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by Channie Greenberg

Family Spycraft
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Janice Sarsfield poked her husband, Hubert, five minutes before their alarm pealed. He had again snugged all of the blankets. Just as she finished tucking in the top of her second ear, having corrected the distribution of fabric between her favorite retired warrior and herself, their electronic rooster crowed.

A hammer-fist blow applied to that buzzer did the job. The mechanism instantly deactivated. The quiet rhythm of the minute hand’s rotation replaced the former klaxon. Janice stayed face down for a little longer.

Thereafter, her bare feet on their cold floor, the former intelligence officer opened the closet containing her work wardrobe. After the war, she had obtained, at the government’s cost, a third academic degree.

All manner of black, chestnut, and navy separates sat folded on that cupboard’s shelves. She plucked a coordinating skirt and sweater. Those bits, coupled with the socks and shoes she had stashed in the front hall, would suffice. Any spare time she had, she used to advance her daughter’s wedding plans. That evening, she would skype Glenda to discuss the invitations’ color.

After showering, dressing, and praying, Janice checked her wallet for parking meter money. She found quarters.

It had been a good thing that Hubert had never gotten wise to the ways in which fingerprints naturally sluiced off. He might have otherwise hooked Glenda’s fiancé to a lie detector. As it was, Hubert remained preoccupied, trying to figure out why that suitor, out of the many his child had had, didn’t leave prints. He had, meanwhile, exhausted all of his other means of blackmailing Marvin to leave Glenda alone.

While the traffic slugged along, chirpy disc jockeys gave weather, world news, and congressional race insights. In some cars, drivers downed coffee or attempted to shave. In others, they bopped to tunes.

Hubert had yet to learn that Glenda’s intended was raising two children from a former relationship. He would never have agreed to a son-in-law “with complications.”

Janice found a metered parking space two blocks from campus. Faculty parking was free, but was located ten blocks away from the mixed-use building where Dr. Sarsfield lectured.

A hot pretzel and a small chai tea later, she walked to her department. Glenda had wanted to wear a sky-blue gown but, Janice insisted, if she and Hubert were funding the affair, that their child wear white.

A crusty-lidded secretary chimed Janice’s name as the professor examined her physical mailbox. Twenty years earlier, instructors received publishers’ catalogs, department announcements, overdue papers, and other semi-useful printed bits in their cubbies. At present, all that those compartments held were dust, random scribbled notes from anonymous sources, and discarded candy wrappers.

That morning, additionally, Janice’s box held a printout of someone else’s class grades. She put that paper into her briefcase and made a mental note to email her colleagues to see who had lost their hard copy of last term’s marks. Inhaling, she mused on the relative virtues of lobster and of tofu canapes.

When she reached into her briefcase to insert the grade sheet, she found a large purple, green, and blue crayoned picture that Abby and Tabby, Marvin’s daughters, had drawn. Even if Glenda had old ovum, by dint of those girls, Janice would get to enjoy children’s muddy footprints and spilled milk.

Janice returned the art to her briefcase so that it did not get torn or tattered. Moments later, she slipped behind a teacher’s desk and smiled at her early arrivals. One was fastened to an iPod. Another was slumped, face down, on his writing surface. A third was looking out a window while pulling strings of gum from her mouth. Janice had requested that Marvin and Glenda wait until the end of May, when finals were over, to conduct their nuptials and wait until the coming weekend to announce Glenda’s future stepchildren.

A few more minutes passed. Another group of students filed in. Two shot each other with their smart phones. A couple of others dabbed correcting fluid onto the hard copies of their papers. It seemed that youngsters appreciated her generation’s office products. Janice exhaled. She was worried that Glenda might not like her suggestions for invitation colors.

Five minutes before class started, the majority of seats filled. Janice always began on time and always dispensed with preliminaries. More exactingly, she previewed her main points at the beginning of class and reviewed them at the end. Since her students preferred to hear those main ideas twice and to zone out in between, she rarely suffered stragglers. Janice wondered if, on the other hand, they should start the wedding fashionably late. Many bridal sites suggested doing so.

Last-minute arrivals — that is, kids who brought no devices to Janice’s lectures — had to pay attention to her three hour-long discourses, since her tests were keyed to those talks’ content. It was beyond her students’ control that she regularly chose odd examples and explanations. That day, for instance, Janice repeatedly referred to florists and to string quartets.

Pausing, momentarily, she offered “seat belts” to her listeners and then took off to a higher point in the intellectual stratosphere. The good professor had much to say about moods and madness to her Abnormal Psychology students. Only minutes before the end of the period, she descended to reality, leaving tales of caterers, limousine drivers, and photographers behind. The doodling and the SMSing of her audience had long since stopped; end of class review notwithstanding, it was a status symbol to get a passing grade from her.

When Janice finally moved out from behind her desk, a fellow, who was decked in a purple, buttoned-down shirt and a gray beret, and who sat in the front row, coughed with seeming meaningfulness. The girl seated behind him gasped.

