The Map


The playground near me is small, like me. Mom says it’s just my size. I like it because it has a tall slide. But today there’s a kid at the top.

He sticks out his tongue at me.
“This is my slide.”
I tell him that the park district owns the slide.
“No, I’m on it so I own it.”
I ask if I can have a turn.
“You can’t slide until I’m done.”
I ask how long it will be.
“Hours.” And he spits over the side at me.

He misses, and some of it gets on his sweater. I watch him. He wipes himself off and watches me.

I think about my options.

He is bigger than me, so I can’t push him.
He won’t listen to me, so I can’t talk to him.

I walk to the sandbox nearby and sit on a corner with my back to him. I set my backpack down and suddenly notice a crinkled corner of paper in the side pocket. I pull it out and examine it. It has markings and numbers and x’s on it. It has ink smudges everywhere, and it looks old.

The kid slides to the bottom and climbs back up. He slides again. He climbs again. I think he watches me out of the corner of his eye.

I count under my breath as I look at the paper. I look over my shoulder at him. He sees me do it, and I quickly turn back. I stand, and with my head down I mark out paces by the sandbox.

He slides, but doesn’t climb.
“What are you doing?”
“What’s that you’ve got?”
“No, seriously. Let me see.”
It’s a map.
“For what?”
Not telling.

He comes closer and watches me. I stop pacing and look at him.
“Seriously. What’s the map for?”
I glance over each shoulder, then whisper.
Can you keep a secret?

His eyes get big and he leans in.
What’s your name?
Mine’s Pete. Nice to meet you.
“What’s the map about?”
It looks like a map to buried treasure.
“No way.”
Yes way.
“What kind of treasure?”
I don’t know yet. Do you want to help me find it?

He considers.
“What if you’re lying?”
I’m not lying about it. I could use your help to get it.
“Okay. What’s your name?”
“I’m Ben.”
Nice to meet you.
“Where do we start?”

We pace along the walls of the sandbox together, looking carefully at the map. It leads us from the sandbox, around a tree at right angles, toward the gate.

Take Elm to the corner of Madison. We get our bikes. Ben has a cool blue ten-speed with racing stripes. He brags about how he got it for his birthday from his rich uncle. I got mine from my mom. It’s smaller, but fast and red and it has a bell that sounds like a boatswain’s whistle. He thinks that’s pretty cool. He says his bike was so expensive that his mom couldn’t afford it so his uncle got it for him.

We bike to Madison. A riddle about a tiny house with books living in it. There’s a house with a little box lending library attached. They have Sea of Monsters. He likes Tyson. I like Grover. We debate.

We check the number by the riddle against a page number. There’s a yellow post-it note with my address on it – “beware the front gate; go to the back.” The back gate is unlocked. We pace thirteen, left four, right twenty, and find a pile of fresh dirt and two trowels. We unearth a cardboard chest.

Inside are two pirate outfits, two foam swords, and a basket full of chocolate gold coins.

“Sweet! You be Jack Sparrow, I’ll be Blackbeard!”

We spar and walk the plank and leap from piles of mulch. We eat too many coins. Ben does a great parrot impression.

Dad walks out the back with lemonade.
“Who’s your friend, Pete?”
This is Ben.
“Hi Ben! Cool swords.”
Ben waves it at him and growls.
“Arrrr ye landlubber!”

We get lemonade.

Dad catches me looking at his hand, and wipes a smudge of black ink from it. He winks.

I turn to Ben.

Come on, let’s go hunting for treasure again.

Pepperoni Joe!


Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

Hey look, it’s
Pepperoni Joe!
He is the
fastest in the land.
He’s packing
Up his trusty pizza train
And setting up his plan.

You know that
When you order up
He’s gonna
Have it to you quick.
He’s packing
Up his trusty pizza train
With crust both thin and thick.

Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

You know he
Clicks along the track,
And then he
Clacks up with a screech,
And all the
Pizzas slide on forward
So they’re just within his reach.

He checks the
Address on his list
And hurries
Up there with a cheer
And rings the
Doorbell twice and yells real nice:
“The pizza train is here!”

Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

Now one day
Pepperoni Joe
Just got so
Hungry on his route
That he ate
Every single pizza slice
Without a second thought!

Chugga-wugga pizza train,
Now where’d my pizza go?

He chugged on
Up to my front porch
And rang the
Doorbell nice and neat
And said “I’ve
Got a plan, see, I’m your man.
You’ll get your pizza treat!”

He tossed some
Sugar, salt, and yeast
And then some
Water in a bowl
And mixed it
Up with flour for half an hour:
P. Joe was on a roll!

Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

He let it
Rise then spun it high
And then he
Sauced it with a smile
And added
Sausage, cheese and anchovies,
A pepperoni pile!

He opened
Up the oven door
And did a
Dance upon the floor.
“Now let that
Pizza pie cook up on high
For ten minutes or more.”

Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe.

So when you’re
Hungry for a slice
And want it
Fast and that’s a fact,
Just call the
Pizza train and once again
Old Joe has got your back!

Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe.

It’s P-E-P-P-E-R-ONI
Pepperoni Joe! Hey!*


*”Hey” is optional but recommended

Henrietta McFlub and the Great Rainbow Caper

raccoonHenrietta McFlub was a minnow. Like most minnows, she was small and relatively drab.  She all but disappeared in the shallows of Cricket Creek, where she lived with her family. This was considered a good thing by the elders of the minnow community, since minnows make excellent meals for any number of hungry animals. Mud was a good color for hiding.

However, Henrietta had more important things to do than hide. She made colorful outfits out of wild flowers, leaves, and grass. You may think that minnows don’t need outfits, and you would be right. But they enjoy colors just as much as you do. At this point in the history of Cricket Creek, colorful clothing was very popular.

Henrietta was an expert. Bonnets, neckerchiefs, overalls, evening coats and gowns all flew from her sewing needle in brilliant colors as the seasons shifted – late summer goldenrod,  autumn russet, purple coneflower in the spring.

On that fateful September day, it might have been advisable for Henrietta and her friends to have gone with a basic color like mud or scum green, but I will leave you to decide.

Henrietta and her friends Bip and Flicker were playing tag that day in a quiet, shady pool. Henrietta was wearing sunflower yellow, Bip had vest of indigo borage, and Flicker wore a hat made from a particularly bright green leaf Henrietta had found. Flicker was “it”, and had just darted after Bip in a threatening manner when the the world became a rainbow.

Henrietta found herself swimming in a whirlpool of vivid reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples, and oranges. Before she could blink, she felt something she didn’t understand (the feeling of flying, she later discovered) and everything went black.

Finn Chitterack trotted along the road, carrying a suspicious lumpy bundle and looking very pleased with himself. His bright eyes flicked left and right down Cricket Creek, but it wasn’t clear if the raccoon was keeping watch or looking for an audience. He had bagged his loot only moments before.

He skipped forward, leaping high over roots and rocks and humming a tune that sounded remotely like Wabash Cannonball. Finn had a dream. He was making that dream happen, bundle by bundle, and the closer he got to the dream, the more excited he became. And the less likely to watch where his feet were going.

The root reached right up to grab his ankle and down he went, ripping a hole in his sack and unleashing a stream of jelly beans into the shallows of Cricket Creek.

Henrietta could see pinpricks of light in the blackness. Bip and Flicker slipped close to her side. There was about an inch of water in the bag from the hasty scoop, and the friends pushed out a small pocket apart from the weight of the beans. They huddled there, waiting, listening. There was a rattling of metal on metal, a rusty creak, a bump and a dull skittering.  A hole, held closed before, appeared in the side of the bag, and through it she saw a shaft of light for an instant. The rusty creak again, followed by a darkening final clang. Silence.

The water was steadily seeping from the bag.  Henrietta knew she had moments before they couldn’t breathe at all. She dipped under, took a deep breath, and struggled out of the bag, followed by Bip and Flicker.

Finn didn’t mind a little water. He figured his loot would dry off by the time he got back with his last load.

