"Ground Zero"

By Larry Harris

"Can you imagine?"

Debra Barone leaned against the kitchen counter and brings a steeping hot cup of tea to her lips all the while observing the three children, Ally, Geoffrey, and Michael at the kitchen table quietly enjoying lunch. What she found so amazing is how quiet things were. The three children, on the first day of spring break, behaving all day long, was just the added blessing to her day. No, the real good thing about today was there had been no sign of Marie. Noon already and not a single moment, today, did Marie Barone invade her life--no phone calls, no barging in unannounced—nothing. Debra shook her head silently to this as she watched her kids and fantasized, "Can you imagine what it would be like if . . ." And then the nightmare began.

The kitchen door opened to let Marie in. "Hello, children!" and she blew in like the wind.

She had on her face, the usual painted smile that was about as bright and cheery as the flowery red blouse she was wearing. She hovered over the kids as they sat at the kitchen table for a bit, not noticing her daughter-in-law by the sink. Debra almost choked on her tea when she suddenly yanked from her daydream of what it would be like not having Marie or Frank around all the time. To think the day started so nice, but now the tea she choked on was hot, so hot that it burned Debra's throat. She coughed, hacked, and ran to the sink to spit it out.

"Oh, my," Marie waddled over to her. "Oh, Debra, are you all right, dear?"

Debra had to wait a bit to find her breath, her voice, and her composure all at once. She managed only a hand signal before she swallowed, caught her air and rasped, "I'm fine, Marie."

"Looks like you were choking on something," Marie said. "Are you going to be alright?"

Debra's irritation level shot up a notch or two, "I'm fine, Marie. I just swallowed some hot tea down the wrong pipe. Choked a bit."

"Oh, you'd better be careful the way you make, tea then," Marie started, " This is why I always use tea bags and none of that fancy stuff where you put the tea in the cup and pour the water on top of it the way you do. No wonder you choked."

Debra pulled back on her irritation, and painted a smile on her face as well. She turned to the teapot on the stove, "Would you like some tea?"

"What did I just say, dear?" Marie was curt. "I'd rather have the teabag kind."

"Uh, that's the kind I am drinking, Marie."

"Then what on earth caused you to choke? Tea is just hot water, basically." And the irritation level rises again, "Marie, what do you need?" this jetted out of Debra directly at Marie in a desperate hope that Marie would take what she came for and just leave.

"Oh, well I wanted to show you something I found in today's paper," and Marie produces from her pocket an envelope and in this envelope are a few coupons she clipped for Debra. "See, from the A&P. Up to thirty percent off, plus double your coupon value. I know how much you like to save money, so I clipped these for you."

"Well, thank you, Marie," Debra says taking the coupons and examining them for a bit.

"And see these are healthy foods for the kids," Marie added, "No fish sticks, or corn dogs or microwavable pizzas. This food is actually better for your whole family."

Debra looks at Marie for a moment as Marie added, "And it's on sale!" Then Marie turns to the children eating quietly at the table. "Wouldn't you all like something better to eat for lunch and dinner instead of fish sticks and junk food?"

"We like fish sticks, grandma," said Ally.

"Yeah, and junk food," Michael said. Geoffrey nods in agreement.

"Oh, you can't possibly like junk food all your life," Marie said, "It's not good for you. It's not good for your heart." She turns and heads for the refrigerator, opening the freezer she looks inside, "You can't possibly raise these children on junk food all the time, Debra. They have to have something healthy at all times, or they'll become overweight, or even worse obese. I saw a report on the news this morning that most of America's children are not being taught proper nutrition and even in the schools they are being fed junk."

"I didn't see that report, but I did see the report about domestic violence." Debra says under her breath.

"And what is all this in here," Marie pulls out a box of frozen sausage and egg sandwiches, "Oh, my God! Look at this unhealthy food---sausage and egg burgers? You're feeding your kids these for breakfast?"

"No, Marie." Debra says, "Those are Rays'!"

Marie goes into one of her mini-panic-shock attacks, "You let my Raymond eat these disgusting little sausage patties? Debra, shame on you! Here's what we'll do, we'll just through them out." She goes to the side of the refrigerator and tosses the whole box into the trash.

"Marie!" Debra puts down her cup of tea and goes over to the trash to save the Sausage and Egg burgers. Marie is rifling through the freezer again, this time she brings out a box of fish sticks. She looks at Debra holding the box of Sausage and Egg Burgers.

"You might not want to serve those now," Marie says. "They've been in the garbage."

Looking at Marie, then the kids, she throws her hands up and tosses the box back in to garbage.

"That's good." Marie smiles, "See? That wasn't so hard. Now here, let's see if you can do the same with these fish sticks. Trust me, you'll feel good about yourself . . ."

"Marie, what are you doing?"

"Well, I'm trying to make this a healthier home. Tell you what after we're through cleaning all this junk food out the fridge you and I will go shopping to buy healthier foods for you, the kids and my Raymond. And don't worry, if you get confused about what the buy, I'll be right there beside you, helping you all the way. After all, what's a mother-in-law for."

"For leaving me alone!" With that, Debra jerks the fish sticks from Marie's hands and tosses them into the freezer. She then slams the freezer door and at that moment, her face becomes a death mask with eyes fierce, burning right into Marie.

"I don't understand," said Marie. "I went through all that trouble clipping coupons for you, thinking about you, the kids, and Raymond. I just want to help." She starts to open the freezer again Debra slams it shut.

"You don't have to be so hostile," says Marie.

Her teeth clenched tighter than her fists at her side, she bears down at Marie, and what happens next was something she could not help. Like magma from a volcano, it rose right up from her and she growled between her teeth, "Get the FUCK out of my house, Marie! Right now!"

Marie was shocked, she gasped. The children heard it, too. Mommy said a bad word.--the worst bad word in the whole, wide world. Even at their young age, they knew that this was not a word that no one should be saying.

The children were all in unison, "Oooh!"

"Well, I didn't come over here to listen to that language." Marie was highly offended, but it matter to Debra, she was still bearing down on Marie, backing her towards the door. Marie opened the door fearing some other foul word might come out of Debra. "I won't have you speaking to me with a filthy mouth like that, and in front of the children, no less. I think I'll simply take my leave now."

"Yeah, you do that, Marie." Debra said.

Marie exits quickly and Debra slams the door behind her. She turns and heads towards the living room and up the stairs, "Mommy will be right back, kids. She has to go and wash her mouth out with soap."