Sorry to those with a queasy stomach…
Melanie sat in the booth surrounded by half-eaten burgers and already discarded toys in relative peace and quiet. It had been at least fifteen minutes since anyone had invaded her personal space, touched her with a sticky hand, or screamed mommy in her ear so loud she thought it might burst.
Sure, the general din of the indoor playground was rather allowed, but at least it wasn’t just her kids screaming. It was more like a jungle, with a low grumble and once in awhile a particularly high or loud voice would stand out from the rest kind of like a monkey but not quite.
If not for the disgusting smell of ketchup, it might have been the perfect fifteen minutes.
She recognized the next shriek as her youngest, and looked up from her phone. She found six year old Zac triumphant after climbing to the very top of the playground. She found her oldest, Marion, meeting his gaze, letting him know that it was his job to get his little brother down.
That had been the agreement when she’d finally caved into bringing them here. Marion just rolled his eyes and started climbing.
Right before Melanie eyes returned to her phone screen, a particularly shrill sound overpowered the rest. Her middle child, and only girl, was yelling and delight as she swung on the swing that was attached to a pole by ropes.
“Mommy look at me!” she cried. “Mommy look at me!”
Melanie knew that if she didn’t watch at least once she would never get her peace and quiet back, so she put her phone down and gazed at Clara. Melanie watched as her daughter swung back and forth and twisted and pretended she was a mermaid. Then Clara struggle to her feet and said, look “Mommy, I’m standing!”
Melanie smiled, “Good job baby.” She eyed the soft mat beneath her daughter and decided if she fell she wouldn’t break anything. Then she went back to her phone. Melanie only got a few paragraphs into her book before the dreaded sound came.
It wasn’t a scream of delight or yell of anger. Instead, it was a screech of pure terror that caused every mother and father in the restaurant to look up to make sure it wasn’t their child. Melanie didn’t have to look to know it was Clara.
Sure enough, her daughter stood on the swing with one hand on the rope on one side and the other hand held out of her out in front of her as if it had done something to offend her. She screamed again. One of her ear piercing ones, and look straight at Melanie.
“Mommy!” The sound should have registered above what the human ear can hear here, but it did not. Melanie sighed, grab the wet wipes from her purse and ran to her daughter.
“Get it off!” Clara yelled as she shook her hand. As she did so, the swing under her feet lurched one way, then the other. Clara’s body jerked around, trying to keep up.
Melanie knew she wouldn’t get there in time, and winced as Clara fell off and hit the floor. The soft floor, which probably hadn’t really hurt, but Clara wailed as if it was the end of the world.
A few parents gave Melanie looks of pity as she ran by. Others glared down their noses at her. Melanie ignored them, ignored the signs that said she couldn’t be on the special, squishy floor with her shoes on, and knelt next to her daughter.
“Get it off!” Clara screamed again, apparently more wounded by the unknown substance on her hand than the fall she’d just taken.
“Give me your hand,” Melanie said in a calm voice. The therapist had told her to use the calm voice whenever this happened.
Clara writhed like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. “Get it off!”
Melanie could hear the creature from the movies say, “Precious.”
“Come on, Clara, give me your hand,” Melanie said again.
“Whaaaaaaa!” was all se got in return.
The therapist had said to give Clara three chances before Melanie simply grabbed her hand and wiped it off. A quick glance around told Melanie that every eye in the place was on them, so she decided to screw the advice and grabbed her daughter’s hand.
Unfortunately, her first attempt missed.
Clara didn’t like to be restrained, and knew what Melanie was trying to do, so she freaked out even more. Instead of letting her mom help her, Clara let out one last blood-curdling scream before she flailed at Melanie.
Melanie watched in horror as the dirty hand came toward her face. She could clearly see the ketchup—or what she hoped was ketchup—all over Clara’s fingers.
Melanie blocked her eyes.
Clara’s fingers hit her hand, but then retreated and shoved themselves into Melanie’s open mouth.
The reaction was instantaneous. The moment Clara’s fingers touched her tongue, Melanie gagged on the vinegar and tomato taste. She shoved Clara back, covered her mouth and got to her feet.
Her stomach heaved.
Clara continued to scream.
The world lurched one way, then the other.
Melanie fought the urge to vomit for a few steps, but before she could get off of the playground, bile rose in her throat, her stomach constricted and she threw up.
It went everywhere.
Now all the children screamed. Some of the parents did too.
Melanie wanted to care, but she hurled again.
Then a sympathetic vomiter took up the baton, and a few seconds later, the play land was full of the most unpleasant sound in the world.
And that was nothing compared to the stench.