Lockdown – Horror Fiction – Complete Story

Podcast Episode

This is a work of fiction inspired by a Tweet by @mims_words about vampires during lockdown.

It was published in ten parts on this blog, and those can be heard as separate podcast episodes, but I thought you might like to read or listen to all of it at once.

Here you go.


The street light I can see from my window is broken. I’m nineteen, and Dad took away my nightlight when I was ten. We’re in lockdown, but I’m a lot more afraid of the dark than of COVID-19.
That’s why I’m in the basement storage room with my hands deep inside a drawer, looking for it. It’s full of old tools. I sigh and check through the contents, but my nightlight isn’t there.
All this lockdown stuff wouldn’t be so bad if Mom hadn’t just come home from the hospital with my big surprise of a little sister. Well, okay, she wasn’t a total surprise. I knew about her a few months ago. At first, I thought Mom was just eating too much pistachio ice cream. Luckily for me, I didn’t say anything like that to her, and one day, she said something about the baby moving. So that was the big surprise, except she didn’t know it was a girl then. I didn’t want to know, so I just bent my head over my college textbooks and ignored the whole thing for as long as I could.
Now though, I can’t really do that so well. She’s here. Our house only has two bedrooms, and I don’t think any of us will be able to sleep in the garage, so I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be sleeping once she’s old enough to need her own room.
I tug on the next drawer, but it’s either stuck shut or locked. Mom and Dad have the keys. I pull harder. It squeaks, but doesn’t slide out. I try the next one. Bingo. My nightlight’s on top of an old transistor radio Dad inherited from his father. I take out my nightlight, close the drawer, and go back upstairs. I hope nobody will catch me taking it into my room. I guess it’s weird, I mean, I haven’t used it in nine years, so I should be over my fear of the dark, right? Except I’m not — not completely. Maybe it’s my new sister, or maybe it’s lockdown weirdness, but the dark is really getting to me again. It doesn’t help that Mom likes to turn off all the lights at nine; she says it helps to regulate her and my sister’s sleep-wake cycle. All I know is that it’s definitely not helping to regulate my passing-college-with-flying-colors cycle. Lying awake with your heart and mind racing isn’t exactly conducive to getting through online classes the next morning.
I almost make it to my room undetected, but Mom’s in the hallway outside her and Dad and my sister’s room and she sees me.
“Oh, that was considerate of you. Thanks, Billy. I’ll keep it on so Mona’s not in the dark on her first night here.” She takes it from me, smiles, and goes back into their room. I could cry, but there’s no point. I’ll have to try and sleep without any light at all.
It doesn’t work, just like I knew it wouldn’t. It’s midnight, and I’ve been lying here for an hour.
“Waaaaaaaaaaa!” I know it’s Mona, but the sound still makes me jump. “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
Can’t Mom and Dad hear that? Apparently not, because she keeps it up for a minute before I hear Mom’s voice.
“What’s going on?” She sounds really scared. “Bill, what’s happening?” She means Dad, not me. I don’t get why they didn’t change my name when they adopted me. I mean, I was only three, for crying out loud. Speaking of crying, Mona does it again.
“Bill, what’s that sound?” Mom says. “Bill! Wake up!” Dad mumbles something, and Mom says, “What?”
More loudly, he says, “It’s Mona.”
“Mona?” Mom says, as if she’s never heard of her, “what?”
“It’s our new baby, Mona,” Dad says. “She’s crying.”
“Oh,” Mom says. “Mona, I’m sorry. I got so confused, please stop crying and go back to sleep.”
Mona cries louder.
“Remember what the nurse said,” Dad says. “If she wakes up at night, feed her.”
“Oh, did she say that?” I put the covers over my head and try not to listen to them anymore. I’m so tired, but I don’t fall asleep until after the second time Mona wakes up, which I think is about four.
Mona’s crying wakes me up. I roll over and look at the clock. It’s eight. I have an online class in half an hour, so there’s no time to go back to sleep. I rub my eyes and heave myself out of bed. I throw on yesterday’s clothes and hope Mom won’t notice and demand that I shower and change.
I wash up, grab a coffee, open my laptop, and log in. I’m practically asleep at my desk as the professor talks about calculus. Why can’t we record these lectures and watch them when we’re awake?
“So, do you have questions about integrals?” he asks. I do, but I’m too exhausted and befuddled to pose them. I look at my notes and realize the page is blank. Great. I’ll have to slog through the textbook and hope I can make sense of it. Not now, that’s for sure.
I don’t have another class until ten, so I go into the kitchen and open the fridge. It’s completely empty. I check the freezer. There’s nothing in there that I can cook without a detailed recipe and a lot of time. The cupboards are empty. The sink is full of dirty dishes and the trash needs to be taken out.
I go into the living room, where Dad’s reading the paper. Strange how things have changed. He used to be gone by seven, but now he sleeps in and doesn’t have online meetings until one or so, because one of his coworkers is homeschooling her kids in the morning.
“Dad, we’re—”
He looks at his watch and says, “Oh, it’s 9:30. Somebody’s coming at ten to see how Mona’s doing.”
Before I can ask him if he has any pretzels or chocolate in his home office, he runs into the kitchen, comes back with the broom, and tries to sweep the carpet clean.
“You need to use the vacuum.”
He shakes his head and says, “I don’t want to wake up Mona. She’s hardly getting any sleep.”
I shrug. Maybe he’ll manage to get some of the crumbs swept up.
I go back into my room, my stomach churning emptily, and open my English book. What am I supposed to have read? My mind comes up blank. I look at my notes, but they’re mostly indecipherable, sleep-deprived scribbles. I search for the syllabus, but it’s too general to be useful.
Dang it, what are we reading?
I listen to Dad rushing around. He only has half an hour, and I think it would take at least five hours to get our house even sort of clean. I feel bad that I haven’t helped out lately, but I’ve been trying to concentrate on college, and doing a mighty poor job of that, too.
