The Un­solv­able Prob­lem

Prairie Fire - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - ERIN PRYCE

MICAH’ S SHOES SQUEAK ON THE POL­ISHED LAM­I­NATE floors as he sprints through the hall. Peo­ple yell his name close be­hind him, an ur­gency in their voices paired with frus­tra­tion. Micah knows they are an­gry and he knows they want him to stop. He throws his hands over his ears and tears spill over his eye­lids. He skids around a cor­ner and crashes right into the wait­ing arms of the prin­ci­pal. Micah screams and thrashes, try­ing des­per­ately to get away.

“It’s okay, bud.” The prin­ci­pal’s voice, at least, is calm with­out the same fed-up-with-your-shit kind of tone to it. His big arms wrap around Micah’s torso from be­hind in a re­strain­ing hold and Micah sinks to the floor in de­feat. He doesn’t like how cold the floor is or how the light above them flick­ers. He can hear the prin­ci­pal breath­ing hard right be­hind his ear and now the oth­ers have caught up to him and crowd around men­ac­ingly. Micah wails and be­gins to rock back and forth, as much as the arms around him will al­low.

“Thanks, Jim,” a woman pants, glar­ing hard at Micah. “I don’t have a frickin’ clue what his is­sue is. He just bolted from the class­room.” The flick­er­ing light hurts Micah’s eyes and he turns his head slightly, try­ing to bury his face in the prin­ci­pal’s chest.

“It’s okay,” soothes the prin­ci­pal, speak­ing to Micah, not the woman, he’s sure of it.

“It’s not okay!” Her voice is too loud and echoes un­pleas­antly in the hall­way. Micah’s stom­ach twists and he wails again. She is mad at him. It sends his brain into a frenzy and he tries to calm it by rock­ing harder. “This is the third time this week he’s taken off!” Micah hates it when she’s mad. He hates it when she talks about him

in­stead of to him. The prin­ci­pal squeezes Micah’s shoul­ders tightly and it slows the frenzy in his head for a mo­ment. Micah breathes out and clamps his eyes shut. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” Micah feels the prin­ci­pal shift be­hind him as he turns his fo­cus to the woman. There is more ten­sion now when he speaks, but Micah knows it’s not di­rected at him.

“Let’s get him into the of­fice and out of the hall­way,” he says curtly. The prin­ci­pal and an­other teacher help Micah to his feet slowly while the woman watches, her arms folded across her chest and her face set in a scowl. Micah hates it when she’s mad at him. His brain be­gins to race out of con­trol and he thinks he might have to run again. A thou­sand pic­tures flash through his mind and threaten to over­whelm his senses. Micah can’t think. His breath comes in shal­low gasps and he can’t fo­cus his eyes on any­thing around him. Luck­ily, the prin­ci­pal pushes on his shoul­ders and steers him calmly down the hall. But as soon as he takes a few steps, Micah is re­minded of The Un­solv­able Prob­lem. He jerks away from the prin­ci­pal and runs, let­ting out a painful squeal. His feet pound hard into the floor and send jar­ring shocks of pain up his legs. But Micah knows he is go­ing to the of­fice. He likes the of­fice so he runs there and throws him­self down on the bed in the nurse’s room and cries. A sec­ond later, the prin­ci­pal shows up and shuts off the lights. Micah likes the lights off. They can’t hurt his eyes and the sun com­ing through the blinds makes a pat­tern on the floor that he likes too and he likes the feel­ing of the pa­per that cov­ers the pil­low on the bed. He presses his face down and spends a minute lik­ing the light pat­tern and the dark­ness and the pa­per. He cries but only be­cause he has to, not be­cause he’s re­ally sad any more. This time the prin­ci­pal doesn’t say, “It’s okay, bud,” which is too bad be­cause Micah likes it when he calls him bud, but it’s okay be­cause of the dark and the light pat­tern and the pa­per.

He can hear the woman in the hall talk­ing about him again and the prin­ci­pal is try­ing to keep his voice calm. Micah doesn’t want to lis­ten so he thinks about Paw Pa­trol in­stead. Micah’s body re­laxes and his breath­ing calms and he sighs be­cause of the dark and the light and the pa­per and Paw Pa­trol. He starts to wave his hands back and forth.

