Smoke Signals

by Matthew Dexter

Ever since my wife was shipped to Afghanistan things have been different. The children ask, "Where's Mommy?" They're too young to understand. I cook them pizza and take them out to Dairy Queen for ice cream. This keeps them happy for a few minutes. It was her decision. My wife's I mean. She wanted to fight for her country ever since she lost her brother in Kandahar. We've all had to make sacrifices. None greater than him. Like all fallen soldiers. All I could do was hold her when she shipped out. My job at the high school keeps me busy and out of the house.

Hiring a babysitter was the most difficult matter. Not so much finding someone to watch the kids. But just leaving them alone all day with a stranger. My wife took care of them since she gave birth. I would come home from work and smell dinner cooking on the stove. Good dinner. Not pizza. But after she went to serve her country and defend our freedom my world collapsed.

Hiring a babysitter seemed simple enough. Bulletin boards at school were littered with notes written by students looking for jobs. Unfortantely, most of them are not qualified to walk a dog. Plus, they're at school all day. At least the ones who aren't cutting classes and doing drugs. Kids can only work late in the afternoons anyway. But the circular in the grocery store and the wall outside Walmart was full of people looking for employment. The economy hit our town hard. We live in Michigan. Most employees let go from automobile plants have become desperate. Many are willing to babysit. But I wanted a woman. I wanted someone like my wife.

The first note I saw was from a woman named Loreta. 24 years old. Great with kids. References. Has a car. Available weekdays. Will work for tips. Noticed her note first because it was written in pink with bubbly cursive letters and hearts over the i's. Only an angel would use such penmanship. I took down the number. Went inside Walmart to buy eggs and jelly beans. Couldn't wait till I got home. I dialed the pink number on my cell phone.




"I'm Mr. Holderman. I'm calling about your note in Walmart."

"Oh, of course," Loreta suddenly remember. "How may I help you Mr…."


"Yes, Mr. Holderman. How may I be of service?"

"I need a nanny. Two kids. Can you meet me today? Say an hour?"

"Sure. What's your address?"

"516 Grenning Street."

"I'll be there Mr...."


"Yes, of course. See you soon Mr. Holderman."

I hung up the phone. Loreta seemed perfect. Chubby, motherly. I called two of her references; both checked out. Loreta was hired on the spot. I took the kids out for hot dogs and ice cream. Went to bed with a sense of relief. The pieces were coming together. My dreams were about my wife. Waterfalls, butterflies, Hawaiian vacations we've never taken. Woke up refreshed. Cooked blueberry pancakes for the kids. They came out terrible. Too much flour. Thankfully there were waffles and vanilla ice cream in the freezer. The doorbell rang.

Loreta hit it off with the kids right away. She ruffled Jonathon's hair and gave Gabriela a lollypop shaped like a Russian ballarina. I kissed them goodbye. The kids, not Loreta. Then left the house. It was a wonderful day at work. Wrote an email to my wife telling her about the new babysitter. Had to report a punk from my fourth period class to the principal for cheating on his assignment. Didn't want to do it, but the Student Handbook said I had to. He got suspended for a week. Damn kids. They think us teachers don't know about Internet paper mills. Hell, I've submitted grad school essays for extra money when my wife was pregnant.

Ate lunch in the cafeteria: spaghetti and meatballs. Afternoon passed like a dream. Couldn't wait to get home and see the kids. Some idiot left a Bunsen burner on in one of the chemistry labs and the fire alarm went off. We could see smoke rising from the building as the firetrucks arrived. There was extensive smoke damage. Principal sent all students and faculty home. Bought some chocalate ice cream for the kids. There was a strange car in my driveway. Pontiac Grand Am. Looked faintly familiar. Couldn't place it anywhere. There was a strange dog on my porch. Never seen him before. There was dog excrement on my Welcome Homemat.

Music blasted from the living room: Marilyn Manson. Sitting on the sofa kissing my babysitter was my supsended student. His hand up Loreta's blouse. A half-smoked joint was resting in the glass ashtray. There was a flower on the kitchen table and the kids were eating Froot Loops. No milk. No spoons. No bowl. Straight from the damn flourescent box with Toucan Sam. Stupid toucan was smiling at me. I fired the babysitter. Kicked out the degenerate student for the second time. Fired up their joint. Hugged my kids. Cried myself to sleep.

BIO: Like nomadic Pericu natives before him, Matthew Dexter survives on a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of shrimp tacos, smoked marlin, cold beer, and warm sunshine. He lives in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.