Isaac picked up Charlie’s soft toy cat with a smile. When Great-Aunt Bethyl visited Charlie in the hospital after he was born, she brought the toy as a gift. She handed it to him and he’d snuggled into it and loved it from that moment on.
It was gray with little white paws, so Charlie named it Socks. He took Socks with him wherever he went. He ended up leaving him in odd places. At bedtime they had to hunt for Socks or Charlie couldn’t sleep. They would find him in a block tower or under the couch or in the refrigerator or some other strange place.
“Charlie, if you put Socks on your bed when you’re done playing, he’d be easier to find,” Isaac said once when Charlie was little.
“I do, but then you hide him, Daddy,” Charlie replied.
Isaac didn’t mind playing the find-Socks game, but he certainly wasn’t the one hiding the toy. Well, today he’d found him early. He picked up his pen that had also been eaten by the couch and replaced the couch cushion.
The doorbell rang. Isaac answered the door. It was his Aunt Doris. He managed to smile. “Aunt Doris, how lovely to see you. Please come in.”
She handed him a heavy suitcase and pushed past him. “I’ve come to stay for a week. I’ll stay in Charlie’s room.” She sat on the couch and looked around with a frown.
“Charlie just got a loft bed, Aunt Doris. I could pay for a hotel room for you,” Isaac said.
“Nonsense, I’ll just sleep in your room,” Aunt Doris said. “You can sleep in sleeping bags in Charlie’s room.”
Aunt Doris laughed. “I’m just kidding. Go buy me an air mattress. It’s cheaper than a hotel room.”
“I don’t mind, Aunt Doris. That way Charlie won’t wake you up early like last visit,” Isaac said.
“I hope he’s old enough to know better. He wasn’t well behaved last time. Did you get the parenting books I sent you?” Aunt Doris folded her arms and leaned forward.
“Yes, thank you, Aunt Doris,” Isaac said. “It was kind of you.”
“Yes, well, I could see you needed lots of help,” Aunt Doris said. And then she jumped a little. “Ouch! What was that?” She pulled Socks out from under her. “This toy poked me. It’s obviously unsafe. Go throw it away right now. Then you can go buy me an air mattress. Don’t worry about me; I brought a book.”
Aunt Doris handed Socks to Isaac and pulled a book out of her purse and started reading. Isaac looked at Socks and squeezed the toy a bit, but he didn’t feel anything sharp. He hid the toy on top of the refrigerator and left to buy the air mattress.
While he was gone, he called to warn Marianne. She wasn’t pleased. “She rearranged all the kitchen cupboards last time she came over. And she kept correcting Charlie for everything he did. She even said he was breathing too loud.”
“I think she’s lonely and just wants to help,” Isaac said. “I tried to get her to stay at a hotel.”
“Maybe she won’t stay long,” Marianne said. “We’ll be back in an hour or so. I’ll tell Charlie he can have extra time on the swings. There’s no reason to hurry back.”
Isaac returned with the air mattress and managed to inflate it. He’d bought sheets to fit and found an extra pillow and quilt in the closet. He went back into the living room. “What would you like for dinner, Aunt Doris?” He asked.
“Nothing with salt. Or sugar. Or dairy. Or white flour,” Aunt Doris said.
“Fish and rice and broccoli?” Isaac asked.
“Brown rice,” Aunt Doris said.
“It’s a deal,” Isaac said. Aunt Doris went back to her book.
Fortunately, Charlie was happy to camp in their room on the floor. Isaac managed to sneak Socks from the kitchen and hand him off to Charlie without Aunt Doris noticing. Everyone settled in and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, Isaac woke up to a pounding noise. Someone was knocking loudly on the bedroom door. Somehow Marianne and Charlie slept through it. Isaac opened the door. “Aunt Doris? Are you okay?”
Aunt Doris was glaring at him. “Of course I’m not. That terrible air mattress deflated. You must have done a bad job inflating it. I’ll watch this time and make sure you do it right.”
Isaac re-inflated the air mattress and Aunt Doris found his work acceptable. They went back to sleep. In the morning, Isaac heard noises in the kitchen. He went out to find Aunt Doris’s suitcase in the hallway. Aunt Doris was in the kitchen cooking herself breakfast.
“I’m leaving after I eat, Isaac. I am so disappointed in you,” she said.
“What happened?” Isaac asked.
“The air mattress deflated again. I’m fairly certain this is a plot to give me a bad back and force me into a retirement home. I won’t stand for it. Take my suitcase out to my car now,” Aunt Doris said.
She was gone in less than an hour. Isaac went to Charlie’s room to check on the mattress. It was nearly flat. He pulled off the sheets. The top looked fine. He flipped it over. Socks was on the floor under the far corner. How had Socks ended up there?
Isaac found two little clusters of five pinholes in the far corner of the mattress. He picked up socks and checked his paws. No hidden claws. “Socks, did you do that?” Socks didn’t answer.
Marianne came in. “Where’s Aunt Doris?”
“She left. She was upset the mattress kept deflating,” Isaac said.
Marianne leaned over his shoulder and looked at the little holes in the plastic. “It must have been faulty, you should return it.”
Isaac looked at Socks again. “Hmmm. Maybe you’re right. I’ll need to write Aunt Doris an apology again.”
“Well, at least she probably won’t visit for another year,” Marianne said.
“I guess we could visit her?” Isaac said.
“We’ll discuss it,” Marianne said.