The Children

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic


"A mother's heart is always with her children." - Unknown

Submitted: September 02, 2017

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Submitted: September 02, 2017

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The Children

 

A sleepy whimper made Nora sit up in bed, her eyes still closed and heavy with sleep.  She sat in that position tiredly hoping that she was still dreaming, but another cry soon made her give up all hope for more sleep.

“The kid’s cryin’,” Ben’s groggy voice said.

“No shit,” Nora tried to snap, but it came out as a hoarse whisper.

She rubbed her eyes and tried to decipher the alarm clock’s red glare that were supposed to be numbers.

5:50.

She rubbed her eyes again as the cry in the next room became less sleepy and insistently louder by the second. 

Ben raised his head and glanced at the clock for a couple of seconds before grabbing Nora’s pillow and placing it over his head.

Nora felt the urge to kick him, instead she threw off the blanket and climbed off the bed, wishing she had spent the money she wasted on this stupid Victorian bed on birth control pills instead.

 

***

 

A few hours later Leslie ran clumsily into the kitchen and against Nora’s legs before screaming, “Momma, ah made pooh-pooh!”

Nora rinsed out the breakfast dishes before tiredly turning to her three-year-old daughter.  “Where did you make pooh-pooh?” she asked.

“Hallway, next to the office door,” Benny said as he walked into the kitchen playing with his handheld video game.

Nora sighed.

“Don’t you have any homework?” she asked Benny as he played with one hand while trying to climb on the counter with the other.

“Nope”

“Well, make yourself useful and watch your brother while I clean the mess in the hallway.  Come on, Leslie,” Nora said grabbing the paper towel roll off the counter and the little girl’s hand.

“Ah dunn wanna!” the girl screamed.

Nora glanced nervously at baby Michael sleeping in his high chair expecting the child to start crying and screaming as well, but he did not stir.  “Hush up.  It’s your mess and you’re going to help me clean it.”

She walked down the hall and felt her face go white with anger as she saw not one but three piles on the carpet.  Nora looked down at the squirming girl and fought the urge to throw the child against the wall or slap her.  Where the hell did she get this habit of shitting on the floor anyway?  She had been going to the toilet just fine until about two weeks before, when she started pulling down her pants and squatting regardless of where she was.

“Hold these,” she said to the girl as she ripped some paper towels from the roll before shoving it into the girl’s small arms.

“Ew, it smells,” Leslie whined loudly.

Nora held her breath and pressed her lips tight together as she picked up the mess.  She started to look for a place to put the dirty paper towels and waste in when she realized she had forgotten trash bags.

“Go ask your brother for a trash bag and bring it to me,” Nora said grabbing the paper towel roll back from Leslie.

“Nenny?”

“Yes, Benny,” she said more sharply than she intended.

While Nora waited she looked down at her palms which were smeared with waste.  As if from another lifetime she suddenly saw her hands as they were before the children, when it had been only Ben and her.  Her hands had been white and soft, and had stayed that way even after Baby Benny was born and his baby giggles had filled Ben and Nora’s married life.  Those had been times when little Benny still slept in the bed with them, right in the middle, with Ben and Nora’s arms around the little boy.

They had been stupid enough then to want another child.

Then Leslie, with her tantrums and her never-ending crying, was born.  Nora didn’t like the girl much, even then.  She used to tell herself that it was the name, since she had been named after Ben’s mother, but she knew that was not it; everything about the baby girl bothered her.  The clear blue eyes that had been a mystery in the family, the limp blond hair that clung to her head like a helmet, the endless whining.  It all irked Nora.  And the smell, that faint smell of urine that was part of Leslie, which was now, because of her damn new habit, getting quickly replaced by the smell of feces and baby powder.

Nora shook her head, shoving the angry thoughts to the back of her mind as she heard Leslie running down the hallway towards her.  She placed the dirty napkins in the trash bag and was getting ready to tie off the end when she saw Leslie rubbing the bottom of her small feet on the carpet.

“What are you doing?  Where are your shoes?” Nora asked, anger rising as she guessed the answer.

“Uh-oh,” Leslie said, fingers at her mouth, as she looked towards the kitchen.

Nora looked at the hallway carpet and saw what looked like small muddy footprints going towards the kitchen and ending next to Leslie’s jelly sandals.

She looked at the child and was once again struck with the urge to slap the girl, but it soon faded with that tired resignation that seemed to be always beneath the surface, just like her tired anger.

“Benny!” she called towards the kitchen and was instantly answered by Michael’s crying.  She had forgotten the baby was sleep.  “BENNY!”

A moment later the boy appeared at the entrance of the kitchen, still playing his video game, not looking up.

“Benny, get me more towels and help your sister wash her feet,”

“M’kay” the boy said but did not turn to move or look up.

