Category Archives: fear

To The Men Running the U.S. Government

So, this should probably be a slam poem and maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to record it as such. For now, I’m sharing it as the written word. After learning about the House panel voting to make women sign up for the draft, my rage and fear needed somewhere soft to land, to untangle itself. That place for me is here:

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Sorrow

Vincent Van Gogh Public Domain PD-old-100

To the men running the U.S. government, the ones on the House panel who’ve voted to force our daughters to sign up for the draft…here’s the thing: Yes, I’ve known women who’ve been raped. I’ve known women who’ve locked themselves in a bathroom on a date and slept there to keep from being raped. I’ve even personally known a woman who was abducted by a serial killer, raped and strangled with her own underwear.  I know a woman who clutches her mace and her anxiety as she walks to work, as she pumps gas, as she maneuvers any parking lot with trepidation because she’s been accosted by more than one man over the years who just wants to chat or wants five dollars for gas or possibly wants to stab her and tuck her into his trunk because she watches the news and this is a possibility. She’s learned to duck the bullets of hey baby and you fine girl and you too good to talk to me?  I know this woman because she is all of us. The woman living with a flight or fight system on high alert. A twitching ear. A body poised to run. The mothers who send their daughters off to college with pink mace and pleas to text us when she gets home safely; the young girls who are beginning to understand the leers, the danger the entitlement lurking behind them…women are already veterans of a silent war at home, one that has us on edge behind our polite smiles, one that you in your place of patriarchal safety will never understand.  So, yes, by all means…send them to the front lines of a different kind of war you created for the purpose of power and money and greed and invisible lines where they don’t even have the protection of a “civilized society” or of murder being an actual crime. Send them to be captured by the enemy and raped and put their fellow male soldiers in danger because they will lose their shit and most likely their own lives trying to save them because that’s what the good ones do. Bring home your warped idea of equality in a body bag and lay it next to all the other dead things you refused to understand.

(“Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” -Margaret Atwood)

 

 

 

Terrorism: The World Is On Fire

Dear readers,

I try to keep this blog light and only talk about things that pertain to my cozy mysteries. But I am a writer, which means words are the way I work things out for my own sanity. Today–in the aftermath of yet another act of terrorism and senseless loss of lives–I feel the need to write about this, to make some sense of it, because my heart is heavy and the world is on fire:

How do we fight terrorism?

match flame

First, I feel like we have to acknowledge this particular pathology is a part of us all and stop thinking it’s “us” against “them”.  It’s not.  We are all vulnerable to becoming “them” because the problem is inherent to human nature. What is this problem, this disease…this fire that’s spreading and consuming our peace, our humanity and our future? It’s this:

A willingness to embrace a particular idea or ideology at all costs. To let an idea, a religion,  a deep emotional/psychological wound or even fear separate us from one another while we stand with unyielding conviction on that idea, condemning those around us who don’t embrace it. This common human condition is  what terrorists are suffering from, they’re just acting on it with extreme violence. It’s the underlying ideology of separation and condemnation which spreads fear and hatred and must be stopped.

Sure, once this violent ideology is embraced, a  terrorist, with no value for life, is born and they become the threat…because how do you fight someone who doesn’t want to live? How do you fight the already dead?

I know it would be ideal to bring them back to life. To lead them back to the land of the living by rooting out whatever weaponized belief system they hold from their clenched fists and closed minds. I also know that’s probably not possible. And it’s tragic… It’s tragic that so many of our fellow human beings are choking on the ashes of their charred humanity.  If I could make a wish for them–and for us–it would be that they could once again taste the sweet innocence of childhood; jump start their dead hearts with an act of charity instead of violence; hear a kind word; fall in love instead of commit rape; see the ray of sun through the black clouds instead of the storm behind it… heal from whatever festering wound their starved hearts are suffering from.

If only…

I have no answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I know that feeding their hatred with returned violence is not the answer. But neither is silence. We must all speak up, come together and leave our own ideology at the door.

