picket fence

"It was a day for celebration in the Smith household. Ian’s blindfold had been removed at the ophthalmologist's; his eyes had healed! A trip to McDonald's was deemed appropriate. Off the family drove, across town, eventually pulling in through the golden arches. Half buried under fifteen inches of fresh snow, the floodlit playground was devoid of footprints, its Jungle Gym, swings, and slide outlined poetically in unalloyed white. Inside, business was slack, for some reason. Not on account of wintry weather. Despite the heavy snowfall, streets had been plowed, rock salt liberally scattered. It was a weekday, true, but schools were closed for the holidays, and 5 PM was dinnertime; the place was usually packed. Undaunted, Adam ordered fries, Cokes, and Big Macs all-around from a team of teenage cashiers (chockfull of smiles and pimples) who rang up the bill. Decked out wall to wall with promotional ads, come-ons, and Season’s Greetings, the fast food joint had a festive air—dampened by its dearth of paying customers (like a birthday party called off because the guest of honor died). Returned with bags full of plastic-lidded cups, straws, condiments in foil, cardboard packets, wax-paper-wrapped entrees, and a giant wad of napkins, Adam distributed supper like Santa doling out gifts.

Ann dove in with a vengeance. It seemed like ages since she had eaten her favorite food. Meals at home, of late, had tended to favor vegetables. Yuk! She hated vegetables. Ian did, also—or used to; now, he claimed (just to be obnoxious), they suited him fine. He had taken to sniffing at everything (likewise obnoxious), before he either ate it (noisily), or turned up his nose—the way he was doing at the moment, making a snooty face as he caught a whiff of his double-decker burger. More surprisingly still, he shoved the Big Mac away! Amazed at her good fortune, Ann (without objection) added Ian’s reject to her pile, chowing down with gluttonous gusto, unconcerned about anything save her tummy’s elasticity… until, that is, she realized two more burgers lay disowned, Mom and Dad exhibiting the same distaste as had her twin. Self-conscious, of a sudden, Ann’s globular gob of beef stuck midway in her throat. Sloshing it down with a slug of cola, she tried (in vain) to reinstate her appetite.

"Finished, dear?" her mother asked without a trace of condemnation, making Ann feel guiltier about relishing such ‘gross’ cuisine. (‘Why had everybody ordered the nasty ol’ burgers in the first place, if nobody wanted to eat them,’ she wondered in sulky self-defense? ‘And what were people staring at; blue was a natural color for a human being’s eyes.’)

Determined not to cry, Ann challenged the few amber looks cast in her direction, before noticing Mom’s, Dad’s, and Ian’s had gone catatonically blank. Mortified, she forbore the (recurrent) interlude, waiting for her family to snap from its trance.

"Are we off, then?" Adam rose, breaking the silence, seemingly unaware any lapse had taken place, nonplused by his daughter’s inexplicable rush to stay their departure.

"Don’t leave me, Daddy!" Ann pleaded into the pleats of her father’s pants, hugging his upper thighs for all she was worth.

Exchanging a search-me shrug with his wife, Adam made a stab at quelling their daughter’s sobs.

"Who said anybody’s leaving you behind? We’re a family, Sweetie, aren’t we; all for one, and one for all?"

Words were insufficient; Ann was disinclined to be consoled. So Adam picked her up and carried her out to the parking lot—where the Jungle Gym (heretofore abandoned) was dotted with blue-black crows.

 

Back at the house, sequestered in the den, whiskers eerily aglow from the computer monitor’s Technicolor radiation, Geezer ransacked the Internet for news of his AWOL tribe—hampered only by the cumbersome (misnamed) mouse (‘moose’ might have been more apt, considering the effort required for a chipmunk-size monkey to maneuver it). Surely someone at the Lab had remained on-line, even if the facility itself had been disMANtled. How else stay apprised of the Antidote’s course? Yet the words "Not Found" kept coming up after each and every entry Geezer made—not surprisingly; a Guinea Pig (his lowly status pre and post inoculation) was seldom privy to access codes at mission control. Being a Curious-George, he had eavesdropped, of course. What else was there to do cooped up in his cubbyhole-cage? Tidbits passed nonstop (much like data on the Information Highway) that Geezer’s mind reached out to sample (discarding most, absorbing all-too-few), this form of psychic filching a reprehensible misuse of Simian gray matter. Still, how could anyone expect cooperation from a subject under-the-influence of some anthropocentric dwarf? Proto was to blame for Geezer’s occasional mischief; moronic midget contamination had been responsible for conduct deemed "untoward."

