Everyone’s Exceptional

His mother worried about Elliot. She was proud of him, but she thought he was odd. Quirky. She didn’t think he fit in. We talked about him in their kitchen one afternoon. We were looking out the window at Elliot sitting under his Indian blanket. She was wearing a pair of tight white tennis shorts. Her legs were tan. Sunlight sparkled through pretty red highlights in her hair.

“Elliot’s always been…exceptional,” she said.

“Everyone’s exceptional,” I told her.

“Yeah, but he’s always been so — I don’t know…difficult, I guess — even when he was little. He thought he could do things nobody can do. He thought he brought a bird back to life. It was just a sparrow, a little fluff of a thing.”

She stopped and seemed to be picturing him as a curly-headed little three-year-old with his baseball cap on sideways, then went on in a faraway voice:

“It flew into the screen door of our house in Salt Lake — probably the first time the poor thing had ever been out of its nest. I’m sure it was only stunned, but Elliot thought it was dead. He picked it up and cupped his hands around it and blew into his hands and pretty soon the sparrow started chirping. He was so proud. He beamed up at me. His eyes were happier than anything I’ve ever seen. I said something silly, like, ‘Now it thinks you’re its mother.’ And do you know what he said then?” she asked.

The color of copper glinted in her hair. She wet her lips and there was a sad, baffled, smoldering sexual look in her eyes, like if I could come up with the right answer, she’d be grateful beyond words.

“No,” I said. “What did he say?”

“He asked me…he said, ‘Are you my mother?’”

“Most kids wonder about stupid stuff like that,” I said.

“Sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve been a good mother.”

“He never says anything bad about you.”

“I was so young.”

“You must have been,” I said.