Charlie’s Room: Business Card

It was Saturday, and Isaac was vacuuming. He liked vacuuming. It was like mowing the lawn or raking sand in a zen garden. He focused on making the lines in the carpet parallel and breathed deeply.

He’d just managed to get to a point when he was thinking of nothing in particular, when something started ringing. He stopped and turned off the vacuum. He pulled out his phone, but the screen was dark and silent.

The ringing continued. He pulled out his wallet. The ringing grew louder. He opened his wallet and by now it was obvious that the ringing sound was coming from inside. He started to empty the cards out of his wallet, pausing to scratch Scribbles behind the ears.

Finally, he found a small business card with Wendell, Wizard Extraordinaire, written above a phone number. The card was vibrating. Isaac poked it with his finger. The ringing stopped.

“Hello?” a voice said. “Isaac?”

“Hello,” Isaac said. “Is this Wendell?”

“That’s right,” Wendell said. “Hey, my business card reader is flashing some rather odd colors. Where are you?”

Isaac looked around. “I’m in Charlie’s room,” he said.

“Have you carried my business card into Charlie’s room before?” Wendell asked.

“Of course. Lots of times,” Isaac said.

“My card reader hasn’t reacted like this before. Is there anything new there?”

Isaac looked around again. Charlie’s new slippers were under the desk chair. A small teddy bear, won at the school carnival, sat in the desk chair and looked up at him with shiny black button eyes. Under all the business cards, Charlie’s math homework was on his desk where he’d left it to go play outside, next to a half-eaten apple.

He turned and looked at the dresser. There were some new pebbles in Charlie’s rock collection. A school library book was propped up on some socks.   A new homemade bookmark was tucked inside. There was a birthday party invitation peeking out of a torn envelope.

“There are lots of new things,” Isaac said. “It’s a child’s room, and childhood is full of change.”

“Hmmmm,” Wendell said. “Would you mind if I came and looked around?”

“Okay,” Isaac said.

There was a knock at the front door moments later.   Isaac answered the door.

“Hello,” Wendell said. “Where were you when the card started ringing?”

“Follow me,” Isaac said.

Wendell followed Isaac to Charlie’s room.   “You’ve done a very nice job vacuuming,” he said. He pulled out a little metal rod and waved it around the room. It began to hum as he waved it next to Charlie’s desk. It sounded a little like a tuning fork.

He waved it over the cards and the math homework.   He waved it over the apple. He waved it over the chair. Suddenly, it got louder.

Wendell lined up the chair, the slippers, and the bear on the rug. He waved the metal rod over each one. It was loudest when he waved it over the bear. “Aha!” he said.

Isaac moved the chair and slippers back in place.   “Now what?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” Wendell said. He pulled some post-it notes from his pocket. “Can I borrow a pen?”

“Sure,” Isaac said. He opened the desk drawer and handed a pen to Wendell.

Wendell wrote some symbols on a post it note and then stuck it on the teddy bear’s forehead. More symbols appeared. “Oh dear,” Wendell said.

“What’s wrong?” Isaac asked.

Wendell started chanting, and then tapped the teddy bear with the metal rod, right between its button eyes. It started to grow and change. In a few minutes, an old man dressed in gray was blinking up at them. “What happened?” he asked.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Wendell asked.

“I was casting my favorite shaving spell,” the old man said. He scratched his chin. “I don’t think it worked.”

“No, I don’t think it did,” Wendell said.   “Let’s get you home. Do you remember where you live?”

“Of course I do,” the old man said. “I just need to think about it for a moment or two.”

Wendell turned to Isaac. “Thank you for your help,” he said. “This may take a while. I’ll bring him back to my workshop.” He waved his arm and muttered something. Then he snapped his fingers. The apple on the desk disappeared, and a teddy bear just like the old one appeared in its place. “For Charlie,” he said.

“Thank you,” Isaac said.

Wendell unzipped the air and guided the old man through. “Goodbye,” he said and stepped through after him. The air zipped back closed. Isaac looked around the room. He put the teddy bear on the chair and started vacuuming again.

