Fresh Tar

Prompt: Write a story about a young boy with a relatively unknown condition.

Jackson marched to school the same way everyday; Left on Main, 3 blocks down, right on Smithe. This never changed. It was 12 minutes on average from door to door. Approximately 1,384 steps. Routine was of the upmost importance. Lunch never varied; Tuesdays was Tuna Fish and chocolate milk. Jackson smoothed his hair as he yanked the heavy doors open. The school day whizzed by, nothing out of the ordinary, everything in it’s correct order, correct place.

On Tuesdays Jackson walked home after Chess Club with Oliver, his best friend. “How many times this year have you beaten Ms. Matthews?” Oliver gleamed up at Jackson, the admiration clear on his face. “17.” Jackson continued matter-of-factly. “Once you realize that she has cornered in her queen, it is easy to check mate. You would be a better chess player if you didn’t spend all practice trying to unsuccessfully start up a conversation with Becky.” Jackson’s harsh words slid off Oliver, he was used to this by now.

As they turned off of Main street to Jackson’s street, the smell of freshly poured tar hit them, making Jackson cover his nose. The potholes that blanketed the quiet street were finally being filled in by the city. Jackson’s usually quick pace slowed to a halt. The tar truck was blocking the sidewalk on the right, the side that his house was on. “Why did the city not provide advanced notice of this?” Jackson adjusted his backpack while trying to block the tar fumes from his face.

“Cool!” Oliver’s eyes widened. “I’ve never seen how they repave roads up close! Want to go watch?”

Jackson shook his head, shuffling from side to side. His eyes gazed at the concrete, the loud crunching of jackhammers clouding his mind. “No, we are already running late. Today is Tuesday I have to get home for my chess game with my Dad.”

Oliver’s stare hadn’t moved from the construction crew as they moved from one pothole to the next. “I’m going to stay and watch them for a few minutes, okay?”

Jackson began to walk ahead fervently. “No Oliver!” His voice quickened with his steps. “We walk home together on Tuesday. Not halfway home. You walk me to my door and then keep going to your house. I am already three minutes late. This isn’t fair!”

Oliver was trying to catch up half-heartedly. “It’s just one day Jack.” Jackson halted.

“You know I hate it when you call me Jack. My name is Jackson. I accept no abbreviation, variety, or elongation. If you don’t want to continue our Tuesday tradition fine.” Jackson crossed the street to the open sidewalk and rushed the last few blocks home, leaving Oliver watching the construction project.

“It’s not my fault you have Asperger’s!” Oliver’s frustrated yell went unanswered as Jackson barreled home.

“I hate Oliver and he is no longer my friend.” Jackson’s bag was thrown into the corner as he pulled at the side of his hair. “It’s not fair! The city is paving the road with no advanced notice, the tar is making me feel sick, I am four minutes late getting home for my chess game with Dad, and Oliver called me Jack.”

Renee, Jackson’s mother, sighed loudly. “Honey, relax.”

Jackson paced the kitchen. “My name is Jackson! Not honey, not Jack.”

“Jackson. You need to breathe. Sometimes friendships are hard work, especially for you, and they are a bit like chess.” Jackson’s father, Robert, put down his coffee cup and gently rested his hands on Jackson’s shoulders.

“I do not understand. Friendships are nothing like chess. Chess is logical; there is a certain number of moves needed to win, rules for each piece. In what way is friendship like chess?” Robert smiled softly, brushing Jackson’s unruly hair out of his face, trying to connect with his blue eyes. “It’s a metaphor, Jackson.”

“I do not like metaphors, they make things more difficult. We are now seven minutes late for our chess match, can we please get started.” Jackson continued pacing.
Renee sat down at the kitchen table, indicating that Jackson and Robert were to do the same.

“Jackson, your father and I have a few things we need to discuss with you before your chess game.”

“Family time is scheduled from 7pm until 8pm. It is currently 3:47pm.” Jackson went to the coffee table and started setting up his chess board methodically. The construction crews grew closer and the noise could now be heard through the open window.

“Jackson, buddy, we really need to have a family chat now. If we reschedule our chess game for 4:30pm, you will get an extra 30 minutes of TV time. Is that a deal?” Robert’s warm smile went unnoticed.

“Fine.” Jackson stood, his pieces half assembled and lurched over to the kitchen table.

“Jackson, before we get into anything else,” Renee looked at Robert, sharing a silent conversation, “I want to talk about what happened with Oliver.”

Jackson kept staring at the half assembled chess board. “There is nothing to discuss. He didn’t want to walk me home, which is our Tuesday schedule, and he was being very selfish.”

“Jackson, did you think about how Oliver felt? Why did he not want to finish walking you home?” Robert bent his head to obscure Jackson’s view of the chess board.

“He wanted to stay and watch the stupid tar trucks repave the potholes. I had to keep covering my nose and we were already running late because we had to alter our route home.” Jackson pushed the hair out of his face.

“Well maybe you owe Oliver an apology Jackson, we will call his parents later to arrange for you guys to hang out.” Robert rubbed Jackson’s back with only a mild eye roll from Jackson. Robert nodded his head towards Renee.

“Now Jackson, your father and I want to say how much we love you.” Renee reached out to hold Jackson’s hand, quickly being swatted away. “But there are some important things we need to talk to you about.”

Robert took off his glasses, carefully cleaning them with his creased polo shirt. “Jackson, as your mother said, we love you very much, but we have decided it might be better for the whole family if we lived separately.”

“Are you getting a divorce?” Jackson’s frank question took Renee and Robert by surprise. “Yes buddy we are. Now if you have any questions about how things will be, we are here to answer them.”

Jackson continued staring at the kitchen table. “I want to live with Dad. I like him more.” Renee stood up and walked away from the table, her cheeks wet with tears.

“Jackson that was not very nice.” Robert’s voice only slightly stern, pushed Jackson’s chin so their eyes met momentarily. “Why? I am just stating a fact.”

“Yes Jackson but you are not thinking about my feelings when you say things like that. How would you feel if I said I liked your father more than you.” Renee grabbed a Kleenex from the middle of the table.

“You don’t though. You are getting a divorce.” Jackson’s voice hadn’t changed, but he shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“We will discuss your living arrangements a bit later once I have an apartment. Your regular schedule will stay as close to normal as we can make it.” Robert leaned back in his chair.

“Do you have any questions Jackson?” Renee asked as she rejoined the table, wiping her face with her sleeves.

“When are they going to be finished paving the roads?” Jackson’s parents sat back, confused.

“I’m not sure buddy-”

“It’s Jackson.”

Robert inhaled slowly. “I’m not sure, Jackson, I don’t think it will take more than another day.”

“Well I need to know. Can you call the city? They should be informing residences of this.” Jackson fiddled with his shirt buttons.

“Jackson, we meant do you have any questions about our new family situation?” Renee tried to lift his chin as Robert had done, Jackson held firm.

“64% of parents whose children have Asperger’s syndrome get divorced. That is 13% higher than the nation average of 51%. I read about it online. I am not surprised.” Jackson hurriedly brought his eyes up to his father’s. “Can we get back to our chess game now. We are sixteen minutes late.”

Robert glanced at Renee, who was standing with her mouth ajar as if she wanted to protest, before nodding his head. Jackson finished arranging the chess board, bouncing his knee as Robert sat down. Jackson pushed his hair out of his face as the smell of fresh tar wafted in through the open window.

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1_road-work-sign

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