Charlie’s Room: The Suitcase

When Isaac got home from work, Marianne was folding towels. “Can you take these socks to Charlie and see if he’s done packing?” She asked.   “Tell him to hurry. If we leave tonight, we can get a better campsite.”

Isaac looked at the pile of neatly folded, clean laundry.   Where were the socks? Oh, there, behind the tee-shirts. “Should I take Charlie the rest of his clothes?” Isaac asked.

“Oh, might as well. Then come back for yours. And it would be great if you could put away the bathroom towels on your way. I’ll have them folded by then,” Marianne said.

‘Okay,” Isaac said. He carefully stacked Charlie’s clothes in a pile, with the lumpy sock-bundles on top, and carried them down the hall to Charlie’s room.

“Here’s your laundry,” Isaac said. “How’s the packing going?”

Charlie looked up from the book he was reading.   “Hmm? The packing? Oh, I’m done with that,” Charlie said. “I just needed some socks.”

“Well, here’re the socks,” Isaac said. He looked over at the suitcase. It was empty. “Charlie, there’s nothing in the suitcase.”

Charlie rolled his eyes. “Haha. I’m not going to forget packing my suitcase, Dad.”

Isaac looked in the suitcase again. Still empty. “Okay then. Why don’t you put these socks in and I’ll put the rest of these clothes away.”

“Okay.” Charlie put a bookmark in his book and set in on his desk. He took the socks and turned to his suitcase. “Did you just empty my suitcase? That’s not very funny.”

“It was like that when I came in,” Isaac said.

“Dad, I remember packing it. Where did you put everything? Back in the drawers?” Charlie tugged the drawers opened and sighed.   “Now I have to pack all over again.   Just hand me the clothes, and I’ll put them away.”

Isaac gave him the pile of clothes and went back to the living room. Marianne and her clothes were already gone. He grabbed the bathroom towels and his clothes and left to put them away.

Marianne was just closing her suitcase when he went in their room. His suitcase was on the bed, closed. “I already packed for you,” she said. “you’ll just need to pack your toothbrush and razor and such.”

“I can do that,” Isaac said.

“How was Charlie doing?” Marianne asked.

“He hadn’t quite finished,” Isaac said.

Marianne frowned. “He should be done by now. Can you check on him again when you’re done packing? I need to double-check my list. We’ll have to stop for matches and batteries on our way.”

“Sure,” Isaac said. He packed quickly and went to check on Charlie. Charlie was putting a stack of shirts into his dresser drawer.   He slid it closed and sat down and picked up his book.

Isaac looked over at Charlie’s suitcase. It was empty. “Charlie, why haven’t you packed yet?” he asked.

Charlie looked up and frowned. “I just finished packing.”

“I just saw you put your shirts into the dresser,” Isaac said. “And your suitcase is empty.”

Charlie jumped up and checked his suitcase. “That is so weird. I know I packed it. I don’t remember putting anything into the dresser except my laundry.” He lifted the suitcase and shook it. “Maybe the suitcase is broken. That’s too bad. It worked fine the last time I used it.”

“I don’t think suitcases work like that.” Isaac thought for a moment. Charlie shook the suitcase again. “Charlie, are you wearing your lucky socks?” Isaac asked.

Charlie put the suitcase down and lifted a pant leg.   “Yup. Everything else was in the wash.”

“Hmmm,” Isaac said. “Maybe we should wait to leave until morning. I’ll go talk to your mom. Start packing again and see what happens.”

Isaac found Marianne in the kitchen, mumbling over her list and a group of bags filled with supplies. “I’ve been thinking,” he said.

“Mmmm-hmmm,” Marianne said.

“I don’t want to drive out to the middle of nowhere at night and put up a tent in the dark. Besides, it looks like it might rain. Can we wait to leave until morning?”

Marianne paused and looked up. Her mouth scrunched up on one side. Then she took a deep breath. “We’ll leave as soon as it’s light out?”

“Of course,” Isaac said.

Marianne nodded. “Okay. I was a little worried about the rain, too.”

“I’ll go tell Charlie,” Isaac said.

Isaac went into Charlie’s room. Charlie was sitting and reading. His suitcase was packed. Isaac smiled.

Common Sense

“Okay, kids,” the teacher said in a sweet voice.  “Lock your mouths and throw away the key.  It’s story time.”

“What?” Bryan stood and started waving his arms around.  “That’s a terrible idea.  If we can’t open our mouths, we’ll starve to death.  We’re all going to die!”

“It’s just for during story time,” the teacher said.  “You’ll be able to open your mouth just fine afterwards.  Sit down, Bryan.”

