The Happy Muscle

By GreyHairJerry

James nearly got run over crossing the street to the Black Drop. I swear, he needs a handle surgically implanted on top of his head. He’d have been killed ninety times if I didn’t stop him first. No survival instinct. I can’t even talk him into holding my hand anymore when we walk across streets. He thinks 8 is too old for that kind of garbage. I would agree with him if he wasn’t always trying to get run over. I’m serious about that handle. No spatial awareness. Once we were inside the coffeehouse he didn’t even have the sense to stand in line. He tried cutting six people to order a lemonade and a cookie. I pulled him away and we got in line along the the food display. He stared hard at a platter for a good minute.
“What’s a kish?” he asked.
“A what?”
“A kish. Look right there.”
“That’s a quiche, bubba.”
“What’s a quiche?”
“Well,” I told him, “It’s sort of like an egg pie. They put vegetables and other junk in it too, sometimes chicken.”
“It has chicken and egg in it?”
“Sometimes.”
“Well, I want one.” He did, too. I could see his concentration as he read the description. “This one has chicken in it. Can I have it?”
“Sure thing. What do you want to drink?
“Lemonade.” I don’t even know why I asked. The kid is a fiend for lemonade. I’ve never met a kid that can drink lemonade as much as he can. I bet he could drink a whole gallon of it. At the house Mom would have to hide the stuff whenever she bought it.
We got our food and sat down next the the window. James picked apart his quiche like a scientist dissecting a frog. You’d have thought he was making an anatomical drawing of the thing tby he way he took it apart.
“Mom says you’re moving to back Portland,” he muttered to his plate.
“I am. Well, more than likely anyway. I want to go back.”
“What’s wrong here?”
“Well, nothing’s wrong here. I just need to live on my own.”
“Why?”
“Because I can’t live with Mom and Steve anymore.”
“Yes you can. You are right now.”
“Well of course I’m physically capable of living with them. But I can’t do that forever.”
“Is this another one of those things I’ll understand when I’m older? Jordy always says that to me. That I’ll understand when I’m older.”
“Don’t listen to that. You can understand anything if you try. Don’t let her tell you that. It’s garbage.”
“She says you’re trying to make me grow up too fast. She says I should just be a little kid.”
“Is that what you want to be? A little kid?”
“I don’t know.” His eyes jerked up at me for the first time since we’d sat down. “You talk to me different than they do.”
“I don’t talk down to you. You’re old enough and smart enough that we can just talk. Just like this. It’s not about growing up.”
“Ok.” He went back to his quiche. A girl from high school came in the door and smiled at me as she went to stand in line. She was two years below me. We’d had math together my senior year, but I wasn’t sure if her name was Grace or Katy. The younger kids all looked alike to me for some reason.
“You always say hello with your eyebrows,” James told me. “You don’t even smile. Why don’t you smile?”
“I smile.”
“Not most of the time. Most of the time you don’t.”
“Well, it takes a lot of muscles to smile, kid. Maybe I just get tired.”
“How many?”
“How many what?”
“Muscles does it take to smile.”
“I’m not sure. At least ten. Probably more.”
“It should just be one muscle. It can be called the Happy Muscle.”
“Ok. Good idea. Let’s go find some scientists and doctors and tell them our theory.” He laughed and put his hands in the air, one of them still clutching to fork.
“We’ll be famous!” Quiche scattered across the floor. “Now people can smile more because it only takes one muscle. Everybody can be happier! You can smile more, like you used to.”
All of a sudden my eyes started burning and my throat did something funny.
“What’s wrong?” James asked. I wish I could have taken a picture of his face. It was pure concern. That’s the great thing about kids, they never half-ass emotions. They feel things entirely.
“Nothing’s wrong, kid, nothing. Coffee went down the wrong pipe.” He smiled again. He loved that saying. He told me once how he imagined the insides of bodies to look like a bunch of metal pipes and gauges and valves all jumbled together. I told him he wasn’t too far from the truth, and then Jordy explained how bodies really work, with organs and bones and tissue. Jordy is about as brilliant as they come.
The girl sat down three tables to the left of us and smiled at me again. Not in a funny way, just in greeting.
“You did it again.” James was giving me his little shark grin.
“Did what?”
“Said hello with your eyebrows.”
“Eyebrows don’t have mouths, kid.”
“Yours do. You can say hello with them. Mom can say hello with hers too. Can your dad do it?”
“I don’t know kid. Probably. He’s a crafty guy.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Uh, sort of like clever but with less truth.”
“Oh. Does that mean he lies with his eyebrows?”
“Let’s forget about it.”
“Ok. But I want you to teach me sometime how to do it. It’s looks neat.”
“Anytime. How’s your quiche?”
“Fowl. With a w.” That got me. James has moments of comedic brilliance that surprise everyone around him. I can only imagine how funny he’ll be when he’s my age. He’ll be a heartbreaker. He already is, practically. The number of girls that he hangs out with, it’s astounding. He’s going to do excellent with women. I figured just having him here with me would probably help my chances. Not that it mattered, really.
“What happened to your face?” He was looking at my forehead.
“I got in a fight with a wall and lost.”
“What?”
“A wall had too many drinks and hit me in the face.”
“Walls don’t drink though. They’re walls.”
“This one did.”
“What did it drink? Did it drink lemonade?”
“Nevermind James.”
“Why do you call me James?”
“Because it’s your name.”
“Yeah, but everyone calls me Jimmy. It’s my nickname.”
“I prefer James. It’s your given name.”
“What’s your given name?”
“What do you think it is?
“Jack?”
“Correctamundo.”
“What’s your nickname, then?”
“A bad word. You just stick with Jack.” He didn’t reply.

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The Happy Muscle

Created: May 25, 2010

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