Charlie’s Room: Slippers

“Guess what?” Isaac asked. He set down his spoon and grinned.

“What?” Charlie asked.

“Guess,” Isaac said.

Marianne smiled. “You love having stew for dinner?”

“Well, yes, but that wasn’t what I’m thinking of,” Isaac said.

“We can’t read minds, Dad,” Charlie said. “And I like stew too. Yum.”   He took another big bite of soup.   “Mmmmmm.”

“I picked up some tickets after work,” Isaac said.

“Are we going to see the new dinosaur movie at the movie theater?” Charlie asked. “The one that came out last week?”

Isaac pulled out the three tickets he’d hidden behind him on his chair. He handed them to Marianne. “It is the new dinosaur movie,” she said. “It starts in an hour.”

“I think I’m all done eating,” Charlie said. “Let’s go.”

”I’m not done,” Isaac said. “I love stew.”

“But Dad,” Charlie said. “I want to get a good seat.”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine. You might as well eat while you’re waiting for us to finish,” Marianne said.

Charlie sighed. “Okay.”   He started eating again. Soon enough they all finished eating and left to see the movie.

A few hours later, they returned home. “That was amazing,” Charlie said. “When the brontosaurus first stepped on the moon, everybody was cheering.”

“That might be the best dinosaur movie yet,” Marianne said. “Charlie, would you help me with the dishes? We can talk about the movie some more while we work.”

“Okay,” Charlie said. “Dad, could you check my homework? I think I left it on my desk.”

“Sure,” Isaac said.

Isaac went down the hall to Charlie’s room and turned on the light.   There was a scuttling sound.   Isaac looked around, but didn’t see anything unusual. There wasn’t any homework on Charlie’s desk.

Isaac looked under the desk. There were shreds of what looked like a page of math problems. “Oh no,” Isaac whispered. Were there homework-eating mice in the house?

There was a trail of little scraps of paper leading to the closet. Isaac looked inside. Would he need to check inside all the shoes? He started to look inside them one at a time.

And then he reached for the furry monster slippers and realized that there were paper scraps hanging out of the fuzzy monster mouths. Isaac looked closer. He could see part of a math problem.

Isaac sat back on his heels. What happened? The slippers had never been a problem before. He needed to talk to Charlie. He picked up one of the bigger scraps of paper under the desk and started down the hall.

When he walked into the kitchen, Charlie and Marianne were just finishing the dishes. “About your homework,” Isaac said.

“Oh, I just realized I put it in my backpack. It’s hanging by the front door.   I’ll go get it. Sorry about that,” Charlie said.

Isaac followed him to the door and handed him the scrap of paper. “What’s this?” he asked.

Charlie took the paper. “This is old. We were doing fractions last week. Where did you get it?”

“It was under your desk. I think maybe your slippers ate the rest of it,” Isaac said.

“My slippers? I haven’t worn those in a long time,” Charlie said. “They don’t fit.”

“Maybe they’re acting up because they’re lonely,” Isaac said. But if they had acquired a taste for homework, he couldn’t give them away to someone.

Charlie laughed. “Maybe.   It’s a good thing they can hang out with my other shoes. Here’s my homework. Can you check it?”

Charlie had all the problems correct. While he put away his homework, Isaac shut the slippers up in the bathroom with some junk mail to chew on. In the morning, maybe he could call Wendell the wizard and ask him to take the slippers.

For now, Isaac was just grateful that Charlie didn’t have to try to redo his homework right before bedtime. It would have spoiled their happy day. “Shall we read the dinosaur astronaut book today?” he asked. “We did just spend an hour and a half watching a movie about dinosaurs.”

“Of course,” Charlie said. “You can’t have too much dinosaurs.” He smiled.   “Today was pretty great, wasn’t it?”

Charlie’s Room: Cookies

There was a package sitting next to Charlie’s plate at the dinner table.   Charlie frowned as he sat down.   “What’s this?” he asked. “Is it from Aunt Doris?”

