The writing prompt from NANO fiction is: Write a prose poem, flash piece, or micro essay about a five-year-old.
Not Yet Six
Marilyn thought that a trip to Moo Moos, the ice cream parlor a few blocks away, would cheer her son up. But they had barely stepped outside their apartment building when Billy began to fuss, whining while trying to climb up her damn leg like a persistent monkey. "I'm tired," he said, over and over and over again, as if she wasn't completed exhausted from her long day. "I'm tired."
"I'm tired too, Billy," Marilyn said, fighting to keep her voice calm. "And it's a nice afternoon, and we're going to get ice cream. Can't you just walk by yourself for a little bit?"
"No!" Billy shrieked and plopped down in the middle of the sidewalk, his butt barely missing the evaporating puddle that was the remnant of last weekend's rains. A passerby in a suit glanced at him quickly, winced, and strode on by. For a moment Marilyn wished she could do the same.
"Besides you're the one who wanted to get ice cream. It's not fair if I have to walk to get the ice cream you wanted!"
Marilyn stared at her son (who had his eyes locked on the ground), truly flabbergasted by what he had just said. Did he - could he - really believe that they were getting ice cream for her? She wanted to scream at him, she wanted to break down in tears, but in the end she settled for the easiest thing to do: she laughed.
"Okay, fine," she said, and held out her arms. Billy brightened immediately and jumped up. Marilyn stumbled for a moment - sometimes it seemed as if Billy were gaining pounds by the second - and then found her balance. Still she staggered a few steps before adjusting his weight properly. This isn't so bad, she scolded herself. He's still very young and the past year hasn't been easy for him. Plus, you could use the exercise!
Two blocks later she had had all the exercise she could stand. His small tousled head was no longer resting on her shoulder; instead he was swinging his head about in little jerks, looking from side to side with great interest while kicking his feet, and now he was starting to slip. "Okay," Marilyn huffed, "that's enough. Time to walk, big boy."
Far more compliant now that he had gotten his way, Billy slid down her body, landed on his feet, and soon they were walking hand-in-hand. "Look around," she said, able to look around herself now that she didn't have to concentrate on holding up a five year old in the 80th percentile of the weight chart. "Look at all the kids walking with their Mommies and... and their Daddies. Do you see anyone else being carried?"
To his credit Billy did look around. "But they're all big kids," he said. "They're all six years old, or maybe seven or even eight. I'm not even six years old yet!"
Marilyn looked down at him, eyes gleaming. "Does that mean I don't have to carry you when you're six years old?"
Caught, Billy squirmed. "Maybe," he mumbled. "Maybe." Then he brightened. "There it is Mommy! Let's race!" And he let go of her hand and ran to the hideously colored cow in front of Moo Moos.
That night after Marilyn had read him his bedtime story, Billy went quiet almost at once, snuggled tightly in between Mr. Roar (a tattered blue teddy bear) and Patty (a green dinosaur that he always indignantly prevented her from calling a 'Brontosaurus', although she was pretty sure that it was one). Standing up, she kissed him once on the forehead and went to the door.
She turned back. "Yes, sweetheart?" In the soft glow of his nightlight she saw that his eyes were still closed.
"How old are you?"
"Hm. How old do you think I am?"
"I don't know. Like... nineteen?"
"I'm thirty-four, sweetheart." The correction didn't hurt; in fact it made her smile.
She was about to leave when he spoke once more. "Mommy?"
"Do you think you can be happy again when you're thirty-five?"
She stood absolutely still, suddenly paralyzed. And while on the one hand she was regretful that her son had noticed how tired and lonely and, yes, sad she so often was now - on the other hand a secret part of her was glad that he knew.
So she said, "Maybe. Anything can happen when we grow older."
Billy smiled, eyes still closed, and said, "Well, maybe I can help you. When I'm older too, I mean. When I'm six."
Quietly, she said, "Maybe you can."
Billy said nothing more. And after a few more moments Marilyn left to face what was left of the night.
I like writing about children, having one of my own that I find endlessly fascinating. Children are simple to read, but that doesn't make them simple; in their own innocent way they bubble up the true complexity of life that adults often fight so hard to keep hidden away, for better or for worse.
Another fascinating thing about children is their almost mystical attitude about age. Each turning of the year is magically transformative, enabling them to suddenly do things like walk on their own or sleep with the lights off. I find that belief sweet and a little sad - not for them, but for us grownups that find change so hard to come by.
That's the attitude that I tried to capture in thirty minutes, and it's not all together there. There needs to be more complexity in Marilyn's thought, more indications as to her backstory (a divorced single mom), and more genuine unhappiness. And I think Billy needs to have a lot more volatility.
Still, I kinda like this for what it is: a very very early draft of an idea I don't hate. Oh, and please don't tell my daughter this, but I still like carrying her once in a while. It really is good exercise :P