Self Manipulation

“Daddy! Harry’s hitting me!”

“Then move away from him.”

“I was here first!”

Yes, you were, my little girl, but he can’t even walk yet and please don’t make me have to get up I just put my hands on the keyboard.


A not-unexpected message from Lauren popped up.

  • everyone can hear her

  • they have kids home too its fine

  • they dont have kids pleeeease

She wanted the old wooden house. She got the old wooden house. Now he has to be the one keeping the kids quiet so she can run her 24/7 Zoom meetings while his deadlines creep up and he’s got nothing done.

It felt dirty, but he unplugged the iPad from the charger and as he walked down the hall he opened the Netflix app. Peak parenting.

Time passes.

So, taking a little Skip seemed justified. Stir it into his coffee and BAM! it’s Friday night. Or Saturday morning if he got the dose wrong. The deadlines would be behind him. The work done. The parenting done. It would be like the interminable week never happened. Not quite amnesia. Not anaesthesia. He would be able to recall most of it. Or as much as he could recall any week. He wouldn’t be impaired. Lauren wouldn’t be able to tell he’d taken it. She thought it was awful. But she seemed to like, even relish, every moment of her life. But Lauren got what she wanted. The career she wanted. The three storey Carpenter Gothic termite buffet she wanted. The girl and the boy she wanted. Him. He guessed she still wanted him? He was still here, unlike the couches he bought without consulting her. And the towels.

Him? Captain Compromise? Commander Fine It’s Not What I Want But I Guess It’ll Help Us Out? He was going to take Skip.

He pulled out the microgram scale, the tube of Skip and the long thin spoon with its tiny bowl. He didn’t need to re-weigh himself. It’s not like he was going to be skinnier and overshoot by a few hours. If anything, he might have to deal with Friday afternoon.

Was he running out already? The spoon was hitting the bottom of the tube and it took a few probes, some scraping, to get enough grey powder for a five day jump. He pressed his finger onto the powder, lifted it all off the surface of the scale, and then stirred his coffee with the finger, sucking it clean afterward. He took a sip.

“Daddy! Harry smells bad!”

He drank the coffee down and as he went to put the mug on the desk his hand was empty, he was outside, at the playground around the corner, sitting on the bench next to Lauren, Harry on his lap, Olivia up there at the top of the slide. No-one else was around.

“…the week,” said Lauren, squeezing his arm.

“Sorry, I zoned out there for a second,” he said. He did the post-Skip inventory. He was feeling good. It was vague, but he’d made the deadlines. No residual pangs from fights or accidents.

“I was thanking you. I couldn’t have made it through the week without you. Lockdown can’t last much longer. The kids will be back at daycare. It’ll all get easier again.”

Time passes.

That had been a nice sunny Saturday, back before they closed the playgrounds and more of Harry’s teeth started coming in, making him miserable, while Olivia dropped her afternoon nap and Lauren had to shift to Zurich time so he was on his own during the day.

Today he hoped there might be enough Skip left to pass effortlessly over the next eight hours, to the evening, or even just flash past the morning. He took the tube out of the drawer and opened it. Shaking it over the scale a tiny sprinkling of grey dust came out. Dammit.

He banged the mouth of the tube against the desktop. A white crystal the size of a BB bounced out. Excellent.

He picked up the crystal, examining it before weighing it. It reminded him of a kit brought home from the Exploratorium when he was 8. Mixing up a solution, leaving it on shelf and forgetting about it for weeks. Discovering a purple faceted crystal in a network of tiny hair-thin duplicates that crushed at his touch and tasted like pennies.

He squeezed it like it was fancy flake salt and sprinkled it on the scale. He was reading the number, doing the math, aware of the grit remaining on his finger. He licked it before reaching out for his coffee and an old man, an older man, was peering into his face. It made him jump, or at least twitch because he was in a bed. And the man, his glasses pushed up into his grey hair, looked concerned.

“Are you okay, Dad? You just jumped like something bit you.”