“Benny, now!” she ordered, grabbing Leslie’s shoulder and shoving her towards her brother.  Leslie walked to Benny and placed her hand on the boy’s arm as he slowly dragged his feet towards the restroom that was adjacent to the main bedroom.

Nora rolled her eyes and walked towards the kitchen to fetch the paper towels Benny had forgotten and maybe to quiet the baby down.  She washed her hands and grabbed a bottle with apple juice from the refrigerator for Michael, whose face was tantrum purple.  She stared at the baby as she held the bottle, watching him scream and sob without any real tears, and considered putting the bottle back in the fridge and letting him cry until he either got tired or passed out from his fit, but finally placed the bottle in his hands as the baby’s screams reached yet a higher pitch.

Immediately he stopped crying and started drinking his apple juice, grinning at Nora with bulging pink gums.  She smiled tiredly at him and kissed his blond hair, closing her eyes and breathing in his smell of baby shampoo and sleep.  Suddenly Benny was a baby and there was no Leslie or Michael.  Benny would drink his apple juice while she cleaned the kitchen and afterwards she would take him to bed with her and take a nap, watching as he drooled on the pillow, kissing his soft brown curls.

She opened her eyes and stepped back from Michael, her face turning red with guilt, but he simply grinned up at her and said “Ma-ma” as he continued to drink his juice contentedly.

“I’ll be right back, hon,” she whispered to the baby and walked into the hallway, cleaning supplies in hand.

As Nora continued cleaning she told herself that she had only gotten carried away with memories of Benny’s babyhood because she was tired, that she just needed more sleep and then she would be fine again.  She told herself that every woman probably wished some of her children had never been conceived, even if they never admitted it.  She told herself it was okay, perhaps even normal.  By the time she had finished cleaning the hallway carpet she didn’t feel guilty at all.

 

***

 

“You could have told me your mother was coming over for dinner,” Nora said gripping the phone tightly.

“I was going to but I was running late this morning.  You know it is very important that I be on time for the meetings,” Ben’s voice said distractedly over the sound of yells and game theme music.

“When will she be here?”

“Uh…five,”

Nora felt her anger rise as she looked at the clock.  That gave her an hour to cook, bathe, and get the children ready.  She momentarily thought of yelling at him, but he probably wouldn’t hear a word.  She sighed with resignation.

“Oh, and don’t forget that my mother is allergic to red dye and mushrooms, so don’t use them and don’t serve that jell-o stuff,” Ben said over the phone dismissing Nora’s best dessert of cranberry and mandarin layer gelatin.

Nora was too tired to argue with him and just agreed before hanging up.  She had been warned not to marry a Mama’s boy, and yet she had not listened.  Her mother warned her, and her friends warned her, but no, she went and married him anyway.  Nora rolled her eyes at the thought of Ben, his older brother, and their “meetings” with some co-workers.  Instead of staying home to spend some time with the children, Ben left every Saturday morning at seven to his brother’s garage to play video games on their computers.  Why a grown man would be so interested in this geek fest she did not understand.

She was checking the chicken in the oven (no mushrooms, no salt) when Benny walked into the kitchen followed by Leslie, who was still rubbing her eyes from her nap.

“Are you still playing with the damn Gameboy?” Nora asked Benny as he climbed the counter without taking his eyes off the small screen and managing to sit on the bread and a packet of turkey slices.

He looked up at her for the first time in what seemed like days and said, “It’s a PSP, mom, not a Gameboy” in a matter-of-fact tone.

“A what?”

“Mom,” he said giving her a meaningful look, “PSP, as in Playstation Portable.  The last time Gameboys were in was about three years ago.”

“Three years ago you were five, so don’t give me that shit,” she said to him, feeling stupid for not knowing the difference, then feeling angry at herself for feeling stupid.

“Momma said ‘whit’,” Leslie giggled pointing at Nora.

Benny shrugged and looked back at his video game.

Nora wished for schools on the weekend, an aneurysm, death, anything, so she wouldn’t have to spend time with these children.  “What are you two doing here, anyway?” Nora asked irritably.  “Go do your homework Benny, and you go play with your dolls.”

Benny gave her one of his meaningful looks again.  “Mom, we covered this earlier, ‘member?  I don’t have any homework.”

“Jesus Christ, then go to your room and do something there.  I don’t care what, just get out of my kitchen, both of you!”

“But ah’m hungwy!” Leslie screamed.

Nora was seized by the urge to slap the girl for what seemed the hundredth time that day.  Why must she always scream for everything?  It was as if she could not talk, only scream.

“Me too,” Benny said.

Nora looked at the kitchen clock and then at her own forgotten lunch which had now been waiting for her for almost four hours.  She sighed and started taking condiments out of the fridge.

“No wed, Momma, no wed,” Leslie said wrinkling her nose at Nora.

