Category: Charlie’s Room

Charlie’s Room: Rainy Afternoon

The afternoon was cool and overcast. There was enough light to read by, but it felt later in the day than it actually was. They had eaten lunch late, so no one was in a hurry to start cooking dinner.

Marianne and Charlie were drawing up plans for the garden. They had the spring garden coming along well, but it was time to start transitioning things for summer and planning for fall. Luckily they kept a pretty detailed garden journal, so they were able to look back to previous years for help.

Isaac was reading. The story was getting to an exciting point where he kept turning pages to find out what happened next. He was so interested in the story, that the world around him faded away.

Suddenly, he felt Charlie tapping his arm. “Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad…”

“What?”

Charlie folded his arms across his chest with a frown. “You weren’t listening. We were asking your opinion on cantaloupe.”

“I like cantaloupe.” He turned back to his book and read the first sentence of the next chapter.

Charlie tapped his arm. “But do you like it better than honeydew melons?”

Isaac shrugged. “I like them both.” He began reading the first sentence again.

“That didn’t help.” Charlie began tapping his arm again.

Marianne laughed. “I told you. He’s too busy thinking about his book to think about gardens. We can ask him later.”

“Fine.” Charlie stopped tapping.

Isaac read the first sentence of the next chapter for a third time, but this time he wasn’t interrupted. It wasn’t until the next chapter break that he noticed it was raining. He looked up and realized that the room was a lot darker than before.

He was leaning in a lot closer to his book. He straightened up and stretched his head from side to side. Ouch. How long was he hunched over like that?

The house seemed quiet. He looked around. Marianne and Charlie were curled up on opposite arms of the couch, fast asleep.

The rain continued to tap against the windows. If he listened closely, he could almost hear music. He stood up and walked to the window. Outside, he could see brightly colored dots hovering around the flowers. They were the size of bees or maybe butterflies, but more luminous, and they seemed to be humming to the rhythm of the rain.

He watched them weave around the flowers in whirling patterns of color for a while. However, the humming and the rain and the snoring behind him were all making him a little sleepy. Isaac sat back down in his comfortable chair, picked up his book, and read the first sentence of the next chapter. Then, he fell asleep.

Of course, he didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep until he woke up later, startled out of sleep when he dropped his book. Marianne laughed. “You’ve been sleeping for a while. I guess the book wasn’t as interesting as you thought.”

“It was the rain…” Isaac stopped and listened. “The rain stopped.”

“It put us to sleep, too,” Charlie said. “We just woke up.”

“Sometimes an afternoon nap is just what you need.” Marianne smiled and began to gather up the papers on the couch.

“Since we took a nap, does that mean we can stay up late to watch a movie? Dad doesn’t have work tomorrow, and I don’t feel at all tired anymore.” Charlie jumped up and did a little dance. “See, full of energy.”

“That does look like a wide awake sort of dance,” Isaac said. “Do you think there are falling-asleep dances?”

“I wonder what that would look like?” Marianne thought for a moment and shook her head. “I don’t usually think of dancing as something that would put you to sleep.”

“Maybe if it was the kind with the long, slow music,” Charlie said. “You know, the sleepy kind of music that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.”

Isaac thought about the little dots of color and the humming and the rain. “I think you’re right. The music does matter. So, what kind of music is wide awake music?”

Charlie didn’t have to think about that at all. “The theme song for the newest dinosaur movie! We can watch it right after dinner, and we won’t feel at all sleepy.”

He was right.

Charlie’s Room: The Queen of Hearts

One morning, Charlie and Marianne left early to go to the garden store. Isaac was left behind to do paperwork and possibly spend some time reading if he got done early. Knowing Charlie and Marianne as well as he did, Isaac was pretty sure they’d go straight from the garden store to the garden in the backyard. His chances of having extra reading time were pretty good.

In fact, there wasn’t much paperwork to do, and Isaac was on the couch with a favorite novel fairly quickly. There is something about rereading an old favorite that is comforting, like a warm blanket on a cold day. Isaac was quickly wrapped up in what he was reading.

He had no idea how much time had passed when he heard some noises in the kitchen. Had Marianne and Charlie already returned and were now coming in from the garden? He looked at his book. He was only two chapters in. That shouldn’t be enough time for a typical garden center trip.

