THE MELT by Jennifer Todhunter

THE MELT by Jennifer Todhunter

My son doesn’t turn from solid to liquid or liquid to gas when the melt occurs. He remains in the same state physically, but mentally there is a shift. Heat has been applied in the form of my disappearing from his line of sight, or heading to the bonfire for a beer, or talking to a friend who is a guy who is not his dad, my ex. There is a fusion when the melt occurs, his person to my person, a shadow that follows me wherever I go, that demands we leave this instant, that cries as if I’ve died right there, in front of him.

The attachment is not cute like the therapist suggested it might be when I explained my son’s behaviour to her. It is not the same as when he’d wake with nap-flushed cheeks as a toddler and wobble around the house after me, leaving behind a trail of goldfish crackers and blueberries. Suffocation is such an ugly word, she said, and I nodded, but that’s how it feels, I said, when he melts, it feels like he’s sitting on my chest and I can’t breathe.  

When my son was five, his dad taught him Newton’s laws of motion, and seven years later he can still ramble them off at the ready, his favourite being the third law: For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Sometimes, when the melt occurs, so does the leaving. The leaving is the equal reaction—equal as being of similar strength, not equal as being fair or just. The leaving is running down unfamiliar lanes at night, unaware of cars racing around corners. It’s stomping down streets filled with loaded semi trucks speeding toward the port. It’s walking along dirt roads in bear country, a mess of snot and tears, screaming why doesn’t anybody love me.

I worry my son learned the melt from my ex. That these behaviours have been condoned because they mirror behaviours my ex exhibited when we were together. This is what I ask the therapist during another session. Why is it cute when my son does it and unnerving when it’s my ex? and she pauses, asks me, why do you think that is? I look at the perfectly-trimmed bonsai tree on her desk, the plate of sand holding a tiny rake. I don’t think it’s cute, I say, and she smiles. 

My son and I inevitably reach an equilibrium after each melt. We are exhausted and hesitant and confused. We pile onto the grass or the couch or the hood of the car and stare at each other. I think about Newton’s first law: an object will not change its motion unless a force acts on it, and think: that is me, I am the force, this will change, but I don’t always believe that, don’t always believe myself. I sit with the pressure on my chest, pull at my collar and breathe until the breaths come steady again, until my son’s tears have dried, until we reach our base state. I love you, I say as we hug, because I do—I do love him—and I take the worry that this love will change because of the melts and squish it down one more time.

Jennifer Todhunter's stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions, and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at or @JenTod_.

Art by Crow Jonah Norlander.