Crash Test Dummies

English novelist Rose Tremain said, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”  I believe anyone who has ever raised children believed this early on.  We felt as if we had one chance to get it right with this little, impressionable human who thrilled and terrified us all at once.  I have one son, and I’ve heard parenting gets easier with the second born.  I, however, am dealing with the teen years and can’t help thinking to myself, “Why would anyone do this twice?”  I suppose it’s because most parents of two or more children have the successive offspring prior to the first reaching the teen years.

Several thoughts floating through my head on this journey through the teen years include:

  1. I understand why some species eat their young.
  2. I’ll pay for his therapy when he’s an adult.

And, my personal favorite based on a joke:

  1. Clearly Isaac was twelve years old or younger or twenty years old because if he’d been a teenager, it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.

So, yeah, I’ve been a little bumped and bruised during the parenting years, but at least the kiddo is none the worse for wear.  Oh, he’ll tell you that his father and I have been put on earth with the express purpose of ruining his life (making him do chores, not allowing endless sessions of Minecraft), but little does he know this is true…oops, was that out loud?

Compared to what his father and I endure, however, his woes are nothing because what life dishes out to us doesn’t always come from Josh, but it is in regards to Josh.  Parents get battered about like crash test dummies where their kids are concerned.  For example, Josh recently obtained his temporary driver’s license and five days later, someone hit him.  Yes, that’s right; someone caused an accident for our baby boy.

I didn’t care that the car received damage; it was minimal.  I knew the second after it occurred that Josh and I were fine.  Also in his favor was the fact that he absolutely wasn’t at fault.  And yet, I cannot shake this emotional tremor every time Josh drives.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with his skill; he’s proving to be a remarkable driver.

How do you convey to children what goes on inside your heart as they grow up and navigate life in general?  Oh, that’s right; it comes when they have children of their own.  I envision Joshua sitting in a car someday, probably exasperated because his son/daughter didn’t do the last chore requested of him/her, or he/she did it with an abundance of attitude.  Then someone pulls out in front of him/her, and in a heartbeat Joshua throws his arm across his beloved child to shield them from whatever is coming.  This actually happens quite a lot and not just in cars and not always physically.  We have tender emotions and minds to guide and protect along the way as well.

I love this annoying, sometimes smelly, often mouthy human to whom I gave birth.  Yes, most days I want to pinch his head off like a dandelion, but just cross me one time where my kid is concerned and watch this crash test dummy transform into a mama bear.

This Stinks!

One of the best parts of being a parent is getting to torture your teenager. It is why my husband and I were put on earth according to our teen, Joshua. We make his life miserable by expecting him to unload and load the dishwasher, sweep the floors, feed the pets, empty the trash, take out the recycles, keep his room clean, keep himself clean, do his homework, and get good grades. I’m sure you can see what horrible ogres we are.

These requests are usually met with heart-wrenching sighs and occasional eye rolls, sagging shoulders, and shuffling walk as he wanders off to complete this drudgery. This frees up me and the hubby to invent news ways to torture him right out of existence. And sometimes, the opportunities just present themselves in the form of stinks bugs.

this-stinks

Public Enemy Number One

I don’t remember stink bugs when I was a child. I’m sure I would have because the name alone invites ridicule; but truly, these foul little creatures seem to have materialized from nowhere. At the end of summer, just as the temperature is changing to give us frosty mornings, warm and breezy days, and chilled nights, the stink bugs show up. They cover the screens of every window and door, walk around looking menacing, and make the most horrible buzzing noise. I’m not an entomologist, so I assume the stink bugs are looking for a warm place to crash in the winter. Every now and then, one makes its way inside. If I leave the windows down on my car, they climb in. Joshua is terrified of them.

Picture this: I’m driving along one day with Joshua in the passenger side when I spied a stink bug on his side of the vehicle. It took my wicked mind only a split second to devise a plan.

“Hey, Josh? Don’t freak out, but there’s a stink bug on your side.”

“What? Where?”

“It’s moving.”

The brilliant little stink bug must have overheard our conversation because it flew off right on cue. Joshua freaked out, looking all around him for the flying demon. I actually lost sight of it for a moment because I needed to keep my eyes on the road. Joshua, who was seat belted, twisted in his seat peering into the space between his chair and door or between his chair and the center console. I saw the stink bug had landed on the far side of the visor in front of him. It was barely visible from where I sat. The tips of its legs gently curled around the edge of the visor.

