It was a dark and stormy night, and Mary had called and said she was on her way, but traffic was backed up a bit. Randy didn’t want to stay at his desk for fear that some emergency might come in and he would have to attend to it. And then Mary would wind up waiting on him. He made his way past the desks of the other police officers and clerks, saying “Goodnight,” “Drive safe,” “Have a good weekend.” He was heading toward the small alcove just to the right of the front double-doors. It had a couch which faced a window and was a perfect spot to watch for Mary’s car. Tonight, though, since he expected her to be late, he decided to read for a bit.
He pulled out the ebook reader which he kept in the inside pocket of his denim jacket and switched it on. Several weeks ago Mary had told him about a collection of very short stories by Kevin Brennan which he had promptly downloaded, but had not yet read. The collection was called Our Children Are Not Our Children. Five Tiny Tales of Our Times. It was only thirteen pages, and Randy thought this would be perfect time to finally read it. He wasn’t familiar with Mr. Brennan’s work, although he had visited his blog and liked what he had read there. Mr. Brennan, he thought, had a subtle, satirical kind of humor that only very observant people seemed to have.
Randy settled back on the couch, knowing that Mary would honk as soon as she saw his image through the uncurtained window. He began to read.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, Randy closed his reader and was slipping it back into his pocket when he felt someone looking at him. He jumped when he saw Mary, her face pressed against the window. It was still raining and she looked drenched. He hurried out of the station and into Mary’s car, the engine still running and Mary laughing as she got back into the driver’s seat.
“What were you reading, Randy? I must have honked three or four times. Look at my hair! I’m soaking wet from standing outside.”
“Why didn’t you bang on the window? Or come inside?” One of the many things Randy loved about Mary was that she didn’t mind getting wet or dirty. She was a fastidious dresser and had kept many of her more expensive outfits even when her finances were on the skids, but she still had that child in her that loved to play in puddles and dance in the rain.
“I actually didn’t want to disturb you. You looked so engrossed in what you were reading. So? What is it?”
“I was finally reading that collection of stories by Kevin Brennan. You know, Our Children Are Not Our Children. Have you read it yet?”
Mary stopped at a red light and looked over at Randy. She was so looking forward to having him all to herself all weekend. They had started reading together since they both got ebook readers, sometimes even taking turns reading out loud.
“Yes, I read it just a few days ago. I was thinking we could talk about it at the book club. It’s short but, boy, does Brennan pack a lot of story into a few pages.” The light turned green and Mary turned her attention to driving.
“Yeah, I have to admit. I didn’t know what to expect. The subtitle is “Five Tiny Tales of Our Times” and so I thought the stories might be lighthearted –”
Mary snorted but kept her eyes on the slick two-lane road. “So did I. But I wouldn’t say they were dark.”
“No, they were more like slices of life, glimpses into the lives of some pretty selfish people. You got the father who refuses to pull over to the side of the road so his children can relieve themselves. And that story was done totally in dialogue.”
“Yes, I really liked that one. I mean, the structure was fascinating. I felt like I was in the car with these people, the parents yelling at each other, the children crying. I didn’t know you could get that effect with just dialogue.”
“Me too.” Randy looked out the window, silent for a moment. That particular story had reminded him of those summers when he was a child and he and his family would drive for hours down to Pennsylvania to visit his grandparents. Too many times he had almost wet his pants because his father wouldn’t pull over.
“But, I wouldn’t say all the stories were from the point of view of a selfish person. What about that one, “Overexposure,” I think, where the dad is a nudist?”
Randy smiled. “I’m glad he had that story in there. Even though I’m not sure a parent should be making his children walk around naked, the kids and their dad seemed to be less neurotic about it than the principal and receptionist.”
Mary glanced over and gave Randy a big smile. “Wanna check out my muffin seam later?” She squeezed his thigh. “I can almost see your knob –”
“Mary! Watch the road!” The car had drifted slightly toward the shoulder as Mary teased Randy, but he was laughing, squeezing her hand as he put it back on the steering wheel. Not too long ago, he would have been blushing a deep red and stammering “Wha?” if she had teased him like that. Now, he felt comfortable enough to laugh with her and admit to himself that, yes, he was looking forward to seeing her muffin seam.
“I’m sorry.” Mary caught her breath and then sighed. They were finally outside of town, the road now lined with thick stands of white pine. As she turned a corner, she could see a faint glow from the outside light of her house. Almost home. “What about the other stories? Did you like those?”
“I liked all of them. Brennan really has a gift for characterization. I’m trying to remember one line that really stuck with me.” Randy pulled out the reader and quickly found what he was looking for. “This line: “The wife is as white and particulate at the top of the stairs as a pillar of salt.” He could have said she’s as white as a pillar of salt, but he added the word “particulate” so there’s an added dimension to the description of the wife. Something that is uniquely her.”
Mary nodded. “I felt that way too. He incorporates details that make the characters stand out that much more from each other. Like in the other story, I think it was “Day Care,” where the mom works for the DMV and purposely takes bad pictures of drivers. I mean, maybe she has a boring job, but that bit of info really tells you what kind of person she is.”
Mary turned off the road and onto her driveway, toward the welcoming light beside her front door.
“And the one about the baby teeth. Oh, man, I know there are parents in the world who put themselves before their own children. You know, I read these stories not wanting to believe that any of them could possibly happen. But …”
Mary put the car in park and turned it off. They sat for a few moments, listening to the sound of the rain beating against the car, the stone path, a low, steady beat that made both of them feel suddenly sleepy.
“But, you, as a police officer, know better than anyone else that these things do happen, these families do exist. What was really interesting to me was how oblivious the parents seemed to be, how unaware they were of the impact they were having on their children.”
Randy nodded and then pulled Mary toward him. “Brennan’s a damn good writer. Thirteen pages but we’re talking about the book as if it were a full-length novel. I’d like to read more of his writing. He has a book coming out, doesn’t he?”
Mary kissed Randy lightly on the lips and then pulled away as she reached for her car keys. “Yes, he has one book already published called Parts Unknown. It’s not an ebook, but we can get a copy. Then he has another book coming out called Yesterday Road. We can check his blog when we get inside.”
Randy stopped Mary before she could open her door to get out. “Sure, we can check his blog. But only after you show me your muffin seam.”
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Our Children Are Not Our Children because Kevin Brennan made it available to everyone who subscribed to his newsletter.
For your copy of Our Children Are Not Our Children, please visit http://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com/our-children-are-not-our-children/ where Kevin has listed all the available outlets where the book is available. You’ll also have the additional pleasure of being able to listen to an audio version of “Day Care,” one of the stories in the collection.
To purchase Parts Unknown, visit http://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com/buy-parts-unknown-2/
You can read Chapter 1 of Yesterday Road here: http://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com/yesterday-road-chapter-1/
At the very least, do follow Kevin Brennan’s blog: http://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com