Joey stood up in the crib, looking at the white stuff drifting down like pillow feathers outside. Mum had made a “nest” for him and told Joey to sleep but he wasn’t tired. He’d already had Crib Time today. He wanted his brother to come home.
They lived in the “P’ciffic Northwess” where Hector said this stuff never happened. His brother was at School right now and Mum had promised when Hector came home he might take Joey exploring Out In The Snow.
Hector was older than Joey had fingers. Hector knew a lot and he told Joey things about School. Hector went to School every day all by himself but Joey wasn’t ready to do that. There were lots of new things to find out right here all by himself.
Mum liked to call Joey “My little Explorer.”
Sometimes, when she whispered “my little explorer” not big, but soft, with a twinkle in her green eyes, Joey would get a happy squeeze. Yesterday, Mum had sniffed his neck and nuzzled his cheek and called him my “cold, rosy-cheek explorer” because him and Dad had been outside.
That’s because he helped Dad go down their slippery drive-away to put the garbage out.
Joey held the can lid and after that, him and Dad explored Monkey-Bars Park across the culldersak.
They brought Mom home a nice leaf and a frozen bird.
“Joey thinks this would make a great ornament for the tree,” Dad told Mum. Joey wasn’t sure why Dad chuckled.
After that, him and Hector and Mum and Dad decorated the kissmas tree. It had been fun. Joey wasn’t sure where the bird was now.
It was only a bad thing if Mum said “My Little Explorer” in a BIG grumpy way. It meant Joey was going to spend time in the claws foot bathtub washing the sticky off.
Or worse, he’d have Crib Time, like right now, with the Wookie-Tookie monitor awake, Woofdog under the crib, and the door shut. Joey’d had Crib Time this morning for unscrewzing the bottom hinge off the screen door. He was on a chair with the screwz-driver like Dad, when Mum found him.
Who needs screen doors in winter? You don’t need to be two-and-one-half-fingers-old to know that, do you?
Joey had tried to esplain this morning, but Mum didn’t listen. She wasn’t ready to listen right now either.
Joey thought ears rings looked nice on Mum, so why not on Woofdog?
Poor Woofy had took off through the kitchen, and through the whole pile of pretty wrappings paper in the kissmas room and knocked over the tree, orna-mints and all. Mum came running, saw Woofdog, saw Joey. She got to Woofdog and helped him stop awooding!
Mum had cried real tears and Joey cried too.
“Putting a bulldog clip on his ear hurt Woofdog, Joey. That’s why he knocked over the kissmas tree.”
Joey wanted to ask Mum why were they called “bulldog clips.”
Wasn’t Woofdog a bulldog?
Woofdog had already forgiven him, Woofdog was snoring under Joey’s crib, but Mum wasn’t happy. She said Joey needed to think about what he had done to Woofdog. Woofdog had got hurt and that was bad.
Mum told Joey her ‘“Little Explorer”’ needed lay-down time with Woofdog. Mum was shaking. She said Woofdog was sleepy and Joey needed to watch him careful to see that Woofdog was going to be OK.
Mum had dried his cry marks and kissed him.
She’d carried Joey here and turned the Wookie-Tookie on. Woofdog went to sleep right away beside Joey’s crib—he looked real OK and Joey told Mum so. He said he wanted to help Mum do present-wrap-up but she said he’d helped enough by watching her do wrap-ups and she’d gone away with a ‘shussh’ finger to her mouth.
He’d helped good though, and he knew now how she did it. He was big enough he could do wrap-up on his own if he needed to.
Joey did a bounce on the crib until the whole thing squarked at him.
He knew exactly how hard to bounce before he broke something.
He didn’t want to break the crib again. Uff! Uff!” he called to Woofdog to come out.
He needed to wake up Woofdog by being Really Careful. It was important to be careful and give Mum a good surprise—then maybe he’d get the small explorer words and have a happy cuddle.
If he could just get out of Crib Time he could sneak downstairs and play with the wrap-ups papers after Mum fell asleep.
A big sigh from the Wookie-Tookie above the clothes closet door, told him Mum needed Crib Time more than he did! The Wookie-Tookie was way out of his reach but it still told Joey things. Right now, it helped him hear Mum working Hard.
The crinkle of paper said Mum was putting wrap around Presints-don’t-Touch.
