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2010 Fiction Contest: Third Place: 'Surfacing'

By Beth Malone

The kid was wearing a leash. The kind parents hold tightly to in order to prevent their kid from slipping or escaping, or staring too long at the candy aisle. "Can I have this? Can you buy me this?"

The leash was connected to a stuffed animal backpack, the kind meant to simulate freedom and adventure, when in reality they're traps – animal traps – strapped onto a kid by the parent who overuses hand sanitizer, organics and word-spelling. "Looks like somebody needs an N-A-P? Don't you think so, Dad? I sure do, Mom – and someone else could use a B-J."

The kid had his hands on the large glass window, his greasy palms slipping across it, his breath creating a thin fog as he looked out, occasionally yelling back to his Master about wings and planes and pilots.

We were all in LaGuardia, waiting for our plane to board, me with a hat tugged around my head, blocking out as many sounds as possible; everyone else texting, feigning supreme importance.

I sat staring at the leash connecting the kid to his mother, held taut and unrelenting by her. She refusing to slacken the tension, he refusing to fall back toward her womb.

I had been in the city close to a month, sitting at Beth Israel, watching Mom as she lay dying; her body deteriorating, ripping itself from her spirit to dive back into the dust of the earth.

To pass time, I would read her the news each day.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)