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“I’m telling you, they’re acting weird. They know,” Mrs. Smith finished placing the dishes into the dishwasher, closed the door, and allowed the computer sensors to take over.
“We’ve been over this, remember? The doctors said––”
"The doctors do not live in this house and see the things I see. You’re hardly ever here, and I’m telling you that they know,” Mrs. Smith cut her husband short, stood next to him as he sat at the table reading the news on his tablet, and jabbed her finger towards him emphatically.
He sighed, touched the screen to save his place, and then folded the tablet and stowed it in the inside pocket of his suit-coat.
“Ok, tell me,” he tried and failed to disguise his exasperation.
“They were standing in front of the car, whispering…”
“Again? But we fixed that,” he shook his head and a crease appeared on his forward. “They said it wasn’t the right color, and so we had it painted blue, just like it was be––”
“Shh!” She placed her hand over his mouth, and they both turned towards the stairs to see if anyone was standing there. “Yes, explain that to me again. How you think they do not remember, yet you still painted the car blue because they said they thought it should be blue… like it was before… when they…” She began to cry softly, and so Mr. Smith stood up and hugged her tightly.
“Don’t do this to yourself,” he stroked her long brown hair, rubbed her back and whispered shh shh softly into her ear. She pushed him roughly away.
“I’m not doing it!” She screamed, then took a deep breath and lowered her voice. “They remember.”
“Wait,” she reached out and grabbed his arm. “Can’t you drive? Today, please, just drive it away…” Her voice was choked with sobs.
“You know I can’t. It’s not my turn to drive.” A horn honked in the driveway.
“Just… can’t you drive it down the street and leave it there?”
“Look, close the garage door. Lock it. Don’t let them in. Give them work to do. Just distract yourselves and I will be home tonight and we can talk about it,” he patted her hand, pulled away, turned from her and paused. “If there’s a problem, then… I guess… you know… We’ll have to get it fixed,” he patted his pocket containing the tablet, picked up his briefcase, and headed for the door. “I love you.”
Mrs. Smith turned away from him and crossed her arms.
“I love you too,” she whispered.
She smoothed down her shirt and jeans several times with shaking hands, breathed deeply and repeated They’re just kids over and over in her mind. After composing herself, she pulled the boxes of cereal out of the cupboard, cut up some apples and bananas, placed milk and juice on the table, and then went upstairs to wake her children. She came to the first door with its picture of a red racecar and underneath it read: Jake. She knocked softly and entered.
“Jake… wake up, big Jake…” She spoke softly in a sing-song voice as she entered, and then stopped when she saw that her youngest son was not in his bed. She walked out in the hallway and opened the next door, decorated with a mural of a rainforest.
“Sarah? Are you up?” However, this bed was also empty. And so with a quickening heartbeat and a slow step, Mrs. Smith walked towards the room of her oldest son.
They’re just kids… They’re just kids… They’re just kids… She kept repeating her mantra in her mind.
“…in the car. And then I woke up here. Explain that,” Mrs. Smith could hear her daughter’s angry voice as she approached the last door. She hesitated when she came to the door marked “Peter” and found it slightly ajar.
“I don’t think it hurt…” Voices were speaking softly from within the room.
“No,” she heard Peter answer. “It didn’t hurt. It hurt before…”
“I’m not sure I…” Sarah began to speak, but then Jake opened the door.
“Hi Mommy! What are you doing out here?” He blinked at her and smiled.
“Oh, uh… I was coming to find you all and tell you to come and eat,” Mrs. Smith reached down and picked up her 7-year-old. “What are you three talking about?” Her voice shook slightly.
“Nothing,” Peter and Sarah answered simultaneously, and gazed at their mom with blank stares.
“It’s not nice to keep secrets from your parents. In fact, you aren’t supposed to keep secrets from your parents. It’s not safe,” she tried to sound casual, and even threw a little laugh in at the end, but Peter and Sarah continued to look at her without smiling.
“Does it work the other way too?” Sarah spoke somewhat sharply, and Peter elbowed her.
“What’s that, dear?” Mrs. Smith clutched Jake harder and only relaxed when he complained.
“What’s for breakfast?” Peter asked as he purposely bumped Sarah and rose from the bed.
