Heather was stressed to the eyeballs, as usual.
‘What do I have to do to get these fools away from their beloved, bloody screens?’
These fools were her husband, Jeff, and daughter, Vanessa. And their beloved, bloody screens were the idiot box for Jeff and the laptop for Vanessa.
Heather was right, let’s be clear.
Her husband was a drooling slob. Jeff’s eyes glazed over the moment his barge arse filled the armchair, the remote was safely in his sausage-fingered-mitts and the screen streamed forth some collection of fit young angry men kicking, screaming and chasing after some near-circular assortment of leather filled with air.
Soccer, RaRah, basketball, whatever. It was all the same to Heather. It was all the same to Jeff.
Vanessa wasn’t much better. Her fingers tapped and prattled away at the keyboard at light speed, sending messages to the school friends she’d already spent all day with, bitching about teachers, homework and each other, swooning about boys – usually the same meathead type lads with square shoulders, square heads and square minds who would likely go on to entertain Jeff on the screen if their dreams were to ever come true.
‘What’s wrong with talking to me for a change? I make sure everything’s taken care of, cooking, cleaning, keeping this household going. And for what?’
Heather was in even more of a tizzy than usual this evening. The burgeoning quota of grey hairs on her head, upper lip, chest, legs, and netheries were going to have to be dealt with sooner rather than later. She knew that part. But how?
‘Maybe Vanessa can help. Her and her friends gasbag on and on about beauty regimens. As if a young woman has anything to worry about on that front. No, don’t be silly. A mother can’t ask her teenage daughter for such advice. Get your head out of the clouds.’
“Love, what time’s dinner?” Grandpa asked politely from the corner of the living room.
“When it’s ready Dad! Jeeze Louise! Keep your flamin’ tweed pants on.”
“Yes, sorry to bother you, dear. I’m sure it’ll taste wonderful whenever it’s good and ready.”
Grandpa was no addict of the screens. His entertainment of choice was the Sydney Morning Herald crossword puzzle, which usually required two to ten hours of his utmost dedication. Once that delight was done and dusted for the day, he’d move on seamlessly to re-read any one of the classics he adored; Dickens, Joyce, Thomas.
‘That’ll do me’, he always thought with glee, as he opened up one of these books he’d read a thousand times before, just as he was about to now. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…Ah, lovely.
Heather turned her eye to the dinner situation.
‘Shit. What should I whip up for these ungrateful grubs tonight?’
She’d been boiling water for the better part of half an hour, but she hadn’t actually been cooking anything, just making steam rise to the heavens. That won’t feed the masses. It always did the trick of sounding like progress was being made though.
There was bugger all in the fridge or cupboards, just mince meat, pasta sauce and spaghetti. But Heather was a proud woman. No way was she going to feed the troops Spag Bol more than three times a week.
‘How is it Thursday and I’ve already smashed through the weekly three Spag Bol barrier? Why do bad things happen to good people?’
Heather knew she was in trouble.
As she scoured the cupboard high and low for inspiration a sight grabbed her by the short and curlies. A Scrabble board game she’d not seen since God only knows when.
She scooped it out.
‘How on earth did you get in here?’
This was no ordinary board game. As Heather looked it over, she felt herself taken back to another time, another era, a golden age before screens and wifi, mobile phones and 64inch plasmas, a time when families sat down as one and came up with words of all manner and wonder to spend their nights together.
She held the Scrabble board game close to her heart, hugged it like the old friend that it was, and walked back to the living room, her purpose clear as day.
“Family time, everyone.”
Jeff stared motionless at the TV. Vanessa’s gaze remained glued to the laptop. Grandpa put down his Tale of Two Cities and smiled to his daughter.
“Wonderful, love. What a treat.”
Heather forced a smile back to her dad. Getting her loving father’s attention was a piece of cake. Wonderful, but piss poor currency in the family stakes she was after.
She looked now menacingly at the husband whose head she’d happily ram through that TV and the daughter she’d gladly shove that laptop up her clacker, teach ‘em both a thing or two, the thankless twerps!
Heather rattled the board game in her hands, “Family time!” And looked hopefully at her screen-obsessed cretins
Still nothing, nothing at all, Jeff and Vanessa fully ensconced in Screen Land.
‘That’s it, I’m going to kill them.’
“You want to play up on the table here, love?”
Grandpa was clearing away the books and newspapers from his little station in the corner, lit up beneath a lampshade born as long ago as he was.
Heather waved him off, unable to form even a faint smile to her dad while Jeff and Vanessa continued to ignore her.
With tight wire tension through her every synapse, and pure anger in her heart, Heather stared longingly through the window straight at the twinkling full moon, and wished above all wishes that all this cursed technology that plagued her home would leave them alone, that her family could live one night in peace, away from the scourge of the screens and whatever else, in simple harmony as old as time itself.
She screamed like thunder and watched in wonder. She’d harnessed the energy of something far grander than mere technology. Her desperate cries had been answered by a Lord of enlightened, analogue understanding. Magic was, right here and right now, happening.
Jeff’s TV screen went blank.
“What the hell?”
Vanessa’s laptop switched off.
“What the hell?”
Both husband and daughter turned to their wife and mother.
“What the hell?”
‘Eureka, I’ve done it! I’ve got their attention.'
But right as Heather screamed out triumphant, having proven she was more powerful than technology, she looked to her doting father seated so peaceful in the corner.
He tapped his chest and lost his breath, moments before his forehead crashed down hard into the table.
Poor Pop’s flash new battery-powered pacemaker was dead as a Dodo. He was too. Thanks to his light and joy, his dear daughter Heather. Praise be, Hallelujah...
The lights went out. The steam in the kitchen stopped rising to the heavens. The twinkling full moon shone bright through the window, casting a crafty glow upon the Scrabble board game nestled in Heather's now-fatherless grasp.
Jeff and Vanessa's gaze returned once more to their wife and mother.
*Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story about capitalism on steroids in the oil trading world of Southeast Asia. His second novel, Sweet Dreams of Fanta, is a sentimental ride back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, 7year old Fanta addict. His third book, Hooroo Love, is in the works now, as well as a short story collection, Odd Ditties, which Family Time will be a part of.