Easter Egg Surprise
by Venita Blackburn Read author interview March 25, 2019
While plopped on his training potty in the middle of the apartment den, my son, lil Benny, threatened to kill everyone in the room. While straining, he spoke in his preschool accent and jabbed a finger at each of his targets.
“I’ma kill you. And I’ma kill you!”
Those threatened included me and his grandpa, Ben Sr. Both of us laughed of course ‘cause it was super cute like a baby penguin itching to wrestle. Grandpa Ben was now my primary babysitter for lil Benny. My mom just passed. She was a junkie and a liar and owed me three hundred dollars, but she was good with my kid. Lil Benny’s mom was about as useful as his grandma if you ask me though. I left my dad in the glow of the television to dispose of lil Benny’s kid shit. While flushing the toilet there was nothing funny left. I didn’t turn on the light, so everything was gray, cold, quiet and smelled of bleach, mildew and poop. I thought about the news and the funeral and genetic transfer of fucked up tendencies and wondered if there might be something wrong with my son.
There were garbled voices in my head for a while, flashes and whispers all saying violent video games are bad for kids. So I studied up, read the labels and dropped lil Benny in front of a tv without no screams of bloody murder and the pop pop pop of FPS digital gunfire. In his new game there were just tools and block men ready to build anything. Lil Benny loved it. After a week though I wasn’t so sure.
Benny stopped cussing and threatening to kill me, but he didn’t say much of anything, just ooooh and grunts and ahhhhhhhs like the block men in his game. He even started to copy the stiff swivel of their heads. I could tell his grandpa had noticed.
“That shit gon turn him into a pussy.”
I let that slide since my dad still had a lot on his mind of course about the loss of my mom. Doctors guessed the years of dirty meth led to the cancer. Many of their friends still didn’t know she was dead. When they asked how the treatment was going, dad had a phrase for it.
“Burned it up!” he’d say and laugh like an ass.
A few were confused/horrified but most knew his ways and cringed when they realized he meant cremation. Lil Benny’s mom left our apartment to buy some mac n cheese one night and the bitch never came back, fourteen months ago. Benny still sees her online, posting pictures. She bought a motorcycle and dyed the top of her head purple then gray then back to black. Lil Benny used to love her hair changes when they video chatted, never questioned when she would return. To him, it was normal that mothers left like that into the night or tiny containers.
Games were clearly not the answer, so I found a channel online. At first I was confused and tried to click away, but lil Benny stopped me with a grunt. There were no people onscreen, just a pair of white hands and a basket of plastic Easter eggs. The hands worked slowly to turn the egg around for the camera, creating suspense and shit. Lil Benny leaned in closer to the screen just as the egg broke to reveal its hidden gem: cars, animals, superheroes, popular cartoon figurines, and the one Russian nesting egg that lil Benny gasped over as each egg led to another inside, ending with a final micro race car at its core, which gave neither him nor me any satisfaction. Staring at the disembodied hands moving to break one egg at a time over and over made me feel like I was shrinking, like the oxygen left the room and all the toy trucks, robots, mice, candy, key chains and stickers birthed into view with a tiny explosion of air from the egg were growing big and heavy as bricks piling around my feet, pressing down on my toes. The videos gave me fucking vertigo, but lil Benny couldn’t get enough. He became addicted to them, retreating into the screen whenever I had to deny him a piece of chocolate his grandpa brought over because sugar sent him into a hyper tantrum, and I would have to restrain him through high pitched screams of injustice. I had to find something better than those vids though; there had to be something better than a strange man’s manicured hands popping open plastic eggs all day to help my son.
Lil Benny’s mom’s calls became more and more infrequent after he refused to talk to her that one time. She waited for him to notice the rainbow nest on her head, but he wasn’t impressed. He ended the call by touching the red button. The boy can’t read but can hang up on a grown ass woman without thinking twice.
I gave in, gave up, went to the store and bought a toy football. I figured the only solution was to take lil Benny outside. When I got home his grandpa was playing a game on the couch and lil Benny was in his room. I could hear him laughing and talking to the screen. There were other voices too, a woman and a man and other kids, so I hurried in to see who the hell was in my apartment. Benny knelt at the tv, watching a family online, playing games together in their home. Lil Benny waved a hand at me and said “hello daddy” without looking in my direction. He said every syllable, sharp as ice. I said “hey,” squeezed the foam ball then left. The family in his video sat close. The room was warm, clean with a rug, lamps and pillows. Everyone laughed like they would always be that way in there together.
About the Author:
Works by Venita Blackburn have appeared or are forthcoming in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Paris Review, Los Angeles Review of Books Print Quarterly Journal, American Short Fiction, the Georgia Review, Pleiades, Madison Review, Bat City Review, Nashville Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Café Irreal, Santa Monica Review, Faultline, Devil’s Lake Review, Nat.Brut., Bellevue Literary Review, audio download through Bound Off, and others. She was awarded a Bread Loaf Fellowship in 2014 and several Pushcart prize nominations. She received the Prairie Schooner book prize for fiction, which resulted in the publication of her collected stories, Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, in 2017. In 2018 she earned a place as a finalist for the PEN/Bingham award for debut fiction, finalist for the NYPL Young Lions award and recipient of the PEN America Los Angeles literary prize in fiction. Current projects include finishing a new novel, a collection of flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her home town is Compton, California, and she is an Assistant Professor of creative writing at California State University, Fresno.
About the Artist:
A contemporary realist, Josh George paints with oils and acrylics on wood panel, incorporating layers of collage elements. His subjects include human figures, cityscapes, and scenes of everyday life in the American city. George is represented by galleries in New York City; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Aspen, Colorado; Kansas City, Missouri; Raleigh, North Carolina; Columbia, Missouri; and Richmond, Virginia. His artwork has been featured in such publications as Stile Magazine, Step By Step Magazine, American Art Collector, and Society of Illustrators, among others. His work is part of Warner Music, Nissan, Capitol One, Sheraton Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Dominion Power, Landmark Bank, and Limno Tech corporate art collections. He has taught for Pratt Institute and for Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Communication Arts, and has been a guest lecturer for Syracuse University's MFA in Painting program, Emory Henry College, the New Hampshire Art Institute, and Accademia di'Arte di Brescia in Brescia, Italy.