Something clattered on the floor in the kitchen. Isaac looked around for a bookmark and called out, “Is everything okay in there? Do you need some help?”

There was no response. Odd. Isaac grabbed one of the playing cards spread out on the end table. It looked like someone was playing a game and had left the cards out. He looked at the card he picked up as he marked his place in his book. The card was blank.

It sounded like someone was hitting the refrigerator with a wooden spoon. Isaac dropped the book on the couch and hurried into the kitchen. Someone actually was hitting the refrigerator with a wooden spoon.

She was thin, paper thin, and unnaturally tall. She looked like the drawing of the queen of hearts from a deck of cards, given a lower half and brought to life. But she didn’t look like a normal, living, breathing person. She looked like a living drawing, still two dimensional and drawn with dark black lines and colored in.

The kitchen was a mess. Flour, broken eggs, and milk puddles surrounded the paper queen. A cookie sheet was laying on the open oven door, dotted with odd looking misshapen lumps of dough.

“Can I help you?” Isaac asked.

“The knave of hearts stole my tarts. They must be replaced.” She pointed at the counter.

The jack of hearts card was propped up against a vase of lilies. The jack was munching a red heart that looked a lot like the one in the corners of his card and smirking.

Isaac frowned. “How did that happen?”

“Our cards were left out on a summer’s day.” She turned to the kitchen. “I would like to bake more tarts, but your kitchen is nothing like the one I’m used to.”

“I don’t know about tarts, but how does heart-shaped cookies sound?” Isaac asked.

“That would do.”

“Right. Let me find the recipe.” Isaac stepped over the mess and flipped through the pages of the family cookbook. “Here we are. I’ll get things ready.”

Grabbing a towel, he wiped up the mess, put the cookie sheet in the sink, and closed and preheated the oven. He rinsed and dried the cookie sheet, and began to mix up the cookie batter.

He rolled out the dough, and dug through the cupboard for the cookie cutters. “Which size?” He held up three different heart shapes.

“That one.” She pointed to the largest, plainest cookie cutter.

Isaac cut out the cookies and put them on the cookie sheet and into the oven. “Would you like them frosted?”

“No need,” the queen said.

They waited in silence, watching the oven. The moment the cookies were out of the oven, the queen picked up two very hot cookies in each hand and vanished.

“But they were still hot,” Isaac said to the jack, who was still propped up against the vase. Jack shrugged and looked over at the cookies still on the pan.

“I think you’ve had enough sweets today,” Isaac said. He picked up the card and went back to the living room. He stacked up the cards on the end table adding the jack of hearts to the pile, and put the cards in their cardboard box.

Then he pulled the card out of his book. He’d read the book often enough that saving his place didn’t really matter. The queen of hearts smiled up at him. He smiled back, and put the card in the box with the others.

Isaac left the box of cards on the shelf in Charlie’s room and went back to the kitchen to finish making the rest of the cookie dough into cookies. He frosted them and added sprinkles.

Marianne came in from the backyard as he was washing the last of the dishes. “Cookies!” Charlie rushed to the counter and leaned over the plate. His hand hovered over one of the cookies. “Can I have one?”

“Yes, of course.”

Charlie grinned and grabbed the cookie.

Marianne picked up a cookie with a smile. “I love these! What’s the occasion?”

“The world needed more cookies,” Isaac said. “It was an emergency.”

Charlie’s Room: A Mysterious Package

There was a box on the front steps when Isaac got home from work. The mailing label clearly had their last name and address, but Isaac didn’t remember ordering anything. Perhaps Marianne was expecting a package. He picked it up and carried it inside.

Charlie met him in the entryway. “Dad! You’re home. What’s that?”

Isaac held out the box. “I think it’s for your mother. Do you want to take it to her?”

“Mom!” Charlie ran into the kitchen with the box.

Isaac changed his shoes and followed Charlie into the kitchen. He went a little more slowly and quietly, but that happens as you get older. You learn to save your energy for other things, like late night movie marathons or long days at the office.

Marianne held up the box when he came in. “What’s this?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t order anything.”

“Neither did I.” Marianne frowned. They both looked at Charlie.

“It wasn’t me! I’m not allowed to order things.”

