a Story for Grownups About a Little Kid
(minus the crucial element of the illustrations which explain and provide counterpoint to the text)
One night around two A.M. a woman woke up and gasped, "Pigs' knuckles." Her husband
The woman explained: "I've got to get some pigs' knuckles."
The woman got out of bed and began to get dressed.
"Have you ever had pigs' knuckles?" asked her husband, trying a different approach.
"No. Go to sleep. I'll be back later."
The woman went to an all-night deli where a thin, balding man who squinted as he came out of the back room found her a jar of pigs' knuckles. Indeed, they hit the spot.
This was the first sign of an event to come that would change the couple's life forever.
Eight months later, on April 11th, Gabriel was born.
He was light as a bubble and did all the things babies are supposed to do. [Picture of him sleeping]
His parents thanked fate. Gabriel seemed the fulfillment of their dream for a normal life.
When he was two months old, his mother took him for a walk and showed him around.
"This is a grocery store," she said. "That's a tree. That's a doggie."
Gabriel took in these wonders like someone who is in the process of waking up.
The world was of absorbing interest but didn't come as a surprise. He'd grown accustomed to its sounds while he napped and to its sights while he fed. Now began the task of figuring it all out.
For months, he called bananas, "Nana." Finally, he made the leap to "Bana." Encouraged, his mother prodded him towards the final step.
"Ba-na-na," she said again, slowly.
"Ba-na-na-na," Gabriel sang in contented mockery. (Picture of him shaking his head while being fed.)
While the world seemed strange yet familiar to Gabriel, Gabriel seemed wholly familiar to his world. Yet as he grew, the child that John and Thelma Upright had brought into being began to seem a little strange.
"I'm worried about Gabriel," his Mamma said to his Daddy as she lay in bed one night finishing a glass of psyllium-laced wheatgrass juice and watching a man on T.V. improvise a torch song about masking tape. "I'm not sure he's as normal as we thought."
"What do you mean?" asked Daddy who was arranging the February issues of his three financial subscriptions in alphabetical order.
"Well for one thing, I've never known anyone that small."
"Mmm... " said Daddy thoughtfully.
"And for another, I don't think he understands what we say."
"You might be right," Daddy agreed. "But I think I know why. The other day I could have sworn I heard him speaking a different language."
"Really?" asked Mamma. "Which one?"
"Portuguese!" exclaimed Mamma. "Now where would he have picked that up?"
Daddy's answer was cut short by a gentle swishing sound approaching down the hall. Both parents froze. Their baby had gone to bed two hours before and no one else was in the house that they knew of. Listening through the voice on the television, they heard the sound again. Someone was prowling! Bravely - or maybe not; it was hard to tell from his stunned look - Daddy got up to check what was going on. He padded towards the bedroom door. But as he placed his hand on the knob, the door opened by itself. Daddy stared into the black hallway. No one was there. Then something grazed his ankle as the swishing sound repeated, now in his presence. Looking down, he saw the last few inches of Gabriel crawl through his legs and over to the bed where he pulled himself up and fell asleep.
"Zeus!" said Daddy, or at least, that's what it sounded like.
"Why do you suppose he crawls around like that?" asked Mamma, troubled. "It's so much slower than walking."
Recovering his composure Daddy answered proudly, "He takes after me; he keeps losing his keys."
"I'm afraid he's going to take after me," Mamma said, frowning. "He doesn't want to wear out the feet of his pyjamas."
"Don't be silly," said Daddy with a bravado intended to placate his own worry as well as his wife's. "He has your intelligence and sparkle but there's no way he's going to pick up any of your weirdness, especially about waste disposal."
Gabriel's mother was, it must be said, an offbeat woman, prone to excruciating but uncontrollable giggles during tax audits and speeches by Daddy's boss. This tendency naturally caused Daddy some upset. But as for waste disposal, the habits Daddy was referring to really made perfect sense.
For one thing, Mamma recycled plastic containers til they cracked. At first, she relabelled the containers. But when there got to be too many labels, she just refilled the containers and left them in the freezer. So Daddy had gotten used to opening yogurt cartons that had last been labelled "Chicken Soup" and finding chocolate pudding inside.
Also, because the kitchen was visited by roaches at night, Mamma had developed another idiosyncrasy. If she had a snack after she'd gotten undressed for bed, then rather than go outside to empty the garbage, she wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator. This practise also troubled Daddy who periodically organized the refrigerator along evolutionary lines with manmade foods on the top shelf.
