Looking for something to get you over the hump? Looking for poorly written speculative fiction by yours truly? Well then read on, my friends. Mental Gymnastics is my attempt to clear out the cobwebs and jump-start my moribund creative process. New every Friday.
Just like that, Alice is conscious again. She glares at the ceiling, unsure as to why she’s awake, but certain that she doesn’t like it. Had there been a sound? There had been a sound. But that could have been the dream she’d been having. So pleasant: her, underwater, a presence at her feet pushing her forward faster and faster till she was a torpedo.
Then she hears it again, the front door opening, that grinding squeal of metal on metal from the rusting middle hinge that she was supposed to grease yesterday, and the day before that, for three months. No one should be at the door. It’s 3:00 on a Thursday. No one should be here.
“Well aren’t you a dear thing? Is your mother home?” if ever a voice could sound pink this was it.
She can hear the slouch in her daughter’s voice. “I’m twelve, not two. What do you want?”
No. No. NO.
“Isn’t that precious? I need to see your mother, now.” the tone deepening, experimenting with darker shades of the spectrum.
Alice is upright and moving, fully awake, a panic-induced rictus on her face. A glance in the bedroom mirror tells her that her curls are matted in the back and that she shouldn’t have skimped on the lipstick this morning; but there’s no time to present properly, she just needs her youngest out of line of fire.
She grabs her blazer off the hook on the back of the door, slips her least offensive pumps on, and attempts to bound down the steps without killing herself as she dons garments more by force of will than any actual physical skill on her part.
She can see the front door now, the too-bright afternoon sun reflected in the dancing dust motes. Sarah is in her standard shapeless grey sweatshirt; Alice closes her eyes and says a quick prayer that the graphic on the front isn’t too horrible.
In one move, Alice reaches for her daughter, pushes her behind her and moves into the spot that she’d been occupying. Someone less observant would have mistaken it for a magic trick or transmutation.
Not this one, though. Dressed in Easter pastels, shaped a bit like an Easter Egg herself, a blond cotton candy puff on her head. Alice would have thought her face piggish, maybe even smiled at the allusion, if it hadn’t been for the overly large “FGB” button pinned on the left breast of her jacket.
“You must be the mother.” the last said with enough derision that Alice knew this wasn’t a Social Call. Or if it had been, it wasn’t anymore.
“Yes!” Force the cheeriness, spread the smile farther! “I’m Alice. I’m so sorry about my daughter – she’s not feeling well today and I was upstairs…” Taking a nap? Reliving the horrible Mexican food from last night? Rubbing one out? Each option was worse than the last. “Putting the baby down for his nap.” Shit.
Easter Parade’s eyes squinted a bit harder at this. Did she know there hadn’t been a baby in the house since Sarah was born? Did she have the latest census numbers? Why did Alice say something that could so easily be disproven?
“Of course, Alice, was it?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Crap in a hat – don’t get all kiss-assey, she’ll know you’re up to something.
Oddly enough, this illicited a huge laugh instead. “Oh my! ‘Ma’am!’ No need to be so formal Alice! You can call me Lyydia, with two ‘y’s.” A wink at this, like it was a big conspiracy. Maybe it was? Had unnecessary spellings of first names been outlawed yet? Alice couldn’t remember.
“Anywho,” wiping away imaginary tears from the corners of her eyes now “I just wanted to check in and make sure your were Feelin’ OK today. But I can see you got your hands full. You’ll make sure you sit that daughter of yours down in front of the TV, wontcha?”
Alice’s breath comes out even, her chest loosens, she feels the pinch of her nails on her palms as her fists unball. “Oh, of course! Thank you so much for stopping by, it’s so considerate of you!” Alice reaches back and starts pulling the door closed.
“Oh, one sec, hon. Y’know…I don’t hear the TV? You’ve got it on, dontcha? Getting your Daily Affirmations and all?”
Alice risks a sideways glance at the cable box on top of the powered-off television, it’s thick black cable ending in a sheared-off medusa head of silver wiring. Just like that, she can’t breathe again.
“I…just have the sound off.” A nervous twitter escapes as she tries to breathe in. “Don’t want to risk waking the baby, y’know.”
Lyydia with Two “Y”s has a pad of paper out now, frowning as she marks down the barcode by the front door. “Mmhmm. Bigger risk if you miss something important, dontcha think?”
“You’re right! Of course! I’ve got the subtitles on, but I’ll turn it up as soon as we’re done with our chat.” Get the door closed. Get her gone. Get the fuck out of town. “In fact, let me go take care of tha-”
“One second, hon.” Lyydia raises her pointer finger, deep in to calculations on the notepad in front of her. Mouthing lines to herself as if rehearsing. Still not looking up she says, almost to herself. “You got the Good Book handy? I just need to check on something.” She starts to look up, her forehead furrowed again, shifting into a saccharine smile as she meets Alice’s eyes. It’s the kind of smile that makes dogs nervous.
Glance at the table. There’s the King James right there…but maybe its the Lady President’s autobiography? What’s the Good Book this week? Fucking phone is upstairs, she should have checked it before she came down – usually they’ve texted her the right Answers by this time, just to avoid these Calls. She grabs the Bible and offers it forward with as much forced sunshine as she can muster. Ironically, she doesn’t pray she’s right. “Here you go!”
Lyydia drops her hands to her side and cocks her head. “Oh my, hon.” She’s shaking her head and reaching for the pocket of her jacket. “I said the ‘Good Book’ not the ‘Best Book.’ Anyone who’d been watching would know the difference.”
FUCKFUCKFUCK! Alice grabs the book back, snakebitten, and grabs the auto-biography with the winking caricature on the cover. “Here! HERE! I misheard you! I’m just so tired because the baby, she kept me up all night.”
“Thought you said it was a boy, Alice.”
“Of course! HA HA. Did I say ‘she?’ I meant ‘HE.'”
The phone is out of Lyydia’s pocket now. A thin plastic wedge with one button. Her thumb hovers over it. The pink is gone from her voice now, the false midwestern folksiness. “I’ve got some people that you should talk to, Alice. They’ll help you get your head straight. Take care of your family.”
Later, Alice tried to remember the exact moment she realized she could use her mandatory copy of “Presidentin’s Hard Work!” as a bludgeon; but what mattered was that the thought came before the button could be pressed, before the thumbprint of Feel Good Brigade Agent 6274, Scrubjay, Lyydia M., could be registered in the national database, before her call for a Go With God team could hit the FBI servers and operatives sent. What mattered was that Lyydia Scrubjay became so much compost in the backyard amongst Alice’s illegal back yard recyclables. What mattered is that Alice and Sarah disappeared from the grid.
The sordid details of Alice Hurley’s actions, her avoiding her requisite 5 hours of nightly programming, her continued receipt of various illegal hard copy news publications, her complete avoidance of Wednesday and Sunday services, were enough to brand her “Black Alice” in the community. FGB Lyydia’s death was deemed a National Tragedy. But she was remembered proudly in a ceremony on the White House front lawn for bravely ferreting out those who wanted to subvert Our National Values. There was even a cake with her name on it.