At ten, my English class starts.
“Today, we’re discussing Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night. This is one of my favorite poems.”
I flip franticaly through the huge anthology, but can’t find it.
Where the heck is it?
I shrug and just listen. It makes no sense. “Blinding sight?” It’s all too abstract for me, and I tune out and watch the clock. Fifteen minutes pass, and then thirty. Didn’t Dad say someboy was coming at ten? Oh well, I’m too tired for this. I put my laptop on my nightstand and lie on my bed. I close my eyes.
“. . . essay topic.” My eyes fly open.
The doorbell rings.
Mona starts to cry.
“I’ll get it!” Dad yells over the noise.
“What?” Mom says. She sounds as confused as she did last night.
What essay topic? I look at my computer and nudge the volume up, but Mona’s wailing tops the crappy little speaker. I’ll have to e-mail somebody and find out what the assignment is. It’s probably about that poem.
“The nurse is here,” Dad says.
“Oh, right.” Slowly, Mona’s cries move from the bedroom into the living room. I think I hear the door open. “Hello,” Mom says, “are you Victoria?”
“Yes,” a woman’s voice says. “Is that Mona? How long has she been crying?”
“I don’t know. Please, do come in.”
“I’ll have a quick look around while you feed her. You can’t leave a baby crying for hours.”
“It was only when the doorbell rang,” Dad says.
“Be that as it may, it can’t go on.” I hear Mom taking Mona back into the bedroom.
I get off my bed and look for my noise-canceling headphones.
I open my closet, and hear Victoria say, “You can’t leave dirty dishes out, they’re a health hazard. You’ve taken out the trash, but you need to disinfect the container you keep in the kitchen. You wouldn’t want Mona to get sick, would you?”
“No, of course not,” Dad says, with an edge to his voice. He doesn’t take criticism well, especially when it’s about things he’s trying his best to do well.
I see my headphones and take them to my laptop. There’s just one problem: the headphones are wired and the laptop doesn’t have a headphone jack. Crap. I’ll have to spend money I really don’t have to buy some Bluetooth ones, but given how bad the computer is, I doubt the signal will be good enough. At least Mona has stopped crying, but the class is over, and I haven’t learned a thing, except that I don’t think I like Victoria.
“How often has your wife been feeding her?”
“Whenever she cries.”
“She needs to stick to a rigid schedule, otherwise she’ll grow up a spoiled brat.”
Their voices are getting closer, and suddenly, I realize that Victoria really meant what she said, that she was going to go through our house, including coming into my room. I throw the headphones down on the bed and go and open my door.
Victoria is standing right in front of me. She’s fairly tall, and she’s dressed from head to toe in protective clothing, so I can’t guess her age. She’s wearing boots, some kind of rubber suit that covers her legs, torso and arms, rubber gloves, and her face is covered by a rubber helmet. Everything is black, except for her face, which has a bright-red mouth painted on it, and yellow smiley faces where her eyes should be. It’s creepy, and I hope it won’t scare Mona.
She must be able to see me staring at her, and she says, “You can’t be too careful during this pandemic. I wear this not only for my own protection, but for the safety of the vulnerable people whom I serve.” She makes a self-satisfied sound and says, “What’s your name?”
“I was not made aware that there was another adult living here.”
“He’s our son,” Dad says from behind Victoria.
“Oh, I was led to believe that your wife was a new mother.”
“She’s never had a baby before. We adopted Billy when he was a little boy.”
“All right, come into the living room with me and we’ll add this information to the case, but in future, you must inform me of anything such as this.”
I hope she doesn’t want me in the living room too, but Dad smiles distractedly at me and he and Victoria go down the hall. I close my door, relieved that she’s out of my sight. Too bad my room isn’t sound-proof.
I check my class schedule, hoping I don’t have anything else today, but I do. It’s calculus again. There’s a note pinned to the online calendar saying that Professor Jansen needed to reschedule the class. Great, more calculus, and why didn’t he even mention this at the end of class earlier? Well, maybe he did and I didn’t notice. I look and definitely don’t have anything else after that. Good. Maybe I’ll go out and buy some food. Heck, maybe I’ll spend a couple hours researching how to cook some of the stuff I saw in the freezer.
The house has fallen quiet, and I turn the volume down so the noise won’t bother anybody. I wonder how long Victoria will stay? I sure hope I won’t have to see her again.
At 11:29, I log in and the class starts. I try to pay attention, but I’m too tired and hungry, and now also wondering how Mona is doing. I really should look at her. I’ll wait for Victoria to leave, and then I’ll ask Dad to go ask Mom if she can bring Mona into the hall so I can see her. She’s my sister, after all.
At 11:39, Professor Jansen’s face disappears from my screen, and the lights on my computer die. I keep it plugged in, and the light on the charger is still lit, so that can’t be it. I press the Power button, but nothing gives. I’ll have to ask Dad if I can borrow his computer, but no, he needs it for work. Maybe I can use Mom’s. I go to my door, and then remember that Victoria is still here, and I’ll have to wait until she’s gone before I can ask Mom or Dad anything. I sit down and think.
Maybe I can call the bank, make sure I have enough money, and then order a new computer over the phone. That way, I won’t have to borrow Mom’s for long.
While I’m placing an order for a computer that definitely does have a headphone jack, I hear Dad saying goodbye to Victoria, and then the front door closes. Somehow, without her here, the house feels a lot lighter.
“Your order has been placed,” the salesman says.
“Thanks. When will it be delivered?”
“You should get it in about a month.”
“A month? I need it for college now.”
The line clicks. He’s hung up on me! I call back to speak to somebody in customer service.
After waiting on hold forever, a woman answers. I ask her if there’s any chance they can expedite my order or something.
“What’s the order number?”
“Uh, he didn’t give me one.”
“I need it in order to find the order.”
“Can’t you find it with my name?”
“I’m afraid not. Every customer is given an order number.”
