By Lara Klein
I reached my breaking point at Walbermart. Of course I did. The snowy weather reminded me of when my husband and I were young, and we had nowhere else to go on winter days. We would cruise around and eventually find somewhere—the parking lot of Battery Depot or the Church of the Holy Trinity—where we would make out until our mouths were so wet and slippery we could hardly keep kissing. As soon as we walked into the store, I wished we could get in the car and drive away like we used to.
Our children were climbing a metal structure that held pillows. Their claw-like fingers made it easy for them to get a grip. We should have left them to run around the backyard in the snow where they could behave like the wild beasts that they were, but instead we stuffed their forked tails under their coats, shoved their cloven hooves into ill-fitting snow boots, and brought them shopping. The poor store workers. They didn’t deserve the demonic storm we unleashed.
“Do you want extra-strength fluoride or regular?” The father of these creatures squinted at a box of toothpaste.
“I don’t care,” I said. “Just get the Valu-pack.”
“But the kids can’t have too much fluoride. The limit for children under five is either 1350 ppm or 1500 ppm, but I can’t remember which.”
Wearily, I told him I didn’t know the specifics either. While he read the ingredients out loud, two of the kids streaked down the aisle perpendicular to us, chased by a worker wearing a blue vest. Where was the third one? I hadn’t seen him since we left the frozen foods section.
“It’s a tough choice. Too much fluoride can cause dental fluorosis.” He didn’t seem to notice the chaos the kids caused, so I pretended I hadn’t noticed either. “But on the other hand, too little fluoride can cause cavities. I mean, not cause cavities, but fail to prevent cavities.”
I didn’t have it in me to care about their cavities. It was only a matter of time before their abnormally sharp teeth were strong enough to bite our fingers off.
I don’t know how our children had come out the way they did. When we fought, my husband and I blamed each other for some recessive gene on my side or on his side, and when we made up, we agreed that the combination of two separate recessive genes—one from each of us—had likely triggered such a monstrous mutation, but whose genetics were responsible didn’t matter. What mattered was how exhausting it had become to conceal their abnormalities from everyone—even more difficult now that the kids were getting bigger. Sometimes they howled at night. Our neighbors thought we kept a pack of wild dogs in the house and wrote us a series of increasingly rude letters asking us to get our “canines” under control.
I sat on the floor of the toothpaste aisle, and my eyes closed of their own accord. I imagined my husband and I being seventeen again, lying in the back seat of the car, absorbed in our clumsy lovemaking and knowing nothing of the chaos and absurdity to come.
Alarm bells blared. My eyes snapped open. People looked around, bewildered. At the end of the aisle, a guy started stuffing boxes of toothpaste into the pockets of his coat and cargo pants. My husband and I looked at each other. A familiar wailing followed an enormous crash.
His gaze traveled sideways to the loading entrance, and for a split second, I wanted to say, “let’s ditch.” Not permanently, of course. Just for two hours or so. Three, maximum, long enough to drive somewhere we could be alone for a little while. The employees of Walbermart had probably dealt with much worse and could surely find some way to manage the kids until we got back. If worse came to worst, they would have to shut down the store temporarily, but nothing bad would happen.
But of course we didn’t ditch the kids. And anyway, this wasn’t my real breaking point. My actual breaking point was way behind me, barely visible in the distance anymore, and this was just one in a never-ending series of minor breakdowns.
We abandoned the cart and sprinted to the front of the store. A group of workers and a security guard had corralled the two kids in an L-shaped enclosure of pop boxes. Another worker barricaded them in with a row of carts. See? The retail workers had the situation under control.
The kids snarled and wailed. The oldest one’s tail had slipped out of its coat. Their mittens had come off, exposing their fury claws. The younger one’s shoes were already too small, and one of her talons had torn through the toe of her snow boot. I vowed to buy their shoes three sizes bigger instead of two.
When the kids saw us, they calmed down, but the Walbermart staff didn’t. Some of them were screaming and swearing, looks of disgust and terror on their faces. Another one fainted dramatically, falling into a display of Valentine’s chocolates. The manager insisted we leave and refused to let us check out.
But we still hadn’t found the third one.
I ran through the aisles as fast as I could, searching for any telltale signs, until I heard a familiar little voice. There he was—the littlest of the three, perched precariously on top of a pyramid of toilet paper packages. He smiled, oblivious to the whole drama, his rosy cheeks soft like freshly made dough, and sang sweetly to himself. I took him in my arms and held him close to me, burying my face in his furry neck while he chewed my hair affectionately with his little teeth. My sweet baby. I don’t know how I got so lucky.