Mom goes to the front stoop and sits, fiddling with the fern, yanking off the dead parts. It has more dead parts than green parts. The plant is supposed to be his, his reward for letting his father go, but it’s nobody’s plant, put where nobody’s looking. He remembers his mom bringing it home, so green and springy with life, saying, “You need to learn how to keep things alive,” but it smelled like crotch, and Sam felt betrayed. The person who could give him a plant as a gift was someone who didn’t know him at all.
“Call your father,” Mom says. “Tell him to get his ass over here.”
Sam kneels on the couch and watches from inside, through the blinds, when his father’s van pulls up a half hour later. He’s come straight from a job, overalls crusted with paint, and flecks of white on his cheeks and in his beard. His parents face each other coolly, Mom on the stairs, Dad on the lawn with hands on his hips, as though they don’t need a single thing from each other. His mother points to the car, hood up, and his father peers into the engine.
His father does nothing, just looks up at Sam’s bedroom window and scratches under his cap. A kind of joy warms inside Sam. This is what he wanted.
“Come here, Judy,” his father says.
“No lessons, please,” Mom says.
She goes to him. If she would only keep going to him. They stand together at the open hood and consider the damage. Sam knows he’s been discovered. His father leans on the bumper. Mom puts her hands to her lips in a sort of prayer, even though the Unitarians only bow their heads.
“Sam, get out here!” she calls through the screen door.
When Sam gets on the steps, his father says, “Jesus Christ.”
“Sweetie, what did you do?,” Mom says.
A breeze seems to gather the heat of the day and press it toward him. An old woman in a robe walks by with her little dog and stares.
“I cut my hair,” Sam says. With the kitchen scissors. By himself, while they waited for his father.
Mom sits on the stairs and pats next to her. Sam joins her, his packed bag between his legs. She runs her fingers through his hair and asks if he knows that they love him. But it’s a stupid question. Loving someone is easy—look at Latrice! And knowing someone loves you is useless, like knowing the name of a bird.
“You broke the car, didn’t you?” she says. “And you told some fibs.”
“Fibs?” his father says. “That’s the word we’re using?”
Mom gives him her look. “Do you know what he said? He said you come around at night and watch me.”
His father rubs his temples.
“Why?,” Mom asks. “Why did you do it, Sam?”
Under his breath, his father whispers, “We know why.”
“If you don’t tell us, sweetheart …,” Mom says, and he can see her hunt for terms.
“We need to go back and live with Dad,” Sam says.
Mom takes his hand and brings it to her chest, like it’s broken and she can make it better by holding it. “If you want to go live with your father, you can do that, Sambo,” she says. “You can. But I can’t.”