Valerie was in the kitchen when she heard Reggie talking to someone. She chased a charred hotdog around the pan and tried to listen in, but the murmuring was too indistinct. Maybe Reggie was talking to an imaginary friend, it wasn’t unusual for a four-year-old to do that.
Valerie snorted and took a drag from her cigarette. With her luck it was some busybody from another trailer looking for her. The guy who rented the place out tried tricking the other tenants into finding her for him. Fuck him. Rent was only two weeks overdue.
Her son sat alone at the tv tray that served as their only table when she came out with the hotdog and a slice of white bread on a paper plate.
“Who ya talkin’ to, baby?”
Reggie was coloring, keeping one eye on the tv. He stayed perfectly within the lines, something she’d had trouble with even at 10.
“My new friend.”
“Some kid move in?” Someone he could go play with, maybe? She was hoping to have him gone by the time Dave got there. She didn’t want them getting familiar, for multiple reasons.
“No. His name is Pima. He comes from the future.”
Valerie nearly swallowed her cigarette. Fuck, had the kid been listening in on her and Dave? Pima, an acronym for “pain in my ass,” was the name she used to bitch about Reggie.
“That’s real cute,” she snapped, “you eat your lunch smart quick or there’ll be trouble.”
Reggie obediently shoveled the burnt meat and bread into his mouth. She had to go grocery shopping soon. If only a new kid had moved in, maybe Reggie could take meals somewhere else for a while. Or maybe she could just palm him off on a new family. Shit, if it wasn’t for the support check, she’d drop him here.
Valerie scrubbed angrily at her face and went to the kitchen. She ate some oreos and had another cigarette while she stared out the window. Dave had better get there soon, she was fucking gagging and the kid was getting on her last nerve.
She couldn’t understand why it bothered her so much that the kid knew something like that. He was a pain in her ass. Maybe it was the implication that he had been listening in on her and Dave. Maybe the little blabbermouth would repeat something in the wrong place and get the cops on them.
The talking started up again. Red tinged her vision. Valerie put her head down on the table and counted 1-2-3. The talking faded as the screen door screeched open and shut. The red receded as Valerie breathed.
Dave had promised to be by at around 10. It was 11:59 when his Charger tore the gravel up in her driveway. If he hadn’t been holding a bag of oxy, she would have kicked him right the fuck back out. But she purred and pulled him in, spending most of the afternoon chewing on him. They snorted oxycontin in white drifts and laughed at some private joke.
“What does it matter what he knows, he’s, like, three.” Dave reclined on Valerie’s mattress and rubbed his chest.
Valerie could not say that she was afraid of him accidently busting them, because then Dave would bash the little creep’s head in and probably hers too for good measure.
“He’s gettin’ too big for his britches,” she said finally, “I don’t like pushy kids, because then they think they’re the parents.”
Dave rolled his eyes, scratching the tribal antlers tattooed on his neck. “Fuck, I don’t want to talk about your kid anymore. I wanna do something fun.”
And so they did for the rest of the day. Then Dave zipped up his pants and left and Valerie ended up sleeping for fourteen hours. She only woke up because of a burning smell. Groaning, she made herself rise and walk painfully to the kitchen.
Reggie was at the stove. The single working burner was blazing, and the pan she used to boil equipment sometimes was brimming with a bubbling liquid.
Reggie kept up a wall of bright chatter as he poked at the mess with the kitchen’s only cooking utensil, a spatula.
Valerie gave a pained groan that stood in for an inquiry as to what the fuck was going on.
Reggie stopped talking and turned to her. He looked like he was evaluating her in some way, judging her. It made the red seep in again.
“Pima told me how to make soup. I didn’t burn myself, honest.”
Valerie grabbed her face with both hands and sucked in a breath. He may not have intended it, but every word out of the kid’s mouth just made her angrier. “Did you use up all my salt?”
“No, mommy. I used the old dried baloney and the frozen peas and Pima showed me where onions grow. Did you know you can grow food?”
Valerie waved in front of her face, as if the question was an errant fly.
“It’s almost done. I made enough for both of us.”
As she sat at the dinner tray and tried to move as little as possible, Reggie dipped a mug into the concoction and brought it to her. He even blew on it.
