“Betcha can’t climb to the top”
“Betcha I can”
“Bet I might”
I stop. Gabe just said the ‘P word.’ And if my Mom’s nearby I’m worried I’ll get in trouble. I look to the bench where she sits with Abbey in her stroller. There’s no way she heard. Absolutely no way she heard. Definitely not.
“You’re a…pussy. I bet you’ve never even climbed to the top. You’re lying.”
I hope that this will distract Gabe, and maybe he’ll climb to the top and I wont have to. Maybe by the time he climbs to the top and then back down Mom will say it’s time to go and I wont have to climb it at all.
“Chicken. You’re afraid. You’re afraid you’ll fall and cry like a wittle baby.”
My stomach feels pukey and I think of something, “Race you to the top?”
Gabe looks up at the top of it and then back at me. He smiles and we take our places on the chain.
“One. Two. Three. Climb!” Gabe shouts.
We’re climbing and I’m way ahead of Gabe. Like almost to the top and he’s all the way just at the middle. I make it to the top first and cling to the green metal pole. I’m scared to look down but I don’t tell Gabe.
He gets to the top and frowns at me, “You’re a cheater Michael. You’re a cheater just like your Dad.”
“My mom says all the time: Michael Abrams’ Daddy is a cheater. A dirty. Perverted. Dirty, cheater.”
And then Gabe is saying, “Hey, did I ever tell you I can fly?”
And I say no Gabe you can’t fly, you’re lying but he says watch me and he jumps.
And he can’t fly. At all. I laugh for a minute when he lands in the woodchips, but then he’s screaming and crying and his mom comes over and starts screaming and my mom comes over and starts screaming at her and at me and I really don’t want to look down because it’s still really high and because everyone’s yelling and Gabe is crying.
Gabe’s mom carries him to the park bench and sits with him in her lap. I come down but really slowly and Mom’s looking at me funny. Like she’s afraid of something and really angry at the same time. She pushes Abbey’s stroller to the car and I follow. I get in the back seat and buckle up, Gabe’s laying on the merry go round now and his mommy’s back on the bench with a book. My mom closes the door and she drives us home.
“Michael,” she says after seven minutes (I’m watching the clock on the dash) and I see her mouth in the rearview mirror.
I look at her reflection.
“You know it’s wrong to push, right?”
“And it’s wrong to hurt other people.”
“I know” I mumble.
The car is quiet, and I look over at Abbey in her car seat. She’s wiggling and chewing on her giraffe.
“Mom,” I say quieter than before. I can tell her head is pointed at me through the mirror. She doesn’t say anything but I know she’s listening. “Is dad a cheater?”
She breathes in really quickly and then asks me quietly, “what?”
“Gabe said his mom said that Daddy was a cheater? Why would daddy be a cheater? I don’t understand why Gabe’s mom would think that.”
Mom sniffs kinda sharply and looks back at the road for a long time. I watch Abbey mush her giraffe in her mouth.
“You’re Daddy is a good man.”
And we’re quiet the rest of the way home. I watch the time change until we pull into the driveway, and Abbey continues to joyously mush her giraffe, perfectly content with everything just as it is.