This is a work of fiction.
Mona doesn’t cry. She must be used to the doorbell.
“Billy, can you get it?” Dad calls. “I just got out of the shower. Quick, before she rings it again.”
I really don’t want to see Victoria, but I want even less to hear her criticizing Dad because Mona’s crying when she comes in, so I dash to the door.
There’s nobody there. I look out and see a truck disappearing down the street. I go out onto the porch, and I see a box on the grass. I go down the steps, pick it up, and take it inside. I look at the label. It has my name on it, and it’s from Apple.
“It was a delivery for me,” I say, as Dad comes into the living room. He looks exhausted, and I wonder if he’s slept at all in the last two days. He nods and I take the box to my room. This means I’ll have to stop painting, but at least I can try and figure out the college stuff I’ve missed, which is what’s actually important.
I make room on my desk, feeling a lot sadder than I should about needing to pack away the paints. I can always start up again in the summer, I tell myself, as I open the box. Seeing the shiny new computer makes me feel a little better. Somehow, the screen is bigger, but the computer’s smaller than my old one.
I boot it up and do the setup process. I rummage around and finally find my papers with the info I need. I go to the college website and enter my username and password.
A page loads.
Our platform works on Microsoft Windows only. We’ve detected that this is a Mac, Linux, or other unsupported operating system.
Great, just great. Now what?
I stare at my expensive laptop and could just cry. I know I don’t have enough money to get yet another computer. By the time the first one comes, I’ll have missed too much, and since Mom’s already said no, I can’t ask if she’ll lend me hers, or Dad’ll get mad. I’ll have to call the college and ask if there’s anything that can be done.
I find the number and phone. I get through the automatic prompts and finally, I’m transferred to the extension I need. The line’s buzy. Great. I hang up and repeat the process, with the same result. I try different extensions, but everything’s busy. I give up and look at the useless computer I’ve spent most of my money on. Beside it, the landscape I finished looks so much nicer. Idly, I pick it up and walk into the living room with the idea of showing it to Dad, but he’s not there. I’m just about to go back into my room and start painting again, when I see our printer out of the corner of my eye. It’s on our wireless network, so anybody in the house can print and scan stuff. Might as well find out if I can scan it onto my new laptop. It probably doesn’t work with a Mac, but I should find out now and then try and sell the thing. Who uses Macs, anyway?
I return to my room, grab it, and bring it into the living room. I lay the painting in the flatbed and turn the machine on.
A few minutes later, I’m looking at my painting on my computer. The resolution is great, but so what? I turn the printer off and take the computer and the painting back to my room, just as the doorbell rings. Mona starts to cry. I look at the time. It’s 1:42 p.m.
“Billy, can you get it?”
I don’t ask Dad why, don’t complain, but just go and open the door. Victoria looks exactly the same as she did on Monday, except there’s something on her left glove. Chocolate? How can she eat with that thing on?
“Is that Mona I hear?”
“Where are your parents?”
I consider saying, “They were shot by a drug dealer when I was two,” but decide against it.
Instead, I say, “In the bedroom with Mona.”
She says, “Why do you have paint on your shirt?”
I look down at my gray T-shirt and see some green paint that I used to draw the grass in my landscape.
“Same reason you have chocolate on your glove.”
“My, what a snotty little brat you are.”
“Billy, what’s going on?” It’s Dad and he sounds both angry and scared.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I spilled some paint on myself. Please come in.”
“Oh, I don’t smell any paint. Which room have you been painting? Any painting should have been completed long before Mona was born. Paint fumes can kill a baby, you know.”
“We haven’t been painting,” Dad says. “Billy, go change your shirt.”
I flee, and make it to my room before I start to cry. I was supposed to help Dad, not make things worse, but here I am, being exactly what she called me — a snotty little brat.
I open my closet but there are no more clean shirts. Well, just whose fault is that? I start to slam the door and remember just in time not to. I close it and flop down on my bed, and bury my face in the pillow.
Once I finish crying, I sit at my desk and think.
Victoria’s still here, so I can’t paint. My Mac doesn’t work with the college website, so I can’t study. Victoria’s here, so I can’t leave my room and do laundry. Headphones. Music. I find them and plug them in. I open the Music app. I don’t want to pay for a subscription, and of course the computer can’t play my CDs, but I can listen to samples. Unfortunately, the headphones don’t work well, and the sound cuts in and out. In disgust, I tear them out and put them in the bottom drawer along with my broken laptop. Now what?
I try phoning college again. At least the line’s not busy this time, and I have nothing else to do, so I might as well stay on hold all day.
An hour later, somebody answers. I tell him about my problem.
“Yeah, sorry about that. We’re trying to get it working on Macs, but that functionality won’t be in place until September.”
“Is there some way I can do my work offline?”
“You might be able to e-mail your professors and explain the situation.”
I check with him to make sure I have their e-mail addresses written down right, and then I start typing.
Dear Professor Jansen,
I’m in your first year calculus class, and my computer broke. I won’t be able to get a new one for a while. Can I e-mail you assignments please?
I send the message and get a reply right away.
I am away for the week and will respond to e-mails upon my return. If this is urgent, please e-mail Dr. Spencer, the Department Head.
Is it urgent? I shrug and e-mail the English professor. I tell a tiny lie: my computer crashed when we were discussing “do not go gentle into that good night.” I ask him if we have any assignments.
At 4:31, I hear Victoria come out of the bedroom.
“Remember the bleach,” she tells Dad.
“We had a full discussion of this issue yesterday. The cleaning fluid that was used to clean the kitchen is toxic to babies. I distinctly recall instructing you to make sure that your wife cleaned every surface thoroughly with bleach to neutralize the antigens.”
“I’m sorry,” Dad says. “I don’t know what that means and I forgot to go and buy some.”
“When your child stops breathing as a direct result of your negligence, sorry doesn’t exaclty cut it.”
As soon as she’s gone, I hear Dad going to talk to Mom.
I can’t make out their words, and then Dad knocks on my door and calls, “I’m going for the bleach.”
“Okay. Could you grab some milk and stuff please?”
Once I hear the front door close, I go into the bathroom, grab the basket we use for dirty laundry, and take it to the basement. I’ve never done laundry myself, but I’ve seen Mom sorting it and adding detergent.
I pick up one of Mom’s white shirts and see something on the neck. I look closer. It appears to be blood, but that can’t be right. Maybe Mom was eating something with tomato sauce and Mona put her hand in it and smeared it on Mom’s shirt. That must be it. But it sure looks like blood. I sigh and toss the shirt into the pile of whites.
Once the load of shirts is in the machine, I read the label on the detergent. I measure a capful and put it in. Next, I examine the controls. It seems that I have to choose a cycle, but I have no idea if I should select normal, permanent press, delicate, or heavy duty. Well, normal sounds okay, so I choose it and press Start.
While the shirts are washing themselves, I go through the house and pick up dirty towels. I find a facecloth with blood on it. I can’t kid myself into thinking that it’s tomato sauce, but I don’t know for sure if it’s Mom’s or Dad’s, so I toss it into the pile and conclude that Dad must have cut himself badly while shaving and grabbed the towel, even though his beard doesn’t look like it’s been trimmed for weeks, and there aren’t any cuts on his chin.
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