He clambered down the ladder and leapt to the path below. Dusting the rust off his paws, he looked up at the giant goblet of goodies. This water tower had stood by Cricket Creek for as many years as the Hill ‘o’ Beans Candy Factory, and probably more. Visions of paddling round a sea of candy beans, gobbling as he went, played past his eyes. It was almost full. It was almost time. He could almost feel the sugar coma in his face.

Henrietta and her friends heaved themselves over the piles of strawberry, grape, and lime jelly beans toward what looked like a giant wheel. She hoped this opened the exit hatch she had seen.

Mr. Chitterack was no more than twenty paces down the road when an ominous creak reached his ears. He turned, slowly. The tower had creaked, to be sure. He took a step forward and shaded his eyes.

“Again!” called Henrietta.

“I’m losing water!” Bip groaned as he coiled and sprang.


Flicker slipped and skittered down, gasping on the slope. Bip and Henrietta landed on the spoke, and the ceiling of the tower became a star field of colors as sunlight poured through the heap.

Finn Chitterack stood and watched years of candy beans waterfall into Cricket Creek. He sat and watched his beautiful, transcendent trove float lazily down the river toward the dam. He lay back and watched the cerulean sky, pondering life and its many mysteries as he listened to the steady rush and plop of beans falling into the river.

Henrietta and her friends understood what it meant to fly.

Shortly after the torrent subsided, Finn had determined to leave a life of crime and become a vicar. He stood long, looking at the creek, and picked up four beans that had fallen by the wayside. He ate them one by one, with great reverence, then slung his empty sack over his shoulder and trudged away up the creek path.

For weeks after, the more human types along the creek marveled at the sweetness of the water. Folks near the dam told tales of a rainbow of colors cascading from the gates (which no one believed because the colors immediately churned into an unassuming brown).

And everybody commented on how fast the minnows were swimming.



(this awesome person drew this)

(to be read with growls and grumblings)

One day DROOGLE woke up with his tummy RUM-DRUM-GRUMBLING.

So DROOGLE ate a leathery weatheredy boot that was (barely) missing an owner. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE took a bite out of a flippy flappy book (down, DROOGLE, down!) But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE gobbled a rubbery flubbery tire, from a car that had (almost) no need of it. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE munched on an dingy wingy swing set that was (slightly) unoccupied. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE crunched on a squeaky creaky boat. The owner had (recently) discarded it. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE swallowed a tooting scooting train whose passengers had (just) left. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

DROOGLE downed three chugging, tugging tractors that were (quickly) left alone by three farmers. But DROOGLE was still so very, very hungry.

DROOGLE was sad, because nothing stopped his chubby, fuzzy tummy from RUM-DRUM-GRUMBLING all day long.

Then, DROOGLE saw a gleaming, steaming present from the (terrified) townsfolk.

DROOGLE sniffed and whiffed.
DROOGLE picked and licked.
DROOGLE ate every last tasty-basty bit.

THIS was what DROOGLE wanted all along. If only DROOGLE had known!

DROOGLE was full of yummy scrummies.
DROOGLE sat back and patted DROOGLE’S roly-poly tummy.
DROOGLE started snoring snoozily.

And the townsfolk fell asleep too, and slept (almost) mighty-tighty all nighty long, until early in the morning when…


(Also, seriously, check out Josie’s stuff on Facebook and Instagram. You won’t be sorry.)



The old man rocked and rocked and rocked
The same old chair, the same old place,
The same old frown upon his face.
“Nothing new,” he croaks and sighs
“Everything is made for flies,
I’ve seen it all so now I’ll die.”

His daughter’s daughter clambers up
And gestures mildly with her cup.
“Whaddaya mean, Grampop,” she peeps,
And settles curls on wrinkled cheek.

“All the stories have been told
From time to time, they all are old,
Aged, useless, and so am I.
I’ve seen it all so now I’ll die.”

“You’re silly Grampoppa,” she giggled away,
“I’ve just read a brand new story today
With princesses, dragons and trolls and moats,
And a city in clouds that bobs and floats.”

“Derivative!” snarled the Grumpop, sitting,
“And hardly worth the time, not fitting
For young impressionable minds
Find something better to do with your time.”

