Batman, age 5, has just been scratched on the chin by Arly the puppy and is near tears and speaks only in his tiniest voice.
He clings to his mom next to the new deck, even though Arly ran off into the yard. He and Hansel, age 9, chew their peach fruit leathers as they listen to their sister Gretel, age 7, tell us about her very loose tooth. Our old neighbors moved six months ago, but happily they still visit. This time to meet Arly. They’ve all grown.
“It’s been so long since I lost a tooth,” I say. “Does it hurt?”
“No.” Gretel smiles and shows her upper gum with all the tiny baby teeth now widely spread. The front right is gone, and the left is barely hanging on.
“My father used to tie a string around my loose teeth and yank,” I say, shivering even though the low midday November sun covers the entire new deck. “Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”
“Oh oh oh,” says Gretel. “The Castaway!”
Hansel’s big brown eyes light up. “Oh, yeah!”
“I get to tell it!” says Gretel.
Hansel agrees, but paces the deck. Even Batman is riveted and hopes desperately that Gretel can tell it right. I watch as she mentally backs away to get the big picture.
She starts with the point. “He had a real bad toothache and had to knock it out with a rock and an ice skate from a Fed Ex box!”
Hansel is pleased with her delivery, but he knows the story. It’s a movie, apparently.
“A Fed Ex box?” I say, as lost as the castaway, but reveling in their sheer joy of sharing stories.
Batman says, still in his tiny, puppy-scratched voice, “He’s a Fed Ex Delivery Man.”
Gretel stares at her little brother then continues. “His plane crashed in the ocean and he went to this island and lived all by himself — ”
” — EXCEPT for,” Hansel says, and Gretel tells him that isn’t the main story here, but lets him tell about the Castaway’s sole friend anyway — a salvaged volleyball named Wilson.
At this point Arly runs by with a rotting cornstalk in his mouth.
He likes to pull the silk out of the undeveloped ears which I planted too late so they are composting in the garden.
Arly’s grown an inch since yesterday, I think. Batman eyes him suspiciously.
I turn to Hansel and Gretel and say, “Last year, you stood out in the corn patch and told us a corny joke.” This is ancient history to them, but it is their history and it is such a fine joke, they are already laughing. Batman was there but doesn’t remember.
“I get to tell it!” says Hansel.
Gretel agrees, but has to cover her mouth to keep from butting in.
“Why shouldn’t you tell secrets in a corn field?” says Hansel. Batman stops chewing, baffled. “Because the corn has ears!”
Everyone laughs, and Arly the beagle puppy prances up to the deck with the cornstalk. We all remark on his cuteness. His white fur and black spots and waving tail. Batman stands tall, a twinkle in his eye, and says the punchline softly, “I like his ears.”