It was just the two of us, my mother and me, after my father left. He said I should count the new baby he had with his new wife, Marjorie, as part of my family too, plus Richard, Marjorie's son, who was six months younger than me though he was good at all the sports I messed up in. But our family was my mother, Adele, and me, period. I would have counted the hamster, Joe, before including that baby, Chloe.
Saturday nights when my father picked me up to take us all out to dinner at Friendly's, he was always wanting me to sit next to her in the backseat. Then he'd pull a pack of baseball cards out of his pocket and lay them on the table in the booth, to split between Richard and me. I always gave mine to Richard. Why not? Baseball was a sore spot for me. When the phys ed teacher said, OK, Henry, you play with the blues, all the other guys on the blue team would groan.
For the most part, my mother never mentioned my father, or the woman he was married to now, or her son, or the baby, but once by mistake, when I left a picture out on the table that he'd given me, of the five of us---the year before, when I went with them to Disney---she had studied it for at least a minute. Stood there in the kitchen, holding the picture in her small, pale hand, her long graceful neck tilted a little to one side as if the image she was looking at contained some great and troubling mystery, though really it was just the five of us, scrunched together in the teacup ride.
I would think your father would be worried about the way that baby's one eye doesn't match with the other, she said. It might be nothing more than a developmental delay, not retardation, but you'd think they'd want to have that child tested. Does she seem slow to you, Henry?
Maybe a little.
I knew it, my mother said. That baby doesn't look anything like you either.
I knew my part, all right. I understood who my real family was. Her.
It was unusual for my mother and me to go out the way we did that day. My mother didn't go places, generally. But I needed pants for school. OK, she said. Pricemart, then. Like my growing a half inch that summer was something I'd done just to give her a hard time. Not that she wasn't having one already.
The car had turned over the first time she turned the key in the ignition, which was surprising, considering a month might have gone by since the last time we'd gone anywhere in it. She drove slowly, as usual, as if dense fog covered the road, or ice, but it was summer---the last days before school started, the Thursday before Labor Day weekend---and the sun was shining.
It had been a long summer. Back when school first got out, I had hoped maybe we'd go to the ocean over the long expanse of vacation ahead---just for the day---but my mother said the traffic was terrible on the highway and I'd probably get sunburned, since I had his coloring, meaning my father.
All that June after school let out, and all that July, and now just having ended August, I kept wishing something different would happen, but it never did. Not just my father coming to take me to Friendly's and now and then bowling with Richard and Marjorie, and the baby, or the trip he took us on to the White Mountains to a basket-making factory, and a place Marjorie wanted to stop, where they made candles that smelled like cranberries or lemon or gingerbread.
Other than that, I'd watched a lot of television that summer. My mother had taught me how to play solitaire, and when that got old, I tackled places in our house that nobody had cleaned in a long time, which was how I'd earned the dollar fifty that was burning a hole in my pocket, for another puzzle book. These days even a kid as weird as I was would do his playing on a Game Boy or a PlayStation, but back then only certain families had Nintendo; we weren't one of them.
I thought about girls all the time at this point, but there was nothing going on in my life where they were concerned besides thoughts.
I had just turned thirteen. I wanted to know about everything to do with women and their bodies, and what -people did when they got together----people of the opposite sex---and what I needed to do so I could get a girlfriend sometime before I turned forty years old. I had many questions about sex, but it was clear my mother was not the person to discuss this with, though she herself brought it up on occasion. In the car, on the way to the store, for instance. Your body is changing, I guess, she said, gripping the wheel.
My mother stared straight ahead, as if she was Luke Skywalker, manning the controls of the X-wing jet. Headed to some other galaxy. The mall.