by A. Leigh Rose
Once upon a time, there was a typical family – a mother, a father, a daughter, and a son. The son, my brother, became an engineer and married a newspaper columnist. Then he had a son of his own – one with curly, blonde hair. My brother and his wife being very busy with their jobs, hired a nanny to care for their son during the day. But, when my nephew reached the age of three, their nanny moved away. The very night she moved away, my sister-in-law invited me to dinner. I should have realized her motive. The second she mentioned the loss of her nanny, I knew why she had invited me.
“I don’t want to be a burden on you.”
“It’s just that we can’t afford another nanny since the newspaper is cutting everyone’s pay.”
That’s not my problem.
“But you are unemployed, and it would be a great chance for you to spend time with your nephew.”
A feeling of dread came over me. There was no way to escape this. I looked over at the curly-haired little creature as he played with his blocks. He reminded me very much of a wind-up toy. Yes, that’s exactly what he is – a wind-up toy. He can walk and somewhat talk, and that’s about it. He certainly can’t think on his own; he merely follows his parents around and imitates them. Like a drone, he just goes through the motions; not a single thought goes into his actions. And he’s pathetically helpless. He needs to be fed, and changed, and bathed, and played with. All that time and effort put into maintaining him, and all he does is walk and sort of talk. What a waste! He’s useless! A useless little toy! I suppose, like all toys, he can be amusing at times, but I have outgrown amusement of that sort. I have no interest in spending time with him.
“I’ll drop him off at eight o’clock, okay?” my sister-in-law said suddenly.
Funny; I don’t remember agreeing to baby-sit.
My brother must have noticed the look on my face, because he leaned over and said, “Whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.”
That wasn’t the least bit helpful to me.
“Please, sis, there’s no one else to watch him,” my brother begged.
Watch him? If all I had to do was watch him, it wouldn’t be such an inconvenience. But I am expected to take care of him – this worthless little toy – and I simply don’t want to.
But my sister-in-law, being the bossy she-devil that she is, said, “You’re going to watch him, and I don’t want to hear any excuses.”
I think it should be noted that throughout this entire conversation, I had not said a word. Perhaps she is psychic.
“It’s not like you don’t have time. Plus, you’re his aunt; that’s what aunts do.”
I didn’t realize “aunt” had become a job title. There wasn’t much that I could do. It’s pointless to argue with the she-devil.
So here I am now, sitting at home with the useless curly-haired object. I stare at him, and he stares back at me. I sigh, and he sighs as well. He truly is a mindless little thing. I get up and walk into the kitchen, and he follows me.
“Do you need something?” I ask.
The toy just stares at me in silence.
“Well, you followed me in here, so what do you want?” I ask.
I am quickly growing to despise this little toy. He’s more useless than I ever could have imagined. I look at the note the she-devil gave me that tells me when her precious wind-up toy eats, bathes, and naps. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say what to do with him in between those times. Am I really supposed to watch him every second? Aren’t there any breaks? Any moments where he’ll cease to exist so that I can have some time to myself? Apparently not.
“It says that it’s time for your bath,” I tell him. I take his hand and lead him to the bathroom (although, he would’ve followed me in here anyway.) I fill the tub with water and undress him like a doll. Then I place him in the water, and he starts to splash around.
“Hey, knock it off!” I say sternly.
He immediately stops and stares at me with those blank eyes.
Neither of us speaks the entire time I’m bathing him. I doubt that he’s even capable of holding a conversation. Honestly, maintaining this little toy is nothing short of mind-numbing! He’s more trouble than he’s worth. I should do myself and my brother a favor and hold his curly, blonde head underwater until his plastic limbs stop moving. Yes, that is what I’ll do. I place my hand on the back of his neck and thrust him under the water. He flips and thrashes around, and a thought crosses my mind. What will I do once he’s dead? The evidence is so apparent that I can’t possibly hide it. I’ll be in prison the rest of my life. I pull back my hand to let him up. He flails a little more, and then his head reaches the surface and he gasps for air. A small smile is now on my face. It seems that this toy can be amusing after all. He looks at me with those big eyes and says, “Auntie?”