Because the only thing I do know for sure is there cannot be peace until we learn to accept each other’s beliefs and ideas without trying to change them with violence, control and containment. In other words…letting ideas and beliefs start wars.

We have to care for each other, love each other. If we don’t, we are them. We are dead already.

 

Weekend in Atlanta

Living life outloud. Being fearless. It has to be a decision, right? You can’t just float through life; you have to take the reins, write your own story. I decided my story has to start including more exploring, more adventure and that would have to include flying.  It was time to deal with my fear of flying.  So, this weekend, I held my best friend’s hand, breathed through a lot of anxiety and we met my daughter in Atlanta for the weekend.

Every city has its own flavor and Midtown Atlanta is no exception. I love my little beach town, but I had forgotten how magical diversity is. To experience new sights and sounds, different accents, fashions and  ideas was intoxicating.

We walked to The Flying Bisquet for breakfast the first morning down Peach Street as apple blossom trees, overhanging the sidewalk, showered us with velvety petals like confetti. The hip little eatery was jam-packed with people–some already dressed in funky St. Patty’s day attire–mouth-watering scents and conversations. The food was delicious but the fulfilling part was sitting in that kind of atmosphere, soaking in the creativity of everyone. It truly fed my soul.

That evening, we draped ourselves in plastic green beads, flashy St. Pattty’s day buttons, green glitter and headed to Ri Ra’s Irish Pub for their live music, fish & chips and green beer. We had some great conversations, laughed, people watched…and let me say, people are happy on St. Patty’s day! It is now my new favorite holiday.

It was only a weekend. We only got to walk around the edges of Atlanta, only got to stick a toe in the surface, connect on a level that left me wanting to dig deeper, taste more. There were moments I wanted to savor, moments I wanted to entangled my fingers with, hold on to; then there were places that were dark that I wanted to ignore but couldn’t…a row of homeless tents on the sidewalk, an abandoned building next to an expensive hotel where addictions are fed. But it was a weekend I will never forget, shared with two of the coolest people in my life.

Oh, and just to prove to you how cool my daughter is, she actually ordered oysters for breakfast the next morning. Seriously, for breakfast?! Gotta love her.

I wish I could say I’m over my fear of flying, but it has definitely lost some of its grip on me and I will get back on a plane again. There’s too many cities out there to explore.

Too many adventures await.

So, where will your next adventure be?

Friday Flash: The Bouy

He stood, a weathered, brown sack of bones in front of the blue sea. Soggy white cotton pants hung, dripping seawater. This was his only attire. Hands were clasped behind his back as he watched with ancient eyes over the expanse of white sand–packed with umbrellas, coolers, and tourists–to the boardwalk.

He waited.

A mother and child moved slowly toward him, picking up tiny shells and tossing them into the clear water.

His gaze turned first on the child, then on the mother. He tapped his wrist and the woman, smiling, offered him the time.

“Ten minutes to noon.”

Bowing slightly, he once again fixed his gaze on the boardwalk.

Rebecca watched this with growing apprehension. She squeezed a glob of sun block from the tube and rubbed it on her two year old’s shoulders, still unable to take her eyes from the man standing still against the motion of waves and people.

Even in the warmth of a noon summer day, a chill rolled through her. The hair on her arms stood up. Glancing around at the other families packed in around her, she tried to make herself relax. No one else was paying attention to this small, harmless looking man.

But then he moved. It was fluid like the wind. One arm waved then he pivoted and began walking into the ocean.

Rebecca swept Jilley up from the sand, a cry of protest erupted from the startled toddler as she unsuccessfully tried to grasp her doll.

Her heart was pounding as she made her way to the edge of the ocean with her daughter. The man was now submerged up to his hips and still moving forward. She moved forward, too. Jilley squeezed her neck with tight little fists and whimpered as tiny, sensitive toes touched water. Rebecca glanced around at the others in the ocean, floating on rafts, throwing balls, splashing and diving under the small waves. Then she spotted a buoy and, submerging them both in the water except for their heads, paddled as fast as she could.