“Can I speak to your supervisor, please?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” she says, and I hear another click. I’ll have to ask Mom if I can use hers.
I go into the living room, but Dad isn’t there. I look at the clock. It’s 1:30. He must be on a Zoom call. Should I risk knocking on Mom’s door? I go into the hall and approach the bedroom door. It’s closed. What if Mona’s sleeping? Mom’d kill me if I woke her up.
I hear the toilet flush, and water running. A few seconds later, Mom comes out of the bathroom.
“Hi, Mom. How’s Mona?”
Mom looks tird but smiles at me and says, “Sleeping.”
“That’s good. Can I borrow your laptop, please? Mine’s broken and I have to wait a month for a new one.”
“I’m sorry. I need it to do research about Mona.”
“Yes. I know nothing about babies.”
Mona starts to cry, and Mom moves faster than I’ve ever seen her move. Victoria must have really put the fear of God into poor Mom.
I go back to my room, feeling like I might cry too. I have no computer and don’t even know what my assignments are. I consider my bank balance, subtract the amount spent on the computer, pick up the phone, and call Apple.
A woman named Regina answers.
“Hi, I’m Billy. I need a laptop for college, please.”
“Certinaly, what will you be using the computer for?”
“Um, college.”
“What are you studying?”
“Lots of stuff. This is my first year.”
“Our MacBook Air is light and portable, and can handle basic computing tasks. Since you’re a student, you get a discount. Does that sound good?”
“Yeah. When will it be delivered?”
“In two weeks.”
“I need it now, please, is there anything you can do?”
I hear her clicking keys, and then she says, “The only laptop available for shipping right now is the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It’s a great machine, but even with the discount, it’s quite expensive. It’s a high-end model.” She tells me the price, I count to ten, and order one. I make sure that I ask for an order number.
When I get off the phone, it’s after two and I’m starving. My cell phone doesn’t have a good data plan, so I can’t use Google to research dinner out of the freezer, but maybe there’ll be instructions on the packages, and I think Mom has some old cookbooks somewhere.
I go into the kitchen and open the freezer. I want meat, vegetables, and starch. I see a package of frozen peas. The instructions aren’t as comlicated as I thought they’d be. Same for a package of frozen fries and some seasoned chicken. If this is so easy, why don’t I know how to cook like Mom does? I’ve eaten this kind of stuff since I can remember.
I’m loading up my plate when Dad staggers into the kitchen. He looks like he’s just woken up after a night of drunken partying. (He doesn’t do that, but I’ve seen how it looks in movies.) He sits down at the table and puts his head in his hands.
“Are you hungry?”
He looks at my plate and shakes his head. In the awkward silence with him sitting there, it’s hard to eat, but I have to, and I don’t want to waste this food. Why can’t he go sit in the living room? He obviously doesn’t want to talk, and he’s not getting a coffee or even a glass of water, so why does he have to sit here and make me feel like I’m doing something wrong?
Then it gets worse.
Great big tears start to roll down Dad’s cheeks and fall onto the table. I should probably say something to him, but what? He looks so totally miserable, and I want to comfort him, but how? It probably has something to do with Mona, and I know less about babies than he does. I guess all I can do is try to be there for him.
“Hey Dad, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here.” He doesn’t answer, but nods and gestures at my plate. I pick up my fork again and continue to eat. I don’t want to appear to be in a hurry to get the heck out of there, which I am, so I try not to rush. Dad’s still sitting there, and still sort of crying, although the rain has slowed to a drizzle. I offer him a glass of water, which he accepts, and then I go back to my room.
I’ve never seen Dad cry before. I want to stop thinking about how his face looked and how his tears fell onto the table. I need a distraction, but there’s nobody to talk to, and I don’t have anything to say. Besides, my best friend, Jason, is in Europe right now, taking a year off before he goes to college. That’s something else I don’t want to think about, and until I get my new computer, I can’t do much about it anyhow. I can’t listen to music because of Mona, so what’s left for me to do? I’m tired, but if I lie down, I’ll sleep until whatever time Mona cries tonight, and then what? I’ll be up, still with nothing to do.
I sigh and look around my room. I see my broken laptop and decide that I’d rather not look at it anymore. It’s too big to fit in the top drawer of my desk, which is designed for paperclips, pencils, and a stapler, so I open the big bottom drawer.
Why is it so full?
I sigh again. I’m going to have to clean my room, or at least this drawer.
I look at the big box that’s taking up most of the space. It’s the set of watercolors Mom and Dad bought for me when I graduated from high school. Underneath it, there’s a package of premium quality watercolor paper. I was so focused on applying to a good college, I didn’t even think about painting, and haven’t since. Besides, drawing’s only a hobby, and college will land me a real job. I put the art supplies on the desk and the laptop in the drawer, and then I open the box of watercolors. These ones come in tubes, and I’ll need to mix the paste with water before I can do anything else. My chest buzzes with excitement as I look at the array of colors the set includes. It’s not quite top-grade stuff, but very close, and it’ll keep me occupied so I don’t have to think about lockdown, Mona, or Dad crying big, silent tears.
I paint all evening and don’t stop until almost midnight. I clean up my desk and fall into bed.
At five, Mona’s crying wakes me up, but I turn over and fall back to sleep.
At nine, I get up and go into the kitchen. The fridge is still empty, so I open the freezer and cook myself a meal similar to the one I had yesterday, except I have fish sticks instead of chicken.
Just as I’m finishing, Dad comes into the kitchen. He looks ten years older than he should, but his eyes are dry. It doesn’t look like he’s having a good morning, so I don’t insult him by saying it.
Instead, I say, “Hi Dad. Would you like me to make you something for breakfast?” He shakes his head.
“Victoria’s coming at one.”
I want to ask him what’s bothering him, but at the same time, I really don’t want to know, so I just nod and he walks out of the kitchen.
I spend the morning cleaning the kitchen and rest of the house as much as I can.
