We weren’t at the beach very long, me and Violet, when her Grammy busted out the small stuffed tiger cub. It wasn’t one of those Discovery Channel Store jobbies, one of those 75 dollar exact replicas that you actually have to feed real steak and clip it’s claws and all, it was more like one of the ones who live in those red cardboard bins at the front of Target. I guess what I am saying, without any judgement or bias at all, was that this was a baby tiger who could be had for a buck or two.
I look at him there in my mom’s hand and I wondered what Violet would think.
She is not the biggest stuffed animal fan the world. I have tried with stuffed Doras, Peppa Pigs, a life-size Buzz Lightyear, three different Mickeys, a life-size Woody, Minnie Mouses, various bears from various states, and even a Sponge Bob who I thought had the gift; she has ignored them all basically to the point where I actually felt sorry for the damn things. How could such a sweet little girl who loves to play and imagine exhibit such big-time disinterest with so many playthings?
Whatever the answer is, I may never know. And I may never need to know.
This tiger, for some reason as random as rain, turned out to be the real deal.
I looked at Violet who was eyeballing the gift cat suspiciously out on the deck of the shore house.
My mom knew the drill. She knew that there was, at best, a twenty-percent chance that the kid was gonna give a crap. In fact, I think it has kind of become this unspoken game, a silent challenge if you will, for a few of the adults in Violet’s life to stumble upon the magic soft critter that could finally steal her locked-up heart and earn them the coveted throne in the Kingdom Of Old People Who Buy Stuffed Animals.
“Uhmmmm, hey Violet, you in there, kid?,” I mumbled at her as she continued to stare at the tiger like one of those scary-ass catatonic hallway twins kid in The Shining. “Grammy got you this tiger. Do you like him? What do you say to her?”
The question hung on a beam of salty air for a minute or so. Then, Violet responded.
“He’s SPEAKY!” she cried out. “I like Speaky! I like Speaky, Grammy! I like him! He’s tired! Look, Daddy, he’s tired!” And that was just the beginning.
What the tiger brought on, what none of us ever imagined he would or could inspire, was an original flurry of words and sentences and repeated phrases that must have somehow broken something in the Guinness Book, some record for mantra chanting (“Speaky has a dinosaur bone!” Please see Part Two.), or stuffed tiger holding, by the time we crossed in and out of Philly on our way home this morning.
The tiny discount bin cub, the way she fell for him instantly as if she had honest-to-God been waiting for him her entire life now, sitting by her window when I wasn’t aware or even paying attention, whispering to him on the night winds/guiding him toward her from whatever jungle or savannah or suburban Chinese sweatshop he got born in/bringing him her way until the day fate would deliver them unto one another/their faith unshaken by the long months and years of waiting in loneliness, all of that madness came from so freaking far out in deep left field that in the first few moments of her love attack on the quiet beast I thought that maybe my mom had played some kind of cruel trick on me and stuffed the thing with peanut butter or aerosol cheese like one of those thick rubber Kong toys that keep crazy dogs occupied.
WTF, I said to myself. What is happening?
What odd molecular forces, what miniature black holes directly above my greasy head were shift-shaping themselves into this wild and strange love affair before my own stunned eyes? And SPEAKY? What kind of name was that?
I looked into my mom’s face and there was the same look that you would have found 150 years ago if you had been around to wander deep back through the savage grin smeared across some grizzled old bandito’s sun-burnt face as you sat with him high on a mesa and watched him watching the train full of gold rolling up the canyon, right on time.
Stay Tuned For Part Two Tomorrow!
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