Category: Charlie’s Room

Charlie’s Room: The Red Hat

One year, soon after Charlie was born, Marianne gave Isaac a red knit cap for Valentine’s day. “Did you make it for me?” he asked.

“No, I bought it at the market. But it looks warm, doesn’t it?”

Isaac put the hat on. It was warm and soft and just the right size. “I love it!” he said. And he wore it often. February was still quite cold, so he wore it many times that year.

They also took pictures of baby Charlie sleeping inside the hat. The brim was pulled up near his chin, and he looked like he was in a tiny sleeping bag.

Isaac loved his red hat. He was careful with it, and didn’t loan it out to anybody. And yet, years and years later, the hat looked worn. It wasn’t nearly as red or soft. There were spots where the yarn was stretched thin and matted.

One morning, as Isaac was getting ready to leave, Charlie looked up at him and frowned. “You need a new hat, dad.”

Isaac put his hands up to hover protectively next to his hat. “I love this hat. It’s as old as you are, you know.”

“Yes, yes.” Charlie rolled his eyes. “I’ve seen the pictures.”

“It’s hard to believe you were that small, right?”

“I got bigger because I got older. Just like your hat got older.”

Isaac covered his ears. “I didn’t hear that.”

“Mom!”

Marianne came out of the kitchen drying her hands on a towel. She looked at Isaac and frowned. “You need a new hat.”

“See?” Charlie folded his arms across his chest and smiled.

Isaac stepped towards the door. “I really have to go now. Maybe we can talk about this later.” He opened the door and stepped outside. “Bye.” He closed the door and hurried to his car.

When he arrived at work, he left the red hat on his desk. It almost felt like he was sitting at the bedside of an old friend who had been given a terrible diagnosis. “Don’t worry,” he told the hat. “You have plenty of good years left. I’ll bring home a movie and some ice cream and they’ll forget all about this terrible new hat idea.”

The movie and ice cream distraction idea seemed to work. They had a fun evening, and nobody mentioned hats once. Isaac hid the hat under his pillow just in case.

He was pretty sure they wouldn’t get rid of his favorite hat without his permission, but he didn’t want to take any chances. There was that one time that his mom threw out his favorite boots just because there was a hole in the toe. For weeks before that he stuffed newspaper inside and his foot had stayed mostly dry and his socks were only a little stained by the newspaper ink.

It wasn’t that he had a hard time throwing things away. Not usually, anyway. But when something had enough good memories attached to it, it was hard to give it up.

Things that were well-loved had a certain glow about them. Miss Marta’s gray shawl had that glow. So did one of Mr. Johnson’s ties that was covered in tiny elephants, and Charlie’s lucky socks, and Marianne’s tiny green earrings. To Isaac his hat glowed brightest of all, but that might just be because it was his and he loved it best.

The next morning, when Isaac put the red hat on, Charlie frowned, but he didn’t say anything. Marianne stepped out of the kitchen to say goodbye. She looked at the hat and frowned. But she didn’t say anything about the hat either. Isaac relaxed. His hat was safe.

A month later, it was Valentine’s day. Isaac hummed happy birthday to his hat as he put it on. He was looking forward to an evening of pizza and board games.

Marianne and Charlie met him at the door after work. Charlie held up a lumpy present wrapped in shiny red paper and taped closed with what looked like most of a roll of tape. “I just finished your present.”

Isaac finished putting his coat away and changed out of his shoes. Then he took the present and examined it from all sides. “Let’s go sit on the couch. That looks like it may take a little while to unwrap.”

“You aren’t going to try to open it without ripping the paper, right?” Charlie tugged on the present. “I’ll open it. You take too long.”

Isaac kept a tight hold on his present. “It’s my present. Unwrapping it is part of the fun. Enjoy the journey.”

Marianne sighed. “Let’s go make cocoa. He’ll still be unwrapping when it’s ready.”

Luckily, Isaac discovered a corner where the tape was applied less densely, and soon enough he was able to slide out a soft, bright, red, knit something. “Is this a hat?” he asked. He wasn’t sure how he felt about a new hat. Could he really replace his old hat and all the memories it represented?

“Of course it is.” Charlie grinned. “I made it for you myself. Mom helped.”