“Well Grampop, I don’t believe that’s true.
Every story I read is new.
What about this one – a really great read,
About a young lady and brilliant white steed,
And the horse has great wings, and the lady can fly
On her steed over mountains up into the sky.”

“Child, that’s barely a plot line at best.”

“But Grampop, just wait ’til I tell you the rest.
She saves this whole village she grew up in, poor,
And if that isn’t enough, I’ve got more.

There’s this story about a humongous old mole
Who gets loose and climbs snarling up out of his hole,
But it turns out he only wants jelly beans, stat,
So they feed him and send him back down, how ’bout that?

And then there’s this one with a dog made of rain,
And the one where a berry bush grows from a drain,
And the wishing bench guarded by gnomes and wee elves,
And the furniture people who hide in the shelves.”

“Good grief, my darling, these stories are silly.”

“Oh no they’re not, Grampop, it’s you that is, really.
Don’t tell me you don’t know the one about mops
You can fly on like brooms but you never can stop,
Or the one with the things that hide in the dark,
That turn into dust at the song of the lark.”

“I’ve not heard of that one, I guess. All the same,
What are you thinking to prove with this game?”

“Then there’s the gnat who grows big as the moon,
So he flies off the world into space, none too soon.
The man-eating letters,
The bees who make sweaters,
A macaroni boat on an ocean of cheese!
The mouse with a limp,
The tap-dancing shrimp,
And the circus of kids run by fleas!”

“Okay now, okay!  I get your point, child.
Just where did you read all these stories? They’re wild!
In all of my life, I’ve not heard of such stuff.”

“That’s because, Grampop, I made it all up.”
And she smiled and leapt down off his lap with her cup.

He sat a while rocking and rocking, and slow,
His mind afire with newfound things,
And thoughtfully, watched her blond curls go
On down the hill to make use of the swings.

“Well, sweetheart, what a gift to give:
You’ll never see it all; so live.”










Charley’s War


The night was a starless one in late summer, the type when you leave the windows open for a cool breeze and the crickets lull you to sleep.

Charley knew the danger.

“Mommy, you can’t close the curtains all the way. If you leave one open They can’t get in.”

“Charlotte, honey, the streetlights are too bright. You won’t sleep. You still have your nightlight.”

So the curtain was closed, the blue-green faded ballerina light was turned on. Charley was tucked into bed with a brush of a kiss and a pat on the head. She closed her eyes to a slit, her whole being set for action, as her mother closed the door.




Charley was out of bed in a heartbeat, padding like a cat across the muddy carpet. She knew the urgency.

“Philemon, up.”

A breeze wafted the curtain, throwing splatters of light from the streetlamp to the ceiling. The crickets droned. She had ten seconds at most.

“Up, Philly!”

Breathless, she tied her blanket tight around her neck, draping it skillfully to the floor. She felt on the third shelf of the bookcase for her tiara, frantic, grasping. Philemon lifted his fuzzy head with the blank stare of the recently awakened.


“Philly, They’re coming.”

Philemon blinked three times, slowly. Then alarm entered his black eyes. Charley had her tiara on.

The curtain suddenly stopped hovering and fell back, hanging like a dead thing from the gallows. The knife-edge of lamplight disappeared.

Charley whirled, reaching desperately behind the bookcase, shielding the nightlight with her pink cloak.

Fingers of darkness began soaking the edge of the window, like a towel catching water from an overflowing bath. Slowly, slowly, at first, then more quickly until the stain was almost a foot wide on every side. The air was still, offensive, and Charley covered her mouth with a corner of her cloak to filter it.

Philemon T. Bear leapt from the bed to her side, his small form growing to child-size as he landed. He turned to the window and produced a heart-shaped shield of red metal, emblazoned with his family’s coat of arms.

“How many?”

“As many as last night.”

The stain grew to two feet.

“Or… maybe more.”

Click. Shuffle. Creak.

To the untrained eye, the change was subtle. Charley knew the signs, knew to look for the places where emptiness replaced darkness, and saw the claws grasping the edge, the dribbling tentacles slip to the floor, the horns, the teeth, the eyeless heads.

“Hold, Philemon.”

Philemon held, readying his weapons. Her hand found what it had been looking for.

