The Wizard of Oz played on the TV as he typed on his laptop but he wasn’t paying much attention. He was onto something good. A good story. It had been weeks since he had a good story idea and in just thirty minutes he had written something decent, start to finish, in one sitting. He carefully re-read the last paragraph and stretched his palms to the ceiling to relieve the tension in his shoulders from hunching over his laptop. He’d be much more comfortable in his office upstairs with his office chair, large LCD monitor, and ergonomic keyboard but the monitor in the twins’ downstairs bedroom was broken and if they started acting up he’d never be able to hear them from his office. And lately–since they’d turned four–they had been acting up often. So he could either hunch over his laptop on the coffee table in the living room or not write at all.
And not writing at all wasn’t an option. The broken baby monitor was only item #68 of a very long list of household deficiencies that he had no hope of rectifying unless he could finally write some stories that paid. He was sure the baby monitor was precisely item #68 because his wife was rigorous in preparing and numbering the list and she reminded him of it daily. She also reminded him daily of the assembly line job in her father’s trinket factory that was waiting for him whenever, as she put it, he “gave up this stupid dream of being a writer!”
The words on his laptop went out of focus and he shook his head to clear his wife’s voice from his thoughts. On TV, The Wizard of Oz was over and a nature program was on. The camera panned slowly across a golden African plain, then zoomed in on a dark clump in the grass that appeared to be moving.
“When a cub is born,” the narrator intoned gravely, “The mother will begin at once to nurse, unless she suffers from some deficiency. Here a long drought has deprived a mother lion of her normal prey and water. Malnourished and dehydrated, her body is no longer capable of producing milk.” The camera zoomed in even closer, almost miraculously, on a tiny lion cub, its eyes barely open, as its mother batted it aside. “Without it’s mother’s care, this cub will soon die.”
He looked at his laptop and grunted distractedly, then settled back to watch the rest of the program.
“Elsewhere,” the narrator continued as a jungle scene appeared, “A female tiger and her cubs are caught in a tragic power struggle.”
The camera followed a young adult male as he warily circled a mother and her brood.
“This tiger’s mate has been ousted from the streak by a younger, stronger male. Almost immediately, the victorious male will kill, and often eat, any of his rival’s cubs. These nursing cubs will not survive. There is nothing the mother can do about it and perversely, when she comes in heat again, she will willingly mate with the very male who killed her cubs.”
He closed the screen on his laptop, his story now forgotten. On TV, a scene of a deep forest came into view.
“It’s not always just Nature and circumstance that are the cruelest,” the narrator said. “Here, a black bear, whether through instinct or insanity or simply discipline taken to the extreme, has picked her cub up by the scruff of its neck and carried it far away from the den. Each time she does the cub returns, sometimes days later, only to be picked up and carried away again. Eventually the cub does not return.”
The pitiful mewing of the bear cub was interrupted by a loud thump coming from the twins’ bedroom. He paused the TV show and listened. The thump was followed by laughter and a crash, like an entire shelf of books being dumped from the bookcase in their room.
He went down the hall and listened outside their bedroom door. They weren’t napping, but that was okay. Weeks ago, he had turned the bedroom door knob around so that the lock was on the outside and they couldn’t escape. He thought he was being the cool dad by telling them that they could play when their mother was out running errands and they were supposed to be napping, as long as they played quietly.
Another loud thump against the bedroom door startled him. He heard more laughing and the sounds of things being thrown against the wall. They were definitely not playing quietly. He put on his pissed off dad face and opened the door.
For a moment, he couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing. He tilted his head, puzzled. His son was standing on the bed arms raised, naked and somehow painted white from head to toe. His brown eyes stood out sharply against his whitewashed face, his expression one of surprise. His daughter appeared in the corner of the room like a chameleon slipping out of its camouflage. He hadn’t seen her at first because she, also naked and white from head to toe, blended perfectly into the corner of the room where the walls had become white in thick hand streaks of what appeared to be paint. His pissed off dad face morphed into one of pure confusion, then shock and horror as the scene he was witnessing began to make sense.
The storage cupboard at the bottom of the changing table was pried open and the door hung awkwardly on a broken hinge. A half dozen empty jars of diaper cream lay strewn about the room. Thick, white handprints of greasy Desitin were everywhere.
The twins, after their initial surprised looks, which to him seemed more looks of annoyance at being interrupted than looks of guilt at being caught doing anything wrong, resumed their revelry like wild aboriginal dancers, laughing gleefully, spinning and jumping, flinging their toys and books about the room, leaving greasy, white, indelible prints on everything they touched.
His shock dissolved into mute numbness. His face went slack. He backed out of the room and closed and locked the door. He sat on the couch and stared at his laptop. His wife would be home soon, he knew with dread. He pondered the grim calculus and apparent parental wisdom of lions and tigers and bears.