- Michael Thompson
The first sound comes in at 6:43.
“Papa! Papa! Is it the day yet?” one shouts.
“Papa! Papa! Is it the day yet?” echoes the other.
You open your eyes. The woman laying next to you doesn’t look too pleased to be awake either. You grab your glasses. You glance at the clock. You yell “No.” You hide your head under the covers.
But it’s useless. You’re up. And the grumblings from across the hall let you know you’re not the only one.
“Hey Google,” screams one after giving you a hug, “can you play the Chipmunks, please?”
“Yeah! Chipmunks!” echoes the other.
You smile at how politely your kids speak to Google while referring to you as a donkey, or more recently, a Nuggethead.
“I gotta go,” the woman you’ve had the pleasure of waking up to every day for the last eleven years says after she showers, drinks a coffee, gives you a kiss, and reminds you she’s got the car today to drive to work in the city.
You get your kids dressed. You pour the last bit of whole milk into the last bit of Honey Nut Cheerios. You tell your kids if they’re hungry later to ask their teacher for a snack and explain that their dad is a bad parent and promises to go shopping later. Skipbo goes well. You didn’t come in last. You remind yourself to stop taking it easy on the four-year-old as he’s learning fast.
Even though school doesn’t start till 8:30, and you’ve been up for close to two hours, you check the time, realize it’s 8:23, and end up having to sprint the last 40 meters with a little person wrapped around your shoulder to beat the bell.
You tell your kids you’ll do better tomorrow.
You give them a hug.
You think about how cool it is that even though they’re late, your kids take the time to also hug each other without any instruction.
One runs right.
The other runs left.
You walk back home, grab your bike, and then stand in front of your apartment and think about if you should go uphill to get to a secluded beach or go downhill to get to the town one.
You choose downhill.
You say hi to one of your kid’s classmate’s parents. You chat a bit. She’s from Poland. She asks if you remember anything from when you lived in Warsaw when you were a kid. You say, “Only the pickles.” She laughs. You mention how good the Moroccan football team is. Her eyes glaze over. You say goodbye and then peddle for maybe ten minutes more along the water before deciding to sit down on a bench. The conversation you have in your head starts off poorly. You curse yourself for not riding further. But as time passes, the silence kicks in and you realize park benches are a trusted friend.
You then stop by the market, do your best to pick up everything you need to buy, and head back home.
You try to write.
It doesn’t happen.
You turn on your phone and see a message from a friend saying you need to watch a TikTok video.
“TikTok,” you say. “That’s not for me. I’ve never been on it.”
“Just do it,” your friend says. “You’ll like this guy. He’s 45. Lives in New York. He makes quick vlogs about his average days.”
“Hmm,” you think to yourself. “Who the hell would watch that?”
After close to an hour of devouring 63 50-second videos of some stranger’s day, you get to work. It goes well. But then the doorbell rings. “Shit!” you say under your breath as you smile at the two men standing at your front door— “Come on in. How was the weekend?”
They continue installing the new doors you had to order since your apartment was flooded two months ago. It’s not quiet. But you think about how nice it will be to close your bedroom and office doors again.
Plus, you like them being around.
You think about that for a second. Your decision to work mainly from home. “Is this what it’s come to?” you ask yourself. “Looking forward to weekly visits from handymen to get a dose of human contact?”
One hour passes.
And then another.
By noon, the apartment’s clear, and no one’s called from school saying one of your kids is projectile vomiting. You focus for a bit. You make some headway on the curriculum for a class you’re teaching tomorrow in the city.
At around 3:30, you realize you’ve had enough and you grab your phone and make a few calls to kill some time before you pick up your kids.
“You want to go to the park?” you ask while handing your kids a sandwich outside their school. “If we want to play football, we need to get moving to beat the big kids from hogging the court.”
“Did you remember to get more cereal?” your eight-year-old asks.
“Pffff!” you say to yourself. “I’ll swing back by the market on the way home once your mom gets here. Come on. I got the ball in my bag. Let’s go.”
“But what about the World Cup?” the little one asks
“It’s not on today,” you reply.
“That’s awful,” he says.
You play for an hour. It’s fun. Your wife shows up. You get a reprieve. She asks you if you bought cereal.
You tell her you didn’t, but you did buy milk.
She looks at you.
You walk back towards the market.
After you pick up three boxes of Cheerios, you walk home again and open your computer. Only this time, while you’re working, you have your buddy/client on the line.
The call hurts.
You spend three hours word-fixing and idea-bashing.
“It’s time for dinner!” your wife yells.
“Dinner!” your wife yells again five minutes later.
This time you win at Skipbo.
You let your supreme intelligence be known.
It’s pushing bedtime. Your kids are tired. You can tell because they’re yawning while fighting. You’re tired too. You watch your wife brush your kid’s teeth before you tell them to put on their pajamas. You get into bed with them after doing your group hug. You make up a bad story involving ten monkeys, one banana, and a jump rope. You kiss them goodnight. You give each of them a minute massage while singing the only song they’ve ever wanted to hear before going to sleep.
You say “I love you.”
They say “I love you more.”
You say “Impossible.”
Your wife is on the couch.
You go outside to put yourself in a slightly altered state to make The Staircase more entertaining.
You fall asleep halfway through.
Your wife is close behind.
It all starts again tomorrow.