Cassie Mannes Murray
Round Peg, Square Hole
If I was counting it would be thirteen. Feels like a small number, feels young. After walking in the rain, his hood half over one eye like a pirate or a cartoon bad guy, sliding the pile of books into the book drop, my son walked back and forth through the sliding glass door of the library’s entrance maybe thirteen times. He’s new to walking. Wobbly and waddling in equal measure, one leg ready to go and bending at the knee and the other dragging behind, but only slightly. Sometimes he leads with the left and walks turned to the side like he’s finishing a conversation or walking away. He’s proud of himself. The doors adjust, and though he starts to lean on the glass at first, it shifts and the world is different again. A kaleidoscope every day he wakes up. The cups go together, the triangle tiles float in the bathtub, you can stomp in puddles, we don’t pull the cat’s tail especially when he’s snoozing, food in the seat after we eat is still food, though cold. I am proud of him. He hurries to the hurdle of stairs, two stories, twelve between each landing, ready to climb. He’s just learned to step down on the brick stairs of our porch but he can’t do it alone.
This is all very trivial to you maybe. This is a regular day with a regular almost-toddler.
This evening, he learned how to blow into a recorder. Yesterday he was fascinated by the pulling out and slipping back of a straw in a plastic cup. At music class, which is held on a wooden platform at the local farm, a place we go for homemade ice cream on Sundays so we can moo loudly at the cows through the fence, he is the only child who does not sit quietly in their parent’s lap (when I wrote this it autocorrected to parent’s laugh and I kind of love that blip). Instead of rocking to Mrs. Barbara’s singing, allowing me to rub his back in a heart shape—he is in the dirt road picking out rocks, crawling toward the tractor the owner told us was called “Old Mac” and always works when nothing new does. After rock collecting, he’s sharing cheerios with the other children by putting them from his perfect, dimpled hand into their small mouths. No one refuses him and his dirt coated hands. He has tasted rocks. The others sing, wave, clap, and he pets the tires of a parked SUV. The others want to hold Mrs. Barbara’s shakers, he pulls the weeds—his dad always finding four leaf clovers at his feet, tucking them behind his ear.
He does not sit still—why would I want that? But the other mothers say, “Stevie, sit down for a snack” and Stevie sits. I don’t wrangle him, I can’t. I sit in the wet road and I rock, and I clap, and I say “not in the mouth” and I hand him big, glistening gravel from the center of my palm and stare at his little face, square peg, round hole.
When we get home, his cargo pants are covered in mud and grandma carries him on her hip back outside where the world is big and the hill uneven and sometimes I forget to wash his hands before lunch or he sucks on the dog’s leash, tastes acorns, drags a near-empty watering can behind him up and down the stairs several times while I move back and forth my mug of coffee. Sometimes, his grandma holds the broom at the top while he holds the bottom and walks, suddenly stable, like a gentleman along the short sidewalk, and he is someone in the world that everyday I attempt to feel no shame for, no embarrassment, no joking about which one’s mine. It is more difficult than you might think.
A child sucking on a tv remote in Target, the way he throws his body backwards because he doesn’t want to hand the librarian his books to scan, the squealing. I see how the other mothers look at me, not him. I see how they soften against their child’s frame and feel lucky that they sit, rock, and watch. I see them Mona Lisa smile at the word “good.” And then Petty, following the sun across the road, knowing already that even gravel is thrilling—scared of nothing, even when he looks back at me from hands and knees, cracks a smile, and puts his head down to get there—to get where—faster, farther, nothing at a standstill, there’s still more to see, every crushed stone looks different in the morning light.
Cassie Mannes Murray lives in rural North Carolina where she runs Pine State Publicity. She has received a notable in Best American Essays and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and Best of the Net, and her work has been featured in the Slice Magazine, The Rumpus, Reckon Review, StoryQuarterly, Fugue, and Passages North, among others.