Tuesday, 15 February 2011



[Dedicated to Sheila, Susannah, and Colleen]

    “A BILLION BROKEN BACKS?” — that was the question. Griswald looked over this headline and confirmed the paper's  suspicions when he looked out the window. There, he saw all the city's employees hard at work to prevent further damage: concrete mixers and steamrollers bandaging the fissured sidewalks, hard-hatted men cautiously caulking the ground ahead and behind them, policemen tracing the trail of runaway refrigerators, ambulances hovering for the few moms on crew.

    Seven days before, the hospital had welcomed a strange and sudden influx of mothers with broken backs and snapped spines, many of whom screamed, in a great and vengeful agony, the names of their children, it was learned. A few connected dots and bureaucratic scrambles later, the municipal forces had diagnosed the problem — cracks and lines in the pavement, mainly — and rushed to fix the streets. A team of researchers concluded that any footfall upon any such break would damage maternal vertebrae.

    These lethal lines would have been enough to paralyze a city into tiptoeing paranoia, but with these broken backed mothers came other injured: the pathologically dishonest arrived with third degree burns from the waist down; forest workers hobbled in with skeletons shattered by sticks and stones; the professionally and habitually projectile- or insult-hurtling members of society came besmacked with the rebounded stings, labels, and objects of their trade — bruised bullies, quarterbacks adhered with footballs, and de-esteemed stand-ups all struggled to regain confidence upon therapists' couches.
    With the seeming realization of so many children's rhymes and sayings, the world at large  turned to horror. Kids, who had before embodied innocence, purity, and unawareness, had apparently become, or had been all along, beholders of ancient wisdoms, purveyors of terrible truths, keepers of violent secrets. Perhaps they had caused all this; perhaps the same collective unconscious murmurings that somehow caused identical recess games to evolve on playgrounds across the nation was part of a deeper and more sinister psychic network. More than a few congressman and public figures of note had called for some kind of action, such as a nationwide FBI investigation of every single child and adolescent under age 18, or a complete ban on rhyme at the primary level of education, or even child interment camps and quarantines. Child therapists and pediatricians became the nation's most valued asset, but not even they could explain what was going on.

    Everyone was scared.

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