Isaac looked down at his new red hat. It glowed even brighter than the old one. “I love it,” he said.

Charlie’s Room: Visiting Miss Marta

“Do you have your coat?” Isaac asked. “And your toothbrush?”

Charlie rolled his eyes. “You already asked that.”

“I think I’m worrying too loudly. I didn’t hear you before. What did you say the last time I asked?”

“I have them. Mom gave me a list to pack with, you know. I have everything I need. Are you checking that Mom remembered to pack everything, too?” Charlie folded his arms across his chest and raised his chin.

Isaac smiled. “I asked her too, but she said to stop asking and check on you.”

“You can tell her I’m just fine.” Charlie patted his suitcase.

“If you need help with anything…” Isaac paused in the doorway.

“I think Mom is calling you,” Charlie said. Isaac laughed.

All too soon, Marianne and Charlie had the car all packed and they were driving away. Isaac waved even after they turned the corner. Finally he dropped his hand with a sigh.

“Home alone?” Miss Marta was leaning on the top of her back gate.

“They’re visiting Marianne’s Aunt Doris for a week.” Isaac walked across the front lawn.

Miss Marta nodded. “And you have work and couldn’t go with them.”

“That’s right.”

Miss Marta stepped through the gate and wiped her hands on her apron. “Why don’t you come on in for a cup of cocoa? You look like you aren’t ready to go home to an empty house. I feel that way sometimes when my grandson goes home after a visit. I think it’s the contrast that does it. Most of the time I’m fine.”

Isaac followed her inside as she chattered. Already he was feeling a little better. Miss Marta reminded him of his grandmother. She radiated that same feeling of ancient wisdom and watchful care.

The hot cocoa tasted nearly the same, too. “Does your cocoa have mint in it?”

“Lavender. It’s calming.” She sat in the chair next to the couch, clutching her own mug.

Isaac looked around. There were photographs everywhere. Most of them seemed to be taken in places far, far away. “Did you visit all of these places?”

“Oh yes. When I was younger, I did a lot of traveling. There were so many interesting places to see.”

Shifting his mug to one hand, he picked up a small picture from an end table. He blinked, squinted, and looked again. It was a colorful marketplace, with a number of stalls selling things like cloth and fruit. In the background, it looked like there was a dragon peeking out from under a tablecloth. “Is that really a dragon?”

Miss Marta leaned forward. Isaac turned the picture around and held it out so that she could see it better. She smiled and leaned back in her chair. “It looks like one, doesn’t it? I don’t really remember. I do remember someone was selling books at that market, and I bought as many as I could carry home.”

“It is difficult to fit everything into your luggage.” Isaac set the picture down and sipped his cocoa.

Miss Marta smiled. “I had my ways to make it work.”

“Magic?”

“Perhaps. Or maybe I just sent everything to myself through the mail.” She grinned a little wider.

Isaac smiled too. Ancient wisdom, watchful care, and a sense of humor. Just like his grandmother. He settled back into his chair. He said, “Tell me more about your travels,” just like he used to say to his grandmother, “Tell me a story.”

And Miss Marta did. And Isaac didn’t feel quite so lonely. That evening, Charlie and Marianne called to tell him they arrived safely.

“And we stopped for lunch on the way. Did you do anything fun?” Charlie asked.

“I visited Miss Marta. She gave me cocoa and told me about the pictures in her living room.”

“I guess that could be fun,” Charlie said.

“It was.”

“I’m glad you’re not sad.”

“Me too.” Isaac smiled at the phone, even though Charlie couldn’t see it.

“When we get home, I’ll send her a thank you card,” Charlie said. And even though he was home alone, Isaac decided this day was one of his top ten favorite days ever.

Charlie’s Room: Fireworks

Marianne and Charlie were making a house call. One of the neighbors had some sick potted plants and they needed some expert help. Charlie was rather thrilled to be considered an expert.

“Should we bring something to check the pH of the soil?” Charlie asked.

Marianne laughed. “I’m sure they used potting soil. Besides, what would we bring? We’ve never tested the pH of our soil.”

“Good point. I’ll go comb my hair again.” And Charlie was off.

Marianne shrugged. “He’ll be fine once we get there. There’s nothing like plants to take away stress.”

“Even if the plants are sick?” Isaac asked.

