Jade comes outside carrying four bowls, each filled with two macadamia nut cookies topped with chocolate chip ice cream, and distributes them evenly amongst us; two adults and two children. The gentle glow of a fairly pathetic fire lights our faces and my wife says, “Rory, did you help Daddy start the fire?” and Rory stares at the flames and says, “Uh……. no,” and so Jade says, “Did Daddy start this fire all by himself?” and I say, “Uh……. no. I had the assistance of a chemically soaked and scientifically engineered fire log.”
For all of my “camping knowledge”, I swear to you here and now that I would die in the woods, freezing to death far before starvation ever had its chance at me. I would die with plenty of fat on my bones and a book of matches in my hand. I’m fairly confident in my arsonistic abilities in regards to crusty leaves and old Kleenex but a log? Where’s the lighter fluid?
The children finish their ice cream first and Rory says, “MORE!” and Jade says, “No. That’s all. It’s all gone.” Rory says, “All gone?” and stares into the fire for moment. He looks back up at my wife and says, “Two more cookies inside,” and I look at Jade and she says, “He’s very astute…”
The children stand up and jump on their tricycles and peddle around in the dark for a few minutes before my cruel urges begin to rise up inside of me. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved to scare people. I’d hide in the dark basement and wait for my mother to come down to do laundry or I’d moan through the vents to send my younger sister into a frenzied panic. Once I put a full sized mannequin (with arms) in my brother-in-laws room and then watched from a distance as he entered in the pitch black. I’ve never heard a grown man scream like that.
ABOVE: RORY WORKING ON HIS “WAIT & LUNGE” MANEUVER.
The kids circle and circle and circle the backyard and, just as they disappear behind the table, I leap from my chair and hide behind a piece of wood and… as Rory emerges first from the other side, I crawl out on my hands and knees and say, “YARRRR!” and he jumps and jolts sideways and slams on his brakes and then starts laughing and says, “You scared me, Dad! Hahaha! You scared me!” and so, feeling left out, Quinn shouts, “Scare me too, Dad! Scare me too!” and I say, “Oh… I will… but it will be when you least expect it, Little One…” and they circle and circle and circle and I see my opportunity and it all plays out the exact same but, when I crawl out and yell, “YARRRR!” Quinn just stares at me, nonplussed.
This simply will not do.
ABOVE: QUINN PRACTICING HER “POUNCE AND HOWL” STANCE. GREAT FORM.
I crawl back to my chair and stair at the fire and wait… luring her into a false sense of security. Around and around and around… a few more passes… yes… now is The Time.
I sneak from my chair and hide behind the plank and squat down. I pull my cardigan up over my head so only my mouth and teeth are exposed… and I wait…
Before long she innocently weaves around the corner and, instead of crawling, I lunge out and, instead of shouting, “YARRR!“, I make a noise that sounds like a hog giving birth (C-section, no pain meds) and I gnash my teeth and shake my tongue and she swerves and jumps and look me right in the mouth and says, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”
It is The Scream that would have been worthy of the Psycho shower scene. Her eyes go wide and her jaw drops open and her wail pierces the night. I pull my hood down and say, “I scared you!” and I laugh and she says, “YOU SCARED ME, DAD!” and I say, “Ask and you shall receive,” before I sit back down to finish my ice cream.
ABOVE: RORY DEMONSTRATING “DEMENTED MANIAC” WHILE QUINN DISPLAYS “EMOTIONLESS MONSTER”.
The moon rises higher in the sky and the children both yawn and we put them to bed, say their prayers, say goodnight and shut the door before heading back outside to chat the early evening away. Jade brings out the remaining cookies and we split them and talk about how observant The Boy is. We play a couple rounds of Words with Friends on our phones and we listen to light jazz by Miles Davis. She tells me about a parenting book she’s reading and I tell her about a phrase I heard that went something like, “Those who chase security will never find freedom and those who find security have only found purgatory.”
An hour or two passes and the fire dies and I spray the embers with a hose and go inside where I find Jade standing in the kitchen, totally still, a look of panic on her face. I say, “What? The baby?” and she says, “No,” and then I hear it too. There are footsteps in our house. I reach into my pocket and pull out my knife, snapping it open with a shink and wondering if I have what it takes to stab somebody. Do I go for their neck? Guts? Shoulder? I’ve always imagined stabbing somebody very apologetically like, “You broke into my house and now I have to defend myself and I’m very sorry because this might hurt just a little bit. Okay? Are you alright? I’m probably going to stab one more time!”
Jade slides open the kitchen drawer and pulls out a butcher knife as tall as she is and I suddenly have blade envy, staring down at my little razor. It’s not the size, it’s how you use it, I think to myself, pokey-pokey, and then the two of us slowly separate (classic horror movie move! What were we thinking!?) She goes around into the living room and I head for the hallway. I hear the light tap, tap, tap of her feet on the hardwood as I open our kitchen door as slowly as possible, bracing myself for some long-haired drug addled intruder to burst out of the darkness and try to bite me (in my imaginings, most intruders have long hair and try to bite).
I step into the hall just as Jade steps into the other end (our house is designed in a large loop) and we both shrug. She turns to the bedroom and I turn to the bathroom and then we hear it again. Footsteps. In the kid’s room.
In… the kid’s room.
I gently swing open the door and find Quinn marching around, pulling her blanket – she sees me, lays down on the hard wood and pulls her stuffed quilt over her head.
I say, “Go to sleep, Little Lady,” and I shut the door thinking, “You SCARED me, Quinn.”
ABOVE: A HORRIFIC PHOTO OF A DOLL TAKING A BATH. GOODBYE, DIRT. HELLO, NIGHTMARES.