"I miss him." he said it quietly from the back seat, pulling my heart string with only a tiny slice of voice.
"Wanna call him?"
"I can't. He is in Russia."
"But I can text him. Can you show me how to text?"
"Sure." I pulled the contact up into the SMS menu and handed the phone to the boy. He received it with a focus I wished I could see elsewhere, like in school.
We sat down to dinner, silently chewing our salad. School was good, we had already covered that. Just before the staff came to take our plates, he piped up again.
"I even miss the dog...."
"She always snuggles up right next to me, even though she is so huge and takes up most of the bed."
"Yeah. I miss the cats too. One fat one and the other one is really skinny."
"What do they do?"
"Well the fat one is really dumb just like our bunny. She stalks me so whenever I come down the stairs she just follows right next to my feet. As soon as I stop, she sits next to me. She used to be skinny but she got fat after she had kittens. She stayed fat even after she stopped milking the kittens. "
I thought better about telling him the correct word was "nursing". He was on a roll.
"The other one is exactly the opposite. He runs around and catches his own food, like birds and stuff." I winced at this, thinking of the bird lovers who cringe at the sight of house cats left outside, but again I said nothing.
"But he is still really skinny, too skinny, because you can see his ribs. I remember once I went with you to our vet, and they had a chart that showed what cats looked like if they were too skinny, and they said if the ribs are showing the cat is too skinny. It should be like you can't see the rib but it's not like a huge chunk of fat..." He ran his hands against the T-shirt outside of his own ribs as he said this, slightly rounding out his frame to illustrate the perfect feline shape.
"Is he alright then?"
"I think so. He eats a lot, we feed him twice a day and when we were gone the neighbors came to take care of him and the fat cat. He also catches his own food. But he stays really skinny."
He laughed gently as a thought came to him.
"Oh and before we went to camp, we washed him because he was really dirty. He really didn't like it but he didn't scratch dad. When we came back, he was just as dirty as before we washed him."
We both laughed at this, him at the memory of his smelly cat, me at the sight of his first big smile of the day. Our soups came and went, we munch on brownies from the desert bar and he attacked a baked potato stuffed full of bacon bits.
"Can you imagine how much I am eating?" He said with an eye on the bacon potato, not waiting for an answer specifically. Before I realized it, he was attacking a second one.
"A bit much don't you think?" I observed as I watched him dug out all the potato and stuff the skin full of bacon bits again.
"Oh all right. " He sprinkled a few bits of potato back on top the way chef Emeril Lagasse does his "bam!"
I let it go, forking my own pasta with enthusiasm.
"What else do you miss?"
"Well the skinny tom cat has a girl friend cat that comes over and plays with him sometimes. She's kinda pretty because she has black fur, white belly and white feet." He raised half of a potato skin stuffed full of bacon to his mouth and took a bite. "It is probably just a stray cat. But both dad and I feel bad for the fat cat, because we think she is really lonely and that's why she stalks us. She has no companion, so sometimes she sits really close to this giant dog and try to play with it."
He started on a plate of mac and cheese, before moving onto his own desert. As we talked and ate, the afternoon sun had settled behind trees and curtains of night drew all around us. Sparks of lights shone through the windows, illuminating figures, shops, and allowing us to peer into diners sitting at the tables in other restaurants. They saw us too. Sitting by the window, arms drawing imaginary illustrations as we talked, smiles creeping up corners of our mouths, despite a long day of drudgery, things left undone, and people gone missing that pulled on hearts. Mouth full of sweets, weariness melted as we moved between shadows and sparks of light ourselves.
"I really do miss him so much..."
Just as quietly as when we came in, the boy said to no one in particular as we walked out, letting the night air carry a half spoken wish away into a land afar. Perhaps there is no cure for missing someone, perhaps there is a dream waiting for him tonight, a dream sweeter than all the brownies and ice cream this place can offer up.