Peter had this devious look on his face. He knew exactly what he was going to do. He also knew exactly what he wanted, and where to find it. We jumped in the car. Without a word to me, Peter drove the MG like a man possessed. Our first stop was a 7-11 store – a stone’s throw away from the hospital. He bought a 1.5-liter water bottle and a Coca-Cola. When I asked him where we were going he started tapping on the iPad in his lap.
“Christmas present for Kenny. Next stop is Robs Emporium of Motorsports.”
I found this side of Peter strangely appealing, not to mention a bit arousing too. For the first time in a really long time, he knew what he wanted, what to do, and where to find it. He drove along the main street slowly as if he was looking for something.
“Do you know where the store is?” I asked.
“Last time I saw it was a few years ago. I’m pretty sure we’re close.”
He sucked the contents of the Coke container dry. All of a sudden he let out the most disgusting, hair raising belch I’ve ever heard. The sound surprised me so much I grabbed the cool dark dashboard.
“God that felt good” was all he said.
This was totally out of character for him, and a little unsettling. I asked him if he was feeling alright.
“Sorry about that m’lady. A lot of air gets trapped inside and I learned long ago that’s the only way to get it out. Sorry if it upset you or grossed you out. A nurse in the Radiation Clinic told me about this trick. She said that when I start feeling bloated from talking to try drinking carbonated drinks. They will force the excess air from my diaphragm.”
I was more than surprised and a little grossed out.
“Well, if it works and you don’t get hurt I’m all for it. Don’t be surprised if I join you sometimes. It just caught me by surprise. I’ve never heard you burp before. But if we have company…just don’t do it.”
“Your wish is my command.” His voice started to sound rough again. Rats. He started to whisper sentences. As the car slowly prowled along the road Peter started looking left and right.
“I think we’re close by. Things are starting to look familiar.”
Then he started speaking in hushed tones like he was about to reveal something sacred. In a special way he was.
“When I was a kid I had to take a very specific route to school. On that route was a toy store. I would pass it twice each day. They had all sorts of things. I couldn’t afford any of them so I made a little promise to myself that when I was older and could afford them I’d get some of the toys I still wanted. One of the things I wanted was a slot car set. I eventually got it but the she-devil from hell made me get rid of it. She made me think we could save our marriage if I got rid of it. Now I want to get it for Kenny.”
“For you and Kenny and you-you mean….”
“Well, if it works out that way I’m fine with it.”
“What happens if he wants to take the thing home with him?”
“If that happens you may see your man reduced to a gibbering idiot who cries like a baby. But that’s not going to happen. I have a plan and it involves logic.”
“But what if Kenny has a plan too and it involves ownership?”
“Then I’ll probably get a severe case of the sniffles.”
Peter finally found the store. He parked the car, fed the parking meter, and we went inside. It was huge and catered to boys and girls. The gentleman behind the counter let us browse for a few minutes. He was studying Peter. Something about him looked familiar. With little warning, he spoke up.
“Aren’t you the guy who brought a Silano set to me?” he said in a distinctive Bronx accent. He had dark hair, oily skin and wore a red and black flannel shirt.
Peter started using the iPad.
“I rememba ya now. Yer the guy with the bum voice.”
If Peters’ voice had been any better he might have said something snarky. Instead, all he did was raise a thumb. He placed the iPad on the counter and started typing.
“Guilty as charged. Do you still have the Silano Set?”
The manager thought for a few seconds.
“Do I still have it? You gotta be kidding me. All the kids want is them remote-controlled drones. Them and Hot Wheel slots. Silano sets just don’t sell the way they should. Them Hot Wheels slots are all junk. Everything is too small and fragile to last very long. Now a Silano set will set you up for life. If my memory ain’t playing tricks on me you had everything. Trees, railings everything!”
Peters face got more and more excited the more the manager described it. He was a little boy again. It was a wonder to see the little boy in my man come out. I don’t think Peter knew it but his grin got bigger and bigger the more the manager described it.
“You wouldn’t be interested in taking it off my hands would ya?” Peter and I were the only persons in the store that Christmas Eve afternoon and the manager wanted make another sale before closing up early.
“That all depends. Have you still got the box I brought it in?” he wrote on the iPad.
I slapped my forehead in disbelief. “Oy. Who taught this guy to bargain?”
“Yup. I should charge ya rent, but since its Christmas and all I’ll sell it back to ya for three hundred clams. People love to look and drool at it but drool don’t pay the bills if ya get my meaning.”
Peters smile soon turned to a scowl. But he wanted the Silano car set.
“Look sport, I gotta make a buck too ya know.” The scowl stayed. Peters scowl slowly changed to an expression of disinterest.
“Ah, jeez. I shouldn’t do this but you look like you already love it. How about a hundred and fifty clams?”