At 12:45, I’m in my room, setting up for an afternoon of painting.
I look up from my landscape and see that it’s 2:30. Strange that I haven’t heard the doorbell. I must have been on another planet. This is definitely the distraction I need.
At 3:15, the bell rings. Mona starts to cry, and I hear Dad saying that he’ll get it.
“Is that Mona I hear?” Victoria says.
“Yes,” Dad says. “She started to cry when she heard the bell.”
“What’s that smell?”
“Your house smells. What is it?”
“Um, I don’t know. I don’t smell anything bad.”
How can she smell anything what that mask on? Or maybe she’s taken it off.
“Well, whatever it is could make Mona sick. Let’s walk around and figure it out.”
Not again. Please, don’t let her come in here.
I listen to them going into the kitchen.
“Ah, there’s the culprit.”
“What?” Dad says.
“This cleaning fluid you’re using. I didn’t smell it yesterday, so you must have done this after I left. The vapors could trigger anaphylaxis in Mona.”
“What does that mean?”
“You must throw this out immediately and never buy it again. What rooms did you clean using this?”
“I didn’t clean anything after you left.” Dad sounds really stressed. “Billy was cleaning this morning, but I think just the kitchen and the bathroom.”
“Where’s your bleach?”
“I guess we’re out.”
“Yes, that appears to be the case. Go and buy some and wash everything down with it. That will neutralize this repugnant stuff. Tell Billy not to clean things. Your wife should be doing that.”
Why won’t she say “Karen,” Mom’s first name?
“We’re doing the best we can,” Dad says, his voice cracking like a thirteen-year-old’s.
Keep it together, Dad. Don’t let her see you sweat.
“Well, you’ll just have to do better. Now, I need to go and examine Mona.”
I can’t paint while she’s here. Her very presence will poison my creativity, and I don’t want whoever might see my work to feel how bad she is. She’d make it smell worse than any kind of cleaner.
At 5:52, she finally leaves. I hear her say she’ll be back the next day at one to check on Mona. I hope she’ll be on time and only stay for five minutes.
Dad doesn’t want to eat, and Mom doesn’t come out of their room, so I eat alone, which suits me just fine. My nerves are frayed from listening to Victoria criticizing my family, and then to the heavy, unnatural silence that hangs in the air while she’s doing whatever she does in the other bedroom. When Dad’s in there, I can hear him and Mom talking, but when she’s there, I don’t hear a thing. I get the feeling Dad doesn’t go in with them, but I don’t know for sure.
I spend the evening and all night painting. I can’t seem to stop, and knowing that I’ll have to when Victoria comes drives me to paint for as long as I can.
At nine, I’m too tired to keep my eyes open, and I make myself stop. I drink some water and go to bed.
The sound of the bell wakes me up, and I leap out of bed. It’s 11:22 a.m.
Wow, she’s early.
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.

Dear student,
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.
Dr. Jansen

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.
I don’t want to start painting and forget about the laundry, so I surf the Internet instead. I read a few blog posts about politics, COVID-19 and lockdown, but that just makes me sad, so I click on a photography blog. As I look at mountains in the distance, crows sitting in trees, and houses surrounding a lake, I wonder how much it would cost me to start a website so I can show the world my watercolors, and maybe make a few people a little happier.
It probably costs a fortune, I think, as I look enviously at the cool page design the photographer’s got. Well, better go check on the laundry.
It’s ready for the dryer, and I put it in, start it tumbling around in there, and go back to my room.
I wake up the computer and accidentally bump something, and the bottom of the page appears.
Powered by WordPress.com
I click on it. Soon, I’m signing up for a free website. It probably won’t look even close to as good as the photographer’s, but at least I’ll be able to do something with this computer. I learn that I need to make an address for my site. I don’t know what I want to use, so I go and check on the towels. They’re not dry yet, but I decide to wait and think about my URL.
I hear Dad come home. I hope he’s bought milk. I’m dying for a glass.
By the time the towels have been folded, I’ve thought of the perfect web address and I take the basket upstairs.
I find Dad in the kitchen, on his hands and knees, scrubbing the floor with bleach.
“Hi Dad,” I say. “I’ll just put these away and then I can help you. Have you had anything to eat?” He shakes his head. “What’d you pick up at the store?”
“Um, what about food?” He shurgs. “Oh well, there’s still stuff in the freezer. Did you want me to help you and then make us something?”
He usually says “please,” but I figure he’s tired, so I nod and go and put away the towels. Once that’s done, I help him and then cook dinner.
He looks at it and says, “Why did you cook all that?”
“I thought Mom might want some.”
“Can you bring it to her, please?” He nods. He eats slowly, so I finish first and go back into my room.
I touch the trackpad and see the screen asking me to pick a URL. After a moment of panic, I remember what I’ve come up, and enter it. A few seconds later, I’m informed that my website has been created.
I cannot believe my luck when I click to view my new site; it looks exactly like the photographer’s. I write my first post and upload my painting. I click on Publish. Not even the smell of bleach can reach me now.
The next morning, I go into the kitchen to make breakfast, and see the plate of food for Mom still on the table. With a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, I throw it out, put the plate in the sink to wash later, and take out a package of frozen waffles and some frozen strawberries.
Just as I’m drying the dishes, Dad comes into the kitchen. He’s pale and his hands are shaking a little.
“Hi Dad. Would you like something to eat?”
“No. Victoria’s coming at ten.”
“Oh, okay.”
It’s not, but I can’t say that.
“There’s more. I lost my job.” He doesn’t seem to want to look at me directly. “You can stay until Mona needs her own room.”
“Look, I’m going to have to do whatever I can to keep Mona fed and keep the house. You can stay until she needs your room.”
“What happened with your job?”
“I lost it.”
“I mean, why?”
“Because I don’t have a marketing degree.”
“But you work so hard.”
“Doesn’t matter. You understand what I said, right? You can stay until Mona needs her own room.”
“I understand.”
