Mother’s Little Helpers is free on Kindle for a limited time.
After graduating from college with a useless degree printed on very pretty paper, I stepped into a job at a library shelving books for six dollars an hour. One did not need a degree in order to master the Dewey Decimal System, but one also did not need a degree to wait tables or wash dogs, and those were my other options at the time. Every morning I rose early to write until eleven-thirty, and then I slipped into more work appropriate attire than pajamas and walked to the library for my shift.
Loading up my cart in the back room as quickly as I could, I tried not to get sucked into my coworkers’ conversation. One was a foreigner-hating skinhead who shelved books incorrectly to stick it to The Man; the other was a recent transplant from China who fancied himself the next Bill Gates. Both were very sociable, polishing the plaques of their racial heritage and superiority to the other, and both wanted me to agree. Wondering how many hours at six dollars it was going to take to pay off $25,000 in student loans, I dumped books into my cart and fled for the shelves.
Once a week in doing this, I ran into two of my least favorite patrons. The man was in his forties, a narrow fellow with neat clothes but mussed hair, and his daughter was a tangle-headed dervish about five. She only spoke in a scream; he only spoke in a bleat; and their trips to the library were ever a ruckus. I allowed for the possibility that she had some hidden disability, but over the time I worked there, it looked more and more like she was just a spoiled brat.
“Only three videos today, honey.”
“I WANT FOUR! I WANT FOUR VIDEOS, DADDY! WE NEED TO GET FOUR!”
“No, honey, we’re only getting three today.”
“I WANT THIS ONE AND THIS ONE AND THIS ONE AND THIS ONE-”
“No, honey, what did I say? Only three-”
“Now, honey, don’t get upset. Three is a lot of movies.”
“YOU’RE MEAN! I WANT FOUR! I WANT FOUR! I WANT FOUR!”
Peeking through the paperbacks, I’d watch her throw herself to the floor in a tantrum. Wringing his hands helplessly, her father placated and cajoled and wheedled and warned that she was disturbing other patrons and they might have to stand outside until she could calm down. Not once did he ever remove her from whatever doorway or aisle in which she had planted herself to rage against the injustices of her life, and her screams pealed throughout the library. People began to give him looks when it went on minute after minute, especially on the day where she hurled herself to the floor in the check out line and blocked it entirely.
I swung between aggravation and pity. He clearly loved his daughter, and was so upset at the depth of her grief and how he had caused it. What was one more video anyway? But he’d said three and he should stick to three, yet look how sad he was making her! She kicked her feet and punched the ground with her fists and wailed about how much she hated him, and his bleating of three grew more and more feeble, and then invariably he caved. “Okay, let’s get four. Hear that, honey? Four.”
Those miserable library visits definitely had an influence on this short story written a few years later. Under subgenre it would probably be called near-future science fiction, as it takes place only fifteen years or so from now. The world is one you will recognize as ours, just with a few technological advances, and the problems stay-at-home mother Nicole faces are the same as any one of us might have today. Being treated as a maid by her husband, overwhelmed with trying to make the holidays perfect for her family, she is also struggling to parent a child who she cannot make happy no matter how she tries. It is not until she wins a gift of some robotic household help that she begins to question her role in creating this floundering family dynamic, and starts demanding change.
Mother’s Little Helpers will be free Friday and Saturday on Kindle.