They looked back at the box. Marianne shook it gently. “Maybe someone sent us something. Let’s open it and see what’s inside.”

Inside the box, there was a single shoe. The left side was bright red, and the right side was bright blue. Marianne picked up the shoe and turned the box upside down. A packing slip drifted gently to the floor.

Isaac picked it up. “It looks like there’s only supposed to be one shoe. Someone ordered a left shoe, but it doesn’t say who.”

“What kind of shoe is it?” Charlie asked.

“It’s a bowling shoe.” Marianne smiled. “We haven’t taken you bowling, have we? I can’t remember the last time I went bowling.”

“Is it fun? When can we go? Tomorrow? Next week?”

“We’ll have to see when they’re open,” Marianne said. She set the shoe back in the box and set it on the counter.

“I’ll email the company and let them know that we didn’t order this. I imagine someone is really disappointed they didn’t get their shoe today.” Isaac checked the packing slip for contact information.

He sent the email and forgot about it as they got ready for dinner. After dinner, they started a movie marathon. Charlie fell asleep before the first movie was over.

The next morning, the box was empty. Isaac noticed, and wondered where the shoe went. He moved the box to the edge of his desk so that he’d remember to ask, and then started going through the bills and balancing the budget. An hour later, the box was completely forgotten.

Two days later, Isaac received an email, telling him that the information appeared to be correct, the shoe was paid for, and so the company wasn’t worried about a single misplaced shoe. Isaac put the box in the recycling and forgot all about it.

A month later, in the middle of the night, Isaac woke up and went to the kitchen for a drink of water. The moon was nearly full, and the kitchen was brightly lit. He didn’t need to turn on the light. Just as he stepped into the kitchen, something growled.

He froze. The growling grew louder and louder. Something emerged from the wall next to the stove and raced across the kitchen floor. It was the bowling shoe, on wheels, with a little man inside clutching a steering wheel and cackling with glee. There were nice seats and all the appropriate bumpers and mirrors and such, as far as Isaac could tell.

The car disappeared into the opposite wall, and the growling sound faded away. Isaac waited a few moments longer. When nothing happened, he got his drink of water and went to bed.

At dinner the next day, he asked. “Do you remember the bowling shoe?”

“Whatever happened with that? Marianne asked. “Did you send it back?”

“No, they said to keep it,” Isaac said. “But then it disappeared.”

“A mouse stole it to live in like the old woman in the shoe,” Charlie said. “There’s a picture like that in one of my books.”

“I wonder if it ended up in the recycling by accident?” Marianne looked concerned. “Did they charge us extra on our last bill?”

Isaac leaned forward. “Actually, a tiny person made it into a car. I saw him driving around the kitchen last night.”

Marianne and Charlie laughed.

“I wish I remembered my dreams,” Charlie said. “I bet I dream of really funny things, too.”

“I don’t really remember my dreams either.” Marianne sighed. “I guess you get that from me. Sorry, kiddo. Luckily, you are good at using your imagination when you’re awake, so I don’t think you’re missing out. Right?” She turned to Isaac and smiled.

“Right,” he said. And the conversation moved on. They never mentioned the shoe again. But sometimes at night, when Isaac heard the growling sound of a nearby car, he wondered if the sound was coming from outside or inside. He was never sure.

Charlie’s Room: Childhood Wishes

Marianne and Charlie were doing their weekly craft project. It looked like it involved yarn and big round plastic looms. Apparently this project was meant to be a secret. The moment the looms came out, Charlie said, “Dad, I think you need a long walk. Come back in an hour or so, but not less than an hour.”

Isaac liked walks, and he was pretty sure that the secret was meant to be a nice surprise, so he didn’t really mind. He put on his coat, changed his shoes, and left. It was a lovely day. The sun was shining and the plants were green and flowering.

He tried to whistle along with the bird songs. Wouldn’t it be nice to arrange a composition nearly entirely from bird songs? You could list them as the co-authors. How would it be to have written a song alongside robins and blue jays and crows and sparrows? It would be awesome.

Unfortunately, Isaac wasn’t really sure how to write music. He would need to spend some time figuring that part out. Mentally, he tucked the idea into his to-do list. The list was getting rather long. He’d need to transfer it all to paper soon before he started forgetting things.