I don’t, but what can I say? Where will I go? What will I do? At least he’s giving me time to figure it all out. Then the question hits me.
“When will Mona need her own room?”
“I’ll find out.”
To distract myself from having to leave the place that’s been my home for sixteen happy years, I go to my room and open my laptop. I have some e-mails. One is from the English professor explaing all about the essay he wants. The next one is from the contact form on my website.

Dear Billy,
My name is Rachel, and I absolutely love love your artwork. I’m writing a children’s book and was wondering if you could draw the illustrations. If you’re interested, I’ve attached a copy of the manuscript and a few details of what I’d like to commission. If you could get back to me with a quote, I’d really appreciate it. I’m sure you’re extremely busy, but I’m hoping to self-publish my book within the next year.
Yours truly,
Rachel Briggs

She wants a quote?
The doorbell rings. I close the laptop.
“What’s that smell?” Victoria says, as soon as Dad opens the door.
“Bleach. I washed the kitchen and bathroom with it.”
“No, that other smell.”
“I don’t smell anything.”
“Let’s go through the house and find out what it is. It’s quite disruptive, and it could potentially interfere with Mona’s immune system, which is not a good thing when you consider that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.” I hear them going into the kitchen. “What did you have for breakfast?”
“I’m not sure. Billy cooked something from the freezer.”
“Let’s have a look.” I hear her opening the freezer. “Well, that explains it. All of this needs to be discarded immediately.”
“Why? It’s frozen. It smells fine when he cooks it.”
“See these ice crystals? They’re a sign that the freezer hasn’t been properly maintained. Frankly, I’m surprised that you aren’t all sick, especially considering the fact that he wouldn’t know the correct procedures to make sure that the food is safe to consume. I’ll go in to see Mona. All this needs to be taken outside right now. You need a new freezer since this has been going on for so long.”
“All of it?”
“Yes, every single item, and unplug the unit as well. Really, the best thing would be to take the whole thing outside right now.”
“I’m not sure if I’m strong enough.”
“Well, that boy living with you is good for something, I suppose.”
“Hey, now, he’s—”
“I’m aware that he’s adopted. I have a patient to see, if you don’t mind.”
Why doesn’t he just tell her to leave?
An hour later, I hear her telling Dad that she’s finished.
“I have a question,” he says.
“Yes, what is it?” She sounds impatient, like she’s humoring a child.
“When will Mona require her own room?”
“As soon as possible.”
I’ll have to try and find some place else to go.
As soon as she’s gone, Dad knocks on my door and asks me to help him move the freezer outside. I can refuse, but he’s already thrown out all the food, so I say nothing and help him put it out.
I’m hungry again, but when I ask Dad if he or I should go to the store, he says he went yesterday so we should be fine for at least a week. I hesitate to point out that he only bought bleach, and in the pause, he walks away. Poor Dad. I’m going to have to look into ordering online, except it’ll be so expensive, and I really don’t have much money.
I go to my room and open the laptop. I see Rachel’s e-mail. A quote? Is it real or some kind of prank? That must be it. But why would she do that? I click on the file she’s attached. It’s a pretty good book, but I see some typos. Should I mention them? The story would be a lot more exciting if there were illustrations. I open the other file she’s sent. I read the details of what she’s looking for. How much will I ask for? I know I can paint what she’s after, and it’d be a great distraction. Should I tell her she’s my first customer?
I spend an hour on Google, researching what other illustrators charge, and then I open a reply to her e-mail.

Dear Rachel,
I really liked reading your book and the ideas you have for the pictures. I have to be honest with you. You’re my first customer and I looked up what other people charge and decided to ask for 3/4 of the average rate.
I don’t want to be rude or step on your toes but I found a couple of typing errors in your book. Would you like me to highlight them?

I name the amount I’d like, sign my name, and send the e-mail.
By the end of the day, I’m starving, but I’ve opened a PayPal account and am hard at work on the pictures. (She tells me she’s still working on the book and she’ll fix the typos.)
The next morning, I check my e-mail. Rachel has sent a payment. It’s half of what I’ve asked for. She’s also included a note.

Thanks again for agreeing to illustrate my book. Here’s the first half of the payment. I know I’ve already said this, but your work is just stunning. I’m telling everyone in my network so I hope you get lots of customers.

I send her an e-mail thanking her for the kind words and the money, and then I remember there’s no food in the house, and I haven’t eaten since yesterday’s breakfast.
I go into the living room and see Dad sitting on the couch, looking exhausted.
“Hi Dad. I’m going to the store. Do you or Mom need anything?”
He shakes his head.
“Is Victoria coming today?”
He nods.
“What time?”
He shrugs.
Has he lost the ability to speak?
“Bye Dad.” He doesn’t answer, so I go into the kitchen and out the back. I don’t use the front for two reasons: the store is just a little closer to the back of our house, but mostly it’s because I don’t want to see Victoria if she’s lurking in the bushes in our front yard.
I walk down the sidewalk and open the gate — or try to. It’s stuck. I give it a good yank, but it won’t budge. Stupid gate. Dad got the back yard fenced when I was six. He and Mom talked about getting a dog, but over the thirteen years since, the gate’s gotten rusty and we never got the dog. This was because Mom and Dad could never agree on a breed.
I go around to the front. Victoria isn’t there. I turn left and walk down our street. It’s just after eight, and it’s quiet. I count the houses as I pass them by. Six, seven, eight, nine. At ten, there’s a guy sitting on the porch smoking. At fourteen, there’s a man outside, but he’s not puffing on anything. He sees me and waves like he wants to talk. I have no idea who he is. He’s short, about forty, with wild brown hair and he’s wearing blue jeans and a red shirt. I stop at the end of his sidewalk.
“Hi,” I say. “What’s up?”
I don’t normally talk to random people, but I’ve been so starved for social contact, what with the pandemic, Dad walking around like a silent ghost, and Mom never coming out of their bedroom.
