Word of the Day
Melanie was just packing up her books when her cellphone rang. Her mother was waiting for her in front of Annie’s house.
“Gotta go, Annie,” Melanie swung her backpack up onto her shoulder, “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” Annie and Melanie were studying for their entrance exams, wanting to get good scores so they could both get into the same university.
After Melanie got in, Janice pulled away from the curb, throwing her soda can out the window. Frowning, Melanie buckled her seat belt. “Mom, that’s littering. Why do you do that? And please put on her your seat belt. You know it’s for your own safety.”
“Oh, sweetheart, it rubs my neck raw. I always look like I have a hickey. It’s so unsightly.”
Melanie sighed. Sometimes she wondered how hard her mother worked at making up these excuses for not doing the right thing.
“Did you give Rosie the DVDs I made for her?” Rosie was Annie’s mother.
“Yes, Mom, of course I did. But you know copying DVDs is illegal, right?”
“Oh, sweetie, it’s not really wrong, is it?” Janice looked over at her daughter and smiled. “I mean, Rosie just had foot surgery and can barely afford her medicine. I’m just helping out a friend, right? What’s wrong with that?”
“Well someone thinks it’s wrong or else there wouldn’t be an FBI warning at the start of each DVD. You know, the one where it mentions the possible $250,000 fine and five years in federal prison.” Melanie repeated herself, speaking slowly for emphasis. “FED-ER-AL PRI-SON.”
“You worry too much. I do it all the time and it’s no big deal. Let’s talk about something else. Did you and Annie study vocabulary today? What was your word of the day?”
“Excoriate. Our word of the day was excoriate.” Melanie wondered yet again what, if anything, could be done to get her mother to stop her little legal indiscretions. “It means to criticize severely, to denounce.”
Janice had never heard the word before. “I know what it means, Melanie.” She pulled into their driveway. “You go on and get settled and I’ll start dinner.”
They had just sat down to eat when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it.” Melanie put her napkin on the table and got up. She came back followed by two men in suits and sunglasses.
“Mom, the FBI wants to talk to you.”
“Excuse me?” Janice put down her fork, perplexed.
“Janice James? I’m Special Agent Tony Brand and this is Special Agent Bruce Talbot. We’re here about the illegal DVD copies you’ve been making.”
“Oh, officers,” Janice began, “I can explain . . . “
“Ma’am, we’re not police officers. And you’ll have to come with us.”
“No really, Mr. – I mean Agent, uh, sir, there must be some mistake.”
“There’s no mistake. This way, please.” Each agent took one of Janice’s arms and led her to their black SUV with heavily tinted windows.
Janice raised her voice, as if an elevated decibel level would make the FBI agents change their minds. “This can’t be happening. Really, I . . . I can’t go to prison. I’m not a criminal! I floss everyday. I write poetry for Pete’s sake!”
They put her in the back seat, closed the door, and drove off. Standing in the doorway, Melanie wondered if the judge would excoriate her mother at her hearing.