“Mom—where is it?”

“Right here.”

I flicked the visor down toward Joshua which sent the buzzing offender flying toward his face. He screamed like a little girl. If I hadn’t been driving, I’d have been rolling on the floor. Then in a microsecond, he managed to unbuckle himself and dive head first between the front seats, landing in a gangly heap in the back.

For the sake of this post, I actually measured the space between the seats: it’s eight inches wide. At the time, Joshua was probably 5’ 10” – 5’ 11”. How he managed to jump from a seated position, fly between the seats without touching either side or the gear shift, and land in the back without breaking something is beyond me. It sure does make for one hilarious post. We never found the stink bug.

Being Strong for Melinda

trial-or-tribulationSharon and Robert have spent many dark and lonely hours, separated from each other, asking for the things they believed were right and good. Too many times they listened to doctors whose explanations left them staring and openmouthed, their minds weighted down with things they struggled to comprehend.

Endless dashes to the hospital turned into a permanent stay for their only child. She looks like a little caterpillar cocooned in blankets, bandages, and wires from a host of monitors. Robert calls her his baby bug waiting to emerge with new wings.

Prayer requests make the round on social media. Praise reports are given when their daughter rallies. Many drop off when her condition lags. The weak and faithless have no explanation for this decline. They cannot explain why they couldn’t get Melinda healed, make excuses for God as if He needed them. All of it wears on Sharon and Robert until they pray for release for their beloved child because that must be what God wants for her, right?

With heavy hearts, tears amassing in their eyes, they claim they are willing to accept this for their baby girl. Each buries a duplicitous heart beneath stoic faces and solemn nods of the head. They just want to quit, for this to be over. They never speak of it anymore. In fact, they’ve stopped talking to each other at all. The constant company of the Women’s Bible Study Group and Men’s Fellowship doesn’t allow for much private conversation between them. Such good people, these men and women, who stay with Sharon and Robert 24/7, praying audibly non-stop.

Sharon slips away to the ladies’ room. She does not turn on the light, locks the door. The sound of breathing in the dark room scares her for a second, but whatever harm might be done to her by the owner of the breathing is preferable to what is going on with Melinda. Especially if it ends her.

“Sharon?”

She jumps and laughs wildly.

“Robert? What on earth are you doing in the ladies’ room?”

“It’s the only place the guys from church wouldn’t think to look for me.”

More deranged laughter, shared, from the emotionally and physically drained parents. Robert sighs but does not reach for his wife. Neither move to turn on the light.

“I’m so tired, Shar.”

“You, too?”

Robert’s voice dips and rises uncontrollably.

“I just want this…I just want…”

“I know, dear. Me, too.”

Their hands meet in the darkness, instinct guiding their palms and fingers into place. But they do not draw closer to each other.

“I want to quit, Shar. No—I have to quit. I’m done. I’m finished, and I got nothing left.” He pauses to draw a deep breath. “I was in here working up the nerve to tell you.”

“Rob, that’s why I came in here.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“When, Robert? Between entertaining and performing for the people from church—God knows I love them, but I really just need them to go home—to holding in my emotions every time the doctors tell us Melinda isn’t progressing as they’d hoped? You won’t even meet my eyes anymore.”

“I know. I’m sorry. But I was afraid if I looked at you, you’d see how scared I am—”

“—I’m scared, too—”

“—but I don’t have any answers for you, Shar. You know, I’m supposed to be the strong one and all that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, honey. I never expected solutions to this. Not from you, anyhow.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“Is it? Because we’re off the hook, but I suspect we wanted our prayers answered in a specific way we’re too afraid to admit.”

“Can I turn on the light?”

Robert flips the switch before she consents setting off a round of watery-eyed blinking.

“Well, that’s better,” he jokes.

They step closer and melt into an embrace. Sharon cries against his shoulder as he runs his hand over her hair.

“I’m not really okay with losing Melinda,” his wife says.

“I know.”

“I feel so guilty for saying that. Like I’m less of a…”

“I understand, Shar. Really, I do.”

“So, now what?”

“Now we quit pretending. We’ve got to.”

“Agreed.”

“And if Melinda…if she…”

“Dies.”

“Yes, if…then we’ll figure it out together. Just the two of us.”

“But it doesn’t have to be just you and me, Rob.”