Once in a while, she glanced over at the man, who now swam in strong, even strokes out to sea.

She reached the buoy, breathing hard. It was difficult to stay behind it as it bobbed up and down and she tried to hold on to it with one hand.

“Mommy cold.”

“It’s okay, Jilley,” she whispered in her little girl’s ear. Brown strands of Jilley’s damp hair stuck to her mouth as she tried to keep her voice from shaking. “Mommy needs you to  be very quiet, no crying…”

The first explosion made her jump and duck behind the buoy. Jilley began to cry but no one would hear her over the screams of thousands of terrified people. Rebecca peered around her cover and reflexively held her daughter tighter as dozens of men rushed toward the crowds, rapid bursts of fire coming from whatever kind of guns they carried.  Another explosion off to her left sent a shower of sand and bodies into the air.

Rebecca could feel her legs cramping from treading water, she was hyperventilating and swallowing water as she struggled to keep Jilley’s head up.  Turning behind her, she saw a small boat moving toward the dot that the man had become.

She watched this, coughing the salt water from her lungs, singing to Jilley, trying to block out the sound of gunfire and panic coming from the beach, while keeping the buoy between them and the killers.

The boat slowed. The man climbed up into it. A white wake streaming behind it as it sped back out to sea.

Rebecca thought about Jilley’s father in Arkansas. He moved there six months ago for a job. She should have gone with him. Worked things out. He would never forgive her if the terrorists found them. If they took Jilley from him.

There were frantic splashes to her left and right as the people in the water swam in either direction, trying to escape the chaos. More rapid gunfire, some people floated instead of swam. Face down.

“I love you, Princess Pea,” she recited in her crying child’s ear. “I love you in the morning, I love you at noon…”

The thrum of a helicopter. The bleat of incoming sirens. Her legs were lead weights.  Her heart pounded like the gunfire.

Please. Please stop.

And then it did.

A gull screamed in the long span of silence. Rebecca became aware of the breeze on her skin, tasted the salt in her mouth. The sun shone bright above them. Nothing had really changed. The world went on, despite the terror, the blood strewn sand, the families who lay dead or dying.

The world always went on. No matter how many malls, schools, airports or restaurants were blown up; no matter how many different ways man thought up to rip apart the lives of their fellow man, the earth kept spinning.

This was the first attack that she knew of on a crowded beach.

Her child lay still on her shoulder, eyes the color of the sea. open wide and staring at a woman in a red swimsuit, bloated and floating nearby.

Rebecca held her breath and turned, peering around the buoy.

Black suited men walked the beach, checked bodies, clutched guns. The helicopter had landed somewhere nearby. More sirens approached.

This week’s attack was over.

Rebecca clutched her little girl and released her hold on the buoy.

Halloween Friday Flash #1: The Closet

The soft, throaty laugh of my new bride, the steady beat of a tropical October rain on our rented beach bungalow walls, the gurgling of champagne being poured in the candle-lit room…these are the things I heard before the noise in the closet.

A muffled thump, like a sack being dropped on the floor, startled us. Both of us held our breath. I could feel her heart flutter against my arm.

“Did you hear that?” Sarah whispered.

“Shh.” I strained to listen. The candle flickered wildly. A musky scent filled the room, like wet fur.

“What’s that smell?” I turned to her just as a flash of lighting illuminated the fear in her dark green eyes.

“Smells like an animal. Do you think the owner of this place has a cat or something?”

Bump. Thump. The noise taunted me.

She was now trembling. I had to act. There was definitely something moving in the closet.

“Where are you going?” She grabbed my arm as I carefully shifted the sheets off my legs. “Let’s just wait until morning to open it.” Her lip quivered, her eyes shone in the candlelight.

She made me want to be brave. Beauty does that. Probably some damn trick of evolution, keeping the child-bearing women out of danger and sending the replaceable males out to face the beast.

