[Family life. Fiction. It’s all part of the same pot, isn’t it?]
David looked up from the letter informing him of his mother’s death–and the next thing he knew he was nine years old, floating inches off the ceiling of the dining room in the house in which he grew up.
Directly below him, yellow with layered dust and glowing white hot, were the six flame-shaped bulbs of the room’s faux-brass candelabra, hanging from its faux-brass chain above the family’s sleek faux-walnut dining room table.
Sitting alone at that table was his 12-year-old sister, Carol. She was a plump girl — not obese, not fat, not slovenly: just early-teenager plump.
In front of Carol on the otherwise empty table was a large cereal bowl piled high with shiny malted milk balls. The only other person in the room was David and Carol’s mother. She was screaming at Carol to eat all the malted milk balls.
“Finish them, hog!” she screamed. “Do you hear me? You’re not getting up out of that seat until you finish the whole bowl, you disgusting pig!”
David, quietly floating above it all, felt a pain in his left hand. He looked down, and saw that a little boy who had appeared from nowhere was now standing beside his mother. With her right hand his mother was tightly gripping this boy’s left hand. Oddly, this new little boy looked exactly like him. The boy on the ground was silently watching Carol. He looked sad and anxious.
“Eat them!” Ruth said to her daughter. “Finish them all, fatso!” She looked down at the boy whose hand she was clutching.
“Isn’t that right, honey? Isn’t Carol a little piggy girl? I found her sneaking into the candy, didn’t I? And she’s such a fat little piggy, I’m sure she would have eaten the whole bag if I hadn’t caught her.”
And then, from his position above the faux-candelabra, David cried out, “I know I would have! Who wouldn’t want to eat all the malted milk balls?”
His mom continued talking to the boy at her side, though. “So now she needs to eat the whole bag, just like the hog she is. Isn’t that right?”
Well, screw this noise, thought David: Enough was enough. Turning on his Super Flying Will Power, he swept down from the ceiling like an avenging eagle, landing beside his sister’s chair. He threw his arm around her and pointed at his mother.
“What in God’s name is the matter with you?” he cried. “You need to stop this nonsense! You are seriously in the running for the Absolute Worst Mom Ever award! What you’re doing is wrong! Ever since Dad moved out, everything Carol does is revolting, and everything I do is the greatest thing that’s ever happened! Do you have any idea how wacko that is, Mom? Do you? Do you ever notice the looks the other moms at the PTA meetings give you when you say things like, ‘Well, today my miraculous wonder of a son controlled the weather over Africa and parts of Australia, while my devilish pig-daughter sucked all the goodness out of the universe just by being alive’? Huh, Mom? Ever notice people giving you that panicked, ‘Oh my God, this woman’s a loon’ look, Mom? Do you? Ever notice the people at the store baggin’ your groceries a lotfaster than they do anybody else’s? Notice waiters dropping your food off as they practically run past your table — never, ever to return? Did’ya think it was just bad service, Mom? Did’ya? Cuz I got news for you, you snap-dragon. It wasn’t! It was service for the insane!
“We’re just normal kids, Mom! All kids like malted milk balls, you vain, petty, messed-up, mean-spirited, rotten-to-the-core nightmare!
David said those things to his mother.
With his arm around his sister, whom he loved with a dedication canine in its intensity, he looked straight at his mother, and said those things to her.
He saved his sister Carol.
He saved her! He saved her! He saved her!
Except he didn’t. Throughout his speech and afterwards his mom continued glaring at his sister. His sister, seemingly unaware of the hero at her side, continued staring down at the bowl of malted milk balls, her mouth a flat smear of wretchedness.
David felt another pang in his left hand, the one around Carol’s shoulder.
He looked at his mom. He looked at Carol. He looked at the kid who looked so much like him, the kid whose hand was hurting him because of how much his mom was squeezing it.
It was like none of them had seen or heard him at all. It was like David had done nothing whatsoever to defend his sister against their mother. It’s like he had just stood there, with that kid, and watched her suffer.