Uniform

Colin’s mother woke him the next morning. “Your coach is on the phone. Get up, sleepy-head.” She handed him the cordless. His coach rescheduled the morning practice; they’d now take some light fielding and batting practice in an afternoon session before the game. It was too hot to push it, he said.

Sleep kept calling him back to bed, but Colin finally made it to the kitchen. His mom clipped photos from a crafts magazine.

“What are you doing home?”

“I took the day off,” she said.

Colin could not remember the last time she’d stayed home from work. “Who’s at the store?”

“My employees, silly.” She kept snipping the photos, seemingly engrossed in the dullness of the act. She had a strange look on her face—not a smile, not a frown, but somehow both. The look gave him a headache.

He would not be going to Wanda’s this afternoon. His mother would hover about the house all day. She acted differently when his father was gone, relaxed. But when it was time for his father to be home, she would get tense and snap at her son, or holler at the evening news. Today, since she was still mad at his father, she would nag Colin about getting a job, or inform him of her plans for the living room walls. He would be unable to escape.

“You’ve got a game tonight,” his mother said.

Colin dropped bread in the toaster, waited for the inner orange glow.

“I think your father and I will be able to make it.” Her scissors clicked together, thwack thwack, the pulse of their conversation.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do.”

“But we want to be there.” Lately he’d noticed her saying “we” a lot, as if to emphasize their union.

The toast popped up, startling him. “Suit yourself.”

He ate slowly, thinking of Wanda with other men. It could be happening right now, for all he knew. She could be gone, across town somewhere, at a man’s house. At a motel. She could be with all of them at once.

He told his mother he’d be mowing the Mitchells’ lawn for the rest of the summer.

“Wonderful. When do you start?”

“Today, I guess. Look, maybe you shouldn’t come to the game tonight. We’ve got a winning streak and I don’t want to jinx it.”

“Nonsense.”

“All I know is, you and Dad haven’t been to these games, and my team’s winning.”

Colin carried his plate to the dishwasher and disappeared to the bathroom downstairs. He returned freshly showered, and his mother asked him where he was going as he opened the door.

“Across the street to my new job.” If Wanda was there, they could talk. If not, his suspicions could be true.

He shut the door—not slamming it, but with more force than necessary—and traipsed over to Wanda’s. “You’re early,” she said when she opened the dark oak door.

“I told my mom I was coming over to mow the lawn,” he said. “She’s probably watching us right now.”

She met him at the garage behind the house. She pointed out the mower and a red plastic container of gasoline. In the shade of the garage, Colin turned and looked at his house. His mother stood in the front window. For a moment Colin thought she was on to them. He wasn’t nervous. Secrets don’t last forever. He half-expected his mother to charge across the street and whack Wanda across her face. When he was younger she’d marched across the street to reprimand him and other misbehaving boys. But instead his mother casually drew the curtains.

“My parents are coming to the game tonight,” he said.

“Good. I won’t have to sit by myself.”

“You want to sit with them?”

“They’re not bad people, Colin.”

“You won’t feel weird?”

“I’m their neighbor. We wave hello, talk about families. It’s normal.”

“It’s a bad idea.”

“You’ll get over it.”

He wanted her to himself, but he didn’t have the courage to say so. “My practice got moved to this afternoon.”

She stepped through the back gate and went up the deck. “There’s always tomorrow, I guess. Come knock on the door when you’re done and I’ll pay you.”