Rearing the Inner Brat
Short story by Milli Thornton using a writing prompt from her book, Fear of Writing
MY NAME IS Albert Havana Mugsworth, but you can call me Muggsy. All my friends do.Not that I count you as a friend, mind you. But sometimes a man can’t talk to his regular friends about stuff that happens. You know what I mean.
(Incidentally, don’t give me any lip about my middle name. It goes back for generations in my family and is associated with war horses and other manly stuff, so completely honorable. I have the scars to prove it.)
The Wife (aka Meryl) has cooked up another boring scheme to try to get me to Express My Feelings. She has dragged me away from a perfectly good night of TV sports to some psycho-babble lunacy known as “Embracing the Inner Child.”
We’re sitting on cold, hard chairs, with no comforting beverage or snacks of any kind, in Lecture Hall #202 at Tate University. This is a place I never wanted to return to (bad memories of flunking five subjects with professors who remind me of this prune-faced guy on the podium), but here I am, sticking out like a sore thumb among all these analyst types and neurotic housewives. Gimme a break. The only psycho help I need is “How Not to Cave in to The Wife.”
I spent the entire lecture slumped in my chair, daydreaming about the play-offs. To blot out the sound of the lecturer’s droning voice, I even heard the roar of the crowd and the excited, frantic voices of the commentators. Yeah, it was all pretty real inside my head. The Wife kept elbowing me to “sit up and stop being so rude,” but I managed to block that out too.
Finally, what seemed like hours later, it was time to go. Relief! But, wouldn’t you know, The Wife wouldn’t let us leave until we’d been up to the front of the room to shake hands with Quentin J. Chintuck, the talking head from the podium. When she elbowed me and hissed, “Shake hands like a gentleman,” I looked at the geeky dotted bow tie on this Chintuck character and, suddenly, out popped this famous statement from the playground at Squirrel Hill Elementary back in the third grade:
“You look like Mickey Mouse in that stoopid bow tie!”
When I said that to Lane Leer in the playground, everyone roared with laughter and thought I was the funniest guy in the school. But, this time, there was dead silence—except for angry whispering from Mom, who was elbowing me extra-hard now like she wanted to kill me.
Mom got even madder when I yanked one side of the bow and made it unravel. I could hear the cheers of approval from the playground and could even see the teacher walking our way with big, angry strides.
Quentin J. Chintuck gave me a knowing look that made me want to puke. One of those super-dooper annoying adult looks when they believe they’re the expert on your behavior and they think they’re about to outwit you with their superior logic.
Chintuck turned to Mom and said, “A classic sign of subconscious material being loosened. The Inner Child has arrived. Just go with it, Meryl. After all, this is what you said you wanted.”
Mom grabbed my arm in one of her vise grips and marched me out of there. I was glad to leave that boring place. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Lane Leer! I didn’t just hate Lane Leer for his fuddy-duddy bow ties. I hated him because he owned all the Matchbox cars, trucks, and space vehicles ever invented—even the Russian Sputnik, the water truck that sprays real water, and the hearse with the dead body you could see through the little window.
“Mom,” I yelled, as we were getting in the car. “Take me to the store! I need to get something.”
Mom was so grumpy you could see the fumes pouring out of her ears, but for some strange reason, she drove me to Wal-Mart anyway and followed me to the toy department. She even paid $76 for a shopping cart full of Matchbox cars and trucks.
In line at the checkout, when someone else’s mom waved at her and said, “Shopping for future grandkids, are we, Meryl?” I thought Mom was gonna have a cow.
“This better be worth it,” she said, with her teeth gritted.
(She always tells me I’ll ruin my teeth whenever *I* do that. Typical.)
Of course, our hokey little Wal-Mart didn’t have the coolest stuff—no Sputnik, no hearse—but I was able to replace nearly my whole collection. I started tearing them out of the packets on the way home.
As soon as we hit the driveway, I took an armload of Matchbox cars out to the back yard. We don’t have a sandbox here at Mom’s house, but—bonus!—we do have a huge pile of fresh dirt. I dove on top and starting building roads with my new yellow grader.
Mom ran into the backyard screaming, “Albert, you know that dirt is for my new antique rose bed. ALBERT! You know that dirt has manure in it! You’re full of cuts from pruning the yellow roses. You’ll get staphylococcus . . . or whatever it is you get from manure.”
I could see her silhouetted in the spotlight she insisted on having installed “so peeping Toms won’t be looking in our back windows.” She was really, really, REALLY mad, standing with her hands on her hips. I was surprised when suddenly her arms sagged and she turned around and walked inside.
Hey, cool! Now maybe I can stay out all night. The spotlight shines back here good enough to let me see my road construction. I’ve got enough roads now and I’m ready to start playing.
I wish Robby, Stevie, Mike and the other guys were here. We used to play Matchbox cars every spare moment of the day. Those were the good ol’ days.
I kinda got lost in what I was doing, so I was a bit startled when the screen door slammed. Next thing you know, Mom shows up to play in the dirt pile with me! Wearing green rubber gloves and with plastic bags tied over her shoes, and she didn’t sit right ON the dirt, only next to it. She picked up a little sports car and held it with two fingers like it would bite. She rolled it over the only road she could reach from where she was kneeling on an old towel spread out on the grass. She even made some putt-putt noises.
Girls! They never know how to make the right car noises. They can’t do gun noises either.
“The things we do for love!” Mom muttered, still rolling her little red car. Her face was in the shadows, but I could tell she was gritting her teeth real hard.
She would only let me stay out until ten o’clock, but all that playing and dirt and fresh air made me fall asleep faster than she could say “You can’t get into the clean sheets with all that nasty manure clinging to you!”
During the night I dreamed of pets I’ve had: Duchess, my dad’s hunting dog and her 8 puppies; Becca, the German Shepherd we got after Dad gave up hunting; Terry the Snapping Tortoise (that crazy tortoise sure loved Limberger cheese—PEE-UW!!); and Zero, the wackiest black cat you’ve ever known. I’ve always had a pet of some kind—even if just some guppies or a hamster.
But now I don’t have any pets. Have you ever heard of a kid without a pet? “That’s criminal!” as Mom always says. Yeah, criminal. I’m gonna make Mom take me to the pet store.
When I woke up this morning, I remembered something else really important. I used to dream of living in a tree house. Dad would never let me build one—and besides, we didn’t have any decent trees in our yard back in Yeehaw Junction—but the yard where I live now with Mom has the perfect tree. It even has a giant limb that could support the tree house floor.
That perfect tree is even all the way in the very back of the yard, so grown-ups will be less likely to bug me. Yowsers, we even have a bunch of scrap lumber back there behind Mom’s rose beds. I can’t wait to get started!
Mom’s gonna have a royal conniption fit when she hears I quit my job so I can build a tree house to live in.
But, hey, what kid my age should have a job, anyway?
I had a blast writing this story using one of my unpublished writing prompts. Here’s the prompt in case you want to try it yourself. I’d love to hear from you if you do! Use the comment box at the bottom of this page to share your news. — Milli
REARING THE INNER CHILD Your spouse has dragged you to a lecture by a famous psycho-something (psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist—you can never keep them straight) on the way-past-trendy subject of the Inner Child. You find it tough to even pretend to be interested in this dry monologue. But, to your surprise your Inner Child has somehow been unleashed by the information presented in the talk. Over the next 24 hours your I.C. proceeds to act out its long-repressed desires.