Joyland

Montreal |

Apocalypse, as Viewed From the Family Room

by Mark Paterson

The TV is on mute so none of us know something is wrong until my brother notices the news desk has no anchorperson. “What’s the deal?” “With corn nuts?” I counter, automatically. “No, seriously what’s the deal.” Dave is lying on the couch. He’s atrociously hungover and smells like pepperoni. “Dad? Dad! Dad, where’s the remote?” A siren, maybe a car alarm, wails somewhere outside. My father enters the room and stops in front of the TV. Arms crossed, he stares at the vacant news desk on the screen. He scratches his chin. “Dad – the remote. We want to hear this.” He turns his head and looks back at me and Dave, hesitation in his face, eyes apprehensive. As if we just asked him to remove his pants. “Dad, where is the remote control?” He considers this a moment longer. Then he tiptoes to the fireplace. He looks left, right, and eases himself down to his knees. He parts the chain mesh fireplace curtain and crawls forward, head and shoulders disappearing into the hearth. Apologetically, voice muffled, he says, “A lot of things in the house have been going missing lately.” Dave points. “Look. It’s like his butt is talking to us.” Beige Dockers. I have to turn away. My mother marches into the room. She’s got a wet-looking wooden spoon in her hand. Something on the TV catches my attention. A woman in a sky blue turtleneck sweater, sprinting behind the anchor desk. Short blond hair and thick-framed eyeglasses. I rapidly classify her as Hot before she disappears off the left side of the screen. “But ever since I started keeping the remote control in here,” my father continues, enthusiasm rising, “it always turns up!” Then his talking butt is swatted, hard, by the business end of my mother’s wooden spoon. He shrieks three times in quick succession, shrill animal cries, like a crow trapped in the flue, transmitting a desperate, futile, mayday up the chimney. An orangey red stain the shape of an explosion is splattered across the back of his Dockers – enchilada sauce, for the Thanksgiving enchilada casserole - and he bangs his head twice as he hastily exits the fireplace backwards. My mother turns to me and Dave. “He just wants to be in control. Hiding it in the fireplace.” “You’re not going to use that spoon for the food now, are you?” my brother asks, shuddering. “Will somebody please just put the sound on?” My father is back up on his feet, soot smeared on his forehead and right cheek. He pulls his pants up a little too high and re-tucks his shirt. A belt would make a good Christmas present for him this year. My shoulders tingle with the sudden and unexpected realization that a job could probably get me out of Christmas. And for that matter next Thanksgiving. I wonder if Subway, or maybe Burger King, is open on holidays. My father makes his way to his easy chair positioned directly in front of the TV. He squats into it delicately. Dave giggles at this. Settled, my father carefully cradles the remote control flat in the palm of his left hand, which is resting on top of his gut. He looks like he’s balancing a handful of nuts. With his right index finger, he firmly presses the VOLUME button. The anchor desk is still deserted, but there is a voiceover. My parents start arguing. I can’t make out all of the information over their hassle but I distinctly hear the solemn and extremely polished male voice say something about a detonation, a chemical cloud, and gridlocked evacuation routes to the north. Dave burps and shoots up from the couch. “We have to get out of here.” “Like, now,” I add. “What are you talking about?” my mother whines. “We haven’t even eaten yet!” My father spreads his legs wide, leans forward in the chair, and burrows his right arm deep beneath the seat cushion. He extracts a videotape. He pushes himself out of the chair and slips the tape into the VCR. He takes a step back, the remote steadied on his palm, and presses RECORD. Discernable amid the terror and my abruptly upset stomach is some amount of relief that a Burger King job is in all likelihood no longer necessary.