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17 Jul

Her Bad Mother’s Home For Misfit Toys

He had been sitting outside on the verandah of the house across the street for some days, perched unsteadily on a chair, facing the street. Occasionally, our old pirate – the apparently homeless fellow who has been permitted to occupy, in daytime hours, said verandah for two summers now – would sit down in the chair beside him, cross his legs in the manner of a gentleman settling down to a cigar and brandy, and engage him in conversation.

Aarrrrr, the old pirate would say. And, eeerrrgh. There was never, so far as we could tell from our post at the living room window, any response.

Most of the time, the occupant of the second porch chair – a chair formerly occupied by our pirate’s friend, a resident of the house, now confined by illness to his rooms – was left alone, his expression frozen in a permanent grin, or grimace, depending upon the angle from which one viewed it. Coming up the street on our bicycles, it seemed a grin – expansive and toothy, as if the bearer were just about to break out in maniacal laughter. From the vantage point from living room window, directly across the street, it was most certainly a grimace, or a snarl, the expression of a hungry animal, or an angry Phyllis Diller.

What do you want to bet, my husband asked, that that creature ends up on our doorstep by the end of the weekend?

That, I replied, is not a bet that I would care to make.

Our stash of scavenged loot, hand-delivered by Universal Pirate Services, has been growing steadily. First, it was the jumbo battery-operated toddler Jeep. Then came the bright yellow dump truck, and the shiny red monster truck. And then, on Friday, two hardback Harry Potter novels arrived.

(These latter gifts were delivered to me personally. I was standing on the verandah while the husband unloaded the child from the bike seat when I heard the unmistakable aargh of our pirate. Aargh! he announced, as he approached. And then, Woman! Being the only woman in the immediate vicinity, I turned to greet him, whereupon he pressed the two books into my hands. Aargh – mumble mumble – like these stories – mumble mumble – girl aargh, he explained, and then turned on his heel and shuffled back across the street.

Did he just call you ‘woman?’ my husband asked, ever alert to strange occurrences on our verandah. Yes, I replied. How did he know that I’ve never read Harry Potter?)

We don’t know where the scavenged loot comes from. We imagine that our pirate strolls the alleys and laneways of our neighborhood, searching for abandoned treasure. We imagined that the squat, grimacing fellow who had been occupying the porch chair across from our pirate for some days had been similarly rescued from some back-alley recycling pile. We imagined that our pirate had plans for obtaining shelter for this poor fellow. We imagined that he was planning to arrange shelter for this poor fellow in our home.

I did not want this fellow in my home. I was certain that this fellow had seen many a rough night in whatever alley had been, until recently, his domicile. I was certain that this fellow had been kicked and scratched and peed on, and although I felt badly that any such creature should have to suffer such indignities, I was not quite prepared to allow my child to wrap her soft, sweet little arms around this no-doubt bedraggled and urine-soaked fellow. We would, I decided, have to tell our pirate that his friend would have to stay with him. We would decline this latest of his gifts.

It seemed, however, that this was not going to be a problem. As the weekend wore on, the conversations between our pirate and his new friend grew more animated. The pirate told sweeping tales of high seas piracy – we imagined – waving his hands in the air and punctuating the dramatic parts with robust growls. He argued, passionately, about – we imagined – the decline of civility in America and the high cost of living. He stabbed at the air with his cigarette, and slammed his hand down on the arm of his chair, and interrupted his storytelling and his speechmaking only to burst into song. Occassionally, he would lean forward, reach across his chair, and grasp the hand of his companion, the better to whisper confidences.

I’m ready to take that bet now, I said to my husband. I don’t think that he’s going to part with his new friend.

That Sunday evening, we had just returned home from a spin around the neighbourhood on our bicycles when my husband leaned over his handlebars and whispered urgently: he’s coming over. We watched as the pirate lifted his skinny, shirtless self slowly from his chair, and bent to grab the hand of his friend. WonderBaby watched, too, hooting delightedly from her perch on the front of my bike. Hi, Man! HI! He paused, and smiled, and waved to her.

Then he lifted his friend from the second porch seat and made his way down the steps. At the bottom of the steps he paused, bent his head to his friend’s ear, and whispered something. They remained there, for an interminable moment, frozen in the posture of schoolgirl confidantes, before the old pirate raised his head again and continued his slow shuffle across the street.

Aaaaarrr, he announced. Good – mumble mumble – aaarrr – mumble – friend of Bugs. Good. Good.

(Who’s Bugs? whispered my husband.)

The pirate walked up to WonderBaby and presented his friend to her. Good, good friend.

She regarded his offering with all the gravity of a priest preparing to dispense communion. She looked at his friend, and then at him, and then at his friend again. For one terrible, ironic moment, I thought that she would refuse. The she smiled widely, reached into the creature’s mouth and grabbed the plush pink tongue. Tung! she exclaimed. Mowth!

And then, pointing at the pirate: Man!

And then one little hand flew to one little mouth, lips pressed together in a perfect childish pucker, and she blew a kiss: Mwah!

He smiled, and nodded, and shuffled back across the street and up the porch steps. He settled back into his chair, and nodded again, this time in the direction of the chair beside him, now empty.

We lifted Wonderbaby and her new friend -clutched tightly in her arms – from the bicycle perch. I pulled the two of them to me, wrapping one arm around the impossibly slender torso of my child and the other around the broad furry back of her companion. My fingers grazed something stiff. Paper? Cardboard.

A tag. A bright, crisp product tag: Looney Tunes! Bugs and Friends!

He was – he is – our new friend, our pirate’s friend, this bundle of treasure – brand new.