Gently, Mamma lifted Gabriel to carry him back to his room. Gabriel woke up, realized where Mamma was taking him and cried.
"Come on, Gabriel," Mamma soothed him. "It's time to go to bed. Mommy and Daddy are tired."
Gabriel cried more loudly. He wasn't tired. He was, by now, fully awake and fighting for his rights.
"Do you want some oatmeal?"
Gabriel stopped crying.
Mamma carried him into the kitchen and poured some oatmeal into the bowl with a scene from Beatrix Potter painted in the middle. Gabriel ate half the cereal. The other half ended up on his nightshirt. To elude the roaches, Mamma changed Gabriel's nightshirt, putting the dirty one in the refrigerator.
The next morning, when he reached in for the milk, Daddy found it.
"Mmm!" he said in mock appreciation. "With a little bearnaise sauce, this'll be delicious. Label it 'Peanut Butter.'
'Uh... I think you might have a point," he went on with even more than his usual effort at self-control. "About your... deviations. We don't want Gabriel growing up thinking this is how people are supposed to behave. Maybe it's time to expose him to other influences."
"All right," Mamma agreed for she knew first hand the burden of eccentricity. "I'll invite Scott and Alan over. If anyone can teach him about normal behavior, they can." [illustration of the re-used, much re-labelled yogurt carton]
Gabriel's dreams deviated from his parents'. Normal, schnormal, it was all the same to him. He had three goals: To have fun; to drink milk; but most important of all, to see what was inside things.
Gabriel's uncles, Scott and Alan came over the next day. Scott was an accountant and Alan, a systems analyst. You couldn't ask for a more normal pair of uncles. (Picture of them, stiff and boxy.)
In order to give them freedom in which to work their magic, Mamma went out shopping, leaving Scott and Alan to babysit.
When she came back, she found them at opposite ends of the hallway sending the carriage back and forth. Inside, Gabriel was propped up like an alert dog, watching the world whiz past.
"Oh dear," sighed Mamma, putting down her shopping bags. "I'd so hoped you'd teach him how to be normal."
"I brought some sample 1040's," said Scott. "And Alan brought 'Basic Fortran.' This whizzing business was his idea." He shrugged in Gabriel's direction.
"Perhaps we should give it a little more time," Mamma said. "Stay for dinner."
At dinner Gabriel eschewed the meal the others were having of Boeuf Bourgignon with a delicately balanced 1984 Merlot, instead opting for applesauce a la Gerber and eight ounces of milk.
But afterwards, he sat on Scott's lap and stared at his uncle's breast pocket, all the while listening thoughtfully to the discussion of recent changes in the tax law.
It's working! Mamma exclaimed hopefully to herself. Her concern over Gabriel's normality quelled for the moment, she gazed at him fondly and thought, "How like a leprechaun he looks, perched on a mushroom."
"All right, Gabriel," she sang when Alan rose to leave. "Time to go to bed." And she reached for her baby. Gabriel reached up too. In his fist were a twisted Kleenex and a crumpled one dollar bill.
"Where'd he get those?" asked Mamma in wonder. She lifted Gabriel off Scott's lap. A pile of pennies fell to the floor, rolling under the china cupboard and the liquor cabinet. "Maybe he is a leprechaun!" she exclaimed to herself, for if he wasn't going to turn out to be a normal, human baby, she certainly wanted to know what species he did in fact belong to.
"That stuff?" said Scott. "That's mine." He looked in his jacket. "He's been picking my pocket."
"Or maybe," thought Mamma, "he's related to Harpo Marx."
For a while it looked as though she was onto something, as Gabriel was turning into a deft pilferer. Usually he concentrated on dirty laundry (picture, Gabriel taking wilted shirts, etc., out of laundry basket) but sometimes his taste was more conventional. While Mamma talked to Midge next door, he riffled her handbag for a juicy leather wallet which he chewed for the rest of their conversation.
The other clue that Gabriel might be a reincarnation of Harpo was that wherever he went, things fell off him; especially Koco Krispies. Koco Krispies turned up in the most unlikely places: [illustration: in Mama's jewelry box; in the washing powder; Daddy emptying his shoe of Koco Krispies.]
