He is not a guy, Mommy! He is a swing
"Ha, yes! Finally!"
"What you talking about, Mommy?"
Zeb Rafferty carefully buckled himself into the car seat in the back of his mother's mid-size SUV. He waited patiently for an answer, but his mother was too preoccupied with her game of Cookie Craze to acknowledge him at first.
"What happened, Mommy?"
"Nothing. Don't worry about it," was her terse reply. Still staring at her phone screen, Rachael Rafferty turned the key in the ignition and the engine rumbled to life. The look of annoyance on her face softened as she dropped the phone into her purse on the passenger seat. She turned to look at her son.
"Did you have fun at the park, Zeb?" she asked, sounding almost too concerned.
Zeb responded excitedly. "Yeah! I went on the slides, and then I swinged for a long time 'cause the swings are my favorite. I made a new friend too!"
"That's good. What's your new friend's name?" Rachael asked as she pulled out of the parking space, stopping just in time to prevent a collision with a sedan she hadn't noticed at first.
"His name is Daniel! He lives in Demmerk!" The giddiness in Zebulon's voice was fueled by the rare occasion to continue a conversation with his mother.
"Where the heck is Demmerk?" Rachael asked. She seemed to recognize the annoyance that had crept into her voice again as she executed her fifth rolling stop of the day. "Is he just visiting?"
"Daniel tolded me Demmerk is in Yurp. He is not visiting, he lives in Demmerk right now."
"Daniel told you, not tolded you." It drove Rachael nuts that Zeb hadn't learned that yet. "How can he be in Demmerk and Rochester at the same time? Were you talking to him on a phone, Zebby?"
"No, he tolded me he is not really here."
"Ugh, Zeb, are you messing with me? He told you, not tolded. And what do you mean he's not really here? Is he an imaginary friend?" A car honked as she went straight from the lane designated for right turns. Zeb could hear his mother chide herself quietly for the error.
"No Mommy, he is not 'maginary. Daniel tolded me he lives in Demmerk but he could see and talk to me. I ask him how he do that but he don't know," Zeb pleaded. He was already subconsciously preparing for some level of condescension.
His mother surprised him. "It's okay, Zebby." Rachael sighed, oblivious to the green arrow signifying it was time to turn left. Another car honked. "There's nothing wrong with having an imaginary friend. And remember it's told, not tolded."
"He is not 'maginary. Daniel tolded…told me he is thirty-nine years old and he is very sad."
"Oh Zebby, I told you about talking to strangers at the park! You're lucky the guy didn't snatch you up and throw you in a van. You should be smarter than that!" The look on her face in the rear view mirror told Zeb that she regretted her words, but he spoke before she could say anything else.
"He is not a guy, Mommy! He is a swing! Swings can't snatch you, can they, Mommy?"
Zeb could see her processing his words before she responded, as their SUV cheerfully continued to ignore the speed limit. "A swing? What do you mean he's a swing?"
"When I swinging it talked to me, but not in my ears, in my head. It tolded me to call him Daniel. Daniel was sad and he tolded me that he lives in Demmark and sometimes he can see other places." Zeb waited for his mother to question him again, but now she was silent. He continued, "He tolded me that I look like a very nice boy and he asked me how many years I old. I tolded him I four and Daniel asked if I like swings a lot. I tolded him I looooove swings so much and they are my favorite 'cause you can be up high and try to kick leaves, but I not a big boy yet so I can't kick leaves." Zeb looked down at his small feet and sighed. A car honked angrily somewhere close by.
Rachael surprised him again with her next question. "What else did Daniel talk about?"
Zeb happily continued, "I asked Daniel why he is sad and he tolded me he is sad 'cause he did bad things and it made him alone. Daniel likes playgrounds but they make him be sad sometimes. I sad for Daniel and I wanted to make him be happy. I tolded him jokes and he liked them. He tolded me they were very funny, but he doesn't laugh. I asked Daniel if he had a mommy and daddy, but he doesn't anymore. He only has a wife but she is not his wife anymore and she is far away. He had a big company too but he lost it. I wanted to talk to Daniel more but I sawed my watch and it time to go." Zeb proudly held up his wrist to look at the small watch his uncle Derek had given him for his 4th birthday. Various cartoon characters decorated the red plastic.
Rachael took a few slow breaths. A sudden bump startled her; the SUV had nicked the curb as she pulled into their driveway. The garage door opened automatically, and she brought the vehicle to a stop inside the garage, for once not hitting the lawnmower. She turned off the ignition and turned around to look at her son.
"That's a very interesting story, Zeb. Though…" Rachael paused as if to consider her next words. "Maybe next time we go to the park you can try talking to the other kids there."
Rachael opened the driver side door and stepped out of the SUV. She double checked that her phone was secure in the proper pocket of her purse, then looked at Zeb in the back seat again. "I just think it's time you made some real friends, Zebby. I bet your father probably feels the same."
Zeb opened his mouth to respond, but his mother's cell phone started ringing before he could utter a word. As Rachael answered the phone and started what would undoubtedly be a very long chat, Zeb began to unbuckle himself from his car seat. His mother shut her door, and was already heading inside the house as Zeb opened his own door and exited the vehicle. He looked down at the garage floor to see the small dinosaur toy his mother had forgotten to bring to the park for him. Zeb realized she must have dropped it before she got in the vehicle, and he felt a pang of guilt for being so upset with her for arriving at the park empty handed. He picked up the plastic dinosaur, a Lambeosaurus he called "Albert", to make sure he was unharmed. Zeb glanced towards the doorway leading to the kitchen, wanting to be certain his mother was out of earshot before he spoke. The pang of guilt had quickly passed.
"I'm glad she didn't run you over. Maybe you and I should move to Denmark," Zeb informed the toy hadrosaur, unaware of the changes in his own speech. He perked up at the sound of his mother rummaging through cabinet which housed their pots and pans. "Mommy's probably making macaroni and cheese for supper again. I told you that she would make it again, Albert. I guess we should go set the table."
The lights on Zeb Rafferty's shoes blinked happily as he made his way towards the kitchen. He found himself wondering what his father was having for supper back at his apartment. Probably Thai food again, he thought. Zeb hated Thai food. He took his shoes off as he entered the kitchen, carefully closing the door behind him and listening to make sure it latched properly, then he watched his mother retrieve a small package from the fridge. Oh, he thought. At least she's making it with hotdogs this time.
That night, Zeb dreamed of a one-sided conversation. He would remember none of it in the morning.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Oh. Oh I'm so sorry that happened.
You know that wasn't your fault, right?
I don't know. If there is, I'm sure he's there now.
It shouldn't be like that. You're a smart boy, I can tell.
Maybe not right now, but one day, Zeb, your toes may reach the trees. If that day comes, remember that all the good and bad things in your life are what brought you there.
I used to have dreams too. I've had most of them taken away.
No, I don't think so. I've made too many mistakes. Hurt too many people.
That's true, but some are much worse than others.
No, I can't. It will not matter how sorry I am, I'm afraid.
If only it were so easy.
once they might have been something
now they were dandruff on the shoulders of the world
shed by its will, and forever memorialized in script