There were Presints under that tree already even before Santa! Presints-don’t-Touch were special. A box came yesterday from somebody called “Azimon Prine.” Out of that big box came a Presint-don’t-Touch from Nana to Joey, and one for him from Uncle George, and one for him from cousin Teddy.
Joey could hardly wait to tear the wrap-ups off, but right now the wrap-ups were going on, not off! A snuupp sound, told Joey Mum was pulling scrotch tape off the dispender. Scrotch tape was the best! You could use it to tie your ankles together.
It seemed to take forever before he heard her say, “Well that does it. Oh God, I cannot wait for Play School!”
That made Joey perk up. Now that was a surprise. Mum hadn’t told him she was planning on going to Play School too. Wouldn’t that be great! Mum and him together? She’d been trying to get him to do a bunch of things to get him ready in the spring. Things he’d fussed about doing like doing the potty on his own.
Wow! Even naps would be ok, if Mum was there. Of course, Mum wanted to be there with him. Now Joey knew Mum was coming, he’d make her happy again and get them both ready for Play School.
He could do art! Hector had taught him to finger paint—there were a few pictures on the frig-rater. Joey’d give her a Presint-don’t-Touch he did all by himself. He’d finish everything off by coming back here and taking a real nap. Wouldn’t she be happy then?
It meant going downstairs all on his own, and being sneaky about it.
It meant piling toys on his pillow and it meant Woofdog coming out from under the crib so Joey could use Woofdog to step on…
Joey had been so busy thinking how to get out of Crib Time, he’d forgotten the Wookie-Tookie. Here was Mum now, coming upstairs.
Joey dove for his mattress and lay still.
She had to think he was sleeping to make his plan work. He laid there like a dead kid while she poked her head in and he waited like that until he heard her going into hers and Dad’s room.
It didn’t take long before Mum’s door shut and he heard bathwater running in the big claws foot tub. But there was a problem now. Woofdog didn’t wake up. He was sleepy after having a bad day.
Either Joey had to give up or go without Woofdog.
Go without was the answer. Joey had to get Mum to Play School! With the bathwater going, she didn’t hear Woofdog grunt when Joey stepped on his tail.
“Sorry, Wooffy. Stay!” he whispered, patting the dog’s back.
It came out “dorry dooffy tay,” but Woofdog knew what he meant. Woofdog rolled over and went back to sleep.
Joey sniffed his fingers. Hmmm. Woofdog still smelled like finger-paint from yesterday. It was safe. Mum made it out of flower. Woofdog had liked the taste —but the paint hadn’t washed out even when Joey had poured Woofdog’s whole water dish over him.
Now came the next bad thing.
Joey had to open the door. How do you do that if you’re in front of it and you’re not standing on Woofdog?
But the door wasn’t closed tight, Mum had been in a hurry to have a bath.
She didn’t hear the door hinge crickle ever so little. Mum had been really tired today.
Joey peeked out into the soft no-light hall. It wasn’t bad dark, just nap dark. He had to work hard to hold in his giggle, as he heard Mum humming. She was having fun in the bath, maybe with his rubber boat?
Above, way above, in the ceiling the big window looked down on him like a friendly eye—covered with the cold fluffy still floating down.
“Better not tell,” he mouthed to it. “Santa is comin’ to town.”
Joey went down on his belly to climb bare-feet-first down the thick rubb on the stairs.
He was Very Careful.
Hector had showed Joey how to slide down the stairs on his bum in his pull-ups, but he didn’t this time. Sliding down like that would make noise.
Joey didn’t mind just now. Being on his own and going down without anybody else, was a dangerous and wonderful thing. The rubb on his knees and belly felt like being licked by Woofdog’s tongue. It made his Capt’n ‘Merica jammy top pull up under his armpits.
The big Front-All was surprised that Joey was alone. The Front-All creaked at him with things Joey couldn’t see. The furr-naze made heat come up warm and in a rumbly way. Joey stood over the heat place, liking the warm on his bare toes and legs. He liked to stand over the one in his room with nothing on.
Taking his pullups off would feel even better, but he didn’t. He was too busy to stand over the heat.
If Hector came home from School, and found Joey before he got the Presint-don’t-Touch wrapped for Mum!
