Author: Leon Taylor

Despite the sheets of cold rain, Barry hummed a cheery off-Broadway tune as he straightened his loud red tie. “Don’t forget your umbrella,” his wife said.

“Won’t need it. Marty is picking me up.”

“And don’t forget Family Night. Try to come home a little early.”

“Yes, ma’am.” When Ellen turned her back, the stock broker slipped a scrap of paper into the mailbox of the household robot, Stephen. He could have sent email, but a handwritten note seemed compassionate.

“See ya tonight,” Barry said to his wife. He was short and blonde, with thin lips perpetually twisted, as if at life as a perpetual joke. He dashed from the banging front door to the white SUV, newly scrubbed, where the lissome Monica, in a tight new miniskirt, waited at the wheel.

“Free at last,” he said, and kissed her on the mouth.

“Did you tell her?”

“Of course.” Well, he as good as told her. It was all in the note. She would read it, cry, and devote herself to raising their nine-year-old son, Chris. A win-win situation. He kissed Monica hard.

“I made reservations on Southwest for a flight to Reno this afternoon,” she said when she could breathe again.

“Perfect. Say, couldn’t you just pull over for a little while?”
Perusing a beginner’s Spanish grammar, Ellen waited five minutes in case Barry returned for a forgotten sandwich. Today was the day; she didn’t want a confrontation. With sweaty pudgy fingers, she brushed back her frowsy auburn hair, already graying, and pulled from the closet a bag crammed with books. It would be her study schedule for her first year of freedom. She was 35, time that she made something of herself. Maybe she’d become a professor of something. Barry could look after Chris: He’d always been a family man. She hurriedly stuck a long typed letter into Stephen’s mailbox, overlooking the scrawled note already there. After double-checking the contents of her bookbag, she lugged it to the front door and the drenched street corner, and hailed a cab.
The sun was shining when Chris returned home from the neighborhood school. He looked like his father, except for brighter eyes and a hint of a paunch. “Mom, I passed my algebra test! Where’s my chocolate? Mom?”

“Mom isn’t home yet,” said the robot. The parents had bought it to clean the house—maids cost a pretty penny in Brooklyn—and to amuse Chris with its clown’s face painted in red and white.

“Where is she?”

“I am not programmed to answer that question. Want to play checkers?”

“No.” Stephen always let him win. “Let’s watch TV.”

After The New Flintstones, Chris went to the front door. The lawn glittered with green, freshened by rain, but the sun was setting on the empty street.
“Where’s Dad?”

“I am not programmed to answer that question. Want to play chess?”

“It’s Family Night. I’ll play Dad when he comes home.” Chris set up the chessboard and studied it with his chin in his fist, like his father. He picked out three figures and danced the king and the queen in a circle with their bravest knight, Sir Chris.

After thirty long minutes, he sighed, put the chessboard away, and plopped down into his giant beanbag to watch TV.

Stephen brought him a hot chocolate. As the robot bent over, Chris saw its bulging mailbox. He pulled out the two missives, read them, read them again, and swallowed hard.

“Don’t cry, Chris,” Stephen said, grinning like a clown. “Mom will be home soon. Don’t cry, Chris. Dad will be home….”