The Family Business

This story first appeared in the That Not Forgotten anthology published by Hidden Brook Press August 2012.



There was pure, white light at the top of a tunnel.  Exactly as they always said.

I’m dying.

She felt an unexpected flush of euphoria.

Get to the light.  Escape the tunnel.  Into the light.

But the heat.  Suffocating.  Relentless.  Why so hot?

Elation became terror.  And then confusion.

I’ve always obeyed, haven’t I?

She was unsure whether to continue or to retreat.

A shape materialized from the halo above.  At first, a crescent moon, a silver luminescence, broadening, cleaving.  A smile.

Each shimmering tooth an angel, a rapturous choir standing shoulder to shoulder between two glossy banquettes.  Swaying.  Clapping.  Waxing impossibly wider, shining ever brighter.  The sing-song emanating from it, chanting, repeating.

Now getting louder.  Less melodious.

Now sharp.  Strident.

She felt a sudden, insistent pain in her forearm and the dim walls of the tunnel melted away.

The woman with the heavenly teeth asked her question again, her smile re-ignited, radiating warmth and patience in equal measures.

“How did you feel when you first heard the news?”

Sitting next to Matt, her husband, on the overstuffed couch, she turned her head slowly to face him as the woman leaned in close, interrogating.  Matt dug his freshly filed fingernail into her wrist, trying to break through her stupor.  The brows above his pale, pleading eyes were gesturing to the woman standing over them.  For the first time, she noticed the bottomless pool of a camera lens over the woman’s shoulder.  And more to the left and right.  And the massive Klieg lights suspended from the ceiling, muddying her powdered face with perspiration.

Matt apologized through set lips.

“It’s fine,” the woman said as she turned to the crew and ran a finger across her throat.  “We’ll do another take.  It’s all in the editing.  Ready to try again sweetie?”

This time, she nodded.

“Ok,” the host said, powering up.  “Here we go.”

She pointed at Matt’s wife and snapped her thumb down.

“How did you feel when you first heard the news?” The woman paused.  “That you were pregnant.”

The words echoed in the chasm of her head, triggering a slide of its precarious contents. Breathless, she realized the truth, again, with excruciating clarity.

I don’t want it.

Renewed gouging at her wrist.

Wonderful, she mouthed. So happy.

Matt began to explain how he had been affected by the act of conception, his separation anxiety, how he had felt a part of him was missing.

“Cut!” The smile dropped from the woman’s face.  “That will do.  We’ll dub in audio later.  Thanks so much.”

Matt mumbled another apology as he fed his wife a capsule and raised a paper cup to her lips.  The woman waved him away.  She was setting up for the next segment.  Matt helped his wife up from the sofa and guided her toward the exit.  As they left, they could hear the host rehearsing her segue.

“Isn’t she precious?  So nervous and excited.  Carrying Matt’s child.  Moe and Miriam’s record-breaking three hundred and twelfth grandchild!  We’ll capture all nine months of tummy kicks and morning sickness, sweet reconciliations and hormonal rage.  Tune in, you won’t want to miss a minute.  Now, let’s see how Miles and his wife are coping with the arrival of their triplets!”

Later, cradled in the lambskin seats of the stretched Lincoln Town Car that whisked them from home to studio and back, Matt made an attempt at consolation.

“Dumpling.  You knew this was coming.  I warned you not to take a dose so close to filming.”

Matt picked up his wife’s limp arm and examined the soft flesh of her wrist.  She wrenched it from his grasp, burrowed it into her lap, and turned away.

“Sorry I pressed so hard.  You were really out of it.”

She put her face closer to the drizzle-greased window.  The limo came to a stop at a set of barricades where men in orange vests worked at repairing a bus-sized sinkhole. A huddle of onlookers stared at the car, wondering who might be inside.  One of them pushed a battered stroller from the sidewalk fragment into the muck silting the gutter.

“I think you forget sometimes,” Matt continued, shifting away to look out at a shuttered high rise, “just how fortunate we are, all of us.  The family.  How lucky you are.”

She realized now, with alarm, that the woman with the stroller was not trying to cross the street, but was heading her way.  As she neared, she could see that the woman wore several overlapping coats and a dozen tawdry ribbons nested in the tangle of her hair.


He gestured out the window to the empty building.  “You have opportunities they can only dream of.  But you also have a responsibility.”

The woman was shouting something, exposing her remaining brown teeth.  She stabbed the stroller ahead of her and strained to see inside.  Her face brightened.  I know you, she was saying.  I know you!  The woman yanked and thrust the buggy parallel to the car door, so she could get closer.


“I didn’t have to marry you in,” Matt was saying.

She peered into the woman’s stroller.  It was stuffed with rags and shoes, books and cooking implements, dented cans and half-empty bottles.  The detritus of a life.  Atop the mouldering heap sat a tiny, bald doll with one arm sticking out of a torn frock.  Her sparkling green eyes stared back into the car, unblinking.

Matt spoke softly and mournfully into his open palm. “It could have been Madison.  Matt and Maddy.”

The woman was at the door.  Her croaking, crimson mouth spattered at the window.  Congratulations!  With swaddled fingers she fumbled at the handle.


One of the orange vests waved the short string of cars across a temporary roadway and the limo lurched forward, scraping past the woman and her stroller.  Matt put a hand on his wife’s knee and she exhaled.  The latest dose leavened her bloodstream and the city receded.  Urban landscapes devoid of schools and toy stores, parks and playgrounds, dissolved from view and memory.

Eight months later, a baby pushed through the tunnel of tight darkness and emerged into the glare of the Klieg lights.  The child was passed from doctor to host to be held before the bottomless pool.

“The moment we’ve all been waiting for.  What better way to bring our special two-hour, season finale to a close,” the host said, waiting for the crescendo, “please welcome…, Felicity, the newest member of the Family Business!”

As ecstasy engulfed the studio audience, the host brought the trembling infant to her anesthetized mother and lay her gently down.  The mother’s dilated eyes were damp, her upturned face streaked.

Viewers took them for tears of joy.