He hates movies. He knows what's going to happen. They'll make you feel things you don't want to feel.
They all start peacefully. All these pictures of normal life. Sunny day. Father in pressed shirt and conservative tie gulping coffee from a Disneyland mug; can't finish the rest. Paper under his arm he puts the mug on the table, glances at his watch.
"Gotta run. Late for that meeting with Roberts."
Kids in their school clothes sit munching, staring blankly at cartoon characters on cereal boxes.
"Will you be home for dinner?" says the mother, rushing frantically between the sink and a kid who can't find his homework. "Tina's birthday?"
"I didn't forget. Might be a little late," says the father.
"Six thirty. . ." the mother says to the closing door.
He knows how this movie is going to go. The nicer it starts, the uglier it gets.
This can't be good.
Who's it going to be? The father? The wife? Maybe the kids. The littlest one.
The father's Lexus pulls out of the driveway, and he's gone.
"Hurry, you'll be late," says the mother to the kids.
The daughter gets up and does the same. These kids, he knows they don't respect their parents the way kids did long ago, but they're not bad kids. Maybe that's the setup. Maybe it will be them.
The littlest one can't reach. Mother takes her bowl.
She hustles the kids out. They get on the bus that stops in front of their house. Then they're gone and the mother is alone.
She starts to clean the kitchen and the phone rings. Picks up the phone as the message starts. Waits till the beep.
"One thirty," she says, smiling into space. For a split second her voice gets quieter. She cradles the phone between her cheek and shoulder like it has become something to nurture. Her voice goes deeper a register. "Craig is working late. Kids get home at three-thirty. Not enough time? Only for you." And now she laughs.
He doesn't want to hear that laugh. It doesn't belong in a kitchen where the kids have just had breakfast, even if they are disrespectful.
But this is how they do it in the movies. That last closeup of the kids and their cereal bowls. The change in mother's voice. They need to start you suspecting. They're using your mind against you.
Roberts isn't in the office at work. Father's got to cover the client meeting because he isn't there. He calls home to mother to tell her the bad news. He's stuck. The birthday will have to be another time.
He gets the goddamned answering machine and to make matters worse, the message tape is full and he can't leave a message. So he decides to listen to the messages so he can tell mother what they were because he's going to delete them.
But there aren't any messages. Only a conversation. It takes him almost a minute before he realises he's listening to his wife. He knows the man's voice, too.
He leaves work without saying why to anyone.
As he turns the corner onto his street he sees the school bus, stopped. There's a strange car in his driveway. His three kids get out of the bus. They're waving. At the front door, father's front door, there is a man wearing nothing but running shorts. He gets closer. Sees his wife behind the man, an arm around him.
Father jams on the brakes. Now he's propelled by something so close to death it feels like a war has started. The man sees him coming. He bolts toward his car. Gets in, starts it, and backs up in a rush so the tires squeal and this is where it happens first.
This is where you see the small pink sweater go under the rear of the car. The backpack crushed under the tire.
The man nearly backs into the school bus before he realizes what he's done but it's too late.
Father picks up his daughter. She's not bleeding, but not breathing. Her mouth is moving. Her body is crackling in spots.
He can't get her to breathe. There's screaming all around and he can't fix her.
Father cries. Mother cries. The ambulance comes and when they take the child from him, father stands and sees the man in the running shorts shouting something toward the open door of the house, where mother sits on her knees sobbing, her hand on the handle as if she's trying to shut the door.
He's saying he's sorry. He doesn't see father. It's the element of surprise. You know it has to happen because it's a movie.
Father tackles the man from behind. He forces the man's face into the pavement. With his knees on the man's back he slams the man's head down again and again. Things crack and crumble in the body until it feels the same as his daughter's. Tracks of blood stain the white concrete.
They see him but fast, he grabs one of the decorative river stones that line the driveway. Lifts the heavy rock in the palm of his hand. He feels its weight for a moment. Another second and he brings it down on the head until gelatanous red issues from the fissure in the skull.
This is where they stop him. The ambulance drivers. The police.
This is where he has to wonder about the happy ending. It's one of those art films. It's kind that ends before anything is resolved. You leave the theater wondering if you needed to be a lot smarter to figure it out.
He hates this kind of movie. Suspension of disbelief is impossible. So much trouble happens in such a short time. Why would someone want to believe just to be made to feel that way?
Maybe he'd like it better if he'd consider its reality. The child didn't make it. The killed man had a wife and three kids. Their names were Roberts. The rock had heft.
But he doesn't. He won't.