Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Driving Under the Influence

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My son will not look my way, nor will he speak. I try to hug him when they bring him out, but he flinches and pulls away, as if he'll detonate if we touch. Shut off, fists deep in jeans pockets, his sleepless night bears down on his face and frame. I pay the bailiff and we leave the jail. Ahead of me, he tries to force the automatic door, but it will only go as fast as it will go. Taking the stairs in twos, he makes distance between us. I let him.

He beats me to the car and has to wait until I fob it open. I dig in my bag for keys and sunglasses, a stick of gum.

"Jesus! Mom! Open it, would you just?"

In the car, I smell his night on him: beer, cigarettes, sweat, and the sad slurry of youthful stupidity and a concrete cell. I turn on the air. He leans his head against his window and closes his eyes. I pull away and down the street, easing us into the flow, tapping the blinker, the gas, and the button for my soft rock station. He groans and winds his arms in on his chest.

There's a McDonald’s ahead. I palm the wheel into the empty drive-thru, order two chocolate shakes and large fries, set them in the cup holders, and park the car. I squeak a straw through the plastic lid and hold his shake out for him. The smell of fryer grease wafts up. He pulls at the frays around a tear in his jeans.

"C'mon. Put something in your stomach," I say.

My shake is icy and creamy and easy to swallow. As if he's two again and I want him to try the mashed squash, I make noises to let him know these are the only things in the world that taste good right now. I fold two fries into my mouth. They are warm and salty and crisp and jagged. I make a show of open-mouthed chewing and finger licking and a big suck on my straw.

I offer him his shake again, nudging his elbow. This time, he takes it. My son examines the clown on his cup, then eases the lid off, licks the straw and takes a long, deep gulp.


Joan Pedzich is a retired law librarian who lives and writes in upstate New York. She specializes in short fiction and likes the challenge of capturing a big moment with few words.


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