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It was a strange day. The kind that will probably land my son in therapy for years. We don’t talk about it much.


The boys had made a mess. Again. Remote control cars in my living room, a doll in front of the door, legs twisted, right arm bent at an impossible angle. Six more scattered in the entryway behind it. Live frogs on my kitchen table.


The ladies were coming for book club in an hour. I did not have time to play housekeeper. The brownies were burning. It’s on days like these that I wish Mrs. Piggle Wiggle was real.


Not that I condone that sort of child abuse. We believe in free will in this home. No mind control for the children. And I get on quite well with my boys. I’ve never laid a hand on them, nor has their father, not in all these years they’ve left frogs on my kitchen table.


I called Tommy into the kitchen to fix up the cars.


“But Mom, it was Jacob took the cars out.”


“The dolls, then.”


“Dolls,” he said contemptuously. “You think we play with dolls? Girls play with dolls. These are action figures.”


“Whatever you say. Just take them upstairs.”


“Those’re Billy’s action figures. Mine are in the toy box.”


The week before it had been tadpoles in the bathtub. In October the dog slipped on a matchbox car and broke his leg. I snagged my favorite dress on the sticks they collected in the hallway two months ago. 


“Oh, for heaven’s sakes. Set the frogs loose—outside—I don’t care who caught them—and send your brothers in here.”


During my Christmas party last year, they decided to reenact the Civil War with the dolls. Action figures. Which was all very well until the Confederate general learned to fly—right into Mrs. Owens’ tea. And then the whole group had followed me to see what had happened, and found that one of the Union soldiers had been dishonorably discharged, and had consequently hung himself over the banister with my nylons.


Really, we have to start monitoring the books those boys read.


There was a fortress made of books a month ago, six feet high, blocking the doorway. Naturally, that had been on the day their grandparents were visiting. My mother-in-law had been…unimpressed.


Jacob walked through the front hallway, dripping mud. 


“Get in the shower. Now. No, no, go back and take off your shoes. Jacob Elliot.” I had scrubbed most of the mud out of the carpet by the time he got out of the shower. The brownies were definitely burning.


“Pick up your cars. Take them upstairs. Where’s your brother?”


“In the creek? He just sent me up here.”


“No. Where’s Billy?”


“Oh. No clue.”


“Did you even comb your hair?” I tried to fix it up, but he pulled away.


“Mom. Something’s burning.”


The brownies. “Pick up your cars. Pick up Billy’s dolls. Put your muddy clothes in the laundry basket.” I ran for the kitchen. There wasn’t a ghost of a chance he’d do as I said, but I didn’t have the time.


The brownies had to be thrown away. I started a new batch.


Twenty minutes until book club. I hadn’t even finished the last chapter yet. The brownies wouldn’t be ready.


All seven of the dolls, when I got back to the hallway, were still there, although the cars had been put away. And none of the boys in the house or the yard.


When we’d had our meeting at Sheryl’s house the week before, everything was spotless and pumpkin scented. The children tucked quietly away in their rooms. Everyone was so excited about her snickerdoodles, we nearly forgot to discuss the book.


The last meeting at my house was memorable largely because of the way Billy ran through the living room in his swimming trunks with a gigantic water pistol.


And I was not going to clean up his toys for him. Not again. I would not put those dolls away.

I was beginning to have an idea.


It didn’t take long to strip the dolls—their clothing was too contemporary, too military, to fit with my theme—and duct tape their feet to the sawhorse in the garage, heads and torsos hanging in the air.


The ladies gave me strange looks when I didn’t take them to the dining room. But they would understand. I had the chainsaw ready.


It was quite fitting, really. We were reading The Scarlet Pimpernel.


Our garage is dark and damp and reeks of sawdust, and they stood in a pastel huddle, clutching books and purses.


I began my speech on the French Revolution. Bertha raised her hand.


“But what about the brownies?” 


I ignored her. “But one must remember, of course, that England at this time was still—” 


Billy ran in, finally, and I started the chainsaw.


Heavier than I’d expected. And the noise. Awful.




“Billy. I’m glad you’re here.” 


And there it was. The end. I was sick of being kind; I would be Chauvelin now.


Nancy stepped forward. “Margaret, what are you—”


A plastic head dropped to the ground, and then another. I laughed. I thought of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I thought of Percy and Marguerite, but mostly I thought of Chauvelin, of Robespierre and the guillotine.


And Bertha, quietly, in the background: “I only came for the brownies.”  

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