The smile vanishes from my face. Why does he sound betrayed? I have never expressed nor pretended to express any kind of affection toward him. Just because I’m a relative, he expects me to love him? He is an object, equal to a pencil or a wooden broom. How can I be expected to care about him in the same way as...
A few hours after the bath, it’s time to for him to eat. I am reluctant to feed him anything, having already changed his diaper twice today. But since I backed out of drowning him, I figure that I shouldn’t starve him either. I walk into the kitchen. He follows me but keeps his distance.
“Do you like peanut butter sandwiches?” I ask him.
He slowly nods his head.
“Good,” I say, and I proceed to make him a sandwich.
He flinches when I set the plate in front of him.
“Relax, I’m not going to stab you with a butter knife,” I say. “I have much sharper knives for that.”
His plastic eyes grow wide, and I can’t help but laugh.
“I’m kidding,” I say, giggling at the site of him. “If it makes you feel any better, I promise not to hurt you again. Okay?”
He picks up the sandwich and eats slowly, never taking his eyes off of me.
After lunch, we go outside to the garden. He seems to like it outside, probably because he can get farther away from me than he can indoors, but also because I keep a very nice garden. There are flowering shrubs and ferns and all kinds of beautiful plants. There are cobblestone steps that lead up to a bench-swing built into an arbor veiled in vines. And there’s a fountain that birds often use to bathe. And while they bathe, they sing their twittering songs. And the butterflies, hummingbirds, and honeybees all gather around the flowers. My neighbors all envy my garden, and I take great pride in that.
I watch the curly-haired doll as he chases a dragonfly around the arbor. I wonder what he’d do if he caught it. ‘Round and ‘round they go, kind of like a dog chasing its tail. Then the little toy slips on a cobblestone and goes tumbling down the steps.
Wait, did that really just happen? I blink a few times to make sure that I’m not just imagining things. I stand up and walk over to the bottom of those steps to find the little toy lying there motionless. His blonde hair is turning red with blood and his neck is bent at a most unnatural angle.
What did I do? No, no! I didn’t do this! He fell on his own and that’s the truth! I bend down next to him and put my hand in front of his face, but I don’t feel any breath coming from him. Should I bring him to a hospital? What’s the point? He’s beyond repair. But I still have to do something with the body. The police or someone has to take it. It can’t just lie here – not in my garden.
What will I tell my brother? “I’m sorry, but I broke your toy. He took a tumble down those stone steps, snapped his little neck, and split his little head open.” I wonder how he will react. I can’t imagine that he’d be too upset – maybe a little angry that I didn’t watch him like he had asked me to.
“Oh my god!” a voice cries. My neighbor rushes over to me and asks, “What happened?!”
“He fell,” I answer, and I point to the steps behind me.
“Did you call an ambulance?” she asks.
I shake my head “no”.
She pulls out her cell phone and dials 9-1-1.
I stare at the broken toy lying in front of me. I never realized how much I kind of liked him. But he broke himself, so, oh well. I just hope I don’t get blamed for this.
The sound of sirens is growing near. Good, they can take him off my hands. The ambulance takes him away, and a cop asks me a few questions. I answer them all honestly. I heard the cop tell his partner that I’m in shock, but I’m not. I just don’t think it’s a big deal.
My brother and his wife arrive and the cop goes over to talk to them. I watch as my brother goes pale and his wife breaks down into tears. I didn’t think they would be this upset. This toy must have had great sentimental value to them, for he was surely worthless to everyone else. He served no purpose, other than occasional amusement. Right? Now my brother is crying as well. I’ve never seen him cry once in his entire life. Why is he crying now? It was just a toy. Why is everyone so upset? Why do they expect me to be in shock? I don’t understand! Was it just a toy?