At eighteen months, Gabriel stopped losing his keys. As though summarizng the evolution from ape to man, he stood up and walked. The vertical position did wonders for his height and it was a relief to see him getting around like other people. Mamma began to breathe more easily.
Especially when, at the age of three, he started to help her around the house.
While Mamma did chores, Gabriel worked alongisde her. He wiped the cabinets - at least, the parts he could reach - and he helped her put away the groceries. (Picture: Mamma putting boxes into the cupboard; Gabriel taking them out agian.)
Then Mamma made a thick pea soup and baked a cake while Gabriel vacuumed. (Picture: Mamma preparing a cake, oblivious to Gabriel who is vacuuming the flour out of the bowl.)
"Good boy, Gabriel," said Mamma absently as she wondered where the flour had disappeared to and if she was really going out of her mind this time.
"Now," said Mamma, "we're going to set the table for dinner. Watch carefully because you're going to do it all by yourself. See how I put this fork here and the knife and spoon over here on this side? Now you do exactly what I did but over here, in Daddy's place." And she left Gabriel alone to finish the job.
Gabriel approached it with all his three year old integrity, doing exactly what Mamma said: He took the place setting that she had created and moved it, piece by piece, to Daddy's place.
But while Mamma thought that with Gabriel so grown up they were home free as far as normality went in fact, and well out of the curiosity phase, in fact Gabriel's curiosity was growing too. And taking him into ever more alarming territory.
One day he accompanied Mamma to the garden to empty the garbage.
"Look, Mamma!" Gabriel cried, taking frrom the depths of the pail a tattered lettuce leaf, covered in coffee grounds, on which a lone ant scavenged.
Gabriel held out his finger. After a moment's hesitation, the ant mounted it and scouted around.
"Isn't he... cute?" Mamma said, smiling weakly and murmuring under her breath, "This too shall pass."
It didn't. Every day after he'd finished his housework, Gabriel went into the garden to look for the ant whom he called Toby.
"Stay out of the garbage," Mamma called but when Gabriel was quiet for too long, she knew where to find him.
When there was no garbage and so no ants to play with, he delved into a hole in the oak tree where he found a spider weaving a web around a larger fly - a solo Lilliputian tying down Gulliver - and once, digging in the ground, he unearthed a long, jiving worm.
"Jesus Christ," muttered Daddy.
Daddy, who was fond of talking about "the big picture," focussed on his son's new accomplishments. All right, so Gabriel still had that peculiar obsession with milk as well as an odd klutziness once he got hold of it. And so often conversations and activities with him seemed to end up in Never Neverland. But he hadn't picked any pockets in a while. And he finally seemed to be showing the sense of responsibility Daddy had always known was in him. It was time, Daddy decided, to show him the world and how it worked.
"Get ready, Gabriel," he said after breakfast one morning soon after reaching this decision. "We're going to the plant."
"I'm thirsty," said Gabriel.
"Well, ask Mamma for some milk." Daddy suppressed a sigh of exasperation.
Mamma gave Gabriel some milk. Gabriel finished it.
"I want some more," he said.
Mamma poured more. Gabriel spilled it. Daddy looked at the ceiling while tapping his feet in a syncopated rhythm. Mamma refilled Gabriel's glass and told him to go change his shirt. On the way to his room, Gabriel slipped on the spilled milk and got his pants wet. Daddy drummed his fingers on the kitchen table in counterpoint to his feet.
But finally, thirst quenched, tears dried, clothes changed, they were off.
"I learned this business from my dad," said Daddy as they strode towards the subway station. "And now I'm going to teach it to you."
"Who's your dad?" asked Gabriel.
"My dad was Harold Upright the Second."
"But Harold's deaf."
"Not deaf, Gabriel: Dead."
Gabriel thought for a moment: "He's not dead; he's Dad."
Daddy changed the subject.
"The plant where we're going today, where Daddy works? It's the biggest plant on the East Coast," he told Gabriel proudly.
"Bigger than the lemon tree?" asked Gabriel since that was the biggest plant at his house.
Daddy laughed. "Bigger than a whole orchard of lemon trees. We make furniture for offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey... you name it. Won't that be fun?"
"Yes!" said Gabriel, staring into a toy store they were at that moment striding by. In the window a diorama showed a primeval swamp in which a Tyrannosaurus Rex stalked, her craggy mouth open in a roar. Behind her was a broken egg with something wonderful inside: a baby dinosaur!
