Toaster Pastries, Accusations, and That Time My Mom Smiled

My head bounces against the window where it lie. House after suburban house.

Another House.
Tree after tree.
The neighborhood speeds past in anticipation.
A pop-tart, locally grown and free-range, awaited me at home after school.
Pop-tart anticipation.


The bus slows. Quiet. I stand up and walk to the doors.

“Thanks,” I mumble, politely. Preoccupied.

Pop-tarts and Growing Pains, my after school ritual.

I walk home. It’s a small neighborhood. Birds chirping and dogs barking pave my walk.

Three wooden steps and a screen door and I’m safe.

People exhaust me.

I toss my backpack down.

Sister, Niece, Me (Daryl), Mom, Brother
Sister, Niece, Me (Daryl), Mom, Brother

“Hey bud.” Says mom. She glances up from an envelope.


“How was…”

*knock* *knock* 

I look at her asking if she’s expecting someone. She shrugs.

I walk down stairs.

“Hello?” I peek around the door.

Two strangers are standing at my door.
A kid from the bus. He lives two houses down. The house with the dog. The house where you can hear raised voices in the evening.

I don’t know his name. He spit in my hair once.

“Is your mother home?” The well-fed woman hovering around him asks.
She is ugly. She is ugly in the frown that fits snuggly on her face. She is ugly in her anger and in her wrinkles that underline her down turned mouth. She wears these things like a soaking wet nightgown, they’re revealing, clinging to her tired skin and ugly face.

My heart is racing.

I’m going to jail . . . I’m certain of it. I’m probably not even going to get to eat my pop-tart. I’ll be sent away by this ugly mean woman, except I won’t get a wand or an owl or a ginger for a best friend.

Everyone knows you need a ginger for a friend if you want to be a wizard.

“Mom.” I whisper.

“Coming, honey.”

Mom walks down the stairs. She puts her arm around my shoulders. My head reaches the middle of her torso.

She smiles at me.

I was short. Fifth grade wasn’t my year for height.

“Hi, I’m Daryl’s mom, Debra.” Mom opens the screen door.

The door is open. The barrier is down.

Ugly woman reaches in and grabs my hair and pulls me out the door. I stumble and my hands slide on the wood of the deck. A long splinter lodged in my palm. Tears steam down my face.

None of that happens. Ugly woman glares at me, “Your son threw our recycling bin on the roof. He is insubordinate and disrespectful.”

I’m surprised she knows the word insubordinate as I watch her say the word. Her jowls sway. She is a bulldog chewing on an old slipper. She’s going to eat my pop-tart, I think to myself.

I’m shy and embarrassed and I side step behind my mom.

Mom moves forward, curious about this recycling bin, one foot on the porch now. She is uninterested in the bulldog. She glances where the woman’s fat finger points.

For three seconds, she stares.10599567_672060080155_2143024367989063819_n




This is why I don’t like people, I think. Books never blame you for rogue recycling bins.

“No, he didn’t.” My mom says matter-of-factly. She looks the woman in the eye. A smile slips over my mom’s lips like a weapon. A stream sliding across her face. You don’t blame my son, this smile said; a wolf’s fangs. This smile was a warning.

Staring, mom never drops her eyes, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

The vile woman’s son’s smirk vanished. Slowly his eyes widened. Large, dopey, full moons tucked into his pie pan face.


My mom closed the door.


A metallic sound in the kitchen springs out in the air.

“The pop-tarts are ready”


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