Af­ter a while, Micah isn’t sure how long, he hears Mommy in the of­fice. By this time, Micah breathes slowly and his brain sends out pleas­ant bursts. When Mommy comes into the nurse’s room, her face is scrunched up. Micah doesn’t like when Mommy is up­set and

he hopes she is happy like him. He be­gins to hum qui­etly to him­self. Af­ter Mommy pokes her head in to look at him, she goes to stand in the hall­way with the prin­ci­pal and the woman. They talk qui­etly and Micah can see their shad­ows out­side the door­way. He doesn’t like lis­ten­ing to them talk about him so he watches their shad­ows in­stead. The woman’s shadow leaves and comes back and then Mommy comes into the room and sits next to him on the bed, his back­pack and out­side shoes in her hands.

“Mommy,” Micah says, sit­ting up quickly. She smiles a tired smile and cups his face in her hands. He can see her chin wob­ble. Micah doesn’t like when she cries so he hums again and rocks, just a few times. Mommy helps him take off his shoes and put on the other pair, the blue ones with the laces that are un­even. Micah holds her hand and they walk out of the school to the car, just as the bell rings for lunch. Micah likes lunch and he thinks maybe he should stay at school for lunch, but Mommy is tak­ing him home. On the drive, Micah sits in the back, mid­dle seat, and rocks and waves his hands. He likes the car. Leav­ing school is okay be­cause The Un­solv­able Prob­lem is not a prob­lem any­more. Micah sighs and closes his eyes and thinks about Paw Pa­trol.

At home, Micah goes straight to his bed­room and sits on his Paw Pa­trol blan­ket and takes out his book about space. The pages are do­geared and he likes feel­ing the pa­per roll at the ends of his fin­gers. Mommy is in the kitchen, talk­ing on the phone. Micah looks at the pic­tures of the sun and the stars. He likes the colours and he knows all the names of the plan­ets and his favourite page has Saturn on it. Micah rocks back and forth and hums.

That even­ing, Micah’s fa­ther comes home and slams the front door. It makes the light in Micah’s room flicker a bit and he doesn’t like it. He clamps his eyes shut and shakes his hands nine times to fix it. It doesn’t work though, be­cause Micah’s fa­ther is us­ing an an­gry voice when he talks to Mommy and Micah doesn’t like when his fa­ther is an­gry. When he uses an an­gry voice, Micah can only hear the anger and he can’t un­der­stand the words. He is yelling and talk­ing about how this is a prob­lem and how he can’t af­ford to miss work over this and ask­ing if Mommy can af­ford it be­cause he doesn’t think she can ei­ther. Mommy is not us­ing a fed-up-with-your-shit voice. She is us­ing her so-tired voice and is telling Micah’s fa­ther that things will get bet­ter and that Micah is just hav­ing a rough week. She thinks maybe she should take Micah to the doc­tor. Micah’s fa­ther doesn’t think that will help and that it isn’t just a rough week.

His fa­ther comes into his room and crosses his arms across his chest, his face scrunched up. Micah hopes he uses his happy voice.

“Why did your mother have to pick you up from school again to­day?” he asks with an an­gry voice. Micah’s heart sinks and he be­gins to rock on his bed. “I thought we talked about this, Micah. You need to stay at school to learn. Why are you run­ning away from your class­room ev­ery day?”

Micah knows why he is run­ning away. It is be­cause of The Un­solv­able Prob­lem. He knows why but of course, he can’t tell his fa­ther that. His fa­ther knows that too—knows that Micah doesn’t talk to him un­less he needs him to fix some­thing bro­ken and there is no way his fa­ther can fix The Un­solv­able Prob­lem.

“Mommy,” Micah says, plead­ingly, feel­ing his chest be­gin to flut­ter un­pleas­antly. He wants this con­ver­sa­tion to be over so he can go back to look­ing at his book.

“Your mother is not happy ei­ther,” says his fa­ther. “She had to leave work early again to come and get you. You need to stay at school to­mor­row.” Micah makes a sad noise and throws his hands over his ears, rock­ing ag­gres­sively on his bed. The rock­ing doesn’t help the feel­ing in his chest. It is too late to be happy again and the pres­sure build­ing in­side Micah’s body be­comes too much to bear. Af­ter The Un­solv­able Prob­lem and the woman be­ing an­gry with him and chas­ing him, and the too-cold floor in the hall and the flick­er­ing light, af­ter Mommy’s chin wob­bled like she would cry, af­ter his fa­ther be­ing an­gry and telling him Mommy is not happy ei­ther, there are too many bad things in the day and Micah is not happy. He cries and leans heav­ily into the wall be­side his bed. His fa­ther is fast, but not fast enough to stop Micah from bang­ing his head against the wall two times, just in the right spot at the back of his skull. His fa­ther’s hands reach around his shoul­ders and jerk him away from the wall and hold him still. Micah wails and cries, thrash­ing and try­ing to get back to the wall. There are too many bad things to­day and Micah wants to fix it and make the chaos in his head stop and his body stop buzzing.