Just look at it. Humanity! No other species bombarded itself with such a plethora of obsessions, distractions, the Net a perfect example—its clutter, alone, indicative of brain waves run amok.

Geezer, paws on the keyboard, called up field upon diverse field (fungi to flamingos, polo to pornography), an astronomical glut of facts and frivolities, little, if any, of which would rescue Mankind… Man-‘unkind’ a better moniker. Not that Simians, juxtaposed, were all that benevolent—except in adopting precepts that promoted Communal Accord. People, on the contrary, chiefly promoted themselves (when they weren’t murdering one another), monopolizing the planet like Jekyll upstaged by Hyde.

Heterochromia: a change, usually a lightening in pigmentation of the iris, associated with certain neurological disorders…

…was Adam’s latest entry in a folder designated "OWL-EYES."

Dated?

Two weeks ago.

(So, the patriarch’s interest in epidemiology had begun to wane.)

Geezer scanned the clues thus far assembled.

None appeared too incriminating.

(Whoops!)

‘Extinct’ Monkey Is Found In Mountains

Who could have been so careless at this momentous stage?

… no details of the species and did not indicate just how many had been found.

Geezer probed, trying to locate the article’s source.

He pulled it up. There was no telling how many others had done the same, no knowing whom among them had added two plus two as had Mr. Smith (who failed to believe his daughter’s "farfetched" story, irrespective).

An e-mail address appeared.

Dare the exiled ‘Lab Rat’ hazard a cryptic note?

Not just yet; the family car returned, its tires compacting snow on their "crunch" up the drive.

Geezer, logging off (as tedious a process as logging on), grappled with the mouse, climbed aboard, jumped to make it click, then reproduced these motions through a time-consuming sequence that only was half completed as the garage door lowered…

… two thirds completed as boots were stomped in the adjoining kitchen…

… four fifths completed as Ann crossed the hall, homing in on a hunch, heading straight for her father’s (infiltrated) sanctum.

"I KNOW YOU’RE IN HERE," Ann’s voice piped from where she stood, barricading the den’s threshold, its oaken panels clapping, with a "THUNK," to shut Geezer in!

Despite her tender years, this child was a worthy adversary. Geezer (who might have chosen a better refuge, given a few more precious seconds) hoped Ann’s powers of perception (and intuition) were less keen than his…

(as she peeked under the desk)

… an unschooled neophyte surely not a match for Simian acumen…

(under the easy chair)

… though Geezer was, by all accounts, woefully unskilled…

(under the davenport)

… utterly inept when compared to his former mentors…

(proceeding to dislodge tomes, at random heights, from the far wall’s bookshelf)

… unaccomplished even with respect to a simple BLINK…

(halting… cocking her ear… straining to detect a paw’s imprudent step, a tail’s incautious flick, a whisker’s unconsidered quiver… tiptoeing back to the desk… fingering its still-warm console… zeroing in on a European coffee cup turned upside down… laying her palm over the bowl-shaped dome—a handy place to hide, or an ideal trap).

"Ann, you know you’re not to play in your father’s study!"

Evelyn, her head protruding through doors she had just precipitately parted, drew an urgent look from her on-the-prowl child.

"Close those, Mom; he’ll get away!"

"Who’ll get away, dear," Evelyn asked without complying? "Not that monkey, I hope."

"But I catched ’im this time. Come; he’s right under here."

Ann indicated where she dearly hoped and prayed the monkey had sought asylum, both her anxious palms now laying siege to the overturned vessel… on top of which her mother added a third.

"If we lift this up together, Ann, and nothing is underneath, you must promise me you will never pretend like this again."

"But, Mom…"

"No complaints. I’ve had just about enough of your tomfoolery. Either promise me this minute, or we’ll leave your father’s things exactly where they are."

Ann, aware that such an oath was absolutely binding, freed one hand from the cup and solemnly crossed her heart…

… as Geezer (safe inside the lampshade) let out a sigh of relief.

