Without asking me the kids had found the VCR in the living and were watching an old Bill Nye the Science Guy video, about the only video Ivor had in the house. I turned it off and knelt in front of them where they sat on the sofa.
“Guys, I’ve got something to tell you,” I said. “We’ve got a few more days left in our vacation, and since your grandparents are all busy or out of town, we’re going to a very special place in North Carolina.”
“Are Gabriel and Megan coming?” Dante asked.
“I don’t want to go.”
“I think you’ll both really have a lot of fun. It’s out in the country. The people live in Indian-style houses. Kind of like camping.”
“I want to wait for Gabriel and Megan,” Dante said.
I sighed. “I’m sorry. They’re not coming back for two weeks. And we have to go home by then.”
“Then let’s just go home.”
“Dante. This is just something we have to do. It’s important for me because –”
“Then you go. I want to go home and see Daddy.” He scowled, and I didn’t know what to say to him. Rarely does Dante clench his teeth this way. In the past two days, he had seemed so happily immersed in play with Gabriel, that I’d almost forgotten the scene back in our apartment when he’d wanted to see Charlie. Obviously feelings were surfacing that I’d let myself forget. “We’ll see Daddy pretty soon,” I told him. “Just a week or so.”
The next morning, after packing the car and giving Andy and Ivor hugs goodbye, I found Dante and Chloe huddled together on Gabriel’s bed. Dante, on his back, stared at the ceiling. Chloe lay with her leg across his thighs, one hand in her mouth, the other tangled in his shirt. “Come on,” I said, “or we’ll be late for the plane.”
They watched me with lizard eyes.
“We have to go.”
“Listen. Even if we wanted to go home, we’d have to drive to the airport,” I said. “It’s too far to drive back to New York. And airplanes don’t fly out of Gabriel and Megan’s backyard.”
That got Dante up, and Chloe followed him. But I was only postponing my problem. Dante, fascinated with maps and transportation, had no trouble figuring out that the airplane we were going to board was headed for North Carolina. When the time came to get on the plane, he refused to rise from his seat at the gate. “Dante, up!” I said, getting red in the face. “Now! I’m warning you.”
He just sat. And with no time left to waste, I resorted to force, grabbing him by the arm and yanking him toward the boarding ramp.
“No!” He shouted, drawing stares.
“Dante!” I hissed. “There are going to be serious consequences if you don’t come right now.”
“Fuck you, asshole!” It was the foulest language I’d ever heard come out of Dante’s mouth, and it was all I could do not to slap him. “Deviant bastard!” he said. The entire airport, every ticket agent and passenger, every janitor and security guard seemed to freeze.
“Dante!” The scream tore my throat and scorched his face, and though I still resisted the impulse to strike him, I couldn’t stop my hands from tightening on his wrists and shaking until his demon mask melted into fear.
Then at last I took him into my arms. He was almost too heavy to carry that way, but I staggered forward, towing Chloe with the other hand, my purse and carry-on bag somehow looped over my shoulder. Everyone made room for us, the Bad Mother and the Abused Child, murmurs of disapproval welling up behind us as we passed. As I stumbled down the ramp, I remembered where Dante learned these particular curses.