IF HE HAD TONSILS
Mrs. McGuire sat in the wooden chair. Demurely. Her red and white checkered dress laid out neatly and pressed across her lap. Glad that she hadn’t forgotten to spill lilac water across her breasts that morning. Oh, that sweet smell of spring. Beside her little Alvin sat. In his stroller. Looking for a monitor to watch. Thinking that there was something that smelled like compost. Oh, that asthmatic aroma of the barn. Was it his mother? Could it be… him? Who cared? Alvin was hungry. His mother had forgotten to put his milk in the refrigerator the night before. When he was served that morning the warm milk made him nauseous. He liked his breasts chilled. And stirred.
The office they sat in was small. A couple of filing cabinets huddled in the corner. A hat tree looked lost against the barest of wall. And then there was the desk. Pressboard. And behind it. The detective. The sign outside the door read Storage.
“It’s alright, Alvin,” Mrs. McGuire said to comfort her son. She pinched her cheeks by sucking in the air. Through her clenched teeth. Mrs. McGuire took one of Alvin’s hands in her’s. And squeezed. It calmed Alvin down. She told people. And generally speaking, people believe her. No one asked Alvin. Alvin didn’t like his mother’s hands. They were sticky and smelled of bleach.
“This is not the way I like to spend my afternoons.” The detective loosened his tie. Sitting behind his desk. He was filling out a form. His trench coat and fedora were hanging on the hat tree. Like they’d been lynched. The lead in his pencil broke. The detective swore and dug into his drawer for a pencil sharpener. Which he found. And sharpened his pencil which was growing dangerously short to being unusable.
“Can’t we go now?” Mrs. McGuire asked. Her hands sat in her lap. Like two dead hamsters. At the bottom of a cage.
The detective looked up. His glasses slid down to the tip of his nose. He pushed them back up to the summit knowing in his heart that they would roll back down again.
“This is more serious than you can imagine, Miss,” the detective said, leaning over his desk. “I’ve only begun my investigation.”
“I only left Alvin for a few minutes,” Mrs. McGuire said.
“A half-hour is quite a few minutes,” the detective said. “And it’s not the first time. We’ve got the kid on surveillance. You’ve made a habit of leaving your son while you went about your business. Leaving him to be babysat by a television monitor. What kind of mother does something like that?”
Mrs. McGuire took a tissue out of her purse and began to dab at her eyes. Where tears refused to fall. Mrs. McGuire never cried. It was a medical condition that had a long latin name. She could have had an operation but it was not covered by her health insurance. And she didn’t think that tears were of much use. Until now.
“I won’t do it again.” Mrs. McGuire could have kicked herself. Why had she weakened? Begging was beneath her. She was a woman of substance. Accused of abuse. She looked at the detective. He didn’t smile. At least he wasn’t mocking her. She couldn’t have stood that. Little did she know that the detective couldn’t smile. It was a medical condition that had a long latin name. He could have had an operation but it was not covered by his health insurance. When a smile was required the detective pinched his cheeks. By sucking in air through his teeth.
“I’m sure you won’t,” the detective said. “I’ve called children’s services. Luckily they are here in the building. Mr. Macdonald should be down to see us shortly. Do you realize Mrs. McGuire what could have happened to your son?”
“But nothing happened to him,” she said sniffling.
“No thanks to you,” the detective said. “And there are other matters.”
“Your son is a prime suspect in another investigation we are conducting.”
Mrs. McGuire looked up at the detective who had moved from behind his desk. He sat on his desk. Just on the edge. He produced a photograph. Showed that same photograph to Mrs. McGuire.
“Recognize it?” he asked.
Mrs. McGuire stared at the photograph. A picture of a turd on a bathroom tile. She looked up at the detective.
“What has this got to do with my son?”
“Can you vouch for your son last week. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.?”
“You don’t think?” Mrs. McGuire asked.
The detective nodded.
“I think,” he said.
“But this is absurd. My son is trained.”
“So you say.” The detective put on his smile. “Or perhaps he was sending a message, Mrs. McGuire. A message that he did not appreciate being left alone in a drug store. Have you any idea what kind of rift raft walk through drug stores. Not this drug store. But other drug stores. And you would have no way of knowing what kind of drug store this is, would you?”
Mrs. McGuire stared at the detective. She did not understand a word he had spoken.
“My little Alvin did not do the number two on your floor.”
The detective stood up. He walked around his desk. Returning to his perch on the edge of the desk. Only a few inches from Mrs. McGuire. Did he have bad breath? He wondered. Then wondered why he cared.
“What kind of act are you trying to pull here, sister?”
“You come into the drug store every day. Leave your kid in front of a television. And you roam the aisles. Looking. What are you looking for, Mrs. McGuire?”
“I don’t like your implication, sir.”
“Nothing wrong with my implication. I’ve seen your type before.”
The detective looked angry. It almost broke Mrs. McGuire’s heart to see him that way. She leaned forward so that her face was almost touching the detective. She was about to build up the courage to give him a piece of her mind. Instead she grabbed the detective around the neck and kissed him. A long kiss. So long Alvin put his hands over his eyes. And her tongue tickled the detective’s tonsils. If he had tonsils.