Dressed in Black by Filip Wiltgren

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DRESSED IN BLACK

Filip Wiltgren

Two-mom bends down so that her eyes are level with Rao’s.

“We’re here, Rao,” she says in what Rao recognizes as her patient voice, “because she was your real-mom and we show respect.”

“What’s resect?” Rao says. He wipes his nose on the sleeve of his boring, no-glow jacket. The jacket is black, like everyone else’s, and he hates it.

“It’s when you don’t stick your tongue out,” says Nima. She’s half a head taller than Rao and knows everything in the world. She pokes Rao’s shoulder and sticks her tongue out. He answers as he always does: by flailing at her with his little fists. Nima laughs.

“Hush, Nima,” says two-mom. She gently catches Rao’s arms and pulls him away from Nima.

“Respect,” says two-mom, “is when you care for someone, and listen to them, and behave well.”

“What’s care for?” Rao say. Two-mom has got his entire attention, the altercation with Nima already forgotten. Rao loves it when two-mom explains. It makes him feel like he’s the center of the universe.

“That’s when you like someone,” two-mom says.

“I didn’t like real-mom,” Rao says.

“She liked you,” says two-mom.

“Did not.”

“She loved you a lot.”

“She yelled at me when I hugged her,” Rao says. In his world this settles the argument.

Two-mom stops for a moment, like she always does when she talks to Archive.

“That’s because your hands were sticky with jam,” she says. “Your real-mom had a new dress.”

“You didn’t like her.”

Rao watches two-mom making what he thinks of as a grown-up face. It is serious and sad all at once and not a drop of laughter in it.

“What makes you say that?” two-mom says.

“You walked out of the room when she came,” Rao says. “And you never spoke to her even though she looks like you.”

“She chose it that way,” two-mom says.

“Why?”

“That is a complicated issue.”

Everything is complicated when you are a grown-up. Rao wants to be bigger but he doesn’t want to be a grown-up. He kicks a small hole in the dirt with his genuine leather shoes. Around him the grown-ups are arrayed like short, squat trees. They do not act very grown-up though. Harry’s real-dad is whispering in Siri’s real-mom’s ear and she giggles.

“Siri’s real-mom don’t like her,” Rao says.

“What makes you say that?” two-mom says.

Rao points.

“She don’t show ‘spect.”

Two-mom looks.

“No one does shows ‘spect,” Rao say. It’s true. Everyone is whispering and fidgeting and no one is telling them not to. It’s not fair in the grown up world.

“Brianna’s mom and dad are respectful,” two-mom says.

Rao looks. Brianna’s real-mom and real-dad look sad and they don’t fidget. They hold hands and Brianna is standing between them even though all the other kids are in the activity park with their two-moms and two-dads.

“Brianna is weird,” Rao says.

“Yeah,” Nima says. “She hasn’t got a two-mom or a two-dad.”

“They don’t have a car and her bike doesn’t have an engine,” Rao says. Not having an engine on her bike is definitely Brianna’s fault. It shows just how weird she is.

“And she’s always in Hoppy’s Happyland when you log in,” Nima says.

“Is not,” Rao says. He’s not allowed in Hoppy’s Happyland and resents the fact that Nima is.

Nima sticks up her nose at him.

“What do you know,” she says. “You’re four.”

Again Rao flails at her but two-mom pulls him away.

“Hush, children,” she says. “Nima, that was not polite.”

Rao loses interest in Nima’s scolding and looks over to his two-dad. Rao’s two-dad is standing behind his real-dad, holding an arm around real-dad’s shoulders. They both have the same suit on and real-dad looks like two-dad.

“How come real-mom didn’t look like you?” Rao says.

“She did too,” says Nima.

“Did not,” Rao says to two-mom. “When two-dad got gray hair real-dad got gray hair too but real-mom lost her hair and even though you didn’t.”

“She chose it that way,” two-mom says.

“Why?”

Two-mom tilts her head.

“Your real-mom was a brave woman,” she says.

“Why?” Rao says. “Did she lose her hair fighting Lord Catigan for the mousemen’s cheese?”

“No,” two-mom says. “She fought something much worse.”

“Did she win?” Rao asks.

Two-mom stands and looks at the coffin. She pats Rao’s head.

“No,” she says.

Rao looks at the coffin, too. They will not repair real-mom like they did two-dad when two-dad had to go to the factory and came back in a box. Maybe real-mom isn’t worth repairing. But two-mom looks sad when she looks at real-mom’s coffin. Maybe she’s sad about real-mom going into the recycling. Rao puts on his best smile and hugs two-mom’s leg.

“That’s OK,” he says to her. “You’re still here.”

Food for Thought

Historically nannies have often become the primary caregivers to rich children and there has been a disconnect between privileged adults and their children, a disconnect also seen in upper-middle class British society with its focus on boarding schools. But what happens when the nanny isn’t alive per se? Would a reasonable semblance of life be enough to acquire a child’s parental affections?

About the Author

Filip Wiltgren is a writer and tabletop game designer based in Sweden. He has held jobs ranging from coal loader to martial arts teacher, which is a lot more impressive on paper than in reality. For the past 15 years he’s worked as a journalist, copywriter and communications officer. His publications range from Nature to Daily SF and when he isn’t writing he spends time with his wife and kids, or blogs at www.wiltgren.com

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