“My bitch just had a litter. Want one?”
“Puh-pardon me?”
He laughs, and I start to back away.
“Man, you young guys. My dog had puppies.”
“Oh, er, are you offering me a puppy?”
“I was just thinking about dogs.”
“Is that a yes?”
“It’s a maybe. I have to go to the store first.”
He smiles at me and says, “Don’t forget the dog food.”
I smile uncertainly back and continue my walk to the end of our street, without bothering to count the houses.
Outside the grocery store, I wait in line behind an old man who keeps turning around to check that I’m not crossing the line into his safe space.
The door opens and a woman comes out, lugging a few bags. The old man smirks at me and goes in, passing too close to the woman. She gives him a dirty look, which he appears to ignore, and I smile at her and step to the side so she can pass me at a safe distance. This store needs to rethink their entry and exit points. The intake is too close to the outflow.
Five minutes later, a gray-haired lady comes out, and I can go in.
Inside, the place smells great. I walk to the bakery section and see a sign for cinnamon buns. Unfortunately, I don’t actually see any cinnamon buns.
There’s a woman behind the counter, and I approach her, although not too closely.
“Hi. Got any cinnamon buns left in the back?”
“They’ll be out of the oven in five.”
“How many?”
“A lot.”
“Can I have a dozen please?”
“Yes. Come back in a few minutes and I’ll have them packed for you. Do you like them with cream cheese or without?”
Mom and Dad love that cream cheese stuff.
“Make that a dozen without and two dozen with.”
“Will do.”
I push my cart down the aisles, trying to think what we might need. I can’t buy milk because we don’t have a fridge, and I can’t buy meat for the same reason. I love them, but I can’t live on Oreos and oatmeal raisin cookies.
I walk down an aisle and see dog food. What would Dad say if I brought home a puppy? I look at the food and see a big bag that says “for puppies.” What kind of dog is it, anyway? I put a bag into the cart.
The next aisle over is full of baby stuff. I have no idea if Mona can use any of it. I look at tiny little jars of baby food, and big cans of formula, and I wonder if I should buy anything.
Some of the formula is really expensive. I’d better not buy anything for Mona and risk Victoria’s disapproval.
I hear a noise and look to my left. A woman’s trying to fix one of the wheels of her cart. Through the cart’s wire lattice, I see a large bin. Above it, a sign says: FOOD BANK.
I put a few cans of the expensive formula into my cart.
I go back to the bakery and pick up my cinnamon buns. I want to eat them now, but I suppose I should pay for them first.
I trundle up and down more aisles, and finally see something promising: evaporated milk. I load up a few cans and find some peanut butter, jam, and then go back to the bakery for bread. I find canned meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. I also get cans of beans and tomatos, and a few cartons of juice. I grab a few more things that don’t require a fridge, and then I go to the checkout.
“Congratulations,” the cashier says.
I look up at her and say, “Pardon?”
“I love babies. Can you show me a picture?”
“Um, er, I didn’t bring one.”
“Maybe next time. Do you have a boy or a girl?”
“Oh, isn’t this for your baby?”
“No, it’s for the food bank.”
“Oh, but you do have a baby?”
“Yes, but she’s my sister.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Please bring a picture to show me some time.”
“I will.”
She packs my purchases into about a millioon bags, which, I realize suddenlly, I’ll have to carry home.
Once I’ve put the formula into the food bank bin, my purchases are much more manageable.
I find myself not wanting to go home, thinking I should stay away until Victoria has come and gone. But no, I should go home and give Mom and Dad the cinnamon buns. But what if Victoria’s there? She might say that the smell of cinnamon would bother Mona and make me throw them all out. I realize I’ve never seen Victoria’s car, so I won’t know for sure if she’s there when I come home.
Slowly, I walk down our street.
In one yard, I see a woman putting up a sign. It’s probably something political, but as she struggles with it, I see that it’s a for sale sign. I look closely at the house. It’s huge and looks kind of old.
“Hi,” I say. “Is this your house or are you a real estate agent?”
She looks at me. She’s about thirty-five, with wavy blonde hair, gray-blue eyes, and she’s wearing jeans and a blousse that matches her eyes.
“I own it. I’m Mandy. What’s your name?”
“Billy. How much is the house?”
She tells me.
I sigh.
“I wish I could afford it. If it’s a pain, please say no, but could I see it?”
“Sure.” She leaves the sign lying in the grass and takes out a key. We climb up onto the porch and she unlocks it. Inside, the house smells like floor polish and various kinds of cleaners, but thankfully, no bleach. The living room is both huge and empty. The kitchen’s big, but has all the appliances except a microwave.
“Is it okay if I leave my bags in here?”
“Sure. Do I smell cinnamon buns?”
“Yep. Want one?”
“Only if there’s none of that cream cheese crap.”
“There won’t be any on yours or mine.”
“Great. I’ll put on a pot of coffee.”
A few minutes later, we’re standing there eating cinnamon buns and drinking coffee.
“There are four bedrooms,” she says. “Three upstairs and one here on the main floor. There’s also a small room that could hold a computer and printer. There are two full bathrooms, but one of the tubs need to be replaced. The upstairs bathroo sink leaks, so that needs to be fixed, too. There were mice in the attic, but they’ve been dealt with harshly. The furnace also probably needs to be replaced.” She puts down her cup and takes a bite of cinnamon bun. “These are the best. Thanks. Want to go and look around?”
“Sure, but I can’t afford . . . can I rent this place?”
“I don’t see why not. How much would you be willing to pay per month?”
“Some percentage of the asking price.”
“Would you rent to own?”
“Own? How does that work?”
“You pay and pay until it’s yours. If you stop paying before you own, then you’re left with no house and you don’t get anything back.”
“Interesting. How much per month?”
“Let me think about that. Come and see more of the house while I do.”
We leave our breakfast in the kitchen and she walks me through the whole house.
“I love this place. Would I be allowed to have a dog here?”