“Hmmmm. I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”

After they left, the house was much quieter. It was also colder. It was especially cold outside, and it was taking a while for the house to warm up again. Charlie let all the warm air out taking so many trips back inside for things he forgot.

Isaac decided to wear his warmest fuzzy socks. He trudged down the hall, trying to decide whether he needed a sweater as well. He reached for the bedroom doorknob, but pulled his hand back quickly. Static electricity. He should have done less trudging across the hallway carpet.

Isaac reached for the doorknob again, and pulled his hand back again. More static electricity? But he hadn’t even moved. That wasn’t how it was supposed to work.

Had someone set up some sort of trick? Isaac examined the doorknob more closely. He didn’t see anything stuck to the doorknob, and there weren’t any suspicious wires, either.

However, there was a strange shimmery sort of spot just above the doorknob. Isaac leaned in and squinted. He could just barely make out a round lizard-y sort of shape. And it appeared to have wings.

A dragon? How did a small, mostly invisible dragon end up on his bedroom doorknob? He was fairly certain there wasn’t a dragon in the house before. From what he could tell, life was a little more shocking with a little dragon around.

It probably came in out of the cold. But why the doorknob? Did it need metal to perch on? Maybe it would set things like wood or cloth on fire.

Isaac hurried to the kitchen and returned with a nice two-handled pot, and lots of pot holders. He set the potholders on the carpet, several layers thick, and put the pot on top. Then he took a big step back.

“Look at this pot,” he said softly in his most encouraging voice. “It looks much more comfortable than that slippery doorknob. I bet you’re pretty uncomfortable perched up there. I’ll just go away for a little bit, and you can sit in that pot there, where you’ll be able to rest.”

From what Isaac had sort of seen, the dragon seemed to have a large head and small wings. He was pretty sure it was a baby. That probably meant that there was a mother dragon somewhere out there looking for it.

He didn’t want anyone burning the door down to get inside. Or the roof. He needed to attract the attention of the mother dragon somewhere safe so that she could take her baby back home to wherever invisible dragons lived when they weren’t perching on doorknobs.

What would amplified static electricity look like? The answer seemed clear. Fireworks.

There were a few small fireworks somewhere in the garage leftover from their New Year celebration. It had been cold and they all wanted to go inside early. Isaac found the right plastic tub and opened the metal tin inside.

He sorted through the fireworks left. There was one that made a crackling sound but didn’t shoot any sparks high in the air. That would probably be best.

Time to see if the baby dragon was in the soup pot. Isaac stopped by the kitchen for the pot lid. And a lighter. When he returned to the hallway where he’d left the pot, he was a little surprised to see that the top layer of potholders was smoking.

He’d returned just in time! He put the lid on the pot and ignored the muffled screeching. He put the firework and lighter in separate shirt pockets. He picked up the pot with some of the extra potholders and raced to the entryway.

Should he stop for his coat? The potholders were already getting warm. He stepped into some boots and somehow managed to maneuver himself and the pot through the front door.

The driveway was clear. Isaac set the pot down in the middle of the driveway. He set off the fireworks. Then he took the lid off the pot and hurried back the the front door. The screeching was louder.

It wasn’t long before there was a rush of warm wind and a thump. The screeching stopped. The pot tumbled over on its side. There was a crackling, electric sort of sound and another rush of warm wind.

And then it was very, very cold again. Isaac shivered as he hurried over to pick up the pot and bring it inside. He was relieved that his bedroom doorknob didn’t shock him when he went to get his fuzzy socks and a giant sweater.

He was warm enough to leave the sweater on the couch by the time Marianne and Charlie returned. They chattered about the house call as they prepared dinner together. Charlie was pretty sure that once the neighbor stopped over-watering the plants, they’d recover.

Marianne opened the drawer of potholders. “What happened to the potholders? They look singed!”

“Invisible dragon,” Isaac said. “It was just a baby.”

Marianne looked at the potholder on top. “It must have been a very round invisible dragon.”

“It was in a pot,” Isaac explained.

“Of course,” Marianne said. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Charlie’s Room: A Great Plan

The Jansen family down the street had a new baby. The baby was born the day after Christmas. “It’s too bad he missed all the fun,” Charlie said. “He should have come a day earlier. If your birthday is on Christmas, do you get twice as many presents?”

