Elaine Maxwell woke feeling uneasy. Not from the previous week’s nightmare but something else entirely. The empty glass that held her vodka lay on the floor next to her; explaining in full, complete sentences that maybe her uneasiness was a symptom of the drinking. She stood and steadied herself and walked to the kitchen. Gavin would be up soon. Today is the day of the big game and he was going to take some pictures for the paper. Elaine couldn’t understand how he could just go about his day as if nothing had happened. She began to fume, like steam escaping a tea kettle. She sighed. It was his way of coping, she supposed.
With the coffee brewing, she went upstairs to start a hot bath. She passed by Toby’s room and saw that the door was ajar. It would be a long time before she would feel strong enough to enter his room again. She reached in to close it then instantly bristled. She heard a clicking sound coming from within and held her breath as she stepped inside her dead son’s bedroom.
“Well good morning sleepy head.”
Gavin sat behind a large wooden desk, typing away on a laptop. The room had been designed as a modern man’s office. Shelves along each wall held books and portraits. A framed photo hung along the back wall. Three figures smiled back at her. She had never seen that picture before. Inside the elaborate frame Gavin sat next to his wife on an old felled tree stump. Their Daughter, Jessica, sat between them, her smile so wide that her face hurt. An expensive set of golf clubs stood in the corner of the room near the only window.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Elaine yelled.
“What do you mean?” Gavin seemed oblivious. “I’m just getting some work done. Did I forget something?”
“Where are all of Toby’s things?”
“What are you talking about?”
“His toys. His clothes. What did you do with it all?”
Elaine was livid. She felt a rage boiling inside her that hadn’t been there before. It’s true, each person grieves in their own way. But this was the process a bit too far. Gavin had taken all of Toby’s belongings and turned his room into an office for himself. It was selfish and unforgivable. Gavin stood, feeling slightly agitated.
“Toby’s! You removed every memory of him!”
Gavin dropped back into his chair, unaware of how he was going to handle this. She had been up late drinking the night before. She had been drinking a lot lately. He didn’t judge, he enjoyed the bottle as much as anyone, but when it affected your reality, perhaps it was time to put the bottle away for a while. Gavin rested his face in his hands.
“Don’t ‘darling’ me. Where is it all?”
“Where is what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
By this time, Jessica was up and watching the argument from the hallway. She was confused because her parents rarely argued. She was scared. She wanted to run to her mother and tell her it was alright.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Where are Toby’s things?”
The question came as a shock. Like a bucket of ice cold water thrown on her head. She turned numb from the result of it. The color drained from her usually beautiful skin. Her world collapsed upon itself and she could feel the room spin. Not the kind of spinning that comes with a vodka hangover but more like the real thing. Like that one carnival ride that you would never go on. She turned toward the doorway and saw her daughter standing just under the transom. Jessica asked again.
“Mommy, who’s Toby?”
Twenty minutes later Elaine was dressed and in her car, driving up Lamont Road towards town. Was this a dream? Was she in shock. Gavin had suggested that he take her to the hospital. She refused, of course. Instead she scooped up the car keys and left in a rage. Her son was gone and it was her fault, and now her family had taken every last bit of his existence and erased it.
Her tears were hot on her cheeks, like rain on desert asphalt; creating ruts down the length of her face.
She turned left on Water Street and pulled into the first open spot available. It was nearly 9AM now and the sun seemed to focus its attack directly on her as she stepped out of the car and crossed the street. She was walking towards the river when a lady accidental bumped her shoulder as she passed.
“Excuse me.” The woman said politely and continued on.
She was dressed oddly in a thin, tan overcoat despite the weather and Elaine gave no notice until she saw the young boy holding the woman’s hand. The boy was wearing faded red shorts and a stripped t-shirt. His shoes were dirty and looked a size too big for his feet. But it was his hair that stunned Elaine. The boy had a full head of blonde curls. Not overly curly but wavy; bleached from the summer sun. The boy turned back and smiled knowingly at Elaine. She froze instantly.
“Toby?” She said, not loudly. She wasn’t 100% certain. But when the boy turned again at the recognition of his name, she was.
Elaine ran as hard and as fast as she had ever ran in her life. They were a block and a half ahead now. Her arms pumped as her stride increased. She felt a stitch in her side and slowed just a little. The boy and the woman turned left at the next block.
“6th street.” Elaine pulled out her phone, ready to call her husband then thought against it.
She turned on 6th and felt her breath leave her as she saw that they were no longer there. Had they ditched her? She turned back, passing Daisey’s Cafe. There, at a table near the window sat the woman and her son. Her son, Toby. She weighed her options. What was she prepared to do? For her son? Anything. Her first instinct was to walk straight up to this lady and take her child back. The woman in the overcoat seemed a tad more physically capable. Elaine hadn’t even been to the gym since before Christmas. She took out her phone and dialed the police.
The spectacle taking place outside the cafe had garnered quite a crowed. Onlookers watched as two women argued, with the police doing what they could to keep them calm.
“Mrs, Maxwell,” a short and skinny officer named Williams tried to talk to her. “I understand how…”
“Understand?” Elaine screamed. “You don’t understand shit!”
The officers felt increasingly irritated.
“Arrest that bitch and give me back my son!”
After a continuous barrage of insults and foul language, Elaine was cuffed and detained. They set her inside a squad car while they dialed her husband, who arrived only minutes later in utter disbelief at what was happening. He was led to the car to speak to her.
“Lainey, what are you doing?”
“She took our son, Gavin. That bitch took our son!”
Gavin hung his head, he was angry at this outburst, the argument earlier. And yet, he was deeply saddened. They would find a therapist, then, more than likely, a decent attorney. He stood and took hold of her shoulders.
“Elaine Marie Maxwell.” He recited her full name whenever he wanted her attention. Most often it would bring laughter as Gavin could never keep a straight face. “We do not have a son!”
Officer Williams strolled over to the couple. It was clear to him what was happening and he was fine with it. Better to let them work it out at home than to have a shit ton of paperwork to complete. He took the cuffs off Mrs. Maxwell and left, leaving Elaine feeling like she had just walked out of a nightmare. The lady with the overcoat walked calmly over. The boy clinging to her side. She looked up at Gavin.
“My sincerest apologies.” She said, taking Gavin’s hand. “I hope everything will be alright.” Gavin smiled politely and nodded. He had no way of answering her so she continued.
“Would you mind if I spoke to your wife?” He was reluctant at first, not wanting to stir the pot anymore than it has been already. And yet, he felt that it would be good for her to have a dose of reality. He nodded and the lady who had still not given her name, took Elaine by the hand and led her away from her husband. She stood directly in front of her and Elaine glared back. The woman calmly tilted her head towards the blue Watertown sky then put her finger to her lips and whispered.