Sarah looked up and kissed Manny on the lips, resting her head back down against his chest.
Manny and his wife were sitting, lovingly, in front of the TV. They were watching a movie that Sarah had picked up from the video shop. Emily and Kara were in the living room as well. Emily was on the adjacent couch, glued to her handheld device – probably decoding the parental lock and messaging her friends under the guise of interactive learning. Kara sat on the floor by Manny’s feet, resting her head against his knees in the perfect imitation of her mother. The Holdsworths were finally a family again.
The tragic romantic comedy on screen was drawing to a close (it was Lady’s choice on Saturdays) – the arrogant male lead had seduced his beautiful co-star, proceeded to betray her with a long held secret, fallen into a well of self pity and character building reflection before performing his last gasp grand gesture to win her back again. Despite the hollow premise and tactless humour, Manny couldn’t help but appreciate the parallels between his own life – except, he noted, that in film the spikes and falls are what we wait for, whereas all he craved in his life was the dull monotony of “Happily Ever After”.
Sarah and Manny were happy again. She had accepted him back into the house like the dog that tore up the backyard, dug a hole under the fence and ran away, only to return a few days later hurt and hungry. And alone. They had talked and confessed and promised all that needed to be heard. They pardoned and they believed. They had doubted themselves and thought of their daughters for strength. Then they finally broke the ice and made love. It was a special moment; the kind of sex that was a surrender to comfort and compromise before growing into new love and desire and exploding in an aggressive display of passion and anger. It was enough to convince them both that they still loved each other; in the midst of stale promises and blistered tongues at least they had this pure expression of love to share.
The credits rolled onto screen and Sarah looked up at Manny with a smile. “Did you like it?”
“It was interesting,” Manny said, struggling to find an adjective that betrayed neither his disdain for the movie or his self respect.
Sarah rolled her eyes. She had grown accustomed to these diplomatic responses. Manny knew that she didn’t expect anything more, but imagined that there was always a little part of her that wanted him to truly love something with her; like the failed actor who accepted he was not destined for recognition but still silently hoped that someone would notice him in his every day expressions.
Manny slowly released himself from Sarah’s embrace and stood, stepping around his youngest and walking to the TV. He ejected the DVD and switched the channel back to broadcast television. He sat back down. Sarah tried to wedge her arms back around him. Manny flicked through the stations and landed on a 24 hour news channel. It was not technically news at the moment, more of a gossip column in a studio – one of the plagues of cable television. Television addiction and media manipulation that had grown to such prominence in the last two decades. The subject tonight was none other than Walter Wallace.
“So what are we going to watch?” Sarah asked, still in a heightened mood from her film.
“Just...don’t know...” Manny mumbled. He made no effort to change the channel.
“Now the interesting thing here is that so many of us were Walter Wallace fans that there was bound to be some backlash.” The female commentator spoke like she was still in high school, reading a script like a foreigner who had perfected pronunciation but had no idea of the subtext – studies and test groups consistently proved this was the intelligence level that the broadest audience would be attracted to.
“It’s almost like a backlash to the backlash,” the other female commentator added, to an appreciative giggle and nod from the first. Manny found misogyny difficult to avoid in scenarios like this.
“C’mon, honey, let’s watch something else. I’m sick of Walter Wallace. Aren’t you?” Sarah’s tone had been checked down a notch – in hindsight this is where Manny would often see the missing link between war and peace. But he saw it firsthand here and felt self righteous enough to think himself right.
“You got to watch your thing and now I’m watching mine,” he said, landing somewhere between childish and condescending. “Besides you usually love this gossipy shit.”
“Dad said shit, mum,” Emily piped up without even blinking away from her device.
“Yes I did, I’m sorry, but so did you, Emily,” Manny struggled to find the jovial tone in his voice – he just sounded like a dick. Emily appeared content not to respond so he went back to the TV. There were scenes from the hippy protest with that kid from the blog. They were repeating the images in slow motion, focusing on the crazed faces of the most violent. They showed the police retreat to the hotel, edited to perfection to give them the sympathetic angle. They replayed the expletive ridden rants of Phil and freeze framed as he raised his middle finger to the camera, biting down on his lower lip with a grating ‘F’ in between.
Sarah stood up and walked out of the room. Manny stopped listening to the two women as they talked over each other and instead reading the tickertape of people’s opinions scrolling along the bottom of the screen. The general consensus was that Walter was selfish and had taken them for granted. An interactive poll further consolidated this point with the loaded question ‘Did Walter Wallace make you happier?’ Even a lowly Market Researcher would dismiss this as leading the witness, and any freshman on set knows that the producers filter out any contradictions from the public feed. But the general population didn’t know, and those that did still watched anyway. Manny was still watching with them.
Sarah walked back into the room. The keys in her hand jingled lightly as she opened the door that lead into the garage. “Where are you going, honey?” Manny asked, managing to recapture some of that sweet innocence in his voice. Sarah was already out of sight, the door slamming in response.
Manny’s face began to flush with anger. Stupid bitch! Why the fuck is she angry again? What the fuck does she want?!
“Daddy, where is mummy going?” Kara asked, with that genuine sweet innocence that put her father to shame.
Manny gave off a wry laugh, “She’s just going out for a while. Left me here to mind you.”
“Is she angry at you again?”
“No. No she’s not angry, “ Manny lied, “she just needed to go out for a little bit and she’ll be back soon. Maybe she’ll bring ice creams!”
“I don’t think she is going to bring ice cream.” Emily said matter-of-factly.
“Is she angry at Walter Walrus?” Manny forgot just how young Kara was. She had no idea. She didn’t deserve this. He hated Sarah with a searing passion in that moment. Why was she doing this to him?
“It’s Walter Wallace, you idiot.” Emily spat.
“Emily!” Manny shouted, not wanting raise his voice, but the pressure valve was hard to control lately. “I don’t think you’re old enough to start acting like a teenager.”
“I am a teenager, dad, and since mum’s not here I don’t think we need to start acting like a family.” She stood up, still hardly looking away from the screen of her gadget.
“I will not be spoken to like that, young lady! Where are you going?!”
“Upstairs!” Emily shouted back, “I’m not going to sit and watch this Walter Wallace crap anymore. Don’t you know he makes people sad. Why are you even watching? You spent months away with Walter Wallace and look what happened!”
“Emily get back here! Fuck!” Manny tossed the remote at the screen. The cheap, overpriced flat screen cracked. Kara began to cry. Emily walked off. “Come back here! Give me that fucking Gameboy!” He stepped quickly over to Emily and wrestled it out of her hands forcefully.
“Don’t!” Emily squealed. “No!” She had tears in her eyes as she looked up at her father. Kara was wailing now behind him. Emily walked over to her and took her hand. “C’mon Kara,” she sobbed, wiping her nose with the sleeve of her free hand. Kara stood dutifully and followed her sister upstairs.
Manny was rooted to the spot. He felt like a monster, a savage. He looked back at the TV. There was a large still of Walter Wallace spread across the screen, the crack from the remote control lay smack bang in the middle of his forehead like a bullet hole.