“I’m not sure,” Isaac said. “But that seems fair.”

“We have a present to give him now,” Marianne said. She held up a wrapped box.

“Isn’t that Christmas paper?” Charlie asked. “He missed Christmas. You need to use birthday paper.”

“It’s stripes,” Isaac pointed out. “That can be for birthdays too.”

“But it’s Christmas colors. And we used it for Christmas.”

“Red and gold aren’t just for Christmas. And they won’t know we wrapped our Christmas presents with this paper, as long as we don’t tell them.” Marianne raised an eyebrow.

“Fine.” Charlie huffed and crossed his arm. “But if he cries when he sees the present, it’s because he knows Christmas wrapping paper when he sees it.”

Marianne rolled her eyes. “He’s a baby. He doesn’t care. Let’s go.”

So they put on their coats and hats and mittens and boots. The snow was a mix of crunchy and soft, the way it gets when winter won’t make up its mind and everything thaws a bit, refreezes, new snow falls, and it starts all over. Marianne and Isaac stuck to the shoveled path, but Charlie waded through the deep snow just to the sides of the path.

The Jansens lived just around the corner. It didn’t take long to get there. It did take a while for Charlie to brush and stomp all the snow off when Mr. Jansen answered the door and invited them inside.

Charlie hurried into the living room where Mrs. Jansen was sitting in a comfortable looking chair, rocking a small bundled-up baby. Charlie put his hands behind his back and leaned in close to look. Mrs. Jansen gently positioned the baby so Charlie could see him better.

“Oh,” Charlie said softly. “He’s so little. Even his fingernails are little.”

The baby stirred and opened his eyes, just as Isaac and Marianne entered the room. Charlie turned to them with a wide grin. “Mom! Dad! Did you see the baby? He’s so small!”

The baby scrunched up his little face and began to wail. Charlie turned to look at the baby and then looked at Marianne with a frown. “Was it because he saw the present? I bet he doesn’t like it.”

Mrs. Jensen laughed. “He’s hungry.” She held the baby close as she stood up. “I need to go feed him.”

Charlie held up his hands. “But you didn’t open the present. I want to see what we got the baby.”

“I’ll open the present,” Mr. Jensen said.

Charlie turned to look at him, eyes wide with surprise. “But it’s for the baby.”

“I’ll make sure he gets it. He’s not big enough to open presents yet.” Mr. Jensen smiled at Charlie.

Marianne handed him the present. Charlie frowned, but sat on the couch without saying anything. Marianne and Isaac sat by him as Mr. Jansen sat in the comfortable chair.

He tore open the paper. Charlie leaned forward to look. “We got the baby books? Babies can’t read.”

“We’ll read them to him,” Mr. Jansen said. “Thank you for the gift.”

“Like a bedtime story? That’s good.” Charlie jumped up. “Let’s go.”

“Congratulations,” Marianne said.

“Happy new year,” Isaac added.

“Happy new baby,” Charlie said.

Mr. Jansen laughed and led them to the door. On the way home, Charlie stuck to the sidewalk. “Was I that little?”

“Yes.”

“And you read to me when I was that little?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t remember that.” Charlie held onto Isaac’s hand. “I don’t remember being a baby.” He walked quietly for a few steps. “Next year, will the baby be big enough to open his own presents?”

“Probably.”

“Next year, let’s get birthday wrapping paper. And we can get the baby more books.”

Isaac squeezed his hand. “That sounds like a great plan.”

Marianne smiled back over her shoulder. “We can do that.”

Charlie’s Room: Away and Back Again

It was winter, when the daylight was pinched at both ends. Isaac left home in the dark, feeling like he was going to work in the middle of the night. He arrived home just before dinner, and there wasn’t much daylight left afterwards for the long walks he enjoyed in the summer.

He started eating his lunch while wandering up and down the sidewalks, peering into the windows of the different businesses near his work just to get a little more time in the sunlight. One day, he was looking into the windows of the antique shop, and he saw a little cloth doll. It was either a floppy eared cat or a long-tailed bunny. It could have been a kangaroo without a pouch, but the shape was all wrong.

