This is another prompt from my Vine followers. Thanks to Dogsledder the Bearded for suggesting plastic action figures. It’s a dark little story, but I hope you enjoy it.
“Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.”
“I want a Happy Meal.”
“You can’t have one.”
“But whyyyyy? Why? Why? Why?”
“The last time I got you one you swallowed the toy.”
Markie scooted back in his booster, pushing his legs against the front seat where his mother sat behind the steering wheel. “No! No I didn’t!”
“Markie, you can’t have a Happy Meal. You can have Chicken McNuggets and fries, but you can’t have the toy. And that’s that.”
“Why? Why? Why? Why?” He kicked the seat repeatedly.
His mother turned around. “I told you, the toy is too small. It’s not for little boys. You swallowed the last one. You can have a toy when you’re older.”
His sister Cindy didn’t look up from her iPod. “They have special toys upon request. The sign says so. All you have to do is ask for one, Mom. It would shut him up.”
Abby Hubbard turned briefly around. “Cindy, you’re not being helpful. And don’t say ‘shut him up.’ It’s rude.”
“But it would shut him up. He’s driving me absolutely crazy.” She looked up at her mother long enough to roll her eyes then concentrated back on the game she was playing.
Her mother sighed. She hoped that the eye-rolling stage was a couple of years off for her daughter, but the child seemed determined to dash those hopes. At eight years old, Cindy was already acting like a petulant teenager. Coupled with her little brother who had the terrible twos extending all the way into the frightening fours, Abby felt almost like she was failing as a parent. It was always her two kids acting out in public, her kids screaming in line at Walmart, her kids whining in restaurants, her kids that everyone looked at and shook their heads. She got withering stares from other women that told her they thought she was a bad mother. She took another swig from the coffee mug, then popped a mint in her mouth. “Markie, if I get you a Happy Meal with a toy, will you be quiet? And not put it in your mouth?”
“I don’t want a baby toy!” Markie made an impossibly high-pitched squeal that only pre-schoolers could manage to hit.
“God, Mom. Make him stop.”
“Cindy, not another word about your brother! If I have to stop the car and spank you both, I will!” She almost screamed herself but managed to squeeze the words out between her teeth instead. Her head was pounding. “I’m going inside McDonald’s for two minutes. Two minutes. If you both will be still, I’ll get you anything you want. Deal?”
“Deal!” They both shouted at once.
“I want a Big Mac!”
“I want a McNuggets Happy Meal!”
Abby skidded to a stop almost sideways in the parking spot. She turned around again. “I’ll expect you both to be absolutely silent until I get back. No fighting!” She cracked her window a few inches. “You’ll be fine until I get back. Don’t open the door for anyone.” The car door slammed behind her, and she pressed the button on her key fob that locked it. She stalked into the store, just a little unsteady on her feet.
The line was short. It was only eleven thirty, and the lunch crowd hadn’t invaded yet. She stood staring at the menu, holding onto the counter with both hands. Reaching into her purse, she popped another mint in her mouth.
“WelcometoMcDonaldsmayItakeyourorderplease?” The clerk at the counter eyed her indifferently. “Ma’am? May I take your order, please?” The clerk repeated slowly and pointedly.
Abby stared back at the young woman who looked a lot like Cindy, only older. She thought for a second that this would be her daughter’s fate if her attitude didn’t improve. If she was this bad at eight, what would she be like by the time she was a teenager like this girl? “Yeah. Sure. Give me a Big Mac, no make that two Big Macs, two regular fries, and a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal. Do you have the toys for younger children?”
“No we’re ought of those. I can give you the Star Wars action figure toy or Barbie with that.”
“Star Wars.” She’d just have to keep her eyes on Markie. If he didn’t start acting more like he was four and less like he was still two, she might take him to a specialist.
“What would you like to drink with those?”
“Cokes. One Large, one medium, and one kid’s.”
The clerk rang her up. Abby swiped her credit card and waited on the order. She balanced the food and beverages in her arms as she went back outside to her car. There was a man standing there looking at her kids who seemed to be screaming at each other.
“Ma’am are these your kids?”
“Yes. I was just inside getting them lunch. You got a problem?” She set the food and her purse on the hood of the car, then dug around for her keys.
“They’ve been out here for a long time by themselves.“
“They were fine. I was just gone for a minute.”
“It’s a hot day. I’ve been standing here for ten minutes.”
“Shut up! I know how long I was gone!” She found the fob and pressed the button unlocking the car. She turned around to face the man and saw other people in the store staring at her.
“I don’t think you do.”
All of the sudden the man was too close to her. She flailed her arms in front of her. “Who do you think you are? Get out of my way!”
“Have you been drinking?”
“No! Of course not!” She pushed past the man, threw the food at the children in the back seat, and jerked the door out of his hands. She started the car and squealed the tires getting back into traffic, weaving back and forth in her lane.
“Mom? What did that man want?”
“Nothing. Just give the Happy Meal to your brother and eat your lunch.”
“What about the toy? It’s pretty small.”
“Are you the mother? Now just give it to him.”
Cindy gave her brother the whole box. He tore into it like a badger, pulling out the toy and ripping through the plastic. Cindy looked back at her Big Mac, unwrapping it and taking a tiny bite. “Mom? It got really hot in here.”
“It couldn’t have gotten that hot. When I was a kid my mother would leave me in the car for an hour while she went in the grocery store. Just eat your lunch.”
The girl turned her attention back to the iPod and nibbled at her sandwich. She stared at the screen and put in her headphones.
Abby drove along and took another swig out of her coffee mug. Seven miles to go and she could dump the kids in front of the television for the rest of the day until her husband came home. She was so sleepy, and the shots in her coffee weren’t helping her to stay awake.
“Don’t start, Cindy. We’re almost home.”
“Mom. Markie has the toy in his mouth.”
Abby slammed on the brakes. “Markie! What have I told you about putting those toys in your mouth.” She stared into the rearview mirror. Her son had his head bent down.
“He’s asleep. Mom? I think there’s something wrong.”
“What? He can’t be asleep.” She reached over the front seat and shook her son who slumped forward and fell out of his booster seat. He was blue. The smooth plastic of the Storm Trooper was lodged firmly in the boy’s mouth. Later on in the ambulance, the medic would ask her if she had been drinking as her son coughed against the oxygen mask, his color returning, but by that time she couldn’t remember.