Tag Archives: Parenting

Dumbass

 

Nancy sits quietly in her bed, coloring.  Her brother comes in and glances at the work. She tries to hide it. He overpowers her and holds it up.

“Pink, purple, purple, pink!” He jeers. 

Her mother, drawn into the room by the commotion, catches him by the ear. “Give that back to her, Aaron,” she says.

Nancy snatches the papers out of his weakened grip. “Dumbass,” she hisses.

“Nancy!” her mother says. “Nice girls don’t say nasty things. And they color inside the lines, to practice their hand-eye coordination.”

After they leave the room, Nancy puts her crayons away.

 

Nancy sits in the back row in her high school class.

“Who knows the answer?” The teacher calls.

Nobody answers. If no one else is going to try… Nancy raises a timid hand.

“Yes, Nancy?” the teacher says.

“Twenty-three?”

The teacher shakes her head. “No, that’s incorrect. How did you get that answer?”

“Um… in my head.”

“Come up to the board and show me.”

Nancy feels a flush spreading as she walks up to the board, in front of everyone, and slowly hashes out her incorrect question in front of her bemused classmates. The pressure makes her slow, awkward. She can hardly hold the chalk, much less think.

“No, see here,” the teacher says. “You’ve skipped this entire row.”

 A titter from behind her.

“Don’t worry about them,” the teacher says. “We’ll go as slow as you need to go.”

 

The family eats together at the dinner table, Aaron declares his acceptance into Penn State.

“Of course you were accepted,” her mother says.

“We’re proud of you,” her father says.

Nancy focuses on her potatoes. 

 

He walks into the drugstore where she works. Underneath his T-shirt he’s lean as a whippet, unlike herself. She appreciates the nape of his neck as he picks out a drink, making sure to avert her eyes before he makes his way back to her register. She’s good at watching people without being noticed.

He pays for the drink in cash. As she accepts the money, she risks another glance at his face, and is caught like a moth in his electric blue eyes. 

He isn’t looking at her the way others do.

He sees her.

 

Nancy’s hands are shaking. She sits crumpled next to him on the bed.

She should have been smarter about it. But she could never say no to him. No, that’s not right. She can’t blame him. It was her responsibility to prevent this kind of thing. She has simply failed again. What will her mother say?

“You don’t want to get it taken care of?” Robby says.

She cradles her hands around her belly. “If you think I should,” she whispers.

“Well,” he says, pausing to irritably suck his cigarette, “we’ll have to get married then.”

Even when she doesn’t ask, he always knows what she wants. She’ll be able to move out of her mother’s house. He is doing this for her. He is saving her. She feels a rush of gratitude.

 

Nancy is six months along. She is making dinner when she delivers the news to Robby.

“A girl, huh,” he says. “Shit. She’s not going to be much to look at.”

“No, Robby,” Nancy says softly. 

Robby glowers at her. “What did you say.”

Her voice remains low. She can’t even look at him but she must say this now. “You don’t get to talk about her that way. Not her.”

“You don’t get to fucking tell me what to do!”

He hits her for the first time. She turns to protect her belly from hitting the stove as she falls.

They never talk about it again. He quits drinking and doesn’t hit her for a year.

 

When their baby is born, Nancy watches, tense as a predator, whenever he draws near to the baby. Robby senses that anything directed at Elsa will be the end of them. Eventually he learns to avoid their daughter.

Nancy isn’t always safe. She can accept that as long as Elsa is safe.

 

Elsa is four years old, coloring quietly. Robby sees the pages on the floor, bends over to examine them. Nancy stiffens, but Robby is focusing on Elsa and misses her warning. She sees in his body language what is coming.

“C’mon Elsa. There’s no such thing as a green dog,” he says.

Before Elsa’s eyes even have a chance to widen, Nancy is there. She scoops her daughter up in her arms. Robby and Elsa are both startled by her interference.

“What?” Robby says. 

Nancy heads to the kitchen counter, grabs the car keys.

“Are you crazy?” Robby says.

She leaves the house through the front door. Elsa starts crying.

“What is your fucking problem!?” 

Nancy shuts the car door and calls out the window at him. “You dumbass.”

She drives away, leaving him standing in the doorway, unable to believe.

She fears the future, protecting Elsa alone against the world. But she’ll figure something out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Russian Dolls

 

She was using the circular saw, and she got distracted. It cut deep into her hand.

She watched it sinking into her skin and raised the saw free before she ever felt anything. Then the pain found her, searing the nerves from her hand to her elbow. She curled up reflexively around the wound and tried not to faint while drops of blood plip-plipped on the garage floor. After a full minute, she regained her equilibrium enough to move. The damaged half of her hand had already drained into an alarming shade of pale.