"Look, Daddy!" cried Gabriel. "Can we go in and pet the dinosaur?"
"Not right now, Gabriel. Listen!"
They were at the edge of an Arab neighborhood and a far-away man wailed to the sky. Daddy had not forgotten his pledge to teach Gabriel how the world worked. And what had just arrived was what teacher-training manuals call "a teachable moment."
"You see, Gabriel," Daddy said, "some people pray to Allah and some people pray to God."
"They pray to Alan and Scott?"
"Yup. Come on; we have to get some money."
At the money machine, Daddy showed Gabriel what buttons to press. But somehow they ended up doing the transaction in Japanese. (Picture of Daddy at the ATM looking perplexed and holding 100 yen.)
Then Daddy needed a new metro card. Gabriel put the money in the little canal. The token booth attendant was puzzled because she couldn't see anybody on the other side. (picture)
Indeed, Gabriel saw when they arrived at the Plant, it was very big; it stretched from one horizon to the other.
"Would you look at that," sighed Daddy. "All those chimneys, Gabriel, are engines of productivity, industry... the economic health of this country."
He looked at Gabriel expecting to see on the child's face the awe of taking it all in but Gabriel's eyes were fixed on the ground. He had found a creature that lived on the Plant: a fuzzy grey caterpillar. Gabriel picked it up. The caterpillar looked around as though to say, "Hey, what's going on?
"What's that?" said Daddy. "My God, what is that? If you don't know, make something up. When Adam first saw the beasts of the field he gave them names. And that thing looks like a beast of the field."
"His name's Charlie. Do you want to hold him? He's not heavy."
"Oh I see; it's a caterpillar," said Daddy, coming closer. "How did he get here? No, thank you, you can hold him. But let's take Charlie over to this patch of grass so he can build himself a cocoon and turn into a butterfly."
That sounded wonderful: The caterpillar could do magic! Gabriel put Charlie down gently. Charlie hurried along arching his way through the grass. He seemed to know where he was going.
"Come on, Gabriel," said Daddy. "We have to check on the generator."
They went to the main building and through a metal door that echoed after it closed. In a room by itself the generator shook loudly and angrily.
"Ah!" said Daddy, "the heart of the whole operation. Fine, fine... "
After the generator Daddy showed Gabriel the stock room, the loading dock and the offices.
"Will you take me here again?" Gabriel asked Daddy, his eyes shining, at the end of the visit.
"Sure," Daddy laughed. To himself he added, "I knew that under the right conditions, the child would come to his senses."
"So," said Mamma as she tucked Gabriel in that night, "I hear you had such a good time at the plant, you want to go back!"
"Yes!" Gabriel said, "I want to visit Charlie when he turns into a butterfly."
"Ah!" Mamma said with a smile of rueful enlightenment. "I thought it might be something like that... Good night, Kitten." And she bent down to give Gabriel a kiss.
"Good night, Mamma," Gabriel said.
Turning off the light as she went, Mamma tiptoed out.
From his bed Gabriel looked up into the outer space of the ceiling and prayed: Dear Uncle Alan and Uncle Scott, for my birthday please could I have a real dinosaur egg with a baby dinosaur inside.
After his trip to the Plant, Gabriel's curiosity became more focussed. He still wanted to see what was inside things but what he most wanted to see the inside of was eggs. At breakfast he stopped drinking his hot chocolate in order to watch Daddy tap the crown of his soft-boiled egg before slicing it off and scooping up the yellow blood that trickled out. And he even agreed to eat quiche so Mamma would let him help her break the eggs to make it.
For although he still loved all the bugs he found, especially Toby, ever since the day he and Daddy had gone to the Plant Gabriel had been on a mission. His curiosity had become charged with a longing that approached lust to find in some dark hole, some as yet uncracked egg, that treasure, that missing link, that Holy Grail in his young life, a baby dinosaur.
It was taking a long time but he would not give up. And meanwhile his usual curiosity ensured that the world remained an endlessly fascinating place.
"Bugs, eggs," muttered Daddy. "Couldn't he at least evolve?"
Then one night as Daddy and Mamma got ready for bed they heard a noise outside their bedroom door: A rustling; the sound of light metal parts brushing past each other, then tense silence. A minute or so later, the patting of small feet running away down the carpeted hallway.
