I am sorry that I took a break from continuing the Accountability saga over the holidays, but it is back for your enjoyment. Also if you are enjoying this story, check out my other book, Tag: A Cautionary Tale, available on Amazon both in paperback and Kindle versions.
In the morning, Karen was so surprised to see me sitting on the bed, she dropped the tray of food she was bringing for me and ran over to give me a hug.
“You’ve finally decided to accept the program. I was starting to worry they were going to dump you into the Basement. I just couldn’t stand to see another woman fall victim to that fate.” She pulled back from me. “Stand up. I want to see the full effect.”
I stood up and patted down the skirt. I could feel a blank stare harden itself around the features of my face. After the night I had just experienced, it was hard to let any emotion come out. Karen took a few steps back in order to get the complete picture.
“Honey, it is almost perfect. Can you give me a smile? They are going to want to see you enjoying your time in the program; otherwise they won’t believe you are really accepting the program.”
I tried to let a smile come out. It felt like one of those smiles one puts on their face before they get a picture, real but not sincere. Karen could see the lack of emotion and her usual worried eyebrows returned.
“Not quite where it needs to be yet, but baby steps. You are moving in the right direction. That will give you some time. We can work on the smile later.” The blank expression returned to my face. Karen noticed this and tried to find a way to move me back in the right direction. “We still need to celebrate any success. Why don’t I get you anything you want for breakfast? What would you like, honey?” She looked back at the mess on the floor by the door to my room. “It looks like I am going to have to get you another breakfast anyway.” She went over to start to clean it up. “I’m sorry about the mess, but I was so surprised I lost control of my hands. I haven’t been so happy since…” There was a hesitation in her voice. “Well, it has been a long time, and now I don’t have to worry about your future.”
She started to pick up the larger pieces of food on the ground and placed them back on the tray. Seeing her on the floor like a maid made me feel guilty for the way I had treated her during the last couple of weeks. I knew I couldn’t let her clean everything up by herself, so I ran into the bathroom to grab one of the towels to help her.
I brought out the towel and used it to mop up the juice and green tea creating a huge, multi-colored pool on the floor. I felt some camaraderie as I knelt on the floor next to Karen. It was the first time I felt any connection to this woman. I had seen her every morning for the past couple of weeks as she fed me, led me down the hall to my class, and tried to encourage me to make the right decisions in order to successfully complete the program. She just wanted me to be the best mother I could be for my children, and I stepped all over her efforts. I started to feel ashamed for the way I acted the last couple of weeks. It also made me curious about whom this woman actually was.
“Karen, where are your husband and your children now?”
For the second time in one day, I surprised Karen. She dropped the large chunk of a plate she was holding onto the tray. The shock waves it created made the mess splatter again on the floor.
I looked up from the job I was doing and saw Karen try to hide her face from me. I felt even guiltier. “I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?”
She responded by picking up the tray and quickly leaving the room. She didn’t even return to bring me the special breakfast she promised me. It was another model mother, wearing the same pink dress and smiling a sickly sweet smile. I wondered what it was I had done or said that could have caused such a reaction. I vowed to reserve my questions the next time I saw her, but I wondered if I would see her again or if I had gone too far across the line.
I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when she came back later that night, but I could feel the strain within our relationship. She quickly brought in my food, and she had another package for me. She left it on the bed and quickly exited the room. I opened it up after she had left, and was surprised to find a pair of pajamas. I was starting to see it paid to play along with the game. They no longer required me to walk around wearing a thin piece of fabric. I could now join the ranks of humanity. Clothes were now at my disposal. They had removed my hospital gown during the day while I was in class learning how to be a good mother. I would never see it again. They also brought in a new, clean dress. It was the same color and style as the dress I had already submitted to wear. They must have thought since I had accepted the program I would no longer have a desire to wear anything else. I will admit it was nice to be able to wear clothes again. At night, I slept better because I didn’t have to try to huddle up under the blanket while keeping my body covered with the hospital gown. The pajamas were like a welcomed friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was also nice to walk around my little part of the Capital Limited Re-education Center in something more than a slip exposing my butt half of the time which made life rather uncomfortable the whole time.
