Tantrum Twins: a very short story

Little SW was throwing another tantrum at the store.

“Oh Justine,” said her mother, calling her by her middle name as she always did when she felt overwhelmed and ready to give in, “What do you want?”

Without a break in the screaming, SW gestured vaguely toward the aisle of equalizers, levelers, boosters, and safety nets. Her mother sighed and went to work, dutifully sweeping items off the shelves into her shopping cart, which was already filled to the brim with items from nearby aisles. As newly added items slid off the pile and onto the floor, red-faced SW shrieked and stomped even louder, picking the items up and hurling them at her mother and random passersby.

Most of the passersby looked appalled, but weren’t sure what if anything they should do. So they idly just wished SW’s mother would keep SW quiet.

Al, who was about the same age as SW, stood watching. Young Al was transfixed on SW with a mixture of seething hatred and smitten adulation. Seething hatred because he was simply returning the hate-filled look SW had given him, and adulation because whatever SW was doing to get her way seemed to Al to be working.

Al used to have an aisle in another part of the store where he’d have liked his father to be clearing the shelves into their cart. They were items few people sought out but which Al could articulate strong reasons for wanting. He’d forgotten all about that now. Now it was SW’s tactics that consumed him. She was getting results!

So before long Al tried out his own sort of tantrum. Instead of screeching incoherently the way SW did, he focused on making objectionable noises and gestures: he yelled racial epithets; he Heiled Hitler; he goose-stepped around doing his best impersonation of the Nazi bad guys he’d seen in movies; he pointed out that Jews–Jews!–had stocked the shelves (indeed, many of the people who worked in the store were Jewish); and then he rolled on the ground in a fetal position and wept loudly about how he and everyone like him were being systematically eliminated–he had no children of his own after all, so it seemed his legacy would end with him–and how if it had been SW being eliminated people would care but since it was him nobody cared and people ought to be more alarmed about that kind of inequality don’t you know.

Al’s father Mr. Trite, normally aloof and indifferent, saw at this moment an opportunity to look caring and supportive: he marched over to SW’s shopping cart and ceremoniously picked out one or two of the items she’d demanded. Then Mr. Trite made a show of putting them back on the shelf–though if you noticed his sleight of hand you’d see the items remained in the cart.

SW and her mother did not notice the sleight of hand, and both of them became totally enraged. They jabbed shaking fingers at Al and Mr. Trite, shouting “Devil! Demon! Vile scum!” They tore their hair and rended their clothes.

At this, the passersby got excited, for something primal was awoken in them. What before had been a disturbance in the outskirts of the store was now an all-consuming melodrama, and the crowd could not resist playing along by joining one side or another. Those generally inclined toward equalizers and safety nets took SW and her mother’s side (though some still mumbled quietly that SW should tone down her shrieking) while those interested in different aisles took Al and Mr. Trite’s side (though they weren’t sure what to to make of strange little Al and mostly tried to pretend he wasn’t there).

We don’t know how this story ends. SW might get what she wants though it seems doubtful. Al is happy just competing with her tantrum-for-tantrum, and winning that competition is all he wants now; the aisles he used to long for are gathering cobwebs.

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4 thoughts on “Tantrum Twins: a very short story

  1. Al wants stuff from the jobs-houses-wives-children aisle, I presume, but those aren’t items that Mr. Trite’s really capable of giving him. Nor can he really just get them himself — especially not the wives. And maybe that aisle’s blocked off because there’s a big mess on the floor there that isn’t being cleaned up because the employees are so focused on the aisle with the stuff that SW wants.
    When I first read your parable I thought that “Mr. Trite” was Trump; now, rereading it, I see that you describe Trite as “normally aloof and indifferent”, which doesn’t sound like Trump at all.

      • Oh, yeah, that makes sense. He’s Al’s father. Of course. And now, looking again at the parable, I’m reminded that Al wanted Mr. Trite to give him stuff that he, Al, wanted — manly job, house, wife? — rather than merely taking a couple of items out of SW’s cart. The wife-part’s the problem. Potential wives seem to wander over into the aisle that SW’s so focused on. Keeping the wife in your cart’s a problem, too, when people are so eager to help her out of it.

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