When we got there, it was that in-between time, just after school, and just before night shopping, and the Coalville Mall parking lot was almost empty, We pull into a space next to a banged up blue van. Before I slide out I peer around. Checking. Hoping I wouldn't see anyone I knew.
“Get his communication book,” my mother told me .
It was on the front seat. She was already reaching in to help Jerry unfasten his seat belt. We didn't encourage him to open it himself. I reached in and got the small folder. It was a ring binder full of simple photos of things we did. I picked it up before I turned and made my claims on the time. The whole trip could so easily fall apart and then we'd go scurrying home before I got my stuff.
“I need one of those white boards for display and I need someof that tacky glue, and maybe markers, some of those big ones that artists use,” I said.
“I know,” she muttered. “Oh I just wish you'd got this at the weekend.” She held the communication book in front of Jerry. ”First mall, then ice cream. OK? “
I turn away so she couldn't see my face. I could feel the anger burn into my skin. I knew my lips were a white line, my eyes burned like nuggets of black coal, and my skin stretched tight over my bones. I felt like a thin faced animal, the kind that burrows under ground, with thick curved claws and a pointed snout. I shook my hair over my cheeks, hiding. Not a nose! A snout.
Without looking I could hear her.
“Okay Jerry,” Her voice full to overflowing with this placating tone the under layers shrieking anxiety. The unspoken message ,please do what I ask, please don't have a melt down. “Come on Jerry. Let's go.” I know without looking the pinched look on her face. I know the distance between them, about ten inches. I know she wouldn't want to touch him. His tantrums seem to come frrm nowhere. Well that's what it seems like to her, but I am better at judging what to expect, after all she leaves him with me a lot, and I mean a lot. I frown, how can I keep these thoughts out.
I turn to look and tapped my foot, I couldn't help it. It was just as I predicted. The space between them was ten inches, she was bent down right in his face. How come she doesn't know he hates that. She was pointing vigorously ate the top of the folder where there was a photo of the mall and a picture of the ice cream store under the words First and Then.
As I watched she bent down even closer, searching his face trying to see if he'd understood. She stood up. She took his hand. But then she had to keep letting it go because he kept twisting around as if his bones were elastic.
Maybe I should help. But I'm still so fed up that he even has to come. I turn my back. Inside I know I'm not being fair.
“It was better when he was very small and we could put him in his stroller or a shopping cart,” I remark. My voice tight and mean. I turn to check.
She is holding on to his wrist with a grip of death.
“His hand 'll go numb, “ I said.
“Let's go,” she said.
It sounded like the march of doom.
Without looking at her, I grabbed Jerry's other hand and we set off across the wide dirty gray concrete parking space towards the mall doors.
An ocean of emptiness.
The kids crowding the mall entrance are the usual squirming, swirling, pale-faced, dark-bodied, barrier that we have to pass. They're always here after school, smoking, even though they're not old enough. In unison they turn to look.
“Clones,” I whisper under my breath.
My mother sniffed. “I don't know why the mall security doesn't do something about them.”
Our next hurdle, Jerry likes to touch their chains and stuff. My mother and I struggle to get between him and the chains and other dangling pieces of metal shining and twirling from their dark clothes. I can feel my face getting red. I push my hair back and glare at the audience. They star blank faced back at me, but I knew, that as soon as I turned my head, they'd all look at each other and snicker. We struggle closer. Hopefully we can distract him with the door opening button. He likes the door button..
“We should take a picture of the button and give it to him to hold when we get out of the car,” I mutter.
Jerry walked towards them. If he was a horse we'd put blinkers on him so he would only focus on what we chose for him. As it is, I am serving as one blinker and my mother's body makes the other. His constricted view is focused by us on the door button.
At least that won't laugh at us, I smother my nervous chortle.
Jerry, pressed the shiny metal button and then he stopped, motionless, in the doorway. with this intense look on his face as he waited for the doors to fully open. They have to be fully open before he will go in. I stood next to Jerry and waited while he got ready to go through the door way. I could feel the black-clothed, metal-festooned people giggling at us.