I actually started to excel at my studies too. I was always really good at school and I enjoyed reading, taking notes, and performing on tests. It made me feel really smart. I went from being the worst mother in re-education to being one of the best. Even though my last name had changed and they should have moved me up to a different spot in the classroom, they did not. They left me in the far back corner, either to make a spectacle of me or to forget I was even there. The other mothers in re-education needed an example of what not to do. In order for the program to work, everybody had to buy into it or it did not work. My rebellious act was not doing the Capital Limited Re-education Center any favors. The Department of Motherhood did not want to remind people that participation was an option. Even when I did start to accept the program, Dr. Blur was hesitant to call on me in class because she did not know what would come out of my mouth. It was fun to watch the surprise on her face as I correctly answered the first question she allowed me to respond to. Afterwards, she started to call out my name more and more. Even the corner couldn’t hide how much I started to shine as a mother.
Dr. Blur had set up the program so within three months, the mothers in re-education would be tested to see if they had passed the course. In order to graduate, the mothers would have to pass the Mother Examination. Every perspective mother was required to pass the test by at least seventy percent. The mothers who passed and who still had husbands would be allowed to return to their families. It seemed to be a regular occurrence for husbands to divorce mothers who were sent off for re-education. At the time, I believed I understood why. It was embarrassing for the husbands to see the women they have married have their pictures in the paper for being an unacceptable mother. For a man, it showed he had a lack of judgment. He was unable to find quality in this world. He instead would just settle for the first thing he could get his hands on. It wasn’t about quality, it was about settling for happiness. It made the husband who found great mothers look like stalwart and smart men. They would be the ones getting the promotions at work. They would be the ones progressing up the social ladders. They would be the ones to admire in this world. It only made sense that a husband who married a woman who was a failure would want to get rid of his mistake as quickly as he possibly could. That was why when it came time to take the test, there was only one woman left whose husband had not divorced her, Sandy Slaver.
The rest of the women who had passed the test were given two options. They could go out into the world and start all over. This would mean they would be assigned a new job and if they ever wanted to be a mother again, they would have to find someone new to marry them. There weren’t many jobs available for women after the implementation of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. The act made it impossible for women to have a career in anything besides a secretary, a nurse, or, God forbid, a teacher. Mother was the only honorable profession left for women. It would be difficult for women who took their own chances to be mothers again. They would be thrown back into the dating pond. These want-to-be-mothers would have to compete with all of the young girls just graduating from high school who had just learned all of the important things they taught girls there like how to cook food, keep a house clean, and how to look pretty for the man they would eventually marry. Most of these want-to-be-mothers didn’t have a chance of competing with a girl like that. They would find themselves old maids begging their family for a home to live in.
The other option was a better one. This one would actually allow the women to take what they had learned at the Capital Limited Re-education Center and apply it. They would be shipped off to the Mother Mall. Capital Limited was kind enough to create a large building on the outskirts of every major city. This building was a warehouse, three stories high and included a basement. It was advertised on the side of the road by a large sign which could be seen for miles around. It was a big blue sign with big yellow block letters on it saying one simple word, “MALL”. Yes, its real name was the Mother Mall, but those four letters were all the Capital Limited Corporation needed to advertise what they sold there. Everybody knew what was being sold in these buildings. There was an advertisement for it on all major broadcasts, and it had a catchy little jingle that stuck in people’s heads reminding them of the place:
“Mothers are great; mothers are sweet.
Wouldn’t a new mother be neat?
One who is gentle and one who is kind;
One who doesn’t smack your little behind.
Well, there is a place with the best mothers of all,
Just look for those four letters down at the Mother Mall.”
I had never been into one of them, but I knew of their existence. They started to pop up all over the nation about a year earlier, thanks in part to the Department of Motherhood and Capital Limited Corporation. They claimed it was a necessity because of all of the mothers who needed to go into re-education. There were so many divorced mothers being re-educated and so many husbands with nobody to raise their children that there needed to be a place where these two parties could get together. The next logical choice was to set up a market where the husbands could go and purchase what they needed. This is where the idea of the Mother Mall came from.
Husbands could go to the Mother Mall and for a price fitting their needs find a mother who could raise their children. The husband could wander around one of the three levels or down in the basement depending on how much they wanted to spend. This is where the score on the Mother Examination became very important for the mothers graduating from the Capital Limited Re-education Center. Depending on how well a mother scored, she would be placed on a certain level. Women who scored over ninety percent would be placed on the top floor. If they scored just below that but still over the eighty percent mark, they would be placed on the second floor. Finally, if they just passed the test they would find themselves on the ground level. If they did not pass they were put into the Basement. Their pricing depended on which level they were placed. Of course, the more money a husband spent meant they would be getting a better mother to raise their children. It was a win-win situation. The husbands would be able to find a mother suited to their needs and the newly re-educated mother would be able to put her skills to work. It was even the patriotic thing to do because it allowed the mothers to become a commodity to help improve the economy. It was for all of these reasons that many of the women chose this option when they graduated from the Capital Limited Re-education Center.
