At first glance, Timmy was a chubby ten-year-old with a gummy smile and puffy cheeks begging to be squeezed and pulled at. And when his parents approached the old man to look after their boy during the summer holidays, while they were off to work, he saw no different. In fact, he took an immediate liking to the boy.
“Sure,” he said to Mrs. and Mr. Bens, one too short and cheerful and the other too tall and grave, perched on the edge of their armchairs. “As long as the dogs don’t bother him and he doesn’t mind spending time downstairs, helping this old man out. These rickety old knees can’t make it up and down the stairs anymore, I’m afraid,” he chuckled, much to the embarrassment of the hosts who had invited him upstairs for tea.
“Of course,” they said together, their bulbous, wide-opened eyes blinking at him rapidly through matching square-framed glasses. “He wouldn’t be a bother at all. Not our Timmy. No, not at all.”
So what if things kept breaking around him or disappearing entirely? So what if their previous neighbors had complained of pigeons dropping like stones from the sky? If their cats turned up without tails and their dogs whimpered and scampered for cover when the boy was around, well, then it was their business, wasn’t it?
Timmy was a good, kind boy. Yes?
The apple of their large, bulbous, matching square-framed eyes.
For his part, the boy behaved like a complete angel. He woke up in the morning, brushed and bathed without any coaxing or scolding, finished his breakfast, not a morsel wasted, cleaned up his room, and marched down to help Grampy with his daily chores.
When his parents left around eight, tooting the car horn and yelling goodbye as they disappeared into a thick cloud of dust down the town road, he was reading aloud the day’s newspaper to Grampy, who had misplaced his reading glasses as he went about his morning routine. And while the dogs, Lazy and Tiny, lapped about the lawn, playing with the bunnies that skittered about, he helped out the old man with odd jobs around the farm.
“This is fun,” he said, as he helped him refill the feeders, mow the lawn, water the kitchen garden and clean the gutters, or mend the boundary wall.
“This is fun,” he said as he fetched the mail and dusted the living room and even fed the dogs when they had tired themselves out.
But not once while he was having “fun” did he let the old man catch him kick the bunnies that hopped into his path or fling pebbles at the birds at the bird feeder or stick gum to the underside of the dogs’ ears.
In return, Grampy fixed him lunch – a tall glass of chilled milk served with a platter of jumbo sandwiches stuffed with fresh, crispy vegetables, chickpea patties, and homemade ketchup, with a generous portion of fries on the side.
“Good boy,” he said as Timmy finished off the last of the milk, “now two capful of that medicine your Mom said you must have and off you go to bed.”
Timmy pretended to gulp down the “strengthening medicine”, a clear, sweet liquid that his mom had instructed him to have each afternoon after lunch.
He gave a big, fat yawn then, like he couldn’t stay awake one second more, and asked to be excused.
The old man tousled his hair fondly, pinched his cheeks, and headed into his bedroom himself, for a nap that would last a good two hours.
With the coast now clear, Timmy rushed up the steps two at a time, grinning wickedly at the dogs fast asleep under the dining table, in whose cereal bowls he’d mixed more than two capfuls of the medicine he should have had.
Poor Lazy and Tiny, he grinned. They never saw it coming. Ha ha.
Back in his room, he snapped on his red Happy Camper cap and matching red canvas shoes. Strapped on his binoculars and utility belt loaded with knickknacks. And went down the stairs again, secure in the trumpety snores from below the table and behind Grampy’s bedroom door, and headed out straight to the pond.