I. The Father
The father brought home the gifts for the kid’s birthday.
They were well wrapped on gaily-colored paper-maché.
The father could not hide them in the crawl space above the closet or in the false
wall created by the upright Ping-Pong table in the garage.
These were all excellent hiding places, to be sure, but the father knew how
resourceful his kid could be and those hiding spaces had been exposed before, at
Christmas, always at Christmas.
The Father only needed a hiding space for a few hours while he went back out and
checked the oil in the car- that damnable small light had illuminated the dashboard- the
soft ping repeated itself in the car, a clear indication that something was wrong
or that the car door was not completely closed, he had opened and slammed the
door traveling at 65 miles per hour, the soft ping continued, so now he had to check
A quick look in the dishwasher showed the dirty dishes inside and then, almost as
an afterthought, he stuck the gifts in the oven, snickering to himself in a proud way,
his kid would never think to look in there.
II. The Mother
The mother felt the beginnings of a migraine.
She almost dropped the groceries fumbling with the keys at the front door.
She knew it would rain soon, the pain started at the base of her skull, where the
medulla oblongata met the spine, and traveled in short spurts up past her ears to her
temples. Yes, the rain would come tomorrow if not sooner and she still had to
endure a noisy birthday party. She had everything ready, flour, mix, eggs, milk, but
she had to start everything soon if the cake and ice cream were to be ready by that
Everything, everything was always a rush, impatient, like tomorrow’s rain, if she
could just steal a half hour to herself, close her eyes, and let her medication work
it’s magic, she could avoid an extremely unpleasant evening, her shoulders were
Even though she had baked cake countless times before and knew the process from
memory, she still poured and mixed the ingredients together in a bowl according to
the instructions on the box.
She poured the batter into a pan and turned the oven on to pre-heat it.
She almost reached for a cigarette; instead, she grabbed a bottle of mineral water
and went to the medicine cabinet in search of her Codeine.
She laid down on the couch in the living room, just to close her eyes for a minute,
rubbing her neck, she expected about a dozen kids that evening, if she was lucky,
only about half of those invited would show up.
The father looked up from under the hood of the car in the garage when he heard
the school bus honking incessantly, loud, long, and obnoxious honks that reluctantly
grabbed his attention.
Immediately, he saw the flames spurting out from the side of the house.
His first instinct was to run up to the back door, by the kitchen, his hand hovered
by the heated knob, he knew enough not to open that door, it had already begun to
crack and expand.
He ran around to the front, where he saw his kid on the front lawn being held by
the bus driver, who in turn was speaking furiously into a cell phone.
Another kid sat on the driver’s chair inside the school bus, leaning on the honk, the
rest of the kids pressed against the windows and watching.
The father entered through the front door, took three steps, and woke his sleeping
wife on the couch.
The smoke was a layer of clouds covering the ceiling of the living room and had
not yet reached the mother’s sleeping form.
Luckily, she never even had a chance to cough.
And following the insurance investigation and determination of the cause of the
fire, the mother naturally blamed the father, how could he had been so stupid as to
hide gifts in the oven? And, every time the subject was raised, which seemed to be
constant, his patent answer to her question was a “how come you never thought of
checking the oven before turning it on? Don’t most people do that?”
And in later years, the father always had a rueful snugness that at least he had
saved her life, even if she never thanked him for that.
And for the rest of her life, the mother always hesitated before turning on the oven,
she always thought of him and bitterly but quickly checked inside.
III. The Kid
After the fire and consequent divorce, the kid was shuffled off between homes until
he was seventeen, when he was detained in a juvenile correctional facility.
His grades slipped early on, he lost interest in sports, except for baseball, started
smoking his mother’s cigarettes at twelve, stealing from his father’s home the next
A school counselor and amateur psychologist evaluated the kid in ninth grade.
During their third session, the counselor tried dream therapy, she noted that the kid
had only one recurrent dream:
The kid would stand real still in the old burnt house when the snakes would crawl
in, king cobras and puff adders.
The cobras would flare up at the sight of him; the puff adders would crawl like
some perverse and poisonous worms. Sometimes they would crawl and wrap
themselves around his legs, unless, in the dream, he was lucky enough to have
climbed on blackened furniture.
If he leaned against the wall, they could crawl up the wall, so he taught himself in
his dreams to stay away from the charred walls.
They never bit or struck if he stayed real still, unmoving, and the snakes never
crawled above his waist, never got to his face.
No, that was the job of the flying scorpions.
When the swarm flew into the room, the kid had to close his eyes and hang his