Joey scurried over to his play table, where he’d put the bulldog clip on Woofdog. His play table was right next to the closet Mum stored food in. Beside his play table was a basket of toys, some wood pussles of squiggle shapes, and some jars of finger-paint.
The frig-rater purred close beside Joey, a big thing Mum had warned him could Freeze Him Dead.
He didn’t bother with it. He wasn’t here for food he was here to do art. This was where Joey did his Work, when Mum was doing her Work making food.
A ticker on the wall made a “time-time” noise and a little wood bird came out.
“Quiet,” Joey whispered to the bird, working hard to open the finger-paint jars—ones that would match the kissmas tree—Mum had put the lids on very tight after what happened yesterday.
One plassic jar hit the hard floor with a snap and rolled under the big work table! Oh no! Be quiet, jar! There was a Wookie-Tookie in the kissmas room that was still part of this room.
Joey reached under and got it back! Yess! This wasn’t a kissmas color, but after knocking it onto the floor, the jar helped him out. It opened fine! Now, he needed Paper.
Joey looked but there were only his pictures on the frig-rater. That was o-Kay. He knew where else he could get paper.
Joey knew where to get paper! There were rolls and rolls of toolit paper in the potty room and after those, he’d use presint wrap-ups to finish everything off.
He didn’t need the light on in the potty room, because of the snow outside.
The potty was right where it belonged. Just right like Goldiesox and the chair that fit—only his chair was the potty that fit perfect for him and he did both numbers in it.
His aim was perfect.
Hector had taught him to aim and Joey was proud. He used a bunch of the toolit paper because he was a boy who was going to school!
He was more prouder even at getting the potty out without a spill. He poured some orange play-paint into his potty just to make everything a pretty Hallowsweenie color. The lid went down with a happy snap. Now to fix up his gift.
There was lots of wrap-up left in the kissmas room and some of those nice big bags Mum was using.
Joey had learned a lot by watching Mum doing wrap-up.
He found a big bag with a smiling teddy. Perfect! The scrotch tape was easy to pull and wrap around. He got it tangled, but that didn’t matter. He had to be fast now.
When the “time-time” bird came out again Hector would be home. If Hector caught him his secret would be all spoiled.
Joey left the scrotch tape despender hanging down like a bow.
His potty was slippy and heavy inside the wrap-up, but the wrap-ups helped him slide it to the tree without a single spill.
The tree smelled nice, like the forest when they took Woofdog for his walk.
Pleased with himself, Joey pushed his Presint beneath the deep dark sweep of branches, crawling right in after it like he was in a cave and making his wrap-up nestle out of sight in among the other Presints-don’t-Touch.
As he came back out, he found the horse and the lamb and the angel lying where he’d knocked them off the tree. The horse and the lamb and the angel were all wrapped in foiley stuff and now Joey had them in his hands they smelled like chocolate.
He looked up at the parts of the kissmas tree he could reach. How many lambs and horses could he get upstairs? He was hungry now….
Twenty minutes later, curled in his crib, soothed by the brandy in the chocolate, Joey was sound asleep. He never heard thirteen-year-old Hector came home from school.
Mom came downstairs just as Hector dropped his coat and boots on the snow-mat in the hall. “Hi Mom. Nap, huh?”
Hector thought Mom always looked tired these days.
She’d told Hector she couldn’t wait until their little “explorer” was potty-trained and could hit play-school, and that her going back to work at the clinic was going to be a real piece of cake compared to dealing with Joey.
Mom’s sleep marked face wrinkled up now as she sniffed the cold air that had come in with Hector. “Peww, Hector. Check your boots and clean them off outside. You stepped in something!”
“It’s snowing like blazes Mom. There’s no way!”
Like a dutiful son, Hector checked them anyway. As a matter of fact it smelled like dung forest in here. But Hector’s boots were clean.
“Did you check Woofdog?” he asked her.
“Asleep under Joey’s crib. We’d better find out what the heck that is while your little brother is out of harm’s way. We’ve had a day like no other let me tell you.”
“Well, knowing Joey, that’s saying a lot,” said Hector reasonably. “So. Tell me what happened?”
Mom told him, while she and Hector searched high and low for the source of the smell. The two of them did their best to be quiet, so as not to wake Joey.
Upstairs, the Little Explorer slept on.