Julie Holliday looks at the house.
The red bricks looked like they had been hand-scrubbed with a toothbrush. Not a speck of mildew would dare try to creep upon the grey parts of the in-betweens. The gates to the house were meticulously spray painted and padlocked with an electronic keypad. The driveway was creased with straight edges, the grass cut off from the pavement at straight right angles.
And knocking on the door, Julie could see their wealth displayed in the porch pillars and classy overhead lights that doubled as insect repellents. The statues to the left and right of the front door were extravagant marble lions. The woman who answered the door was wearing heavy pearls and a black pantsuit tight enough around to waist to stress that she had bounced back quickly from maternity. She spoke in that elite style of voice that placed unneeded emphasis on vowels, introducing Julie to the children as “Ms. Holliday, the kind lady that will be taking care of you two tonight.”
Julie Holliday looks at the children.
The little girl was kind of fat. Not that there was anything wrong with the amount of space a human entity took up, of course, the world was large enough for all. But she was a kind of fat that would prompt her mother to leave separate lunches for the boy and the girl. The blue plate was a mash of every dish left over from the Thanksgiving feast. The pink bento box held a small sphere of rice and two celery sticks. She was the kind of fat that left her head echoing the comments of her mother every time Easter came and she needed to buy yet another dress. The kind of fat that she needed to push down with a personality that tirelessly annoyed any passing player in her life. Julie wondered how, between her snideness and her loud chewing, the little girl kept any friends.
The little boy was scrawny and reminded Julie of a cross between a spider and a monkey. A little too much of a meddler for her to let her guard down. Wherever she turned, he was a step ahead, either hanging from the middle of the stairwell above her, or hooked with his legs grappling a bar from his jungle gym of a room. He was endless with the questions and comments on her every action. She heated up their lunches, and he asked her if microwaves really did give you cancer. She tried to find the drawer for utensils, and he told her that it was the drawer with the childproof lock, because once when the both of them were little, his sister had accidentally opened it and a knife had fell out and missed her by that much. She tried to get him to finish his lunch, and he told her that he was definitely going to, because he was able to eat as much as he wanted without having to worry about getting fat like his sister.
Julie Holliday looks at the television screen.
After lunch, the kids were allowed to have downtime before they were to be shut into their rooms to nap. Their mother had informed Julie that the DVDs that were preapproved would be lining the shelves that framed the TV; there were okayed magazines in stacks next to the couches; and — if they really got desperate — a small pile of ratty children’s books could be found in that basket by the mud room.
It was tempting to turn on the screen and let them sit until they tired themselves out.
But the screen was really black today. Of course, Julie knew that it was always black when it wasn’t turned on. Any absence of light is black.
Julie Holliday looks at the wall.
As a corollary, any absence of creativity would be boredom. A gradual dulling, an acquired blindness.
There was something about the wall with its portraits of the family. There were stylized photos, framed like prized possessions, spread out on the hallway between the living room and the kitchen. These kids were the prizes. Not who they were, but what they stood for.
Julie could look forward and predict the futures when raised within these picture frames. It would include more money than love invested in a future. It would guarantee a sense of entitlement to an outcome, an unavoidable disappointment from your parents regardless of what you could achieve. A never reached goal of being more than enough.
The girl would grow up on the fringes of friend groups, the schism between her mother’s idea of herself and her true inclination of self never healing enough to give her a secure identity. She would take this out on the world by always being pissed off and irritated by kind actions, bored and indifferent of insults. Any friends that she had would be the ones too afraid to be independent to come out of her shadow, or the ones who just really liked her mother’s cookies. Once she could get to an age where she started to become self-aware of the damage she had made a part of her reputation, there would be nothing to do. She would find herself alone without a thing to do to occupy her time, ultimately leaving her at a loss, turning to bask in self-hatred with shrapnel spewing destruction methods that would hurt herself and everyone around her.
