Jennifer Pieroni

Little Bears

Soon their oil tank would be boom hollow and the pipes cool to touch. At the gas station, Simon breathed vapor, jiggling the pump, filling a plastic funnel. In the backseat, the baby dropped his bottle and as she twisted to pick it up, her older son booted her.

“I won’t curse at you,” she said.

“You did,” her son said, pulling on his mittens, not looking at her straight the way she wanted.

“Maybe I did once. But I won’t again.”

Simon stuffed the receipt in his pocket. Later she would find it in the wash, a tight fibrous crumple, ink bled. She'd struggle to make out the print, to know where the money went.

She said again, “My brother thinks the diesel and oil is going mishmash in the system, be a problem later for the landlord.”

Simon slowly let the compressed air out of a soda, took two swigs, then emptied in whiskey, his after beer drink. He could resist an argument, no problem. She leaned back in her seat and watched the rise and fall of snow banks along the highway as they neared the indoor playground, Little Bears.

Her older son began to ask for treats: hard blue candy and thick gummy chews. “Don’t be a monster and maybe,” Simon said and pulled into the parking lot.

She went to her youngest. He was slow and she knew it. She would pick him up and he’d never become rigid with his own will. Simon helped the oldest, who was his brother’s opposite. For the rest of their years, they would be unalike. Like Simon was from his sister. Like her siblings from her. Crumbs came down from the oldest’s lap onto the ice. He started asking if they could go home.

Inside, she noted the sign FREE SATURDAYS and removed the boys’ sneakers before shooing them through the gate. She removed her own and left them beside Simon’s. His weren’t meant to be here at all; the dust of the factory floor leaving cancer wherever he walked.

Simon carried the diaper bag and coats to a recliner and opened a celebrity gossip magazine, the kind of thing you read when there's nothing else to do.

The oldest darted toward an inflated castle. She sat nearby on the floor where the baby chewed a track of train, her arms loosely crossed over her breasts. She wanted to feel them full again. She wanted to shop and see herself in the mirror with the sweaters snug up top and loose below. She wanted to be the one to ask a salesgirl for mismatched bras and panties, one size up, one size down.

Simon closed the magazine and passed her on his way toward the restroom. Both boys whined after their father, but she kept them busy with the family of child-sized stuffed bears in the center of the room. She pressed the button on each of the necks and the little bears shuddered into action.

Jennifer Pieroni studied writing at Emerson College and her writing has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Another Chicago MagazineHobartGuernicaMississippi Review and others. It has also been anthologized in Best of the Web 2010Brevity and Echo and Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Stories. She served as founding editor of the print journal Quick Fiction for nearly a decade.

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