Only Five Minutes
by John Geddes
(Vancouver, BC, Canada)
He hated shopping. Who cared about new kitchen plates anyway? Their blue plates were too cold, his mother said. They no longer fit with the rest of the kitchen. He liked blue. She'd found yellow ones, the same colour as scrambled eggs. Yuck. But on sale. "Great," he'd said. "No more shopping. Let's go."
This bench was hard, and his feet didn't reach the ground. At least he could swing his legs. Only five minutes more, she'd said, to see if they had that dress in her size. Clothing stores were even more boring than kitchen stuff. They all looked the same.
His mother worked all week. She said weekends were the only time they could do errands together. He'd rather play soccer, like Eddie. Eddie scored two goals last Saturday. He'd told him over and over at recess. If he could play soccer, he'd be better than Eddie. Not stuck in a stupid mall.
"Hello Matt. You'll tip over if you swing your legs any higher."
He stopped his legs and leaned forward to balance on the lip of the bench, ready to jump off. He looked up at the man. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."
The man sat on the other end of his bench. He looked as old as his father, the last time he saw his father. But this man had nicer eyes.
"I'm a friend of your Mum. You're Matt right? Your Mum's Gail. Gail Blackstone."
"She changed back to McGowen. But I'm still a Blackstone. Like my Dad." He looked over at the stores. "That dress," she'd said, but which one?
"We met in High School, your Mum and me. You look at lot like her. Everyone probably tells you that."
"I look like my Dad. He works in Toronto. Toronto's bigger than Vancouver. It's where all the big businessmen live. He takes care of money at a bank. Lots of money." He watched the faces of people passing by. Did they see anything wrong? A woman in a black coat smiled at him. "My dad likes baseball, but I like soccer. Baseball is boring."
The man laughed and patted the seat of the bench. "You're pretty smart for a little guy."
His Dad said if he grew up to be a banker, baseball wouldn’t seem so boring. “I gotta go. I’m not supposed to talk to . . . you.”
"I know. But it's OK. I met your Mum in that store over there." The man pointed at the store with the brown dress in the window.
"You were in there?"
"I was buying a present for my wife. See my bag? Your Mum wanted to try on that dress, so I said I'd come out and keep you company. Give her more time. Women you know, they like to try on new things."
The man's eyebrows rose just like Eddie's did when he told a secret. But he sounded like his Dad when he talked to his friends. Grown-up like. "Mum's ok, I guess."
"Your Mum's wonderful. Look at you. A great big boy. She knew you wouldn't mind waiting here while she tried to find that dress."
"When d'you think she'll be done?" He looked from the man's face back to the row of stores. The brown dress didn't look familiar, but his mother liked brown. She liked baseball too. But not Toronto. She said even if they won a World Series she'd never go back there with his Dad.
"I think it's taking longer than she expected. We can go get an ice cream at the food court. It'll only take a minute and it'll give her more time. D'you like ice cream?"
He looked back to the store again. "She said to stay here."
"But if I'm with you, it's OK, right?"
She'd let him have ice cream before lunch once before. They went to a Vancouver Canadians baseball game last summer. Eddie came too. The best part had been the ice cream.
"Everybody likes ice cream. What's your favourite flavour?"
"Licorice. Black licorice."
"I love Tiger. Can you handle a double scoop?"
His Mum never let him get a double scoop. She said he'd never finish it and she'd get fat if she had to finish it for him. But Eddie's Dad let him have double scoops. Two different flavours. "Black licorice and grape."
"OK. Let's go. Quickly so we can get back before too long." The man stood up and offered him a hand. He let his bum slip over the edge of the bench and put his hand in the palm of the man. It felt warm and smooth like his Dad's. The man pulled him forward.
"Wait. We could go tell Mum where we're going."
The man stopped and looked in the direction of the stores. Then he bent down to get closer and said, "You're right. We should make sure it's ok for you to have a double scoop. Maybe we can get her one too."
The man allowed slack in his arm so he could move in the direction of the store. A mother and a little girl came out of its entrance, but no sign of his mother. Every time they came to the mall, she made him look at dresses. Eddie got to play soccer. Boys shouldn't have to go to dress stores.
He swung around and pulled the man's arm in the direction of the food court. "No, let's go get an ice cream. She says it just makes her fat."
He ate the licorice scoop first. The man had already finished. He'd given him two big bites of Tiger. Tiger was OK but not enough licorice. Too much orange. Eddie said orange was a girl's colour. But he didn't care about the colour. It just didn't taste right.