But, this was just a closet on a very populated island in a very populated strip of beach houses. No beasts here, right?

“It’s probably just the wind shifting the house. It’s blowing pretty good out there.”

A low growl and loud bang on the door answered me. I jumped back in bed and reached for the cell phone. The candle blew out and we both screamed.

“Sh, sh, it’s okay.” I pressed the buttons, hitting ‘back’ numerous times as my shaking hand refused to cooperate. The deep rumble of thunder and crack of lighting close by made Sarah jump and slide deeper under the sheets.

Relief at finally hearing the landlord’s voice quelled some of my fear, made it almost seem silly.

“Mr. Crawford? Hi, I don’t mean to bother you in the middle of the night, but we’re in Bungalow number six and heard a strange noise in the closet. We’re wondering if someone might have possibly left a cat here? Oh, okay. Yes, that’s probably it, thank you.” I hung up and relit the candle.”He says there are strays around and one could have gotten in. It’s happened before.”

“I did notice the cats hanging around when we first got here,” she said. “But still, in the closet?”

We both stared at the closet. I thought seriously about just leaving the thing in there until morning but what if it was hurt or hungry?

With a sigh, I slid my arm from Sarah’s death grip and picked up one of the shiny black rental shoes that came with the tux. Really, this was just to make me feel braver. I’ve had spiders laugh at me when I swatted them with a shoe, I knew it would be no match for a scared, trapped cat.

I grabbed the door knob and pressed an ear to the door.

Silence.

I held my breath. Still nothing. Hm. Maybe I could just wait until morning. What would we do with a cat tonight anyway? Put it out in the rain? Better to just let it sleep in the dry closet.

“I think it’s settled in for the night, now,” I said, sliding back into bed.

“Oh, no,” Sarah said, climbing out of bed. “There’s no way I’m falling asleep without knowing what’s in that closet.”

*    *    *    *

Harold Crawford let himself into Bungalow number six.

“Here kitty kitty,” he called, moving into the bedroom. The candle had burned itself out and he stared at the items strewn about the room; a wedding gown thrown over the back of one chair, a tux jacket hanging on another, shoes, open suitcases. He slowly moved to the closet, where a woman’s nightgown lay by the door. Shoving it aside with his foot, he carefully opened the closet door and peered in.

“Ah,” he chuckled, throwing it open wide. The morning light shone on two trembling black cats. The one with green eyes hissed and howled, pushing itself closer to the body of the other one.

“Well, that’s an awful noise, my pet.”

The cats pushed their way passed him and out the opened door.

Harold Crawford watched them go and then began to gather up the abandoned things in the room.  “Well,” he sighed, lifting the wedding gown from the chair. “At least you will be keeping your vows. ‘Til death do you part.” This is the one thing he told himself to feel better.

Only four more couples and his debt would be paid.

Friday Flash: America Wholesale

Odis Harding heard the knock on his door; he just wasn’t ready to go. He knew this would be the last time he would see his home.

“Dad? Can you open the door? Dad? Can you hear me?”

“I ain’t deaf,” he whispered, staring at the yawning, blackened fireplace. He thought of all the things he had fed to the flames in exchange for warmth over the years when the snows fell. His wife’s clothes, his daughter’s dolls, books, furniture. All eaten up, gone.

The door busted open with a loud pop. His son-in-law, Robert, fell into the empty room. He was thinner than Odis remembered him.

“Oh, Dad.” Sylvia removed her sweater and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Okay, let’s get you out of here. They’re going to take good care of you.”

Robert moved to help his wife. “When’s the last time you’ve eaten, Odis?” he yelled.

“I ain’t deaf,” he grumbled, grunting as the two lifted him from the floor. His legs threatened to give out.

“You’re lucky Sylvia has some pull, Odis. She got you a fine room all to yourself.”

They got him situated on the wagon, Sylvia climbing in beside him and pulling a hand-crocheted blanket over their legs.

