Precious, dark secret
I am marooned on my bed.
In the early evening, the apartment complex maintenance man steers his mower over the lawn under my window, the blinds tipping in and out from the slight breeze. The smell of the freshly clipped grass blends into the sound of the blades moving backward and forwards across the earth until the gardener accidentally scrapes against one of the concrete window wells. The trees outside splash shadows on the floor; the white carpet is my sea. I sit on top of blue and white striped sheets. The thin, summer comforter sprinkled with exaggerated and recurring images of Raggedy Ann and Andy, tulips, and rabbits carrying baskets of flowers.
With great effort, I pull my wooden toy wagon over to the edge of the mattress. The cream wagon is on wheels that often lock like one of the carts my mother maneuvers between the fruit and vegetable aisles at the grocery store. The wheels squeak so I cannot pull too hard or risk alerting my mother to my project. When the wagon is close enough to my bed, and I can reach into it from my perch, I survey its contents.
I have to decide which toys to save.
Luckily, my bed floats in water, but the toy wagon, I know, will sink to the bottom of the sea once I have retrieved my favorites. Those I do not choose will be lost. Once I select the lucky ones, I will push the wagon away from my bed with my tiny feet and set it adrift.
Nearly every summer afternoon, I played this game when I was supposed to be taking a nap. Teddy, my favorite bear, is not sure if he likes this game or not. He does not want to imagine being lost at sea.
“Will anyone find us,” my cherished companion whimpers surveying the wagon’s pile of toys beside the bed.
“Yes,” I whisper, stroking his soft fur behind his worn ears. “A sailor will find us, and we shall be safe, and then we shall have tea. Don’t worry,” I assure him. “Let’s decide which toys to save so we can play with them when we are rescued.”
Carefully, I begin pulling my toys out of the wooden chest, examining each one before stacking my most treasured ones on the bedspread. I will save all the stuffed animals first. I will not save the plastic rings that stack like doughnuts on a pointed bar. I will save the round puzzle with a picture of a miniature doll’s village painted on wooden pieces that my grandmother gave me.
I do not think I can save my battery-operated yellow dog even though she is wearing a red ribbon around her neck and white tufts of hair sprout from her head and paws. I adore this barking dog and the way she marches as she yelps when I wind her up, but she is too heavy and cannot be saved. I am immeasurably sad about this loss and resolve to save her the next time I play this game.
The caterpillar, each plastic segment decorated with a red dot inside yellow ones, is also awkward to keep. The wind-up clock plays Frére Jacques and may keep us company in the dark when we float at sea, so I carefully lay it on the bed next to my pillow. I retrieve a stuffed bunny from underneath a second puzzle, thankful that I have found him to join the other animals on the bed. By the time I finish sorting through my toy chest, the bedspread is nearly covered with puzzles and books, stuffed animals, and coloring books. It may be some time before the sailor finds Teddy and me, so we have to be prepared for many days at sea.
Finally, I retrieve my red purse that opens like a fish’s mouth and empties its meager contents on the bedspread in front of my crossed spindly legs. I count out the worn and tarnished coins: 15 pence and one quarter. Maybe that will be enough for Teddy and me to survive when we are rescued. I don’t know. I look at my wares arranged in neat piles in front of me and decide that I cannot leave my barking dog behind after all. I rescue her from the toy wagon before pushing it away from the edge of my bed.
I do not tell anyone about my little game, not my friends at school, not the neighbor brothers, Kendall or Willis, not my mother. I am not convinced anyone would understand my rationale for such a sad fantasy.
This precious, dark secret belongs only to me.
I do not have to choose between my toys stacked untidily in my wagon. I do not have to leave my barking yellow dog behind or my brightly painted caterpillar. If I wanted to, I could save all my toys and hoist them onto my imaginary life preserver. I am not lost at sea, nor do I think I ever will be. Still, each summer afternoon when my mother closes the bedroom door, this fantasy, with all its sinister gloom, yet curiously vast solace returns, and once again, I am marooned.
Maybe I will lie down and close my eyes. I will be safe on my bed. My toys will be safe, too, I repeat to myself as my eyes begin to droop and the hard edges of the toy wagon begin to soften. I imagine the waves lapping up against my mattress, and I snuggle down deep into the soft sheets. This bed is my home and my universe. Maybe being marooned would not be so bad, I conclude; before my thoughts become scrambled before I fall asleep dreaming, I am drifting alone in the middle of a great blue sea.