One night watching TV after dinner, Dad grips the arms of his easy chair during a cat food commercial and announces, "I know what you all want. You want me to play a role." He stands up and pulls off the sweaty head he's been wearing for the last twelve seasons. "But I'm not interested in playing that role anymore. What's more, I never was. You're typecasting me and I won't stand for it a moment longer. Find some other sucker to play the bad guy in your melodrama. I'm out of here!" He tosses the empty head on the chair. We don't recognize him anymore. He's taller, blonder, younger looking; he looks like he belongs in a surfer movie. In fact, he's wearing a pair of embarrassingly skimpy swimming trunks. He grabs his coat and car keys and leaves the house with a door slam and never comes back. There is no laugh-track, no applause. We sit there numb, staring at one another like faceless mannequins, our heads smooth plaster knobs. Then the test signal indicates the station is having technical difficulties. I'll say! Please stand by.
Of course it's a shock and a trauma but we have to go on. I try the head on first; it's an absolute no-go. My brother gives it a fit—better, but no cigar. What could you expect? My mother grows bitter and disgusted before our eyes. She doesn't need a fortune teller to read the future. She'll have to find a real man now but she hasn't the stomach for it. Instead she sits by the window, gray and blank as a TV screen with the power off, and waits for her Prince Charming, her knight-in-shining-armor to come. She's too late. That show's been canceled. The last episode already aired and she missed it. The Knight came and went and took Dad with him.
The wolf lived happily ever after.
Dad comes into my room one night with a hammer. He says, "I'm sorry to have to do this but some things happened that need fixing." He takes hold of my chin. "Hold still goddammit!" He's already frustrated and pissed-off, the way he gets when he attempts even the simplest home repair. When it's over, he says "If anyone asks, tell them you fell off your bike."
Years pass, lots of things change except the sense that something's missing. I just don't know what it is. I follow I-don't-know-what like a star and like a star it keeps receding, slipping beneath the horizon. I might be an alien watching my home disappear. I ask my Mom, "Do you remember..." "Yes," she answers. "You fell off your bike." So they got to her, too, I realize. The circle is complete.
I'm nothing special. If you look closely, a lot of us have the same dent in our heads. Sometimes it's hidden under the hair and you have to feel around for it with your fingers. We could form a Society or an Invisible Order—but based on what, exactly? On the fact that something's missing, something we can't remember, something that's been lost somewhere along the way, something that's been taken? Is that enough? The only thing we have in common is that we've all fallen off a bike at roughly the same time in our lives. At least that's what we're all saying. And no one thinks that odd? No one's the wiser? "Ssssh!"
Happy Endings, Inc.
They call it Happy Endings, Inc. It works like Triple-A. You sign up for a membership, call the number on the laminated card, and a guy in shining armor comes on horseback and rescues you from peril anytime you need him, night or day. I signed up for a three-month trial. In that time, I've been lost in the desert twice, tied to the train tracks once, kidnapped and sold into white slavery four times, and nearly scalped by wild Indians. It's been a godsend. I don't know what I would have done without it. Died, I guess. Or worse.
One day, near the end of the trial period, I call the number which now I know by heart. I say, "I'm about to cook and eat a roast beef." "And that's an emergency?" the dispatcher asks. "I'm a vegetarian," I say. "I see." There's the pregnant silence of someone checking a list, a series of blips and beeps. Then the dispatcher is back on the line, "I can have a happy ending there in five minutes. Sound okay?" "Yes. The oven timer still has twenty minutes on it. Even bloody-rare the beef won't be ready before then. Thank you." "No prob. Enjoy your happy ending."
Sure enough, within the hour, it's happily ever after again. The knight is sitting at my kitchen table, shining armor clinking, sopping up the last of the melted fat and blood with a chunk of bread. He holds up the empty plate, shows me the shine, it's like a full moon. From beneath his visor, I see his wolfish smile.
Then he starts to howl.
It's always midnight sooner than you think. That's the way it is in fairy tales but somehow the heroine never learns. My trial subscription is over, my card expired. I figure they must have a grace period, no? My what big teeth he has, what long tongue, what hairy hands. I stand there, arms crossed, tapping my foot impatiently. So, is this going to be another happy ending after all or what?
Meeah Williams is a writer and graphic artist. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.