Lauren’s wearing pink, like the shade of Janis Joplin’s hair on the cover of ‘Pearl.’ Her voice has similar gravel, too, something throaty, her vocal cords having had a light treatment of steel wool, else granted a god-given chanteuse husk.
Lauren slings pizza.
She notices Finn who’s rearranging the labels on the display case. A deep-dish sausage is suddenly a thin-crust ricotta.
“Hey, Buddy. You want some pizza?”
“What’s a venar fricative, again, Ms. Stephanie?”
“Consonant moved forwards on the palate.”
Ms. Stephanie is wearing a nitrile glove and attending to a plastic baby while Finn pounds a stethoscope’s diaphragm on his own doll. There are pretend heartbeats. It’s speech class, so we provide all the noise.
“So ‘K is ‘Tay’?’”
“Exactly. If you want to make him move back on the palate, you can lie on your back, and make gargling noises with your tongue. Your tongue slides back in that position. If you do it, he might, too. Discover the sounds he can make.”
“Well, I’m apparently good at snoring,” I shrug, “Guess I could do that.”
Finn struggles for five minutes to open a Band-Aid, then places it proudly on the vinyl-baby’s knee. He walks to me, places the stethoscope on my lap, and says, “Here, Daddy.”
He tries to put the earpieces in place, but wanders off before my heart is something registered.
Lauren says, “Cheese?” before Finn has a say in the matter. He’s still busy re-arranging the placards. ‘Pepperoni’ is now ‘Jalapeno-pineapple.’ These are minor acts of chaos. I don’t believe in full-time anarchy, but I can get behind part-time rebellion. God Save the Queen, and all that. The Queen’s not on DNR orders yet, nor is mischief.
“Yes, please. And it’s blasphemy to me, Lauren,” I say out of the corner of my mouth, “But gimme a slice of that deep-dish spinach-mushroom thing.”
I mime a shoosh. Deep-dish is not pizza, and Chicago-dogs are dressed-up catastrophes, which celery salt can’t help. Also, don’t get me started on pickles.
The deep-dish is good—I needed the casserole helping of vegetables—and Finn tries to better the experience with shakes of the parmesan canister, the chile flakes, the pepper mill, the napkin dispenser. He throws his Woody doll on my plate, throws the pizza rack on the ground.
“He’ll need help ending his syllables,” Ms. Stephanie says. “They’re a bit messy right now.”
My car is across the street. When crossing over to the pizzeria, Finn dropped Bunny on the street and Bunny’s ears were run over by a passing Mazda. Like on Easter, it’s always the ears first.
Bunny sits, injured, next to the parmesan. We’re ok, though. Finn noms his cheese.
Finn tries to use a fork and knife because that’s how I’m navigating my particular plate. He watches me section a slice and he pounds his utensils into his own helping. It’s a not-even-close approximation, but he’s trying.
Etiquette is difficult. There’s an etiquette program near us called ‘Charm Class.’ (And I only know about cotillion school because I threaten Cayde with it every time he wipes his hands on his shirt).
‘Charm Class’: reverse those words, and you’ve got Finn in a nutshell. He’s a charmer, certainly.
“Pote,” Finn says, knife standing upright in a murder of tomato sauce and cheese.
(He did this with Play-Doh earlier, in Speech)
“Poke, Finn. It’s ‘poke’.”
Pink Lauren collects our plates and high-fives Finn.
“Good to see you again, Guy,” she says, lowering herself to his level, and she’s the Janis waitress with a kind bone in her throat.
She says: ‘Pizza’s on me.” I wish her a Mercedes-Benz as I give her a quick hug.
“Thanks, Lauren. That’s very kind.”
“Tank you,” Finn says, throwing a second plastic knife onto the ground. It’s why I tip well. There’s always a mess.
At Speech, Finn has me wear the stethoscope.
“Steto-scope.” It’s a hard lesson today. Big words, big concepts. Finn was asked to say ‘medicine’ at least ten times while offering a syringe to his doll.
I tap on the tympanum. It’s only a plastic toy, but it works. I hold it to his heart and he laughs. He puts it on my knee, which is not where my heart is. I give him credit, though, because the heart is knee-jerk sometimes.
Bunny sits soddenly on the table, ears ruined by Goodyear, wearing parmesan for hair. He should’ve been the patient this morning: ‘med-cin, stat.’
Then again, who can predict being run over? Who’s the sudden and suddenly patient when the wheels arrive too fast?
I pack Bunny away like I pack everything else away, ears dangling out the envelope pouch of my bag, the tire-print proof of damage. I take Finn’s hand and cross back toward the tattoo parlor where my car is parked and where people are currently being scarred on purpose.
Ms. Stephanie asked me to work on the fricatives, with sound being expressed through a narrow passageway. In this case I hold Findlay’s hand and I sigh, and then again, crossing the street carefully so no one gets run over twice.