This story is by Carolyn Sigmann and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
New emails from parents of children in Mike´s class flood my inbox. Don´t these people ever leave their computers? I open the email from the teacher. “Please respond by 10:00 pm if your child is going to participate in the field trip next week. The school requests a parent to come along due to the size of the class”. I look through the parents’ responses. Someone has a meeting. Someone’s ill. Traveling. New job. Excuses this. Excuses that. Has anyone volunteered? Nope! Once again, Meg, you are left holding the hot potato. These people are just too much.
An advertisement on the right of my screen distracts me. “For only $70 you can get the world´s best age-defying product. The secret no celebrity has been willing to reveal until now. This unique opportunity ends 10:00 pm EST. Place your order now.” Red letters flash, “ACT FAST”, like a lure waiting for a bite. I click on the link. There is a beautiful ex-model who was famous when I was a teenager. She looks like she has hardly aged since her swimsuit days. Under the picture in bold type is written: “One of the world´s most beautiful women reveals her secret weapon.”
There are before and after pictures featuring a grey-haired woman in her sixty´s. Of course, the lighting in the before picture is horrible. They always do that. After the use of the cream for four weeks, the woman has brighter skin and the wrinkles are not so obvious. What a scam. I scroll down and read the comments: “The best product ever!”, “An old friend told me I looked fantastic and asked me what my secret was!”, and “Amazing!”.
What time is it? 9:00 pm. I have an hour to answer that email. What day was the excursion? Thursday?
Screams come from upstairs. Goddammit! They´re at it again with the fighting. I leave the laptop open and head for the stairs. I take a deep breath and enter the bathroom. Daniel has his palm on little Mike´s forehead. At arm’s length, Daniel is jeering his little brother on as Mike tries to hit him but swings at the air.
Be firm, Meg.
“That´s enough you two!”
“He took the toothpaste.” Mike´s tears have soaked his pajama top.
“Daniel, stop being a bully. Let me have that toothpaste.”
“Don´t put so much on, mommy, it´s too strong”. Daniel pleads.
“It´s time for both of you to get to bed. Brush properly. I don´t want to hear about any cavities.”
From the reflection in the mirror, you would never guess these two just had a fight. Their little hands moving up and down at supersonic speed on their gritted teeth. Spitting on each other´s spit. They are so cute when they aren´t at each other´s throats. And there is the mother in the background smiling. Look at me. When did I start looking like my mother?
“Mommy, are you coming with my school to the museum next week?” Mike asks.
“Do you want me to?”
“I´ll see what I can do. I can´t promise, I might have a meeting.”
It´s 9:10 already. I better check on Julie.
“Off you go you two! I´ll be there in a few minutes. Read your books until I come”.
I think her book report was due 10:00. I hope she will be able to make it.
An open door is a good sign. She looks so cute working at her desk. One hand on her forehead the other on her laptop. She has a bow in her ponytail like she did when she was in grade school. God! I wish I could make things easier for her.
“Hi sweetie, how´s it going?”
“Mom. What´s another word for time?“
“Let me see… what about age?”
“No. That doesn´t fit.”
Why is it so hard to come up with words? It´s like I have sludge for brains. Let’s see.
“Umm lifespan? Maybe moment?”
“Moment! Perfect. Thanks.”
“How´s it going? Do you want me to read it over later?”
“I´m almost done. I don´t need you to look it over”.
I´ll have to go gently here. The paper is most likely riddled with mistakes, but last time I looked over her homework she was in tears. Ok, Meg, play it cool.
“Are you sure? I can do it after I´ve read to the boys. Or maybe dad can help?”
“Ok. I´ll be back in about 15 minutes to see how you´re doing.”
Gosh, it´s already 9:15. I better read to the boys. Maybe Bill will be able to help. He´ll just have to go to bed a little later tonight. As I run downstairs I hear the newspaper rustling. It looks more like he is dozing off than reading.
“I think Julie might need help with proofreading. Could you see if she´ll let you help?”
“Sure, I´ll do it as soon as I’m finished scanning over the markets.”
He will be out of the house by 6:00 am and home again at 7:30 pm. I´m the one, who will be up late doing the laundry and making the lunches. I´m like a gerbil on her tread wheel – running but going nowhere.
The boys are waiting and I run up the stairs two at a time. Every time I enter their room I am overwhelmed. Toys cover the floor. Drawers are half open with clothes bulging out. I feel a sneeze coming from all the dust. At least they seem content, their Peter Pan sheets pulled up to their chins. Little reading lights guiding them to distant lands.
“Where is the Harry Potter book?”
“It´s here, mom.” Daniel pulls the book off the floor by his bed.
“Where were we?”
“Ron and his brothers are helping Harry escape with the flying car”.
I love this time reading to the kids. I get into character and begin. They must have been exhausted because it didn´t take long for them to fall asleep. And here I am not able to put the book down. 9:40!
I have that email to send. I´ll just check on Julie on the way.
Her door is still open. At least she didn´t lock herself in her room in frustration. She is in her nightgown and is getting ready for bed. Another good sign – I think.
“Did you finish?”
“Yea, I´m going to send it in now”. He eyes are puffy and her movements are slow.
“Why don´t you let me look it over? I´ll just look at language, I promise not to do anything with the content.”
She cringes. I will have to be careful.
“You worked all evening on the paper. That´s really great. Was it a difficult assignment?”
“It was ok, but I prefer writing stories”. She fixes her gaze on her favorite poster of a unicorn. I remember when she was little when people asked her what favorite animal was, she would say unicorns. I wonder what she would say now?
“Can I have a look?”
“I know it has a lot of mistakes.” Tears are filling her eyes.
My poor sweetheart. I wish she knew that this is not the end of the world. How many times have I told her it would be much worse if she had boring ideas, but had perfect spelling.
The text is only a page long and won´t take long to correct. Julie is sitting stone-faced on the bed. Best not say anything about the corrections. Type as quietly as possible, Meg.
“Not bad Julie. Your writing is getting better.”
I kiss her forehead, which is soft and smells of baby powder. I look at my watch 9:52.
“You better send it in now. I´ll be back in a few minutes to say goodnight”.
She stands up and puts her hands around me. She has grown so tall. I hug her back. We smile.
Walking past the bedroom, I hear Bill is getting ready for bed. He forgot about helping Julie. Usually, I would say something, but I don´t have time to get into it with him now. I have an email to send off.
I run to my laptop and press a key to start. Looks like I will have to sacrifice another work day. Send. Made it with two minutes to spare!
I see the advertisement for the anti-aging cream on the right of my screen with a clock counting down. 9:58 pm. The seconds are going fast. Underneath the clock, it says: “Look visibly younger. Defy time.” Oh, what the heck. I click on the purchase button.