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Monday, January 23, 2012

"Where are the kids?" An Excerpt from "A Bunny Screaming"

On a trip to West Virginia from Ohio, when I was eight or nine, my sister and I were asleep in the backseat of the Pontiac under a pile of blankets and pillows when my parents pulled into a roadside diner for a bite to eat and perhaps a drink. Rather than wake us kids, they opted just to go on in and have a quick one and get back on the road. After all, it was cold and snowy and getting the kids up and dressed and in and all that would be a huge pain in the ass.

My sister woke up a short time later. “I need to pee,”she said. “Alright,” I muttered. “Get your shoes on—and your coat…” She did and we got out of the car and walked into the diner to find Mom, Dad, and the bathroom.

The layout of the diner was an odd one. There were two doors to enter and exit the establishment, one on the North front of the building, and the other on the South front, near the bar. The North entrance got you to the restaurant half of the diner, where the sit-down patrons relaxed over their meals. The South entrance ushered you into the saloon portion of the establishment, where one could sidle up to the bar and enjoy liquid libations.

My guess is, looking back, that my parents must have opted for the libations, because at the very moment my sister and myself entered the restaurant, my parents were leaving the bar. By the time I wandered into the saloon with my sister in-tow, my parents were already in the car.

Piled blankets and pillows must have looked sufficiently childlike and peaceful to assure my folks that everything was golden, because they proceeded to back out of the parking lot. I ran out into the night just in time to see the brake lights of the Pontiac as they swung out onto route 53, toward Fairmont.

I awoke in a cold sweat, dreaming of the brake lights shining through the snow flurry, carrying my parents to the warmth and comfort of my grandmother’s house. My mouth was dry, my head was still pounding and I was late enough for work to officially be considered a no-call/no-show.

I recalled the brouhaha that followed our abandonment at the roadside diner. At eight, the only phone number that I could recall, other than my own, was, oddly enough, that of my uncle, who also lived in Sterling, Ohio. I certainly had no way of knowing my grandmother’s number—which was the target destination for the now-speeding Pontiac.

So, I called my uncle, and just over an hour later, my sister and I were tucked into bed at the house of my uncle, warm, dry and safe.


As the Pontiac pulls to the curb in front of Grandma’s house, Father kills the motor and opens the car door. He attempts to roust the children.

Come on, Kids, wake up, Goddamn it.

Father warms his hands and waits for the children to stir. Mother gathers her things.

Jerry, God damn it!

Father reaches into the back seat and rustles the blankets. The rustling becomes a bit more frantic when he discovers that there are no children under the blankets.

The kids—God damn it!

Mother looks into the backseat and then into Father’s ashen face. She screams. Her shriek echoes in the night and we can see the terror on her face as we:


To my father’s credit, he was not one to give up on a project once he started. He approached this issue as he approached all issues: with the single-minded stubbornness of a half-witted pit-bull. Dad yelled at my mother: “Get back in the God damned car!” and got back in the God damned car himself and turned the vehicle around. By the time they reached the diner, some two and a half hours later (Dad had made up a little time on the lonely, icy mountain roads), he had figured out where he must have left the kids.

He burst into the diner—the saloon side—and ran to the bar. “I leave my God-damned kids here?”

The bartender smiled. “Sure did—their uncle came to pick them up a few hours ago—they’re fine.”

It took Dad a moment to process this information. “Uncle? What’s that?”
“Yeah, the little fellow knew his uncle’s phone number, so we called. Didn’t want the kids to sit here, scared all night…”

“No, of course not…” Dad looked at his watch. He ran out of the bar.

My mother stood in the parking lot by the car, sobbing quietly, as she had been since they left my grandmother’s. “Where are the kids?”

Dad threw the car door open. “GET IN THE GOD DAMNED CAR.”

Mother shrieked again and got in the God damned car.

My father never stopped driving. He drove from the diner to Sterling, where he picked up his kids; nearly coming to blows with my uncle, then drove straight through to Fairmont, where we arrived, some four hours later. There was not much conversation in the car. Mom was pissed at Dad for the way he had acted at my uncle’s house and for the way he was driving on the slick mountain roads and Dad was pissed at Mom for the entire affair, it somehow being her fault that my sister had needed to pee. And in a certain part of my mind, I was thrilled that Dad had come for us, pissed or not. He hadn’t allowed us to be abandoned and had done what it took to retrieve us and set the stars, the snow and the winding mountain roads right again.

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