Isaac turned the corner so that he could pass by the park. He hoped that the lilacs were still blooming. He paused when a little brown bird darted close, landed right in front of him, and looked up at him, waiting.

“Hello,” Isaac said. “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”

The bird bobbed it’s head.

“I don’t have any food to share with you. Next time I’ll remember to bring crackers.”

The bird fluttered its wings and hopped back. Then it launched itself in the air. It flew forward, following the sidewalk, and Isaac watched it go, expecting to see it turn and land in a tree nearby. Instead, it turned and flew back, landing at his feet again. It chirped at him.

“Hello again. Did you forget to tell me something?”

The bird fluttered its wings again, and then turned and hopped away a few feet. It turned and chirped. It hopped and turned and chirped once more. It waited and looked up at Isaac.

“Do you want me to follow you?” He asked, feeling a little uncertain.

The bird bobbed its head.

“Then lead the way.”

The bird flew into the park and Isaac followed it. He had to jog to keep up. He was feeling rather out of shape, and hoped that the bird didn’t need to go very far. How long had it been since he last went running? Too long.

The bird followed the path and stopped at the empty basketball courts. There was a lone basketball sitting at the edge of one of the courts. The bird hopped up to perch on the ball. It chirped at him.

“Is this ball in your way?”

The bird fluttered its wings and chirped at him.

“Do you know who it belongs to?”

The bird bobbed its head.

“Do you need me to look for them?”

Flutter, chirp.

“Do they need help?”

The bird bobbed its head.

Isaac looked at the bird closely. “Is this your ball?” The bird bobbed its head twice. “Are you a person that was changed into a bird?” The bird hopped and bobbed its head. “I’m going to need to call for help.”

Luckily, in his wallet he still had the business card for Wendell, Wizard Extraordinaire. He called, and Wendell agreed to come right away. In moments, the air unzipped itself and Wendell stepped out. He looked at the little bird perched on the basketball and the bird looked back.

“Oh, good. It’s just a childhood wish,” he said.

“That’s good? Is it easy to fix?” Isaac looked at the little bird, feeling hopeful.

“Of course. It would probably fix itself in a few minutes. But, since you’re both feeling anxious, I’ll fix it now.” Wendell wiggled his fingers and muttered something. Suddenly, there was a little boy standing on the basketball.

The ball started to roll and the boy jumped backwards. He looked at Isaac and Wendell with his eyes opened wide. Then he darted forwards, grabbed his ball, and ran away. “Thanks, mister,” he called over his shoulder.

“He probably caught a falling leaf and made a wish,” Wendell said. “It happens all the time.”

“Will he be okay?” Isaac asked.

“Of course. He’ll forget that it really happened by the time he’s home and think it was all a daydream. Childhood wishes are like that.”

Isaac smiled and wondered about some of his childhood daydreams. “I really appreciate your help. I wasn’t sure what to do. Thank you so much for coming.”

Wendell smiled and shrugged. “That’s what I do. I’m happy to help. It was good to see you.”

“It was good to see you too.” Isaac chuckled. “Even though I only see you when there’s a problem I need help with, I’m always glad to see you, because that means the problem will be solved. Well, I won’t keep you away from whatever you were doing. Please send me your bill when you get a chance.”

“Thank you. Stay well,” Wendell said. He unzipped the air and waved as he stepped through. Isaac waved back and the air zipped back up.

Isaac checked his watch. He still had another half hour of walking to do. Where would he go next?

Charlie’s Room: Chef for a Day

“I want to make something for mom,” Charlie said. “Something special. A surprise.”

“Well, we have lots of materials for all sorts of crafts in the closet.” Isaac started counting things off on his fingers. “Colored paper, yarn, googly eyes, glue, glitter…”

“No, no, no.” Charlie waved his arms. “I want to make something in the kitchen. Something yummy, like on the cooking shows.”

“Ah. What recipe would you like to make?”

Charlie frowned. “I can’t tell you. Then it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

“I thought it was a surprise for mom?”

“Nope.” Charlie folded his arms. “I know better. The best way to keep a secret is not to tell anybody. Besides, if I tell you what I want to do, then you’ll want to help. If you help, then it won’t just be from me.”

