Everyone’s Playing Their Trump Card

In her wisdom, the wifely woman strategized the social worker’s entire visit. She laid it out like a game of Risk, which the boy liked and pretended he understood. “He’s your son,” she said, meaning why didn’t I plan? I put my mouth to her ear so I could whisper, “Supposedly.” I told the boy to hold a glass of milk, to sip it when he felt nervous—it was a trick my father had taught me. I said, “We’ll play the good parents giving the boy his calcium.” I told the boy, “This will make your bones invincible.” The boy was still in his tragic phase, repeating deaths from the news. This was likely what had the wifely woman so worried, that we would look like we couldn’t fill the loss of his real mother; of course, I thought, that death was why anyone cared about us. The boy said, “Dan Rather said.” I told him to shut up about Dan Rather in public. I poured him the glass of milk. The social worker was a short brunette who would have been attractive if she hadn’t been a social worker; it was something about her eyes, which were everywhere. She studied our predictable apartment like it was about to confess a murder. The boy followed her around and I worried that the social worker would think he was conflating her with his mother. He said, “A boy at a circus in Indiana made the clowns call 911 but couldn’t save his mother’s life.” I thought, not so on the nose, kid. He said, “I have a glass of milk my dad gave me.” The wifely woman pulled his pants up higher and blushed. He was five. I watched to see if my father’s trick was worth anything. The social worker said, “That’s a beer mug, not a glass.” She ordered some tests done. From the way the boy was holding the beer mug, I already knew he’d be positive.

Matthew Salesses was born in Korea. He is the author of The Last Repatriate (Nouvella, forthcoming) and two chapbooks, Our Island of Epidemics (PANK) and We Will Take What We Can Get (Publishing Genius). He is the fiction editor and a columnist for the Good Men Project.