“Yes, and the yard’s fenced in. Mom loves her doggies.”
“Oh, was this your mom’s house?”
“Yep. She moved in with me and I don’t want to own an empty house.”
“Makes sense. Do all the appliances work?”
“The dryer doesn’t work well, the washing machine works, and the stove has one burner that doesn’t work, but everything else is fine. Mom didn’t have a microwave, so that’s why there isn’t one.”
“When can I move in?”
“I’ve decided on what to charge, so you can move in now, if you’re ready to pay. What’s your dog’s name?”
“I don’t have the dog yet. How much?”
She tells me.
I do some quick mental math and say, “Sounds good.” I hope I’ll make enough money illustrating books to be able to continue to pay her until I own the place.
We walk down the stairs and back into the kitchen.
“I think we should find a witness and sign an agreement now if you’d like. I know Dr. Booth is at home. Do you know her?”
“She’s some kind of surgeon, right?”
An hour or so later, I have an agreement to rent the house. Not only does Dr. Booth witness it, but her husband happens to be home and also just happens to be a lawyer!
I hold the keys in my hand, slightly bewildered about what I’ve just done. Mona can sleep in my old room tonight. In a day, I’ve grown and gone.
I look through the house and find that although there are no beds, there’s an old armchair that I can sleep in until I bring my bed.
I go back to the store and buy milk, meat, and some paper plates and cups. I also buy water and food bowls for the dog, a leash, and a few cleaning products.
I carry it all to my house and then go back to see the man who offered me the puppy.
He’s sitting on his porch, drinking from a big blue mug.
“Hi,” I say. He looks up at me.
“Oh, hi.”
“I got the dog food.”
“What? Hey, that was just a bad joke.”
“Oh, so you don’t have any puppies?” He smiles at me.
“I’ve got puppies, but they’re too young to leave their mom. If you give me your number, I promise I’ll call you when they’re ready. Hell, you can even pick one now, if you want.”
“Thanks, that’d be cool.”
“I’ll bring them out here and you can see them. Sorry, I can’t let you touch them, in case you’ve got that virus.”
Five minutes later, he brings a dog carrier onto the porch. I can’t see them all that well, but it’s full of squirmy puppies.
“Do you see one you like?”
“I like them all. Can I pick one some other time?”
“Sure. By the way, I’m Travis.”
I tell him my name and give him my number.
It’s definitely time to go home and start packing, Victoria or not.
There’s a black car parked in frnt of our house. Looking at it gives me an edgy feeling, and I’m positive it’s Victoria’s. She’ll either just have gotten there, or will just be on her way out. I’ll walk around the side of the house and go in the back, but she’ll probably hear me and come sniffing to make sure I haven’t brought home anything dangerous to Mona. I know I haven’t, but I’m sure she’ll say that I have.
The back yard faces south, and as I walk around the corner, I notice that my parents’ bedroom window is darker than it should be.
I look more closely and see that their window is covered with something black. Then I see some yellow. I stare at it. The yellow smiley faces where Victoria’s eyes should be. My heart leaps. She’s staring out at me. Nothing moves. The rubber mask is too flat. There are no contours behind it. She’s using it to cover the window. It’s time for me to go inside. I inch to my right.
I hear a faint sound, and as I move, it gets louder. Is it Mona? I go even closer. I stand eye to eye with Victoria’s mask. There’s a tiny gap between the edge of the mask and the window frame.
“You know you want to.” It takes me a second to realize that it’s Victoria who’s speaking. She sounds like someone in a porn movie. Don’t ask how I know.
I hear Mom’s voice, but it’s too soft for me to make out the words. She sounds sick.
“You’ll feel so much better afterwards,” Victoria says. Her tone is probably meant to be reassuring, but there’s a false undercurrent. “After the first sip, you’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to Heaven.”
“I don’t want to feel like I’m dying,” Mom says.
“Let me try to put it another way. You’ll feel like . . . like the rest of the world is unimportant.”
A sip of what? Wine? Some kind of medicine? Some kind of drug?
Mom whispers something.
“Awww.” Victoria’s voice is gluey sweet, like a thousand pounds of caramel eaten all at once. “I was just a teeny bit scared too, but everything will be ay okay.”
Mom says something.
“Remember Mona,” Victoria says. There’s an edge to her voice, as if she’s desperate for Mom to do whatever she’s asking her to do. “Come here, Karen. Come into my arms.”
My heart is racing and I feel sick, but my brain is telling me to leap through the window, grab Victoria, and throw her out of the house by the nearest exit, because if I don’t, she’s going to rape Mom. If Mom doesn’t do what she says, she’ll hurt Mona, and I can’t allow either of those things to happen.
“We have a problem,” Victoria says. Her voice is now guttural, and I really wish this wasn’t happening.
I take a couple of steps toward the back door. I hear a cough and something flies past my head and hits the neighbors’ house.
What was that?
I take a few steps to my left and put my elbow through the window. I grab the ledge and pull myself up. I jump down and land on the floor.
Victoria’s holding her mask in front of her face with one hand, and a long knife in the other.
Why the mask? She can’t hurt me with it. Must be some reason she wants it.
I tear the mask out of her hand and toss it out of the broken window.
Victoria turns around and runs for the bedroom door. It’s covered in black rubber, and I’ve got to stop her. She gets there first, but her suit seems to be stuck. She hisses like an angry cat and I trip her. She still has the knife but can cut only my shoe before I get between her and her suit.
I look at her. She’s completely naked.
She lets go of the knife, and I don’t think she wants to fight anymore.
“Billy?” It’s Mom.
I don’t know what to say to her. I keep looking at Victoria, sitting there on the floor, with sunlight streaming through the broken window. Her hair is brown, and so are her eyes. Her lips are very red but the rest of her skin is quite pale. At her throat, there are two red wounds.
“Give me my cover,” she says.
Her voice is quiet but commanding.
“Billy,” Mom says.
