There’s a time when we’re very young, I think this is true for everyone, when we know that there’s bedtime and summertime and time out, but we don’t really know about time, you know, time passing like those carnival ducks in the shooting gallery that go past one after another and in practically no time at all fall off the edge into oblivion. When we’re little, we think everything we know will always be the same, like daddy will always be in the kitchen making scrambled eggs when we wake up in the morning and mommy will always buy us a fresh roll at the bakery when we go to see the pediatrician and our best friend Sherry will always live next door to us and hurry down the stairs from the second floor when we yell yo-oh Sherry! and Snapper the turtle will always want a little raw hamburger for dinner.
And then, out of the blue, something happens and it’s the terrible first lesson about time, and also about who you can trust, which is pretty much nobody if trust means they won’t eventually pull a fast one on you and then pretend that it’s a good thing that you should be happy about.
Sherry and I were just minding our own business on a sunny spring day on the west side of Chicago, racing around on our tricycles outside my apartment building like we did all the time, me in the lead on my little red trike because even at three I was a reckless driver, and Sherry screaming behind me Slow down, Toni! although I surely wouldn’t.
And right then in the middle of our race, two men I’d never seen before came past us carrying my crib, the same crib I’d slept in the night before and woke up in this very morning and expected to go to sleep in this coming night and all the other nights forever while my little storybook lamp on the dresser spun like a carousel from the heat of the light bulb.
I jumped off my tricycle so fast that it tipped over, the pedal ripping open my leg like a zipper. Stop, stop it! I ran toward the bald man with the fat belly ballooning out his bright yellow shirt and grabbed onto his leg. He tried to kick me off so I bit him and he yelled so loud that my daddy came outside. But instead of stopping them, my daddy began to laugh.
Toni darling, let go, he said, pulling me off the fat man’s leg like a scab. It’s time for you to have a big girl bed, don’t you want a big girl bed?
No! I shouted, no, no, no! But he kept hold of me so I couldn’t stop the men from carrying my crib to their truck and driving away. I was so angry and sad that I threw up all over the grass until scrambled eggs came out of my nose.
That was the first time I knew that things could change just like allakhazam, without any warning, and there was nothing you could do about it and the next thing you knew, you’d have to sleep in a big girl bed, and wear big girl clothes and play with big girl toys like a bicycle with only two wheels and then you’d have to move and Sherry wouldn’t be your best friend anymore and Snapper the turtle would die and your mommy would stop loving your daddy and the ducks would keep falling off the edge into oblivion and nothing would ever be the same again except in your dreams.
Brandon French is the only daughter of an opera singer and a Spanish dancer, born in Chicago sometime after The Great Fire of 1871. She has been (variously) assistant editor of Modern Teen Magazine, a topless Pink Pussycat cocktail waitress, an assistant professor of English at Yale, a published film scholar, playwright and screenwriter, Director of Development at Columbia Pictures Television, an award-winning advertising copywriter and Creative Director, a psychoanalyst in private practice, and a mother. Seventy-one of her stories have been accepted for publication by literary journals and anthologies, she’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart, she was an award winner in the 2015 Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Short Story Contest, and her short story collection, “If One of Us Should Die, I’ll Move to Paris,” is published and available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.