Home > Fiction > Zillow Games
Published: Sun Apr 15 2018
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Destruccion por un remolino del aire Xocomeel del Lago Atitlán / Destruction from a Vortex of the Xocomil Winds around Lake Atitlán (detail), 2014, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
AGNI 87 Crime Family Mysteries
Zillow Games

We had been thinking and talking, Grant and I, about buying a house, so I had the Zillow app on my tablet. Through it, I could see every house on the market in our town, every house that was for sale in America.

There wasn’t time to look at every house in America. But I could try. Flipping through Zillow was what I did in all the dead zones of my waking life. It was how I made use of the mind-erasing machine that fits so nicely in my hands and obeys every caress of my index finger.

Jack, our son, often caught me looking at Zillow. When he did, he wanted to sit in my lap and comment on what we saw there.

He didn’t hold back his criticisms of the houses’ interiors. The kitchen’s too small, Mom, he would say. The bathroom’s brown. I don’t like that bed.

They wouldn’t leave us the bed, I said. We can paint the bathroom. Brown is not eternal.

I told him these things many times, but he ignored me. He wanted to find the fireplace. It was what he looked for every time he took the tablet from my hands and swiped through the photos of a home’s interior, too fast to really judge if it might be right for us.

I knew why he wanted to see the fireplace. We lived in an apartment, not a house. We had no fireplace. Jack wanted to live in a house that had house things, like a backyard. Like a fireplace.

Jack and I looked at Zillow often enough that it became a game. What would it be like to live in that house? I’d say. Where would you put your pig?

Jack has a stuffed pig.

Some of the homes on Zillow aren’t inhabited, but the rest of the photos hint at lives in progress. The ugly furniture tells you how dull these people are, how they shop mostly at Ikea and maybe, if they’re cosmopolitan, Pier One. No one has real style on Zillow. They have what they’ve found in catalogs.

If you look hard at the Zillow houses—and I did, I looked hard—you see more than the owners likely want you to see. Their sad cat makes its way into a photo, or someone leaves a postcard on the fridge, featuring a poorly drawn, exasperated woman in a kimono and sunglasses, drinking a margarita through a straw, saying something about how a day isn’t complete without three glasses of red wine. Drink up! Life’s a gas. Some of the photos look as if they were taken one busy morning in the middle of a bee infestation, the dad snapping each room hastily and fleeing before he got stung.

I saw on Zillow, once, a bed that was surrounded by mirrors on all sides.

There was only one reason they would have all those mirrors screwed into the walls and ceiling around the master bed. There is only one thing you might do on that bed that you would want to watch yourself do.

I didn’t tell Jack what that was. He didn’t ask, thank goodness.

Grant would have told him. He insisted on being honest with Jack about everything. He was open about things I prefer to keep quiet about.

I don’t want him to have a childhood like mine, Grant would say. It was so sterile, full of nothing and shopping. I want Jack to understand what our bodies are about. He has to respect his body, hold himself in high regard.

Grant felt strongly about certain things. He felt that the school where he had taught until recently was wrong to deny him tenure. He felt that, while he wrote papers and sat on committees, I should stay home and raise Jack. So now that I’m working full-time again, my coworkers are much younger than I am. They just graduated from college. I am old enough to be their babysitter.

It often happened that when I discovered something fun to do with Jack it was swiftly co-opted by Grant. That was how things were when Grant was here. Nothing stayed mine for very long.

Once he didn’t get tenure and left his teaching job, Grant was at home with Jack all day. I would hear them in the morning as I got ready for work, Jack having made his way into the bathroom where Grant sat looking at Zillow. What do you think’s probably wrong with that driveway? Grant would ask. How about the retaining wall?

When Grant made Jack his Zillow buddy, I stopped playing. Whenever Grant took something from me, I let him keep it. I imagined I would come up with new things to do with Jack. I always did.

