Swans Commentary » swans.com November 7, 2011  



Bedtime Story


by Peter Byrne





(Swans - November 7, 2011)  

Father:  Did you tuck Dickie in again?

Mother:  Yeah. He's still going on about the beheading.

He:  What's a nine-year-old worrying about terrorism for? Tell him what the salesman told us when we bought this house: A gated community is as safe as the Pentagon.

She:  That ten-foot fence doesn't keep TV out.

He:  You shouldn't have let him watch the news. The local murders are okay but not the world news. It's rough out there.

She:  It went on just after the cartoon. We saw the head come right off.

He:  Tell him it's no worse than Wile E. Coyote pushing the Road Runner over a cliff.

She:  Odd how kids know the difference, whether it's make-believe or not.

He:  Well, you know, Mickey Mouse isn't much like the real thing. He talks, and those ears. He's not going to bleed, obviously. Whereas your genuine mouse has red blood, or does it? I don't know. Shall I turn the light off?

She:  Not yet. Dickie keeps going on about dying and now he thinks this beheading thing is the way it works, the normal procedure.

He:  He'll grow out of it. We all had to work through that.

She:  What are you saying? Did you ever see a beheading in your mother's living room? I don't think your folks were fighting the War on Terror.

He:  We had other problems. Noisy neighbors, leaded gasoline. My crazy aunt Eleanor was always catching her bedclothes on fire.

She:  But we weren't so confused about life and death -- or were we?

He:  Confused?

She:  When Dickie first asked, I said it was like sleeping. That kept him quiet for a while.

He:  It didn't put him off his nap?

She:  No. But that may be because he didn't believe me. After all, I was lying.

He:  You know what? From now on, less TV.

She:  You're kidding. That means less for us too. And what do you think he does with the babysitter when we're out? Exchange nursery rhymes?

He:  A bit of discipline wouldn't hurt any of us.

She:  Maybe not. But you'd have to bring the whole country along.

He:  How's that?

She:  This killing thing is in the air. Dickie even heard about those school shootings. Don't ask me how. He wanted to know why the kids were shooting each other. For him it was worse than if some adult did it.

He:  Look, you tell him he's lucky that he's an only child. No other little gunslingers in this household.

She:  He didn't miss seeing the Twin Towers coming down and those people jumping out.

He:  Come on. He wasn't born then.

She:  They keep showing those shots over and over again. We'll never get away from them.

He:  Well they won't repeat the beheading much on peak news. You know, suppertime, food on the table, and family values.

She:  They'll be another one. Or some nut will wipe out a third grade somewhere. It's not going to stop.

He:  Darling, I think you've had a long, hard day.

She:  He's only nine but he'll soon have his own laptop. That means he'll listen to Bin Laden explaining himself before they snuffed him. He'll learn the colors of the Homeland Security alerts.

He:  You're exaggerating. When I was a boy I never missed a Saturday matinee double feature. The Indians all had tomahawks, but I never worried about being scalped. Now let's get some sleep.

She:  No. You're going to have to do something. You'll have to explain to him.

He:  About what?

She:  About dying.

He:  Jesus, woman, not tonight.

She:  Don't you dare turn that light off. You tell me what you're going to say.

He:  To Dickie? Hmm. I could talk to him about that hamster he had. What did he call it?

She:  Sam-the-Ham.

He:  I'll say it's like when Sam got stuck behind the refrigerator and dried up. Then we made a nice grave in the garden.

She:  You never. You threw it in the garbage when Dickie wasn't looking.

He:  It was raining. But we'd discussed a burial in the back yard.

She:  That's no good. You have to talk about people dying.

He:  All right. Next time there's a funeral in the family I'll take him. It shouldn't be long the way that crowd looked at Christmas.

She:  You'd take him right up to the open casket?

He:  I could.

She:  That wouldn't be explaining. They're all dolled up with their hair done. They don't even look asleep. It's as if they've closed their eyes for a camera flash.

He:  If it's a nice day we could skip the preliminaries and go right to the cemetery. We'd get some fresh air that way.

She:  Never mind working it in with a bicycle excursion. You just stay right here at home and explain to him.

He:  You're starting to annoy me. Do you realize what time of night it is? Somebody kicks the bucket. He's kaput. Curtains. It happens. There's no reason to alert the woman's editor.

She:  Listen to me. You can't explain to Dickie because you don't know.

He:  Is this going to be a two a.m. philosophy seminar?

She:  You play with tin guns for the first ten years of your life. Afterwards you get real ones. For fun you watch people getting shot up on screen. The bodies keep falling. If you want to get into the act you can knock them over yourself in some electronic game. Then you go out and shoot any animals that are still around.

He:  Whoa. Slow down. I'll talk to the kid.

She:  I said you don't know what dying means.

He:  Look, you're antiwar, and I agree. I'm antiwar. You want me to be anti-dying in general?

She:  I want you to tell me the difference between some one that's lying here thinking and feeling and someone who's stopped all that for good. I want to know the difference. I want Dickie to know the difference.

He:  If there were still public executions, I'd take you both to one. Then you could see the before and after up close.

She:  That's just the trouble. We see the before and after every day now, up on the screen. But we don't know what it means to that severed head.

He:  Best to think of it as happening on the other side of the world.

She:  Heh! This country's has cages full of fattened up candidates right now. A judge comes along one day and says, "All right, you back there. No, not you shorty. Wait your turn. Today I want the big lunkhead with all the muscle."

He:  Those are bad guys, for the most part. Then, presto, they no longer present a problem.

She:  They make more bodies for the pile.

He:  Wait a minute. Don't you have a thought for the victims?

She:  They're in the pile already, lower down.

He:  Their families, their children, their parents? They need closure.

She:  Bullshit. We all need closure and no one's going to get any.

He:  I'll just turn this light off.

She:  So what will you do about Dickie?

He:  I'm going to get him another hamster, one with a real healthy head on it. We'll call it some great name and you'll see how quickly he forgets about all this, you know, passing-away business.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published November 7, 2011