I worked really hard to get back on track so I wouldn’t fail the Mother Examination by the end of the session. I was a little nervous about taking the test because I felt, with a little more time, I would be better prepared.
When the morning of the test came, I knew I was prepared enough to pass it, but I wasn’t sure if I knew enough to become one of the mothers on the top floor of the Mall. I was nervous about taking the test and getting on the ground floor because of who would end up purchasing me there. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like if I had failed the Mother Examination. I was okay with scoring well enough to be placed on the second floor. This is where I felt most comfortable. Yes, it would be lovely to be on the top floor because the husbands who really cared about their children’s well-being would shop on that level. They would be willing to spend the extra money to make sure they had one of the best mothers, but I was still not sure living with a husband with such expensive tastes would be conducive to my lifestyle. Their houses would probably be really big. I would have to spend most of my day making sure the place was cleaned and I wouldn’t have as much time to make sure the children were being raised properly. I would prefer to live a life similar to the one where I grew up.
The bottom floor scared me a little bit also, but in another way. The husbands who shopped there would definitely be looking for a bargain. They wouldn’t care if the mother was skilled enough to earn high marks on their assessments. Instead, they would look for one to keep the kids under control enough so they would be able to enjoy their evenings with sports and beer drinking.
I really wanted to be on the middle floor of the Mother Mall. The husbands looking for a mother there would have enough money to buy a good mother but wouldn’t be able to splurge too much to buy one beyond their means. These husbands lived a comfortable life and were never in want. They did not believe they were more important than they really were. The people who lived in this area didn’t have to flash all their money around in order to be accepted by other people they lived near. These people would instead sit on their front lawn while their children played with the other children on the street. They would wave to each other and greet each other with kind words. They would watch out for each other’s children and come together for the bigger holidays like the Fourth of July and Halloween. When tragedy did visit one of these families, they would all come together to help each other out. It was what life was meant to be like. This was the life I was hoping for after I took the test.
I was pretty sure I would do well on the test, but the day of it, I was still nervous. When they turned on the lights in my room, I was already dressed and sitting on my bed just like I had after the night I found out Robert didn’t love me anymore. The relationship between Karen and me had improved to the point where she would talk to me again but only about things concerning motherhood. She would never mention a thing about her past. On the morning of the Mother Examination, Karen entered the room a moment after the lights came on carrying my breakfast. She was surprised to see me sitting there ready to be fed. It startled her again. I don’t know if she was having memories of that morning I had asked her personal questions, but whatever the reason, she became flustered right away.
“Good morning, Karen.” I said, “Are you okay?”
She quickly composed herself and brought my breakfast over to my bed and placed it down next to me. “Of course, dear. It was just a shock to see you all ready this morning. I thought I would be able to sneak in and drop your breakfast off while you would still be in the shower.”
I picked up a piece of toast and took a nibble off the corner. “Well, I was a little nervous last night with this being such a big day, so I got up a little early to get ready. I wanted to be ready for the Mother Examination, and I was hoping to talk to you a little first, before I had to go down and take it.”
A look of apprehension snuck into the corners of her face. “Of course, dear. That’s why they assigned me to you, so I would be able to mentor you when you needed me. What would you like to know?”
“Oh, I had just a few questions about what the test was like.”
I could see relief spread over her face. The tension I had noticed in her body also quickly disappeared. She sat down on the other side of the bed and asked me, “What would you like to know about the Mother Examination?”
I gently placed the half-eaten piece of toast back on the plate, and stood up. I rubbed my hands together in a show of nervousness as I meandered my way over to the empty dressmaker’s dummy. “This test just has me worked up. I don’t know what to expect when I see it. I know you can’t give me the answers or anything, but could you at least tell me what the format looks like?” By this time I had reached the dummy and I turned around to face Karen. She was sitting on the bed with her hands in her lap. “I just want to do my best, so I can do my best after I leave the Capital Limited Re-education Center.”
