by Aspen Velez
The sun cooks my skin as I drive down the dusty Arizona road to the luxury Oasis Inn. My AC is working overtime to counteract the 100 plus degree temperature that's baking the tarmac from the front of the car to the horizon. The man on the radio is cutting in and out but it doesn't matter much -- he might as well be saying nonsense. I catch words here and there like, the economy’s going great, unemployment is going down, and homeownership is on the rise.
“What a crock of shit. What good is a job if you need three of them to pay your bills, what good is a house if it's falling apart? Whose economy is good right now ‘cause it sure as hell isn't mine,” I said.
My car starts rattling, I move the wallet-sized picture of my son Jasper just in time to see my gas light come on. I have enough time to make it to the Oasis to get the room ready for my meeting.
After emptying my last dollars to pay for the room the bellhop guides me to my room, 113. The room smells freshly cleaned, the edges of the beds are crisp, even the lights look freshly dusted. The patio has been arranged just as I asked: two wine glasses and an unopened bottle of their finest mid-tier. I place my suitcase on the table and unlock it but leave it closed but ready. I arrange the chairs so they are the easiest to sit in when you walk through the sliding door. The patio has enough sun to allow a variety of plants to grow; the desert rose was Laura's favorite. After pacing back and forth in front of it I pluck the once beautiful flower and fling it over the siding.
The knock at the door could only be from one person: Leslie.
For just a moment after the knock the ticking of the clock slows, the chirping of the birds almost crawls to a stop, before the repeated knock causes everything to continue as normal.
Opening the door I see Leslie dressed in a professional suit with a clip-on smile. I motion for her to come in, almost forgetting to close the door behind her. I hear every step of her shoes as we walk to the patio.
“So, what did Laura's mom think about what I said?” I said.
“Do you want the good news or bad news first?” she said.
“Am I getting my son back, Leslie?”
“That's kind of complicated; Mrs. Jetson believes that Jasper would be better off with her. Mrs. Jetson did say she’d be open to supervised visitations though.”
The air between us solidifies for a moment as we both sit there. I break the tension with the pop of a bottle as I pour myself a glass.
“Would you like some?” I said.
“You know I can’t drink on the job, but don't let me stop you. I know this must be hard but Mrs. Jetson is very firm on keeping Jasper. She wanted you to hear it in person”
“Then she should have told me herself. I’m going to keep fighting for my son. She has no right to keep him. I worked three jobs to keep his mother alive for as long as I did not thank her. As soon as Laura passed she swooped in and said I was neglectful and that I’d rather work than be with him.”
“You didn't lose your kid because you worked too much, you lost your kid because you failed your drug test Mr Velez,” she says.
“If I lived in a different state I would have passed it. If she thinks I’m going to give up then I’ll see her in court,” I say as I stand up. “I don't think there's much more to talk about.”
Leslie stands up from her seat. “If anything changes let me know and I can pass the message on to Mrs. Jetson. Otherwise I suppose I’ll see you in court.”
Wordlessly I walk her to the door; this time instead of forgetting to close it behind her I almost close it on her back foot. The weight of my wallet reminds me that I can't afford the paywall that's soon to be looming over me. I lie on the bed and pull out the picture of Jasper; it's almost like a mirror in time. Laura always said that he looks just like me. Rolling over onto my side I see the victory bottle I prematurely bought.