There was a boy. He had busy hands and nervous limbs and made messes everywhere. Such a sensitive and wobbly soul begs to be protected from himself. He was clumsy, awkward… and had fully sprouted hair everywhere… which, to her, signaled even greater tribulation on the horizon. The more chest and leg hair he got, the more surveillance she installed. She wanted to put throw pillows, rubber bumpers, soft edges and pampers all around him… after she paddled some sense into him, of course.
That’s why the cameras were always trained on him. Better tracking and oversight lessened the need for reactive measures. She was a proactive personality type A.
During her work day, she dutifully checked the monitors every few minutes. It was for his own protection. Being that she was hardly ever home– hadn’t been for years– this was her way of ‘keeping the lines of communication open.’
She was a modern mother on the go. Today, she had a power meeting at nine. She had lunch with upper management, CEO Bill Withers, to discuss the biennial budget at 11:17. A career was in flux; she was roasting on both ends. But, at age 44, she was still a stone-dead hottie with the personal pizzazz to work it to the top.
Watching her son while she was at work.
When he was at school, she couldn’t watch him. Yet. But she’d come to rely upon the homing device fixed to his leg, sadly, kept there on a semi-permanent basis. This was because he couldn’t be trusted to fasten them on before he left for school. Now, they wouldn’t be removed until she got home. She gave him all the rope he needed and he ended up swinging every time. Because of these ‘bracelets’, he claimed the others made fun of him, calling him Lock-Up Bitch. She told him what any sane parent would: she told him to toughen up. She told him that he’s going to be a man soon enough facing far greater challenges than popularity contests. He’d succeeded in slicing two of his trackers off. That was before she had three custom designed, tamperproof (they were all supposed to be), with the small yet crucial modification of electric contacts. To shock, of course.
She could chart his exact latitude and longitude via satellite, if she wanted to. When she had the time- which she didn’t today.
Watching him while she was attending her niner. Watching him on her laptop while she was driving and talking on her cell phone. There he’d be. In his room, in the living room, in the den. Kicking around with his shoulders slumped over that phone, his dark mop of hair hanging over his eyes. She had parental controls on all of his devices, too. She was no fool.
“Stop slouching, Brian! My God. Hold yourself like you’ve got some self-respect. Do you want to have a dowager’s hump when you’re fifty?” He drooped even more, probably to spite her. His thumbs sparring with the phone screen. “I wish you’d read. Or go outside and take a walk to somewhere other than The 40 Stop or Burger Schwanz.”
She hadn’t put surveillance in the bathroom. Yet. So, he tried spending a lot of time in the bathroom. But then she’d be on the intercom listening and intervening. She could talk on the intercoms from her Bluetooth.
“What’s going on in there, Brian?”
“Oh, god… nothing.”
“What’s taking so long?”
Silence. Then, a series of stomps and he turned on the water. She waited, listening to running water as she looked at the clock on her console, the hiss of the water in the sink distorted to static in her ear.
“Brian? What’s taking so long? Stop wasting water!”
“Nothing, mom. Please. I need a minute. Can you give me a minute?” He shouts over the faucet.
“Well… you’ve already had half an hour. And I think your hands are clean now! My goodness!”
“Jesus Christ, I’m trying to shit.”
“Don’t talk to me that way, Brian!”
“Oh…” He turned the water off.
“Oh what?! I demand an apology!”
“For using profanity with me. For treating me like an inconvenience. I work too hard to be treated like this.”
“I’m sorry.” At seventeen, his recently claimed manvoice was already fading, sinking back into him, like a the retracting head of a turtle. “Please just…”
“I won’t tolerate that, Brian. I won’t.”
“… can I just have a couple more minutes? Please?”
“It’s not natural for a boy to sit there that long! To use that much water. It costs money, you know. It all costs money!”
“Do you think that…”
“You’ll get hemorrhoids if you sit on a toilet seat for such a long time.”
“It’s how you eat, dear.”
“Maybe if you’d cook for me once in a while…”
“Oh now don’t start with that. Please. I am working to put good food on the table. It’s not easy being the breadwinner and super parent too, you know!” That was always the excuse. “You won’t eat the dietary meals I buy for you. Those are very nutritious. They’re scientifically scored and engineered to cover all your recommended daily requirements.”
He looked down at the grey, sculpted indoor/outdoor carpeting of the bathroom.
“They taste like paper.”
“That’s what salt and pepper is for, dear. They’re very easy to fix…”
“So’s going to Burger Schwanz.”