“I know. I meant all the church crowd.”

“They mean well—and quite a few have been helpful. Sincere.”

“That’s true. But when this is over, whatever over may be, it’s just you and me, and you and God, and me and God to work through this.”

It’s Sharon’s turn to sigh.

“Is this where we were supposed to be all along, Rob?”

“You mean if we hadn’t let all the hoopla get in our way?”

“Yes,” she chuckles. “Just trusting. Shutting up and trusting that God’s got this under control.”

“That’s a hard and scary place to be.”

Sharon nods and leans her forehead against Robert’s.

“I can’t promise I won’t be sad,” he whispers.

“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. Just don’t be afraid.”

“I’ll try, Shar. For you.”

“No, babe. For you.”

All the prayers they cannot speak radiate between them. A knock on the restroom door precedes, “Sharon—come quick. The doctors have been looking all over for you. Sharon?”

Melinda’s parents, raw and exposed, striped down to the soul, brace each other with hands to the shoulders.

“I don’t know where they are,” says the muffled voice on the other side of the door.

“Well we have to find them now. They need to know Melinda has opened her eyes and asked for them,” a male voice joins in.

Gasps of shock from the people on the outside are lost in bursts of laughter and tears of relief from Robert and Sharon within.

A First Good Day

Some of the new swings are seen. A total of 11 new swings have been installed. SWINGPARK - The new swing park near the corner of East Brady and North Water Streets beneath the N. Holton St. Bridge on Wendesday, July 23, 2014, included newly designed swings that are a collaboration between the City of Milwaukee, the Brady Street BID #11, and the grassroots organization beintween (Òin betweenÓ). Beintween installed swings at the site in Fall 2012. When the swings fell into disrepair, they were removed by DPW in Fall 2013 as a safety precaution. The agencies worked together to redesign and rebuild the swings using recycled materials including rubber tires, metals and wood. A total of 11 new swings have been installed, including a set of baby swings and a metal swing that is ADA accessible. The cushioned ground beneath the swings has also been replaced with shredded rubber tires, and new lighting has been installed for a safer experience. Photo by Mike De Sisti / MDESISTI@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

Angie sits on a swing, swaying gently and trying not to catch her skirt in the chains. Her flats are placed firmly on the shredded rubber mulch, the new favorite material to cushion falls at the playground. All around her children laugh and squeal, running from swings to slides, rock wall to climbing rope, sand box to wooden fort. Mothers cluster on benches in the shade of meager trees, some pushing a stroller with a drowsy baby back and forth, back and forth. A trickle of sweat slides between Angie’s shoulder blades.

She’s not sure where she fits in. Part of her identifies with the little girls playing house, carrying their baby dolls by the neck in the crook of their arms. They sequester themselves in the tower of the fort until the little boys invade wielding invisible lights sabers and threats of feeding the dolls to the Sarlacc. Angie has experience disrupting homes. As for the prom princess mall mavens, the only thing they have in common with Angie is the fact that they, too, have given birth.  She is smart enough to know that this alone does not make her a mother. There’s more to it. A lot more. Probably what these women sitting around the perimeter are doing. But she cannot tell what that something is.

Her eyes burn and drop to the toes of her scuffed black flats. Heat reddens her face as she imagines what these women would think if they knew how many miles she walked to wear the soles of her shoes thin, or how short her skirts were in comparison to her long navy blue one sweeping the surface of the playground. Fireworks of yellow, red, and orange flash behind Angie’s closed eyes. Sunlight caresses her cheeks with the warmth of a mother’s hands as she tilts her face upward. A woodpecker’s tap on her shoulder interrupts her solitude.

“Angie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Gloria Freshley stands to Angie’s right, clasping a briefcase handle in both hands. The social worker nods and gives her a head-to-toe once over.

“Very good. Remember what the judge said, okay?”

“This is not a reward for my good behavior, and the Mendenhalls are being generous by letting me see Chloe.”

“Exactly. Keep that in mind, and this will go smoothly.”

No mincing words with Gloria. Angie takes a breath to speak. Questions contort her face, but Gloria blinks slowly once in lieu of shaking her head. All the queries, arguments, and debates drift toward the thick clouds stacked across the sky.

“Here they come.”

