The boy stood in the center of the kitchen with a blue disposable razor in his mouth, and his father paced around him. He would fix the boy’s speech impediment at last. He worked on the device most of the previous night: he removed the blades, melted a small plastic block into strips, and arranged them to the speech therapist’s specifications.
Mark looked at his five year old son, Jerry, whose red shorts sagged, and his white t-shirt hung down below his knees. Jerry was such a late bloomer that it was hard to find clothes in his size, but Mark shopped for clothes with optimism.
They created many traditions together, and over the past two months they created a dozen more. The Governor of Nevada declared a ‘state of emergency’ two months prior. He shut down all ‘non essential businesses’, but Mark considered the time at home a disguised blessing—more time to work on Jerry’s impediment.
So Mark bought a large bag of peanut butter cups and a label maker. Soon the entire house was plastered with labels. Whenever Jerry passed a label he attempted the word three times, Mark repeated the word properly, and Jerry mimicked him—if Jerry pronounced it correctly he would receive one peanut butter cup. That was the plan at least.
“Do you remember position one?” Mark asked. “No, place your tongue on the top bar like this. Good now, try th, th.” Jerry’s face scrunched and he tried. Jerry enjoyed the exercises Mark thought. This was Mark’s failure.
Bedtime traditions were sacred. The night before speech therapy, Jerry wore his favorite penguin pajamas. He struggled to pronounce the word bird, so Jerry called all birds penguins. Mark was baffled how his son could pronounce one and not the other. The bedtime story, The Little Engine That Could was another therapy night tradition. Mark was not a subtle man.
Jerry burst into Mark’s room at 6:12 a.m., and Mark pulled the covers over his head. Undeterred, Jerry shook Mark with his tiny palms, and gripped the covers with his tiny knuckles. Jerry changed strategies, and pried the covers away from Mark’s head. This was a favorite game between the two of them, and Jerry won—always.
With a kiss on the cheek Jerry would claim victory, and Mark would be forced to bolt out of bed. Jerry yanked the covers away from Marks face, but Mark slipped under a pillow before Jerry could land the final blow. Civility abandoned, Jerry stood up and plunked down sitting on Marks chest, hard. The boy weighed little, but Mark rewarded his sons creativity. He groaned and sat up. Jerry pounced and kissed his cheek.
“Ms. May-on,” Jerry said.
“Oh, that is right, J,” Mark said. “Better go brush your teeth, and then we will practice before we go see Ms. Marion.”
Jerry rode into the therapists office on Mark’s shoulders. They passed the line of patients outside. Mark placed his hand on the One Parent and One Patient Permitted Inside at One Time sign.
“Sorry we forgot something,” Mark said. They laughed as they walked inside. Mark bent down over the reception desk, and the receptionist took their temperatures. Ms. Marion waited behind the desk. She looked concerned.
“Jerry,” Mark said. “Go to Ms. Marion’s office.” Jerry closed the door behind himself. “Bad news?”
“I am sorry, Mark,” Ms. Marion said. “Your insurance didn’t approve any additional visits,” Mark’s mouth dried, his eye’s glossed, and he struggled to breathe.
“Well, that’s not, you know,” Mark said. “What I wanted to happen. I thought they would approve some more.”
“Hopefully,” she said. “Jerry’s speech will improve on its own, and his school will provide some therapy.”
“If they reopen,” Mark said.
“Their is plenty you can do at home,” she said.
“Has he improved at all?” Mark asked.
“Of course he has,” she said. “He has made some strides, and he certainly has worked hard. He just needs to focus on placing his tongue like this…” Ms. Marion explained for a while, but Mark couldn’t focus.
“So is this the last session?” Mark asked.
“One more.” she said. “Next week.”
“Okay, I’ll be in the car if he needs anything,” Mark said. Mark opened the tinted door, and headed past the scrum of people outside.
Twenty minutes later, Ms. Marion and Jerry walked out of the building, and Mark exited the car. Jacob ran along the sidewalk, and mark swooped his son up into his arms.
“So how did we do?” Mark asked Marion.
“Well, we had a little bit of trouble focusing today. Didn’t we?”
When they got home, Mark cooked lunch, and Jerry launched himself off the couch onto a pile of pillows below. For a long time, Jerry couldn’t climb a couch, but he gained the strength, eventually. Maybe, his impediment would correct itself, but Mark dismissed the thought as wishful thinking. The couch squeaked when Jerry jumped off of it. He zoomed around the living room and into the bathroom.
“Bwush,” Jerry said. Mark turned around to see that his son held the hair brush. Jerry concentrated on the brush’s label. “Bwush, bwush,” he continued. Mark looked at the bag of peanut butter cups on the coffee table—unopened.
“No more of that, J,” Mark said.
“It yite?” he asked.
“No, not right, but that’s okay. I am proud of you, and I think it is about time you had a peanut butter cup,” Mark said with mustered enthusiasm he did not mean. They gorged on peanut butter cups. Once they could stand, they hunted for all the labels in the apartment. While Jerry slept, mark peeled off each one. He cried.
One week later, they sat under the largest tree in Sunset Park. Jacob clutched a ‘Certificate of Completion’ Ms. Marion gave him. Completion? Mark considered the idea ridiculous, and he was tempted to tear it into pieces.
“Bird,” Jerry said—perfectly, and he pointed above his father’s head. Shocked Mark didn’t move—he didn’t breathe.
“Say that again, J,” Mark said.
“Bird,” Jerry repeated correctly. Mark ignored the bird droppings that pelted his head. His little late bloomer would be fine.