Small People Causing Big Problems
It was just a story--one that I'm sure I read as a kid. The trouble is, Johnny believed me. He sprung into action, gathering all the small things we had in our house. A small cereal box with half a cream cheese container stuck inside became a pull-out bed. A shell became a bathtub. A film canister is a hiding place. We made them little clothes out of construction paper. I just hope the people are flat so that they can wear them. All this went into a shoebox lid at the foot of Johnny and Richie's bunkbed.
Then John went down to the basement and said, "Hey, you all can come live upstairs. We have fun. We play and make volcanos. We don't even go to school. My mom just teaches us. You should leave this dirty, filthy place."
Our basement is, indeed, filthy. Why anyone would want to live down there is beyond me. But the thing about small people is they are so very shy. They have been stepped on and swept up and trapped when all they wanted was cheese. The world is an unkind place to small people, and through the years, their DNA hasn't forgotten that. They are terrified of even the kindest big people. Even ones that bustle around the house for two hours, gathering small things, and making clothes--or supervising the making of clothes, anyway--and bouncing up and down on the couch, anticipating their arrival, planning the games they will play, guessing their height and how many of them there are.
What have I done? The world has enough disappointments without your mom creating one. What will happen when the little people don't show their faces? Johnny won't take, "They're shy," for an answer, and I keep digging deeper and deeper. I don't have the heart to tell him that it's just a story. Besides, exposing a story as a lie, in our family, goes against the code of imagination. Only in the most dire circumstances do you confess. When a kid is having unbearable nightmares, for instance. And even then, you give yourself a loophole so that the next day you can say that you were lying about the story being a lie.
My mom is an expert in the storyteller's code. As a kid, I believed ants ate her cousin's friend's brain when the girl sat in the sun for too long, that her neighbor, who chewed on her hair, had to have surgery to remove a giant hairball from her stomach, and that a strange lady at the grocery store thought my mom looked like the woman's deceased daughter. The lady pulled my mom's leg so that she wouldn't leave the store. Just like I'm pulling yours, the joke went. But I wasn't familiar with the saying, so I just thought my mom had a long lost twin.
Later, my mom told my little cousins that a ghost named Miss Kiekbush lived in my mom's attic, a cranky, ornery old woman. My mom would take the kids to the graveyard just before a thunderstorm and read a note that said something like, "You need to cross the old bridge before the third roll of thunder, or else." And the kids would be screaming, "Let's get out of there," as the thunder boomed a second time. At no point did my mom say it was all just a story. Instead, she acted just as scared as the kids were to make it seem more realistic.
My Aunt Mary told my brother Luke for years that there was an Indian chief living on the land across the street from my grandparents' house. He'd leave Luke presents like drums and bow and arrows. Luke was never able to meet the chief in person, either. Mary never told the truth and Luke just eventually figured it out.
So you see, revealing the small people as characters in a story just won't do, even though it is breaking my heart.
Yesterday, Johnny found a thank you note from Bok, one of the small people, thanking him for the room. "It's awesome!" Bok wrote.
Johnny sat down and wrote his own note, inviting the little people to movie night. It's at night, Johnny assured Bok, since the small people don't come out during the day. He made them a new room in his special sailboat box and hid it under his shell collection so that they could live up here not just at night but during the day, too. He drew a map to the new room from the old room and left it where the old room was.
"And I'll play with Bok and Richie can play cars with Bok's brother..." he said, bouncing up and down.
Which would be worse, telling him I made the whole thing up or letting the small people disappoint him when they don't show up during our waking hours.
"Bok owes you an explanation for why he didn't thank you in person," I told Johnny. "He must have a good reason."
Indeed, Bok wrote a new note saying that there's this dumb rule in the small people world that says you can't let a big person see you until you've known them for a year. I'm sure Johnny will find a loophole in that rule. Bok's excuses will have to become more and more elaborate. Or I could just tell the truth. But that would be the biggest disappointment of all. I'll just stay in this corner I worked myself into, making up excuses for why the small people are so unbelievably shy.