Remote Control by Marlene Olin

     Last week it was pinworms. This week double ear infections. It seemed that Susie's five-year-old twins spent more time home than in kindergarten. While she warmed up their soup in the kitchen, she turned the monitor up high. They were only thirty feet away in the family room, watching their favorite show on TV.

     "Move over, Jakie," said Jessica. She was a near clone of her brother. Both had brown hair, large round hazel eyes, and Buddha-like bellies. Mirror images except for the pigtails festooned in pink.

     Jakie didn't budge. If he sat up there would have been room for two. Lying down, he took up his seat as well as his sister's.

     Jessica went to the toy chest with her name on it and picked out a box of magnetic tiles. She built a little bed for her doll while humming along to the program. Soon she forgot all about her brother and the couch.

     Jake looked at the TV screen and eyed his sister. Suddenly the cartoon was a lot less interesting. He walked over to the carefully constructed house of tiles and knocked it over. Then without a word to Jessica he plopped on the floor and began erecting a house of his own.

     "Hey, what are you doing?" Jessica shouted. "Get your own tiles. These are from my toy chest."

     Again he didn't answer. With a smirk on his face, he pretended to ignore her. Driving his sister crazy was more fun than video games, more fun than computers, more fun than ice cream.

     Jessica sighed. She went over to Jake's toy chest and found another box of magnetic tiles. In a few minutes she was humming again and pretending her baby was asleep. The second story of her tile house was almost finished when suddenly her brother's foot knocked the whole thing over. He kicked her knee and her doll in the process.

     Tears ran down her cheeks as she looked toward the kitchen. Her mother was stirring a spoon in a pot and talking on the phone. Then her brother kicked her again. Still smiling and still looking at the television while he did it.

     Jessica decided to take matters into her own hands. She picked up her Dr. Seuss book and slammed her brother on the back of the head. Little did she know that the corner of
Sam I Am would make impact first. A gusher of blood instantly soaked Jakie's shirt and the rug.

     "Mommy!"

     Jakie squealed with all the energy he could muster. Amplified by the monitor, his screams rattled the kitchen like an earthquake.

     "I'm so sorry, Jakie," his sister whispered over and over again.

***

     The twelve inches of empty space between them yawed like a chasm. Mark lounged under the covers watching Letterman. Laughing. On his lap was his iPad. Holding out his index finger, he stroked it like a lover. "The doctor said he'll be fine, right? It looks a lot worse than it is, right?"

     Susie sat up. Stacked on her nightstand was a pile of parenting books along with an empty glass of Chardonnay. She brushed tears off her cheek with the back of her hand, trying hard to hold it together. "There was so much blood," said Susie, "I kept listening for the violins."

     On Mark's side was an identical nightstand as well as a matching lamp. Even though it was close to midnight, emails and texts arrived every five minutes. The phone beeped like a patient on life support.

     "You always worry," replied Mark. His finger dodged and danced while he spoke. "You live for worrying."

     "The pediatrician thinks Jessica may have anger management issues," said Susie. "He even mentioned therapy."

     Suddenly Mark was paying attention. Keeping his eyes on the television, he raised an eyebrow. "That's ridiculous. Kids fight. They beat each other up." With a free finger, he touched the clicker. David Letterman's voice grew even louder.

     Susie sighed then glanced at her husband. Blue-green. Red-blue. Blue-green. His face was a billboard of pixels. "Did you hear what I said? Our daughter may have issues!" Then she decided to take matters into her own hands. In one swift move, she picked up the clicker and pressed the mute button.

     Mark squinted at the screen. They were doing the Top Ten countdown and he was trying to read the subtitles.

     "Oh for Pete's sake." Susie felt her jaws clench. When she pressed the power button, Mark lit up like a rebooted Mac.

     "What are you doing?" Mark shouted. The TV was blank. His mouth was open. The iPad was clutched to his chest.

     Susie narrowed her eyes. Then her fingers latched onto his chin until their gazes locked. Mark squirmed like he was in a police line-up. It was possible he whimpered.

     "I had to find a plastic surgeon," said Susie. Her breath was boozy. "It was an emergency. I didn't know where to turn. And where were you? You have three phones and a laptop in your briefcase. You twitter, you email, you text. And when I really need you, you're nowhere to be found."

     Mark inched away. He tried to look sideways but Susie kept his chin in a vise.

     "Well mea culpa. Sue me. I forgot to tell the office where I was going for lunch. And the Capital Grille gets noisy."

     Sue dropped her arm and shook her head. "I just hope Jakie doesn't have a big scar," she said to no one in particular. "Ten stitches is a lot."

     Mark figured it was now or never. He leaned across Susie and tried to grab back the clicker. Quicker than a linebacker, she blocked him with her shoulder. It was an impulse really. Little did she know that the corner of his $1000 reading glasses would make impact first. They flew in the air and landed pretzel-like on the bed.

     "Jesus Christ, would you be more careful!' A twist of metal had scratched the bridge of Mark's nose. A few trickles of blood spattered on the white Yves de Lorme sheets.

     "I'm so sorry," Susie whispered. When she hopped out of bed and headed to the bathroom, Mark quickly slid his hand over the remote control.

     "I forgive you," he shouted.

     Ten minutes later, the stain was blotted and rubbed. A tiny band-aid sat across Mark's nose. On the TV screen, Paul Shaffer was leading the band. Susie blinked twice and gazed straight ahead. There was a crack in the wall she had never noticed. It could be a leak, she thought. Or perhaps a shift in the foundation. Some things take a long time to show up.






About
Marlene Olin: Born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan, I recently completed my first novel. My short stories have been published by Emrys Journal, Upstreet Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Biostories, and The Jewish Literary Journal.