I went back to looking at Zillow alone, since looking for a house and taking no concrete action to try to secure one had become a part-time job for all of us. It seems to be Zillow’s business model, to satisfy the voyeurism of all the people who thought they might like to buy a house, but to do nothing to help them find one. It queues up endless photos of houses, but the photos reveal very little, and while you’re looking at them you’re still on the couch or the toilet and have made no progress. You haven’t really seen anything. The more houses you look at, the more abstract they become.

Zillow wants to keep you looking at houses forever. It wants you to keep coming back. If you bought a house, you wouldn’t need Zillow anymore. You’d delete it from your tablet. Shareholders would not be pleased.

Jack and Grant played the Zillow game every morning. They hung out in the bathroom while Grant sat on the toilet. They looked at Zillow and talked about Zillow.

I don’t know what Grant meant to teach Jack by letting him into the bathroom when he was in there. Maybe it helped him convey to Jack that bodies are important and we should accept what comes out of them. I don’t know.

They played the game for more weeks than I thought they would, until the Monday morning when it seemed as if their talk about Zillow had changed. As I put in my earrings, I heard Grant ask not what it would be like to live in a certain house, but what it would be like to visit the people who owned it.

I brushed off the thought that there might be significance to this.

There were other things I should have paid more attention to, like something Jack said on the way to the dentist, about a pet bird fluttering its wings in a cage.

It wasn’t so alarming or I would remember it better. But it made me think for a half second that something was happening. A half second later I shunted the thought away.


Grant liked to characterize certain things he had done or liked to do as punk rock. Or metal. It was a really metal time when in college, once, he found the severed leg of a deer. The deer must have been hit by a truck and pulverized, he said. A road crew must have cleaned up the rest. It was winter; the leg was frozen stiff.

He took it home and put it in the freezer. A month later, he put the leg in his roommate’s bed while he was sleeping, so he would wake up with it. Like in The Godfather, said Grant. But with a cold deer leg.

His friend wouldn’t talk to him for a week.

He must not have been a metal friend, I said.

And I must not be metal myself, because when I learned that Grant had been taking Jack to some of the houses listed on Zillow, leaving him with whoever still lived there and running away—not forever, but for a little while: long enough—I wanted to drive a knife into Grant’s neck.

Actually that would have been a very metal thing for me to do, to stab Grant. What I really wanted to do, though, was to leave Grant and take Jack with me.

I stood sweating in the kitchen, tears running down my face and Jack asleep in the next room, while Grant stood on the other side of the island, astonished at how seriously I was taking this. He didn’t seem to think he had done anything wrong. But if he hadn’t done anything wrong, why had he waited so long to tell me about it?

He wasn’t going to. He was not about to volunteer that information.

It was Jack who had tried to tell me what was happening. There was the thing about the pet bird, and then, one night, while I was giving him a bath, he mentioned a man with a knife.

What man? I remember thinking. What knife? I decided he must be talking about a YouTube video. I assumed it was more of Jack’s nonsense.

It wasn’t nonsense.


I was on lunch break, at my desk at work, when I read about Zillow Go!.

My first thought was, Why the exclamation point? I almost didn’t read the article on the grounds that someone hadn’t toned it down.

But I did read it, and learned about a new game that dads across America were playing with their kids. Or playing at the expense of their kids, for surely the kids weren’t having fun. They weren’t akin to their dads’ tennis partners. They were more like the rackets.

There was no object, really, to Zillow Go!. There were, instead, three steps.

The first was to gain entry to the home of someone who’d posted his or her house on Zillow. You weren’t allowed to break in; you had to get in in an “ethical fashion.”

Once inside, you then left for five minutes or more while your child stayed in the house. You had to record the time exactly, and ensure that your child had been in the house for at least five minutes before you returned. The Zillow Go! app featured a handy timer. If you didn’t stay away long enough, you didn’t get experience points. The final step was to return and claim your offspring.

This last directive, and the thing about not breaking into houses unethically, was on the books probably to protect the creators from any legal action.