The hospital. They had to go to the hospital.

She went inside, wrapped her hand tightly in a dishcloth to keep the blood in, and called to her son.

“Alex!” Her voice trembled.

Normally he might have called back, but her uncharacteristic tone sent him running down the stairs. He saw her bloody, limp hand and almost gagged.

“Alex, I need you to drive me to the hospital.”

“God, mom. God. Let’s call an ambulance.”

“No… too expensive. I need you to drive me there.”

“Money doesn’t matter! Your hand matters! What if you pass out? What if I crash?”

She understood his lack of confidence. Alex only had his permit. But she wasn’t worried. “You’re a good driver, Alex. It’ll be fine. We’re going now.”

Her parental authority won out. He got the keys as she struggled into the passenger seat of the car. Her hand throbbed magnificently… at least, the parts she could still feel. The part of her hand above the pinky and ring fingers was so deeply severed, there were no connected nerves remaining. She couldn’t move them at all. Funny how she hadn’t even noticed the damage she was doing until it was this deep.

 

They waited for a long time before the doctor came in. He looked at her hand, cleaned it up, and declared that her fingers would have a fifty percent chance of functionality after surgery. The odds of them still working after healing on its own? Only ten percent.

“What will surgery cost?” She said.

“Tough to estimate,” the doctor said. “At minimum, several thousand dollars. But your insurance will help with that. The receptionist can get you started on paperwork and give you an actual estimate.”

“Right,” she said. She looked at Alex, who already knew what she was thinking. He shook his head at her fiercely.

“Thank you, doctor,” she said formally.

When the doctor left the room, she got off the table, fought back a wave of nausea, and headed for the door. Alex boldly intercepted, blocking her exit. Sometimes she forgot how tall he was getting.

“Mom! Don’t you dare.”

He sounded so much like her. She would have laughed if she’d had the strength.

“It costs too much,” she said firmly.

“It doesn’t matter,” he retorted.

“Just take me home,” she said. “He said it might heal on its own.”

“No way.”

“And if it doesn’t, I don’t need those fingers anyway. I’ve got others.”

“You’ll stay here and get treatment!” He said, fists clenched in frustration.

She looked at her hand. It was already prematurely aged from worry. Now it was a ghoulish rainbow of mottled purple, sickly blue, weak white, screaming red. No good colors there. She looked at Alex, his rich chestnut hair and intelligent brown eyes. 

She had grown up poor. The constant worry of her childhood, the deprivation her family endured, were bitter memories. He would have everything she never had. All the money she scraped together was going into his college fund. There was no way she was going to send him into adulthood saddled with debt and the weight of a poverty mentality. She was willing to sacrifice a couple of fingers for that. For him.

“We’re going,” she said. She gingerly made her way past him and through the door, leaving him no choice but to follow.

“God damn it mom,” he said. He was trying not to cry. “Why won’t you just let them help you?”

“Language,” she chided gently.

 

That night, after putting his mom to a fitful sleep with a freshly bandaged hand, Alex lay down in his own bed, but his eyes would not close. A throbbing headache expanded in his right temple, pressuring the backs of his eyeballs, forcing neon geometry across his vision of the dark ceiling.

He got up, went to the bathroom medicine cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of painkillers. It was light in his hand, nearly empty. He often got headaches like this. These pills had become a comfortable friend to him.

How much did a bottle like this cost, again?

He sighed, ran his thumb longingly over the cap, then put the bottle back. If Mom could take that, he could take this. Money was too tight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Visitors

 

I opened the window long before sunrise. Then I walked through the whole house, looking for anything that they might use against me in the light. A piece of hard candy on the floor could be a fatal mistake.

I had to placate them.

Even though I hadn’t told them anything, my children were on edge. They knew something was wrong. Kids are good at reading their parents.

A small sound in the hallway made me jump. But it was only my youngest daughter, in her footie pajamas, her face screwed up in childish misery.

“Mommy,” she said. “What is that smell?”

“Quiet, baby. It’s just the Visitors. Go back to sleep. I love you.” I held her close so she wouldn’t see my tears. I love you.

By the time she went back to sleep, the daylight was upon us in full force. I hadn’t begun the sacrifice. I hadn’t done enough. It didn’t matter; no matter how much I did, it was never enough.

I hurried to the kitchen and got out the eggs, the bacon, the butter for the sacrifice. They must be appeased.

A fatty thumping on the stairs.

Oh my god oh my god.

And there in the kitchen archway stood a harbinger of the apocalypse, my mother in law, cigarette in hand. She wore a puffy pink robe, which had fallen open, exposing her grotesque choices in underwear and in self-care.

“Where’s breakfast,” she snarled.

The other one would be down any minute. Soon our home would become a hellscape.