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Michael Onofrey

For Those Moments

They stand on a sidewalk next to a vacant lot. The sun beats down. The boy is crying as his mother looks down at him. There are tumbleweeds in the lot. Sporadic traffic moves on the street, but it's quiet where they stand. The air is dry and grit is beneath their shoes.

“If you wait until next week, you can have the big squirt gun, the machine gun.”

The boy continues to cry. It's over a hundred degrees.

“Stop crying!”

He wears a pair of green shorts held up by suspenders. He begins to whimper. His hair is blond and it's parted on the right. He brings a hand up, a small fist, and puts it to his one eye and rubs. “Listen! You can have the big squirt gun next week, the machine gun. Or, you can have the small squirt gun today, the pistol.” He rubs the other eye with his small fist. On one side of the vacant lot there is a five-and-ten, on the other a shoe repair shop.

“Stop crying! Which do you want, the small squirt gun today, or the big one next week?”

“The small one today.”

She looks at him. His gaze is downward. She stands a moment and then turns and walks away. Her hair is brown and wavy, and it falls to her shoulder blades. She wears a light blue cotton dress. She enters the five-and-ten, the boy left standing on the sidewalk.

The boy looks at the side of the five-and-ten where it faces the vacant lot. It's a redbrick building. His sobbing subsides. He looks across the street, where there's a feed store. It, too, is redbrick, but on the side of that building there is an advertisement painted onto the bricks?Roscoe Feed. They sell chicks in there, little fuzz-balls. The boy likes to go in there and look at the baby chickens. It's cool in there, and there are hardly any customers.

He turns away from looking and thinking about the feed store. He looks at the vacant lot he's standing next to. Something catches his eye. He stands and waits, and then he sees it, sees movement. It's in the sand just off the sidewalk. He squats down and scoops up the sand with one hand, and there, in the palm of his hand, is a desert horned lizard, but he and his friends call them hornytoads.

He lets sand sift through his fingers. He looks at the hornytoad. It's gray and rugged and it's flat.

He can feel the hornytoad's soft belly against the palm of his hand and his fingers. He can feel its heart beating. The hornytoad is larger than his hand. He wonders why it doesn't try to get away.

He brings his other hand to the hornytoad to secure it. He stands up and he turns the hornytoad over and looks at its underside, its soft, yellow belly, and its throat. There's movement, pulse and breathing. He looks at the hornytoad's underside for a long time.

The hornytoad squirms. He turns it back over and looks at its craggy topside. He takes his time doing this. When he's done looking, he squats down and puts the back of his hand on the sand and takes his other hand away from the hornytoad. He watches. He looks at the hornytoad's little eyes that are buried beneath a rugged ridge.

The hornytoad sits flat on his hand and doesn't move. It seems as though it doesn't know what is happening. And then it does. It leaves his hand in a shimmy and goes onto the dirt where it looks just like the dirt. It snuggles under the surface of the dirt, the gritty, sandy, dry dirt.

The hornytoad is gone. It is disappeared.

His mother comes out of the five-and-ten. He stands up. She walks along the sidewalk and stops in front of him. She hands him a small paper bag. He takes the bag from her and holds it in his dusty hand.

They walk home and they do not speak.

Michael Onofrey's stories have appeared in The Evansville Review, Oyez Review, and The William and Mary Review. He lives in Japan.

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