“Yeah, Granma says red stuff is bad,” Benny agreed.

“Just wash your hands and I’ll call you in a minute,” Nora told them.

Benny jumped off the counter knocking the bread and turkey to the floor and Leslie kicked the squashed bread as she ran after Benny before Nora could pick the items off the floor.  When had Benny turned into such a smart ass?  She could hardly believe that Benny, her little angel with the rosy cheeks and puppy brown eyes, had turned into this demon child who cared only about how many zombies he killed in his stupid Gameboy or PSP or whatever the hell it was called.  She was going to tell Ben a thing or two about giving that piece of electronic trash to her little boy, when the child should be outside playing with his friends.

She decided that she might as well make something for Michael too and put a small container of spaghetti-o’s in the microwave, before she went to check on the little boy who was now in his crib.  As she was passing the hallway bathroom she saw Benny washing one hand and playing his game with the other while Leslie stood in front of the toilet, splashing her arms and floor with the blue toilet water.  She was tempted to go in there and start screaming at them, but she was just too worn out to muster enough energy to yell at them anymore.

Michael was sleep in his small crib, spread eagle, the leg of his stuffed dog sticky and wet with the child’s drool.  This scene would usually bring relief to Nora since it meant that she only had to put up with two children instead of three, but for the first time since the baby was born ten months earlier, she felt tenderness and something like peace wash over her.

Benny had once inspired this feeling every time she looked at him.

And then, she knew what that feeling of peace was, it was the knowledge of a way out.  Freedom.  She knew somewhere along the way she had lost Benny, her favorite child, the only child she had truly wanted.  She had lost him to society’s usual addictions.  Nora knew she would have never lost him if Leslie had never been born, she would have been able to stay involved in Benny’s life instead of neglecting him to his grandmother’s care.  She had lost him because a child she had not wanted required so much attention.  Leslie had cost Nora and Ben their sex life, too, and the only time in which they had gotten carried away, Michael was conceived.

But Michael was still young and untouched and, if Nora was brave enough, he was her second chance.  But how?  Despite his oblivious behavior and his mother’s nagging, she loved Ben.  After almost a decade she was in love with him now as she had been all the times she turned a stubborn ear to her mother’s admonitions.  And the children, no matter how unbearable, she could not abandon them.  Once again she felt guilt in her stomach, cold sweat at her brow, but the thought of freedom and a second chance at life was too strong.

She left Michael’s room and walked back into the kitchen and searched in the refrigerator drawers and pantry before she found what she was looking for.  It wasn’t as if Ben had not left dangerous items around before, items even she had mistaken for food.  The disadvantages of marrying a chemist.  She found what she was looking for and knelt on the tile floor looking at it.  If she failed she would lose Ben and Michael, but if she succeeded…

She stood up, walked to the counter and opened the jar of mayonnaise.  Nora paused again, looking into the creamy contents of the jar, then dumped a small amount of the white powder into the jar carefully not to get it on her hands.  Before Benny and Leslie had walked into the kitchen again she was mixing the powder into the mayonnaise with a butter knife.

“Yummy!” Leslie exclaimed loudly as she reached for the mayo jar’s blue lid and started licking it.

“You’re gross,” Benny said, elbowing the girl in the ear.

Nora expected Leslie to start screaming, but she merely mouthed the word ow! before turning her back to Benny and continued to lick the lid.  Nora looked into the jar but found no traces of the powder or sensed any odd smells that could forewarn an unsuspecting individual.

“How does it taste, Leslie?” Nora asked the little girl offering her the jar.

Leslie ran her fingers along the rim and then placed them in her mouth.  She giggled and said “Yummy!”

Nora reached for her own sandwich and threw away the pieces of bread, then replaced them with mayonnaise-covered squashed slices.  She looked at the clock again, then smiled to herself.  No, there would not be enough time for her to eat her lunch today.

Nora took some mayo from the knife she used to mix the powder with and put it in her mouth, tasting it only a little but detected no difference in the taste.  Nora noticed Leslie’s wide expectant eyes as she had tasted some of the mayonnaise and she too said, “Mmm, yummy!”

Leslie giggled again and reached for the jar.

“That’s so gross, mom,” Benny said from the counter, where he was sitting once again.

Nora ignored him and made two sandwiches with the crushed bread, thick with turkey slices and mayonnaise, then handed them to the children.

“Benny, Leslie, I love you,” Nora told them.

“’ove yoo too” Leslie said back absent-mindedly, already licking the mayo from her bread slices.

“Mom, c’mon,” Benny said before rolling his eyes, his cheeks coloring.

She was going to miss them.

As they hungrily ate their last-minute lunch, Nora kissed the top of their heads before checking on the chicken.


© Copyright 2017 T. R. Elliot. All rights reserved.

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