By W. T. Paterson
Allison knocked on the front door. Her phone buzzed.
Why are you being this way?? the message asked.
At work. Bye. She wrote.
She could hear the television inside of the small one bedroom apartment, so she tested the cold knob. It spun, unlocked in her palm. Mrs. June’s treatments were getting more severe and sometimes by necessity she had to leave her son Brody alone until Allison got there to babysit. Often, it was never clear how long the preschooler had been by himself.
The young boy was watching TV with his large, anxious eyes glazed over.
“Mama?” he said, as Allison walked in.
“No, hun, just Ally-bear,” she said, and dropped her keys onto the coffee table.
You’re being unreasonable, a text chimed.
Can’t talk, she wrote. Allison sat on the couch and tossed her phone to the side. She wasn’t ready to deal with David’s little tantrums, especially after deciding he wasn’t going to their senior prom, which meant if she went to senior prom, it wouldn’t be with her own boyfriend.
“Brody-bear, when was the last time you had a bath?” Allison asked, noticing a thick odor coming off of him.
“When Mama here,” he said through crooked baby teeth. His big head was floppy atop a slight, fragile frame.
“Are you asking or telling me, sweetie?” she asked. Brody pointed to the closed bathroom.
“Mama no sleep,” he said.
“I bet,” Allison said. “I know you two share a bed. Does it wake you up, too?”
You’re selfish, a text came through.
I’m. At. Work. She fired back. And btw, I’m not selfish because I WANT to go to prom!
Allison looked at her phone and recognized that her hand was shaking with frustration, so she went into the kitchen to see what she could make Brody for supper.
“Slim pickins,” she said, looking into the fridge. “How about some mac and cheese?” It was always a hit; her best friend’s mother’s special recipe still held up.
She felt the boy collapse around her leg like a needy koala.
“Woof, you are ripe, buddy,” she said, pushing his thin brown hair aside.
She pulled out a box of mac and cheese and placed it on the counter, then pointed to the bedroom door.
“Go get your jammies,” she said. Brody shook his head no. Her phone buzzed.
Prom is lame, the text said.
Not the point!!! She furiously typed.
“Brody,” she said, this time a little more stern than she had intended. “Go get your PJs.” She leaned in and flipped the light on for him, still staring at her screen because David was starting to respond.
Brody stood in the doorway and took small steps inside while Allison started drawing a bath. He came out shortly after with some superhero jams.
She put the phone on the back of the toilet and helped peel Brody’s shirt off, then his pants, then picked him up under the arms to lift him into the warm water. The boy sat down and stared up at her as the warm water crept to his chest.
Allison shut off the valve.
I’ll go, I just won’t have fun, her phone buzzed.
Asshole, she wrote back.
So I’m an asshole if I’m honest??
You’re an asshole because you’re an ASSHOLE!
Allison put the phone on the edge of the sink while she put some shampoo into her palm. She brushed some warm water over Brody’s head and then rubbed in the shampoo. It was like she could feel the grime leaking off of him. She heard his stomach growl.
“Food’s coming, Bro-Bro,” she said, and for a second forgot about her spat with David.
“Mama no sleep,” he said again. Allison’s heart collapsed into itself.
“I know it’s been tough,” she said, gently cupping some warm water onto the crown of his head.
After the shampoo was washed out, Allison pulled the stopper and the bathwater drained. She wrapped a thick towel around the shivering Brody like a cape and helped dry him off. She checked her phone as he awkwardly tried to put on his pajamas.
Maybe you’re the reason I don’t want to go, a text said.
“Oh my god…” Allison said, feeling her vision start to pinhole. She took Brody’s smelly clothes and tossed them from the bathroom into the bedroom. She’d pick them up later when she tucked him in and had time to deal with her idiot boyfriend head on.
Brody patiently sat at the kitchen table’s booster seat staring at the bedroom door and waiting for the food to finish. Allison did her best not to look at the texts as they buzzed in like flies.
When the food was placed in front of the boy, he ate with the ferocity of a feral animal. She smelled the odor from his clothes waft into the kitchen with such potency that her face pinched.
“More?” he asked, his wide eyes wet again.
“That was the whole box,” Allison said, a little impressed, and used a warm cloth to wipe the mess off his face. “Ok, bed time.”
Brody shook his head no. He shrank away when she stepped in to pick him up.
“Come on,” she said, her voice stern and authoritative. Brody slunk out of his chair and nervously walked into the bedroom while Allison put the bowl in the sink and checked her phone.
Everyone told me not to date you, one read. You’re so selfish.
I didn’t mean that. Can we just talk? Another read.
You should go to prom with Chris Magliotti, whore, the last one read.
Allison could feel her fingers tremble with fury as she started typing a response while walking into the bedroom. Her head was down until the scent of the clothes jerked her attention up.
On the bed, Brody had tucked himself under the heavy arm of his mother, who was lifeless on her side, mouth open and eyes pale, a hideous odor pouring from her corpse.
Allison dropped her phone.
“Mama no sleep,” Brody said, his eyes filling with tears, as text after text buzzed Allison’s phone about what a dirty, rotten, no-good person she was.
W. T. Paterson is the author of the novels Dark Satellites and WOTNA. A Pushcart Prize nominee and graduate of Second City Chicago, his work has appeared in over 40 publications worldwide including Fiction Magazine, The Gateway Review, and a number of anthologies. He is a current MFA candidate at the University of New Hampshire. Send him a tweet @WTPaterson.