 

Adam, aghast his Pontiac’s high-gloss finish had been marred by rock salt, had stayed behind to wax and polish it back to a condition he called "cherry" (auto lovers enamored of sexually charged nomenclature). Purchased before its owner became a husband, a father, an executive at Dupont, Adam’s Trans Am Deluxe had managed to avoid the slightest ding, the tiniest scratch, its purring V-8 engine tuned to the same perfection that kept its metallic finish lustrous, its upholstery spotless, its every accessory fully-functional and showroom-floor pristine. Pride, possessiveness, and plain hard work maintained the indubitable "classic," which Adam would no sooner part with than lop off his testicles.

Irregular, then, it was not that he labored long this December evening, enclosed within the frigid (though fully moisture-proofed) garage, lingering over the wide-tread wheels and custom-fitted hubcaps…

… in whose effulgent chrome he saw his face grow sedate…

… then slack…

… then gray…

… as his body, stretched out horizontal to the bumper, skirt, and spoiler grew quite content to bear the concrete’s adamantine plane…

… his whole left side benumbed…

… gone fast asleep…

… pins and needles in his arm becoming less…

… and less pronounced…

… less…

… and less uncomfortable…

… the fog, from his sluggish exhalations, starting to ebb…

… to weaken…

… to fade…

… scarcely clouding his reflection…

… blurs infrequent…

… lending tranquil clarity to eyes held positively fixed…

‘Strange; they once were blue,’ Adam recollected dreamily, ‘not these amber warning lights, flashing on and off so sluggishly; whose are they?’

… his question frozen in the ice of a catalytic stare…

… since, all this while, he had left the motor idling.

 

It was Ian who first detected the carbon monoxide fumes, caught their noxious stench long before he ventured into the make-do gas chamber—which spread its rank necrology, once unsealed, throughout the house. Never having beheld Death’s face (in human guise, at any rate; exterminated insects did not count), the youngster failed to recognize its characteristic gape. Daddy must be playacting, he presumed, when Adam lay immobile after one, two, three exploratory nudges… when his eyes, looking straight ahead, refused to blink… when he would not even wipe away a glob of stagnant spittle.

"Holy Mary, Mother of G…" was Evelyn’s gasped reaction, one she smothered with a dish rag brought abruptly to her face, transferred to Ian’s as she collared him, pressed the door-hoist button frantically, rushed the lad outside, raced back to switch off the ignition, then hauled her husband by his ankles under the stars of a frostbitten night.

"How’s come Mommy’s smooching Daddy here in the driveway," Ann asked Ian, as she joined her under-clad brother in the bitter chill.

"ANN," came her mother’s urgent call (she spoke between said ‘smooches’), "CALL 911," re-clamped her lips over Adam’s slackened mouth to fill his lungs from hers, "SAY OUR ADDRESS," inflating them, "SAY DOCTOR," gulping air, "WE NEED A DOCTOR," while the corpse still lay inert, her efforts, "HURRY," earning no response, "RUN, RUN," no 'actual' recovery; the rising/falling ribcage gave only a counterfeit sign of life, a false hope mourned by the would-be widow in dizzy desperation:

‘Who gave you permission, Mister Husband, Mister Family Man? Who gave you the right to leave your wife, forsake your children? Who put suicide in our marriage contract? Who said, fine, drop dead, just stick a tail-pipe down your gullet, take a drag—voil´┐Ż; no problems?’

Evelyn tried to work a miracle, pumping Adam full of that which he had deigned to let escape…

‘On purpose?’

‘BREATHE!’

… the Kiss of Life deficient…

… Death would not be cheated…

… not by dint of love…

… or rage…

… or guilt…

… or overwhelming will.

 

"Her said they’s coming," Ann reported.

"Good, good job," her mother sputtered, "Now take Ian…" who had disappeared, "What now; where IS your brother? IAN!" peddling up behind her on his tricycle, he returned "Escort your brother…" tracing ovals on the driveway’s snowy surface "to the Jones’s…" leaving three-wheeled tracks "Right now!" as if oblivious "tell them Mommy needs their help" to what his orbits circumscribed.

"Come on, Stupid," Ann commanded (taking Ian for an idiot; even she could see the situation smacked of something dire). She grabbed his hand. He left his bike. They tramped next door.

 

Thus Simians started...

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