This story was written to and inspired by the following piece of music. Please feel free to listen before, after, or while you read. It may take a moment to load.
“In Pieces” – Linkin Park
Her fork clattered lightly on the plate. Her head cocked with strained politeness to one side.
“Honey, can you run upstairs for a bit? Your father and I need to have a talk.”
The little girl looked between the two, her innocent head furrowed at the brow. “Do I still get a story tonight?”
She gave the girl a loving smile, but it didn’t touch her eyes. “You will, lovey. Upstairs. Just leave your plate.”
Her curls bounced freely as she slid off of the ornate chair, readjusting the seat cover before she flounced through the doorway and out to the stairs. Her socked footsteps disappeared into the upper hallway.
The woman stared at her bent silver fork, her eyes far away. When the sound of a distant door shutting made its way to her ears, she closed her eyes, inhaling a shallow breath. Her eyelids lifted heavily, her head rising to stare down the long table and into the eyes of her husband.
Her lips were pursed tightly as she gritted her teeth back and forth. She ran a finger in mindless circles over a Band-Aid on her thumb. The edges were peeled and frayed, the cotton batting escaping from the beige covering in tiny strands. It took every effort to hold her face steady. The man stared back, unfazed.
“You’re going to have to tell me, Charlene. I don’t know all the thoughts ruminating in that little mind of yours.”
Little mind… her fidgeting stopped. Her throat grew tighter. Her manicured fingernails dug into her palm.
“You act like you don’t know.”
He smiled and exhaled, pushing his rimless glasses up on his face. “With you, it could be anything. What, did I forget to put my shoes away, again? Did I put a bowl in the wrong quadrant of the dishwasher again? Did I leave my files out on my own desk, again? I don’t know what—”
“What!” he scoffed, tossing a hand into the air. “You’re the one being so cryptic, all the damn time with that stare. Go ahead, Charlene, what is wrong? Let’s do this. Enlighten me.”
She fought every urge that arose within her and took a measured breath. “Her arm, Harold.”
It was subtle, almost imperceptible, but his breath caught in his throat. His nostrils flared as he scooted forward in his seat. His eyebrows rose.
“You promised you were done,” she said through tightened teeth.
He stared for a moment, then removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. “Char, it was one test. You’re blowing this so out of proportion. I was going to tell you.”
Her fist came down on the table. Her wine rippled outwards in the aftershock. “Oh you were, were you? How generous. Thank you, Harold. ‘One test’…” Her voice was shaking with anger. “That’s what you said when this all started. ‘It’s only one,’ ‘It’s nothing after this,’… She isn’t an experiment.”
“Oh give me a break! You say it like I’m amputating a limb! Have you seen how excited she gets, knowing she’s helping Daddy out at work? That she could be helping other people out there? The kid loves it, she loves to help.”
“The kid?!” The tears rolled. “OUR kid! OUR daughter! Have you seen the way you look at her?! You don’t even see her as our little girl anymore! She’s just your play thing! A pool of potential to be siphoned and manipulated. She’s your test subject!”
His voice grew sharp as he clenched his folded hands in front of him. “You have no idea at all what kind of opportunity we have in our hands. We are helping a lot of people here. These aren’t just some whimsical hypotheses getting tested. We could alter the course of the future. We’re saving lives. Do you hear?”
“I DON’T CARE!” The glass tipped over. There was a muffled clatter on the white tablecloth as the glass rolled gently to the side, the burgundy liquid dripping onto the virgin marble below. “You don’t see what it does to her! You’re never here! While you’re off at work, running labs and clinking beakers with your buddies, I’m at home fixing lunch for our five year-old daughter who says that she ‘shouldn’t drink more juice or it’ll ruin her blood sugar for daddy’. She is FIVE. What five year old should have to think like that, for anybody?!”
“Listen to me—”
“No, YOU listen.” She used a sloppy hand to wipe the tears from her cheek. Her fingers wiggled around the paper ring the girl had made her just last weekend for Mother’s Day. The glow in her eyes when she handed it to her, so full of pride and reverence and love…
Her eyes closed as her mind cleared, for the first time in so long, before they slowly opened to lock onto his gaze. Her body, once shaking, was now eerily still.
“You know what? Go ahead and be the good man. You can go save society with your labs and your test tubes and be the hero the world needs. But that’s not for me. I would burn the world and everyone in it if it meant protecting my child, and I’ll be damned if I let anyone get in my way.” Her lips spat the words in a harsh whisper. “You will not underestimate my ‘fragile mind’ again. I can end you. I would delight in it. Just give me one more reason, I dare you. I dare you.”
He blankly stared into her unwavering eyes. The wine dripped slowly into the puddle on the floor. A soft voice echoed in the distance.
“Mommy? Are you coming?”
She held the stare as she replied. “Yes, sweetie. I’ll be right up.”