“What if I lock my mouth and throw away the key, and then I can’t find the key?” Bryan asked.

“Then you can just hold onto your key.  I don’t mind, as long as you stay quiet during story time.  Now, sit down, Bryan,” the teacher said.  Her voice sounded a little less sweet.

Bryan sat down and felt around his mouth with his hands.  He jumped up again.  “Teacher,” he said.  “I think I don’t have a key for locking my mouth.”

The teacher sighed.  “It’s all pretend Bryan.  Just pretend you’re locking your mouth closed for story time.  We can talk about this more later.  Sit down.”

Bryan frowned.  “But what if my mouth really does lock closed?  I won’t have a key to open it.  And If I get a cold, I won’t be able to breathe!”

“Just sit down and be quiet,” the teacher said in a slightly grumbly voice.  “You will be just fine.”

Bryan sat.

The teacher began reading a story about a talking bear family eating porridge together for breakfast.  “Bears talk?” Bryan said.  “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“Shhhh,” the teacher said.  “It’s just pretend, Bryan.  Save your questions for after the story.”

“But what’s porridge?  Is that pretend too?” Bryan asked.

“It’s like oatmeal.  People eat it for breakfast,” the teacher said.

“Is it sweet?” Bryan asked.

“If you add sugar to it,” the teacher said.  “Now shush.”

“I like sweet cereal with milk for breakfast,” Bryan whispered to his neighbor.  “My dad says I might as well add sugar and a multivitamin to milk ‘cause it would be the same thing.  I think that sounds better.  Then it wouldn’t get soggy.”

“Bryan, if you keep talking, you’ll have to sit at your desk until story time is over,” the teacher said.  Bryan put both hands over his mouth and nodded.  The teacher finished the story.

As soon as she was done and asked what they’d thought, Bryan jumped up.  “Yes, Bryan?” the teacher asked.

“Do bears really live in houses?” he asked.

“No, that was just pretend,” the teacher said.

“Why did she go into the bear house and eat their food and break their things?  Was she a bad guy?” Bryan asked.

“I don’t think so.  I think she just made bad choices,” the teacher said.  “Sit down, Bryan.  Let’s see if someone else has a question.”

“Isn’t that what bad guys do?”  Bryan asked.  “Make bad choices?”

The teacher sighed again.  “Bryan, sometimes people make mistakes.  Even bad guys.  The important thing is to learn from your mistakes.  It’s even better when you can learn from someone else’s mistakes so you don’t have to make those mistakes too.”

Bryan sat down.  “Oh.  Is that why we read stories like this?”

The teacher smiled.  “Exactly.”

“But doesn’t everybody know not to steal and break things?”  He looked around at the rest of the class.  “Who knows not to steal and break things?” Bryan asked.  Everyone’s hand shot up.  Bryan turned back to the teacher.  “See?  You need to read us smarter books.”

The teacher pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes for a moment.  Then she took a deep breath.  “Perhaps you’re right.  Does anyone else have any questions?”  Every hand shot up.

Parking Maze

Jean drove up to the ticket booth.  “That will be eight dollars,” the lady running the booth said with a smile.

“Do you have change for a twenty?” Jean asked, after fishing her wallet out of her purse.

“Of course,” the lady said.  “There you go.  Put the ticket in the front window on the driver’s side, please.  It will be good for one year.”

“That’s quite a deal,” Jean said.  The lady just smiled.

Jean found a parking spot near the stairs and went up to see the dinosaur exhibit.  It was amazing that there was a museum like this in the middle of nowhere.

The guidebook said to plan on spending a lot of time here due to the maze, but Jean planned on skipping that.  She was presenting a paper at the archeology conference two hundred miles away, and the conference was tomorrow.  She just couldn’t resist a chance to see more dinosaurs on her way there, because dinosaurs were amazing.

After an hour or two, Jean went back out to the parking garage.  It was time to leave.  She backed out of the parking space and followed the arrows.  Well, she tried to follow the arrows anyways.  It quickly became confusing.  At one point, the arrows pointing towards the exit were right next to a wrong way do not enter sign.

And then the underground road widened out into a large parking lot again.  But, this was larger than the other levels of the parking garage.  The roof was higher, and the lights were brighter, and there was music coming from the right.  Was that a fair?

Jean parked and got out to ask for directions.  She stopped at the ticket booth at the entrance to the fair.  “Pardon me,” she said.  “How do I get out of the parking garage?”

The ticket seller squinted.  “Are you new here?” he asked.

“Yes, I came to visit the museum, but now I’d like to leave,” Jean said.

The old man chuckled.  “Yep, you’re new.  I bet this is your first day here.”