“What do you mean?” Marianne asked.

“She sometimes sends me weird stuff,” Charlie said. He picked up the package and squinted at the return address scrawled on the back. “It is from Aunt Doris.”

“Well, open it,” Isaac said. “Maybe it’ll be something nice.”

Charlie sighed. “Maybe you’re right.” He smiled. “Maybe it’ll be a toy dinosaur, like the one in stores with the cowboy hat. It roars, you know?”

“You won’t know what’s inside until you open it,” Marianne said.

Charlie ripped at the edges of the tape. Unfortunately, the entire package had been laminated in layers of tape.   It wouldn’t open. “Can I borrow some scissors?” Charlie asked.

“Sure,” Isaac said. He stood up and retrieved some scissors from his desk.

“Thanks,” Charlie said. He took the scissors and attempted to find a way to slide the scissors under a layer of tape. The scissors kept sliding off the tape. “This isn’t working,” Charlie said. He stabbed the package with the scissors, and then used the puncture hole to cut the package open.

“Charlie,” Marianne said. “That could have damaged what’s inside the package.”

Charlie scowled. “It worked, didn’t it?”

Marianne sighed. “Next time ask for help.”

Isaac leaned forward. “So, what’s in the box?”

“There’s a card,” Charlie said. He handed it to Marianne. “And there’s something wrapped in tissue paper.” He held up a lumpy bundle.

Marianne opened the card. “Aunt Doris said that she found a healthy recipe in one of her parenting books, so she decided to bake something for Charlie.”

Charlie unwrapped the tissue paper. “It’s cookies,” he said. “But they’re not normal cookies. Ew, look.”

The cookies had large chunks of vegetables in them. There were pieces of broccoli and carrot and zucchini.   “Is that onion?” Isaac asked. “I’ve never seen onions in cookies before. Wow!”

Charlie handed him the plate of cookies. “Well, tell me how they taste,” he said.

Marianne frowned. “You need to try at least one, so that you can tell Aunt Doris you tried them when you write her a thank you note.”

“I’ll say thank you for the cookies and leave it at that,” Charlie said.

“It would be polite to at least try one,” Marianne said. “Aunt Doris spent time making these for you.”

“I can thank her for her time without eating the cookies,” Charlie said.

“Fine,” Marianne said. “I guess that’s fair.”

“More for me,” Isaac said.

“They’re all yours,” Charlie said.

“You can have one if you’d like,” Isaac said. He held the plate out to Marianne.

She looked at the cookies and scrunched up her mouth. “Maybe after dinner,” she said.

But, after dinner, she had errands she needed to run. Charlie and Isaac did the dishes. Then, Charlie wanted Isaac to check his homework. Isaac brought the cookies into Charlie’s room and set the plate on the desk.

He nibbled one of the cookies while he looked over the math problems.   “Hey,” he said. “These aren’t bad.”

“The cookies or the math?” Charlie asked.

“Both are pretty good,” Isaac said. “But check the second to last problem. You forgot to carry.”

“Oh, you’re right. Thanks,” Charlie said. He fixed the problem and looked up. “What happened to your ears?” he asked.

Isaac shoved the rest of the cookie into his mouth and used his hands to check his ears. They felt fine. “What?” he asked.

“Go look in the bathroom mirror,” Charlie said.

Isaac hurried to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. His ears were bright green. As he watched, the color faded and disappeared. Charlie came into the room. “They’re back to normal,” he said. “Did you see when they were green?”

“I did,” Isaac said. “Do you think it was the cookies?”

“Eat another one and see,” Charlie said.

So, Isaac ate a cookie with chunks of carrot. “Well?” he asked.

“Orange nose,” Charlie said. “Just like a snowman.”

“I ate a broccoli cookie before,” Isaac said.

“I want to try,” Charlie said. “What do you think an onion cookie would do?”

“I have no idea,” Isaac said.

Charlie started eating the cookie. “These aren’t terrible,” he said. “So, what is it?”

