In the first picture, Zoey was screaming, her face beet red, while Jackson’s finger was firmly implanted up his nose. Delete. Second photo – Zoey shoved Jackson just as the camera flashed. Delete. By the 10th photo, Zoey and Jackson wore bright smiles, their arms wrapped around each other like loving siblings. Brandi posted it to Facebook with the hashtags: #blessed #bliss #momlife.
In another city, Brandi’s friend Sandra was scrubbing vomit out of her shirt as something crashed in the next room. They’d been snowed in for days. She glanced at Brandi’s latest Facebook update on her phone, and sighed.
It had been one of those perfect days. Blue sky, puffy, white clouds floating lazily over their heads. She and her beautiful little boys spending a day at the zoo, childish laughter in the air. Maybe that’s why Lacey had let them run ahead. My instincts told me it was safe. I just let them go. She’d been smiling when she heard the scream.
There was Zack down below, who’d somehow fallen into an enclosure. A huge reptile was charging him. Her youngest, Ben, screamed for her, his eyes wide in terror. Lacey held him close as she yelled for help. The shot from the zookeeper, the one that killed the creature, filled her with relief and sorrow.
Now, the world knew her name. She had no idea the creature that died was one of a rare, endangered species. The backlash had begun. Lacey was a bad mother. Her child should have been shot instead of the animal. She should have been shot. She was an idiot. A welfare mom. A drug addict. A loser.
There was a knock at the door. Her next door neighbor stepped inside and she braced herself for another attack.
It was only her second time even meeting his kids. All five of them. There they all were, lined up in a row, each holding a sign. Together they spelled out a question – WILL YOU MARRY OUR DADDY? Her chest tightened when she realized what was happening. Maybe it wasn’t exactly PC to say, but she wasn’t even sure if she liked all of Jay’s kids – that little one seemed like he’d be a handful. She needed time.
Before Jay could get on one knee, she put her hand on his arm.
“Can we speak privately?”
The Moral Mondays prompt this week is: Don’t Take On More Than You Can Bear
“Here you go, mommy!” Spencer thrust a bouquet of wildflowers into her hands. Maggie was so touched by her son’s thoughtfulness, but couldn’t help but notice that the stems were a bit damp, and that the blooms smelled a bit…sour.
“Welcome. I dipped ’em in the toilet before I gave ’em to you so they’d smell good.”
Maggie shrieked and ran to the bathroom, dropping the flowers on the floor. As she scrubbed her hands in scalding water, Spencer appeared in the doorway, confused.
No matter how many straight-A report cards he brought home or first-place science-fair ribbons he earned, Kurt would never be Todd. He was the other son. The day he realized that was the day he started filling a jar with batteries.
Kurt watched as the android, his twin, slowly stood, powered by years’ worth of batteries he’d re-charged. It would join his parents in the car, headed to Todd’s latest game. Kurt had no use for sports. He turned out the lights and stared at the galaxy on his bedroom ceiling, tracing his name in the stars.
“The boys miss you so much,” I say, twisting the edge of my shirt sleeve.
“I miss them too,” he says as he returns to the table holding two steaming cups of coffee. My palms are warm and damp. My arms shiver. No turning back now. I have to make this right. I look at the man sitting across for me and can’t imagine today how in love I was with him a few short years ago. That love had quickly turned to a consuming hatred during out contentious divorce. Now all that was left was fear.
“I realize, that I was wrong…so wrong…to keep you from them…”
“The things you said about me to the judge…”
“I know! I was awful. There’s no excuse. I know you would never lay a finger on either of the boys. You’re a wonderful father. They cry for you every night, you know. It breaks my heart.” I dab at my eyes with a napkin as my voice breaks. It was the boys that had convinced me to come today, to grovel to my ex, to beg his forgiveness. I couldn’t stand it any longer, watching them suffer, wondering if their father had abandoned them. I never thought the judge would order him to stay away from the boys. I thought he’d at least get supervised visitation. All I wanted was to hurt him a little. Or a lot. The same way he’d hurt me. “I want you to be a part of their lives. I’m so sorry, for everything.”
He says nothing as he watches me take a long sip of my coffee. I feel it immediately. It all slipping away. I stand and try and get to the door, but my legs give way underneath me. I crumple to the floor, struggling to take a breath.
“I’m sorry too,” he says as he stands over me, watching.
I hate the suburbs. All the people, wandering around with brainless smiles on their faces like they’ve been lobotomized. I miss the anonymity of living in a big city. I loved never knowing, or caring, who my neighbors were. Here, people know you’ve closed on your house before you’ve even moved in, and are outside waiting with baskets of muffins as soon as the U-Haul pulls up. I feel like I’m slowly being driven insane. Maybe this is some Truman Show-esque experiment?
Right now I’m lying on the floor of my generic but spotless master suite, drinking chardonnay straight out of the bottle. How am I supposed to smile while I make vapid small talk with Muffy and Buffy or whatever-their-names-are this afternoon if I’m not a little bit drunk? Don’t judge me. Anyway, gotta go. Time to pick up the girls from school.
Tara noticed the flower every morning on her walk to the bus stop. Sprouting through the cracks in the concrete sidewalk, it bloomed, arching toward the sky. She imagined herself far away from this hopeless neighborhood, somewhere beautiful.
“Hey!” Nia, a notorious bully, called to her. Tara ignored her, as usual, as her mother had taught her to do. Nia shoved her, causing her to stumble. Everyone laughed. It wasn’t their laughter that incensed Tara. It was the sight of those yellow petals, crushed under Nia’s sneakered foot. Tara closed her eyes, clenched her fist, and swung into the darkness.