The Unsolvable Problem
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.