I remember the gold bangle, its ovular ends clinging to her tanned, aged-spotted wrist. Around her neck dangled an opulent display of gold and silver chains, perhaps the gaudy byproducts of a retirement slush fund, years of frugality or hard work manifesting in strange hauteur. In her left hand, she clutched a plastic cup sloshing with Diet Coke. A firm voice: “Hi. Do you mind? Yeah?” she said. She wore a maroon corduroy blazer with angular shoulder pads draped over a black turtleneck Her short artificially dark hair gelled into an undercut pixie made her face look smaller, her chin pointed and prominent, and her cheeks, eyes, and forehead smoother, everything delicately accentuated by calculated applications of beige eyeshadow and rosy blush. My four-year-old son, Oscar, and I were seated in a hard-plastic booth at the McDonald’s in Farmington, Maine—it was a father-son day where I let him pick our lunch destination—when this woman strode to us, her footfalls slapping the gray quarry tile. “I just have to…” she said, stopping at our table. Then with her free hand, she spread her fingers like claws, reached toward my son, and coursed her fingers through his hair. “My… This boy could make you a lot of money,” she said, wide-eyed, incredulous. She believed this revelation of hers could change our lives. --- Later, my wife was mortified when I told her what happened. “You let her touch his hair?” she said. “She’s probably some sort of child sex slave groomer or something.” “A child sex slave groomer?” “Why didn’t you say something?” “What was I supposed to do?” --- Knuckle-deep into my son’s hair, the woman stopped and made an “oh” sound like someone pleased by the turn of a well-crafted poem. Her gold bangle combed the top of Oscar’s head, her ringed fingers hooked strands of hair like dead leaves tangled in a rake. I didn’t know what to do. The woman’s insistence, appearance, her weighty approach suggested a rationale, an ethos behind her violated public etiquette. But, Oscar’s always been a ham: he smiles at everyone, fearless in his childhood naivete. Maybe this woman was just too friendly, anachronistically benevolent to a young boy out to lunch with his father. Oscar looked at me undeterred by this woman encroaching on his lunch. To this day, he has never brought it up, never inquired, and by now, he’s likely forgotten the whole experience. “Have you considered getting him into show business? TV? Commercials?” These questions must have been rhetorical. She guffawed in disbelief when I replied with a basic “no.” “For photos, does he sit well? Take direction? Smile on cue?” she added, releasing her fingers. I actually could have answered those questions: “absolutely.” Oscar is very photogenic. My mother has added photos of Oscar in droves to her many overstuffed commemorative photo albums dating back to my infancy. Each book is a collage of elementary school programs, Little League rosters, images from Halloweens, birthday parties, and Thanksgivings, secondhand memories kept alive by a parent who sees value in everything. Even now, she would regale anyone with stories from my childhood as she recalled them. I never have my own memory of the stories, so over the years, I’ve remembered her smile, the way her voice wavers during the story’s exposition or its rises during the climax, her arms gesticulating, flailing with each new phrase. She loved reflecting on her days of wagoning my brother and me as three-year-olds down Main Street in Gorham, New Hampshire where we grew up, a small town where she could relish in a proximal, micro-celebrity status: the mother of twins born on different days. I don’t remember these wagon rides, but I can imagine my mother. The pride. Who wouldn’t want that attention? “You boys were something,” my mother once said. “Everyone said so. Everyone knew you guys.” Oscar scratched his head while clutching a French fry. This time, the woman waited for my reply, expectant. I said something but I can’t remember what. I know it wasn’t the truth. “The boy’s a gold mine. You’d be crazy not to do something.” And then she left. The cashier announced an order for a Big Mac. Someone was filling a cup with ice. The woman’s claims meant nothing but they existed, audible inside a rural McDonald’s and lingering in my mind like a distant train horn, a story I would tell without a conclusion. On the car ride home, Oscar fell asleep. In the rearview mirror, I could see the top of his head bouncing with each bump of Route 41. I called my mother without a real agenda, just to talk, perhaps for advice, but she didn’t answer.
Adam Chabot is the English Department Chair at Kents Hill School, a private, independent high school located in central Maine. He has other work forthcoming or recently featured in rough diamond poetry, FEED, The Red Lemon Review, Moss Puppy Magazine, and Windows Facing Windows Review, among others. He can be found on Twitter @adam_chabot.