Isaac got off work early to pick Charlie up from school. Marianne was attending a workshop and wouldn’t be home until late. And so, Isaac left with plenty of time to spare and inched his way towards the school through afternoon traffic.
The school parking lot was far too small. It seemed to be an afterthought, tacked on to the edge of the schoolyard for the lucky few who came early enough to snag a spot. Everyone else parked on side streets around the school and walked to wait along the sidewalk for their children.
When the final bell rang, children left the school and walked in every direction. Some were walking home in groups, some riding bikes, some meeting their parents. The first few to leave ran by without looking right or left, determined to reach the crosswalk first.
Isaac watched and waited. Finally, Charlie appeared. His shoulders were slumped and he was walking slowly, dragging his backpack behind him.
“Hi Dad.” He sighed.
Isaac took his backpack and dusted it off. “How was your day?”
Charlie shrugged a shoulder and started walking again. “Fine.”
“But you look sad.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay.” Isaac followed as Charlie led the way to the side street where Isaac usually parked.
By the time they buckled in and Isaac turned the car around, the school traffic had pretty much cleared up. In another five minutes or so, the streets around the school would be empty and the neighborhood would be able to go about its normal business. Isaac thought that the almost tidal traffic patterns around the school were fascinating.
Today, however, he was worried about Charlie. So, he didn’t mention the traffic or say anything else on the drive home. After a few minutes, Charlie started talking.
“I had my presentation today for my book report.”
“You did a great job when you practiced it at home.” Isaac tried to sound supportive and friendly, but neutral and willing to listen, but not like he was trying to make Charlie speak if he didn’t want to. It was a lot of things to think about and he wasn’t sure how successful he was.
“It didn’t go well in school.”
“I forgot what I was going to say. My mind went totally blank. I ended up reading from my report and it was boring and it wasn’t supposed to be like that.”
“Hmmm. I have a theory about that.”
“You do? What is it? ‘Cause I think I practiced enough, so that wasn’t the problem.”
“Of course you did. But I think that sometimes when people get nervous, their thoughts get shaken around inside their head like marbles. And since the one they’ll be needing is on top, that’s the one that slips off the pile of thoughts and rolls out their ears when they’re not paying attention. Then they roll off into the corner and wait for you to bump into them again.”
“Daaaaaaad. That doesn’t even make sense. Thoughts don’t roll out of people’s ears. I think people would have noticed by now if that really happened. But it doesn’t.”
“Maybe it does.” Isaac slowed down the car. “We could go back to school and look for it. We have plenty of time today.”
“No. I remember what I was going to say. I remembered that right after the next person started talking. Besides, there’s no such thing as thought marbles. I told you that already.”
Isaac sped up again. “Oh good, then you did bump into it. I was worried.”
“It was fine. I wasn’t the only one who read their report. I just wanted mine to be good, that’s all.” Charlie sighed.
“Maybe next time you can wear earmuffs. That will keep all the thoughts in your head, and you won’t lose any.”
Charlie laughed. “Next time I’ll wear my lucky socks, and it won’t be a problem.”
They drove in silence for a minute or two. Isaac pulled into their driveway.
“Dad, what’s for dinner?”
“Hmmmm. I think I forgot. I’d better look around in the car and see if I dropped that thought while we were driving.” Isaac turned off the car and started feeling around on the seat beside him.