Odis swiped at his eyes with the back of a trembling hand. He stared at his home, trying to burn every detail into his failing mind. Cracked cement steps, banister eaten by rust, windows repaired with plywood, the patterns of lost shingles. He knew within days, it would be an empty lot, existing only for him, until that too was eaten up.

Under the spell of the spring sunshine and the steady clip clop of hooves, Odis could almost remember what it used to be like. His body swayed, his mind wandered as he eyed the farms they passed; farms that used to be bustling neighborhoods full of kids playing in the streets, smells of fried catfish and barbeque, porches alive with card games and laughter deep into dusk.

“Daddy?”

“Hm.”

“What was it like? I mean, we learned about it in school, of course, but what was it really like, for you and mom?”

Odis let himself focus on his daughter, his heart breaking. She would never know what it meant to grow up free. She had asked him a straightforward question though, so he would give her a straightforward answer.

“Nothing made sense that day, Sylvia. The stars could have fallen out of the sky and bounced on the street and we couldn’t have been more shocked. We sat there with our neighbors at the time, Vern and Poppy, listening to the President talk about how China had cashed in their chips and we couldn’t pay. How we made an agreement with them to repay our debt by letting them come in and restructure our economy. We just stared at each other. Poppy said maybe it was a joke. The dread in the pit of our stomachs told us it wasn’t.

“There was some excitement at first as Chinese business men toured the major cities in their silk suits. People were even naïve enough to think maybe they would help us get back on our feet as a nation. Then the bulldozers came and the wrecking balls and the communist uniforms. The changes were swift and brutal. Neighborhoods were leveled; people were relocated to central locations in the cities. Factories sprouted up and were populated with women and children. The men labored on new farms and orchards away from their families.”

“But, why were there riots? Didn’t people believe that America needed new factories? That the desolate and foreclosed neighborhoods would better be used as farm land? The Chinese gave us jobs at a time when there were none.”

Odis felt old rage stir like bees in his chest. He was too tired to embrace it. He laughed instead.

“So that’s what they teach you in school, huh? Jobs? You call workin’ sixty hours a week in a dirty factory just for a roof and enough food to survive a job? That’s slavery, Sylvia, that ain’t no employment.”

“We do get paychecks, Daddy…they just go to repay our debt. It’s not so bad, really.”

“Says the rat in the cage.” Odis shook his head and closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, they were stopped in front of an old prison that had been turned into a state hospital. He glanced at the Chinese guards walking toward them and then into his daughter’s eyes. He saw no spark, no hope and the pain was suddenly too much to bear.

“I’m sorry, sweet girl.”

Wrapping one arm around her, he breathed in the scent of her hair. His other hand moved to the pistol hidden in his waistband. The one loaded with two bullets he prayed to God he would have the strength to use.

Friday Flash: A Family Ghost Story

hands2

Much of my life has played out in one rehab circle or another, so you can take my story or leave it. All I can do is tell it, tell the truth…and the truth is, I’m not even sure I believe it.

My mother was one of those people who collected souls. Vagrants, husbands kicked out for the night, down and out relatives, everyone and anyone was welcomed to grab a meal or a bed in her old farmhouse. As you can imagine, this opened up our world–me and my two brothers—exposing us to endless possibilities through stories and illegal substances. Instead of our minds being stuffed with skewed parental beliefs, closed off and capped…we soared, we expanded, we soaked up lore and logic, creating an environment where anything could happen. And eventually something did.

It began with a dream.

I could see myself sleeping; blanket tossed on the floor, one arm thrown over my head, chest rising and falling in soothing slow motion. Then I could see the wall alongside my bed breathing; white plaster pushing out, sucking back in. IN. OUT. Eventually, the bulge expanded like a balloon and began to move. It slid toward the adjacent wall and turned the corner, ending up behind my headboard. I watched beads of sweat form on my sleeping self’s forehead. My breathing became jagged, more like panting. Suddenly, large hands pushed through the wall as if the wall was giving birth, stretching out, reaching for my sleeping self. Blood trickled down the arms in thin channels, rolled over the knuckles and dripped from the fingertips onto my white pillow. I tried to scream, ‘Wake up!’ No sound would come. My sleeping self whimpered as the hands wrapped around my throat. I wheezed, my air cut off, my eyes bulging under the pressure.

Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.

Startled, I jumped up and slammed my hand down on the alarm, knocking it to the floor. Something wet remained on my face. I ran into the bathroom and collapsed in relief. Tears….no blood. I checked my neck.  No signs of being strangled by some lunatic behind the wall.

“Just a bad dream.” I reassured myself. “A really bad dream.”

My hands were still shaking as I buttered my toast at breakfast.

“You all right, Joan?”

“Fine, Mother.” I rolled my eyes. Why was she always so observant?

A week later, I wasn’t feeling so fine. I was still having the dream, only it was starting to cross some kind of barrier. What do I mean? I really have no idea. All I know is, it was becoming stronger, breaking through to the physical world. The hands were beginning to leave marks. Finger imprints on my neck that I would wait to fade before heading downstairs for breakfast.

I decided to move my bed to the center of the room.

There was a new guy at the table that morning. He looked like I felt: sleepless and scared out of his mind. I glanced at him as I reached for the butter.

“He’s your cousin, Marti, from New York. Say hi.”

“Hey,” I waved. He looked fried. Mother smiled and began to make small talk with him about his bus ride, some family up north, whatever. I was just glad she had someone else to worry about that morning. I was in no mood for her scrutinizing. I glanced at my older brothers, realizing they were unusually quiet.

“What’s wrong with you two?” They both looked drained of blood.

“Nothing,” Jacob answered without looking up. Bobby ignored me.

No snappy comebacks or cut downs? Something was definitely wrong.

Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.

I jerked up, gasping for air. It hadn’t worked. The bloody arms had just stretched, gotten longer to reach me. This time they tried to drag me from my bed. I ran from the room and slammed the door behind me.

That morning at breakfast, I had an idea.

“Mom, I think Marti should sleep in my room. I’ll sleep on the couch for awhile. It doesn’t look like he’s getting much rest.”

“How thoughtful of you, Joan.” She beamed at Marti, who really did look like he could use somebody to knock him on the skull and put him out for a few days. Anyway, I knew this would work because mother was always trying to instill unselfishness in us. She looked at my brothers and I noticed her smile wane.

“You two sick or something?”

“Can’t sleep, stupid nightmares,” Bobby grunted. Jacob reached over and popped him in the arm. “Ow!”

“Jacob, don’t hit your brother.”

At this point, I had dropped my toast and my jaw. Nightmares?

“Hands?”

With that one word, I had silenced both my brothers and watched terror widen their eyes for the first time in my life. I nodded. It felt good not to be crazy, at least.

A week later there was a new guy at the table. He was tall, pale with minty, round eyes; almost otherworldly.

“This is Samael.”

We all stared at her. Just ‘Samael,’ no long lost cousin, uncle, friend, grocery store bum?

       “You all right, Mom?”

“Yes, of course.”

We glanced at each other and then at Samael.

He was calmly reaching for the butter, with mom smiling beside him like she was on something. I felt my face drain, my heart begin to race. His hands were large, each knuckle and vein very familiar to me. I glanced up the stairs.

“Mother? Where’s cousin Marti?”

“I don’t know.” She looked confused suddenly. “I guess he decided to move on.”

Samael’s eyes gleamed. My brothers and I excused ourselves from the table, making our way upstairs one at a time, trying not to draw Samael’s attention.

Then we all stood around my bed, staring at the blood spots dried brown on the pillow. Bobby began to cry.

Bobby doesn’t remember it happening like this. He became a psychiatrist.  Jacob remembers it being worse. He became a priest.

And me? Well…I became a writer.

