Short Fiction

The A-to-Z Challenge — Melting in Manalapan

It’s March and when you sniff the air you can just tell that winter’s had enough and is getting ready to blow out of here.  There’s still snow piled up at the edges of the parking lots, but it’s grainy, sooty, crunchy and chock full of seasonal relics and artifacts.

A mom pulls her toddler through the mini mall parking lot.  He’s a kid so he’s short and got a good view of the ground. The sun is bright and the mom is, of course, wearing sunglasses, but the kid is looking down, squinting, and he sees a mitten.  It might even be this kid’s own mitten — it’s a gender-specific, stereotypical boy’s mitten — blue with Spider-man’s face on it.

The boy reaches down, stretching against the counterweight of his mother holding his other hand, but he still can’t reach the mitten.

“Stop it,”  the mom says, annoyed that the kid is slowing her down.  She’s got a lot of stuff to do before her older kids get home from school.

The boy doesn’t stop pulling and for a moment he’s suspended like a starfish. His fingers outstretched like another little starfish at the end of his arm.  He is close to Spidey, so close.

“That’s dirty.  Don’t touch it. Nasty,” says the mother in quick, staccato bursts.  She wants to pull her boy back but he’s leaning so heavily that she can’t get enough leverage in her arm to yank him. She feels guilty that she’s comparing her sweet baby son to a dog straining on a leash.  But it’s only a wet, dirty mitten.  Too late in the season to even be useful anymore.  It’s trash of a past season, useless alone.

“It’s Spidey, Mama.  All alone in the snow. Can I have him?  Please?”

The mother sighs. Cars are driving by slowly, leaving wakes of grey slush behind them, but the mitten is bright even against the stony, pitted snowbank.   She bends down to pick up the mitten.  It’s wet, but surprisingly warm on the “up” side, like a freshly-flipped pancake.  The ground side, however, is as cold as the moon.

Her son looks up at her, tense and squinty.  His baby nose is red, drippy.

“OK, OK but I’ll have to wash him first.”

He smiles, relaxes his hand in hers again as they walk back to the car.


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