Karen considered the question for a second, trying to think of the best way to answer it in order to alleviate my fears. “To start off with, honey, I don’t think you need to worry too much about it. You are a very intelligent woman and I have watched your progress over the last couple of months. You’ve gained a wonderful understanding of the material.”
“That’s good to hear.” I turned away from her again and made my way over to the door.
“As far as the test is concerned, it is not as difficult as you think. It is a series of multiple choice questions covering the Ten Commandments and the standards. Then the second part is an essay part. They give you a series of situations and ask you how you would handle them. If you have a firm grasp of the standards and the Ten Commandments, you should be able to come with appropriate answers rather quickly.”
I made it to the door. I turned around to make sure I was facing Karen again. She still sat on the bed unaware of my real purpose. Her lack of observation allowed me to cup the doorknob in my hands behind my back. The skirt of my dress hid this move from her view. “You seem to know a lot about the Mother Examination. Have you taken it before?”
“All of the mother mentors need to take the test at least once before becoming a mentor.”
“Can anyone become a mother mentor? Because I was thinking if I was able to do this, maybe I should consider this path instead.”
She began to get nervous again. She started to look at me a little more closely to see if I was actually up to something. Karen must have decided I wasn’t because she said, “It doesn’t take a lot to become a mentor. You just have to prove you were a mother at one time, and pass the Mother Examination.”
I went with the flow of what she was saying. “You must need to score pretty high in order to gain that honor. I’m pretty sure they don’t just let any mother who gets a 70 percent on the Mother Examination have the option of being a mentor to upcoming mothers.”
“Oh, you don’t need a 70 percent to become a mentor. You just need to pass the test.” She began to relax again.
“Oh, you just need to get a D on the test to be qualified to become a mentor.”
I was shocked and almost wanted to scream at the absurdity of the situation, but if I had it would have ruined my main goal. I quickly composed myself before asking, “Is that why you became a mentor, because it was so easy to become one?”
She stiffened up again. I could see it in her shoulders, but she tried to play it off as if it were no big deal. “That was one of the reasons.”
“Was what happened with your husband and your children another one of the reasons?”
She looked directly at me with a sharpness in her eye piercing directly to my soul. She picked up the tray and started to head towards the door. “I think we’ve talked too much for today. Good luck on your test.”
She made it to where I stood in front of the door, but I kept my ground and wouldn’t allow her to make an exit from the room. “What happened to you, Karen? What happened to your family?”
Karen tried to maneuver her way around the door but I blocked her every move. It still didn’t stop her from trying. “Get out of my way.” I could see the breakdown in her face as the pain from my question hit her heart.
“I’m not getting out of the way, Karen, until you tell me what happened to your family. I need to know, and I think you need to tell someone. Why not let that someone be me?”
She threw the tray at me, but I dodged the avalanche of food coming my way. Karen lunged for the door, but I was able to maintain my hold on the doorknob. She used her bulk to try to push me out of the way, but I was able to detain her in the room.
“Karen, nobody would choose to make a career out of mentoring other mothers unless they had to. I never hear you talk about your children or your husband. I’m starting to wonder if they are even a part of your life anymore. What happened to your family, Karen?”
All the effort was too much for her, and the years of holding her burden finally released itself. She dropped to the floor and the skirt of her dress fanned out on the floor around her. She hid her face in her hands and started sobbing. I was a little leary of her playing a trick so she would be able to get out, so I tried to console her from my position in front of the door.
“It’s okay, Karen. Just let it out. By telling someone what happened, it will give you some release and you will start to feel better.”
“It’s just awful. It’s not fair what they did to me.”
I took a step away from the door. “Who? Who did what to you?”
“Do you know who I used to be?” she said into her hands. “I used to be somebody important. I used to have the respect of thousands. I used to be admired by millions. But all of that was taken away from me.”
I walked up to her and put my arm around her shoulder. I sat down with her on the floor and she leaned her head into my shoulder. Her sobs continued, but she had started to gain enough control over herself so she could tell me her story.
“Many years ago I worked for a very successful company. Did you ever hear of Homewide Inc.?”
I looked down at her in amazement. “You worked for Homewide Inc.?”
Karen looked up at me from where she was sobbing on my shoulder and said, “I was the CEO of Homewide Inc.”
I was completely stunned, but looking through the thick layer of make-up I could see the same woman who once debated Dr. Blur about the state of motherhood on national television. The name also sounded a little familiar now that I thought about it, but she must’ve dropped the Shatney part of her past name.
