They were shiny and plastic and sitting to eat.
Ma and Pa and little Jimmy and Susie, the four of them smiling brightly. They were a unit, the four of them together, each with the same grin and with cloth napkins tucked in their plastic shirts. They sat there perfectly still, as though for a picture, until it was time to start, and then they started. Their plastic hair like helmets not moving. Their joints – creases in the plastic – allowed them to move at the neck, shoulders, elbows, waist, knees, and hands, up and down and sideways but not diagonal. Never diagonal.
But there they were, a unit eating happily, the lunches set before them. They were bright and shiny and so was their food, stacked on their plates in perfect circular scoops of equal size, each scoop a different color. The food was playdough, and they were happy.
“Hom rom rom nom rom,” chewed Pa.
“Ham ram ram nam ram,” chewed Ma.
“Hum rum rum num rum,” chewed Jimmy.
“Him rim rim nim rim,” chewed Susie.
The scoops of playdough were fresh and chewy, and they went down easy with sips from their goblets of white-out. They were happy and now their skin shone and their lips were white. Pa liked that.
Their house was a house and that was that. Pa liked that. Picture a house with a family of four, and that’s it. It had a roof that came to a point like roofs do, and a window below that, and a door next to that, like a house a child would draw because it was a house a child did draw. The child drew the house and the family of action figures living in it, and he was their god. Don’t think too much about that, though. Think about the family. After all, now they were happy and they had their meal, and now they all felt very fine and high from the white-out. One of them felt more high than the others, though, and that changed things.
“I feel fine,” Ma said.
“Yes, me too,” Pa said.
“Hum rum rum num rum,” Jimmy chewed.
Pa’s smile flattened ever so slightly. He could feel the changing. It was still a smile that he had on his plastic face, but there was a change in it that came from the amber glow in his eyes.
“Son,” Pa said. “Save some room for dessert.”
“Hum rum rum …”
“Son,” Pa said. “What did I just say?”
Jimmy only gulped down the playdough and washed it down by finishing his goblet of white-out.
Jimmy was inside his head, picturing an egg balancing on a kitchen counter. It just sat there quietly. He felt the warm feeling and zoomed in the vision of his mind onto that still egg. An egg. Just an egg. He wanted to be in that balanced egg.
“What’s he doing, Pa?”
“Well Susie, I think he’s in that place again. In that egg.”
“An egg, Pa?”
“Yes, Susie, an egg. I see the ovals in his eyes. He can’t hear us now.”
“But Pa, what’s it mean?”
“What’s anything mean, Susie? Fuck if I know.”
“The point is it’s an egg and not our picturesque, god-child-drawn home, and that’s a problem,” Pa said.
He tightened his plastic necktie in righteous anger.
Jimmy chewed slowly, the playdough crumbs sticking and smacking on his lips. The eggs – one in each eyeball, having erased his pupils – were growing now and spinning as the egg on the counter in Jimmy’s mind got bigger and started spinning and cracking open, first from tiny hairline fracture and then getting bigger, shards of eggshell falling and the line getting jagged, and then bigger still until the thing inside the egg shone through. The eggs in Jimmy’s eyes did the same thing so that Ma, Pa, and Susie could see it, too. They saw what he saw, but Jimmy saw it in his mind, and they saw it in his eyes.
“What is that?” Susie asked.
“Oh, he’s done it now. He’s really gone and down it now. I’ll be damned if he hasn’t gone and done it,” Pa said.
“Calm down, Pa,” Ma said. “It’ll be OK.” She could see it, but still she said it. She said it again: “It’ll be OK.” In a way, she was right.
“Son, snap out of it,” Pa said. “Don’t do it.”
“I don’t understand,” Susie said.
“Be quiet, dear,” Pa said, and he splashed a pitcher of white-out on Jimmy, right over the top of his head.
Jimmy could feel the cool coating of it, the delicious aromatic goo sliding down the sides of his head, into the corners of his mouth. It didn’t matter, though. It was too late. The egg in his mind opened, and the sun came out, and so it was coming out of the shattered eggs in his eyes, too.
“Pa, make it stop! Pa, it’s too bright! It’s too hot!”
“Quiet, Susie. Ma, get the rubber cement. We have to put it out. It’s too late for Jimmy, but maybe we can still save the house.”
“Oh, Pa,” Ma said. “Why don’t we just leave? We can leave now and live.”
“What, Ma?” Susie cried.
“Pa, let’s leave now.”
The suns in Jimmy’s eyes shone brighter and bigger until the two combined. The ball of fire and light took up his whole head. The house was getting hot. The uneaten playdough was melting in the plates.
“Get the rubber cement.”
“Pa, we don’t have any,” Ma said. “Let’s just leave.”
“We can’t leave now,” he said. “We can’t leave the house. Without it we are nothing. The house is what we stand for, and it’s still standing.”
“But Pa,” Ma said. “What if we mel–”
“Don’t say it!”
“Pa!” Susie shouted.
Jimmy by now was no longer really Jimmy but only the idea of Jimmy in the form of a sphere of hard burning light and fire, the flames now licking the walls and setting drapes and table cloth on fire.
Pa could feel it now. They all could. But he really felt it, standing next to his son, splashing him with goblets of white-out and praying to the god-child that if only the walls and roof could hold and he and his family unit could still continue to exist he would spend every moment for the rest of his existence in worship. Only now he felt the heat so much it was evaporating even the grit of playdough from his plastic teeth, and he felt Jimmy’s freed spirit fueling the flames and expanding the core of the sun that caught the whole house in flames.
Pa looked down and saw instead of linoleum floor a reflection of his warped head in a shiny, happy pool of molten plastic.