Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
Time With Mommy

By ten in the morning, the temperature has reached 87 degrees.

The children are hot. Dizzy with hunger and boredom. Kay had deliberately kept the three of them — Michaela, Henry, Danielle — up the night before watching Leno, CNN and M*A*S*H reruns, in hopes that they’d sleep until lunchtime. Past it, even better.

But they are up and asking about breakfast, something to which Kay has given no thought.

While the children were sleeping, Kay had gone to the motel vending machine and had bought a package of cookies. Back at their room, she’d sat just outside the door and had eaten them. She’d had a momentary thought of sharing the vanilla cream sandwiches, but there were only six of them. Being fair would have meant each child got two and her none or they’d each get one and split the other two, but then who would get the sides with the cream filling and where was it written that a really good mommy gave up the cookies every time?

They are in the car now, riding aimlessly, Kay’s attempt to turn her children’s attention elsewhere.

“Mommy . . .” five-year old Danielle whines from the back seat of the car. “I want cereal.”

Kay ignores her.

“Mo —”

The sound of the heel of Kay’s hand against the steering wheel cuts her off.

“What would you like me to do, Danielle? I’ve told you it’s almost lunchtime and you’ll have to wait till then.”

The little girl winces.

“Daddy would give her however many bowls of Trix she wanted,” the boy says.

Kay glares at her son by way of the rearview mirror.

“But you’re not with Daddy, are you?” she asks.

His eyes tell her he wishes he were.

“Daddy has you all the time,” Kay says in a sing-song tone, her eyes locked with her son’s by way of the mirror. “Why don’t you want to spend time with Mommy?”

Henry turns and looks out the window.

Before turning back to the road, Kay’s eyes scan the backseat. The children’s newly-darkened hair makes their pale coloring even more stark in the morning sun. They slouch. And frown.

Kay shakes her head and ignores them. Phillip had made them so selfish. I’m hungry too; do you care?

Uncomfortable with the quiet, Kay turns on the radio. She lets her mind meld into the music as she sings along under her breath.

“So, is it hot enough for you yet?” the disc jockey asks.

“Yes, damn it, it’s hot enough,” Kay tells him as if the radio personality controlled the weather. She wipes the back of her hand across her forehead and then runs her fingers through her own tresses, glancing in the mirror, still unsure if she likes being a redhead.

But hadn’t the motel manager commented on how pretty her hair was? She smiles at her reflection, thinking how that might come in handy. She notices Henry looking at her.

She smiles at him. “What’s the matter with my baby boy?” she coos.

He turns away again.

Too much like his father. She never could figure out how to break Phillip, but she’s determined to succeed with Henry. So much depended on it.

She continues to drive, her ear half-tuned to the radio. Something the disc jockey is saying piques her interest and Kay turns the radio up a bit.

“Mommy. . . ”

“Okay, Danielle,” Kay huffs. “Okay.”

At the next gas station, she pulls in.

“Stay in the car,” she says. “If you do anything, you will make Mommy very, very angry.” The girls agree to stay put. Kay ignores Henry’s lack of response. She smiles at her daughters. “Mommy likes it when you do what she says.”

Inside, she goes to the restroom and empties her pocket. There are a few crumpled dollar bills and a handful of change. She reminds herself that the next two days at the motel are already paid for, so that is not a worry. She just needs to find something to eat.

She takes a breath. The reflection in the mirror criticizes her.

I can handle this, Phillip. Leave me alone! I don’t need you or any one else telling me how to care for my children! I can handle this! I can!

Kay yanks the door open and wanders through the few aisles until she knows what she will do.

At the register counter, Kay asks for three of the free cups given for ice. At the beverage counter, she fills each cup halfway with the slivers of frozen water, then she purchases a freezie and pours one-third of the icy drink into each cup. The containers overflow with the bright red slush. Kay smiles as she pictures her children’s delight.

She asks for directions to a music store before she heads outside.

At the car, she hands the children the confection through the open car window.

“And don’t spill it,” she warns. “If you waste. . .”

Kay gets into the car. Turning the key in the ignition, she asks, “Who wants pizza?” She’d heard that the radio station, conducting a remote broadcast, was giving away food. Maybe they could get enough for dinner tonight too.

“We do,” the children yell in unison. “We do!”

Kay grins at them. “Well, first tell me who the best mommy in the whole wide world is.”

“You are!” Michaela says, Danielle joining in. “You are!”