- Your phone alarm goes off at 6:30. You grab the phone off the nightstand, switch off the alarm, and burrow back under your quilt. All you want to do is stay here, nestled in your little cotton cocoon. Oscar doesn’t have to be at school until 8:00, so you really don’t have to get up this instant, but if you want time to get coffee and breakfast, you probably should.
If you decide to get out of bed now, go to paragraph 3.
If you decide to close your eyes for another half hour, go to paragraph 4.
- “Get out of here,” you say to Hershey. You turn your back on her and resume munching and scrolling. You hear footsteps upstairs. “Great,” you say to the dog. “You woke up Oscar. I hope you’re happy with yourself.” Hershey seems to sense that you’re genuinely pissed and slinks off, her woolly head drooping. Not long after she goes, Oscar appears in the kitchen.
“I’m hungry,” he says.
Go to paragraph 7.
- Creakily, you climb out of bed and lurch across the hall to the bathroom. A few minutes later, you’re down in the kitchen, munching a piece of sourdough toast and scrolling through Facebook on your phone. Hershey, your two-year-old Labradoodle, hustles into the kitchen, plants herself at your feet, and yips. She wants to go out.
If you decide to ignore her, go to paragraph 2.
If you decide to take her out, go to paragraph 5.
- You set your alarm for 7:00, curl up under the quilt, and close your eyes again. When you open your eyes, your alarm is dinging and a dusty beam of sunlight is slanting in through the window. You check your phone and see that it is 7:33. Your body sizzles with panic. How did you sleep through your alarm? You’ve never slept through it before. Frantically you hurtle out of bed, throw on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and rush downstairs to wake Oscar.
Go to paragraph 6.
- Hershey bursts across the driveway into the backyard. You follow her in your heaviest winter coat and unlaced duck boots. You try to tread carefully. The driveway is coated with ice. Hershey sidles up to a sycamore near the garage and lifts her leg, but before she does her business, she hears something and darts toward the neighbor’s yard, disappearing through a gap in the privet hedge. Your neighbor, an old bachelor named Sal, has warned you to keep Hershey out of his yard. He says he’s stepped in enough dog shit.
If you decide to go after Hershey, go to paragraph 8.
If you decide to go back inside (screw Sal), go to paragraph 9.
- By 7:45 you have Oscar dressed and buckled into his car seat. Even if the roads are icy like they were yesterday, you figure you can make it to his school by 8:00. You just need a few green lights. Two blocks from your house, a fat gray squirrel dashes in front of your car. You feel its body snap under your tires.
Oscar wails, “You killed him!”
“I didn’t mean to, bud.” you say.
“Go back!” moans Oscar. “We have to bury him.”
If you go back to bury the squirrel, go to paragraph 12.
If you keep driving to school, go to paragraph 11.
- Oscar says he wants pancakes. You open the cupboard over the stove and see you’ve only got about a quarter cup of flour. “Sorry, bud,” you say. “We’re out of flour.” Oscar starts to cry. You open the refrigerator to see what the other breakfast options are. There are two slices of bread left. “How about some toast?” you say.
“I hate toast!” screams Oscar.
You check your watch. It’s only 6:50. There’s plenty of time to take Oscar to IHOP.
If you decide to go to IHOP, go to paragraph 10.
If you tell Oscar, “It’s toast or nothing,” go to paragraph 11.
- Grumbling to yourself, you wiggle through the gap in the privet hedge. In the middle of Sal’s backyard, Hershey is pawing at a coffin-sized hole. You hear breathing and look to your right. Sal is standing there grimacing at you, a shovel in his hands. “I’m sorry,” he says right before bringing the shovel down on your skull.
- “Good riddance!” You shout after Hershey. You turn to go back inside, slip on a patch of black ice, and crack the back of your head on the driveway. The last thing you see before you lose consciousness is Hershey crouching over you, licking your face.
- At IHOP Oscar demolishes five blueberry pancakes in ten minutes. After he’s done, the two of you go back out to the parking lot and find a pile of broken glass where your car used to be.
- Oscar says, “I hate you!” This is the beginning of a resentment that grows over the years into a bitter rejection of your way of life and all you stand for. At sixteen, he will change his name to Damian, run away from home, and start playing bass in a shock-rock group called Carnage Collective.
- With a groan, you turn the car around and return to the scene of the accident. You lift the squirrel off the asphalt with your snow scraper and toss it into a plastic grocery bag you had in the trunk. You proceed back to the house where you dig a small hole in the backyard with a gardening trowel, toss the squirrel in, and, at Oscar’s request, say a short, improvised prayer. Oscar hugs your arm.
“Do you think his soul is in heaven?” he asks.
You don’t believe in heaven, but now’s not the time to disclose that information. “If he was a good squirrel,” you say.