No, his mom said, with a note of finality.
He was furious at the image of her saying it, the intransigence with which she said it. He yelled and screamed, but her face was resolute and tight.
I hate you! He said.
Later, when he was much older, he would come to know that she was not angry with him, as he had assumed.
But for now he slunk downstairs, quietly so she wouldn’t hear. As he passed her room, he saw her through the crack in the door.
She sat at the edge of her bed. The bed was high, so her legs dangled off the edge of it, as a child’s would. Rounding her back, she was slumped over, clutching a book in her hands. In the defenselessness of that look, she looked vulnerable, both a young girl, and an old woman.
His eyes welled up as he descended the stairs.