The Nightmares gathered at the corners of the window, cautious, smelling the air and reaching out. In her favor was that they couldn’t see her, being eyeless, and they always assumed, being witless, that she would be in her bed.

Philemon growled low. Their heads snapped toward him, and silently the bodies followed.


The Nightmares heard her. They moved more quickly toward the corner.


Philemon stretched his bow as she threw back her cloak. The warm glow of the nightlight blasted the first two rows of Nightmares into ash. The back rows fell to the edges of the glow, clicking and gnashing their empty teeth at them, but couldn’t escape the first salvo from Philemon’s bow.

Philemon had recently sharpened his extensive collection of Crayolas, and now put them to good use. A tentacled mass was decimated in midair by Forest Green, and Electric Pink snuffed out the scuttling blight to his left.

Charley drew her wand, acquired at great price ($2.25 plus tax) from a street fair vendor two weeks earlier, and lit it by whacking the head off a snaky blot who’d slid past the line.  The red and blue flashing lights confused the demons, and the rubber spikes hardened to titanium in her hand. The flying ones attempted dives at her head but rebounded back from her crown.

She cut down great swaths of Nightmares, leaping and spinning, stabbing and swatting, Philemon by her side, firing Tangerine’s and Cherry Red’s into the heart of the horde.  Together they whirled around the room, by the bookcase, atop the table, bouncing from the bed. Her heart sung in her chest as each fell, and their numbers could not dismay her.

Until the nightlight flickered.

She glanced back at it, doubtful, and tread on her cloak.

Her blanket slid from her back. She fell, it seemed in slow motion, from the bed, landing on Philemon and crushing two crayons and her tiara beneath her. Her wand slipped in the process, and landed a foot from her wild hands. It flashed twice, and with no further impact to keep it alight, went dark.

The nightlight flickered again, and the Nightmares, sensing weakness, grew larger, closer, substantial.


Philemon struggled out from under her and leapt to the fore, his shield blazing red as he took a blow meant for her.

“Quick, take my cloak.”

The sturdy knit shrunk in her hands to the size of a doll’s blanket, useless.

“Milady, you must believe!”

Charley slid to the wall, setting her back to it and turning her face from the darkness. Philemon leaped to her, smaller, smaller, his shield slipping. The Nightmares cackled in triumph, flaunting their growing reality, and closed in.

Charley cried out.




The door swung open. Life-giving lamplight scattered the closest monsters into nothing, and the others cringed. Charley looked.

Her mother, framed in glory, stepped brazen into the fray, broom in hand. She swept back the horde, catching a web-winged object full in the face and laying a spiky hulk flat into fragments. Charley recovered enough to retrieve her wand, and knocked the nearest many-legged creature into the bookcase. It exploded to absence with a satisfying splorch.

In seconds it was over. Her mother lifted Charley in her arms and held her, stroking her hair.

“I’m here.”

Charley clung to her for a good while. Being five (almost six), of course, she didn’t really need that long, but she wanted her mother to feel needed too… Eventually, her mother carried her to bed, fished the blanket from behind the bed, and tucked her in tight.

“I’m always here.”

She picked up the broken pieces of warfare from the floor and placed them on a shelf.  Then she dusted Philemon off, set his shield right, tied off his cloak, and slid him in next to Charley. Charley held him tight, her stalwart, and whispered.

“Th… the nightlight is going out.”

Her mother saw the flickering and exited, returning in moments with a new bulb. The light now shone steady.

“Charley, I’m here with you. Even when you can’t see me, I’m here.”

A snuggle. A kiss. A whispered love. And she was gone. But she left a spell of protection behind her in the room, one which the Nightmares couldn’t break. The darkness seeped away, and the night breeze wafted the streetlight’s glow onto the ceiling.

Charley slept.




“Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles


Tiny Plaid and Questionable Tweed


Mr. Smith was a dry cleaner, and nothing more or less.

For over forty years, Mr. Smith kept his business quietly, running the best cleaners in town, in the state – maybe the country.  Naysayers might do well to try out every cleaners in the country and then judge.