The sound of Micah’s head hit­ting the wall is all too fa­mil­iar for Mommy and she comes run­ning into the room, mov­ing her hus­band’s hands aside force­fully and curl­ing her body around Micah’s. She low­ers them both to the bed so they are ly­ing fac­ing each other, Mommy in be­tween Micah and the wall, and she holds him. Micah likes when she lies with him.

“Sh­hhh, Mike,” she coos, her eyes fo­cused on his face. “Don’t do that, my dar­ling.” Micah is cry­ing be­cause he has to and be­cause

of the day. He wails and clutches at Mommy’s hands, feel­ing her warmth around his body. Micah is small and thin and Mommy eas­ily en­velops him with her warmth and her arms.

Micah’s fa­ther swears and moves an­grily out of the room but it’s okay be­cause Micah is with Mommy. Micah doesn’t like look­ing at eyes but he likes the colours in Mommy’s eyes and the way her pupils di­late and con­strict when she looks at him. He steals small glances at her irises so it doesn’t bother his brain. The golden brown rings have tiny flecks of green all around them that re­mind Micah of the pic­ture of Saturn in his book. Micah hums and closes his eyes. Even­tu­ally, they fall asleep and Micah dreams about Paw Pa­trol and Saturn.

Mommy is still with him when he wakes in the morn­ing. She smiles at him and cups his face in her hands. Micah smiles too. “Good morn­ing, Mike,” she says qui­etly.

“Mommy,” Micah replies. They smile at each other and Micah hums and waves his hands nine times.

Micah’s fa­ther has al­ready left for work. Mommy makes him break­fast, scram­bled eggs and Chee­rios. Soon, it is time to go to school. Micah likes rid­ing the bus so he walks out­side the apart­ment build­ing and waits, wav­ing his hands back and forth. Mommy tells him to be good and have a fun day at school. When the spe­cial bus ar­rives, Micah doesn’t wait for the driver to lower the ramp be­fore he gets on. The driver is the man with the mus­tache. Micah likes the driver so he goes and sits in his seat.

“Good morn­ing, Micah,” says the driver with a happy voice. Micah likes the driver be­cause the driver al­ways tells Micah what to do. He knows what to do when the man with the mus­tache is the driver so Micah is happy. “Sit­ting in your favourite seat again?” he asks, al­ready know­ing that Micah al­ways sits there. “Please do up your seat belt. Let’s watch out the win­dow for yel­low cars to­day.” The driver with the mus­tache al­ways tells Micah what colour cars he should look for on the way to school. The other driv­ers don’t.

On the way to school, Micah’s body is peace­ful and not tight. He sees three yel­low cars. The bus pulls up to the front of Micah’s school and he can see that the woman is wait­ing for him. Her face is scrunched up. Micah hopes she uses her happy voice.

“Good morn­ing, Micah!” she says. Micah can’t tell if the voice is happy or not. Usu­ally he knows but this morn­ing the woman is mak­ing it hard to guess. Step­ping off the bus, Micah pauses a beat un­til he hears the bus driver tell him to have a good day. Micah scuffs

his feet on the side­walk out front of the school, lik­ing the feel­ing of the pave­ment on the soles of his feet. The woman leads the way into the school with the too-bright lights that flicker and the too-cold floors. She takes him to his coat hook and Micah hangs up his green jacket with the zip­per that sticks, and takes off his blue shoes with the un­even laces. It’s only then that Micah re­mem­bers The Un­solv­able Prob­lem. The woman hands him his in­door shoes and Micah’s brain starts to make lit­tle blips that don’t feel good. He wants them to stop so he has to wave his hands.

The woman sets the in­door shoes on the floor in front of him. Micah slides first one foot in, then the other. He hopes that The Un­solv­able Prob­lem will be over be­cause he is happy to be at school with­out The Un­solv­able Prob­lem. As soon as he slips his foot into the left shoe though, he re­al­izes that his fears have come true. The Un­solv­able Prob­lem still ex­ists. Micah makes a moan­ing sound and the woman jerks her head to­wards him, ready to scold. Micah doesn’t like when she is an­gry. He tries to walk to his class to sit in his desk and read his books. He wants to make the woman happy and do well. But The Un­solv­able Prob­lem won’t let him.

