your son isn’t here right now, Mrs. Torrance

I had our biannual conference with our fourth-grader’s teacher last week. My husband didn’t even come. What was the point of him taking off work to hear once again that our son displays malice toward none, good sportsmanship toward all, and penmanship almost freakishly neat? Connor is nothing if not predictable.

And indeed, this past week’s conference reconfirmed my son’s good humor, conscientiousness, and respect for all his teachers. Which made it, well, sort of a surprise when this occurred last weekend:

DAD: Connor, put those dishes in the dishwasher.

CONNOR: Why do I have to do it?

DAD: Because I told you to.

CONNOR: (under his breath) Shut up.


DAD: What?

This wasn’t the sarcastic sort of I-couldn’t-have-heard-that-right “What”. My husband was being literal: clearly he misunderstood. Because our son had never spoken those words to an adult in his entire life.

Perhaps he had been addressing the dishwasher?

But our son did not respond.

David looked at me. I looked at him. We looked at our ten-year-old.

ME: What did you say?

Connor still wouldn’t answer. We had heard right, after all

DAD: Young man, if you think that that’s an acceptable way to speak to your father, let me tell you—

And then he stopped mid-sentence. Because our darling Boy Scout of a son? Was SMIRKING.

Now we were completely thrown. David stammered. I stammered. “Get to your room,” we said, and “good luck getting screen time this weekend,“ we said, and a few other choice phrases of parenting that seemed suddenly, newly, feeble.

When we heard his bedroom door slam behind him, we were dumbfounded.  Something’s going on, we whispered to each other. That’s not him. Is it? Was that some blood sugar thing? WHO WAS THAT KID?

Two hours later, my husband had gone out and Connor had returned to his sunny and chatty self. There must have been some tiny momentary rip in the universe, I told myself. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Just to finish shrugging it off, though, I asked:

ME:  So Connor. Can I assume you’re done talking to your parents like that?

CONNOR: (shrugs) We’ll see.

ME: “We’ll see?” Are you KIDDING me?

CONNOR: I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

And he walked out of the room.

I swear to God, it was “Danny isn’t here right now, Mrs. Torrance.”

It was that moment about halfway through anyway horror movie when the female protagonist realizes she hasn’t been imagining things, after all.


Which is always followed by another twenty minutes where nothing bad happens really, only now the female protagonist cannot shake the feeling that sh*t’s about to get REAL.

This was five days ago. No sign of the demon since then. I just had a fellow mother tell me yesterday that my son is “so polite it’s almost disgusting.”

And I nodded politely. But my eyes were all Shelley Duvall when she said it.

Parents of pre-teens, please tell me: is this how it all begins? With flashes of the dark unholy so quick you wonder if you imagined them?

Something tells me it’s about to get real.

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