THE CHOCOLATE-SCENTED BREEZE – by Jim Cort
The harried woman in the yellow sweatshirt passed up and down the rippling line of children and parents. “We can’t start the Easter egg hunt until all parents are behind the line, please.”
Bill Willoughby, was jostled by the retreating parents. His daughter Jennifer Anne, five years old, turned and waved to him, smiling. The green lawn of the park spread out before her, dotted with multi-colored eggs. She held his baseball cap in her hands to hold the eggs she would find, since Daddy had forgotten a basket.
Bill waved back and called out, “Good luck Jen.” The siren of the nearby fire engine sounded and the children surged forward, followed in a moment or two by the adults. Bill moved through the confusion, stepping over the occasional trampled egg and past the occasional bewildered child, too slow or too timid to have found anything.
Jennie stood on the path, a survivor, holding the laden baseball cap.
“How did you do, Jen?”
“Uh huh, I got seven. I got a number one too, see? Number sixteen”
“That’s my girl. That means you win a prize.”
The prize was a pair of sunglasses. Riding home in the car, Jennie made the world change colors by flipping them up and down her face.
Bill said, “Did you have a good time, Jen?
“The eggs are all pretty colors, aren’t they?”
“Uh huh. In Pookaland the eggs are always pretty colors like this.”
Bill smiled. “Really? Do the pookas color them?”
“No,” said Jennie, “the chickens make them that way. Red chickens make red eggs, and purple chickens make purple eggs, and green chickens make green eggs…”
Pookas lived in Pookaland, on Pooka Street. Every night when Jennie went to sleep, they entertained her there. Every morning when she awoke, she would be full of stories of the games she had played and parties she had been to and sights she had seen. The skies were the bluest blue, and the fields were the greenest green, and the very air smelled like chocolate. Pookas were in her pictures and in her songs, and Bill loved to hear about them.
Bill pulled the car into their driveway. “Do the pookas eat the eggs?” he asked her.
“No, they hang them on their Chris’mus tree. Pookas eat Chinese food. That’s their favorite food.”
“Mine, too,” said Bill.
#Bill took another plate from the rack and wiped it dry. “That’s a real word, you know–pooka. It’s some kind of magic spirit”
His wife Dorothy set a dripping saucepan on the rack. ”She’s just got an active imagination, that’s all.”
“Yes,” said Bill. “It was weird watching her in the park today. The place was mobbed. It was like a training camp for adulthood. I could see her trooping with the mob off to work; chasing after money instead of colored eggs.”
“Feeling old today, Grandpa?”
“It’s not that,” he said, stacking a dish in the cabinet. “I don’t want Jen to grow up too fast.”
Jennie came skipping into the kitchen, her sunglasses still perched on her head, and a sheaf of papers in her hand. “Who wants to look at my pictures?”
Masses of reds, greens, purples and pinks; something that might have been an airplane and might have been a Boston cream pie; a large round head on two short legs, in green. “This one’s nice, Jen,” said Bill, “is this a pooka?”
She studied the picture. “No. That’s a smiley face.” She rummaged through the stack and found another large round head on two short legs, in purple. “That’s a pooka.”
“Oh, I see.” Aside from the color, he couldn’t see any difference at all.
#He woke up suddenly, as if someone had called his name in a dream. The clock by the bed read twenty past two. He got out of bed and padded toward the bathroom. On his way, he saw a light under Jennie’s door. What’s she doing with the light on? he thought. He went down the hallway and opened the door.
The room was dark. He could just make out Jennie lying on the bed, the covers in disarray about her ankles, as they were every night. He told himself, It must have been the moon shining in the window. He tucked her in again, tiptoed out, and closed the door.
In the bathroom he drank a glass of water and gazed out the window at the night sky. There was no moon.
#“Hi, honey, how was work?”
Bill hung up his coat and took off his tie. He sank wearily into an armchair and ran his hand through his hair. “They fired Ed McKinnon today,” he said.
“Oh, Bill, no.”
“Cleary just walked into his office and said, ‘Ed, you’re fired.’ Just like that.”
All the life was gone from his voice. “Dottie, I’m so tired. There’s too much going on. I just want to get away.”
“Maybe we could take a week; go to the mountains.”
“No, not a vacation. That’s not what I mean. Everything’s so complicated. I look around at the people I know, people I work with. I don’t really like most of them. I don’t think they like themselves. I just want to make it all go away.
“I get so envious of Jen sometimes. I want to tell her, — hold on to this; don’t let it slip away. Don’t let yourself wake up one morning and discover your days of eating Chinese food in Pookaland are over.”
“She wouldn’t understand.”
“I know. Nobody ever does, until it’s too late.”
#The dining room table was littered with 1040’s. W-2’s, tax tables, check stubs, receipts and statements. Bill stared forlornly at them as if their arrangement on the table was somehow significant.
Something slowly appeared from beneath the far edge of the table. It was a paper bag festooned with scraps of construction paper and pictures from magazines. The bag rose further and soon a small face in a pair of sunglasses appeared beneath it.
“Hello again, hello,” it said, “do you like my hat?”
“Yes, I do “
“Goodbye again, goodbye,” and face and bag sank from view.
“Is that how they say hello in Pookaland, Jen?”
“Yup, that’s how they do it.”
“Jennifer,” said her mother, “don’t bother Daddy now. Come on, it’s time for bed.”
“But I’m not sleepy.”
“I’ll take her up,” said Bill. “I can use a break. Come on, Jen, I’ll read you something from the cat book.”
#“’I have a Gumbie cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots,–‘ How’d you like me to call you Jennyanydots?”
“Well, that’s what the pookas call me.”
“Do they? Are you going there tonight?”
“Uh huh, I go there every night.”
He smoothed the covers over her and stroked her hair. “May I come. too?”
“Oh, Daddy, You’re a grown-up.”
“It wouldn’t have to be as a grown-up. Couldn’t I just come as your friend? You could show me all around Pookaland.”
Jennie rocked her head from side to side on the pillow considering this. “Okay,” she said, “you can come.”
“Okay, honey, I’ll see you there.”
“Finish the story!”
“Whoops! right you are. ‘I have a Gumbie cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots…’”
#Two-thirty AM. Bill crept slowly toward Jennie’s door, staring at the shaft of light beneath it. A voice inside him pleaded, Stay, please stay. His hand reached the knob and, shutting his eyes, he twisted and pushed.
Then he opened his eyes.
Beyond the doorway was a green and sunlit meadow. Here and there blue and orange chickens wandered on the sparkling grass beneath a crayon-blue sky. In the distance stood a house shaped like a giant teapot with a huge propeller beanie on top. The propeller turned lazily in the chocolate-scented breeze. A purple figure emerged from the teapot and started toward him. It was a large round head on two short legs, and it was skipping across the grass with just the sort of rolling, rollicking gait he would expect from a creature shaped like that. As the figure drew nearer he saw that it wore on its head something that looked like a cross between a set of bagpipes and a feather duster, and on its face, an outsize pair of sunglasses.
“Hello again, hello,” it chirped in a musical voice, “do you like my hat?”
Bill could only nod.
“Jennyanydots is eating supper. Would you like to join us?”
It took him a long time to get the words out. “I love Chinese food,” he said at last.
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