“Sold,” said Peter in a croaky voice and extended his hand.
“Will that be cash, Mastercard or Visa?”
Peter pulled out his Visa card and smiled.
“Yer voice don’t sound any better”
“My fiancé had throat cancer and he’s a slow healer,” I said suddenly.
“Oh Jeez, Hope ya feel better.”
“It’s one day at a time. Wish I could speed it up but it’s slow going.” he typed on the iPad.
“Hope ya don’t mind me asking but why are ya buying back?”
“To give it to my nephew. He just turned ten and he’ll just love it.”
Then the manager started talking at me. He caught me by surprise. I was daydreaming and looking at a dollhouse. A three-story Victorian dollhouse.
“Can I help ya with anything lady?” I kept staring at the dollhouse. I didn’t hear him at all. I was too busy thinking.
“Hey, Lady! You feeling OK? You looked sorta “out there” if ya know what I mean.” the manager yelled bringing me back from the world of fantasy to reality. Peter turned his head and started laughing.
“I think my fiancé is reliving her childhood…or maybe she’s just thinking“. I just stood there transfixed by the dollhouse.
After we paid for the box Peter checked to see that everything was still there. The track, cars, fences, trees, hand controllers and a heavy transformer were all in the box. After we left the store Peter put the box in the trunk carefully and tenderly. If you had seen him you would have thought he was holding his firstborn for the very first time. Going home was a different matter altogether. He drove like a maniac. I don’t think Buller Road had ever been abused or misused quite like this before. But I was enjoying myself. Here was a 35-year-old man behaving just like a ten-year-old. When we got home he took the box downstairs and put it on a piece of plywood almost ten foot square by one inch thick. He lovingly took out the pieces of black plastic track and assembled the track completely from memory. Each piece of track had two plastic tongues at one end and at the other end were two slots. The tongues slipped into the slots with a distinctive plastic sounding click. He forgot all about me or being frisky. For the first time in years, he was doing what he wanted to do. He wasn’t doing something he because he had to, or it was prescribed. He was doing it because he wanted to do it. After hearing about a thousand “clicks” I went downstairs. I didn’t want to disturb him so I sat on the stairs turned my head and watched him. I was fascinated. I couldn’t help but wonder if our little boy would be like this. I hoped he would. And he’d probably have the same silly grin on his face.
That night we were supposed to have mac and cheese for dinner. Only it didn’t work out that way. Peter was so absorbed with the slot cars he missed dinner. After calling him for dinner three times and getting no response I gave up and chowed down. Peter was having more fun than he’s had in a long, long time. And considering what he’d gone through he deserved this. Every now and then I’d go down the stairs quietly to snoop on his progress. He was just like a little boy! He had the good sense to come to bed early because Christmas day is always tiring. During the night I looked at him. And as God is my witness I swear he was still smiling. But at seven in the morning, he was downstairs again! Only this time he had the cars zipping around the track. I quickly discovered that Kenny would have a ball with the slot cars – providing his uncle would give him a controller. After I got up I prepared breakfast and decided to go with the flow.
“Calling all racers. Breakfast!” I yelled. There was a pause. The sound of the cars zipping around or going off the track completely stopped. Peter slowly came up the stairs. I almost expected to hear him protest “Aw mom!” but that didn’t happen. My man came up the stairs and looked at me rather sheepishly. He trudged on every step and walked slowly like he was walking the last mile.
“Sorry about that. Guess I kind of overdid it a bit.” He looked at me like he knew he had been a bad boy.
“Well, considering what you’ve been through this year you’re were entitled to let off some steam. But at least you had the good sense to wear a parka downstairs. It was cold early this morning and I missed my blanket.”
“Sorry about that chief” was all I could understand.
Then I started to wag my finger at him.
“But don’t you dare make a habit of this. And if Kenny is here and you wake him up to play slot cars with you I’ll kill you. Then I’ll tell Trina and she’ll give you a real ear bashing that you’ll royally deserve.” That part went down well. What I wanted to happen next sort of backfired on me.
“Did you say Play?” he gurgled.
He started leering at me like some crazed ravenous beast. And he grinned a mischievous “I’m going to be a bad boy” smile at me. And he started licking his chops. Only I was Red Riding Hood and he was the big (and was he!) bad (he was that too) wolf. He lunged at me and I had a pretty good idea he wasn’t after the marmalade. He bought a small round two-person table for the kitchen which I thought was really sweet only I never counted on being on the menu! He chased me around the table a couple of times. Then I ran into the bedroom. Big Mistake! No exit. I was no shape to continue this steeplechase so I gave in to his desires. I had completely forgotten it was Christmas Day until Peter said “Come get your present m’lady.” That Christmas was the best ever. I spent it with Peter. All of him.
…Christmas dinner at Chez Willowby in Chapter 10D of Blue Cottage