“I could be your helper. Real chefs have helpers in the kitchen. They chop things and use the stove and such.” Isaac smiled. “It would still be you in charge, so the surprise would come from you.”

“I’d be in charge?”

Isaac nodded. “Of course.”

“And you would listen to me and not try to change things?”

“Unless it was something dangerous,” Isaac said. “I am a dad, and safety rules are important to dads.”

Charlie sighed. “Fine. You can come. But it’s my idea, so I’m the chef.”

“Okay. Let’s go.” Isaac and Charlie went to the kitchen. Isaac took two aprons off the hook. He gave the smaller one to Charlie and put on the other one. “What are we going to make?”

Charlie took down the family recipe book. “Hmmmm.” He flipped through the pages. “None of this is special. We’ve tried all of it before. I’m going to make something new. Then it will be a big surprise.”

“Making up a new recipe can be difficult,” Isaac said.

“I can do it.” Charlie tugged on his apron. “See, I’m wearing an apron. I’m a chef. I’ll just look at what ingredients we have. Then I’ll decide what to make.”

Charlie found eggs and butter and cocoa powder and peanuts and oranges and celery. He found flour and pepper and salt and cinnamon sugar and chili powder and milk. He found an onion, but he put it back. “No onions,” he said. “Not today.”

He looked at his collection of ingredients. “I think I’ll make a cake. You can peel the oranges. I’ll start mixing things.”

“Do you want me to preheat the oven first?” Isaac asked.

“Yeah. Put it to cake temperature. I’ll get out the mixing bowl.”

“We should probably wash our hands,” Isaac said.

“I was going to say that. I didn’t forget.” Charlie turned and headed to the sink instead of the cupboards.

In the big plastic mixing bowl, Charlie mixed the flour, milk, cocoa powder, peanuts and spices. The eggs didn’t crack very well, and he spent a lot of time trying to get the bits of eggshell out. “I can’t see the eggshells in all this flour. You should have cracked the eggs.”

Isaac looked over his shoulder. “I think you got them all.”

Charlie frowned and pushed his wooden spoon around in the batter. “I guess so. What’s next?” He looked at the ingredients. “Did you peel and mash the oranges?”

“I just peeled them, but I didn’t mash them.”

“Could you mash them? And chop up the celery?”

“Of course.” Isaac started mashing and chopping. Charlie found the cake pan and smeared the inside with butter. When Isaac was done, he brought them over to Charlie. “Now what?”

Charlie pointed to the plastic bowl. “Put them in there. After I wash my hands again, I’ll mix it all up.”

Charlie stirred the batter energetically and poured it in the pan. Only a little bit spattered over the sides. “Okay. You put it in the oven and set the time,” Charlie said. “When the timer goes off, we can check it.”

“After it’s in the oven, we can clean up a bit,” Isaac said.

It took a little time after the cake was brown for it to stop being jiggly. It puffed up a lot, but then deflated pretty soon after they took it out of the oven. Isaac set it on a potholder on the counter.

“Should we taste it?” Isaac asked.

“No, it has to be a surprise,” Charlie said. “We’ll wait until Mom gets home.”

“Let’s make dinner while we wait. What should we make?”

Charlie grinned. “Spaghetti! I’ll go get the noodles.”

By the time Marianne came home, dinner was waiting on the table, the dirty dishes were washed, and Isaac was lighting candles. “What’s the occasion?” she asked.

Charlie jumped up from where he was sitting and hugged her. “It’s a surprise for you, mom.” He looked up at her and grinned. “Do you like it?”

“Of course I do. Let’s sit down and eat, and you can tell me all about your day,” she said.

“We have cake for later, too. It’s my recipe, because I was the chef today.”

“I’m sure it will be wonderful.”

It wasn’t. Not really. The flavor and the textures just weren’t very cake-like. Charlie took one bite and spit it out. “Don’t eat it,” he said. “It’s awful. I’m sorry.” He looked close to tears.

Isaac and Marianne each took a bite.

“It’s different,” Isaac said. “But it’s not awful.”

“It’s my surprise cake, and I love it,” Marianne said.

Charlie frowned. “You don’t have to eat it. I know it doesn’t taste good.”

