Pastoral Genocide

What Now, Little Man?
January 19, 2009, 5:59 am
Filed under: Writing

He’s confused and small and lost in the hazed bustle of the supermarket. I watch him for a moment before walking over. He sees my badge and he puts his hands in his pockets. I say to him, little man, where’s your mom. He shrugs. I ask him when he saw her last. He shrugs again and looks at his feet. And I say, louder, son we need to find your mom. But he’s transfixed on the endless and glossy municipality of the tile floor. I don’t exist. I stare at him and I wonder what he’s thinking.

I’m a father so I know some things about being very small in an impossibly large world. I take him by the arm, gently. The boy looks up. His eyes are dark and brown and his clothes are dappled with stains. I say to him, lets you and I go get some ice cream and see if we can figure out where your mom is.

We walk to the counter. He stands on his tip toes and surveys his choices; we both end up with two scoops of chocolate in a waffle cone. We find a seat near the store entrance and we sit down. It’s a sticky summer day that’s almost done. The electric doors push the humidity in and out of the store with mechanical rigor. The store is breathing.

We finish our ice cream and we sit on the bench, next to each other. The kid doesn’t want to talk and I’m not sure what to do. He seems like he’s lost inside his head, he seems like he’s alone and incontrovertibly sad. I say to him, come on my man, why don’t you and I go for a walk and see if we can spot your mom? He shakes his head yes, and we’re off. We poke around the sporting goods section and I pluck a rubber ball from its bin and toss it to him. He bounces it twice and throws it back. We cruise through cosmetics. We wander into the electronics section and play the video games for a bit. We take a walk through the produce section. I take him down the frozen foods aisle and he shivers and pulls his arms close to his body.

Once we’ve traversed the entire store, I say to him, son, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to find your mom and we’ve got to get you home. I ask him his name. He says it’s Jeff. I tell him that’s a pretty good name and I tell him that mine is Edward but that most people call me Ted. I make a joke about the meat-on-the-bone nature of names like Jeff and Ted, about how the world is full of nancy boys with fancy names and pretty haircuts. I look at him and I say, the world ain’t tough, anymore. Not like it used to be. The kid doesn’t get it and we walk over to the customer service desk in silence.

At the desk, I see a clerk I know. Carlos. He’s a Hispanic guy with a thin mustache. Carlos is a bottom feeder, the kind of guy that talks in circles of ethereal vulgarity. He’s got a family and they live out on the east side somewhere. Once, in the employee smoking lounge, I heard him call his wife a cunt over the phone. After he hung up, he said, hey man, these women they want to kill you, they rip your dick from your loins and wear it around their neck like a fucking coin purse or something. I can’t say I totally disagree with his point.

Carlos looks at me and then he looks at the kid and he says, hey Ted, how you doing my man. And I say, I’m doing alright Carlos. This is Jeff, we’re looking for his mom but we haven’t had any luck so far. We thought that we could say something over the PA; maybe she’s shopping or something. Carlos shakes his head and says, sure buddy, whatever you want. He points to the phone behind the desk. I dial star and then an eight and a nine.

We have a lost child at the customer service desk. Will Jeff’s mom please report to the customer service desk? Jeff’s mom to the customer service desk, please.

My voice rings out tepid and unsure. I’m uncomfortable with myself, sometimes. I don’t like the way I sound or how I look in pictures. In my memories, I am always awkward and out of place.

We wait and then we wait a couple minutes more. I’m anxious, I’m waiting for something to make the wait worthwhile. My stomach ties and unties itself. I know the end to this because I have seen the end to this before. Jeff’s mom never comes. Maybe she doesn’t exist. Maybe she never existed and maybe Jeff doesn’t exist, either. Maybe he’s already turned into a ghost. It’s a sad world we live in.

At the end of my shift, I make a decision that hurts me very much. Forty five minutes later, they arrive in an unmarked sedan. I relinquish the child into the bureaucracy and I think, this is just the beginning little man. At every turn and at every twist, they’re going to ask you the same thing: what now, little man?

They put Jeff in the back seat. I talk to the social services worker quietly. He’s young and he shakes his head. He says, you did the right thing. He repeats it: you did the right thing. I don’t have time for right and wrong. I’ve been here before. Morality is a small and meaningless sliver of abridged sympathy, a glint of sunlight on a rainy day. I don’t have time for that. I shake his hand and he climbs in the driver’s seat. The sedan accelerates out of the parking lot, navigating the perpendicular rows of parked cars and yellow lines. The night wraps itself around the vehicle. After it’s gone, I stand around for a while. There’s a bit of fog in the air and it’s mostly quiet out. I think about Jeff and the lonely miles that stretch out before him.

Good luck, little man.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

little man, what now? was an interesting novel.

thank you for writing.

Comment by dex

i was hoping that someone would get it!

thank you for reading.

Comment by hopptm

I read that book in my history class. I can no longer find it, did you take it from me? Anyhow, its a good book, and this is a good little vignette.

Comment by ben

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