Shelley’s monsters are wailing at me like their lives are at stake and this guy wants to talk about insurance. Oh, I’ll call him all right – no question. Thanks for the card.
The brats pull me free. They lead me past a shoe store, a phone store, a jeweler. We go by a kiosk for t-shirts, a kiosk for hobby drones, a chittering pack of teenage girls, and now we’re near the food court. I corral the kids over to a table and we flop down on plastic chairs. I peel off my shoes. The shoes have heels and my feet are a wreck. The kids squawk at each other.
We came here for Shelley’s hair appointment at 9:00 but now it’s 2:37 and she’s nowhere. She won’t reply to texts.
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
The boy screws his face up and reminds the mall that he wants to go home. The girl says she’s hungry.
“What for, sweetheart?”
The boy’s face changes. “Ice cream!”
“Yay!” they yell in unison and I have to smile. They’re energetic, I’ll give them that.
They order double-scoop waffle cones. The girl tells the kid behind the counter to make them huge and the kid follows orders. A wave of apprehension washes over me. I ask for a small hot fudge sundae and we carry our sugar-laden diversions back to the table. For a time it’s quiet and still. The kids focus. I slide out of my shoes.
Then the girl whispers something and the boy mashes his ice cream cone straight in her face. She shrieks and pounces and now they’re on the floor, punching, bawling, pulling hair. The girl is wild-eyed, her face green with ice cream. Even her eyebrows are green.
I try to pull the boy off but he’s determined. He drives a solid blow into her face that instantly elevates the pitch and volume of her screeching. He climbs off, satisfied. The girl fires a vicious kick at his crotch but misses. She is screaming, calling him filthy names. He laughs.
Sliding an arm under her neck, I help her sit and dab at her bloody nose with a napkin. She winces and directs a few of her curses my way. I realize I’m crying.
We climb up to the table and I bury my face in my hands and sob and now I know I need help. I need someone to keep me from choking the life from these shitty kids, someone to keep me from bawling into their ugly little faces what a godawful bitch their mother is to have ditched me here with them for all these hours.
The GPS app on my phone tells me Jeff is home from work. I call but it goes to voicemail. “It’s me,” I say. “I need help. Can you call when you get this?”
I stare at the screen.
The girl sniffs up snot and swallows. She wipes her nose with her sleeve. “We have that,” she says.
She points a wet finger at the GPS icon on my desktop. “That. We have that.”
She nods and shows me her phone. “See?”
I nod. “It’s a good app. Helps mommy find you if you ever– ” It dawns on me then. I ask: “Can we use your phone to find your mommy?”
The girl shakes her head sadly. “I don’t know how.”
“I can!” the boy says. “I know how!”
We ignore him. “Maybe I can help you figure it out,” I tell her. “Can I see your phone?”
The boy turns red and this pleases the girl. She smiles sweetly, first to me then at him, and hands me the phone. He lunges for it but I’m faster. I stab the screen with an index finger.
In the app, people are represented as pink circles on a map of the city. There’s a pink circle for The Boy and one for The Girl stacked nearly on top of one another at the Mall of America, and there, along the right of the screen, is a circle for Mommy.
At my address.
I tap Refresh. The screen reads: Updated Now but the address does not change. The app indicates she’s been there since noon. About the same time Jeff got home.
I give the girl her phone. “I have to use the bathroom,” I hear myself say. I drift off past the electronics store and the kiosk of sunglasses and the store with posters of skinny young girls in lingerie. I pass the coffee bean place and the leather coat place and the place that sells baseball caps. I turn left and exit through a set of glass doors and then another and now I’m out in the sunshine.
The button on my keyfob makes my car chirp twice. I walk to it, get in, and drive away.