“Your eyes are yellow, like hawk eyes,” Isaac said.

“Really?” Charlie asked. “I want to see!” And he raced to the bathroom mirror. “Wow! I wish it lasted longer.”   He came back into the room. “I want to try one of the zucchini cookies next!”

By the time Marianne came home, the cookies were gone. Isaac was washing the plate. “How were the cookies?” she asked.

“Really good,” Isaac said.

Marianne turned to Charlie. “Put that in your thank you card,” she said.

“I will,” Charlie said. “And I’ll ask her to send more. If I asked for the recipe, would you make some?” he asked.

“Then you tried them?” Marianne asked. “I’m glad. As a reward for being willing to try new things, would you like some ice cream?”

“No thanks, I’m full,” Charlie said. “Maybe tomorrow.” And Charlie left to write a thank you note.

Charlie’s Room: The Doorknob

“Dad,” Charlie said at breakfast. “My doorknob is getting stuck again. Can you fix it?”

“I have the afternoon off today,” Isaac said. “I’ll see what I can do when I get home.”

So, Isaac came home after work and checked the doorknob.   It took two tries to get the door open.   Time to get a new doorknob for Charlie’s room.

Before he drove to the hardware store, Isaac checked the shed for super villains. You never know when someone might be hiding out and using a crazy machine that keeps doorknobs from working properly. The shed had all the tools it was supposed to have and no super villains.

Isaac drove to the hardware store and bought a doorknob. He picked up his toolbox from the garage on his way back into the house. He started to unscrew the doorknob. But, one of the screws was stripped. His screwdriver turned, but the screw did not.

He went to the kitchen and searched through the catchall drawer.   In the back corner he found a wide rubber band. He took it back and held it over the screw and tried to carefully unscrew the last screw.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. It was times like this that Isaac missed his Uncle Henry. When he was younger, Uncle Henry would come to visit about once a month.   First thing, he’d ask Isaac’s mom for a list of repairs she needed. Isaac followed his uncle around and watched him fix things. Sometimes he got to help too.

He felt a wave of homesickness for his childhood. He wanted to be that little boy again, living in the house where he grew up and following Uncle Henry around helping him fix things. It seemed like there wasn’t anything Uncle Henry couldn’t fix. A stripped screw wouldn’t have been a problem for Uncle Henry.

Isaac felt tired and a little bit sad. Maybe things would be better after a nap. He went to his room, crawled under his covers, and went to sleep.   And then, he dreamed. He dreamed that he was Charlie’s age. Everything was in his parent’s house just where it was supposed to be.

Uncle Henry was visiting and he had a list of things to do. Together they oiled the squeaky cupboard doors and tightened the loose table leg. “Next on the list,” Uncle Henry said, “we need to change the doorknob on Charlie’s bedroom door.”

And somehow Charlie’s bedroom door was right next to his bedroom door and it didn’t seem at all strange. Uncle Henry stared to unscrew the doorknob, and one of the screws was stripped. It felt like déjà vu, but Isaac didn’t remember why.

Uncle Henry tried a rubber band, but it didn’t work. So, he got his hammer and lightly tapped the flathead screwdriver into the screw. He was able to remove the screw and change the doorknob.

“See,” Uncle Henry said. “Not so difficult after all. You just need to remember to never give up. Can you remember that, Isaac? Never give up.”

“All right,” Isaac said. “I won’t.”   And he felt himself start to wake up.   “But I don’t want to leave yet,” he said. “I haven’t learned everything.   I need to stay here.”

But, Uncle Henry just smiled and patted his arm, and Isaac woke up. He looked at the ceiling and tried to not cry. “I promised to never give up,” he said at last.   He got up and went back to Charlie’s door.

And the doorknob had already been changed. Isaac turned it and checked both sides of the door. It was perfect. The old doorknob was sitting next to the empty packaging for the new knob on Charlie’s desk. His toolbox was on the chair.