“Unfortunately, it’s my only day here.  I need to be somewhere else by this evening,” Jean said.

“Oh, you can’t leave that quickly,” the man said.

“I just don’t have time to stay,” Jean said.

“That’s what they all think.  But you really can’t go.  I’m not even sure there’s a way out.  I’ve been here twenty years, and I never found it.  Most people end up settling down here, and getting a nice job from the company.  It’s not such a bad life, you know,” the old man said.  “Are you married yet?  I bet I could find you someone.”

Jean panicked for a moment and then narrowed her eyes.  “That doesn’t make any sense.  You’d have all starved to death by now.”

The old man laughed.  “You got me.  I can’t fool you.  If you’re in a hurry, you can buy a map to the parking garage, but I think it’s cheating.  A smart girl like you could probably figure her own way out in a week or two.”

Jean didn’t want to admit how relieved she was that there was a map.  “I’d like the map, please,” she said.

“Sure, that’ll be ten dollars,” the old man said.

“Are you serious?  That costs more than the year-long parking pass,” she said.

“Well, it’s your choice.  You could stay and enjoy the fair for a bit.  I really like the bumper cars, myself.  There’s cotton candy, too.  Then you could stay in the nice travel lodge two floors up and buy dinner at the café next door.  Tomorrow, you can wake up all ready to spend the morning trying to figure out the maze…”

Jean sighed.  “Here you go, ten dollars,” she said.

“Here’s your map.  I hope to see you here again sometime,” the old man said.

“Don’t count on it,” Jean said, as she started to unfold the map.  Wow.  This was more complicated than she’d guessed.  It was going to take a while.

A few hours later, she was finally driving out of a concealed exit miles away from the museum.  That detour had taken much longer than planned.  It had been worth it to see the dinosaurs, but all that mental work figuring out the map was exhausting.  It was a good thing she wasn’t presenting her paper until after lunch.  She was going to sleep in tomorrow.  And stop at the museum again on the way home.


When Cats and Dogs Dream

Bernard stretched, front legs and paws then back legs and paws.  He settled down on the fluffy rug and wagged his tail.  Thump thump thump.  He’d had a really good dream.  It was all about chasing squirrels and getting muddy and digging around in the garbage.  It was marvelous.

He jumped up.  He needed to tell somebody about his amazing dream!  Where was Sasha?  She would understand.  Cats liked chasing things, right?  And who didn’t like garbage?  It was full of hidden treasures.  Everybody liked treasures.

Bernard checked the living room.  No Sasha.  She wasn’t in the spare room, either.  Maybe she was in the kitchen eating breakfast?  Food sounded good.  He really should go check the kitchen right now.

He rushed into the kitchen.  His bowl was full of food.  This really was a great morning.  Chomp chomp chomp.  His bowl was empty.  Food always disappeared so quickly.  He looked over.  There was still food in Sasha’s bowl.  Would she mind if he took just one little bite?

He leaned over and heard a hissing sound from behind him.  Feeling a little guilty, he turned around.  Sasha was crouching on the counter, and the end of her tail was twitching.  “Sasha,” Bernard said.  “Good morning!”

“What’s good about it?” Sasha asked.  Her eyes narrowed.  “Were you going to eat my food, Bernard?”

“Well maybe just a taste,” Bernard began.  Sasha started to growl.  Bernard backed up a step.  “No!  I meant, of course not.”  He walked away from the bowls and around the edge of the counter.

“Hmmmm,” Sasha said.  Her tail continued to twitch.

“Actually, I was looking for you,” Bernard said.  “I wanted to tell you about this great dream I had.  There was a squirrel and I got muddy and then the garbage was there and it was really really great.”

“Hmm.” Sasha turned her back on him and started licking a paw.

“You’re in a bad mood today, Sasha,” Bernard said.  “Did you have a bad dream?”

Sasha turned and crouched low again, looking down over the edge of the counter.  “I had a very good dream,” she said.  Her voice was low and angry.

“Then why aren’t you happy?  Did someone step on your tail again?” Bernard asked.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Sasha said.   Her tail flicked from side to side.  Flick flick flick.  “I woke up.”

“Well, it was a dream,” Bernard said.  “You can’t stay in them forever.”

Sasha growled.  “Are you making fun of me?”

“No, I just don’t understand,” Bernard said.  “Why are you angry?”

“I had a wonderful dream where everything was perfect, and then I woke up,” Sasha said.  “And none of it was real.  It was horrible.”

Bernard scratched behind his ear with a paw.  “Huh.”  He scratched behind the other ear.  Sasha licked her paw again.  Suddenly, Bernard sat up.  “Wait, I get it,” he said.

Sasha rolled her eyes.  “Do you?”

