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The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

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“Mommy?” He tugged at her sleeve. “Mommeee...”

“Bancroft. A.J Bancroft. I'm trying to- Mommy is on the phone.” She smacked his arm away. The boy withdrew sulkily and pressed his mitten covered hand to the foggy glass of the telephone booth. He was cold, tired, and so hungry he felt dizzy. “I can't afford to go through a lawyer. No, I don't have a home phone right now. Well, thank you so much for all your lack of help.” She slammed the phone back in its cradle and rested her forehead against the metal casing as a few silent tears leaked out.

“I bet you're hungry, aren't you,” she said finally. The boy didn't know if she wanted an answer or not, so he didn't say anything, just followed when she lead him by the hand into the mall and sat him at a table in the Food Court. The mall was all lit up for Christmas, with bundles of pine and mistletoe on the doorways of every store, and a big sparkling tree, and a grotto for Santa, although he wasn't in there.

“Mommy, how is Santa gonna find us this year?”

“I-I don't know, Honey. Santa isn't- you stay here, I'll be right back.” He waited and waited and waited, watching all the rich people strolling by with their shopping bags, beautiful people in beautiful clothing. Mommy came back, she always did, that's why he was so good at waiting. She had a Happy Meal for him, but nothing for herself.

“You cab hand some uff my fries,” he said, taking an eager bite out of the burger.

“No, you eat it all. You eat everything, okay?” He did, he knew better than to waste food. But in years to come, he would loathe even the smell of fast food. When he was done, she asked if he had to go to the bathroom. He said no, but she made him go anyway, because you didn't ever know when there'd be a public bathroom. When he came out, he almost couldn't find her, but that was because he was so short and everything else was so big. She took his hand again as the big voiced anouncerman told everyone the mall was closing in ten minutes.

“Got your mittens?”

“Uh huh.” They stepped out into the night with all the other last minute Christmas shoppers. It wasn't snowing, it never snowed here, even less than in the other places he'd lived since he could remember but it was extra cold this year. His legs hurt from all the walking.

“It's time for mass now, Mommy?” They went to church a lot, because it was free and usually warm. Mostly the big churches, where the priest didn't always know everyone. His mother used to let the churches help them, but lately she'd been avoiding it. Mass was already starting in the cathedral when they finally got inside but they always sat in the back anyway.

He leaned against his mother's side and listened to the Christmas carols, watched the candles reflecting off the colored glass in the windows and the Virgin Mary statue, looking so pretty and holding her new baby. Last week, the priest had said Mary was really everyone's mother. The boy started to feel drowsy, his eyes drooping against his will. He settled more against his mother.

“Mommy?”

“Shhh, baby, what?”

“I love you.” She didn't respond, she moved away from him, laying him down on the cushions of the pew as he drifted off. The last time he saw her, she was disappearing into the crowd of people going up to take Communion.