Be­fore it hap­pened, Micah used to be happy when the mus­tache driver brought him to school. The woman greeted him and brought him to his coat hook where he changed out of his out­door shoes and put on his in­door shoes. He liked go­ing to his class­room and sit­ting in his desk and read­ing his books. Micah was happy to be at school and to make the woman happy and make Mommy happy and make his fa­ther happy. Micah liked go­ing to the library and gym and mu­sic and most of all he liked to play with the rocks out­side at re­cess. But three days ago af­ter re­cess, The Un­solv­able Prob­lem came and now Micah is not happy to be in school or at his desk or go­ing to the library. Three days ago, right be­fore it hap­pened, af­ter Micah came in from play­ing with the rocks out­side at re­cess, he was happy and fol­lowed the woman to his coat hook to change into his in­door shoes. He put them on and started walk­ing to the class­room to go sit in his desk but then it hurt his foot to walk and he had to run away. And now ev­ery time Micah puts on his in­door shoes he has to run away be­cause it hurts his foot too much to walk and Micah is not happy. It doesn’t even mat­ter if he rocks or hums or waves his hands; Micah has tried all of these things. It was an Un­solv­able Prob­lem.

The woman al­ways talked about small prob­lems and big prob­lems and Micah had to de­cide what each prob­lem was so he would know

how to act. She said a small prob­lem was like when the library book that Micah liked best was not on the shelf when they went to the library to take out books. For small prob­lems, Micah just had to hum or rock or wave his hands. Then the prob­lem would go away and Micah’s brain would stop blip­ping.

The woman said that a big prob­lem was some­thing Micah couldn’t be pa­tient with or solve him­self and he would need an adult to help him. A big prob­lem was like be­ing lost. She told him there would not be many big prob­lems at school so he should stop act­ing like ev­ery­thing was a big prob­lem. Micah liked it when he made the woman happy and he made Mommy happy and he made his fa­ther happy, so he didn’t want to have any big prob­lems.

The rea­son he knows that The Un­solv­able Prob­lem is un­solv­able is be­cause of the rules. Micah knows it was not a small prob­lem be­cause he can’t make it stop by hum­ming or rock­ing or wav­ing his hands. He’d tried. He thought it might have been a big prob­lem so he tried to tell the woman. When his foot hurt, he sat in the mid­dle of the hall.

“Mommy!” Micah had used his up­set voice. He knew the woman was not his mommy, but Mommy was the one who solved all of his prob­lems and he had a prob­lem that needed solv­ing. The woman screwed up her face and sighed. She did not use her happy voice.

“Micah, it’s time for class. Re­cess is over.” Micah pulled at his left shoe and tried to take it off. “No!” the woman yelled, putting her hand over Micah’s and mak­ing his brain blip. “We leave our shoes on in the school. It’s a rule at school. What hap­pens if there’s a fire drill? You can’t go out­side with­out shoes on. It’s not safe. So we have to be safe and leave our shoes on.” She wouldn’t let him take off the shoe even though he tried to tell her his foot hurt. Micah was con­fused when the woman talked about a fire drill and his foot hurt and he was wor­ried that the fire alarm would go off. Micah doesn’t like the fire alarm. It hurts his ears. Micah was wor­ried that the fire alarm would go off if he took off his shoe. So he left his shoe on and walked to class, mak­ing a hurt noise with ev­ery step. Micah was not happy.

He tried to solve the prob­lem with rock­ing and hum­ming and wav­ing. Af­ter the sec­ond day he even tried throw­ing his Lego across the class­room floor. The woman was not happy when he did that and that’s when Micah de­cided that his prob­lem was an Un­solv­able Prob­lem.

“Mommy,” Micah says meekly as he sits down at his desk, the pain in his foot less no­tice­able when he is seated. He clasps his hands

in his lap and clamps his eyes shut and tries to stop the bub­bling, build­ing pres­sure in his brain. Now it sends lit­tle elec­tric shock feel­ings to his limbs and through­out his body and tells him it is time to run. Micah knows the woman and Mommy and his fa­ther will not be happy if he runs and he wants them to be happy.

“Mrs. Closter,” cor­rects the woman. Micah knows her name. But it doesn’t mat­ter what her name is be­cause when he speaks to her, it is be­cause he wants her to fix a prob­lem and Mommy is the one who fixes the prob­lems. Micah wishes Mommy was at his school to solve The Un­solv­able Prob­lem. The woman hands Micah one of his books that makes him happy in the morn­ing. Micah likes when the mus­tache driver tells him what colours to look for on the way to school and he likes read­ing his books at his desk. But the pain in his foot is block­ing him from be­ing happy. He can’t move on to the book part be­cause of the pain.