That evening, when I asked Grant why people would play such a game, he said he thought they did it for the thrill.

The thrill? I asked.

Oh, you know. It’s one thing to put yourself in danger. But your own flesh and blood? Double adrenaline.

You mean people like to risk their kids’ safety because it’s more exciting than risking their own?

Grant shrugged. There’s not much risk, he said. I think that’s what the kids learn from it.


All they’re told from day one, he said, is that people are dangerous. Stranger danger. But the stranger isn’t usually the danger. The danger is right under your nose.

It’s like with molestation, he went on. Everyone gets freaked out about guys in parks, but it’s not random guys in parks you have to worry about. It’s your half brother. Or a family friend.

I stopped chopping the carrot I’d been chopping and looked at Grant. You’re talking like you know about this firsthand.


The first house Grant took our son to wasn’t far from the apartment where I now live with Jack.

The house they visited is still on Zillow, so I know all about it. It’s a four-bedroom split-level where nothing, plainly, has been updated since the mid-nineties—a raised ranch, built thirty-five years ago. All the walls are the same mustard color, and there is nothing hanging on them, no decorations whatsoever, maybe to showcase all that mustard. The house has been on Zillow for 182 days, and it is taxed at $87 per square foot. Nothing about the house is punk rock or metal.

They staked out the house all morning, Grant giving Jack a breakfast of Gushers and popcorn while they sat in the car. They watched someone drive up and enter with a bag of groceries. She was not a threat, Grant said. Just a tired-looking lady.

They left the car a block away and approached on foot, Jack riding on Grant’s shoulders. Grant knocked at the front door. When the woman answered, looking even more tired up close, he told her they’d gone out walking and not brought any water. I’m worried about my son, he said. He’s thirsty. He drinks a lot of water.

The woman let them in, the man and his boy. Of course she did. Jack is a sweet boy, and Grant seems sweet enough when you don’t know him. Even when you do know him he seems sweet.

The woman led Jack into the kitchen. Grant quietly slipped away. When the woman turned around to say something to him, he was gone.

Jack was still there—looking up at her, I’m sure, with that expression he wears so often, the empty look that tells you, if you don’t already know, that he is a blank slate waiting for someone to scribble all over him.

I don’t know what happened next. It is perhaps the worst part of all, that I don’t know what Jack did or what was done to him in the five minutes that followed. I wasn’t with him. Grant wasn’t with him either. He was with a woman Grant insisted was fine. He assured me she was a nice old lady.

I looked her up on Facebook. She is a year younger than I am.

She didn’t call the police.

You’re lucky she didn’t, I told Grant.

No way, he said. We’re white. She’s white. White people don’t call the police on white people. They call them on black people.

Again I had the urge to drive a knife into his neck.

When he returned, the woman was holding Jack’s hand and standing at the open front door, looking out, maybe to see where Grant had gone.

I’m sorry, he said. I had to get the tire-pressure gauge.

I thought you walked here.

We parked and walked, Grant said, taking Jack by the hand and leading him away.

I didn’t know what he expected from this insanity. I didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to hear his voice anymore, though I wanted to know what had happened to Jack.

Grant was smarter than to ask why I was crying. But I knew he had no idea.


The next house I took him to, Grant said, was green.

The next house?


He had done this thing more than once. He had done it three times, I learned later.

The next house was green, and the guy in it was young. Like me, Grant said.

Not like you, I said.

I could see in the photos, Grant said, that whoever owned the house had nice furniture. It was all craftsman style, or mostly that. Some modern stuff. The house itself wasn’t great, but sometimes the things people have in a house make it look like a good house. Do you know what I mean?

Anyway, the guy let us in. He didn’t even ask what we wanted.

I ran, like I did the first time, as soon as he turned his back. I stood by the car and dicked around on my phone. When the timer buzzed, I went up and knocked again. The guy opened the door all nonchalant, eating an apple.

Where’s Jack? I said.

