My kids’ new favorite game is searching for signs of life in satellite photos. They crowd around the family computer to hunt for civilization in the most far-flung, godforsaken places on Google Earth. They’ve grown adept at spotting thin dirt roads etched along shorelines and valley floors, the needle-straightness of airstrips or docks, the unexpected glint of a lone, distant roof.
I drink rosé in the kitchen doorway, waiting for the lasagna to cool, flicking through news on my phone: New symptoms have been identified…stores are running out of toilet paper and water…the stock market is up…the President tweeted.
“Guys, look, buildings,” Emma says. “On an atoll.”
“And a clay tennis court! They must be French,” Grace says.
On the monitor, a dented sandy ring floats in azure, pocked on one side by a red smudge and a cluster of beige buildings.
I walk over to kiss my kids’ heads. “I’m so sorry,” I say.
“Why?” Quinn, my youngest, asks without looking up.
I refill my wine glass.
“What’s the northernmost settlement in the world?” I yell from the kitchen.
Emma googles. “Dad, it’s called Alert,” she says. “In Canada.”
A map appears on the screen with a dot on the upper rim of the great northern archipelago. Emma clicks and zooms us down into Nunavut and Qikiqtaaluk and further still until the tiny arctic settlement of Alert emerges—a nestled clutch of buildings half-buried in snow.
“Kids,” I say. “This summer, let’s escape to Alert.”
After dinner, Grace mentions an online survey a friend texted her which supposedly assesses the degree to which someone is a psychopath. We each agree to take the test separately.
“Answer honestly,” Quinn chides us beforehand.
Quinn scores the lowest: four out of forty. Grace gets an eight. I get nine. We’re all rated Minimally Psychopathic. But Emma scores a ten, just over the line into Mildly.
“That test wasn’t meant for kids,” Grace assures her. “Especially the parts about promiscuity, delinquency, and criminality.”
I start to say, “Yeah guys, had I known…”
“And that question about ‘parasitic lifestyle’?” Grace cuts me off. “Aren’t kids supposed to live off their parents?”
I help her clear the plates.
After dessert, the children decide to retake the test together to see if they could become Moderately Psychopathic without stretching the truth too much—an act which, Emma jokes, seems moderately psychopathic.
Soon the synth-xylophone chime of an incoming FaceTime fills the room.
“Mom!” my kids sing at the computer. “We miss you!”
“Hey, guys,” Sandra says, looking tired and grainy on the screen. She has changed out of her scrubs and into a sweatshirt. Anodyne hotel wall art hangs behind her.
“We took a test to see if we’re psychopaths!” the children shout.
“Don’t worry. We’re not,” I add, sipping my wine.
Sandra smiles. “Rosé in April. Everything okay?”
I consider how to reply as Quinn tells her, “Mom, this summer, we’re escaping to Alert.”
James LaRowe is currently pursuing his MFA at the Bennington Writing Seminars where he is working on his first novel. He writes fiction that explores privilege, loss, and evolving notions of masculine identity. He lives in the suburbs outside of Boston with his wife, three children, and dog, Cali. James LaRowe’s flash fiction piece “2020 April” received Honorable Mention in Cleaver’s 2022 flash fiction contest judged by Meg Pokrass.
Cover Design by Karen Rile