Tautly Pulled Rope
Samantha and her husband Curtis, stood together facing a dilemma. It wasn't that the cage was empty. If only it had been, the two could have torn apart the house searching until they found Max trembling and hungry inside the laundry basket or another suitably absurd place. As the situation stood, Max was dead, completely still, absolutely lifeless, a situation completely beyond repair. Trevor would be home from school in 45 minutes and the two would be caught, staring into a dead gerbil's cage.
“Let's just get rid of the bloody thing,” Curtis spat out. “We'll tell him we took it to the vet and buy some time.”
“You've got a lot of nerve.”
Samantha was watching the Spiderman clock on Trevor's dresser blink to 2:32 when the dryer buzzed. Thirty-three minutes until he should be home. The couple drifted to the laundry room where wooden-framed family photos were shifting slightly under the pulsing turbulence of the dryer. Samantha meticulously began folding jeans and shorts while Curtis hung dress shirts up on hangers.
“For Pete's sake, just take care of it,” Curtis asserted.
“It's just like you to pin this on me.”
“Well, you do that sometimes.”
Seven minutes later, the two were loitering around in their respective parts of the kitchen. Curtis finally slumped to rest his palms against the counter in front of a bubbling coffee pot and began thumping an empty mug with his thumb. Samantha stood stirring pasta noodles and turned her head towards a mechanical whirring sound drifting in from the living room.
“I think our living room fan is a little off kilter,” Curtis remarked.
“Are you going to take care of it?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I don't know, dear. What would be the right thing to do?”
“We can just get rid of it.”
“Just like you said.”
“I'm sorry, I don't think I heard you right.”
It was 2:45 when Curtis backed into the pot on the stove and spilled Samantha's noodles onto the kitchen tile. The pot emitted a resonated bong that lingered in the air long after it rolled away to the carpeted living room floor and rested in front of the recliner. Samantha hollered and leaped onto the counter top, avoiding injury. The couple stood motionless for four minutes.
“I'm sorry, Curtis.”
“No. You were right, let's go.”
“No. I mean I am sorry.”
“That's all over now. Let's go before Trevor gets home.”
Curtis was hurriedly flapping his wrist to usher his wife over to an acceptable gerbil-clone of Max at the pet store when Samantha's eyes found a goldfish clock on the east wall. 2:57. Trevor should be home in eight minutes. She nodded emphatically in agreement and tapped her toes in her boots anxiously while they checked out with the new pet.
“OK, you open the lid and take out the dead one and I'll drop this one in,” Samantha suggested.
“This one's bigger.”
Samantha shrugged. When she did, the rodent wriggled out of her grasp, dropped onto the floor and scurried to the kitchen. Samantha checked the clock: 3:02. The couple bolted for the kitchen and on hands and knees desperately began searching in the nooks of the water-logged and pasta-strewn kitchen floor.
“You knew the whole time, didn't you? That the rat we got was too big.” Curtis asked.
“Stop blaming me for everything.”
“You actually want Trevor to find out.”
“You, of all people, should know I can keep a secret.”
Curtis stopped and squeezed his knuckles tight until they turned white.
“Look, you just go get rid of the dead one.”
“I don't know if this is going to work, Curtis.”
“You do want Trevor to find out!”
“Did you ever stop to think maybe it'd be good for Trevor to think about death?”
“I don't believe you're actually questioning my consideration of our son.”
“I can't touch it, I really can't.”
“When did you start getting picky?”
Trevor returned home from school twelve minutes late because Alicia Ruscoe from school had beaten him up and stolen the bag of marbles he'd gotten from Santa the year before. Arriving home, he tucked his face and traveled quickly past the kitchen where his father was crouched peering into the nook betwewen the bar and kitchen wall and reaching inside. Trevor didn't look left to his sitting mother, cheeks blood-red and eyes glaring at a dead gerbil clutched tightly in her quivering fingertips in the hallway.
In his bedroom, Trevor searched for a suitable make-shift tissue to swab the blood on his eyebrow and rid himself of any evidence of defeat at school. Finding nothing immediately, he dropped the contents of his pockets onto his dresser: a rolled five-dollar bill and three rescued blue marbles Alicia had accidentally dropped on the sidewalk after school. As Trevor pulled a dirty sock from under his bed, two marbles spread in opposite directions against a smooth wooden surface and got caught between the dresser and the wall.
“They're going to call me for dinner any minute,” Trevor mumbled to himself, pressing the sock to his face. “They're going to know.”
The last marble rolled around a bit before making its way to the dresser's decorative lip where it eventually stopped, teetering the edge.