Mr. Smith had a secret formula for getting grease out.  He had the moves, as the young folks say, to iron any wrinkle, and the patience to see it smooth too.  Tears and tatters were a specialty – sewn so precisely that a trained eye couldn’t tell the difference between brand-new and hand-me-down, thrice.

A modest man, and quiet, Mr. Smith was trusted in the town, though few exchanged more words than necessary over each transaction.  It was dry cleaning, after all.  He would listen, study the cloth before him as each customer described their needs, and nod.

Mr. Smith nodded when Ebenezer Kraklin (the Honorable) creaked in with a sixty-some-year suit of questionable tweed.  He knew the fabric and the age from a mere glance, and the nod knew the need. Even widowers go a-courtin’ in the winter years.

Mr. Smith nodded when Agnes DeLoit brought in an evening gown with puff sleeves, luxurious lavender unfit for a lady of church dress only.  He had starched her collars and sleeves for years, Monday after Monday, but this dusty finery meant perhaps more than she intended his nod to know.  She was dismissive of it (“Cleaning out my closets” said she), despite the color in her cheeks, and Mr. Smith was a gentleman.

The rumpled mid-aged man in shirtsleeves (Barnabas Clark, accountant and husband of Ann, 18 at the neck) had grease stains on his slacks.  Mr. Smith thought of beautiful fried things behind grimy doors downtown, and nodded. Three hours was manageable, yes, but extra.  Barnabas understood, and so did Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith’s nod knew the holiday menu, when he peeled remnants of golden yams and caked gravy from tiny collared plaid, when he soaked bloody cranberry and subtle creamy stains from velvet-topped tartan.  He knew the tired smile of a survivor (Emily Bright, 6 month to 3 year), and his nod spoke support upon pickup.  She would be back, but the clothes were one or two sizes larger each year.  One year, she stopped coming altogether.  He missed working with little cloth.

Mr. Smith added an eyebrow twitch to his nod when Taylor Drust (of 16 tender years) darkened his doorstep for the first time, sheepishly handing him a goldenrod dress shirt and store-matched tie. Taylor eventually returned the sleek black vest Mr. Smith “accidentally” included with his order, with a touch more confidence.  Mr. Smith nodded and smiled, but only to himself.  He was young once, too.

Mr. Smith nodded when Ms. Deloit returned several months later with a modest white gown with creamy lace, of many years and little use.  He took great care in smoothing the wrinkles from the fabric and freshening the color, and Ms. Deloit smiled like a schoolgirl upon retrieval.  He nodded when Mr. Kraklin (the Honorable) returned with a rush order on a suitable used black tuxedo.  He offered matching cuff links.  Ebenezer couldn’t care less if they matched.

Brittany Carmine (sized 4 and aged 17), blushing like a new bride, dropped off a long frilly fancy thing towards the end of May that same year, and Mr. Smith nodded with the gravitas of a father, eying the neckline with apprehension.  Upon pickup, he gestured to a matching shawl he had conveniently arranged on the counter, shimmering like an evening.  “Lost and found.  It’s yours if you want it.” He nodded relief when she took it, and thought perhaps she felt the same.

She brought it back the following Tuesday, head down, salt-water standing in the corners of her eyes as she indicated a hastily tattered sleeve and a muddy hem.  Mr. Smith’s heart broke, but he nodded. Sometimes the tears were unavoidable. She never picked it up.

Jeremiah Yoder’s hands brought his dress blacks twice a church year.  Hands that deftly guided his plow or gentled a horse turned clumsy at the sight of a pen.  Mr. Smith nodded upon inspection of each order, accepting with his nod both the man and the painfully-scrawled squiggle.  Come Good Friday, these hands would rest on a slender waist as Sarai’s smaller hands tied his somber, smartly-starched tie. Sarai’s hands also took a good amount of patchwork from Mr. Smith’s payroll, but he didn’t mind.

Ms. Lucretia Crimenze’s butler peered at Mr. Smith over the bridge of his ever-upturned nose, when he delivered six brand new evening gowns on the 5th of the month.  Mr. Smith wondered if she would even notice should he shirk his duties, since he had never twice seen a gown, and they were all pristine without his aid. But he had never once shirked his duties, so he never once found out.

