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When they get to the car he calms down and lets her strap him into his car seat. No you don’t, she says. What? he asks. You don’t hate me. Child looks out the window. Sometimes he does hate her. Hey, she says, grabbing him by the chin. You don’t hate me. You love me. She grips him harder. That dog was mine, he says, and starts to cry again. I loved it. She digs in to his jaw with her thumb and forefinger so his teeth part and his lips open. I love you, he says, and it’s true. Okay, good, Mother responds and lets go. I love you too.
They are quiet for the ride home, but when they pull into the driveway, Child says, Hey, what about my new shoes? Mother doesn’t know where in the mall she left them so she puts her head on the steering wheel and cries.
Child hasn’t forgotten about the dog bag. His mother told him he would, but he hasn’t and it’s been two days. The man said he couldn’t sell the dog since Child cried on it and got it wet, and that probably meant it was thrown away. This makes Child so sad he can’t stand it. He didn’t care about the wet spot.
He knows the dog isn’t real, but he can’t help thinking about The Velveteen Rabbit, a book he had to hide because it made him so sad. He still won’t let himself remember where he put that book. If his mother had let him keep the dog bag he never would have thrown it away like the velveteen rabbit got thrown away. He would have kept it forever and put only his best toys in it, and he would have given it to his own boy some day.
Earlier in the afternoon, he pleaded with his mother again to go back to the store and get the dog bag, but she looked at him without smiling and said, We’re done talking about the dog bag. I don’t want to hear another word about it, do you understand me? A little part of Mother regrets not letting him keep it, but she can’t admit that to the boy.
Child doesn’t know why she asks if he understands. She always asks that. But all he said was It’s not fair! and ran outside to the swing that hangs from the tree in the front yard, where he’s been sitting by himself for a long time now. I loved that dog, he whispers, while he twists and untwists the swing’s chains. I loved him.
A few of their neighbors have noticed him all alone in that yard that’s not really a yard, just a strip of weeds with a half-dead tree and a swing too close to the road. They notice and when it gets dark enough they close their blinds.
What makes Child saddest about The Velveteen Rabbit is not that the rabbit got thrown away but that the boy never found out his old toy turned into a real rabbit and lived happily ever after. This causes Child such anguish that he puts his head on his knee and cries, right there in the front yard, though no one’s watching anymore. If he knew that the man at the store took the dog home for his own kids or cleaned it up and put it back out to be sold, he would feel okay. But he’ll never know, and he doesn’t think he’ll ever stop wondering.
Child’s palm itches and he sits up and picks at the tape holding the bandage to his hand. He peers in, but it smells bad and he can’t see, so he pulls the bandage off, even though his mother told him to leave it alone. In a line across his palm is a series of small scabs. He scratches one and it doesn’t bleed, so he scratches another. That one bleeds a little, but the one after that doesn’t bleed at all. He plays a guessing game: will it bleed or won’t it? If a scab bleeds, that means the dog got thrown away; if it doesn’t, it didn’t.
The last scab Child scratches doesn’t bleed, but it hardly matters. A line of red is trickling down his arm. Child moans and stamps his feet. It was mine! he yells and jumps off the swing to whip its chains against the tree. He wipes his bloody hand over his face and hair and flings himself to the ground and kicks his legs in the rhythm of his speech. It was mine! Kick, kick, kick. Over and over.
Child is out of breath and getting cold. He rolls over and picks up the bandage, then changes his mind and drops it. He stands up and purposely does not brush himself off, and on his way inside he watches the faint trail the blood makes on the fallen leaves. In the entryway he stands on the linoleum and calls to his mother, and as she comes down the hall with a pile of folded laundry he holds his hand over the beige carpet, the one he’s not supposed to walk on with shoes.
She dumps the laundry on a chair, all except for a white T-shirt, which she ties around his hand. Oh honey, what did you do! Why didn’t you leave that alone? she says, and leads him into the bathroom. She notices the blood on the floor but doesn’t mention it. She’ll take care of him, then she’ll scrub the carpet after he goes to bed.
In the bathroom Mother washes his hand in the sink, and he flinches when the soap gets into the cut. Oh my baby, she keeps saying, my sweet baby, what happened? But he doesn’t answer her. She wraps a washcloth around his hand, and then she draws a bath and undresses him and makes him get in.
She cleans him with another washcloth and kisses him and sings to him and calls him honey and baby, but he is silent because she doesn’t say anything about the dog bag. When she turns from the tub to look in the cupboard for a new bottle of shampoo, he says, almost in a whisper, I hate you. He knows she hears him because he can see her face in the mirror.
Mother doesn’t respond. She comes back to the tub and lathers his hair and finishes his bath, and he is still her honey and her baby. She dries him off and puts ointment on his wound and attaches another bandage.
Later, in bed, it occurs to Child that if the dog bag were lying in a wastebasket, the person who cleans the store at night might find it and take it home. This makes him feel better, but even so: he might hate his mother. He also might love her. It’s hard to tell.
On the way to church, Mother slams on the brakes at the end of their street. From the back seat her child giggles. Do it again, he says. I thought I saw a squirrel, she tells him, and turns right.
A semi is in the opposing lane. It would be so easy to jerk the wheel to the left. It would be as easy as stomping on the brake pedal. She won’t do it of course, but as the truck passes she swerves, only slightly, toward it. She glances in the rearview mirror, but the boy is looking out the window.
Mother takes a shortcut through a construction zone, dormant on the weekend. There are orange cones along the shoulder and between the lanes, and the speed limit is 45. She accelerates to 45, slows back down to 40, then speeds up and up and up again, to 70. The child laughs and claps his hands. Faster! he shouts. Mother presses the gas pedal until the speedometer reads 75, then she takes a curve without braking. Her stomach flips and she wants to move her foot to the brake pedal, but she doesn’t do it.