(photo credit: Hendrike)

Friday Flash: Outsourced

salesign2

Bernard Smith lowered his suitcase quietly onto the porch he had lovingly repainted this summer.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to say to his family.  Nothing had changed on the outside of his life; the sun hung dutifully behind their house, birds chirped, a slight chill let him know Fall had arrived. Nothing could stop the flow of time, the changing of the seasons. The world would go on. But he knew inside the cozy Cape Cod, in the world he and his wife built for their family, everything was at a full stop. There would be no more Friday paychecks, no more security.

He was back from training his replacement and his job was over, his career was over. He had spent the last month posting and reposting his resume on Monsterjobs, Dice, I.T.-Jobs-R-Freakin’-Us. Fifteen years of experience and no calls.

“Hi, Honey,” he forced a tired smile. “I’m back.”

She was stirring oatmeal at the stove, staring out the window. She turned slightly and let him kiss her warm cheek. He wanted to slide his arms around her, bury his face in her dark, almond-scented hair, but he knew this would only scare her, make her worry.

He was going to try to squeeze out something sunny and hopeful, but he suddenly realized something didn’t seem right. He looked around the kitchen and it hit him. His entrance had been way too quiet.

“Honey, where’s the dog?”

“Oh,” she said, briefly smiling. “Duke required so much money for you know…food, vet care, grooming.” She turned back to stirring the oatmeal. “I got rid of him. We now have a fish.”

Bernard stared at the back of his wife’s head in disbelief. “But…but fish can’t bark when someone’s at the door…or…play with the kids…and you can’t pet a fish to relieve stress.”

“We have to think of the bottom line, Bernie. Fish are cheaper.”

A tall, skinny teenager wondered into the kitchen. “Hey, Mom. Breakfast ready?” He glanced at Bernard.

“Say hi to your father, Dear.”

“Hey, Dad.”

Bernard walked across the kitchen and stood next to his wife with his arms folded.“Honey?”

“Yes?”

“Who is that?”

“Mitchell, our son.”

Bernard tried not to yell or shake his wife. There had to be some explanation for all this madness. “Okay. Honey. Eleanor, when I left two weeks ago, we had one son and one daughter. Our son, Mitchell, was only nine months old. This is not our son.”

“Well, of course not, silly. He couldn’t have grown up that fast. But I replaced him. This way, we skip all the cost of diapers, baby food, doctor visits.” She turned suddenly, flinging oatmeal as she waved the spoon at him. “Do you know they say it costs a million dollars to raise a child! A million dollars. Mitchell is almost seventeen. Do you know how much money we’ve saved?”

“But he’s not our child! Our responsibility is to OUR child! This boy has his own parents…” Bernard began to look around the room for a hidden camera. “Oh, I get it.” He smiled at Mitchell. “Right.” He decided to play along. “The bottom line.” That did sound like a good name for one of those hidden camera shows.

He peered around the corner into the living room, where their four year old daughter is usually playing on the couch with her dolls. “And Lilly? I suppose you replaced her, too? Seeing as how she would require so much more money to raise than say…a hamster?” He chuckled to himself, wiping the sweat from his brow with a dishtowel.

His wife turned to stare at him. “I didn’t even think of a hamster!” Just then, a fuzzy ball of fur with mischievous blue eyes sauntered in and rubbed itself on his pant leg. “No, no, I went with a kitten like the Jacobson’s next door. We have to stay competitive in these times, right Bernie.”

Bernard began to tremble as he studied his wife’s face for the first time: the permanent smile, the vacant stare that reminded him of a wave less ocean. Yep, Eleanor had left the building.

He reached out and gently took both her hands, turning her toward him. “Eleanor. Where are our children?”

The teenaged Mitchell was nodding from behind Eleanor. He stuck a finger in the oatmeal and popped it in his mouth. “Sacrificed on the alter of the bottom line, dude…I mean, Dad.”

An image of his children strapped down to his corporate boss’s desk was the last image in his mind before his wife’s smile blurred and his head hit the tile floor.