Angie watches her three year-old daughter toddle between a man and a woman, her chubby hands held in one of their own. Their approach slows when the little girl navigates the concrete curb surrounding the playground, stops to watch the children play, and grabs a handful of sand to work between her palms. Mr. Mendenhall shares a smile with Chloe as he wipes her tiny hands with a handkerchief pulled from his back pocket. There’s something reassuring to Angie that her daughter lives with a man who still uses handkerchiefs. From beneath locks of long, brown hair, Mrs. Mendenhall’s eyes scan the playground. She’s a soldier on point acknowledging the enemy without giving herself away.

Indecision about the next twenty minutes muddles Angie’s thoughts. All she knows is that she doesn’t want to waste time thinking about her feelings. Analyzation comes later. For the next twenty minutes, earned by nineteen cocaine-free months, she will talk to Chloe and watch her play without touching her. She must remember to thank the Mendenhalls for taking care of Chloe and allowing this meeting. She must also remember to leave first. The last is her own stipulation, an old habit from her days on the streets to hide her true emotions.

Chloe staggers toward Angie who smiles at her daughter’s defiance to hold the Mendenhalls’ hands the last few yards. There are no words or expressions when Chloe totters past to explore the swings behind her mother. A bitten lip brings the taste of salt and rust; Angie’s mind scrambles to pin down a reaction to her daughter’s lack of recognition.

“Swings are her favorite,” Ted Mendenhall says to soften the blow.

“I should know that,” Angie replies.

“You do now,” Karen Mendenhall says.

The four adults sit at a picnic table. Their conversation contains praise for Chloe. No promises are given, no condemnation expressed. The offer to meet again in six months lightens the tension etched in the lines around everyone’s eyes except Chloe’s. She blows kisses over Ted Mendenhall’s shoulder as he carries her back to the car; his free hand holds his wife’s.

“That went well,” Gloria says. “I’ll call you a week before the next meeting to see where we are.”

Angie stands in the center of the playground trembling, unable to contain the smile aching her face. Suddenly, she realizes that she is the last to leave . Laughter and tears flow freely from the eighteen year-old as she enjoys the first good day she’s had in a long, long time.

Now You See Me

Thank you to my dear friend, Irfan Nabi, for supplying the amazing photo inspiration for the flash fiction below.  The moment I saw his picture, a story began to form in my head.  In this case, it’s a love story told in reverse that circles back on itself.  I hope you enjoy it.

Now You See Me

Monsoon RainsWithout looking at him, she watched him walk away. A pause in the rain provided the perfect opportunity to see his reflection slip out of her life. To watch him walk away from all they had been together. Away from her.

His words lingered in her ears. The reverberation of a church bell signaling doom. So beautiful, so mournful. She goaded him to say more just to keep him in her presence if only for a moment longer. She begged him to stop shouting, her own admissions used against her. He never would have said a word, but she could not let it go.

She confessed her insecurities to him. Her age, his youth. Her wisdom, his beauty. How could they be compatible? He never mentioned it to her. Never once broached the subject she barely kept suppressed beneath a façade soothed by external remedies. Lotion, powder, blush. Her known deception extended to the roots of her colored hair.

Love came easily to them. To him. He never saw the relaxed state of her body, the body given to her after three children and years of an unhappy marriage. She could not relax inside, and that, too, he pretended not to notice.

They dined at her apartment. He cooked for her delicacies she had only dreamt of, fed her with his hands. Nothing measured, everything given in excess. Spices and friendship blended perfectly to satisfy all hunger and thirst for life. Soulmates.

Another invitation to coffee. He called her on her cell; she wondered how he obtained her number. They talked for hours like close confidants before she even said yes. Where to meet? He knew just the place. Knew she would love it. And she did.

A chance meeting outside the building where he worked. He insisted she join him and his friend for lunch. She declined with a head tilt and a smile, and instantly missed him for some strange reason. When he caught up to her, she believed his explanation about the friend excusing himself.

Introduced by a mutual friend at a party celebrating someone’s birthday, they found themselves with glasses of champagne in hand. Standing about, chatting. Nervous laughter preceded the invitation to leave, to seek quiet and coffee. It was just coffee, but she enjoyed herself more than she had in years. His lively conversation cheered her in this country where she did not live.

She stayed with a friend already working in the country. Together they located a suitable apartment while she decided what she wanted to do with her life. Right then, all she wanted to do was breathe. Days turned into weeks turned into months.