“Oh, um, just cereal and fruit…” Mrs. Smith stammered.
“And then what will we do?” Jake asked after she set him down.
“Oh, I don’t know, sweety,” she composed herself and smiled at her little boy. “What do you want to do?” She took his hand and they began to walk down the stairs and towards the kitchen.
“Can we go to a playground?” He asked as she helped him into his chair at the kitchen table; Peter and Sarah sat down and began to help themselves to cereal.
“As long as we walk there.” Sarah whispered this remark, however it seemed to Mrs. Smith that she was supposed to hear it.
She turned her head quickly and looked at Sarah with undisguised fear momentarily widening her eyes. Sarah stared back at her sullenly for a moment, and then blinked and smiled.
“What did you say?” Mrs. Smith slowly leaned forward and gripped the edge of the table.
"She meant,” Peter jumped in and gave Sarah a cold stare, “that it would be nice to go for a walk and then go to a playground.” Mrs. Smith kept looking back and forth between Sarah and Peter, trying to catch something passing between them. “So how about the playground through the trees in the back yard?” He tapped the table gently when his mother didn’t answer. “Mom? How about through the trees and then the playground with the big pipes… and maybe some ice cream at the little stand there?”
“What? Oh, um… yes, ok… Yes, anything for you three!” Mrs. Smith turned quickly away as she attempted to hide from her children the fact that she had begun to cry.
The silences of breakfast were only separated by the playfulness of Jake and his mother's eagerness to interact with her youngest child. Afterwards, the children dutifully cleared away their dishes and prepared themselves to head to the park while their mother first put away the clean dishes and then placed the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher.
"Ok, Mom, we're ready!" Jake's voice singing out behind her renewed her strength and reminded her of that love she felt the days each of her children were born.
Her joy persisted as the four of them walked out the sliding glass door in the back and tramped through the lush green of the backyard, carefully avoiding the paths of the various gardening robots, and onto the path through the trees that bordered their house. Peter and Sarah laughed and raced ahead, while Jake started to jog after them but never let go his mother's hand. He dragged her after him and kept looking up at her with an eager smile and an occasional giggle, but Peter and Sarah were swift and reached the playground at the other end of the trail a few minutes before Jake and his mother rounded the bend.
When they burst forth from the trees Jake smiled at the sight of the large concrete sections of sewer pipes that were painted a variety of colors and imbedded firmly in the ground in a broken circle. This spot was like Stonehenge to the children of the surrounding neighborhoods, a place where they gathered in droves all at once without communicating with one another in any fashion their parents could discern. A fierce game of tag seemed to never end, as the pipes are considered "safe," and the latest arriving child is instantly considered "it." As Mrs. Smith and Jake approached the game, Peter tagged another child who made a dash for a different pipe and he took his place beside his sister on a large red pipe. Jake was allowed to run to the same red pipe and place his hand on it, being too small to jump to the top.
Mrs. Smith stood between the orange pipe and the blue pipe for perhaps 20 minutes, trying not to embarrass her children but enjoying their joy nevertheless. However, the sun wore on her eyes and she soon retreated to the shade of a tree where she was still able to see most of the game area. The sun continued to fatigue her eyes though, and she dozed off for a while and suddenly jolted awake and began to worry and look for her children.
The game had broken up and most of the children had either gone to the ice cream stand or left for home. Mrs. Smith walked towards the ice cream stand and looked for her three children with an affected air of nonchalance. After walking through the scattered picnic tables twice, she found it impossible to hide her fear. She started jogging around the playground looking into the trees, at the passing cars on the road nearby, amongst the various families relaxing on this beautiful sunny day. She began to run back towards the ice cream stand, but as she passed by the sewer pipes she heard Sarah's voice raised in anger and emanating from inside the red pipe.
"Why don't I remember any of this?"
"Because you were already gone," Peter spoke more softly and calmly, but his voice betrayed a tremor of fear.
"I don't want to hear this anymore," Jake began to whimper.
"I know..." Mrs. Smith imagined Peter placing his arm around Jake as she heard him comfort his younger brother.
"But I want to hear it. I want to know what she said! Tell me again!" From inside the red pipe, Sarah's anger rang out like the sound of a rabbit struggling in the jaws of a fox. Mrs. Smith covered her mouth with her dusty hand and began to cry.
