GOOD DAY

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    Anthony Varallo
    Anthony Varallo’s second short story collection, Out Loud, won the 2008 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. His first collection, This Day in History, won the 2005 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Varallo is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature, and his stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Epoch, Shenandoah, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. He received his M.F.A. from The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Currently he is an assistant professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor for Crazyhorse.

    It had been a good day, they both agreed.  Their sons had slept in, for once.  For breakfast they had blueberry pancakes—they’d forgotten all about those blueberries—and their youngest son, Max, was finally able to drink from a glass without a straw.  A fat cardinal materialized at the bird feeder outside the kitchen window, something that hadn’t happened since forever.

    “Look,” their oldest son, Henry, said.  And they did.  They looked.

    “Birdy bird,” Max said.

    They read the paper, which had arrived early today, and wasn’t lawn-soaked, the way it usually was.  Forecast: sunny.  Dow: up.  Coupons: abundant.

    Such a good day, they went to the zoo.  The zoo!  They toured the reptile house and the monkey park.  They saw the baby otters they’d seen on the news.  “Remember?  We saw them on the news,” they said, and Max and Henry pressed their faces to the glass, as if peering into television itself.

    “They’re ugly,” Henry said.

    They’d stopped for lunch at Friendly’s.  They never stopped for lunch anymore.  Their waitress seemed to know this, and brought Max and Henry crayons, coloring books, paper hats, and two chocolate milks before taking their order.  Later, when they were finishing their fries, the waitress brought the children two butterscotch sundaes and handed them each a slender spoon.  “Congratulations,” she said.  “You’re sitting in the free sundae booth!”

    In the afternoon, they watched Cars for the millionth time, although the jokes seemed suddenly new.  Poor Lightning McQueen, never winning his Piston Cup!  The mail arrived, a package from the boys’ grandparents: two summer shirts and a rare Thomas train the boys’ father hadn’t been able to find anywhere.  Max fell asleep on the family room sofa.  Henry watched the bonus features.  They were able to pick up all the towels from the bathroom floor.

    After dinner they allowed the boys to play Wii, something they wouldn’t normally have done, but this was a good day, after all—plus the boys kept begging.  Max steered a skateboard across a collapsing bridge.  Henry urged Mario through a volcanic rock and discovered a hidden room.  The room was filled with gold flowers, talking stars, and smiling mushrooms.  Mario placed these in his pockets.

    That night the boys brushed their teeth without instruction.  Max mastered the idea of pajamas: you have to point your toes to get your feet through.  Henry refused his Batman nightlight.  They read them stories and said goodnight.

    But, when the good day drew to a close, they found they could not sleep.  Their bedroom felt too cold and too hot.  They forgot to lock the basement door.  Dogs barked.  Max cried out.  Henry followed.  They pulled the sheets to their chins, and felt the bad night descend.

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