The boy would have childhood friends, that part was easier for boys. They would swear pacts together over their unwavering intent to preserve the sanctity of their hideout in a chosen backyard. They would all share the same faults of being overbearing and proud; it came with growing up where they were, with the fathers they had. And they would all grow out of childhood faults together. But even if they didn’t, they could be excused from having to have propriety, after all, boys would be boys. However, the life they made for themselves, forever prolonging boyhood, would catch up to them. They would end up never understanding why their girl was always mad, because everything was a joke to them. They would not be quick enough to hold back the last comment that could have stopped that fist from coming for their jaw.
So screw the TV, Julie Holliday thought to herself. If nobody was going to teach these children, then they were already headed somewhere too dark to imagine. They were never going to be raised with any ability to keep in touch with anything real, any sort of empathy. Instead, they would grow up immersed in a world of impressions, of working behind the scenes to be something idealized in front of society. Bored and blind, they would become something so easily preventable with a bit of premature artistic guidance.
Above the laundry machine somewhere there had to be that signature tweed woven basket of dried out paints. Every home had one. Julie rummaged around, checking under all the sinks just to be sure. She found it behind the bookcase in the playroom. And on the crafts table there was a box of markers, so she took that as well.
The magazines that the mother had left were glorified tabloids, so Julie took the scissors and stabbed them down the middle of the stack. She taught the little girl to rip them straight down the spine, to provide for more looseleaf pages. Now, it was easier to cut away your favorite outfits from the faces. The models were never smiling and they always looked a little too scary for Julie’s taste. Cutting and pasting the old-fashioned way, she taught the little girl how to rearrange a new magazine adjusted to her taste. Curating things that you liked was something that everyone had the power to do, and there was no harm in it. Julie nudged this thought softly into the little girl’s mind with the hope that she would learn to latch onto certain things with a passion unadulterated by pressures to be someone else. Even if she was to end up in a world where her coming-of-age climaxed when she became a quelled debutante, she would have a secret joy in picking and choosing things to compile her true identity. And someday, when she got out of the house, this side fostering of her hidden self would flourish into something she could finally unleash. There would be a passion for something more definitive than her mother’s critiques. And with a passion, people would flock, as people are naturally drawn to love and the way that people are in love with something. The little girl would find her crowd, apart from mother’s cookies and father’s money. All this from the start of one collage book.
The little boy, hesitantly peeking around corners, decided that he wanted in on the fun, but in his own way. Before Julie could find some more newspaper to spread out on the floor, the boy had stolen a tube of paint and squirted it point blank on the wall. The wall with the portraits. Julie’s terrified face only made the entire situation more hilarious, and the little boy started squeezing the paints all over the wall. He thought they were kind of like guns, the ones with those hard paint pellets that mother and father never let him shoot in the house. He ran back to the basket and found the markers, and thought that it would be a nice change of texture. The wall needed variety. The little girl laughed and spread herself out against the wall, and the boy drew angel wings on her shadow. He started to see that if he threw the markers at the wall, it was almost like playing darts. Pelted stains grew across the wall, stubbed watercolor markers littered the hallway ground.
Julie Holliday had been alarmed at the start, and while watching this masterpiece in process, she knew that she should do something. But the longer she sat and watched, the more she felt like this was something the kids needed. The Sharpie stains were burrowed in there, the paint even when wiped off would leave uncoverable stains. Perhaps a break in monotony would push the parents into an unprecedented expression of love. Maybe this would be the wake up call to sway the parents into finally paying attention on the troubled minds of their children.
Not that there was much more time for any solution to be thought of. As Julie sat, the girl skated down wooden floors on glossy magazine shoes, and the boy stabbed markers into the wall like there was no tomorrow; the lady with the pearls and black pantsuit rang the front door.
Julie Holliday looked at her windshield.
The woman had yelled, but only at her. She had went back and hugged the children, as if Julie was a devil that swept through the house infecting her kids with evil thoughts.
Evil thoughts? A courage to be yourself was a newly minted evil in the woman’s mind.
Judging from the anger of the parents, Julie would say that she had been successful.