Fran McLachlan stood in the center of the midway holding her five-year-old son's hand and trying not to think about the way her life had gone wrong.
"Mommy," Eric said, "what's wrong?"
The massive bruises on his cheek and jaw looked far less discolored and painful today. If only she could say the same for her own abrasions--but, after all, wasn't that why God created makeup and Tylenol?
"Wha--? Oh, I'm sorry, hon. What did you say?"
"Did that lady say something bad to you?"
"No, hon, she didn't."
"Then how come you look so sad?" He clutched his balloon-doll as if his very life depended on it.
Oh, Christ! How could she answer that question honestly now, after what the woman had shown her? How could she tell her son--the only good thing she had--that she was thinking about abandoning him on a fairgrounds nearly a hundred miles from home because of a palm-reading?
You didn't give her a definite answer, Fran thought. The group's not going to head back to the shelter for another hour, you can at least make this time count. You can make sure he has so much fun that nothing will ever taint the memory for him, ever.
God, Eric, do you know how much I love you?
"Hey, you," she said, tugging on his hand and smiling.
"Hey, you!" he replied, grinning.
"We'll have to, uh, to be leaving soon, so what say until then we do whatever you want?"
"Uh-huh. You pick."
"Then I wanna go on the merry-go-round."
This surprised her. "Again? We've been on it three times today."
"But you laughed when the tiger started bouncing and it wasn't a pretend-laugh like all the other ladies. I liked it."
Oh for the love of God, kiddo--why'd you have to go and say something like that?
Fran kissed her son's cheek and told herself she would not start crying.
"Okay," she whispered. "The merry-go-round--and then maybe we'll meet your new friend and get some hot dogs."
"Hot dogs!" shouted Eric, dragging her down the midway, his balloon-doll thrust in front of him as if it were flying.
For a moment there, Fran could've sworn that her son's face actually shone with happiness.
Untainted. As childhood happiness should be.