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He’s humiliated George and Barbara one too many times. Time to dispose of a family embarrassment?


Illustration by Jeffrey Smith  

Breakfast in the sunroom. Babs on the warpath.

“It’s time,” she says. She glowers at the egg in her porcelain jigger. She is in a mood.

“Time?” I say.

“To put him down,” she says.

She punctures the egg’s fontanel with the serrated tip of a grapefruit spoon.

Beneath the breakfast table, he shivers atop my slippers.

I drink juice. Take cool stock of the situation. Eyeball, through the windows, my world.

The mistake would be to argue: His crimes, after all, are unpardonable. Ancestral linen closets invaded. Rubber gardening clogs persecuted. Heirloom Persians eroded by toxic showers of urine.

Last night at dinner, however, the thin skin of a town councillor was breached. Blood drawn. Our physician neighbor summoned. Babs mortified.

A line crossed.

(It did not help that this physician neighbor, while attending to our hysterical dinner guest, had left his loafers undefended in the mudroom. Or that he and his wife, whose heritage rose garden had recently been uprooted in a search for some imaginary bone, behave toward us in a manner one can only describe as forced.)

On the bay I watch the little descendants, not ours, jibe their sailing dinghies around a mooring ball.

I could offer, in his defense, his relative youth, his as-yet-unfulfilled promise. But this would prove a futile parry. Babs, lacking a certain maternal instinct, at best can muster public pity for small, weak creatures whose smallness and weakness cannot, in any direct way, be traced back to us; that a nearby children’s hospital wing is named for her is a thundering irony our actual children have thrilled at, not least because, after the irony fades, the naming strikes them as entirely apt.

Instead I remark to Babs on the unique gloriousness of the day. After so much rain, I suggest, we should take a picnic somewhere.

Babs ladles yolk into her mouth with fatal concentration. Does not respond.

Beneath the table, his shivering quickens.


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