Mamma went to investigate but Gabriel lay in his bed, asleep.
The next night the same hushed rustling started outside their bedroom.
Steeling himself to face the grim truth that he so dreaded, Daddy went to the door.
When Gabriel moved aside the metal keyhole cover and placed his eye at the keyhole, he met a large, familiar eye looking back.
The door opened.
"Gabriel," said Daddy who was wearing a serious expression. "Did you ever hear the saying, 'Curiosity killed the cat?'"
Wordlessly, Gabriel shook his head.
"Well go to bed and think about it."
Gabriel went to bed and wondered who had killed the cat for being curious.
Meanwhile in the Uprights' bedroom Daddy, too, was deeply troubled.
"Why couldn't Gabriel be like little Tommy Trendsetter next door?" he wondered as he paced back and forth in front of the bookcase. He didn't rummage in garbage pails or get mesmerized watching someone eat an egg. Tom Sr. said that every day after school, little Tom sat in front of the computer til dinner and after dinner too, until it was time for bed.
"It's my fault," Daddy said to himself as he glanced up at the T.V. show Mamma was watching in which a superhero called Telemarketing Man was saving the world from a deluge of schmalz.
Daddy continued to pace, head bowed to the floor which held no answers. Looking up in frustration he scanned the bookshelf absently when his eye lit on a title in bold black capitals: Keeping Your Child On the Straight and Narrow. With a skepticism that was intended to fend off disappointment, he leafed through it, pausing at the chapter entitled Curiosity:
There may come a time when despite all precautions the child shows an interest in taboo subjects: Bugs, worms, his own body are a few examples of the discoveries children make at this stage which typically occurs between the ages of two and twenty-five. Children may also exhibit an unseemly curiosity about matters that are none of their concern. This can cause anguish and embarrassment to parents who have done nothing to deserve such distress.
Should your child show such an inclination, nip it in the bud. Take a stand! Remove the offending stimulus immediately to save your child from being lured into a world that is both srange and all too natural.
Thoughtfully, Daddy closed the book and slipped it back onto the shelf. He would take matters into his own no-nonsense hands.
"What would you like to play?" asked Mamma the following afternoon after she and Gabriel had finished work for the day.
"Hide and Seek," said Gabriel.
"Why do I even ask?" muttered Mamma to herself. "All right. You go hide and I'll count." And she put her head down on her forearm. "One, two, three..."
Gabriel ran to hide in his favorite place, the hall closet, among the wintercoats. But when he reached the dining-room he stopped. Hide and Seek flew out of his mind as Gabriel beheld the most wondrous sight he'd ever seen.
For there, next to the table, light, green and ready to spring was a baby dinosaur. It had tiny scales, a curvy tail and a belly that expanded and contracted like the bellows when Daddy made a fire in the fireplace.
"Look, Mamma!" Gabriel cried.
The dinosaur darted its head to the left, changed position with lightning speed and froze once more, looking at Gabriel.
"Oh God," said Mamma when she came in, for what Gabriel had discovered was a lizard.
The lizard didn't move.
"What do I - ? What do we have - ? How - ?"
Looking in vain for something that would get rid of the beast Mamma picked up some pieces of Lego that were lying on the floor - glad, for once, to have them around - and one by one, threw them at the lizard. That looked like fun - playing Dodgeball with the baby dinosaur! Gabriel picked up other pieces and threw them also. Under this rain of Lego the lizard stood, frozen. Mamma and Gabriel picked up the pieces and threw them again. Finally Mamma threw a wheel that hit the lizard. The lizard darted an inch. It looked different; could it be... shorter?
"I cut off its tail!" Mamma wailed, a little ill.
As the curtailed lizard ran around in circles Mamma thought, with a sickly hope, "Maybe it's in some kind of pre-death dementia like a chicken without its head."
Then the tail, too, began to hop about.
"Aagh!" screamed Mamma and like the lizard and its tail, ran around the room in circles.
"What is going on?" said Daddy who'd been working in his office upstairs. "Oh, Jesus." At the sight of the crazed, dancing trio, he groaned.
Without another word, Daddy acted to remove the offending stimulus. Moving stealthily towards the stereo where under the cliff of the speaker the lizard crouched, its belly expanding and contracting, Daddy scooped up the lizard in one hand, marched over to the patio door, opened it wide and disappeared into the garden, returning a moment later, wiping his empty hands.