Valerie took a sip and almost gagged. The soup wasn’t bad. Her stomach was.
“If you don’t like this, Pima knows how to make pancakes. He’s real smart. He says he’ll teach me how to take care of myself.”
“Can he teach you how to shut the fuck up?” she screamed.
Reggie took his soup outside.
God, everything was Pima now. Pima knew where to get the best value out of their foodstamps. Pima knew how to fix the rabbit ears on their loaner TV. Pima knew that Reggie needed shots before he started school next year. Pima said that Dave was more trouble than he was worth, and might bring bad things if he kept coming by.
She was getting sick and fucking tired of Pima.
Valerie was rattling around the stove one day. The last burner had called it quits, so she took a pipe cleaner and some soda water to the line to try and clear it. Her phone buzzed, so she smoothed the hair from her ears and tried to speak like she wasn’t sweaty and frazzled.
“Hello, lover,” she purred.
“Who is this?” asked an unfamiliar male voice.
Valerie shrieked and clapped the phone shut. Thank god it was just a shitty burner model. She immediately opened the back and ripped out its guts.
“Reggie?” she called, fiddling with the stove knobs, “baby, we gotta go.” She turned them too much one way, then the other. “Now.”
“Pima says no.”
Valerie looked around. She was the most lucid she had been in days, and still she couldn’t discern where his voice came from.
“Baby, uncle Dave got into some bad trouble. We need to leave now.”
“Pima says that Dave brought his own trouble.” Reggie’s voice was monotone and hesitated in odd places, as if he was only repeating something he half-understood. “He said that it was only a matter of time before Dave got caught, and hurrying it along wasn’t wrong. He said that Dave would have a trunk full of bad things while he was at home today. He said the police would be happy to know that.”
The red rolled in like a tidal wave, swamping Valerie’s reason.
“You fucking little fucking shit!” she screamed. The club soda hit the floor and bounced, gushing all over her. “I’m gonna fucking kill you!”
She tore through the trailer, trashing any little space she thought he might hide in. She punched the hamper, and wailed on the shower curtain with Dave’s baseball bat. It was only by chance that she looked up and saw a flash of Reggie’s sunshine-yellow shirt out the window. Valerie bodyslammed the trailer door, falling painfully to the gravel as her son ran away. Getting to her knees was agony. She stumbled after him, chasing him, screaming at him that she was going to kill him. Her energy drained quickly and she was reduced to shuffling and calling out half-hearted curses as the bat dropped from her grasp.
The trees around the trailer park were littered with trash from homeless camps, too many places for a little boy to hide. Valerie collapsed on an abandoned mattress surrounded by garbage, breath sobbing out of her. She held her throbbing head in her forearms and rested it on her knees.
After a while she heard the sounds of worn tennis shoes on dead, dry grass.
“Pima says we can go back now.”
Valerie waited until he was too close before lunging at him. He cried out. She dug her nails into the back of his neck as she dragged him, promising all sorts of terrors that awaited him once they got back to the trailer.
What could she do? Mom had promised to call the cops the next time Valerie even set foot on her lawn. Uncle Hank would want a little touchy-touchy before she could stay, and even then there was no guarantee he wouldn’t sic the cops on her once he was done.
Valerie sucked on a lock of hair that had landed in her gasping mouth. God, she just needed a little. Then she could think straight.
They would get in the car, she decided as the trailer drifted back in sight, and just drive. They could work out the how’s and why’s later. She just needed to escape.
Valerie slammed Reggie into the car door. “Now you wait here, godammit. One step and I’ll leave you somewhere and never come back.”
Reggie nodded, dabbing at tears with the hem of his shirt.
“Good.” She nodded and stalked to the trailer. “And just for all that trouble, we’re leaving Jerry giraffe and your penguin here.”
The kid was silent, like the threat didn’t even mean anything.
Valerie opened the door. “I mean it, you little turd. You can’t get any of your animals to bring with us. You’re staying out there.”
“Oh, that’s okay.” Reggie called as she fumbled for the light switch. “Pima knew you would go first.”
The switch clicked on, and the gas that had been filling the trailer exploded.