But Marianne ate every bite. Isaac hid most of his in his napkin. Charlie threw his away and ate a Popsicle.

“Did you have fun being a chef?” Isaac asked later at bedtime.

“Yes. But next time I’m going to taste what I make before I give it to someone.”

“Or you could use a recipe that you know will turn out well.” Isaac sat in the chair by the bookshelf in Charlie’s room and opened up the book they were reading.

“I think I’ll be fine. I’m a chef,” Charlie said. “But next time, you can crack the eggs.”

Charlie’s Room: Mud Pies

Charlie’s shoulders slumped as he looked out of the window, a glum expression on his face. “It’s raining.” He sighed.

“I’m sure that the plants are happy,” Isaac said. He could hear them singing their rain songs that no one else could hear.

“But I wanted to work in the garden today, and it’s too muddy. Mom will say we can just wait until tomorrow, and I’m tired of being inside.”

“It is bad weather for gardening,” Isaac agreed. “It would be good weather for mud pies, though.”

Charlie sat up straighter and turned around, smiling. “With the chocolate pudding? I love mud pies! It’s been forever since Mom made one.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that kind of mud pies, but it’s a good idea. I think we need something sweet on a gloomy day.” Isaac turned to the pantry and started pulling out ingredients. “We may have to make the pudding from scratch, but I think we can manage that.”

“What other kind of mud pies are there?” Charlie stood on his tiptoes to get the glass pie plate from the cupboard.

“You know, the kind made of mud. We used to make them when I was your age.”

Charlie scrunched up his nose and looked disgusted. “You ate mud?”

“Not really. We just pretended. We used old pie tins and patted the mud inside. We decorated the pies with handfuls of grass and twigs and leaves. Sometimes we mixed in acorns or made designs with pine cones or pine needles. Whatever was available.”

“And then you pretended to eat it? That’s so weird.”

Isaac shrugged. “You like to make things out of playdough. It’s kind of the same.”

“Less messy and more colors, though.” Charlie pulled out the binder that served as a family recipe book. “Where is the pie recipe?”

“It’s near the front. It was one of the ones your mom added first because her mom used to make it when she was little.”

“Found it. I like Mom’s mud pies better than yours.”

Isaac laughed. “You notice that mine wasn’t ever added to the binder.”

“I guess we could add it, as long as we never actually cook it.” Charlie grinned.

“We could write it in under Mom’s as a variation. Then we could see if she ever notices.” Isaac preheated the oven.

Charlie got a pen from the junk drawer. “I’ll do it. How many cups of mud does it take to fill a pie tin?”

“We could go out and check later.”

“Or I could get some playdough to check it out now and stay dry. Where are the disposable pie tins?” Charlie checked the cupboard next to the oven. “There they are, in the back. They’re kind of bent out of shape. I can fix that.”

Charlie worked on perfecting his recipe, measuring playdough and handfuls of ripped up notebook paper. “I can use pipe cleaners for the sticks, but what will I use for the acorns? Marbles are too small…” Meanwhile, Isaac worked on the pie.

Marianne finished her online meeting and joined them in the kitchen. “What are you both up to?” she asked.

“We’re making mud pies,” Charlie said.

Marianne looked at Isaac’s pie, and then she looked at Charlie’s. “Only one of those looks like a mud pie to me.”

Charlie grinned. “This is dad’s recipe. I’m adding it to the recipe book. He uses real mud, but I’m substituting playdough because it’s less messy.”

“Real mud?”

“Yeah, and grass and stick and acorns. He said that’s the kind of mud pie he made when he was little.”

“You’re adding it to the book?” Marianne looked over his shoulder.

“For memories. Not to eat.” Charlie admired his pie. “It looks good, though. Just not at all edible.”

Marianne scrunched up her nose. “True. Mine is better.”

Charlie nodded. “That’s what I said.”

Isaac finished the pie and put it in the fridge to cool. “I told you, we didn’t really eat them. It was just something to do. But I’m glad that Mom shared her mud pie recipe with me. I like it better, too.”

Charlie looked out the window and smiled. “You were right, you know.”

“About what?”

“It’s good weather for mud pies.”

Marianne stood next to Charlie and looked out the window too. “I agree. It’s just what today needed. Rainy days and mud pies do go well together.”

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