Mr. Smith nodded when the undertaker stopped by with a questionable tweed suit and a modest dress of lavender.  He took care to clean and press them as he would for the living, for he thought of them that way always, on each of their few anniversaries.  Truly, they lived, even late.

And one day in early December, Brittany Carmine (sized 6 and aged 19) brought by a tiny collared shirt with life-red stains of cranberry dripped across the collar.  She smiled, as survivors do.  And Mr. Smith nodded.

The Baby in the Bush

One cool May evening, while walking round the sidewalk by her house, Pearl found a baby.

The baby was tucked in a bush – not a prickly one, but a soft kind with tiny pink flowers.

Pearl had a heart for tiny things and a baby brother. So she picked up the baby, soothed its cries, and set it in her bag with great care.

She entered the kitchen to present the baby to her mother.

“Look, she was in a bush and she’s crying.”

Her mother wiped her hands and bent to examine the baby.  She suggested a bath.

“She might feel better when she’s clean.”

Pearl agreed and rushed to the bathroom, where she gave the baby a gentle bath under the faucet, the water somewhere between hot and cold. She even used some of mother’s special lilac soap. Upon exiting, she encountered her father, who was carrying her baby brother to the kitchen.

“See, Daddy!”

“Pearl, what a beautiful baby!  Did you and Mommy get her at the store?”

“Nooooo, Daddy!” Pearl drew it out to highlight her father’s silliness, then said simply, “I found her in the bushes.”

“Oh, of course.  Silly me.  What is her name?”

Pearl hadn’t thought that far ahead. She pondered, then stated with resolution:


Her mother entered. “Agnes is a pretty name.  Why don’t you bring her to dinner?”

Pearl agreed, and they set up a special seat for Agnes, who was perfectly content to sit and look. Pearl thought she must have had a snack recently and so wasn’t hungry, so she didn’t worry.  Pearl’s brother wasn’t worried either, and stole Agnes’s meatballs to prove it.

Pearl was thoughtful over her meatballs.

“Why was Agnes in the bushes?”

Mommy responded. “It could be that someone lost her.”

Pearl was displeased.

“I would go back for my baby if I lost her.”

“Oh, but sometimes you don’t realize you lose things. You’ve dropped things before.”

“But not babies!”

Mommy had to give her that one. Baby brother squished a meatball between his fingers.

Pearl was reflective over her mashed potatoes.

“Why did Agnes’s mommy and daddy not come back for her?”

Daddy responded. “Well, they might not have been able to come back.”

Pearl was distressed.

“Wouldn’t they miss her?”

“I’m sure, but they might not have time to go searching.”

“You have to have time for babies!”

Daddy had to give her that one.  Baby brother combed his hair with his fork.

Pearl was determined over her peas.

“I’m going to take care of Agnes better than her mommy and daddy did.”

Pearl’s parents looked at each other.  Mommy responded.

“Honey, we don’t know if her parents are out looking for her right now, missing their baby Agnes very much.  We would miss you very much if we lost you.”

Pearl was surprised.

“Do you think they love her?”

“I’m sure they do, honey. Somebody does, for sure.”

“You have to love babies.”

Her parents had to give her that one.  Baby brother slid peas under his plate.

After dinner, Pearl dressed baby Agnes in a tiny blue nightgown.  Daddy prepared a small crib for her.  Baby brother contributed a worn choo-choo train.  They set the crib close to Pearl’s bed so she could tend to Agnes during the night.

When her parents shut the door and the night light shone slowly, Pearl sang a quiet lullaby to Agnes.  Baby brother hummed a low harmony through his nose.

The next May morning, after breakfast, there was a knock.  Pearl was reading to Agnes on the couch.  Baby brother was managing his trains.  Daddy opened the door.

It was a mommy.  She hadn’t slept.  She had a girl Pearl’s age with her, who looked like she had been crying.

“I’m sorry to bother you.  We’re looking for a my daughter’s baby doll.”

The little girl saw Agnes and cried, “Lucy!”

Pearl held Agnes close and looked to her father.  He nodded.

She turned and carefully carried Agnes to the girl.

“Lucy is a pretty name.”