My son walked around today with a mouth full of hillbilly teeth. In Kroger, buying soda and candy to stuff into my messenger bag for the movies. The Clone Wars. Star Wars. My son in his Lego Star Wars video game tee-shirt, me in a yellow one. Mine didn't say anything except boring and don't look at my stomach.
He stops in front of the machines. "Dad, I need a quarter."
"You need?" I asked.
"I want then. I want a quarter." A pause. "May I have a quarter. Please?"
I fish in my pocket, hand one over.
"Oh, Dad, I need two. Two slots."
Fish again. Hand it over. He is gleeful. The knob turns and a plastic ball plops into the chute.
"What did you buy?" I ask.
He clutches the ball to his stomach. "I'll show you later." And giggles.
In the car, he gets the rotten, hillbilly teeth unwrapped. I've seen the entire time, of course, but children need to surprise. They need that element in their life. It's important that they be able to surprise their parents. That shows them the edge of themselves. It also teaches them to lie. But it's all necessary, a facet of being human. The scare, or surprise, is the 7 year old version of peek-a-boo. It makes their mind understand the world is a persistent and large place.
"Don't look back here." he commands.
I stare straight ahead. It pleases me that he's such a poor liar.
"What?" I say, still not looking back.
"Dad!" More insistent.
I look back and he roars. The teeth remind me of bottle ends stacked haphazardly in the beach. Full of mud and jutting angles.
I jump and say "Oh my!"
He laughs and laughs. A few moments of quiet, then: "Hey Dad!"
I look back and he roars again. Another oh my. Cackles. "Tricked you." he says. "I tricked you good."
"You did, son. You did."
It goes on all the way to the movie theater and even inside. He pulled the same trick on the teenager behind the glass and she looked back at him, stupid as a log, oblivious. Not even a smile. "Here's your tickets," she said and slid them through the slot. I felt the cold wash of the air conditioning leak through the ticket slot.
"How come that girl wasn't scared, Dad?" My son asked. He had taken out the teeth and put them in his pocket. "How come my tricks don't always work?"
I put my hand on his shoulder. "Let's go watch Star Wars." I said. "When we get home, you can scare Mom."
And with that, the sadness left him. He's not old enough yet to hold on to it, to let it infect. He feels it and lets it go. His edges are still near to him but they grow each day. Each time he lands outside his old boundary, I am terrified for both of us.
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Ben the Bear:
by Mike Hancock
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