Curious, he wrapped up his sandwich, shoved it in his pocket and stepped inside the store. The man behind the counter looked up when he entered. “Can I help you find something?”

Isaac pointed back towards the shop window. “I’d like to see the cat bunny doll.”

The man looked confused, but stepped around the counter towards the window. “Cat bunny?”

“I don’t know what it is.” Isaac followed him to the window. “That’s why I’d like to look at it more closely.”

The man looked into the window. “Oh. That. Go ahead and look at it if you’d like. I’ll be back by the register if you need anything.” He left Isaac standing by the window.

Isaac reached in and picked up the cat bunny with both hands. Its eyes glowed blue, and the next thing he knew, he was hanging in the air upside down in the dark. Something nearby hissed, and then there was a rustling sound.

Trying to listen and remain still and calm, Isaac waited. After a moment, there was a spark of light, and then the glow of a candle. He could see two small figures crouched over it. Then they abandoned the candle to come closer.

He heard the hissing sound again, and realized they were whispering to each other. Up close, it was easy to see that they were children. He tried to understand what they were whispering, but it was in a language he’d never heard before.

Hanging upside down was beginning to get uncomfortable. “Could you let me down please?” he asked hopefully.

The children whispered a little louder to each other, and then suddenly he could understand the end of a phrase. “…translation spell.”

The children both looked at him and held up their hands. Isaac slid to the floor and sat up.

“Was that a spell? Isaac asked. “Was it a spell that brought me here?” He looked around for the cat bunny, and saw it lying on the floor close by him. He pointed at it. “Did you send that?”

One of the children picked it up. “It was supposed to bring us Caasi. But you’re not Caasi.”

The other child shrugged. “I told you it wouldn’t work. Mom said that spells can’t wake the dead.”

“But I asked for her to come back from another world. It should have worked.”

The child looked over at Isaac. “Are you from another world?”

“Maybe.” Isaac frowned. “I don’t think spells work in my world, but I could be wrong.”

“Is your name Caasi?”

Isaac thought for a moment. “How do you write that?”

The children scrawled alien characters that strongly resembled “C-A-A-S-I.”

“I’m Isaac. That’s caasi backwards.”

The other child nodded. “Maybe bringing you from another world put everything backwards. Maybe that’s why you were upside down.” The child hurried to a shelf, pulled down a book and started turning pages rapidly.

Isaac turned to the child who remained. “Who’s Caasi?”

“Our best friend. She’s so smart. She could purr and jump so high, and she always knew where we hid her treats.”

That didn’t sound much like a person. “Was Caasi a cat bunny?” Isaac asked.

The child frowned. “She’s a felare. I don’t know cat bunny.”

He pointed down at the doll again. “Like that?”

“Yes,” the child said. “But alive.”

Isaac nodded. “That’s important.”

“We miss her.” The child looked away.

The other child snapped the book closed. “It says the dead are in the underworld, and normal spells can’t reach there.”

“Oh.” Both children looked sad.

Isaac held out his hand for the doll. The child handed it to him and he looked down at it with a smile. “It sounds like Caasi was a good friend. It’s okay to feel sad when a friend dies. Is there something you can do to say goodbye?”

Both children turned to look at him. “Like what?” one said.

“You could draw a picture of her, or write down what you remember about her, or put flowers on her grave.”

“I guess so.” The child took the doll back.

“You should talk to your mom about it. She might have ideas,” Isaac said.

The children looked at each other and began talking rapidly. “Talking to mom is a good idea.” “We should send him home first.” “I’m not sure how.” “Look at the book again. It must say somewhere.”

They consulted the book, and after some arguments, managed to charge up the doll for a return trip. The doll’s eyes glowed blue when they handed it to him. Moments later, he was back in the antique shop. The doll was gone.

He looked around. What was he going to tell the shop owner? He decided that the truth was always best. He walked over nervously. “The doll took me to another world, but it disappeared when I came back.”

The store owner shrugged. “That happens sometimes. Don’t worry about it.”

“Really?” The man didn’t appear to be joking. Isaac nodded. “All right. Thank you. I’d better hurry back to work.”

He rushed back through the sunlit streets, eating big bites of his sandwich as he jogged. He arrived at his desk just in time. He glanced back out the window and wondered if it was time to get a pet for Charlie. Something he could keep in his room. Maybe a fish or two?