“Come on,” our mother pressed him. Her face pale, her lips pressed so tightly they disappeared into a white line within the ridges of anxiety.
“He'll only be in a minute. Ignore them.”
Sometimes I feel like the parent. She really needs to get a grip. I want to say that, but know it's no use ,she'd only get this tragic look and make me feel bad.
A couple of seconds can feel like years.
Then we go in.
I quickly assessed the area just like it was a military expedition.
It is like a military expedition, going shopping with him. We have to be prepared to respond to any emergency. So far he's been good. I'm the advance guard.
Just inside the mall, I wait . They come through the second set of doors and he's still smiling. He likes the shops.
“Okay,” I say.
This entrance opens up into the food court. I can smell coffee. Pizza, and Chinese. Despite the noise of the huge TV up at the far end of the food court I can hear a low murmur of voices, the squeak of chairs, a baby crying. The light is too bright. The floor is too shiny. A woman is talking on her cell phone with her baby in a stroller, she stands in front of the video store. Thank goodness the stores are not busy yet.
“This way.” I pull on Jerry's arm. In my anxiety I forgot how much he hates to be touched. But he's staring at the battery of lights and the birds that flutter and twitter up in girders that stretch across the glass roof. But he comes with me, slower than I want but compliant to my pressure.
“Come on let's get my stuff then we can leave.” I throw the words over his body at my mother who's got this clenched look about her.
Round the corner from the food court we come on a new stall set right in the middle of the mall.
“Oh no! What's this crap!”
It's not winter, it's the middle of summer. Who would have guessed we'd see something like that now. But there they are and it's way too late. The mittens on a string dangle, swing, look like brightly colored candies, and some have bells on. I can hear the jingle, jangle form here.
“Quick. Let's go,” I say and try to pull him past. “Quick. Quick as bunny.”
But it didn't work. All those furry bits and pieces were just begging for him to touch them. One pair of mittens got his especial attention and boy when something gets his attention it sticks. He reached out, whirling and twirling to get free from our grasp. I know what's going to happen she'll let him have them. He always get what he wants.
These mittens have a string that fastens them together. They have these animal pictures on the backs, made from fur and with long tails that hang down. Just the kind of thing Jerry loves to fiddle with. Anything soft, anything with animals or cars that he can swing about and twirl, he just loves. I know that's what he's after I just know.
“Come on Mom,” I say, pulling on Jerry's arm. “Let's get past this place.”
But no chance, Jerry has eyes like a hawk for things that he likes, and he's strong. It's like he has no boundaries to stop hurting others. He wants what he wants. He pulls out of my hand and drags my mother towards the stall. He grabs those mittens on a string. Glaring yellow ones with a tiny gray furry mouse sewn onto the back, long pink furry ears dangle down, and to top it all off, a long pink tail like a piece of a twizzler, hanging down
“Oh no, he can't.” I can hear the shrill sound of desperation in my voice. I look at my mother. She's smiling indulgently at him. “He can't have them. He's way too old. He'll look so silly. Mother you can't let him have them.”
I snatch at the mittens-on -a -string dangling from my brother's hands.
“Everyone'll laugh at him. He's not in Kindergarten anymore!
I pulled harder. The mittens jerked into the air and flew free.
I whirled them behind my back. But I knew that wouldn't work. Out of sight out of mind? Not for Jerry. No way!
As soon as he realized they were gone, Jerry began to mewl, screwing up his mouth, eyes vacant, he no longer saw me, or anything else. His whole being was fixed on the space where the mittens had been. His fingers grappled away as if his life depended on getting those mittens back. He seemed willing to dig through my body to get them
“Give them back to him.” My mother urged.” You only care if they laugh at you. It's not about him!”
I glared at her. She looked a mess!
“I hate you!” I hissed.