Jack? he said. Who the hell’s Jack?

My son, I said. He was just here.

He took a bite of his apple and looked at me. I don’t know what you mean.

I was really scared for a second. But then Jack walked up behind him, playing with the guy’s phone.

Jack, I said. You’re okay. Thank god.

The guy hadn’t been tricked. He knew what game the two of them were playing as soon as he opened the door.

Two other fathers did this same thing yesterday, the man said. It’s really not good that you’re playing this game.

The guy lectured me, Grant said, for, like, five minutes. I know it’s hard to resist a trend, he said, but this is your son.

The guy had kids of his own. They were at a daycare. But how is taking your kid to daycare a good thing? Grant said. How is that responsible all of a sudden? He didn’t even want to talk about that. But goddamn it, more damage is done by hypocrites than anybody else.


The men who created Zillow Go!—and they are all men—do not have children of their own. They are twenty-three, twenty-six, and twenty-eight. They live in California.

They’ve made a lot of money from their invention, which collects data, somehow, on the people who use it. They stand to make even more money if their game continues to be played again and again, with child after child after child. If the app can be shut down, the game will end.

I have tried to tell the people I work with about my situation. None of them have children. I am thirty-five; they are, at the oldest, twenty-five. When I tell them about Zillow Go!, they don’t envision even one of the thousand horrors that could play out in five minutes spent in the house of a stranger. They laugh like they’re in on the joke. Like there is a joke to be in on. Like there is something funny about putting a child in danger.

I have wondered if Grant is sick, if he should see a psychiatrist.

I don’t have a psychiatrist. I couldn’t afford the copay for someone like a psychiatrist, a stand-in for the kind of friend I need from time to time but cannot seem to find.

When I am driving I sometimes imagine what a therapist might say about my situation. I picture her as someone who is about my age, who has a child about Jack’s age, someone who loves her son like I love mine. I have worried that she might ask me, not at our first session but maybe at our fourth, to try to empathize with Grant, to try to understand where he was in his mind and his heart at the time that he did these strange and dangerous things.

Hadn’t his dreams just died not six months before? Hadn’t both our lives been upended? Could it be that he was not his best self at the time in question? That his mind was in a bad place, which was the reason he took Jack to such bad places?

These are questions I would rather not consider.


I didn’t play Zillow Go! with Jack for another week, Grant said. How did you keep him from telling me what you’ve been doing?

I didn’t keep him from telling you. He told you.

He did not.

He did. I heard him.


He told you about the knife man, didn’t he? In the bath?

Who is the knife man? I said. What did you do to my son?

Our son, Grant said.


Grant didn’t tell me about the third and final Zillow Go! outing. I read about it later, in a transcript of the account he gave to the police, when it was emailed to me by the lawyer I hired to handle my end of the divorce.

My feelings about Grant are complicated now. Mostly I don’t ever want to see him again, but we were together for eight years. I feel his absence at home. Jack feels it.

I almost didn’t take Jack to the third house, Grant said in the transcript. I considered not going in at all. The thing about Zillow Go! is, you don’t choose which house you go to. The online system chooses for you, almost at random.

It was a house on the market for just $125,000. That was a bad sign. I don’t think I ever saw another listing of a three-bedroom for less than $150,000. Most were for a lot more.

The triangle on the front of the house, over the door, extended almost to the ground. The whole front stoop was like a big brick triangle. The house had a stone fireplace inside.

By triangle, Grant meant the gable that overhung the front door. His architectural vocabulary could have used some expansion, as could, in Grant’s opinion, the house’s living room. It was too small, he said, but there was space in the backyard for building onto it. And at $125,000 we could maybe afford to do that.

As if I would give any further thought to buying a house with Grant.

I had to see who lived in the house, he said. I thought it could be the one for us, something we could buy cheap that I could work on, fix up, whatever. Plus it was the house the game chose, so what could I do? I wanted to get us to level three. You unlock a lot of perks at level three.

