Damage

by Lewis Charles

My son is obsessed with points.

"This guy has 200 life," he tells me, holding a Pokemon card in front of his mouth. Then he picks another from his stack and says, "this guy has 230 life. His name is Oshkott."

"He looks like a panda," I say.

"No, he's not a panda," he says.

"I know," I say, "but he looks like a panda."

His eyes jerk from left to right. He looks like a malfunctioning animatronic figure at Disneyland.

"Are you trying to roll your eyes at me and doing a bad job at it?" I say.

"He's not. A panda," he says.

***

Points.

"This guy does 80 damage," my son tells me, eating Life cereal in the kitchen before school. He's holding a spoon in one hand, and a card in the other.

"Yeah," I say over my shoulder. I'm washing dishes.

"That's really good," he says.

"What's the most damage a Pokemon can do?" I ask.

"Pffft," he says, or sprays, and I know exactly what that means: stupid Dad. "Probably a million."

"A million is a lot," I say. "Who told you he does a million damage?"

He flips through the other cards. "My brain told me," he says. Lately, his brain tells him lots of things. Mostly things that kids in 2nd and 3rd grade think that they know and pass down to the kindergartners when they're all at day care together after school.

"Hold on." I turn the faucet off and dry my hands, and walk over to the spot on the table where he's placed the card in question. "It says right here that he does 60 damage."

"But that's wrong," he says. "Mitchell told me he does one million damage."

"So, the card says that he does 60 damage. It says it right here. Look." I point to the numbers. "But you think that Mitchell is right?"

"Mitchell is," he says. And with that, he shuffles his hundreds of cards together into a less egregious mound. Then, he pushes himself back from the table, and heads for the living room.

"Cereal," I say.

His eyes jerk left and right. "Fine," he says, and turns and walks back to the bowl. He picks it up in both hands, and walks it over to the sink and drops it in.

"There's a lot of milk left in there," I say. "That's a waste."

"Yes," he says, "it is."

***

His school is only a few blocks away from our apartment. Our drive is silent, until we turn left onto 74th street and he asks:

"Dad, if I'm good today, and I don't get any strikes, can I get a pack of Pokemon cards later?"

"Buddy, we talked about this; you don't get a present for not getting strikes. You get a present for getting stars. Sometimes."

"Like, if I'm good today? If I get a star today?"

"Well, you're not with me tonight," I say. "You're with Mom. Maybe she will."

He doesn't respond. I see the top of his head in the rear view mirror; he's looking out the window.

"Does Mom like Pokemon?" I ask.

"Yeah, she does," he says without hesitation, and I know that whether this is the correct answer or not, it is not an answer that was given any consideration.

"She does?"

"Well, no, not really," he says.

"She doesn't," I say.

"Yeah."

"She doesn't like Pokemon?"

"Yeah," he repeats.

"Why doesn't Mom like Pokemon?"

"She thinks it's too old for me," he says.

Then he pauses for almost a minute, it seems, before he says:

"But it's not too old for me, right?"

It probably is. It might not be. I have no idea. This shouldn't be something I have to decide on my own. I feel that feeling again, the one that still comes in waves and makes my stomach hollow, and the world look grey. And then the other one. The one that makes me want to hurt her any way that I can. The one that makes the world look red.

"Pffft," I say. "No."

I see his eyes jerk from left to right.

Then they settle on a spot in his lap, and stay there.

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