Keeping Promises
Melissa Ridley Elmes

“I want to go for a walk,” Jim announced for the tenth time that day.

It was five o’clock p.m. and the sun had been ducking in and out between enormous thunderhead clouds, playing hide-and-seek with the earth all afternoon. The clouds were purple-grey and swollen, not ominous, exactly, just promising to douse everything when they were good and ready. Because rain was seemingly imminent, mother had hemmed and hawed and stalled going outside, but really as far as Jim could tell that was much more so she could advance on the Cookie Jam leaderboard than out of actual concern over the weather.

Jim was bored, and fed up, and the promise-that-didn’t-happen of the rain mirrored too precisely the promise-that-didn’t-happen of we’ll go outside when it’s nice out his mother had made all week. It had been nice out, only a little foggy, on Monday morning, and then they were busy with errands Monday afternoon. And then it was Tuesday, and there was a light drizzle, not enough to properly call for an umbrella or even a raincoat, but enough that mother explained to him that they couldn’t risk going out and the weather worsening once they were outside. Then on Wednesday it had rained steadily all day, a good soaking rain and we needed it, we really did, the grass will be so much greener and nicer, mother assured him. And then it was Thursday, today, and it hadn’t rained even a single drop, but the Weather Channel said there was a chance—a 20% chance—of rain, and so they were stuck inside, again.

Jim was eight, and an only child. He didn’t have a phone of his own to play games on, and his father was out of town again so Jim couldn’t use his phone, and his mother was using her phone to play Cookie Jam so Jim couldn’t use hers either, and he wasn’t allowed any more TV or computer screentime today, and everything was unfair. And it wasn’t even raining. It hadn’t rained since dinnertime, yesterday. The family room was strewn with his toys, and he was tired of them all. He looked over to where mother sat curled up on the couch, focused on the game she was playing.

“I want to go for a walk,” he repeated. “You promised.”

“I said when it’s nice out,” his mother replied, swiping a red heart over one square to send the entire line of shapes collapsing.

“It is nice out. The sun’s shining, even”

“Oh, Honey, look at those clouds. It’s going to rain.”

“But it isn’t raining. We could go out until it does. If you wanted to, we could.”

“But it is going to rain any moment! By the time we went out, it would probably have started raining.” She swiped a purple crescent upward to crash into two other purple crescents, one of which had a white “x” on it, and that sent multiple lines of blocks skittering off the screen, replaced by new combinations of color.

Jim felt he’d had enough excuses masquerading as explanations. Mother always blamed the weather. It was never the weather. He might be only eight, but he was old enough to understand that much. He scowled darkly at her.

“You just don’t want to go out. You don’t care if you keep your promise. You just want to play Cookie Jam and beat everyone.”

“That’s not fair. Of course I want to keep my promise. It isn’t my fault if the weather doesn’t cooperate, is it?” Mother made a disapproving noise as she lost the game she was playing. She immediately started a new one.

“But the weather is cooperating. It hasn’t rained all day,” Jim insisted.

Mother didn’t look up from her phone while she was talking to him. She didn’t even look out the window, as she said, “But look at those clouds. It’s going to rain. It will be a big storm when it does.”

Jim pushed a toy car across the carpet as far as he could with one foot, scooting down to lie on his back to stretch out even farther. He banged the other leg impatiently against the ground, testing the possibility of a tantrum. Mother didn’t notice. “You said all week we’d go out when it is nice out. It’s been nice, and we still haven’t gone out. I’m bored, and I want to go for a walk.”

“It was nice on Monday. We went out on Monday,” Mother said, her tone of voice triumphant as she advanced another board.

Jim kicked the ground again, one foot, and then the other, until his heels hurt. “We went shopping on Monday. We didn’t go out to play. We didn’t walk.”

Mother made another disapproving sound. He couldn’t tell if it was directed at him or at the game this time. “What on earth do you call what we did when we got out of the car and went into all those stores?”

Jim sat upright and scowled again. “That’s not walking. That was doing errands.”

“We went out. We were out all afternoon, and we walked. And today we are staying in because I said so,” Mother said in her and that’s final voice.

Jim’s frustration bubbled over. He stood up, grabbed the largest metal toy car he could reach, and hurled it at the window where the sun taunted him through the pane. The glass shattered spectacularly, with a satisfying cracking noise. Shards went skittering across the carpet.

Mother cried out in alarm, leaping up from the couch, her game abandoned as she surveyed his handiwork with horror. “What did you just do?”

“Now we have to go to the store and buy a new window,” Jim answered reasonably. “So I guess I’ll get my walk after all.”

Mother stood, staring at him in stunned silence.

“And you’ll keep your promise,” he added.

As if on cue, the clouds also kept their promise, and it started to rain.

Melissa Ridley Elmes is the author of *Arthurian Things: A Collection of
Poems* (Dark Myth Publishing, 2020) and her fiction and poetry have
appeared or are forthcoming in *Heartwood, Thimble, Gyroscope, In
Parentheses *and Star*Line. She holds a PhD in English and an MFA in
Writing and is an Assistant Professor of English at Lindenwood University.

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