He took Jack one morning, as soon as I left for work.

The man who came to the door was what he’d imagined: bald, frowning. There were crosses hanging in the house. Grant could see them from the doorway.

The man didn’t want to let this stranger and my boy into the house, but Grant told him Jack was very thirsty and that no one else on the block appeared to be home. He’s diabetic, Grant said. I think your neighbors are at work.

Why aren’t you at work? the man said.

I don’t work, Grant said.

After some more negotiation, the man let them in.

As soon as Jack was in the kitchen, Grant bolted. This time, though, he didn’t go far. He ran around the outside, to see if the house had foundation issues.

I wasn’t just doing it for the sake of the game, he said. I was really intrigued by that house.

But what if, asked the policeman who interviewed Grant, you did end up wanting to buy the house, and the seller saw that you were the same guy who’d come and left his son and run away?

Oh, it wouldn’t be me buying the house, Grant said. Not with my credit rating. It would be my wife.

Grant peeked through a window to see Jack standing on a chair beside the man’s kitchen island. The man was saying something that Grant couldn’t hear. He was gesturing while Jack looked up at him, an earnest, scared look on his face.

Grant knew he should go inside, but the foundation looked good and so now he had to check the gutters.

If the gutters are wrong, he said, the deal’s off.

Grant checked the gutters. The gutters were great. So he went back and knocked on the front door.

There was no answer. He knocked again, harder. It may have dawned on him then what he had done, what madness he had brought on. The door was locked.

When he returned to the kitchen window, Jack was still at the island. The man stood before him, laying knives on the table.

Grant shouted.

Neither of them looked his way. They didn’t seem to hear.

It was like I was in a nightmare, read the transcript. Only the nightmare was my real life.


I have learned that Zillow Go! is no longer confined to the United States. The game is being played in Canada and Mexico, Panama and the U.K. It will soon be available in Israel.

Since Grant and I separated there have been more think-pieces online about what an irresponsible thing it is, about the many mothers who have come out against it. It appears that nearly all the players are men.

Of course they are. No sane—or maybe even insane—mother would play such games with her child.

Reading about Zillow Go!, I have come to wonder if fathers are, by and large, out of their minds.

I have joined a class-action lawsuit against the creators. I have signed all the petitions I could find. If I knew what else I could do, I would do it. I don’t know what else to do.


Grant ran around to the back. It was locked. He tried the cellar door. It opened into what he wouldn’t call a room. It was more like a tunnel, he said. As if the man who was upstairs with my son had been digging. Like he was a digger. I stepped into the hole where the cellar should have been. It was brick right inside but then dirt once you stepped further in.

I thought I was going to cry, Grant said. I was so afraid for Jack. But I also knew Jack would be okay. It was like I felt an angel whispering that we would get out of this.

I don’t know where Grant’s angel talk came from. I had never heard him say such things. A s far as I know he’s an atheist. My lawyer said he may have talked about angels to win the favor of the court.

Will it work? I said.

I don’t know, he said. It might.

Grant plunged into the tunnel. He didn’t plunge far before he found another door, then a set of wooden stairs blocked with debris. Like this guy was a hoarder, he said.

I didn’t care anymore, he said. I was a father. I am a father. I started grabbing random things from the piles on the stairs and throwing them behind me. I had to get Jack the hell out of there, and there was like a mountain of shit between me and him. All that crashing metal made so much noise.

I may never want to see him again, but I can’t deny Grant’s ability to reach the top of a cluttered staircase.

He burst through a door into the kitchen, baking pans and what he called random pieces of shit bursting in with him, to find Jack still standing on the chair in front of the kitchen island. The man stood close behind him, but now he was holding Jack’s hand. In the grip of man and boy together was a knife—the sharpest knife Grant had ever seen.

The man looked up at Grant.

Jack did not look up.

He was busy. He was concentrating hard, on chopping a carrot, the man’s hand guiding his boy hand as he worked so that he wouldn’t cut himself.