I press my back against the door and stand firm. I don’t speak.
Victoria starts to look like she’s drying out. Locks of hair fall to the floor, as if the rays of sun touching them were some kind of cosmic chemotherapy treatment. Her ears dry up and come off like mutant prunes. I wonder if she can still hear, but I don’t want to say anything. Before she became what she is, she was one of God’s babies.
Her eyes bore into mine like hard, aged raisins, but I don’t look away.
It doen’t take long for her arms and legs to dry up and fall to pieces.
I hear cracking sounds and watch her ribs breaking apart.
Her heart, or what I think was once that, is gray.
I look up at her face, and her eyes are still burning with awareness and probably pain. I almost wish I’d let her have her suit.
Finally, when there’s just some of her head left, her eyes go out. She’s free.
“Rest in peace,” I say.
“Billy,” Mom says.
“Did she do anything to Mona?”
“No, just . . . just to me.”
“What did she do to you?” But as soon as I’ve asked the question, I know. In my mind, I see a spot of red on a shirt collar. “You don’t have to answer that. Dad and me will take you and Mona to the hospital.”
It takes me a few minutes, but I finally pry the suit off the door. Victoria must have used some kind of sealent to secure it around the edges. Thank goodness she did a bad job at the window, or I probably never would have heard her talking to Mom.
Dad wants to call an ambulance, but I don’t want people coming into our house and asking questions about the mess in their room. He finally agrees to take Mona to the car while I help Mom. Dad tries to sit in the driver’s seat, but he looks half asleep, and the last thing we need is an accident.
“I’ll drive,” I say.
“I can drive,” he says.
“I know, but I’d like to do it.” He shrugs.
“It’s too late anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“I haven’t heard Mona cry. She’s dead.”
How can he say that with Mom right there?
I don’t have anything to say, so I put my foot down and the car moves.
The emergency room is almost empty. Dad carries Mona and I practically carry Mom.
Dad walks up to a woman at the desk but doesn’t speak when she asks about the baby.
“Hi,” I say. “Mom and Mona need help. I think Mom’s lost a lot of blood.”
Dad won’t let me come with them.
“No, this is only family. Get a cab somewhere.”
He turns his back on me and leaves me standing there, hurting more than any wound Victoria’s knife could have caused.
I sit down on a plastic chair and cry harder than I’ve ever cried in my life.
A nurse asks if she can help, but I shake my head.
I’ll find out if Mom and Mona will be okay, and then I’ll leave.
A while later, a man in his forties comes up to me.
“I’m Dr. Sampson. Mona’s going to be fine.”
“Thank you. How’s Mom?”
“I’ll ask the doctor caring for her to come and talk to you.”
“Thank you,” I say again.
“You’re welcome. Would you like to hear more about Mona?”
“Sure, if you have time.”
“I do. She’s lost a lot of weight, but with feeding and hydration, she’ll make a full recovery.”
“Thank you.”
A few minutes later, another doctor comes to see me. She’s about thirty-five, and doesn’t smile.
“Your mom needs a blood transfusion, but there’s a problem.”
“What problem?”
“We’re out of O negative blood.”
“Pardon me?”
“We don’t have any blood that matches her blood type.”
“Your father isn’t a match.”
“He isn’t my father.”
“Pardon me?”
“I’m adopted. It’s probably not allowed, but can I be a match for Mom?”
“It’s not likely, but we can check.”
They take a tube of blood and I go back to the waiting room.
The doctor comes to find me. Instead of standing like before, she sits down beside me. She looks professional in her white coat, but I notice that her hands are shaking.
Poor Mom must have died while she was waiting for blood.
Tears start to fall from my eyes and roll down my cheeks.
“Don’t cry. You’re a match. Will you donate blood for your mom? I sure hope so. I saw your labs. Your blood is beautiful.”
“D-donate b-blood? Y-yes.”
I donate as much as they’ll let me and eat the snack provided. The juice is nice and refreshing, and I’m growing bold. I ask if I can see Mona. To heck with Dad.
A nurse shows me into a room.
Mom’s lying in the bed, with a bag of what looks like blood hanging from a pole at her side.
Dad’s sitting in the only chair looking out the window, and there’s a crib on the other side of the bed.
“Who’s that?” Dad asks.
“It’s Billy. I just want to see Mona once, and then I’ll leave.”
Mom opens her eyes and looks at me.
“Why would you leave?” Her voice is a little bit quiet, but nowhere near as faint as before.
“I told him to,” Dad says.
“Because I lost my job, forgot to buy food, and didn’t protect you or Mona.”
“Well then, you’d better apologize to Billy,” Mom says. She points to the bag of blood. “He’s my son. Always.”
“You’re right,” Dad says. “Billy, I’m sorry. Please stay, and then come home with us.”
“There isn’t enough room, but I’m renting a house. If you want, we can all live there. Remember those watercolors you gave me?” I walk over to the crib.
“Watercolors?” Dad says.
“Yes,” Mom says. “I remember.”
I look down at my baby sister.
“I started painting and I posted a scan on the Internet.”
She’s tiny.
“Somebody commissioned illustrations for a book and I’ve already been paid some of the money.”
I reach for Mona’s small, white hand.
“I don’t know when, but Dad, maybe you can go to college and get a marketing degree.”
My fingers touch Mona’s.
“But what about your college?” Dad asks.
“I don’t want to continue. I prefer painting.”
“But you can’t make a living by painting.”
“Mona thinks I can. She’s squeezing my fingers. Wow, she’s strong.”
“I agree with you and Mona,” Mom says. “If painting’s what you love, and you’re being paid to do it, then for Heaven’s sake, paint!”
A nurse walks in.
“It’s time to feed Mona.”
“Should I leave?” I ask.
“You’re her brother, right?”
I nod.
“I’ll show you how to give her a bottle.”
Mom smiles.
Less than a minute later, I’m holding my little sister in my arms.





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