Monica and me are on the couch and it's 8 in the evening, give or take, and we are trying to watch a zombie eat some dude's cheek meat when in strolls the Anti-Monster, his foot beats on the hardwood giving him away before he even rounds the corner.
"Walker!" I holler out, but Monica isn't all that amused.
I hit the pause button on the blu-ray remote and we sort of cringe at the fact that we are leaving a pretty complicated/gnarly still life on the screen, a scene that could probably land us in some kind of weird hot water should Henry decide to turn that way. Even here, with our bowls of lukewarm pasta in our laps and The Walking Dead finally landing down in our living room years after it has already probably landed in yours; even now as the two of us try and lose ourselves in some macabre thinky tale of major shit going down in suburban Atlanta in the not-so-far-off future, we are still faced with the stone cold reality that there are two kids up in this joint, and that one of them is sometimes known as Hank the Tank, and that it is that kid who is now abandoning the 43rd DVD showing of Puss in Boots of his short lifetime to move out of the playroom and back onto our radar just as someone is getting face-bit on the TV.
"Mommy?" he starts things out with a question. That's how he pulls you in, you see. He tries to act like he is asking you for the thing that he is about to tell you to get up off of your ass and fetch for him.
Monica eyes him suspiciously.
"Can I pwiz have milk?"
"In a minute," she tells him. "It's time for bed, man. Go upstairs and I will bring you some in a minute."
The whole time this is happening I am floating down a river of possibility, the awkwardness of a man's face dilly-dangling from a Zombie's jaws hurling itself out into the living room like a slightly drunken Mr. T.
"Hey...Hey MAN!!!.....I SAID HEY MAN!!!! HEY SERGE YOU BIG FOOL!!!!!!!!!!"
Oh please, not now!
I'm begging you, don't get Henry looking at you, okay? We really, really just want to finish this episode without some thirty minute 'brush your teeth/bedtime story' intermission, or without just bailing on it until another night because you know as well as I do that sometimes after a thing just sits there too long on 'Pause', the electricity goes out of the plug, so to speak.
"Can it be chocwit milk, Mommy?"
Oh my Gaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhd. Damn, is this kid good or what. He plays his momma like an old Kentucky fiddle and he plays me even better. We say no to him, don't get me wrong. He meets plenty of no along the roundabout way to wherever it is he is taking us, but I'd be a damn liar if I was to deny the fact that he knows how to appear, even smack dab in the middle of a zombie apocolypse, and ask for milk or apple juice or even one of the little mini-ice cream sandwiches I found at the grocery store (16 to a box!) that have seemed to change the way both of my children live their lives, and to get just what he came for by the time things shake out.
I watch these two out of the corner of my eye: this game of wits/this turn of events in which a sippy cup of some kind of milk lies in tha balance. With my other eye I try and think what I might even begin to say to Henry in the next three seconds when he inevitably turns and looks up at the TV and then very slowly, the audio-tape of our life movie slows down like in the real movies so that his little voice becomes very deep and drawn out as says, "Whuuuuuuuuuutz dat Daddddddeeeeee?"
The thought does occur to me that I could turn the whole rig back to the TV; CNN is probably waiting for us there on the other side of the wall, but, to be perfectly honest with you, I don't want to risk losing my spot here in this episode and it would really bum me out if I had to go poking around through my DVR's veins to try and find this exact moment in this exact episode again.
Plus, what if something happens to this episode by mistake or something?
What if someome sitting behind that sprawling control board at Direct TV Central sees our house blipping up on the massive map of America above him and just decides right there that the Bielankos are done with Episode 9 of Season Three of The Walking Dead and so he might as well go ahead and show them the favor of just instantly deleting it from their recorded queue, you know, so they have a little more room to record another one of their 60 Minutes that they never watch.
It is 'Customer Appreciatin Days' after all, where you get $3 off of your $79 dollar bill if you help sign up 200 new subscribers in the next six hours.
What then? Hmm? What happens to my evening, to me and Monica's big stupid-ass Tuesday evening then?
I don't need that freaking aggravation.
"No, regular milk. You've already had some chocolate milks today, buddy. Now go upstairs and get ready for bed and Mommy will bring you a drink in a few minutes when mom and dad's show is over."
At this point, you might be saying to yourself, "Well, why doesn't one of these people just get up and get the poor kid some milk?"
Okay, fair question, I guess. But I would then have to peg you as someone who hasn't yet gotten a fresh whiff of hot Zombie pie, now have you?
No, you haven't and I can see it in your eyes, because once you and your better half have been married for most of a decade, and certain things change with the ebb and flow of the rolling tides and the changing moons, and you pop out a couple kids, before you know it the two of you both find yourself on some sort of an island out in the middle of the fishy smelling sea of your own life and you both simultaneously start looking forward to this whole new tiny universe you have discovered at the end of the livelong day and by, like 2 in the afternoon, you're both in different physical rooms or towns even, but you're both thinking about a little food and a cold beer or a raspberry seltzer (one of us is pregnant) and, oooooooh(!), which episode you are up to in one of these new fangled fancy-pants ass-kicking cable series that, if you find yourself behind in the times and have several seasons to catch up on, allow you to finally indulge your messsed up tired mind for like 11 nights in a row/2 episodes a night most nights, gluttonously feasting upon this clever script and that wildly talented unknown actor, unless you have gone down that particular dirt road yet then you really don't know jack shit about the situation that I find myself in in the strange long seconds that are hanging in the air like a fat ghost staring me down as I try to telepathically get Henry to suddenly really miss whatever scene he bailed out on in Puss and Boots in the plaroom and to go back in there so me and Monica can watch this poor bastard get his eyeballs chewed out of his skull and finish our spaghetti in one straight ten minute shot.
I see Henry decide that he can wait on the milk; his sweet face lowers itself down a rung and I can tell that he got the attention that he came for to begin with. The whole milk thing was just a con, a ruse; he needed some conversation and his sister was too wrapped up in that movie to even notice him standing there probably yammering her ear lobe off, so he did what comes natural.
He brought that show on the road, to us, to Mom and Dad.
We're such assholes, I tell myself.
Suddenly I want to get him the milk myself and just be done with it, but at that exact precise moment in the entire history of the entire universe I see him turn and look at the screen and lift his veal eyes up to the 40 flatscreen inches of sun baked reanimated freak show digging into some dude's face as if it were a nice big bowl of whipped cream from a can. Oh damn. Oh dammit to hell. I imagine the years of therapy my own son, my special little man(!), my spawn/my world will need from here on out because mom and dad were too goddamn lazy to hide away the secret thing they loved so much even when the secret thing turned out to be cable Zombies.
We have failed him.
We are probably failing him every step of the way, huh?
He stares up at the screen for a good couple of seconds and I can feel Monica's maternal regret coming off of her in hollow snakes of thick black drag racing smoke.
It's Holding Pattern City. It's too late now.
Then, without so much as a single word, Henry loses interest in the screen, looks back at us on the couch, smiles his golden smile at the two of us sitting there in limbo and walks off, disappearing around the living room corner, back the way he came from, as if Zombies never even crossed his beautiful little mind at all.