The elec­tric shock feel­ing in­ten­si­fies and Micah no­tices the flick­er­ing lights and they hurt his eyes. The woman looks at Micah and tells him to read his book in her fed-up-with-your-shit voice. He wants to reach out for the book but his hands won’t let him be­cause his foot hurts. In­stead, Micah rocks in his chair and hums. That’s when Sarah comes to stand be­side his desk with her blue flower shirt on and her hair in a long, gold braid.

“Hi, Micah.” Sarah al­ways has a happy voice and it bounces around in Micah’s ears and makes his brain feel calm. Micah likes that Sarah is talk­ing to him, even though his foot hurts so he keeps rock­ing and hum­ming. “Do you want me to read to you?” Micah does want Sarah to read to him, very much. But the woman shakes her head and scrunches up her face.

“I don’t think to­day is a good day for Micah, Sarah,” the woman says. “Maybe you could try again to­mor­row.” Sarah smiles and nods and waves at Micah be­fore head­ing across the too-cold floor to her own desk, un­der a flick­er­ing light.

Micah likes that Sarah al­ways uses her happy voice with him. She is calm and quiet and never makes his brain fuzzy or blippy. Micah likes that she reads to him from his favourite books, even though he knows all the words. Some­times the woman lets Sarah read to him and she sits and looks at her phone. Other times, she says it’s time to get down to busi­ness so Micah doesn’t have to be a bur­den on his fam­ily when he’s older. Micah isn’t sure what that means, but the woman uses her an­gry voice and her fed-up-with-your-shit voice when she says it. She tries to teach Micah about let­ters and numbers

and words and sen­tences when they get down to busi­ness. Micah would rather have some­one read to him than read it him­self. He likes to hear the words like mu­sic, es­pe­cially when Sarah or Mommy reads to him.

The woman has been with Micah at school since school started this year. Last year he didn’t have a woman un­til part-way through. It was a dif­fer­ent woman back then. Micah liked her bet­ter be­cause she used a happy voice and she let him look at his books more of­ten. The woman, Mrs. Closter, al­ways says she’s tired.

Micah sits in his chair while the woman shows him flash­cards with an­i­mals and words on them. He no­tices the per­sis­tent pain in his foot but can con­trol the im­pulse to run by rock­ing and wav­ing, some­thing the woman hates.

“Stop flail­ing around, Micah. Please fo­cus.” She uses her fed-up­with-your-shit voice when she speaks to him. Micah wants to com­ply and make the woman happy, but he has to wave and rock to fix the prob­lem. She shows him a pic­ture of a cat. “What let­ter does cat start with, Micah?” she asks. He is sup­posed to point to a let­ter on a lam­i­nated al­pha­bet chart on his desk, but Micah is too dis­tracted by The Un­solv­able Prob­lem. “Well?” the woman asks, be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ag­i­tated. “Tell me what let­ter cat starts with. You know this one, Micah. Point to the let­ter on the chart.”

Some­times Micah picks the right let­ter and then the woman tells him good job and uses her happy voice. But lately she hasn’t been pa­tient with him so he can think and she says too many things in a row and then Micah has to stop to think and his think­ing takes too long for the woman to keep us­ing her happy voice. Micah thinks about cats and looks at the let­ters and then thinks about how he knows this and looks at the cat some more and can’t re­mem­ber what it is that the woman wants him to do. The Un­solv­able Prob­lem is still there and it sends shocks through his body but he tries hard to look at the cat.

Now the woman leans in too close and Micah can smell her cof­fee breath and she grips his wrist re­ally hard so that it hurts and then Micah isn’t think­ing about The Un­solv­able Prob­lem, he’s think­ing about how it hurts his wrist and the woman is look­ing at him and whis­per­ing men­ac­ingly in his ear. “If you don’t pick the right let­ters this morn­ing, there will be no mu­sic and no gym this af­ter­noon.” And she squeezes his wrist even more and Micah is scared. When Micah is scared he laughs so he laughs now and the woman squeezes even harder and so Micah laughs and then the tears start to fill his eyes.

