08 April 2011
POST-APOCALYPTIC DAY CARE
By Curtis C. Chen
"Sorry, Mrs. H," Sarah said. "We're full today."
The baby's weight on Bianca's hip suddenly felt like a crushing burden.
"I can pay you extra—"
"You know how this works, Mrs. H. I've only got so much space here, and it's first come, first served. If you can't take Jacob in to work with you, I can recommend another day care down the road."
"He's not happy anywhere else," Bianca said. "Please. Can't you make an exception, just this once? I promise we'll be on time tomorrow."
"Then I'll take him tomorrow," Sarah said. "If I make an exception for you, for anyone, the other moms will hear about it, and then they'll all want some kind of special treatment. That's a slippery slope."
"But Jacob needs medication!"
"Every kid here needs medication. Heck, I gotta take tannic acid every three hours or I fall over."
Bianca jerked back involuntarily. "You're GI-compromised?"
Sarah shrugged. "The comet did something to everyone, right?"
"I didn't know."
Sarah paused, then raised one hand, palm up. "Maybe you can call in sick today. Stay home and take care of Jacob yourself? Could be good for both of you."
Bianca shifted her stance, and the strap of her messenger bag bit into her shoulder. She thought about the laptop inside and the presentation she had to give in less than an hour, and she bristled at this twentysomething girl giving her parenting advice.
"Suppose I just leave him here." Bianca took another step toward the house. "You'd have to take care of him, wouldn't you? You'd be obligated."
Sarah shook her head. "Don't do that, Mrs. H. If you abandon your child, I'll have to call the authorities, and you'll have to sit through a CPS interview and fill out a bunch of paperwork to get him back."
Bianca felt her skin flush under her collar. "I've known you since you were in diapers, Sarah. Your mother was my best friend. Does our relationship mean nothing to you?"
"You don't get it, Mrs. H," Sarah said. "This is about civilization. This is about making rules and following them. If we can't do that, if we can't maintain order in our society in the face of a little hiccup like this, how do you expect humanity to endure after the next big disaster hits?"
"Don't lecture me," Bianca snapped. "You don't know anything about the real world. Rules get bent and broken all the time."
"Maybe in your world, Mrs. H," Sarah said, "but I'm trying to make a better one. Now please excuse me, I've got kids to watch and you need to get to work."
Sarah closed the door. Bianca fumed on the porch for a moment, then looked down when Jacob tugged at her sleeve. She couldn't help smiling back at his upturned face.
She's right, Bianca thought. I want you to live in a better world. I do.
She turned and walked back to the car while dialing her phone.
Photo: The Quad by Bill Barber, July, 2007