"Leave him be," Peter whispered.
"Just... just screaming and then everything was black and quiet," Jake stammered and began to cry.
"What was she screaming?" Sarah pushed on.
"No, no, no, no..." Jake was distraught.
"I did. She screamed no, no, no... again and again. Then it was black and quiet," Jake continued to cry and outside the red pipe Mrs. Smith began to choke on her own terror. She closed her eyes and tried to focus her mind on something solid, something other than the terror and the pain and the torture of knowing that her children knew, that they knew and in knowing such a thing they could no longer really be just children.
When she could breath again and found the strength to open her eyes, she gasped at the sight of her three children standing in front of her and staring down at her with 3 very different expressions on their three faces. Sarah's face was suffused with hate; Peter had a look of concern; and Jake, her precious Jake was still crying and looking as terrified as she felt.
"Why did you do it?!" Sarah pushed her angry face forward and yelled.
"Mom?" Peter spoke quietly but firmly. "Tell us."
"Because I love..." She began to choke out her answer, but Sarah interrupted.
"I don't want to hear it!" Sarah screamed.
"But I do!" She yelled back. "I do, I do, I do!" She began to breath again. "I love you. How could I not bring you back?" She held her shaking hands out to her children, pleading. Sarah looked like she would explode, but Jake reached out and took her hands.
"No, Mom," Peter kept his calm. "No, not that." She looked up at him. "What happened? Why? Why did we just… wake up all of a sudden?" He bit his lip, then reached back and pulled Sarah closer.
"They said you wouldn't remember, they said..." She began, but one glance at Sarah's storming face and she stopped.
"What happened, Mommy?" Jake squeezed her hand.
She looked into the eyes of her youngest boy. He was no longer crying, he simply squeezed her hands and looked in her eyes, and then he smiled.
"It was dark. Your father had to stay at work late and he missed your recital, Sarah," she spoke evenly and looked up at her daughter. "It was so wonderful, dear, I was so proud." Sarah pursed her lips, but kept silent. "It was clear when Peter, Jake, and I arrived, but when we left a terrible storm had rolled in. Do you remember that?" Peter nodded, but Mrs. Smith continued to look at Sarah. "You asked if you could sit in the front this one time, on your special night. I knew I should have said no, but you were so happy... I didn't want to spoil your night... so I let you sit up front."
"I remember that..." Sarah softened as she delved back into her own memory.
"It was so dark, and the rain came down so hard. I couldn't see very well... so I drove slowly. The light turned yellow, so I slowed down and stopped. But the driver behind did not, and he hit us and pushed us into the intersection. The man in the semi had no trouble seeing his traffic light from far away, and so he kept driving... and he did not see us as we were pushed in front of him..." She began to cry again. Jake put his arms around her neck and Peter reached out and placed his own shaking hand on her shoulder.
Mrs. Smith looked up to see Sarah's lip quivering and tears meandering down her dirty cheeks. Sarah's hands were twisting and twisting, they turned a dull red, and Mrs. Smith held out her hand to her daughter. Sarah's anger still held however, and she remained a few feet from her family.
"Why do they remember things? Why don't I remember anything?"
"Oh, sweety..." Mrs. Smith struggled with the words, the thoughts, the pictures embedded forever in her tortured mind. "The semi hit your door... It was so fast! I woke up and I was holding your hand, but you were already..." She began to sob uncontrollably, and her daughter broke down and pushed her face into her mother's breasts and locked her hands behind her mother's back.
"What about me?" Jake tried to sound brave.
"I screamed when I saw Sarah... and that is what you heard, Jake. Me screaming no, no, no... And then I turned and saw your eyes close..."
"And you screamed again, no, no, no..." Peter whispered.
"Oh, Peter... You were so strong. You just wouldn't let go," she looked up at her oldest son and smiled sadly. "So strong. Still so strong..."
"Don't let the quiet black come back, Mommy," Jake sat up and looked in her eyes.
"I'm so sorry... They said you wouldn't remember. They said..." Mrs. Smith glanced down at her wrist-phone as it vibrated and displayed her husband’s name. “I’m so sorry…” She fiercely hugged her children and tried to will her tears away.