by Rita Ciresi
THE NIKE STORE pulses with thumping music. My son—who has just informed me that no one calls sneakers sneakers anymore—beelines to the wall display and picks up the running shoe he’s been saving for all summer.
Before Eric can catch the eye of a salesperson, two of his track team buddies clap him on the back. Porter and Palmer—fraternal twins who live in a McMansion overlooking the Fair Isle golf course—are dressed in ragged plaid button-downs and pre-ripped jeans, their fancy footwear the sole indication they belong to the one percent.
‘Whazzup, bro?’ says Palmer.
Eric holds out the sneaker. ‘New kicks.’
‘Zooms are last year, dude.’ Porter pulls another style from the display. ‘Check out these Infinity. Dope, hunh?’
‘Totally fly,’ Palmer agrees. ‘Try ‘em on, man.’
Eric asks a salesman to bring him the Infinitys in a nine and a half. Only after Porter and Palmer head off to the athletic wear does Eric deign to sit next to me.
‘Remember,’ I tell him as he laces the sneakers, ‘I’m only contributing fifty dollars—’
‘You already said,’ Eric says.
‘And the rest has to come from your lifeguarding money—’
‘I heard you.’
‘Make sure they’re comfortable.’
‘I don’t need to walk around.’
‘You do if you’re dropping my hard-earned bucks on them.’
Eric walks away—probably more to escape me and my bucks than to road test the shoes. ‘I’m getting these,’ he says when he returns.
‘I just told you. These are the ones I want.’
Eric shoves the two twenties and the ten I hand him into the pocket of his cargo pants, probably embarrassed he’ll have to pay with cash instead of a card.
The checkout line snakes back and forth between red velvet ropes. Halfway through, Eric glances at the label on the box. ‘Shit.’ He leans down—over the summer he’s grown three inches taller than me—and whispers, ‘I don’t have enough.’
‘Can you lend me—?’
‘No,’ I say.
‘We had a deal. You gave me your word and I expect you to keep it.’
Eric thrusts the box into my hands. ‘I’m calling Dad.’
‘Do not call your father—’
Eric already has speed-dialed. The conversation starts the way I know it’s going to start—’Dad, there’s these totally dope running shoes—’ and ends the way I know it’s going to end, with the Ex saying, ‘Put your mother on the phone.’
Reluctantly I give the box back to Eric and take the phone.
‘I just sent you child support,’ the Ex says.
‘I’m not the one asking you for 500-dollar sneakers.’
‘Tell him no.’
‘I already told him—’
‘Then why does he need to hear it from me? You wanted sole custody. So deal with it.’
The Ex hangs up.
I hand the phone back to Eric. ‘Step out of line.’
I lean over Eric and disconnect the red velvet rope from the stanchion. Only after Eric realizes other customers are staring at us does he follow me out. As I reconnect the rope, he cusses under his breath.
‘What’d you just call me?’ I ask.
‘You heard me,’ he mumbles.
‘Give me that box.’
‘Wait, I’m gonna tell the salesguy to hold them—’
I’m about to grab the box when I spot Porter and Palmer, their arms full of JUST DO IT tanks and Swoosh shorts, step forward in line. They give Eric a pitying look.
‘Change your mind, man?’ Porter asks.
Eric’s face goes pale. ‘Gotta, um, check with Coach. . . see if these are right for, like, long-distance.’
Back in the stifling hot car, my face burns.
‘You owe me an apology,’ I tell Eric.
‘You’re the one who embarrassed me in front of my friends.’
‘Those boys aren’t your friends. Friends don’t pressure you into buying things you can’t afford.’
‘It’s not their fault I can’t afford them.’
‘It’s not mine either,’ I say. ‘So go blame the real bitch your father left us for.’
Eric’s mouth opens. ‘Wait. Dad had—has—a girlfriend?’
I start the engine.
‘Mom, Dad left you for—?’
I jerk the car into reverse. Eric pops open the glove compartment, puts on the sunglasses I got him at the Dollar Store, and turns his head out the window. He’s crying, but doesn’t want me to see him crying. And soon I’m doing the same, only not doing such a good job of hiding it.
Back home at what Eric calls “the ghetto” of Fair Isle—the apartment complex where I’d been forced to move us after the house got sold in the divorce settlement—I pull into our assigned parking spot next to the dumpster and wipe my tears with the back of my hand.
Eric takes the crumpled cash out of his pocket. ‘I’m sorry I called you a—’
I wave off the money. I want to tell my son it’s just a word. Like sneakers. But it’s so much more than that.
Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You; the story collections Sometimes I Dream in Italian and Mother Rocket; and two award-winning collections of flash fiction, Female Education and Second Wife.