The End Pieces
Laundry day again. Of all the culturally-declared duties that a mother has in the household, laundry was perhaps the only one Janet truly enjoyed. It was the only time her husband and two kids didn’t give her flack for going in their rooms, rifling through their stuff. If they were in the rooms when she came to gather clothes they would outright ignore her. It was like having a superpower. Being invisible. Janet could do anything she wanted and they wouldn’t even look her way. They’d keep right on playing with their game boys, phones, laptops, or even books sometimes. She regularly stole joints from her eldest son’s sock drawer without him noticing.
Brandon had gotten over that phase eventually, much to Janet’s chagrin. He was getting ready for college and taking himself too seriously these days. He still let her do the laundry, but would insist on ironing all his clothes himself as soon as they came out of the dryer. Mostly all he did now was read and go to church. It kind of depressed Janet. She brought a load of fresh laundry into the living room to fold, where her husband Randy was watching “So You Think You Can Dance?”
“You know how in the movies there’s always the overbearing, conservative parents with rebellious teenagers?” Janet wondered aloud, “How did so many members of this generation end up with the opposite problem? I mean, we’re open minded. Right? So why are our kids so boring?”
“It’s not really the opposite problem,” Randy said without breaking his gaze on the TV, “It’s the same problem. Rebellion against whatever the standard is. If given too much rope, then self-control is the rebellion. They are rebelling against us.”
Janet made a sound somewhere between a sigh and a “Ha-rumph!” and kept folding. After a moment’s reflection, she said, “I know when it was.”
“When what was?” Randy asked.
“When I should’ve been harder on him.”
“It was the Sears box. Remember the Sears box?”
Randy laughed. “Yep. Good stuff.”
“I was getting laundry from his room and there was that shoebox under his bed. Just filled to the brim with clippings of middle aged women in basic lingerie. And instead of chastising him about it I gave him this whole prepared speech about how he was coming of a certain age and it was perfectly natural and blah blah blah.”
“I remember that. He looked so confused when you handed the box back to him.”
“He really did,” Janet said, “And after that his grades went up.”
Janet sighed again, then they fell quiet. She kept folding. After a few minutes, Randy spoke up again.
“When I was about twelve, my parents hosted a neighborhood cookout. The kids all played in the pool while the adults drank beer and flirted with each other. Nothing special. But there were photos from the event and there was this one picture of this lady in a green and white polka-dot bikini bending over to get another beer from the cooler. That picture was the first thing that ever gave me an immediate erection.”
Janet laughed. “Oh, Randy!”
“I stole that picture from our photo album and kept it between my mattress and box springs. I think I masturbated to it more than any other single fantasy or pornographic photo in my entire life.”
Tears streamed down Janet’s face, she was laughing so hard. Randy was laughing now, too.
“My mother found it while gathering laundry one day. She gave it to my father, and he beat the ever loving tar out of me for it. But I didn’t stop. I stole photos of women in bikinis from friends’ houses. Then I started buying porn on the sly, hiding it in ever cleverer places around my room. Occasionally I’d find a magazine missing here or there, but mostly my stashes went undiscovered and they never confronted me about it again.”
Janet wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Maybe there was something about that picture in particular?”
“Ha! Yeah, maybe that was dad’s secretary or some other woman he was having an affair with.”
“You never know! Oh, Randy. Why doesn’t Brandon have more fun like that? Taking stupid risks and having secrets from your parents is part of being a teenager.”
“I don’t know, honey. Maybe he does have secrets and he’s just better at hiding them now.”
“We can hope,” she said.
Their hope would be lost on Brandon, who had his whole life planned already. He wanted to be an accountant, because numbers helped him focus and avoid sin. Aside from one awkward attempt at a handjob when he was 16, Brandon was a virgin and mostly avoided girls. And he intended to stay that way until he got married. He would never get arrested, and the only bone he would ever break would be a stress fracture in his right foot during a squash game on his 46th birthday.
But that would be some time from now still. Right now Jason, their youngest, came into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He stared at it for a spell, then pulled out a container of pimiento cheese and some baloney.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” his mom said, “We don’t have any bread left. Just the end pieces.”
“That’s okay with me,” Jason said. He took out the end pieces and made himself a slim sandwich.
“I didn’t know you liked the end pieces,” said dad.
“Ah, my adventuresome son,” mom said, “You know, I’ve eaten a few end pieces in my day.”
Jason gave his mom a bored-teenager look and started munching his sandwich. “Um, okay.”
Then he headed back to his room. He jiggled his computer mouse to turn off the screensaver, then resumed watching a video on the internet. A relatively average woman, fully clothed, walks into a room. She smiles coyly. She reaches off-camera and comes back with a large red balloon in her hands. Jason bites his lip. The woman rolls the balloon around between her palms, expression turning devilish. Her fingers dig into the balloon. Jason’s breath catches. The balloon’s rubber membrane expands to the breaking point beneath the woman’s sharp fingernails. It pops, and she screams with glee. Jason falls back against his pillows, content.
After his heart rate returns to normal Jason reaches into the top drawer of his nightstand. He pulls out a jumbo bag of party balloons and smiles.
His parents would be so proud.