Janice nodded at him and then pointed to the whiteboard behind her. On that surface was scribbled her usual amount of notes. Her students had three minutes to record those lecture bits before the bell sounded. Meanwhile, Janice searched her mobile communicator for messages from the clergyman she wanted to hire to perform the ceremony. Here and there, students used their phones to photograph their professor’s smartboard scribbles.

As Janice slowly erased that board in preparation for her next course, most of her students kept on writing on their laptops or traditional pads. Her board cleaned, Janice fingered her next lecture’s outline.

She frowned. Her cleric of choice had turned her down. Inhaling, Dr. Sarsfield contemplated whether or not she was experiencing one of the types of mania that she had not include in her lecture.

During the following period, as Janice squawked about psychoses evidenced in the writings of Voltaire and Poe, a cell phone flash lit up. Immediately, several others twinkled in the back of her classroom. It seemed that not all of her enrollees were interested in her analyses of characters in iconic fiction

After a new flash went off and Mr. Purple Shirt, who was enrolled in three of her courses, laughed so hard that he developed hiccups, the professor shrugged, and announced an unprecedented five-minute break. She let her mind wander as students filed into the hall for cigarettes or coffee.

Maybe she should reveal to her husband why their future son-in-law couldn’t be fingerprinted. Since Hubert still owed her, she might be able to get away with telling the truth. There was that time he had mistakenly mowed her patch of gaillardias. There was also that time, when, as a floater for the Army Intelligence unit, he had slept with another woman.

Shrugging, Janice remained so enmeshed in her imaginings of Hubert’s reaction to her disclosure about Marvin, their future son-in-law, that she didn’t grasp that fifteen, not five, minutes had lapsed. Once seated, her students increased their cat calls, whistles, and sporadic instances of luminescence. When the professor registered what was going on, she handed out a pop quiz.

While they sweated, Janice allowed her mind to drift to ideas for Glenda and Marvin’s honeymoon. Just because the couple was thirty-two and forty, respectively, didn’t mean she ought not to help.

Janice’s third and final class for the day met an hour later. Purple Shirt remained front and center. While he made use of the room’s quiet, Janice raced to feed her meter. While walking back, she paid for a sandwich and for another cup of tea, too.

During that afternoon workshop on analysis, Janice had to rein in her best students. The latest edition of the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders had swapped some psychosis into the neurosis category and had rendered some neuroses unclassified.

Despite the manual’s labeling modifications, crime rates and other measures of social discord were rising. You could call a chicken leg a “delectable appendage,” but, at the end of the day, it was still a drumstick. Janice sighed and made a mental note to price turducken for the wedding’s entrée.

After saying good-night to her department’s secretary, Janice trudged back to her car. Inexplicably, she had earned a ticket. She raced down the block to where the meter reader was standing and pulled him back to her meter to show him that the machine indicated her space had half of an hour left. He shrugged and summarily dismissed her. Later, when Janice argued her case in small claims court, the judge acted similarly.

That night, Hubert told Janice he had seen Dr. Nancy, his heart specialist, and that Dr. Nancy had warned him that some new source of stress was aggravating his ticker.

Janice shook her head at her man. The case of the missing fingerprints was really bothering him. “You worry too much, darling.”

“She’s our only child.”

“Why not ask Marvin directly?”

“Can’t believe that a fellow who crochets small animals will give me the real story.”

“Think he’s tricking you?”


“Well, they’re due to visit this weekend. They want some of our leaves.”


“Tabby and Abby want to jump in them.”

“Tabby and Abby?”

“Marvin’s a divorcee.”

“What? I can’t allow my daughter—”

“You’ve already paid twenty grand in nonrefundable deposits for her wedding.”


The weekend passed peaceably, except for Hubert’s unrelenting efforts to fingerprint Marvin.

“Leave him alone, Hubert.”

“He could be a child molester!”

“I don’t think so; he has full custody.”

“Janice, he might be a member of organized crime.”

“Did you ask him directly?”

“Tried, but he did get talking about social movements and related sap. The man was against ’Nam. Can you believe that? What are we going to do, wife?”

“Birdseed; it’s better for the environment than rice.”

“Say what?”

“The problem surfaces when used in conjunction with chronicled sociocentrisms and weak egocentrism.”

“You’re trying to distract me by talking dirty to me, Professor. Don’t you care if Marvin ever gets printed?”

“Nope. Ultimately, only language that mystifies social roles while concurrently recognizing citizens’ worth will maintain prestige.”

“You’re asking me to let that fellow slip, aren’t ya? Don’t you care about Dr. Nancy’s warnings? It’d kill me if he hurt Glenda.”

“You’d leave me a window?”

“Would you wear your cowgirl boots if I back off?”

“Promise? You’ll really leave Marvin alone?”

“Think Glenda can still have kids? I want them to look like me.”

“You’re so right-sided. What if they look like Marvin?”

“No! That can’t happen! They can’t have his peacenik traits! They can’t learn how to crochet!”

“Captain, you worry too much. Last one to the bedroom has to feed the tiger.”

“I thought we were playing cowboys and natives.”


Copyright © 2016 by Channie Greenberg

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