Divorce finally prompted her to flee, to seek the freedom she craved and the happiness she deserved. She left behind grown children with the assurance to return and the promise of souvenirs. Okay, maybe grown but not mature. All three saw her off at the airport with hugs and kisses but not tears because they knew she would return to them. What could an exotic country hold for her, provide her with, when they were her very existence?

– – – – –

He turned to look at her one last time, imploring eyes willed her to lift her head. But his reflection had already slipped beyond the edge of the puddle, and she did not see.

Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

PoisonSusan Fromberg Schaeffer’s novel, Poison, is a brilliant work of fiction; it is how all novels should be written. Poison explores the themes of love, greed, desire, human strengths and weaknesses, peoples’ perceptions of each other, and how we are molded by these perceptions. The author allows us inside the heads of a wide cast of characters and gives the reader the opportunity to decide who is good or bad, right or wrong. You’ll find yourself comparing the characters to your own friends and family all the while claiming, “I would never act like that.” The stream of consciousness style gives the reader the delicious, wicked sensation of reading someone’s private correspondence or diary. The letters between several characters heightens the experience.

Ms. Schaeffer employs the scenario of a death and a will like a bomb to set off a series of explosive events. It’s a situation many readers will find familiar. Like watching a slow-motion train wreck, one cannot turn away from reading the disastrous accounts of the characters’ lives. Your allegiances will shift throughout the book.

Poison is not a beach read. It is not for readers who want to plow through a book or those who want to be told everything up front with lots of action and a singular POV. But if you are willing to allow the story to unfold, the characters to develop and evolve, Poison will prove to be incredibly satisfying. I truly believe the novel will appeal to the intelligent reader whose mind can juggle multiple POVs, information given out of chronological order, and backstory appearing right up to the conclusion. It may sound like utter chaos, but I found Poison to be remarkably well-structured, one of the best works of literary fiction I’ve ever read.

Spread the Love

One of my earliest memories of butter includes sitting on the carpet in the kindergarten classroom, all of us in a large circle, passing a massive canning jar from person to person as we shook the sealed jar full of whipping cream as hard as our little arms could manage. We’d been told that this would produce butter. I remember my skepticism, but since I loved butter, I gladly took part and watched the magic unfold.

It’s funny how many of my food memories are attached to my Grandma Smith, but I believe her kitchen is where I developed my love of butter.Butter versus Margarine There was something different about the sunshine yellow block that sat in her cut glass butter dish. It was lighter, sweeter than the golden-colored sticks of ‘butter’ we used at home. As a young child, any yellow, creamy substance that one spread on toast or crackers was referred to as butter. My mother provided the explanation of the difference, and I learned the definition of margarine. It wouldn’t be until decades later that I learned what an evil substance margarine is, but I digress.

Grandma Smith would bring me packets of real butter from restaurants where she had dined. Nothing against my mother, but she used margarine for years until I finally convinced her to switch. Glory be–my taste buds rejoiced and food became so much tastier.

Where is all this leading you ask? To my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, of course. I’ve already established that as an author, I love to feed my fictional characters. Twice I reference butter specifically, once in conjunction with biscuits and again with cornbread, but what I want my readers to understand without mentioning it every time is that butter is my fictional characters’ ingredient of choice when it comes to cooking and baking.

As I wrote the scenes involving food and envisioned the preparation, butter was always in the picture, sitting in a crock or dish, just within reach of the experienced hands that would lovingly incorporate it into the recipe. I’ll spare you the debate on the health benefits of butter versus margarine and simply say don’t fear butter and all things in moderation.

To sum up this post, I made butter with my son because I wanted him to experience how easy and fun it is. The added step of washing the butter is new for me based on research for this post. The instructions for this activity follow. I highly recommend doing this with your kids because the memories you’ll make are priceless.

Enjoy!

Homemade Butter

2 c whipping cream (Raw cream from grass-fed cows is recommended, but store bought organic will work as well. This quantity will yield approximately ½ c of butter.)

sea salt

I used a stand mixer with a wire attachment for this process and chilled the bowl and wire attachment prior to using.

Pour the cream into your mixing bowl, filling the bowl halfway so it does not overflow as air is whipped into the cream. Mix on a medium-low speed to prevent splashing. As the cream thickens, you can turn it up to medium.

