“Daddy!” Cassiopeia and Casper squealed in unison from the dining table.
“Why are you late?” Martha snapped. “These children are driving me crazy!”
“Jeez, I’m sorry,” Bruce said, removing his coat and kicking the door closed at the same time. “The bus was late.”
“Daddy, wash your hands,” Cassiopeia said as Bruce tossed his coat over the back of the sofa and approached the table.
“Daddy wash hands!” Casper echoed from his high chair.
“Hey, I wasn’t playing in the dirt today,” Bruce said, but Martha’s finger pointed toward the kitchen sink, and he retreated to wash his hands.
“Give the baby some food,” Martha told him when he returned to the table.
Bruce surveyed the fare spread on the table — the remains of yesterday’s rotisserie chicken, some ramen noodles and toast. He carved a small slice of breast from the bird and dropped it on Casper’s plate.
“Don’t like dinosaur!” Casper protested.
“It’s not dinosaur,” Bruce told him. “It’s chicken. Eat it.”
“Don’t want chick meat! Want wing!”
“The wings are gone, Casper,” Martha said. “You ate them yesterday.”
“I want wing!” Casper shouted.
Bruce carved another morsel of chicken breast and put it on Casper’s plate. “All right, here’s some wing. Eat it.” Casper happily ate.
Martha picked up the remote and turned the television on to the evening news.
“Daddy, I have to tell you something,” Cassiopeia said as Bruce considered what part of the bird to eat himself.
“What’s that, honey?” Bruce asked, prodding the chicken with the knife.
“I had a bad day at preschool today.”
“Really? What happened?”
“We couldn’t play outside today. Did you know the playground has germs?”
“No. Why does it have germs?”
“Some children had issues.”
“Issues? What kind of issues?”
“Some children were playing on the slide, and they had issues. Now the slide has germs.”
“Oh. That kind of issues. So is somebody going to wash the slide?”
“Yeah. With bleach.”
“All right, let’s be quiet now and watch the news, okay?”
The telephone began ringing.
“Telephone,” Martha said, twirling noodles on her fork.
“Daddy, get the phone,” Cassiopeia said.
“Let it ring,” Bruce sighed. “It’s just somebody who wants my money.”
“I want gah!” Casper announced.
“You want what?” Bruce asked.
“He means he wants chocolate,” Cassiopeia said.
“Oh. No chocolate. Here, eat some noodles.”
The phone stopped ringing.
“Want chockit right now! Go get!” Casper commanded, pointing toward the kitchen.
“No chocolate! Eat your noodles,” Bruce said. “I’m going to eat my own food now.”
“I go get,” Casper said, climbing down from his high chair.
“That’s what you think, buster,” Martha said, getting up from her chair to scoop up the boy.
“Maybe you should put his seat belt on,” Bruce said, gnawing on chicken ribs.
“He cries too much,” Martha replied. Sure enough, Casper began to cry when she put him back in his chair.
Bruce’s cell phone chirped in his pocket. “Oh balls,” he muttered.
“Bruce!” Martha said, aghast. “Language!”
“Daddy said balls!” Cassiopeia cheered.
“I have to take this. It’s my boss.”
“Want big chick!” Casper said, climbing onto the table and reaching for the chicken carcass.
“You get him,” Bruce said to Martha. “I have to take this.” He walked to the door and answered his phone.
“Hey Mike, what’s up?”
“Bruce, I need somebody to go to the Rock Springs facility. Fast.”
“Why, what happened?”
“My resident engineer had a family emergency, and I need somebody to finish up the roofing project for him. Can you go? It’ll be for just a few days.”
“Well, I…” A crash came from the dining room, followed by Martha shouting and Casper crying.
“Daddy!” Cassiopeia called. “Casper threw his noodles on the floor!”
“Well, maybe a week,” Mike said over the phone. “But the Homewood Suites at Rock Springs is really very nice, and you can make some per diem money.”
“I don’t like dog poop!” Casper screamed in the dining room.
“I’m your man, Mike!” Bruce said. “Is right away soon enough?”
Carl Steiger is chronically starved for free time, but sometimes tries to write stories at home, when everyone else is sleeping, or at the office during lunch breaks. He keeps up on his reading while commuting on the bus.