It looked like a delicious carrot, Grant said. Like a foodie carrot. I was about to kill the guy, I was really ready to do it. But when I saw how clean and nice his kitchen was, and how good that carrot looked, like it came fresh from the garden, I didn’t know what to think anymore. I got all turned around.

Hi, the man said. I am so sorry for all that clutter. I had to declutter the house for the Zillow photoshoot, and well, the clutter went to the stairs.

Grant stared at him. Being in the kitchen seemed to energize the guy. Like he belonged there.

I didn’t know where you went, the man said. I was cooking lunch when you came. So I thought I’d let your boy help.

Jack had never chopped anything before, Grant said in the transcript. His mother never lets him near a knife.

Never? the man asked.

Never? asked the officer in the transcript.

Not ever, said Grant. She thinks they’re dangerous. It’s like in her mind all sharp objects are out to kill Jack.

Is that true? my lawyer asked me. About how you won’t let your son near knives?

Yes, I said. He’s only five years old.

Jack seems to enjoy cooking, the man said. We’re making bánh mì sandwiches. You’re welcome to stay and have one. I’m a chef.

What kind of chef? Grant asked.

I’m making enough for the three of us. I knew you’d be back from playing Zillow Go! before too long, probably hungry. And I thought this would be an ideal chance to give Jack his first lesson.

What’s with the carrot? You’re giving him a lesson? I teach culinary skills to children. Right here and at the YMCA. My wife’s a chef too—a pastry chef. We met in culinary school. He held up the carrot. Fresh from our garden.

Why didn’t you come to the door? When I banged on it, you didn’t answer. When I shouted at you, you didn’t even look at me.

You banged? I’m really sorry. Sound does not carry in this house at all, it’s half the reason we’re trying to sell it. But you know what? We can’t seem to find a buyer. We don’t need the money, so we’re thinking of donating the house to public radio. They’ll turn it into our favorite programs.

The three of them visited together for two hours. The men had coffee. Jack peeled his first squash and learned the proper way to dice a tomato while Grant looked on in astonishment at the keen interest Jack showed in learning how to cook.

I don’t know, Grant said to the officer. I don’t want to make too much of it. I mean, his life is his and he can do what he wants. But I think we’ve got a future chef on our hands.

That’s really something, said the interviewing officer.


There were many things I didn’t know the night I learned about the game Grant was playing with our son. But I knew he had taken chances I could not forgive him for taking.

I leaned against the refrigerator with my hand over my mouth.

Grant was staggered. I don’t know where this is coming from, he said.

I covered my face with both hands, and in a flash he was upon me, his hand on my arm. He was, I knew, about to say it was all okay, it would all be okay.

I trusted you, I said. Jack trusted you.

Of course Jack trusted me, said Grant. He trusts everyone.

You don’t even know these people, I said. You don’t know what they might be capable of.

Grant shook his head in disbelief.

You left him alone with strangers, I said. In their homes.

For five minutes, Grant said. That’s all. What could happen in five minutes?

It is a question I’ve become consumed with. I’ve imagined crimes, conjectured violations. I’ve had thoughts I will not put into words. A woman in Portland, Maine, whose boyfriend took her son to play Zillow Go! is convinced that someone from a Zillow house made him drink vodka. Her son is three. And far worse things can take place in just a moment, impressions that can last forever. A mind can be mutilated in five seconds.

It’s not much time at all, Grant said. And think of how much Jack learns from it. About people. About what you gain when you trust someone you don’t know, when you let yourself be vulnerable. You’re so armored, he said. And you’re teaching Jack to be armored too. I have to work against that or there’s no telling how he’ll turn out.

He put his hand on my arm again.

I shoved him. Get out, I said.

I almost went for the knife, not to stab but to threaten him. Instead the knife stayed where it was, beside the carrot that must have paled in comparison to the carrot Grant and Jack had eaten in their bánh mì sandwiches, chopped by a professional, while I worked all day to pay the rent and put food on our table like this lackluster carrot no one cared about.