This process should take about 15 minutes but can vary depending on how much cream you are using and what type if mixer you have. Whipped cream will develop first. When the whipped cream begins to deflate, watch closely as your mixture can rapidly change to butter. To prevent splashing, cover the bowl with a lightly dampened tea towel.

When the butter begins to clump and stick to the whisk, it is done mixing. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer to separate the solids, butter, from the liquids, buttermilk. If you want it to last for more than a few days, you need to wash the butter. This will remove as much buttermilk as possible to keep the butter from going rancid. Put the butter back in your mixing bowl and cover with clean, cold water.

Use a large spoon to press the butter into the sides of the bowl. The water will become cloudy as the buttermilk is removed from the butter. Pour off the cloudy water and add more fresh. You can repeat this process until the water stays clear. Stir in a large pinch of amount of sea salt for every ½ c of butter.

Store in refrigerator or at room temperature if you will use it within a week or two.

The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

People who know me are aware of my love of books but may not know that I enjoy picture books every bit as much as novels and works of non-fiction. For those who don’t know me, start here (My Love Affair With Books).

The Rules of SummerA couple of weeks ago, as I shelved picture books in the children’s department of the library where I used to work, I discovered Shaun Tan’s book, The Rules of Summer. The unusual artwork on the cover immediately caught my eye, and I indulged in a few stolen moments to read the book. What a treasure.

The lean text tells the story of two brothers and the unique and arbitrary rules that govern their summer. The pictures, semi-abstract creations in oil and acrylic, relay a deeper story about the nature of the boys’ relationship.

I believe the story speaks volumes about how people treat each other whether they’re children or adults, friends or family. It’s testimony to how far we will go in our relationships and exactly what we’ll tolerate and for how long. This may sound heavy for a picture book, but the beauty of the subtle message is that there is hope even when human nature ensures that this process repeats itself. When it does, we learn and grow, love and forgive.

I’ve already enjoyed reading The Rules of Summer five times and have decided that I must own a copy for my private library. The book as a whole is an incredible work of art, and I’ll never tire of sifting through the many layers of the story, both words and pictures.

Bonded

Raw DesireHis family hadn’t gone to the Winterfest Celebration looking for a puppy, but the second Robbie laid eyes on the young dog, he knew he had to have him. And it wasn’t just a matter of wanting; this dog belonged to Robbie. The boy knew it in his heart. He felt it in his soul.

The puppy’s eyes mirrored what Robbie sensed. The other dogs were friendly as they casually licked hands, nuzzled legs, and inevitably stuck their noses where they didn’t belong. This puppy, already weaned and ready to go, approached Robbie as if to say, “Here I am. I’ve been waiting for you.”

How to express this to his parents? That was the true dilemma. There had been so many things in the past that he had wanted, some obtained, some not, but so help him God this was different. To own this puppy, to be owned by it, was simply meant to be. Unlike the four-wheeler, the canoe, and his attempt at keeping chickens, Robbie’s very existence, his future peace of mind, was wrapped up in this dog.

He could hear his mother now. “We already have a dog. What are you going to do about ole Rusty? How’s he going to feel when you bring home a new pup?”

Rusty belonged to his parents before Robbie had been born. It was learning to walk while holding handfuls of Rusty’s wiry fur that instilled a love of animals, of dogs specifically, making Robbie even surer this puppy was meant for him and him alone.

Besides, Rusty was on his way out. Robbie felt no guilt at this thought. He and the ancient Airedale had already discussed this matter while curled up on the couch. They had said their goodbyes, made their plans. Robbie knew Rusty would approve of this puppy. It would be a bridge across the gap of his grief on the day Rusty didn’t come when he called.

All day the boy stayed with the husky pup, guarding it. His intense look of ownership, one of pure possession, caused even the adults to skirt this particular animal. Until finally…

“You know this dog ain’t for sale.”

“I know it.”

“I’ve already started working with this one. He’s begun his training, you know.”

“I said I know it.”

“He’s on display to show what sledding dogs are like.”

What more could Robbie say?

“The puppies for sale are over there with my wife. There’s three nice bitches left if you’re interested.”

“I don’t want a bitch.”

Robbie’s tongue tingled with the semi-forbidden word. He saw his parents milling their way back through the crowd. They hadn’t spotted him yet, still sitting with his puppy. Probably figured he had spent the day with his friends watching the men with chainsaws carve ice sculptures.