He knows this is a big prob­lem be­cause he can’t solve it on his own and he needs help, so he says “Mommy,” piti­fully. The woman lets go of his wrist and pushes back from the desk, storm­ing over to talk to the class­room teacher. Micah puts his hands un­der the desk and cries and gig­gles. The woman and the teacher talk about Micah but he can’t hear them. Then the woman comes back over and Micah is scared so he gig­gles.

“Is this funny for you?” she hisses, so the rest of the class can’t hear her. Sarah is watch­ing from her desk with her face all scrunched up and Micah wishes she would come and read to him. Micah is still cry­ing so he’s not sure why the woman would ask him if this is funny. “I am just about done with your de­fi­ance, mis­ter. We are go­ing to go work in the hall­way so we’re not dis­turb­ing the other stu­dents.” The woman pulls on Micah’s arm un­til he is stand­ing up and then The Un­solv­able Prob­lem flares up again send­ing sharp pain through the bot­tom of Micah’s foot. Micah cries out as the woman al­most drags him from the class­room, head­ing for a ta­ble in the hall­way. Ev­ery step fills Micah’s brain with elec­tric shocks that tell him he needs to run. So Micah runs.

He doesn’t know where he’s go­ing but The Un­solv­able Prob­lem has con­sumed his thoughts and he knows only that he needs to es­cape. The woman tries to grab hold of him but Micah slips out of her grasp and breaks away. He feels out of con­trol, as if some­thing else is pump­ing his legs. The woman calls af­ter him and the flick­er­ing lights over­head start to blur faster and faster as he picks up speed. His shoes squeak on the too-cold floor and The Un­solv­able Prob­lem is al­most un­bear­able. Elec­tric shocks fire in Micah’s brain and the lights hurt his eyes and the air hit­ting his face makes him blink. The woman is yelling be­hind him and chas­ing him and other teach­ers are com­ing into the hall to see what the com­mo­tion is.

Micah wails in de­spair and wishes Mommy was here to fix the prob­lem. Just as he rounds a cor­ner, Micah sees some­one come through an ex­te­rior door at the end of the hall­way. Micah picks up speed and prac­ti­cally knocks an­other stu­dent down as he bar­rels past them and out the door. Micah has run be­fore, but he has never left the school. His foot hurts him ter­ri­bly and the sun is much brighter than the flick­er­ing lights, but at least it doesn’t flicker. Micah likes the sound of his shoes on the gravel. He turns and runs around the side of the school. The play­ground is just ahead but now he can hear the woman and other peo­ple out­side call­ing for him to stop. They are not us­ing happy voices.

Hot tears leave streaks down his face and his body feels like it is wound tight. He runs be­cause he has to and he cries be­cause of The Un­solv­able Prob­lem and the woman hurt­ing his arm and be­cause he is scared. Micah falls to his knees when he reaches the play­ground in his favourite spot. The rocks spread out un­der­neath him and around his legs and he plunges his fin­gers down as far as he can. His heart is pound­ing and he is still sad but Micah likes the feel­ing of rocks through his fin­gers so he spends a sec­ond lik­ing the feel­ing of the cool rocks. It is only a mo­ment un­til the woman and the prin­ci­pal and an­other teacher reach him and he moans in dis­tress, wor­ried about an­gry voices. The woman is al­ready yelling.

“For Pete’s sake, Micah! This needs to stop!” Micah clamps his hands over his ears so he doesn’t have to hear the an­gry voice. The prin­ci­pal and the other teacher are talk­ing to each other and the other teacher jogs back into the school. “You know, this isn’t what I signed up for this year, Jim,” the woman con­tin­ues. “You told me this would be tem­po­rary and here it is, April, and I’m still in the ex­act same place I was in the fall.” Then the prin­ci­pal tells the woman to go back in­side and she looks at him like he’s lost his shit, but she turns and stomps back into the school. Now it is just Micah and the prin­ci­pal and the rocks on the play­ground and the too-bright sun that doesn’t flicker.

Then the prin­ci­pal says, “It’s okay, bud,” and Micah feels the elec­tric shock feel­ing slow down and so he rocks and hums. This time, the prin­ci­pal doesn’t take Micah to the of­fice to wait for Mommy. The woman or the other teacher call her when they go back in and Mommy comes out the back door of the school a while later car­ry­ing his back­pack and his out­side shoes. Micah is still sit­ting in the rocks and rock­ing and hum­ming when she comes out­side. She and the prin­ci­pal speak qui­etly to each other so Micah can’t hear them but it’s okay be­cause he doesn’t want to hear them talk about him in­stead of to him. When it’s time to go, Micah takes off his own in­side shoes and pulls on the blue shoes with the un­even laces and then The Un­solv­able Prob­lem is gone again. On the drive home, he sits in the mid­dle back seat and rocks and hums and waves his hands.

