I pull the mango from the brown paper bag and press it twice with my thumb. Above me, Ethan’s alarm clock buzzes and the kitchen ceiling vibrates as he stumbles out of bed. The rustling coming from his room means I won’t have to call up for him. We know from experience the bus won’t wait for him to gather his backpack, lunch, and coat. 

The first cut into the fruit’s flesh yields disappointment. The skin is too thick and tough. It’s no good, I think, but then a trickle of juice seeps from the cut’s seam.

Ethan emerges from the dark hallway, hair wild, clothes rumpled. The heavy backpack over his shoulder bends his tall, lean frame like a young sapling bowed by wet snow.  He slumps into the chair, sleepy eyed. I can smell the staleness of his breath as he yawns.

“I’m cutting up a mango for breakfast,” I say.

He is unmoved. 

I score the two largest sections like a checkerboard and scoop out the creamy orange squares into a bowl I’ve set before him. The smaller bits from the side of the mango, skin still intact, I keep for myself.

“I hate school,” he says. A frequent declaration.

“Eat,” I insist.  “You can’t go out the door empty.”

I try not to watch as he pushes the fruit around in the bowl with his spoon. “Nothing compares to that mango we ate in Thailand. Remember?” I hope a good memory, an anecdote from childhood, will charm him. Coax him out of his dread, like it used to. Remember when “squishy” jumped out of the fish tank and we had to save him? Remember all the stuffed animal towers you made in the middle of the living room? Remember sitting out in the rainstorm that one summer evening without an umbrella?  

While I wait for his response, I bring the mango scraps, skin intact, to my lips, taking short, quick bites.

“I don’t really like mango, Mom,” he says, eyes downcast.

But that’s not true, I want to say.

“You did then,” I say instead.

“No,” he says, his voice rising.  “That was you.”

Was it? I think back to those hot mornings down in the breakfast hut in the middle of the Thai jungle, just a two years ago. I remember the green plate with elephant designs filled with the bright orange fruit and us sitting on the blanket spread out on the floor, stabbing the juicy sections with our forks. I remember fumbling in the dark to lift the mosquito netting that was tucked beneath his mattress so I could comfort him when the reptiles scratched the tin roof at night. I remember the malaria pills he couldn’t swallow without my hand gently rubbing his back, yet even then half were lost on the floor or in my hand when he vomited them back up. And though I hadn’t remembered this, almost every photo from that trip documents it—his hand cemented to my shoulder, like he was blind. All I ever wanted was for him to call upon the bravado of a twelve-year-old boy on an adventure. To embrace the wild.

“I’ll be late,” he said, pulling the backpack over his shoulders, this time standing upright against its weight.

Now it’s me who doesn’t want him to go. I could offer to drive him. Give him more time. Give me more time.

The sky is still dark when he calls back to me, “You enjoy the mango.”

Photo by Mahak Agrawal on Unsplash

CategoriesFlash Fiction
Jen Epler

Jen Epler lives and writes in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. She holds a master’s degree in English from SUNY Potsdam. In 2018, she was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship (Emerging/Fiction) from the State of Delaware and in 2016 was given honorable mention in the same category.