“What do you expect me to do?”

The breeder’s question placed Robbie on the precipice between hope and despair. He had only moments to formulate the correct answer. His parents, with visible head shaking and exchanged looks, spied him kneeling on the straw, the husky pup straddling his legs.

“Damn kid,” the breeder muttered.

“You’re gonna teach me how to train this dog. Okay? I’m gonna learn from you, and he’s gonna learn from me. That’s what you’re gonna do.”

The breeder ran his hand across his stubbly chin, ending at the base of his throat where he scratched long and leisurely. His eyes cast heavenward.

“I know it.”

There are times in the lives of children when they experience the raw desire to possess something wonderful (a horse, an electric guitar) or do something fabulous (ballet lessons, white water rafting). More often than should occur, children must bypass these opportunities. Perhaps there’s no time, or worse, no money. Sometimes they’ve used up all their credit with the dreams they want to pursue. Parents insist that children exercise logic and reason in these circumstances. They probably say this in an effort to assuage their guilt especially when their own resources don’t allow for childhood dreams to be fulfilled.

For Robbie Freeman, today was not that day.

~~~~~

Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the lovely picture of the young boy with the husky pup.

Amphibious Fantasy

The rainforest is his favorite. A small slice of Heaven plunked down in the middle of his urban existence. The big cats are impressive, and everyone goes crazy over the elephants, but for Zach, the rainforest display at the zoo trumps them all.

He stands before the glass-fronted cage holding blue poison dart frogs. Three of them. Their shiny skin, unrealistic in royal blue, renders them plastic replicas of themselves. Until one moves. The frogs are active during the day unlike the lazy wolves that refused to cooperate. Zach really couldn’t blame them; he wouldn’t have left the safety of his cave to be gawked at by a bunch of fourth graders.

He understands the sleeping wolves. Even now he can feel his eyelids descending as he watches the frogs. Sounds of the rainforest are piped throughout the building: calling birds, buzzing insects, chattering monkeys, flowing water, growling leopards. It’s enough to make anyone want to take a nap. That’s exactly what Zach would do if he could pass through the glass and curl up in the window box display with his beloved frogs.

He has no fear of the poison on their skin. Somehow, he would become one of them. A superhero, of sorts, who uses the poison to get rid of the bad guys. The little frogs would help him like the bats do when Batman needs them. Besides, blue poison dart frogs bred in captivity aren’t poisonous like those living in the wild.

Zach continues to stare past his reflection in the glass. He chews the pull string on his hoodie, soaking it and gnarling the plastic end. Maybe he Blue Dart Frogscould be The Blue Dart. His outfit could be the same shade of blue as the frogs but without the speckles. And no capes. Capes are dumb. He would have a mask, though. A black one across his eyes. He imagines his face above a well-muscled, adult body wearing just such a getup.

A tap to his shoulder signals that it’s time to move on. He nods and smiles at his teacher, Ms. Schaeffer, allowing the whole class to drift past. Then he resumes staring at the frogs. Ms. Schaeffer doesn’t notice; she’s too busy flirting with the security guard trailing the class. And the tour guide, aware of her tenuous hold on the kids’ attention, doesn’t stop spewing rainforest facts or she’ll lose control. Zach already knows everything she’s telling them. He slips back to daydreaming.

A little blue dart frog poison on the breading of the corndogs Jaxson Michaels favors would put an end to the bullying. He’s pretty sure the whole school would be grateful when the sixth grader gasped and fell off his chair. He almost laughs at the image of Jaxson flailing on the floor. His grandma’s face surfaces before his eyes, scowling and shaking her head.

Zach’s breathing quickens. The thoughts of killing upset him. He scowls at his reflection then taps the glass to make the frogs move, a major taboo. No one witnesses his transgression, but he looks around all the same. The people milling about are parents with children. His class is nowhere in sight.

Like poisonous blue magnets, the frogs draw Zach’s attention once more. He considers sitting beneath the cage, leaning against the wall, to fall asleep to the rumble of thunder that has joined the other rainforest sounds. The clicking of heels speeding in his direction means Ms. Schaeffer has discovered his absence. Zach will tune her out when she scolds.

Blame it on the frogs, he thinks, but just don’t mess with The Blue Dart, lady.

~~~~~

Thank you to Michelle Smith of Just4FunPhotography for providing the beautiful picture of blue poison dart frogs.

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