trent did too.”
Ms. Haas studies the picture like a Magic Eye, squinting in hopes of making a crease appear on Trent’s frozen face.
“Nope,” Steven says. “The only creases on his body were the ones circling his chubby little arms. That’s why we called him the Michelin Man.”
Ms. Haas draws a deep, shuddering breath and turns back around.
“Oh right, right, right,” she says. “I remember that, you big meanies. Brothers. Am I right, Allison?”
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know, Ms. Haas,” Allison answers. “I’m an only child.”
“We won’t hold that against you,” Ms. Haas says, attempting to lighten the mood. “One thing’s for sure, his hair is still as blonde and bright as the summer sun bouncing off a hubcap. And he has those piercing baby blues too, like the ones that follow you when you walk past an issue of Parenting Magazine.”
“We all did, Mom,” Steven says. “Our family portrait looked like a fucking Nazi propaganda poster.”
“Steven, don’t curse in front of your girlfriend like that,” she says. “And stop being so flippant! Allison asked about Trent–which she had every right to do–and I was just getting her up to speed.”
“She already knows everything,” Steven says, “I showed her the article.”
“You let her read that slander?” Ms. Haas scolds.
“What slander?” Steven asks, spreading his fingers like he’s being tasered.
“That reporter made me out to be the worst mother on the face of the Earth.”
“No she did not,” Steven moans, bored by the redundancy.
“Then why’d she have to mention me locking Trent’s tricycle to the pole for putting Play-Doh all over the car?”
Steven slaps his forehead with his palm and drags his fingers down his face like egg yolk.
“Because you did,” he says, firing sass between his middle and ring finger like a slingshot. “But she put all the blame on the girl who was texting and driving, not you.”
Ms. Haas closes her eyes and shakes off his logic until flashbacks of skid marks and blood splatters jolt her back to reality.
“Well, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to hop in a time machine and prevent that day from ever happening, but it does bring me a tiny bit of peace to know Trent’s name and memory have been immortalized in the court of law.”
“You want to know something ironic,” Steven asks rhetorically. “I was actually pulled over for Trent’s Law once.”
“You were WHAT?” Ms. Haas says, putting every tooth in her mouth on display.
“Hey, blame Apple Maps. That shitty app was trying to tell me to turn into a creek.”
“How did I not know about this?” Ms. Haas asks, pursing her lips to put Allison at ease.
“Because I told the cop Trent was my little brother, and he let me go with a warning.”
“He should’ve thrown the book at you,” Ms. Haas spits without a drop or pretense. “If anyone should know better, it’s his own brother.”
“At least I know what he looked like.”
Allison’s posture stiffens as Ms. Haas melts into her chair. Her excess body mass oozes through the wooden slats like the clay Trent squished through the grill of their family car.
“Sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean that,” Steven says, tears welling in his eyes in pace with his mother’s.
Ms. Haas thrusts her hands towards the table and catches her face before her head crashes into the bare wooden surface. Her fingertips bend like barbs, fastening her palms against her eyes to dam her tear ducts.
“I’m going to take out another box,” Allison mouths to Steven, standing up with her chair pressed against her backside to avoid making any noises.
Steven nods and shuffles his chair back with no regard for the acoustics of the empty kitchen. He walks to his mother’s side of the table and wraps his arms around her shoulders, squeezing her tighter to bring his mouth closer to her ear.
“I know it still hurts, Mom,” Steven whispers. “It always will. But you will never hurt alone.”
Ms. Haas removes one hand from her face and places the dampened skin against her son’s forearm.
“Thank you, Trent,” she says.
Ms. Haas and Steven open their eyes. Steven remains still until his mother’s shoulders begin to quake. He leans in to hear muffled laughter sputtering from her nostrils. He does the same and kisses her on her cheek, the hairs of his beard tickling her into full-blown laughter.
“Okay,” Ms. Haas says, tapping Steven’s arm to signal she’s ready to stand up. “I think I’ve been moping here long enough.”