Gabriel watched, too paralyzed with sorrow to cry.
Without a backwards glance, Daddy marched up the stairs again to his office, closing the door with a decisive click.
In the newly silent dining room, Mamma looked at Gabriel.
"I'm sorry..." she said, tentatively.
Gabriel said nothing. He just stared at the place where the baby dinosaur had so recently and radiantly stood in the Uprights' very own dining-room.
"Would you like some milk?"
Gabriel shook his head.
"Do you want me to swing you around like a roller coaster?"
Gabriel shook his head again.
Mamma went over and put her arm gently around Gabriel's waist. Gabriel didn't move. He didn't cry or bury his head on Mamma's shoulder the way he usually did or put his arms around her neck so she would pick him up. He just stood still, his belly expanding and contracting like the bellows when Daddy made a fire in the fireplace.
When Daddy came home from work the next day, he went, as was his habit, to the garden to greet Gabriel.
Gabriel wasn't there.
"Gabriel?" called Daddy, puzzled.
"Yes?" answered Gabriel from within the house.
Daddy went inside.
"What're you doing? How come you're not playing with Toby?"
"Toby's an ant. He's supposed to stay with other ants."
"Oh. Well, I guess that's true. So... What did you do today? Did you make a house for your Lego people in my shoe/'
"Lego people are toys. They're not real."
"Oh. Well I guess you're right about that too."
"May I be excused now?"
"Sure, Son. You can be excused."
Puzzled, Daddy watched Gabriel go into the living-room.
"Probably going to watch his favorite show, that's what it is," he said to himself.
Instead, Gabriel took the prospectus from the Plant that Daddy always left out on the coffee table for visitors and with a somber expression, turned its pages, looking at the pictures.
"What happened to our boy?" Daddy asked Mamma as they lay in bed that night, unable to fall asleep. "He seems to have grown up all of a sudden."
"Yes," said Mamma, sadly.
"I mean, I'm not complaining. The house is a lot neater now. And it's nice to know that the things that live outdoors are going to stay there. I sure don't miss having animals around." Daddy gave a little shot of a laugh.
"Still... " said Daddy.
"Still... " echoed Mamma.
And with that, the Uprights lapsed into separate silences on their separate sides of the bed, each remembering the scenes he and she didn't miss.
"Want to play Hide and Seek?" Daddy asked with unaccustomed enthusiasm the next night when he came home from a particularly long and demanding day.
"No, thank you," Gabriel said with what psychiatrists call a lack of Affekt.
"Want some Koco Krispies?" Mamma asked, having read that at times of stress, children may revert to an earlier phase. "A cookie?" And finally, in a desperate reach back to infancy, "Oatmeal?"
"No, it's O.K."
The Upright parents looked at each other, troubled, but at a loss about what to do since what they were confronted with was exactly what they'd always wished for.
One morning in April, Daddy was walking down the street in the wistful state that had become his habitual mood recently, when he passed the toy store where Gabriel had first seen the dinosaur display.
The scene in the window now was based on the theme of Easter. Rabbits cavorted in the grass with lambs and other young animals. And just as the dinosaur scene had featured an egg of wondrous content, this scene also featured eggs; lots of them, in a broad spectrum of colors.
Daddy gazed for a while, lost in the scene. Then, for the first time in his adult life, he grinned.
"Gabriel, get dressed," he said the following Saturday. "We're going out."
"O.K.," said Gabriel and without request or complaint, without slipping or any other mishap, he got dressed and was ready in a few minutes.
Daddy took Gabriel's hand and walked him to the corner where they usually turned right to go to work or the bank or the subway. But now they turned the other way. Where were they going? Gabriel wondered but not intensely as it didn't matter. These days Gabriel went along with whatever his parents asked of him, without question.
They walked a few blocks, Daddy humming softly which was unusual. But Gabriel didn't think about it. What difference did it make whether Daddy hummed or not?
"See that block of offices?" Daddy asked, pointing at a squat, dark grey building across the street and down a few doors.
"That's where we're going."
Why was Daddy taking Gabriel here with a hint of a smile Gabriel had never seen him wear before?
The building was ugly with a strange name embossed in gold over the door: B.U.G. (Gabriel had begun learning his letters and the first word he had learned to spell was Bug.)
