March 9, 2005
by Randall BrownJeb and Rory took turns. As they ran through the invisible line, they jumped up, then both fell to the ground, atop each other. Puppies. Deranged ones. Samantha was sure Jeb would list such moments on his Father of the Year application. And when he won? He’d thank her, of course, for giving him Rory.
Not ten thousand—or fifty thousand years ago—or whenever animals became humans would her brain have conceived of running through the invisible fence wearing Frodo’s collar as a bracelet. She told them this.
“Mom,” Rory said. “They didn’t have electricity then.” He unsnapped the blue collar, threw it to Jeb, who caught it effortlessly.
“Like Rice Crispies, Mom. Snap. Crackle. And then pop.”
They giggled. The air around them always crackled..
“Hey,” Jeb said. “Did you ever put a nine-volt on your tongue?”
Off they ran, toward the garage, into the kitchen. She imagined their contest, how long each could stand it. She’d find their discarded papers later. Ten seconds. Twelve. Seventeen. Whom did she miss more? Jeb, maybe. She never had Rory.
The blue collar lay tangled on the ground. She picked it up, untwisted it, snapped it on her wrist. She looked back at the house, around at the neighbors’ houses, all of them blind to her. She stuck her arm out, then a tiny step toward the property’s edge. Nothing. Another step. Her jaw ached. She tried to loosen the muscles, unclench herself. But still that ache. Forward again.
She snatched her arm back toward her chest. Cradled it. It hurt. Nothing else. Just hurt. No pleasing after-tingle.
A lie—all of it. She had been right; there was no pleasure to be found here. She was sure Jeb hated it all, the zips and zaps, the whole lot of it but realized the connection he’d make with Rory. The way he pretended to like the cooking channel, reality date shows, reading in bed.
Such love couldn’t matter, could it?, couldn’t be real? She didn’t know how to play such a game, concoct such a self. Jeb didn’t care if it were real — only that he had it, whatever it was.
And Rory. He must be playing along, enduring the pain. She saw him now, burning two holes in his tongue with a batter to sustain his father’s love.
She strode toward the house, the kitchen, kicked open the door and threw herself into the kitchen. Empty. She leaned on the granite counter. Listened. Heard shots from the basement.
And there she found them. Star Wars camouflaged soldiers — she recognized them from the posters on Rory’s wall — met the onslaught of the white of the bad guys. Rory and Jeb sat next to each other, pushing buttons, mowing the bad guys down. She heard the vibrations of the controllers in each of their hands.
“Oh crap,” Jeb said. Just the two of them, surrounded by dozens of white troops, guns flashing. “Fire at will.”
“Which one’s Will?” Rory said.
That sent them rolling into each other again.
Rory turned around. “Mom, Mom. We’re the Rebels — and we never got this far.”
She smiled. “That’s great, hon.”
The sixty-inch image on the television froze. Rory put down the controller.
“What?” Jeb said.
“Look. She’s got the collar on her wrist.”
Rory had her face, the wide eyes that always appeared glistening, the full lips but delicate nose and cheeks. Jeb’s face had more edges, things poking out, rising to the surface. Rory’s face floated up, away from the television, controller, Jeb.
“You did it?” Rory asked.
“Well,” Jeb said, pushing Rory over. “What’d you think?”
She said nothing, instead raised her wrist, shook it. She expected to hear the jangle of charms but, no, not this bracelet.
Then Frodo ran down the stairs, jumped into the pile of boys as if he weren’t the tiniest toy poodle but something else. She moved toward them. Her wrist tingled. She stopped, waited, thought perhaps of running through the fence and biting chocolate in synch with the zap. She’d learn then, wouldn’t she?
The boys barreled past her, out the basement door. On the screen, Jeb and Rory, as frozen Rebel soldiers, stood side by side, Butch and Sundance.
“Mom,” Rory yelled from outside. “We need the collar.”
She made her solitary way to the basement door and stood in the threshold. Her boys. She thought of chocolate. Of a sweet warm glow. Her boys.
Off the back patio, her boys crawled on all fours, sniffing each other’s asses.
Randall Brown lives outside of Philadelphia. He’s a fiction editor with SmokeLong Quarterly, an MFA candidate at Vermont College, and a recipient of a 2004 Pushcart nomination. Work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including The Iconoclast, Ink Pot, The MacGuffin, Timber Creek Review, and Del Sol Review.