At home that even­ing, Micah doesn’t have to hit his head on the wall be­cause his fa­ther doesn’t come and yell at him. In­stead, he yells at Mommy.

“I don’t know, Jesse,” Mommy says. “I don’t know what the an­swer is. We just have to keep work­ing on it. He’ll get bet­ter.” His fa­ther laughs, but it doesn’t sound like a happy laugh.

“Ha! I am so done with his shit, Tamara. He is not go­ing to get bet­ter. This isn’t some­thing that just mag­i­cally goes away. You can’t fix him.” Cup­board doors slam and there is loud stomp­ing. Micah hums to cover up the sound and the way the slam­ming and stomp­ing bounces around in his ears.

“Well, what do you want me to do? He’s our son!” Micah doesn’t like when his fa­ther uses his an­gry voice and yells and nei­ther does Mommy, be­cause she cries. Af­ter his fa­ther is fin­ished yelling, Mommy comes into Micah’s room even though it’s late and Micah should be sleep­ing. She lies down next to Micah and Micah touches her wet cheeks. “Mommy,” he says qui­etly.

“Shhh, Micah. Go back to sleep.” And they lie there to­gether and Micah likes when Mommy lies down with him so he is happy.

Micah stays home from school the next day and then it is the week­end. He is happy be­cause he doesn’t have to worry about The Un­solv­able Prob­lem or the woman. But Micah likes go­ing on the bus with the driver with the mus­tache and look­ing at his books at his desk and he likes when Sarah reads to him. He spends the time in his room look­ing at his space book and Mommy lets him watch Paw Pa­trol some of the time and she makes him scram­bled eggs and Chee­rios to eat. Micah’s fa­ther goes to work in the morn­ings and comes home in the even­ing but he doesn’t look at Micah and he doesn’t use his an­gry voice with Mommy so Micah is happy.

When it’s time to go back to school again, Micah is not happy be­cause the wrong bus driver shows up so he isn’t sure if he’s sup­posed to sit in his favourite seat or if he should sit some­where else. Micah goes to the back of the bus and then tries to run off again, but Mommy is there and she takes him to his seat and helps him put on his belt.

“Be good, Micah,” she says while she straps him in. Then, tak­ing his face in her hands she looks just above his eyes and scrunches up her face. “I love you. Very much,” she says. Then she kisses his head and gets off the bus, thank­ing the wrong driver on the way out.

An­other wrong thing that hap­pens when Micah ar­rives at school is that the woman is not wait­ing for him to get off the bus. The prin­ci­pal is there with some­one new. A new woman greets Micah qui­etly and the prin­ci­pal says, “Good morn­ing, bud.” Micah’s stom­ach twists into a knot and he wails and waves his hands. The three of them walk down to Micah’s coat hook and he re­luc­tantly hangs up his jacket and then he re­mem­bers The Un­solv­able Prob­lem. Elec­tric shocks start spark­ing in Micah’s brain and he thinks about run­ning.

“Wow, Micah,” says the new woman. “These are re­ally neat green shoes. I like them!” The new woman picks up his in­door shoes off of the shelf and then some­thing amaz­ing hap­pens. The new woman turns the shoes over in her hands to look at the bot­toms. “Wait a sec,” she says, scrunch­ing up her face, “there’s a tack stuck in the bot­tom of this one. Let me get that out for you. That can’t be com­fort­able!” Micah watches with silent awe as the new woman pulls the tack out and holds it in her hand. It is small and gold, like Sarah’s hair, and the flick­er­ing lights make it shine in the palm of the new woman’s hand. Micah sees that it is small and not at all like how it felt in­side his shoe. And with that, The Un­solv­able Prob­lem is solved. The new woman smiles at Micah and he no­tices that she has some of the same colours in her eyes as Mommy.

“Mommy,” Micah says, us­ing his happy voice. The new woman has fixed The Un­solv­able Prob­lem and Micah’s brain is fire­works and his heart is warm and flut­tery. He waves his hands and hums and puts on his green shoes and walks to the class­room with the new woman and the prin­ci­pal.

“Will you be okay from here?” the prin­ci­pal asks the new woman. She laughs and her laugh is a light sound that isn’t too loud and doesn’t hurt Micah’s ears.