"Broadway Union Gas," said Daddy.
In the window before them lay a pool of water. Along its rim were several dozen eggs.
Gabriel looked questioningly at his father. So what? the look said. What was so special about eggs?
"Watch!" whispered Daddy as though the eggs might hear him. "That one over there."
He pointed at an egg in the corner on whose shell a small hole had appeared. From the hole grew a crack. Pause. As though from the egg's own private earthquake the crack extended at its lower end.
Gabriel stared. Something invisible was breaking the egg.
A small yellow triangle like a tiny chiselling tool poked at the egg shell from the inside.
Poke, poke. The egg was splitting. Inside, something moved around.
"Look, Gabriel! There's another one!" Daddy pointed excitedly at an egg on the other side of the pool.
That egg, too, had a hole in the shell which was being poked and pecked from the inside.
In the first egg, a craggy door had opened. A moist head appeared, straining its way out. Then out of the shell fell a sticky, matted baby duck.
The duck righted himself, flapped, waddled to the side of the pool, flopped and went to sleep.
Now the second duck popped out of its shell, a little darker than the first. It, too, flapped its wings, stumbled and waddled over to the first duck, falling asleep against his back.
One by one, the shells cracked and ducks worked their way out. After five ducks had hatched and fallen asleep in a mound of fine yellow feathers, the first-born duck roused himself from his sleep, dry and fluffy, and flapped into the pool for a swim.
Gabriel watched without moving or even, it seemed, blinking. With the same rapt attention, Daddy watched his son and the ducks in turn. In this way, father and son stayed at the Broadway Union Gas window til four o'clock when the duck-keeper arrived with a cardboard box, swept the newborn ducks into it - flapping and tumbling over each other - and took them home for the night.
"Did you like that, Gabriel?" Daddy asked as they walked back to their home.
Gabriel nodded with a secret smile Daddy hadn't seen in months. Daddy sighed in relief.
They walked a little further in silence. Then Daddy said, "The lizard would have escaped back to the garden anyway, you know that, don't you?"
Gabriel nodded again.
A homeless man bowed and shook a coffee cup as Daddy and Gabriel passed. Daddy paused, fished a dollar out of his pocket and put it in the cup.
"Alleluia," he said, under his breath.
A few weeks later when Gabriel went to bed, Mamma and Daddy came in to say good night together.
"Gabriel," said Daddy. "Mamma and I have something to tell you.
'Mamma's going to have another baby."
"No; in about seven months."
"How long is that?"
"It's after your birthday."
"Where's the baby?"
"In Mamma's tummy."
Gabriel looked at Mamma's tummy.
"Is it an egg?"
Daddy started to wince but pulled himself together. "Mmm... sort of," he said.
Over the next seven months Mamma's stomach grew fatter like the vacuum cleaner bag when it was full. When Mamma lay on her back, her stomach moved like thick pea soup coming to a boil.
Then one morning when Gabriel got up, instead of Mamma he found Uncle Alan in the kitchen making him breakfast.
"Mamma went to the hospital this morning," he said. "You have a baby brother, Gary."
Gary was soft and light like Charlie. Gabriel fed him milk and oatmeal. And since Gabriel was the only person up early on Saturday morning, Gary crawled with a swishing sound down the hall to Gabriel's room to hang out. Later, Gabriel taught Gary how to vacuum and how to set the table for four people rather than one person in four places. "He's not a baby dinosaur," thought Gabriel, "but he's better at soccer." As for Mamma and Daddy, they looked at Gabriel and said, "He'll be an accountant yet, and a happy one. But the days of thinking everything has something magic inside seem to be over for good."
Then one day, it was Gabriel's turn to bring something in for Show and Tell. He chose an oil lamp that Mamma had bought at a Middle Eastern store a few blocks away.
Mamma picked him up from school that afternoon.
"How was your Show and Tell?" she asked.
"Good. But Mamma?"
"I said something that might be a lie."
"What did you say?"
"I said it was made of gold. Is that O.K., Mamma?"
"Well, I guess it's O.K. So your report was a little less like journalism, a little more like fiction."
Gabriel was relieved.
"What else did you tell them about the lamp?"
"Oh... " replied Gabriel happily, "I told them there was a real genie in it." (Picture of oil lamp containing genie who is winking at us.)