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Mother's Little Helper

Mother's Little Helper

One of two second-place stories from the 2010 Quebec Writing Competition.

Danny almost smashing his little head on the counter top right between the salad-spinner and the apple-peeler before we'd even had breakfast. I was slicing another banana and arguing with Pete over whether or not he could have dessert in the morning too when I heard the creak of a chair behind me.

I wheeled around, the knife diving out of my hand and dang it if I didn't catch Danny mid-flight like a football. He looked up at me with a smile and a long thread of drool dangling from the edge of his cupid-bow lips. I crushed him tight against me, his little heart pounding against my collarbone. He pushed me away and wiggled out of my arms. I leaned over and put him down before he could fall.

"Ma! Where's my breakfast? You said you were making better bananas, how I like them." Thomas loomed over me, his little eight-year-old hands clenched into fists in a damn good imitation of his father. I reached out to tousle his hair, trying not to let the edge in his voice get me riled up; it wasn't even 7 o'clock.

"Ma!" Pete's voice came from somewhere behind me.

"What now? Could you please just give me—"

"Danny, Ma! He's got your fruit knife!"

In the handful of seconds since I put him down, Danny'd toddled over towards the sink and was now sitting on the floor brandishing the banana-smeared knife. I dropped down on all fours and inched through a smear of banana bits with a smile stretched across my clenched teeth.

I put a hand on Danny's foot, then walked my fingers up his leg. "The itsy-bitsy spider went up... that's right honey, just give Ma the—" I squeezed his hand and he dropped the knife, his mouth an O of surprise. I snatched it and dropped it in the sink while he screeched in protest and clung to my leg.

"Ma," Pete tugged on my shirt."Tommy's crying cause you didn't bring him his bananas and, also, you gave me the wrong kind of milk!"

"OK honey." I bowed my head over the sink full of dishes. "I'll get everything and bring it into the TV room. You go tell your brother the bananas are on their way." I put two kinds of milk, the box of Cheerios, and a plate of sliced bananas on a tray and perched Danny on one hip while I carried it down the hall.

I was already late getting them out of the house. It wasn't until we were waiting in the drop-off line a block from their school that I realized I'd left Tommy's soccer stuff. There was nothing to do for it but drop them off and drive home again. With Danny hollering in his car seat, I hurried through the front door and up the stairs. I dredged up two matching socks, a shirt and shorts in the overflowing, mushroomy laundry hamper and made it back to the van before Danny busted a gut.

After running errands and taxiing boys to their various after-school activities, we didn't get back to the house until after dusk. The floor of the car was a foot deep with discarded toys and half-chewed toddler snacks. I let them run wild in the yard while I lugged everything inside: groceries, dry cleaning, and the usual odds and ends from the hardware store.

Joe came in while I was cooking up some hot dogs with carrots and fries. Danny sat between my feet emptying the tupperware drawer for the third time and the older two boys goofed off at the table. I handed Joe a beer before he asked for it and he grabbed a dog off the stove. He gave me a peck on the cheek so I'd know he expected some attention later that night.

"Sorry I didn't get a chance to tidy up before you came home," I said as he passed. He nodded and headed upstairs still chewing. He had to be up again before dawn.

After cleaning up from dinner I tucked the boys in bed and read to them while nursing Danny in the old rocking chair. I must have fallen asleep between one page and the next but the thump of Detective Dinosaur hitting the floor woke me with such a start I almost dropped Danny. I slipped the pacifier into his mouth, snapped up my nursing bra and nestled him down in the crib. I padded back downstairs into the TV room to get their breakfast bowls before I ran the dishwasher a last time.

I hit the light and rocked back on my heels. Over the table, the chairs, the sofa, even the combination TV/DVD/VHS we'd gotten for Christmas three years back—everything was covered with Cheerios. The DVD tray was wedged half-out, the slot full of whole grain oats. The upholstery was ringed with meandering dirty-white high-tide lines of  dried-up milk.

It took a couple of heartbeats before I could move, then I swept up some of the drier Cheerios off the coffee table and into my hand. It hardly made a difference. I collapsed back onto the sofa, grinding a couple dozen Os into powder. The house was quiet, but my ears buzzed like after you come out of a concert and I could see the red webbing of veins pulsing behind my closed eyes.

The cat jumped into my lap, pushing her head against my slack breasts, yowling to be pet. I gave her a limp stroke and she purred and kneaded my thigh, her claws poking through my jeans like a sewing machine needle going up and down. One of her paws came up onto my chest, her hot meaty breath on my face. She leaned against me and her claw snagged the hollow of my throat, dragging down the skin till they caught on the lacy edging of my bra.

It burned like a thread of fire cutting me in two. My whole body coiled up like a spring wound one too many times. It all let loose into a single simple motion: I cradled her jaw in one hand and rest the other on the back of her neck. I could say it was easy, that all it took was a little yank. But she fought. She clawed. I hardly moved, never opened my eyes. I just held her down, my elbow against her side, and I pulled and twisted.

Then she was still. She didn't need anything from me any more; that was nice. The scratch was still hot along my chest, but I felt cool and clear as if I'd just pulled myself out of a mountain lake. It felt OK to pet her for a bit before I took her out back and tucked the body into a leafy hollow  behind the woodpile. I looked up at the house, brushing some of the loose fur from my hands. I would need the to get the vacuum; the kids would be up early.

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