“Marianne? Charlie?” he said. He wandered through the house.   No one else was there. “Thank you, Uncle Henry,” Isaac said softly. He decided to oil the squeaky cupboard doors.   He’d put it off far too long.

Charlie’s Room: The Tent

It was raining. It wasn’t a soft, gentle rain, either. Rain was pouring down in that relentless, driving way that sounded like a flock of woodpeckers was targeting the roof. Charlie looked out the front window and sighed. “It’s not fair,” he said. “We were supposed to go camping today.”

“I’m sorry, Charlie,” Isaac said. “Maybe next weekend?”

“Mom has a meeting,” Charlie said.

“We’ll look at the calendar and see what we can do,” Isaac said.

“Maybe we can watch a movie,” Marianne said.

“But Mom,” Charlie said. “I want to go camping.”

“Maybe we could camp in your room again,” Isaac said.

“All of us?” Charlie asked.

“Sure,” Marianne said.

So they tied ropes from Charlie’s loft bed to the desk and chair and dresser.   Then they arranged blankets and sheets over the top, until the floor was inside one big tent, and Charlie’s door was the door to the tent.

They ate dinner in the kitchen, much to Charlie’s disappointment.   “Let’s not get crumbs or stains on your carpet,” Marianne said.

Then they sat in the dark living room and watched the rain through the window.   When they saw a flash of lightning, they counted together until thunder cracked and rumbled. “Should we tell scary stories?” Isaac asked.

Thunder boomed. Charlie looked nervous. “Maybe we could tell funny stories instead,” Marianne said. “I know a great one. When Charlie was three, he couldn’t reach the paper towels on the counter, so he…”

“Mom!” Charlie said. “That’s not a funny story. That’s an embarrassing story.”

Marianne laughed. “Well, then let me tell you about the time your Dad got lost in the grocery store,” she said.

“Hey!” Isaac said. “Well, maybe it was a little funny.”

“I think it sounds funny,” Charlie said.

They laughed and told stories and finally rolled out their sleeping bags on Charlie’s floor and went to sleep. Isaac woke up hours later. Charlie had somehow turned sideways and was kicking him.

Isaac sat up and considered turning Charlie around.   And then he heard an owl hooting.   He paused and listened. He couldn’t hear the rain. The owl hooted again, and it sounded really close. He looked up. Instead of the nightlight glowing brightly through the tent ceiling, the light seemed dimmer and softer.

He crawled forward and looked out of Charlie’s door and didn’t see the hallway. Instead, there was a forest. Isaac stood up and stepped out of the tent. He looked around. The forest stretched in all directions. The tent didn’t look like blankets and sheets and rope. It was large and round, with a peaked roof like a circus tent.   It had white and gold stripes that glowed in the moonlight.

The moon above was full and the stars were bright.   He couldn’t see any clouds in the sky.   He was looking for constellations he recognized, when some branches snapped behind him and Isaac turned to face a centaur. The centaur was tall, with gray hair. He smiled at Isaac.

“Hello, traveler,” the centaur said. “You’ve come from far away.”

“I have?” Isaac asked.

“Yes, you’ve traveled thousands of years.   Tell me about the future. Is it marvelous?”

“Well, people live longer. And they can communicate and travel much more easily, too,” Isaac said. “There are still a lot of misunderstandings though. And wars and natural disasters and such.”

“That isn’t very surprising. It comes from living in an imperfect world,” the centaur said.   “What are your hopes and dreams, man from the future?”

Isaac glanced back at the tent. “I want my family to be safe and happy. I want to do good and make a difference.”

The centaur smiled. “Then the future can’t be so bad after all. People still hope and dream and love and care. Don’t give up, man from the future.” He waved his hand in a small circle and there was a brilliant flash of light.

When Isaac opened his eyes again, he could see blankets and rope above him. The nightlight shone brightly through the ceiling of the tent. Charlie kicked him in the side and there was a rumble of thunder.   Had it been a dream?  Maybe. Maybe not.  Isaac shifted Charlie around and went back to sleep.