Progress by Alec Cizak

Family values. Self-sufficiency. The pursuit of happiness. Makin' Mama proud. These are the qualities that make a country strong. Or so we're told.

But as author Alec Cizak shows us success ain't always easy.

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Progress by Alec Cizak

Late in the second hour of Jerry Springer, the stench bullied its way to her attention. She muted the TV and knocked on the door to the basement. Her son said, “What?” She opened the door and shouted down the steps.

“Time for your friend to leave, Junior.”

“I’m not through with her.” The snot in his voice begged for five knuckles across his mouth, as he’d often earned in his youth, when he still had a father.

She could hear the clicks and clacks of the joystick in his hand, the rapid-fire gunshots of his video game. She descended the creaking, wooden steps. The girl’s bluish legs poked from a clump of Sesame Street blankets at the foot of Junior’s bed. How could the boy live with the smell? He’d wooed his previous girl until pieces of her threatened to fall off. Stuffing the sloppy corpse into a Spider-Man sheet and lugging it up the stairs had been hell. She’d sworn, then, she would not perform these minor tasks for the boy anymore. “You put that game on hold and listen to me.”

The POV character on his flat-screen TV continued riddling Allied soldiers with bullets. He said, “Jawohl!”

“Junior!” She hated having to yell. Perhaps the girl’s odor added to her irritation. “I want her out of this house, now!”

He paused the video game, stood, and kicked the blankets covering the girl’s naked body to the side. The girl had been a brunette, Junior’s favorite. Her eyes stared through a jungle of frizzy, black hair. He knelt and squeezed her thigh. “She’s still got give, Mama.”

“That stink she’s letting off? She’s good and ready for the soil.”

The boy wrapped his arms around his chest. He sat cross-legged and bit his lower lip, let her know she’d hurt his feelings. This had always been the point she caved, the point she found spare linen, rolled the corpse like a blintz pancake, hoisted it over her shoulder, and huffed it to the kitchen. After sundown, she’d head to the back yard. Whether she asked nice or barked, the boy would refuse to help her dig the hole.

She sighed. She’d spoiled her son. She’d seen similar tragedies on Dr. Phil—grown children refusing to leave the house, refusing to get a job and pay their own bills. The celebrity shrink said Junior’s generation suffered from a multitude of mental issues. And she’d gone along with it, believed the boy’s insolence a product of having been born at an unfortunate point in history. “Where does it end?” she said.

“What you carrying on about?” The boy had used chocolate milk for his Cheerios again. Had a fudge-colored goatee, like he’d been five years old his entire life. He stroked the girl’s pubic hair, then pinched one of her butterscotch nipples. “I still like her, Mama.”

Why couldn’t she say no to him? Why couldn’t she do what would have been best for both of them? She dropped her head in her hands and wept. “Junior, I just don’t know anymore…” She turned and climbed the steps without looking at him. Maybe getting rid of his father while the boy was growing up, maybe that’d been the problem. She didn’t want to blame a dead man, however, for her current tribulations. She pulled a Bud Light from the fridge and returned to the living room. Maury had started. More American trash reminding the audience life could get worse. She’d let it take her mind off her failure as a mother.

The beer floated her into a late afternoon nap. She’d have slept through Wheel of Fortune were it not for the foreign sound of her son struggling with something. The door to the basement opened and out walked Junior, his latest girlfriend twisted nice and snug in a Big Bird comforter, resting equal ways across his shoulders. He set the body down in the kitchen. As he returned to his room, he said, “Don’t you worry, Mama. I’ll plant her later, when it gets dark. Like you taught me.”

She waited until he disappeared before leaking a different kind of tear. She wiped it away with her sleeve. She gloated to the losers on TV—Her son could be trained. Her son could grow. She’d have him negotiating the real world, on his own, in no time.

Alec Cizak has been a creative nuisance since before the turn of the century. His annoying opinions on things like freedom and honorable brutality can be found all over the worldwide web and in various print journals and anthologies. He’s written a few of those relics called books which can be purchased online or at the hippest literary joints on the planet. He returns the people’s love as editor of Pulp Modern.