“… just pop them into the micro and they’re good to go. You’re just too lazy for your own good. Lazy! You won’t be skinny forever! Trust me. Start exercising now…” The tiny, smart car she bought for him to drive was also outfitted with a GPS tracking device that she could monitor from her laptop. Or her office computer. Or her GeniusPhone. She wasn’t able to commandeer this vehicle by remote. Yet. But, if he were foolish enough to drive to Burger Schwanz, she would automatically know he was headed towards Meridian Ave. His path was always predictable. He was smart, but not smart enough to be unpredictable. “Where do you get all the money you’ve got to go to Burger Schwanz, anyway?”
“I do homework for other kids.”
“You do what?”
“Homework. For kids that’re having problems with their homework.”
“That’s cheating, Brian.” She could tell he was lying. About everything.
“Hello? Brian, I said, that’s cheating.”
“No it’s not. No it’s not. I’m helping someone less fortunate than me. That’s me not being selfish, like you always say.”
“Don’t try it, mister! It most certainly IS cheating and I won’t hear of it. No sir! Not under those shingles!”
The first camera she installed, was a Panasonic Micro Digital Pantiltzoom camera. ‘A NICE ALL PURPOSE CAMERA FOR GENERAL MONITORING PURPOSES’, was what the online product description said. It got an average of four and a half stars in Consumer Reports reviews. She bought that one when he was in first grade, back in the day. It was a good enough camera, but it wasn’t tamper proof. He could throw a ball cap over its simple, obtrusive design. If he were out of range- or shrouding her frantically telescoping lenses- for too long, she’d be on the intercom shouting at him to present himself, front and center. Currently, that piece of technology was an outdated- if still serviceable- relic in her ever-expanding and complex network of state of the art pinhole cameras, microphones and motion sensors. She believed that Brian believed the Panasonic dinosaur no longer worked.
With all of this, she still couldn’t bring herself to take the final step in installing cameras in the bathroom. This point was a painstaking, ongoing moral struggle for her. After all, she wasn’t a fascist.
“I can’t see you, Brian. I need to see you. You’ve had enough alone time.”
She saw him come out of the bathroom, his pants still unfastened and then he disappeared out of frame.
“BRIAN J. LEDBOTTER!”
On her way out of downtown, with her laptop open on the passenger seat and the dash mounted screen linked to the tree cams trained on the exterior of their house, she turned the AC up full blast and took a sip of her Iced Capp. She couldn’t afford to allow humidity to collapse her carefully crafted hair. When she hit the I-270 acceleration ramp going 25 miles per hour, she glanced over at the laptop, the screen, split into quadrants of their home’s interior. The shots were eerily still. Their cat slept on the couch. The sun played through the branches of the tree outside the living room window casting swirling phantoms and studding the room with diamonds: a series of small sunbursts followed by rainbows. She reached over and- with a stroke of her finger- switched to a second block of cameras.
Still nowhere in sight.
What she hadn’t taken the time to realize, yet, is that her boy, often and with great intensity, traveled far in his mind. Over walls and bridges, through space, folding time. He blew things up below him. One of those things was her.
“Brian? Brian? Let’s go. Let’s get in sight, here, buddy.” She did her best to be patient. That is, until nearly rear-ending a Humvee, stopped in a bottleneck, as she frantically swiped her touchpad toggling camera angles. She barked threats and candy-coated invective into her Bluetooth. As a driver, she convinced herself that she was being responsible because she was, basically, hands-free. Her car was equipped with Smart Stop sensors for just these reasons. She took her responsibilities seriously. “I swear, Brian, if I wreck this car you’ll be grounded for the rest of your natural days. Just now, I was almost decapidated! Don’t think that you can pull this baloney much longer… I’ll turn this car around and be back home in half an hour. And you had better be in front of those eyes of mine well before that!”
Somewhere, Brian was rolling his eyes and slamming his fists onto something. He banged them against it until they were numb and swollen and the thing broke apart.
Radio silence. Crackle of satellites and the big bang.
When she got out of range, she felt confident that when she returned home, her captures would reveal anything she needed to know. Then there would be the fight and subsequent punishments. It was getting harder and harder to physically lay into him the way she used to, the bigger and the more sullen he got. But, like her job, she gave it 150%. Spare the rod (and all those Confucius-type slogans). It was then and there, sitting in the cool isolation of her vehicle- in that traffic jam on I-270- that she decided to push aside her squeamishness and finally install those nano-cams in the bathroom vanity (and tissue cozy). She’d make an appointment with her favorite tech (with the full arm tattoo sleeves and nipple rings that showed through his shirt) at Alsnauer Security this week. Her son’s health and welfare depended on it.
G.P. DeSalvo lives and works in Columbus, Ohio. He is a civil servant,an artisan, a sorcerer and an amateur psychiatrist. He has lived three or four different lives. Now he’s getting to be an old man. He may- one day in the near future- actually get something published.