"Ready to go?"
He shook his head. His Dad said you need to take time to savour the taste. Besides, he liked the plastic seats in the food court. He could slide his bum around in circles. "Want some grape? It's great! Great grape. Grape great."
The man had a nice smile. Bigger than his Dad's. His Dad had a moustache. He looked like he only had one lip. "Get it? Great grape?"
"Got it, but look little guy, we need to get going. Your Mum'll worry."
"But she'll know I'm with you." He took a long lick. Grape and licorice. Better than just one scoop. He looked at the man for confirmation, but the man's attention had shifted to a fat kid sword swallowing French fries. He swiveled in his seat to watch, too. His Mum made him finish everything. She'd say 'you asked for it, you eat it'. He swiveled back. The food court was a lot more fun than the bench. Maybe the man didn't like malls either. "D'you like soccer?"
The man smiled. "The world's greatest game. D'you play?"
"Yeah, but not with Eddie. Eddie plays for the Dunbar Eagles. I can kick around him anytime at recess. If he can score two goals, I bet I could score ten. At least."
"You don't play on the Eagles?"
"Mum's too busy. If my Dad lived in Vancouver, he'd take me, even though he likes baseball. My Mum'd take me if she didn't have to shop. Usually we go to IGA, but today we needed dishes. Anything that's not blue. My Dad likes blue. So do I."
The man's phone rang. He took it out of his pocket, mouthed ‘just a second,' and turned around. The boy let some grape melt in his mouth.
The man closed his phone and put it back in his pocket. He turned to him and smiled. "That was your Mum. She wants me to take you home, so Eddie can take you to the Eagles game today."
He squirmed out of the slippery chair, stood beside the table and stuffed a half scoop of ice cream in his mouth. The ice cream slid down his throat in a lump. A second after, the pain hit his head. "Ahhhh." He closed his eyes and pressed his tongue to the roof his mouth. "Freezer forehead." He put his hand on his forehead to warm it up. With the other, he took the man's hand. "Let's go."
"We'll take my truck. It's just at the entrance to the food court."
"What about Mum?"
"She's already gone with Eddie's mom. She said we should meet her there."
He looked down the mall. She shouldn't have gone without telling him. Maybe she hadn't really left yet. But he didn't want to make Eddie late. Maybe he'd score some more goals today. "Okay."
The man must be taller than his Dad. His arm stretched up as they walked. His fingers hurt where the man scrunched them, and his shoulder ached, just a little. He had to skip to keep up. His Mum never walked too fast for him.
"Stop!" The voice came from behind them. "Sir. Wait." The voice yelled. "Sir!"
The man stopped but didn't turn around. The boy looked over his shoulder and saw the mall policeman running toward them. Mall policemen didn't have guns. They weren't really policemen at all. His Mum said they were usually too fat to be policemen. This one could run fast. He could play soccer if he didn't have to work in the mall.
The man squeezed his hand too hard.
"Ouch." He slipped his fingers free and turned to watch the mall policeman coming toward them. The man stepped behind him put his hands on both his shoulders. The boy felt the heat in his hands through his shirt.
"Thank you." The policemen coughed to catch his breath.
It must be hard to run in those heavy shoes. He didn't like running in his church shoes. They were useless for running. His Mum had bought him add-dee-daas for gym class. Eddie didn't have add-dee-daas. That's why he was faster than Eddie.
"You forgot your bag, sir." The mall policeman held the bag out to the boy.
He took it and looked up at the man.
"You keep it little guy." And then to the mall policemen, "Thank you. It's hard to keep everything organized without his mother here to help."
"No problem, sir. Glad I could help. Have a great day, eh."
"Thanks again." When the man walked away he bent down. "Ready for a ride in my truck?"
"Is it a big truck?" His Mum had a Toyota. She said she wanted the smallest car they made. Something that never needed gas. Even Toyotas need gas.
"Just a pick-up." He opened the heavy glass mall entrance doors. "Right over there."
"But there's no back seat."
"You're a big boy. You'll ride up front with me."
His Mum never let him ride up front. She said the air bag might squish him like a pancake. His Dad said the way she drove, it probably would. His Dad had a Lexus with a computer.
The man opened the door to the pick-up truck for him.
He climbed up onto the seat. "How long will it take to get to Eddie's?"
"The way we're going, only five minutes."