Charlie’s Room: An Unexpected Visitor

Marianne and Charlie loved to read. They would sit on the couch to read in the afternoon, and just tune out the world around them. When they were reading, they couldn’t hear anything.

The funny thing was that they would respond to questions, but their answers wouldn’t make any sense, and they wouldn’t remember later what they said. It was a little like sleep-talking, except they were awake. Isaac wondered if for them reading was like dreaming with their eyes open.

Isaac liked to read, too. However, he was able to hear the doorbell or the telephone when he was reading. If someone asked him a question, he could stop reading and answer the question and remember the conversation later.

One early December afternoon, when the weather was threatening snow but hadn’t yet delivered it, Marianne and Charlie were sitting side by side on the couch reading. They were bathed in the glow of the afternoon light streaming through the front window. Their eyes moved, and occasionally they turned a page, but otherwise they were as still as statues.

Isaac sat in a nearby chair. He had his book out, but he was daydreaming rather than reading. It was hard to focus on the page when there were so many things to think about. Just as he prepared to reread the third paragraph on the page for the fourth time, the doorbell rang.

Marianne and Charlie read on. Isaac sat up and looked around for a bookmark. He found a crossword puzzle magazine and closed it inside his book and set it on the low table nearby. And then he went to answer the door.

No one was standing on the doorstep. Isaac almost closed the door, when a giant white bird flew into the narrow opening and shoved passed Isaac into the house. Isaac pulled the door open a little wider and looked around quickly.

There wasn’t anything scary chasing the bird. There wasn’t anyone running around trying to find their lost bird. There weren’t any other white birds waiting for their chance to fly into the house.

Isaac decided to leave the door open while he found the bird and hopefully chased it back outside. First, he looked into the living room. Marianne and Charlie were still on the couch reading.

“Did the big white bird fly in here?” he asked.

“What kind of bird was it?” Marianne asked, still reading.

“I don’t know. It was big and white and inside the house.”
“Hmmmmm.” Charlie turned a page. “It was probably a chicken.”

“I don’t think so. I do know what chickens look like,” Isaac said.

“Of course you do,” Marianne agreed.

Isaac shook his head and left to check the kitchen. The bird wasn’t there. It was in Charlie’s room. Of course. It was in his closet sitting on a pile of shoes. It hissed at Isaac when he walked in the room.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to spend the winter somewhere else,” he told the bird. “I could maybe spare a corner of the garden shed, if you’re interested.”

The bird hissed.

Isaac left for a moment and returned with a large towel. “I’m going to drop this on you, and wrap you up and take you outside,” he said in what he hoped was a reassuring voice.

The bird hissed louder and tried to peck at him. Isaac wasn’t sure he was brave enough to try to catch the bird in the towel. He’d have to go rather close to that largish beak.

New plan. Isaac retrieved his hidden stash of oatmeal raisin cookies. He would be happy to share his treats with a hungry bird, especially if that meant the bird would be able to continue whatever it was doing before it came inside.

He broke a cookie and tossed half of it in the bird’s direction The bird snapped it up and ate it. Isaac waved the other half of the cookie invitingly and backed up.

The bird flew at him, and knocked him over. Then it took the other half of the cookie and ate it. Isaac curled around the cookie tin and got up, backing out of the room.

He opened the tin and took out another cookie and broke it. The bird turned and looked at him. Isaac hurried down the hall. He made it to the entryway before the bird knocked him over and took both halves of the cookie.

Isaac stood and brushed himself off. Then he opened the tin, took out a cookie, and tossed it out the front door. The bird followed it out. Isaac closed the door. And then he locked it just in case.

He looked out the back door. No bird. He slipped out and closed the door. He left the shed door partly open, just as he promised.

Then he returned inside. He paused, waiting for a moment to see if the doorbell would ring again. Nothing. Perhaps the bird was really gone now. Maybe it was just hungry.

He returned to the living room and sat down. He picked up his book. The magazine slid out and he lost his place. He sighed and put the book back down.

Marianne closed her book and looked up. “What on earth were you doing?” She asked. “You’re covered in crumbs and you have feathers in your hair.”

“We had an unexpected visitor,” Isaac said.

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