Everyone in Johnny’s Diner now understood that Aiden did not like blueberries on his pancakes. All the diners hoped and prayed that the third plate of pancakes the waiter put down in front of Aiden would finally be the right one and there would be no more shrieking. Maybe this one would be right. So far so good. The room heaved a collective sigh, but it wasn’t over yet. No one but Aiden saw the five small drops of blueberry juice on the edge of the plate.
One, two, three, four, five. Five drops of blueberry juice.
“There, see Aiden? No blueberries now. They took them off the plate and they’re all gone.” Aiden’s dad consoled.
“I’m sorry sir, I realize the young gentleman is a little…um…confused by our breakfast menu, but you did order blueberry pancakes, did you not?” the waiter asked Aidan’s dad.
Five drops of blueberry juice contamination. Unacceptable.
Aiden’s heart began to race again and he felt the slight sting in his nose that always meant he would soon be crying, again. He looked around for something. Then, as he gazed out the window through his tears, he noticed a woman across the street in a blue chiffon scarf which was floating interestingly in the breeze, like undulating water. This made Aiden long for a swim. He felt relieved underwater. Quiet. Calm. Weightless.
Five drops of blueberry contamination equals I can’t eat those pancakes.
“Well, I did order blueberry pancakes,” Aiden’s dad confessed, “My wife knew how to order for him, but I stupidly thought when he said he wanted blueberry pancakes, he actually wanted blueberries on them. You see, my son just likes the name because blue is his favorite color, but he really doesn’t want blueberries on them and he has autism and she knew what to do, and…” he rambled and shrugged at the waiter in an effort to have him understand his boy’s odd behavior, though he still had little patience for it himself. Aiden’s dad felt the ache of his back, the loss of his wife, and the burn of every pair of eyes in Johnny’s Diner on him. He hoped the kid would calm down and eat the damn pancakes now.
Aiden’s mom always knew how to order his pancakes. It had been exactly 42 days since he last felt her arms squeezing him
too tightly. He never really liked hugs, but he had learned to tolerate her affection and now that she was gone he actually missed her “squooshes,” as she called them, and the accompanying assault on his olfactory sense. To Aiden, she was a whirlwind of fragrances. He really loved things that smelled sweet, soapy-clean or flowery. In fact, Aiden’s dad, who usually smelled like Starbucks coffee and Ben Gay muscle cream, had grown impatient at the grocery store earlier in the day because it was almost impossible to get Aiden out of the deodorant aisle where he was opening every container of Dove, Suave, Arm & Hammer and Right Guard. Aiden’s mom used Degree Cucumber and Lime. She didn’t really care for the scent, but Aiden loved it so she used it. Aiden missed smelling the Lemon Souffle lotion on her hands as they smoothed his sandy-blonde hair from his forehead, the MeadowFresh Tide on her blouse when she pulled him close, the Almay powdery smell of her cheek and the Bigelow Earl Grey tea on her breath as she tucked him in, gave a nightly, too-wet kiss in the dark of his room and whispered, “Love you, monkey.”
Five drops of blueberry contamination equals can’t eat that, and mom would say “that’s ok.”
“Come on, Aiden. Eat your pancakes now. All the blueberries are gone.” Aiden’s dad pleaded as he pushed the blueberry-contaminated plate closer to Aiden while trying desperately to convey a sense of urgency with his clenched teeth, lowered voice, furrowed brows, and darting eyes. Aiden’s mother would have known that these gestures and expressions would not be interpreted in the way that Aiden’s dad had hoped. In fact, they would only confuse the boy.
She would know that the waiter’s sarcasm, although clear to Aiden’s dad, would not be perceived by Aiden. She would know that the disapproving stares of the other customers would not register in his blue, far-away eyes. She would know that the five drops of blueberry juice on the plate meant that Aiden would never, ever think of eating those pancakes. She would know that if the plate were not removed soon, if Aiden’s blood sugar was not leveled out, and if the tension continued to rise, Aiden’s dad was going to have a much larger problem on his hands. The first blueberry meltdown had been mercifully brief, but another wave was on the way.
Five drops of blueberry contamination. The sight of them is making me want to barf. Find something you like, monkey. That’s what she would say.
Aiden looked around and saw the pen in the waiter’s pocket. It was a Bic pen, but he couldn’t really tell what kind because it was hidden behind the name tag that said “Paul.” He could tell that was written by a Sharpie, not a Bic. Interesting, but not enough. He looked around some more and saw the old metal Coca-Cola sign hanging by the door. Perfect. He knew the sign was old not by the flaking paint on the white letters or the rusty edges, but by the design of the logo. Thanks to his eidetic memory, and his beloved Internet, he had become a superior fund of miscellaneous knowledge. Upon sight of the sign, his mind filled with information about the Coca-Cola company and the history of its fascinating logo.
There you go, monkey. That’s better.
Aiden noticed the things that didn’t seem to matter to anyone else, what he didn’t notice was that these things didn’t matter to anyone else. A yawn, a body turned toward a door, a series of bored “uh-huh’s,” or sleepy eyelids did not seem to equate in Aiden’s mind with a need to change the subject. Aiden’s dad was always impressed with his wife’s patience as she listened to Aiden recalling dates and facts like a tiny professor or some manic Jeopardy contestant. He was never sure how she did it, but he was sure there must be some kind of trick. Did she just tune him out and go to her happy place? Did she recite poems or sing songs to herself? Make shopping lists in her head?
Aiden turned to the window again and saw the lady with the chiffon scarf. He let the flowing motion of the pretty blue fabric wash over him and then, a memory emerged. He remembered his mom giving him a bath. He was crying because he was afraid to lean back into the water, but she held his head in her hand and guided him gently backward, reassuring him all the way.
“It’s OK, there you go, monkey.”
His stiffened body relaxed and as she slowly let go, he began to float on his back in the warm, soapy water.
“That’s better. you’re OK.”
He remembered the smell of lavender from the purple plastic bottle of Johnson & Johnson Sleepy Time Bath Wash, and he heard his mother’s lilting voice softly singing the Beatles “Blackbird”:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arrive
Aiden watched as the Number 255 bus pulled up to the stop and the lady with the watery scarf got on. As the bus carried her away from Aiden forever, he saw the advertising on the back. It read, “Share a Coke!”
There you go, monkey. That’s better. Now, tell Dad.
“Dad,” he said as he pushed the plate away and pointed to the five drops, “that still has blueberry on it. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be bad.”
“Hey, kid. You’re not bad. OK? We’ll figure it out.” Aiden’s dad reassured him as he waved for Paul to take the contaminated plate away. “Let’s go home and I’ll make you some of my famous blueberry pancakes, hold the blueberries, OK?”
“OK” Aiden smiled. “Hey Dad, did you know that Coca-Cola introduced the dynamic wave to their logo in 1969?”
Aiden’s dad sighed. “Yeah, son? Why don’t you tell me about that?”