Innocence: A Question


Once on a yellow piece of paper with green lines
He wrote a poem
And he called it ‘Chops’
Because that was the name of his dog
And that’s what it was all about
His teacher gave him an a and a gold star
And his mother hung it on the kitchen door
And read it to his aunts
That was the year Father Tracy took all the kids to the zoo
And he let them sing on the bus
And his little sister was born
With tiny nails and no hair
And his mother and father kissed a lot
And the boy around the corner sent him a
Valentine signed with a row of X’s
And he had to ask his father what the X’s meant
And his father always tucked him in bed at night
And was always there to do it
A third grader named Alex, with light hair that’s too long for his little body and bright brown eyes that radiate happiness and pride, sits with his friend Jack, who has equal happiness in his eyes. Alex’s mouth is set in a large grin and he’s gesturing to where his front tooth should be. It’s the first he’s lost and it was an accident; not that he’d tell Jack that.
“It means I’m a big boy now,” Alex says matter of factly.
Jack’s eyes widen and he leans forward to swipe his finger through the hole in Alex’s mouth. Alex makes a face when the finger brushes against his gums but decides he doesn’t care when Jack’s eyes widen further.
“Wow! I thought you were lying, but it’s really gone!”
Alex rolls his eyes.
“I don’t lie,” he says, and Jack doesn’t on all the lies that Alex has told that swarm his brain.
Their teacher, Ms. Sky, walks in then. She’s a very pretty younger lady with long blond hair she lets lay in loose curls at her shoulders, and a body she would be cursing if she taught a class that no longer believed in cooties.
“Okay, on a piece of scratch paper, I want you all to write a poem. It’s okay if it’s bad or you don’t like it. This is the first time it’s been introduced to you,” she says.
Thirty little bodies scramble for a piece of paper. Alex pulls out a piece of yellow paper with green lines that his mother recently brought home from work after the young child had complained about running out of the stuff they had gotten at the beginning of the year.
Alex bites the end of his pencil, trying to think of something he loves, because he’s found school easier when something he likes is involved. The pencil slips into the missing tooth’s old home and is quickly reminded of his dog. Smiling widely, Alex writes “CHOPS” in the margin.
In messy handwriting he writes-
My dog Chops
Jerked his head
And I cried
Because I bled
And something fell
From my mouth.
It was a tooth
So I forgave him
Because I’ve wanted to be a big boy for a while now
And he made me one-
It’s not the best poem in the world, it’s far from it, but Alex’s nine year old self was proud of it and that’s all that matters. He proudly shows it to Ms. Sky, who stamps it with an A and a gold star sticker.
On the way home, Alex chatters in the back of his mom’s car about his day. He tells her about the poem. Jack stays quiet the whole way to his house and doesn’t tell Alex that Ms. Sky gave everyone an A and softly says ‘thank you’ when he’s dropped off. Alex’s face falls the smallest bit the way it always does when his best friend leaves, but that doesn’t stop him from beaming when his mother reads it to his aunts.
“He got an A,” his mother gushes, “I mean, he’s gotten anything less but I’m so proud! He might have a future in writing!”
His mother inflates his ego for two more hours before she sticks the poem on the kitchen door and ruffles his hair.
“Time for bed, my little poet.”
Normally Alex argues but today he dashes off to father, who happily tucks him in with a kiss to the forehead.
“The wheels on the bus go round and round!” Alex and Jack scream.
The other kids on the bus, aside from Zack and Rian, two other boys that Alex and Jack are friends with, groan. Father Tracy, the pastor of their church, just chuckles and gestures for them to continue.
Jack makes a face at Alex.
“I don’t know what comes next.”
Rian pops his head up over the seat.
“I think it’s ‘round and round, round and round, the wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town!”
Alex claps his hands once and then points at him.
Suddenly, Jack lurches forward and pushes Alex against the glass.
“Jack, ow!” Alex whines.
Jack shushes him and points out the window. Alex turns and faces it. The first thing he sees is sends an adrenaline rush of excitement through his veins.
“Alright,” Father Tracy says, standing up to face the children, “groups no smaller than four, and they have to be even numbers. Everyone in the group needs to have a designated partner.”
The back of the bus becomes a mad house but the boys in the front remain calm. Their group was decided long before the trip to the zoo was even announced.
“Do you mind if we join you?” A girl named Lily asks, gripping her twins hand.
The other girl’s name is Lilith. They both have dark brown hair that’s almost black and light blue eyes.
All the boys but Jack agree. It’s not that he doesn’t like the girls, he just doesn’t particularly like the way Lilith is staring at Alex.
Alex doesn’t even notice it; he’s too busy wondering why people give twin’s names that are so close together. He isn’t one half of a set but thinks it’d be terrible to be mixed up with someone else all the time. Sure, there might’ve been some great pranks in store for him if he had an identical twin like the two girls in front of him, but that would get old fast.
“Great!” Lily chirps, “So I’ll be partners with Zack and Lilith will be partners with Alex.”
Zack seems fine with the set up but it’s fair to say that he’s the only one out of the four boys.
“But I’m partners with Alex,” Jack all but whines.
Lilith looks taken aback by this and Lily scrunches up her nose.
“The partners have to hold hands though. Boys can’t hold hands,” Lilith says soflty.
“Well, we can,” Alex says, feeling the distress radiating off of Jack.
He loosely curls his fingers around Jack’s for emphasize.
“Besides,” Jack chimes in, confidence restoring now that Alex is on his side, “if you had paired with Alex and Lily with Zack, Rian and I would’ve still had to hold hands and we’re both boys too.”
