With a flick of George Browning’s plump finger on the silver clasp, the dead bird awakens and flies out of the box in a blur of white feathers.
“Beautiful, isn’t she, Mrs. Wilkes?” boasts George proudly. “Albino finch—we call her Snow White. My own granddad first Cribbed her almost a hundred years ago.”
“Yes…lovely,” I say distractedly. The two people at the table in the back of the dusty shop have caught my eye.
George twitters on, his round, good natured face bright with enthusiasm. "It's a marvellous technology. The whole suspended animation thing, you know? We didn't want to Crib Georgie Junior at first, but it was such a relief to take a break—the terrible twos—and he's none the worse for wear from it. Just look at Snow White here, healthy as a nestling."
As he speaks, I let my attention wander to the back corner. Mrs. Browning is chatting with my husband, her elegant hand resting indiscreetly on his thigh. It’s obviously been there before—Tom’s blue eyes betray pleasure but no awkwardness—but I already knew that. I seethe, more annoyed by their casual indiscretion than by the gesture itself.
As always, George is oblivious, lost in his own chatter.
“Of course, most women prefer Prince Charming. My lady customers have spoiled this little guy to Hell and back.” He gestures at another miniature glass Crib. Inside stands a rainbow finch of generous proportions, posed unnaturally, as if he’s about to take off. Once again, George releases the clasp, and Prince Charming unfolds his colourful wings without missing a beat. He speeds clumsily towards his counterpart, who is now perched contentedly on a coat rack, knocking over several other Cribs on the way.
While George hurries across the store to clean up the mess, my mind returns to Tom. Tom, who used to care as much as I do about our reputation in this town. Was last week the first time that he came home too late after going to the “pub”? My God, all his drinking buddies must know.
And this Lenora Browning, with her city-girl name, with her pure silver hair fashionably at odds with her young girl’s figure—why would he want her, when he has a perfectly charming and devoted wife waiting at home? The Silver-haired Seductress, like a whore in some cheap romance novel.
“Ah, that’s that.” George Browning has finally swept up the bits of glass and found new homes for the residents of the ruined Cribs. “Sorry ‘bout the wait. I can’t control these birds.”
You can’t control your wife, I think.
“But the birds aren’t my real product, of course. They just showcase the beauty of Cribs: life frozen in time, perfectly preserved until you decide to reanimate it with just a switch of a clasp.”
I shiver. More like temporary death. Cribbing is just a bloodless, temporary method of murder invented by scientists.
George continues. “I suspect that you’re looking for a Crib for little Jimmy? Finally getting with the times, eh?” Ever the salesman, he motions at the gleaming wall of full-sized Cribs.
“Actually, I’m not so sure about the idea. It’s Tom who wants to Crib Jimmy. ” And that’s not all he wants.
“Oi, Tom, over here!” calls George toward the guilty pair. Tom rushes to my side, startled, but not ashamed, as far as I can tell. Lenora follows closely behind
“What’s going on? Trying to convince my wife to Crib Jimmy like every other modern mother?”
“Oh, Cribs are an absolute necessity, my dear,” pipes in Lenora with a brilliant, cold smile. “At first, we only Cribbed Junior for short times—maybe delaying a temper tantrum for a day or two—but we soon discovered how delightful it is to take a break. Now I leave him in for months.”
Of course she does. Women like Lenora have no maternal instinct.
“But now we have so many elderly couples with toddlers because they Crib their children so often. It’s not right,” I say with a pointed glare in her direction
“Well, I don’t think that mothers who Crib are elderly,” protests Tom, glancing with Lenora with the wide eyes of an infatuated schoolboy, the schoolboy that stared at me a few short years ago.
In that moment, I realize that there is no hope for our marriage. Tom can’t escape the clutch of her scheming talons. He doesn’t have the self-control to keep their affair secret for much longer. It’ll be the talk of the town. I need to end this situation. I need to act now.
I let out a long breath.
“Fine, George. I’m convinced. We’ll try out one of the cheaper models.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Mrs. Wilkes! You won’t regret it. And I’ll throw the two birds into the deal. I noticed how taken you were by Snow White and Prince Charming.”
Once I had made the decision, the plan seemed to carry itself out. Like a wind-up automation, I barely had to think as I dissolved one of my sleeping pills into Tom’s evening tea.
“I’m going to bed early tonight. Ate too much supper, I think,” he says with a yawn.
“Goodnight, dear.” Now I just have to wait.
On a whim, I walk over to the miniature Cribs on the bookshelf and open each clasp. Without hesitation, Snow White and Prince Charming fly out the open window, free at last to live out their natural lives undisturbed by human technology. I pause to watch them disappear over the rooftops.
A loud snore erupts from our bedroom. It’s time.
I tiptoe in the opposite direction into Jimmy’s room, careful not to disturb my sleeping son. The Crib lies unused against the wall, still in its cardboard box. Silently, I push it out to the hall and into the master bedroom.
Tom’s snoring body makes a thump! against the glass as I push him in. My hands break out in a sweat—he’s not a heavy man, but there’s a peculiar sense of tension as I realize that this is the last time I’ll ever see my husband.
Once Tom is snugly stuffed into the Crib, I take a deep breath and slowly close the lid. This is it. As soon as I turn the clasp, his chest stops rising mid-breath.
I reseal the cardboard box and address it to the Historical Society and write instructions on the box with a marker:
TIME CAPSULE SEALED IN THE YEAR 2099
DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 2300