“You ran Homewide Inc.”
She sat up and sniffed. “Oh yes. Not only did I run the company but I was very influential in the development of its products. Do you remember those books with places for children to put stickers in and then they were able to write their own story based upon the stickers?”
“I loved that as a child. I had ten of those books I wrote and I would have my parents read them to me before they put me to bed every night.”
“That was one of mine.”
A new respect for this woman started to well up inside of me. I couldn’t believe some of my favorite childhood memories had been created because of this woman who was sitting in my cell and crying. “That company was amazing. Whatever happened to it?”
Karen sniffed. “The National Caring and Loving Behavior Act happened. All of a sudden the development of the nation’s children became the buzz word. Women were no longer expected to have a career, but instead they were expected to stay at home and raise their children. It was imperative for the developmental views of some people in this nation. Of course, because of all of the freedoms placed within the Constitution of the United States, the creators of the bill couldn’t come out and say they needed women out of the picture. Instead, they needed to sneak it by through different means. They started to have national news broadcasts focus on their ideals when they talked about the state of motherhood within America. They could create television programs focusing on the same idea and try to instill those ideals into everybody in America. It was the reason you started to see shows like the Buddy Bears on television.”
It started to make sense. When I thought about it, I could remember the ideals of America changing right about the same time the act was passed. At the time, I hadn’t noticed because I was too wrapped up with Robert and starting a new life with him, but looking back I could remember it. Sitcoms turned into family affairs, and cartoons became ones in which the family unit was centered on the mother. I looked over at Karen. She was starting to compose herself. “That still doesn’t explain what happened to your company. You would figure they would want products like the ones you designed because then it would give mothers the tools they needed in order to be effective.”
“You would think that, wouldn’t you? This wasn’t the case though. In order for their agenda to be plugged into the psyche of America, they needed to make sure everyone tuned into it. They needed people to watch their televisions. The products I sold worked in the complete opposite way. They nurtured the imagination of children. Kids weren’t participating with their media if they were using my products. They needed to shut me down.”
“So what did they do?”
“The logical thing, they went after my husband, Richard. I didn’t know it at the time, but Richard always harbored a deep resentment for me because I was more successful than he was. I thought he was happy in his career as a restaurant manager, but he wasn’t. He always wanted to be the breadwinner for the family and he wanted our sons to look up to him as the father figure he always imagined himself as being. The National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was a godsend for him. It gave him the out he needed in order to remove me from my position at the company. I, of course, was really busy at my job. I wasn’t able to spend much time at home raising the children. This had become Richard’s responsibility, but of course he wasn’t the one being held accountable under this legislation. It was only the mothers. A couple of failed assessments and Richard was able to send me off for re-education. The company, of course, didn’t want a failed mother working on their products, and I was removed as CEO. Richard was able to divorce me and the company went into the business of developing video games. Of course, nobody in the company knew what to do in that field and things quickly fell apart. They had to file for bankruptcy a year later, and the company went out of business. I lost my career, my family, and my life all because of that act. But even though it looks like I’ve sold out to this act, I’ve slowly been working to make sure the life I once lived is still available to all women some day.”
For the first time since I had met her, I felt true sympathy for Karen. She was delusional. There was no way her old life could ever compare to what she was doing now. It was pathetic to think that being a mentor to failed mothers was the same thing as creating those wonderful tools all mothers could use to raise children.
I pulled her in closer for a hug and patted her back hoping my gesture would comfort her from the pain she was feeling. Her sniffing had stopped and it seemed she was able to get things under control again. She told me, “Thank you, Rachael. You’re right. That did help me feel better. I should have done that a long time ago.”
There was a clicking sound from the door. I looked up to see it being opened. On the other side stood Dr. Blur. Steven was standing closely behind her. The good doctor was holding Mr. Clicky-Pen and her clipboard. She looked down at where Karen and I were embracing on the floor. “Karen, we need to talk,” was all she said.
Karen gently pulled her head away from my shoulder. I could see the face she usually wore once again plant itself upon her features. I realized for the first time this look was really a look of fear. She stood up and composed herself before walking to the door. She stopped just before she walked out into the hallway to join Steven and Dr. Blur. She turned to me. When she was sure the other two weren’t looking, she winked at me and smiled. Dr. Blur shut the door and left me in my room alone.