Before they get off the bus, it’s decided that Lily will be partners with Zack and Lilith with Rian, much to her dismay.
“Where do you guys want to go first?” Alex asks, swinging his and Jack’s hands back and forth.
It may have been a small dispute but he’s stubborn and wants the girls to get the point.
“Otters,” Jack whispers to Alex.
Alex beams and pulls him down the path that will lead them to the aquatic animals. The rest of the group follows with Lilith questioning where they’re going and Lily using her most charming fourth grader laugh to flirt with the third grader she’s been paired with.
They reach the tanks and stop in front of one with a picture of Otters with fun facts about them off to the side.
Staring at the clear water through the glass always makes Alex’s eyes feel funny but he doesn’t really know why. The water comes up to the children’s and laying at the top are flat rocks for the Otters to rest on.
“Otters? Whose dumb idea was this?” asks Lily.
Alex shrugs.
“Jack wanted to come here,” he says.
“Of course he did,” Lilith says, dropping Rian’s hand in disgust, “it’s always about stupid Jack and what he wants.”
Jack ducks his head and waits for Alex to say something, but he doesn’t. He’s too busy peering into the tank.
“Look, Jack,” Alex says, pointing to the only visible otters, “they’re like us.”
Jack looks up and sees two otters holding hands as they sleep. He shyly bums his shoulder with Alex’s, who beams back at him.
The kids meet at a small shelter to eat lunch, and it’s in the middle of this when Alex’s aunt shows up. He watches her as he nibbles on his watermelon and wonders what she’s doing here, all the while using one hand to grasp to Jack’s under the table.
Aunt Josie whispers to Father Tracy for about six minutes before she’s crouching down next to Alex.
“Alex, sweetie, I’m here to take you to your parents. You’re mommy is making you a big brother today.”
Alex isn’t really sure what she means, but he lets himself be dragged away, but not before he waves good-bye to Jack and planting a kiss to his heated cheeks. Alex swears it’s just to prove the twins wrong.
“Would you like to hold her?” Alex’s exhausted mother asks.
He bites his lip and nods. His father gently takes the unnamed newborn from her arms and shows Alex the proper way to hold a baby. He walks with his new sister to a corner of the room as he parents discuss a name for her.
He looks down at the living thing in his arms with wonder. He was told she was coming of course; he’d asked why his mom was suddenly getting so fat and she’d run off to cry. Alex had felt bad instantly and felt even worse when his father explained that she was getting bigger because his unborn sibling needed the room. He’d just never really believed them fully.
“You’re so small,” Alex notes as she wraps her whole hand around two his fingers.
He strokes her hand with his thumb and notes how tiny her fingernails are and how she still manages to be the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen even with no hair. She and Alex have matching eyes but hers seem to be a bit brighter.
Alex leans down and presses a small kiss to her small nose and whines when his father asks for her back. Alex’s mother smiles in relief. She had been worried Alex wouldn’t want to share his parents affection, but it seems as though he’s going to giving her his own as well.
Alex gently hands his mother the baby back with instructions to be careful.
“She’s really pretty, mommy,” Alex says, beaming at her, “Almost as pretty as you.”
She smiles and pulls his face down to kiss his forehead. Alex grins before curling up on his father’s lap.
“When does she get to come home?” he asks as Alex situates himself.
“She should be able to come home real soon. There wasn’t any difficulties during the birth and she’s perfectly healthy,” she says.
He smiles and leans over to kiss her lovingly, to which Alex makes playful gagging noises.
“Oh, hush you,” his mom says, lightly tapping his nose, “You’ll find a pretty girl one day and do the same thing.”
Alex makes a face.
“Nu-uh. Girls are icky,” he says, causing both of his parents to laugh.
Jack and Alex are walking home together. The last of the lingering winter has left, leaving no room for excuses about them doing so with how close the school is to their homes. Jack has his arm around Alex’s waist, trying to keep him from falling over. Due to lack of space in their house, Alex has to share a room with his sister, who has been named Lucy, until a new room is made. Alex still thinks his sister is adorable; adorable, and fussy.
Alex has trouble staying awake in class and walking home is chaotic. He used to protest that he could make it when Jack first started helping keep him upright, but eventually took the help.
Most of his weight is being carried by Jack, who happily walks past his house to make sure Alex gets home alright. He shyly hands Alex a card when they reach his house before leaning up and kissing Alex’s cheek. Blushing, Jack turns and walks down the street, obviously embarrassed by whatever he just handed Alex.
Alex shrugs and walks inside. He kicks off his shoes and opens the envelop at the same time, which proves to be a bad idea when he tumbles to the floor. He shrugs it off and pulls out a card. He smiles when he sees a small doodle of him and Jack as otters on the top.
Happy V-day, Alex!
Alex furrows his brows just as his father walks in.
“What’s wrong?”
Alex twists his neck into an odd angle so he can look at his father.
“What do X’s mean?” he asks, holding the card out to his dad.
His dad takes it and smiles.
“Those are hugs, Alex.”
Alex frowns.
“Why didn’t he hug me then?” he asks.
His father chuckles and sits on the floor next to him.
“He probably likes you how I like your mother and is too scared to say so,” he says as Alex crawls into his lap.
Alex shakes his head.
“That’s silly! I like him too, he can tell me.”
His father shakes his head and gives Alex a loving squeeze.
“You’ll find out when you’re older,” he says, giving his wife an adoring look as she kisses all around Lucy’s face, completely oblivious to the affectionate glance she’s receiving.