NEW FICTION: The Boiling Pot
The two boys are playing trucks and blocks on the kitchen floor when the doorbell rings. Their mother takes off her oven mitts, placing them one on top of the other on the counter. “Stay put,” she tells them, and gives the younger boy an extra special smile.
The older of the two boys, Dylan, is three, which makes him old enough to know that he’s the older brother, but not old enough to really do anything about it. Dylan prefers the trucks, while his brother, Thomas, at barely over a year old, is content with putting the blocks in his mouth. In one moment, Thomas is holding a blue block twice the size of his fat little hand, and the next, Dylan has taken it from him, loaded it into one of his trucks, driven it around and dumped it. Thomas stares, goes glassy at the eyes and lips as if he might be about to cry, then smiles.
A large pot of water is coming to a boil on the stove, the spaghetti intended for it sits dry in its packet on the counter. There is a lid on the pot, and every now and then, it jumps a little, allowing a drop of water to escape and go sizzling into the fire.
“Truck,” says Dylan. Thomas says nothing.
“Truck,” says Dylan. Thomas sneezes, firing snot onto his chin. Into the back of a bigger truck goes the blue block, along with two yellow blocks, a red one and a green, L-shaped one. Dylan drives the truck around in a wide circle, then stands, pushing it along in a straight line, until it bumps into the cabinet underneath the boiling pot.
Soon the pot has reached a rolling boil, causing the lid to flap regularly like a metronome. The windows have begun to steam up. More droplets splash over the side of the pot and into the flame, turning parts of its ring from blue to yellow.
“Bbbbrrr…” Dylan says as he backs up the truck, “Beep, beep, beep.” He rams the truck into the cabinet again and several of the blocks fall out. On the stove, the boiling pot shifts slightly, grates on the metal holder.
“Brrrr…” reverse. “Beep, beep,” reverse. Drive. Slam.
The older boy is pulling back, readying the truck for another slam, when the shape of a man in a navy blue jacket appears at the window. It’s only a shape because the glass is steamed up, and when the man cups his hands to the window to try and look in, Dylan sees him and runs to rejoin his brother on the floor.
“Mommy?” Dylan says. The man removes his hands from the glass and steps away, like a person fading into mist. “Mommy,” Dylan shouts. On the stove, the boiling pot has become aggressive, spitting out scalding hot water on all sides. Its lid, which had been ticking away a couple of minutes ago, is now rattling loudly, and the cauldron bubble and serpentine hiss of water hitting fire upsets little Thomas so much that he begins to cry. It starts as a full-face contortion and rises like a fire alarm into a pained and frightened wailing.
“Mommy!” Dylan shouts, “Mama! Mama!” He places his hands on his little brother’s head, tries to calm him, but the younger boy cries and cries, gets redder, blows out more mucus. Steam rises all around now making the kitchen hotter, then, with a slip-crash, the pot flips its lid onto the tile floor where it jangles and eventually spins to a stop.
“Maa-maa!” Dylan sobs. His own face is red now as well, and a wet patch has appeared on his pants.
A minute later, the mother returns. She switches off the flame under the pot and then, seeing that Dylan has wet himself, picks him up, holds him close to her. She hugs him tightly, kisses his forehead, strokes his hair.
“Where’s your brother?” she asks him. “Where’s your baby brother?”
The back door is open. The heat is escaping.