WHAT HAPPENED WHILE DON WAS WATCHING THE GAME
The baby boy, exhausted
with the exertions and impressions of the day, slept through
it all. Through the rough
shunting of the
parking platform in the automated car park, and the metallic
clang of the platform being locked down, he snored peacefully,
head leaning obliviously against the car seat headrest. When
the car door clicked open, he only made a tiny dissatisfied sound.
muttering of the two that slid into the car and temporarily shared
the back seat with him didn’t penetrate his dreams. He never
felt their small hands opening the clasps of his security harness,
wake as they lifted him out of his seat, with a gentleness that
belied their fierce appearance.
They maneuvered their tiny, sleeping burden out onto the platform and towards their exit, leaving the car empty and silent, as if no child had ever been in it at all.
“Hey, where’s the kid?”
Marjorie froze with her back against the front door, balancing four grocery bags on her arms. She was torn between blind panic, and annoyance bordering on anger. Her rapid understanding of what had happened enabled her to quell the panic. It did nothing, however, to stop her other reaction from blossoming into fury at her useless sack-of-shit excuse for a husband.
The worst of it wasn’t that Don
had shown no inclination to help carry the groceries, concentrating
instead on sorting the
Marjorie struggled with the bags. Nor was it his trance-like preoccupation
with the upcoming game.
At the moment, even leaving their
child in the car came in second to calling him ‘the kid’. This
was taking his lackluster approach to fatherhood to new depths.
“His name,” she hissed, “is Donny! ”
To her satisfaction, the inane expression on his face was replaced by guilt; for an entire second, there was more than just the prospect of home runs and no-hitters on his mind. Unfortunately, it was still not enough for him to draw the obvious conclusion.
“Yeah, Donny. Where is he?”
“You left him in the car, you
He smiled sheepishly.
“Oops,” he said.
Marjorie kept her cool. Donny had been tired enough to sleep for at least another hour, so there was plenty of time to get him before he noticed anything wrong.
Still, she had every reason to be concerned about him. He was still lying buckled into his car seat, which was on the back seat of their MPV. Which had been shuffled into the dark robotic bowels of the autopark.
Marjorie hated the autopark.
She hated waiting her turn at the entrance. She hated operating
the control panel. But
most of all, she hated
waiting minutes for the car to appear. She knew too well how long
it took the system to retrieve their Buick; she’d left enough house
keys, handbags, or sunglasses in it.
But never Donny. Never her own flesh and blood.
Don made no move to go back down
for his son, instead looking pointedly at his watch. She considered
standing her ground
and making him choose
between the first inning and the safety of their child. But that
was a choice their marriage might not survive, and a confrontation
she wasn’t ready for. Yet.
“For God’s sake!” she said. Shoving
the groceries into his chest, she made her way around him and pressed
the call button.
Behind her, she heard paper tearing and heavy objects thumping and crashing to the floor. A cloud of flour billowed around her as she stepped into the elevator.
Of course, it was only her imagination that the autopark took twice as long to produce the Buick. Or so she told herself.
Down in what she refused
to call the control room, she’d operated
the control panel with an efficiency born of concern for her baby.
Instead of her usual fumble around the different buttons and switches,
she went rapid-fire through the entire sequence, pausing only,
in irritation, when she had to enter their four-digit PIN number.
Of course, Don had selected the PIN digits, and every time she had to operate the autopark, she squirmed at the memory of his almost religious rant about the mind-numbing statistics of long-dead athletes. Who cared about
the difference between batting average and slugging percentage, or
whatever they were called? If he would spend half the brain power
he wasted on Lou Gehrig’s statistics on remembering her birthday,
their marriage would be in half the trouble it was.
3-4-0-4, she punched
in, and through the large window into the autopark she could see
the device come alive with
noises. An interminable period of squeaking, clanging and grinding
later, the garage door rumbled up that separated the parking bay
from the autopark. Any moment now, the robotic parking platform carrying
their car would grumble gracelessly into the bay. Marjorie made her
way around the control panel to the door leading down into the bay.
She didn’t want to waste a single minute rescuing Donny from the car seat.
When the platform slid into the bay and the garage door closed, it took a moment for Marjorie to understand what was wrong.
The car wasn’t there.
Marjorie fired off a
string of curses that would have impressed her husband. This was
time this had happened
since they’d moved into the building. She toyed with the idea of calling Don down and have him deal with the problem. But she still didn’t feel up to wrestling with his precious baseball fetish. Calling Maintenance wasn’t a real option, either. Their dim-witted handyman Jake needed three weeks to replace a busted light bulb, and two months to deal with boiler problems. And the last time the autopark had malfunctioned, all Jake had done was hand-crank the inner garage door and retrieve the purse she’d
left on the passenger seat.
Marjorie could do that much herself.
As she edged past the
empty parking platform, a little voice whispered that she wouldn’t be acting this rashly if Don hadn’t been so useless. She knew a part of her was doing this to prove she didn’t need him. Let him cheer his slugging heroes, slump in his favorite chair and drink his Bud, while she saved Donny, presented him to his father in triumph, and then…Yes, that was the question, wasn’t
it? What then?
The inner garage slid up as she worked the manual crank. With apprehension, she looked into the widening hole. When it was high enough to pass through, she took the small stainless steel flashlight from her purse and stepped onto the platform. She hesitated for a moment, wondering if she was really doing this. A fleeting thought made her take out her cell phone and quick-dial 1. Don answered after six rings.
“Don, the car won’t come out. I’m going into…”
“HE WAS SAFE, GODDAMMIT!”
It was a measure of
her faith in her husband that she didn’t think
for a moment he was referring to his son.
“Yeah, what was that, hon?” Don
“HOLY COW, STOLEN BASE!”
“He’s taking a pretty big lead down there,” Marjorie
added automatically, and that seemingly innocuous quote gave her
a disturbing sense of
urgency, making her shiver.
“Enjoy the game,” she
said, and snapped her phone shut. Then, flicking on the flashlight,
into the autopark
available in Big Pulp Fall 2011 issue)