I wanted Grant gone.

No way, he said.

Yes, I said. You have to leave.

With great indignation, in apparent disbelief, with me still by the fridge and my forearms up as if to block a punch, Grant grabbed his black jacket and stormed out.

This is bullshit, he said.

He slammed the door. I heard Jack begin to cry. A neighbor came to ask if we were all right.

We were all right. We are all right still.


I called the police, later. They didn’t arrest Grant but they did interview him—hence the transcript. I slept with Jack in his bed that night. I held him close and breathed through his hair as though it were a filter I had to hold against my face to clean the air that his father had once breathed. I woke in the morning still wearing my work clothes.

Grant had not returned. Jack asked where he was. I said he was gone.

I ask Jack sometimes, when he is in a talking mood, about the knives and the man who owned them. I ask him about it in the car on the way to the daycare where I take him now.

What did the man say? I ask. When your father was outside, I mean.

I have still not heard that part of the story.

I haven’t learned more about the pet bird either. Which house would have had a pet bird, and when was Jack in someone’s bedroom?

Did he go to a fourth house with Grant? A fifth?

Grant doesn’t talk about other houses in the transcript. Instead, the cop asks, Do you think you’ll ever do this again? Play this phone game with your kid?

Oh, no way, Grant says. Absolutely not. I totally get it, now, why I shouldn’t have done it in the first place. It was bad for Jack. It put him in a bad place. It just confuses him, you know? To get mixed signals from his parents. And they’re so mixed. My God. His mother won’t leave him alone for a second. She’ll barely let him go to the bathroom by himself. And then, for him to go out with his dad and have an adventure? It has to be confusing, to grow up like that—to have one parent trust and the other not trust at all. To have a father who wants you to laugh in the face of fear, and a mother who wants you to live in fear of everyone and everything.

I look to Jack for the truth, but he tells me almost nothing about the days he spent with Grant. He talks about his father still, but he hasn’t seen him since he left us, at least as far as I know. There are hours Jack spends without me. There will always be windows Grant can climb through if he tries.

At our custody fight, I will tell the lawyers what came before Zillow Go!, the weekends when Jack was a baby. Grant would leave without warning and return two days later, wearing the same clothes he left in. When Jack was a toddler, Grant had an affair with a student. He never confessed to it, no matter how damning the evidence I produced. She sent him a photo of herself, topless, in a bathroom mirror. I found it on his phone.

It will be an ugly scene. The judge may rule against me. Custody of Jack could be granted to a troubled man who can be very charming when he wants to be, who charmed me for years, but who I know now is a great danger to his son.

In the meantime I work. I ferry Jack to the daycare I can barely afford. I ensure that he’s warm, fed, and happy. I sign more petitions. I contact representatives. I try to bring an end to Zillow Go!.

At night I have dreams of houses with backyards, rooms with big fireplaces, and kitchens that Jack and I can stretch out in. I don’t look at Zillow, but I see the rooms through a narrow window I hold in my hands. They grow smaller as I look at them, until before my eyes they disappear, and they’re gone.

See what's inside AGNI 87
AGNI 99 Ethnicity Family Crime
AGNI 91 Crime Family Loss
Once More Before It’s Too Late
AGNI 86 Class Crime Family
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Robert Long Foreman is the author of the essay collection Among Other Things (Pleiades Press, 2017), which won the Robert C Jones Prize for Short Prose; the short story collection I Am Here to Make Friends (Sundress Publications, 2020); and the novel Weird Pig (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2020), which won the Nilson Prize for a First Novel. His work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, AGNICincinnati Review, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. Six of his essays have been listed as “Notable” in The Best American Essays. He lives in Kansas City. (updated 10/2019)

Foreman’s AGNI story “Cadiz, Missouri” won a Pushcart Prize and is reprinted in the 2014 anthology.

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