We came to the labyrinth of grain aboard a wooden chariot littered with hay and pulled by a sturdy tractor that made a pleasing rumble as it crawled past the fields of pumpkins and the stand of apple trees. The kids thrilled at each muddy pothole and G and I exchanged bemused glances, basking in the wholesomeness of the outing. We disembarked our tractor with a spring in our step, eager to figuratively reap the harvest. The kids plunged forward, surefooted into the corn maze. We followed behind, challenging their confidence in each path they chose, as if their desired heading were analogous to declaring a college major. One dead end equals a Sociology major. Another dead end and they’re moving back into our basement and working the night shift at the video store.
It’s fun, this family outing. We’re happy to be together, reveling in our romp among the tall, brittle reeds of rotting corn. I caution of the time since we took the last available tractor ride. They dismiss my concern with hearty laughter but I glance reflexively at my phone to note the hour, at which point I also see that I have no reception.
4:15pm – Honey, do you have any bars on your phone? I don’t. So I just want to make su– oh, you didn’t bring your phone. Right. Why would you indeed? It’s a corn maze, not a quest from a Tolkien book.
4:20pm – Another dead end. I really thought this was the way. We’ll just turn in the direction of the setting sun. The sun sets in the East, which is the way we need to go. Really? Shit. In the West? Did that change recently, maybe with global warming?
4:21pm – Weren’t we just here? No, not just standing in front of a wall of corn. Standing in front of this very wall of corn.
4:23pm – I wish you were an African rebel right now because then you’d have a machete. They always have machetes to hack their way through cane and oppressors.
4:25pm – Guys, look at the camera on my phone. Tell me your names and ages. And what you had hoped to be when you grow up. Don’t say a pirate, that’s not how you want to be remembered on 48 Hours Mystery. Say an astronaut. Christ, NASA doesn’t exist anymore. Say a Senator. Just say it. Now stare sadly at your hands and look skinny while I pan the camera through the corn.
4:28pm – Which way should we turn? I hear children whispering ‘Malachi’ down this lane? I swear, I do. I hear them….
4:30pm – I’m hungry. And thirsty. And anxious. This is like the Weight Watchers trinity of unhealthy relationships to food.
4:33pm – What do we do at nightfall? We need shelter. We need fire. We need prey. I can’t stop talking in survival terms. Rations. Hypothermia. I’m just saying words now. And I can’t stop. Flares. Smoke signals.
4:35pm – I know this is an uncomfortable parenting dilemma, but I think it’s on your mind, too: Which child do…we…sacrifice first once starvation sets in? We need to establish the rules before our logic is clouded by hunger. I think the oldest. That gives us more time to save for college for the younger two. Wait, what about the baby? We didn’t bank her cord blood anyway so we may have subconsciously made this decision when she was born.
4:38pm – Remember when I told you that my wallet was stolen and that’s why I couldn’t buy you an anniversary gift? I lied. I spent all my money on that scarf that you hate. No, it wasn’t a present from my mom. That was a lie, too.
4:40pm – No, I learned nothing useful as Girl Scout. I learned that I could eat four sleeves of Thin Mints in the time it took the others to tie a square knot.
4:41pm – RAPE! FIRE! What? Everyone knows that you don’t yell ‘help’ anymore. No one wants to help. They just walk by and pretend they have a really important text message they have to attend to. RAPE! FIRE!
4:44pm – No, you can’t go to the bathroom now. You have to store that pee because we’re going to need to filter it using a husk and a Baby Bjorn and I haven’t the slightest idea how, but, one way or another, we’re going to need to drink that.
4:48pm – Do you know about the Law of 3s? We can only go 3 minutes without air. 3 days without water. 3 weeks without food. And I’ve got about 3 hours without Internet in me.
4:51pm – Do you know how to whittle anything? Not like a Precious Moments character, like a weapon. We might need it as the darkness settles. From the look of this corn, something with sharp incisors may be our roommate.
4:52pm – I’m taking my shoes and socks off. I saw it once on a show. The girl who thought it seemed counter-intuitive to strip away clothing now has feet made out of Titanium and runs distance in the Special Olympics while her friend she deemed crazy still wears Manolos.
4:54pm – Stop looking at me like that. I know what you’re thinking, but I’m no source of nourishment. There is no protein to be derived from these flaccid muscles. I’m pure gristle and bone shaft.
4:58pm – In two minutes, that tractor driver is either going to organize a sweeping man hunt or he’s going to shrug his shoulders and go home to eat a Hungry-Man frozen dinner. Did you tip him, incidentally?
5:00pm – You know what’s the real ball buster in this whole situation? We can’t even eat this corn, can we? We’re like those sailors who are marooned on an uninhabited island with no fresh water. They drink the salt water and then they die a horrible death. If we eat this corn, we will die. Or have really colorful bowel movements.
5:04pm – It’s over. Let’s all lay down together, holding hands. I’m going to fashion crowns of corn husks and we’re going to sing a song that we all know. No, not Dynamite. Something more tranquil, like a hymn. Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas will do.
5:10pm – Wait, what’s that? There’s the clearing! We’ve made it out. God, thank you. I will do better. I will try harder to do your work on Earth. I will nurse fallen sparrows back to health. I will help old ladies find their sizes at TJMaxx. I won’t believe in dinosaurs. I will make wreaths and donate afghans to the assisted living center. I will stop ridiculing people who read Nicholas Sparks novels. I will stop hoping girls I didn’t like in high school have cellulite and premature age spots. Okay, I won’t, but they were cruel girls. But above all, I will never make my family do free activities that I read about in the paper. And I will never buy anything with high fructose corn syrup again.