The distressed look on her face made her look trapped. Her eyes swiveled first one way then the other as if she wanted to slip off and melt away. Maybe that's what she wanted to happen. Or maybe she secretly wanted us all to melt away, to disappear, so she could live a perfect life. I stared at her. I didn't care if I hurt her. In fact I wanted to hurt her and everybody in the whole world.
“This sucks!” I was on a roll and couldn't seem to stop myself. “I'm sick of this and I wish you were dead. No! I wish he was dead!” I pushed Jerry at her. “It'd be so much better without him. I could have a life. A normal life with friends over, not just Gillian but lots of people, and parties and stuff. And you! I glared at her. You could be like other moms. You could have coffee with friends and pretend your life was perfect, You could be in charge instead of leaving it all to me. You could get your hair done, paint your lips, and go running again. You know. Do stuff!” I looked at her. “You need to go to therapy!”
She stood there, lips loose, eyes filling with liquid. Dingy dry skin, covered with lines wriggling all over the place, and her hair tied back with a piece of cloth.
I turned away. I refused to feel sorry.
“You give in to him too much he'll never learn.” I muttered. “Stop it.” I pushed Jerry away. “Stop it, you're scratching me.”
He moaned and twisted, still reaching for the mittens. He wouldn't stop I knew that, but I was still angry, He couldn't stop, or listen,or wait. He would just keep on pulling at me, clutching at my arms. She would keep on fussing and flapping useless hands around at me trying to help him get the mittens,
“Give them to him.” she panted. “Just stop this, you're behaving like a spoiled brat.”
I threw the mittens down and turned away to see the skinny stall holder, with her blond hair and her thin legs ending in big boots standing up from her stool with her hand hovering over her phone. For a second I think, she's going to take a picture. We'll be on U tube. For a second I could hit her. That would top it all.
“I'll buy them, “ my mother told Blondie Big Boots.
“I'm the only one who tries to make him normal,” My words hissed out of my tight lips, full of spit and venom.
I hate all this.
I hate Jerry.
I hate her!
I hate myself for hating.
“We'll deal with it later,” she says her face all red, bits of hair escaping from her sloppy pony tail and sticking out like spokes of a bicycle wheel .
I glared at her. “I'm sick of dealing with it later. I'm sick of him spoiling things for us. You always give him what he wants. You're frightened of him.” I scowled at her. “Everyone's looking now.”
I wanted to rage and scream. Instead, I stamped off.
She always lets him do what he wants
I always have to be the one to give in
I have always had to to give it to him,
Those words have filled my life ever since he was born.
At first it didn't seem too bad. I mean everyone has smaller brothers or sisters but mine never grew up, or rather, as he did, he got more and more difficult. I marched away from them both. There was so much I wanted to say, so much I wanted to do. I flopped down on a nearby bench. I wanted to hurt them both. I could feel an ugly sullen look pushing my lips out, creasing my forehead. I was so angry. I folded my arms across my body, thrust my legs out, threatening to trip anyone who came close. Let them complain! I glared at my mother and my brother, a small but potent couple, in full view, out there, in the harsh white light of the mall.
He was happy now, twirling his mittens-on-a-string.
She only looked small,sad, and tired. She paid for the mittens and walked over towards me holding Jerry by one hand, the mittens hanging from his other hand. He beamed at me. I sighed, stood up, and, as usual, I returned to helping my mother with him.
“Come on Jerry, we'll get ice cream.” I said. “ Want Ice cream?” I encouraged, raising my voice and my eyebrows and bending down to get his attention.
“Ice cream,” he said.
My mother smiled at me. We walked away, leaving the scene, Jerry between us, mittens-on-a-string dangling down, twirling around. Now that he's happy, he's grunting and crooning his happy sound I like to see him happy. It's not like he's happy much of the time.
“I should have let him have them, I'm sorry”I say.
“I know it's hard for you.” She reached out to hug me.
But I moved away.