David shouted no. When David shouted no, his whole face took part. His lips separated and his tongue touched the back of his small white teeth, a little too far forward, so the sound of the “n” was colored a little like “th.” His eyebrows rose and his eyes flared. Then his tongue released the roof of his mouth and his mouth opened wide, much wider, too wide for an "o" sound, so it came out more like “nah.” And finally his lips narrowed to a small “o,” an “o” so small it should have been impossible for sound or even breath to escape, and yet they did, but as more of an “oo” than an “oh.” And with the narrowed mouth came narrowed eyes and a dropped brow, and the insistence, the determination. "Na-oo," said David, and he meant it.
Except he didn't really mean no, because she had offered him a cup of water, and after leveling this unmistakable protest, he snatched the cup with both hands and tipped it back dramatically into his mouth. He drank deeply, and then he slapped the plastic cup down on his tray, opened his mouth into a smile, and said, “Ahhh.”
She smiled at the “ahh,” at his raw exuberance, and reached out to smooth his cowlick. He swatted her hand away. “Na-oo!” he shouted.
He picked up his cup again and drank. “Na-oo,” he said, although now there was nothing on offer, nothing to protest.
He was standing on the floor in front of his little table, having refused to sit in his little chair (Na-oo), instead turning it over so the four legs spiked the air at an angle, maybe dangerously.
She had made macaroni and cheese from scratch for lunch, which wasn't hard, although it was harder than Kraft, and he refused to eat it. After he tossed four handfuls onto the floor, she took the plastic suction bowl away and ate it herself, bite after bite, right out of his plastic training spoon, extra sharp cheddar and whole milk and real butter sliced from the stick, piling the bites higher on the spoon the way a sticky thing like macaroni and cheese will pile, and he watched her, engrossed in her drama, and waited for her to offer it to him again, which she never did. She finished it while he stood there. Na-oo.
Now she felt sick. She needed to go to the bathroom, so she set him in front of his giant interlocking block set and built four towers. He had knocked them all down before she even shut the bathroom door. She lifted the toilet seat lid and he hit the door hard with the palm of his hand. He didn't know how to turn the doorknob. Still, she had to be quick or he might cry or scream or both. She sipped two fingers past the base of her tongue to tickle a distant spot in her throat. He pounded the door. Na-oo. Na-oo. Her stomach heaved but nothing came. He went silent. She tried not to think about what that meant. She stroked her throat again and a clot of macaroni and cheese fought its way up her throat and landed in the toilet at the same moment that he burst through the door, wearing a wide-open smile of a deep pride, bringing his hands together in a series of victory claps. Na-oo. He looked for her to share his pride and she looked back at him, her forehead a little damp and creased, backs of her teeth raw with acid, but a little cleaner than she had been a minute earlier, a little more Sarah. He saw that something was different, that she had done something wrong, and that what she had done was take away a piece of herself, from him and also from her. He didn't have a word for that, and he closed his mouth and was silent.
RACHEL SHERIDAN lives in northern California. Her work has been previously published in Prairie Schooner. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Bennington College.