“Your mother wants to be a spy?”
“She keeps applying,” said Chai. She gave her younger brother Flax, who’d been walking quietly beside her on the leash for the past few minutes, a chocolate chip. She read that when leash-training dogs, anyway, that the trick was positive reinforcement. You correct bad behaviour but do not punish. You reward good behaviour, which in Flax’s case was an occasional chocolate chip.
“How do you apply?” Jon asked.
“They give you tests. But they hire people who already work for the government, and so she’s also trying to land a federal job.”
Chai felt the odd drop from an unthreatening rain shower. It was cooling, refreshing. The walks home after picking up Flax from nursery school were so much less stressful now, and Jon was easy company. She would offer him a sandwich when they got to her house— far from the delights of Carly’s basement, but the best she could do.
Chai said, “She has an interview at the federal prison.”
“I thought she was a teacher.”
“She is, but she wants to be a spy.”
“What is her actual name?”
“Her actual name? You mean her name name?” Chai slipped a milk chocolate chip into Flax’s mouth and ruffled his hair. “You are such a good boy, Flax! Poppy. My mother’s name is Poppy.”
“Why is everyone except you named after a seed? There’s Poppy, Pumpkin, Flax, and then you.”
“Well, legend has it that as first born, I was a giant pain. Long labour, painful delivery, complications all around. She tells me about it every so often.” Chai shrugged. “When it came time to write my name on the form, she got confused. She was tired and drugged; apparently they drugged mothers. Painkillers. I’m lucky I’m not addicted to morphine.”
“My father was no help.”
“He was drugged too. In fact they had to admit him around the time my mother was discharged.”
“Your family is kind of interesting, compared to mine,” said Jon.
“So that’s why I’m named after a tea instead of a seed,” said Chai.
Flax stopped in his tracks. “Come on, kiddo,” Chai said, tugging ever so gently.
In one expulsion, Flax emptied the contents of his stomach onto the sidewalk. It was chocolatey brown.
“I’ll try baby carrots next time,” said Chai.