Bernard wagged his tail against the floor.  Thump thump thump.  “I do.  I do.  It’s like that glass of water on the counter.”

Sasha looked at the glass.  “What about it?”

“When I look at the glass, I see it as half full.  But you’re the type who looks at it and thinks it’s half empty,” Bernard said.  “That’s what happened.”

Sasha darted out a paw and knocked the glass of water off the counter.  It spilled all over Bernard.  “You don’t make any sense at all,” she said.  Then she leapt off the counter and started eating her breakfast.

Bernard shook the water off his fur.  That was refreshing.  Today was such a great day.  Maybe he could find someone to take him on a walk.  He hurried out of the room, wagging his tail.

His First and Last Solo

Gerard started playing the violin when he was three years old.  He had two lessons, and then quit because he hated to practice.  He picked it up again when he was ten and didn’t mind practicing so much.  It helped that he didn’t really practice all that often, of course.

Perhaps for that reason, he continued taking violin lessons for the next seven years.  By then, he was good enough that it was fun to practice.  He could play famous songs and sound somewhat good.  So, he continued to play and practice and practice and play.

After years of effort, he managed to earn a spot in the city orchestra.  This was very motivating.  Gerard began to practice like he never had before.  And, one day, after years and years of work, he worked his way up to fourth chair violin.

Gerard had to practice constantly to keep his place, but he was proud of his position on the orchestra.  He sat on the front row, nearly facing the conductor, and sometimes he felt like the star of the orchestra.

And then, one day, they had a potluck sectional practice.  All the violin players brought food from home to share after the practice.  They usually practiced and practiced and were corrected and corrected.  Then they went home.

But today, they ate potato salad and potato chips and deviled eggs and talked about the weather.  Well, Gerard talked about the weather anyway.  Some of the rest talked politics, and then most of the violinists were so angry that the meeting ended quickly.  People just picked up their dishes and left.

Gerard, who hadn’t eaten anything but a few of the potato chips he’d brought, went home and made himself a ham sandwich with extra mustard.  Then he practiced his violin, because it turned out that he had a little bit of free time, and he never, ever, ever was going back to the second row of violins.

That evening, the phone rang.  More than half of the violin section had food poisoning, and that included the first three violins.  Gerard was going to be first violin for the benefit concert.  “Was it the potato salad?” Gerard asked.

“Why do you ask?” the conductor asked.  “Did you bring the potato salad?”

“No.  I brought potato chips.  I just thought that it was always the potato salad on TV, isn’t it?”  Gerard said.   Now he was feeling a little nervous.  If the police came to question him, how would he prove that he didn’t bring the potato salad?

Who brought the potato salad?  Did they poison everyone on purpose?  Would they come after him next now that he was temporary first chair?  He hadn’t realized that accepting the position would make him such a target.

Gerard didn’t want to think about it, so he practiced even more.  After all, he’d be playing as first chair violin in two days, and this time he had a solo.  Gerard wasn’t sure if he was more happy or terrified.

The day of the concert came.  Gerard didn’t like his new seat on the end of the row where everyone could stare at him.  He tried to block all that out and play his best.  Everything started out okay.  And then, four pages before his solo, at the end of a difficult run, his bow somehow flew out of his hand and disappeared somewhere behind him.

Gerard turned around in his chair.  Everyone was playing as though nothing had happened and there hadn’t been a flying violin bow anywhere.  He looked under his seat through the maze of feet.    There it was.  Three rows back.

He looked at the score and flipped forward two pages to where the orchestra was currently playing.  There just wasn’t time.  He turned and poked the seventh chair violinist sitting next to him.  The man frowned and kept playing.

Gerard took a deep breath and started to tickle the violinist.  The man paused and Gerard’s hand darted out and stole his bow.  It was just in time.  Gerard felt all eyes on him as he played his solo.

The moment he was done, the bow was snatched out of his hands, and the scowling seventh chair violinist started playing again.   Face burning with embarrassment, Gerard stood and walked back three rows.

He tried to carefully navigate the cramped spaces between chairs and stands.  He only knocked over one music stand.  He caught it before it hit the floor, but the music went everywhere.  Ignoring the whispered insults, he dove for his bow and hurried back to his seat.  The show must go on, and all that.

In the end, even though he hoped no one noticed his slight mishap, it ended up being all anyone wanted to talk about.  Even a year later, people kept coming up to tell him that it had been their favorite concert.  And the seventh chair violinist was still glaring at him and offering to serve him some potato salad.

Gerard knew that everyone else thought that was a joke.  But Gerard wasn’t so sure.  He was pretty sure he saw mayonnaise packets in the man’s violin case once.