Friday, May 21, 2010
A Fishy Little Tale
“Mom, what did you do with Charlie?” The question drifted into the kitchen from the far corners of the universe, namely the playroom in the basement.
I paused from chopping the vegetables for supper to think about what I was being asked. While it seemed like a straight forward query, I had to consider the source. Tyler, who was the one who had asked the question, is my son. At the time he was four years old and had taken to naming all of his toys. The problem was that the names were often plucked out of thin air in the moment and could change from hour to hour. I didn’t even try to keep up anymore, having been chastised on several occasions for calling George Kevin and Martin Rudy and Thomas Sydney. But I took a leap of faith and, because it had featured prominently in Tyler’s play that day, assumed that Charlie was a teddy bear.
“I haven’t seen him,” I called back. “Did you look in your bedroom?” Chop, chop, chop. I dropped the carrots into a pot.
No further reply seemed to be forthcoming, so I continued chopping vegetables and preparing biscuits for the evening repast. While the biscuits baked and the veggies simmered in the soup pot, I settled down at the kitchen table to read my book. I could hear Tyler in the play room no doubt saving the world from some vicious monster and set my Mom antennae to monitor in the background. As long as he was neither too quiet nor too loud, I felt relatively safe leaving him and his imagination to conquer whatever villain they were, at present, busy vanquishing.
The soup bubbled aromatically on the stove and the biscuits plumped to perfection in the oven while the characters in my book cleverly escaped some wild, page-turning peril and extracted a confession from the least-obvious suspect. I was just about to get up and stir the soup, when Tyler popped around the corner brandishing a sword made out of an old tennis racket.
“You,” he said, pointing his makeshift weapon at me, “are under arrest!”
I raised my hands in surrender and asked what the charges were.
“You kidnapped Charlie!” Tyler accused. He stood with his feet apart and his free hand on his hip. His lips were pursed and his eyes squinted menacingly at me.
“I’m innocent,” I said. “I haven’t seen Charlie since this morning.” Didn’t I pick up the teddy bear from the bathroom floor and put it back on Tyler’s bed right after breakfast?
“I’m taking you to headquarters and you’re gonna tell me what you did with him.” He pointed in the general direction of the basement.
Just then the timer rang to let me know that the biscuits were done. Tyler graciously gave me time to get them out of the oven before completing my arrest. I gave the soup a stir while I had the chance, and then I went peacefully to headquarters to face the charges before me.
In the playroom, I was greeted by what appeared to be the aftermath of an explosion. Toys were strewn from one end of the room to the other. The only neat and tidy places were the empty toy box and shelves. I suppressed a sigh. It never ceased to amaze me how messy saving the world was.
Tyler began his interrogation by offering me an animal cracker from a container he had obviously helped himself to at some point when I wasn’t paying enough attention. He did it unapologetically, oblivious to the look of consternation that I was giving him. Apparently, it was a ‘good cop’ day and I decided to get in the spirit of the game and not make a big deal out of the breach of rules. After all the stolen crackers came from another universe and I couldn’t be at all sure what effect bringing it up might have on the space/time continuum. I took the proffered treat and thanked my captor for his kindness.
“So, where is he?” Tyler asked after chewing and swallowing a lion.
“I swear I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t have him.”
“I have a witness that says you do!” he said.
“Who?” I asked.
Tyler looked around the room and zoned in on a headless action figure a few feet away from where we sat amid the shambolic array of toys. He retrieved it and held it up in front of his own mouth. In a high-pitched voice he spoke for the witness, “She’s fibbing! I saw her put Charlie in her pocket.”
Ah! A light was beginning to dawn. Tyler wasn’t looking for a missing teddy bear at all.
I reached into my pants pocket and pulled out what I now knew Charlie to be; a small, carved, wooden fish from a set of eight that my father had made for Tyler for his birthday. I had found it under a sofa cushion that morning while cleaning and had stuck it in my pocket. I had intended to put it in Tyler’s room with the others, but had forgotten all about it. Tyler must have seen me pick it up and created this game. I handed him the toy fish, Charlie.
“Thanks, Mom!” Tyler said, pulling a matching fish out of his own pocket and spinning off into another new world.
“Oh, Charlie,” said the other fish in a squeaky voice, “I’m so glad you’re safe.”
“Me too, Roger,” said Charlie in a deeper, more growly tone. “Now let’s get back to the ranch before Mr. Baddo attacks again.”
Charlie, Roger and Tyler galloped off on wild ponies bent on thwarting Mr. Baddo’s evil plan.
I looked at the toys littering the play room floor and thought very briefly about cleaning it up. Then I realized that I didn’t want to risk getting arrested again and left it all right where it was.