“I think we’ll be fine,” she says and the prin­ci­pal leaves and Micah goes to his desk. The new woman comes and sits be­side Micah but she doesn’t make him look at her. “I should in­tro­duce my­self, Micah. I’m Ms. Ed­monds and I’ll be work­ing with you to­day.” Micah hums and pulls out his books. Micah’s brain feels calm and there is peace in his body.

While Micah is en­joy­ing his books and not hav­ing any pain in his foot, Sarah comes over and asks Ms. Ed­monds if she can read to Micah. Micah is wor­ried that Ms. Ed­monds will be like the woman but in­stead she lets Sarah sit and read three books to Micah and he hums and waves his hands while she reads to him, his heart glow­ing. Af­ter she fin­ishes, Ms. Ed­monds lets Micah think about Paw Pa­trol for a while be­fore she brings out the let­ter cards. Micah shows her what let­ter cat starts with and what go­rilla starts with and what mit­ten starts with.

“Wow, Micah! You’ve been work­ing very hard!” And at re­cess time Micah switches his shoes and goes to the play­ground and plays with the rocks and Ms. Ed­monds even lets him stay out­side af­ter the bell rings.

Micah’s heart is bub­bly and warm and he hums loudly. The whole day passes this way with Micah not even notic­ing the flick­er­ing lights or the too-cold floor and he never once has to go to the of­fice. Ms. Ed­monds takes Micah to gym and to mu­sic class and there is only one time when there is a small prob­lem but Ms. Ed­monds helps Micah find the ball that is the right size and makes the right sound when it bounces on the gym floor. Micah doesn’t have to wave his hands very many times and when he says “Mommy” to her, Ms. Ed­monds knows that he doesn’t mean Mommy, he means help please. For the first time in a week, Micah stays un­til the very end of the day and he watches as the spe­cial bus pulls up to get him af­ter the bell rings. Ms. Ed­monds tells him it was nice to meet him and Micah doesn’t look at her, but he hums and bounces when he walks. All the way home he hums and waves and watches out the win­dow, think­ing it might be good to look for yel­low cars, even though the driver didn’t tell him to.

Mommy picks Micah up from the bus and walks him home. Her face is scrunched up and her eyes are red. Micah feels his stom­ach flip-flop but he thinks about his space book wait­ing in his room and ig­nores it. For sup­per, Mommy makes Micah scram­bled eggs and Chee­rios and af­ter he eats he is al­lowed to watch Paw Pa­trol.

It gets later and Micah’s fa­ther doesn’t come home. Micah’s stom­ach flip-flops some more as the sun sets and he gets closer and closer to bed­time. He looks at Mommy and he looks at the front door but it doesn’t open. Micah hums and rocks. His fa­ther usu­ally gets home at din­ner time. Micah walks back and forth from the kitchen through the liv­ing room and each time he passes by the door, wait­ing for it to open. It is past the time it should open and his fa­ther should come in and ei­ther use his an­gry voice or not say any­thing at all. Af­ter wait­ing for too long, Micah is hum­ming loudly and rub­bing his hands over his ears to try to fix the prob­lem of his fa­ther not be­ing home. He goes into his bed­room and paces back and forth in there to see if he will hear the door open and slam shut and make the light flicker. When it doesn’t hap­pen Micah sits down on his bed and rocks and opens his space book to his favourite page.

“Mike,” Mommy says from his bed­room door. He looks up at her scrunched-up face and rocks softly.

“Mommy?” Micah asks. Mommy comes and sits be­side him on the bed and the mat­tress dips and the book slides to­wards her. Micah moves it back. She tells him that his fa­ther is not com­ing home. Not to­day and not ever. Micah doesn’t know how long not ever is. He

likes it when things are the same. Micah rocks and hums louder. What if he needs his fa­ther to fix some­thing bro­ken? His fa­ther goes to work in the morn­ings and comes home in the evenings. Micah feels his chest tighten and he thinks he might have to run. But Mommy takes his face in her hands and looks just above his eyes and uses her happy voice.

“You know what, Micah? We will be just fine be­cause we have each other. And we are whole, just like this.” Mommy kisses his head and the two of them lie down and Micah knows that Mommy will fix the bro­ken things. He hums qui­etly and looks at the colours in her eyes, watch­ing the black pools of her pupils con­strict and di­late. He lis­tens to her words in his head and tries to think about what they mean. Even­tu­ally, Micah falls asleep and he doesn’t re­mem­ber dream­ing. His brain is quiet and his body is peace­ful.

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