Jimmy had never seen anyone like Mr. Tuck. Truth be told, Jimmy didn’t even have the foggiest notion what exactly Mr. Tuck was. He wasn’t a person, no, not quite. He wasn’t a dog or a cat, or any of the animals Jimmy had seen in the zoo.
Mr. Tuck had seen dozens, maybe hundreds of small boys like Jimmy Walsh. Skinny, tall, fat, short, of every race, color, and description. Jimmy’s appearance was nothing new or spectacular to Mr. Tuck. What was quite spectacular about Jimmy Walsh was that he could see Mr. Tuck.
The two sat and stared in silence for some time. It was Jimmy who finally broke the ice when he asked, “Who are you?”
Mr. Tuck blinked. There was not a trace of hesitation or fear in this small boy, only a look of wonder on his face. “I am Mr. Tuck,” replied Mr. Tuck.
“I’m Jimmy Walsh,” said Jimmy Walsh.
The pair went back to staring, contemplating.
* * *
“Mom, what’s a portal?” Jimmy asked that morning at breakfast.
Mrs. Walsh was rather taken aback. She didn’t know her six-year-old son had ever heard such a word. She decided he must have been watching one of the science fiction programs his father enjoyed. “Well, a portal is sort of an opening, like a door,” said Mrs. Walsh. “Why?”
“Because my new friend Mr. Tuck said he came through a portal.”
“Who’s Mr. Tuck?” asked Mrs. Walsh. She remembered a new couple had moved into the neighborhood. She hadn’t met the husband yet. The man was probably nice as pie, but with all those weirdoes out there - you could never be too cautious.
“Mr. Tuck came into my room last night.” A chill radiated out from Mrs. Walsh’s spine to every inch of her body.
“There was a man in your room?”
“He’s not a man,” said Jimmy. “He’s sort of…I don’t know what he is. He’s not a man, though…maybe some kind of monkey or something!”
“Who’s a monkey?” asked Mr. Walsh as he entered the kitchen. Mrs. Walsh calmed down when as she realized that her son had a new imaginary companion. “Jimmy’s new friend is a monkey,” she informed him. A talking monkey.”
Mr. Walsh looked from wife to son and back again. Realization dawned on him and he chuckled, giving his son a rub on the head. “Oh, is he now? That’s something you don’t see every day!”
“Well, you don’t see him ever,” Jimmy informed them. “He says I’m the only person who’s ever seen him.”
“That’s because you’re so special!” shouted Mr. Walsh as he poured a cup of coffee.
“That’s what Mr. Tuck says. He says I must be very purse…purseweb…”
“Perceptive,” said Mrs. Walsh.
“Yeah, pursewebtive,” said Jimmy.
Mrs. Walsh laughed. “Where did you learn that word, Jimmy? That’s a big word for a little man!”
“I told you, Mr. Tuck told me it.”
“Oh, that’s right. Did Mr. Tuck teach you any other big words?”
“Only one I can remember for sure…dis…disember.”
“December?” asked Mrs. Walsh. Then she looked at the clock on the microwave.
“Oh no! You’ll have to tell me more in the car, honey! You’re going to be late for school, and mommy’s going to be late for work!”
Jimmy endured his morning routine. Mrs. Walsh threw shoes on his feet and pulled rabbit ears or something. Jacket on, lunchbox, Pop-Tarts in hand, out the door, hurry, hurry, hurry, have you seen mommy’s keys, back in the door, frantic search, keys, out, car, street.
Mommy putting on lipstick, yelling at cars, apologizing for European dialect, blusher, more yelling at cars, yelling at talk radio, looking at road, school, out, hug, kiss, have a nice day, love you, be back later, push, hurry, hurry, hurry.
Jimmy joined his peers to hurry into the school building as his mom joined her peers to hurry to jobs and lives and freedom from teachers and rules. Jimmy sighed.
* * *
Jimmy sat at his round table with his head on his hand. He was a Robin. He cast a glance at the Blue Jay table to see what they were up to. They were gluing macaroni on paper. He looked back at his own pile of dry noodles, construction paper, glitter, and Elmer’s School Glue.
The teacher called this “art,” but it wasn’t anything like what mommy and daddy called art. Their art looked like people and places and things and shapes. This looked like an ad for Ragu.
Jimmy would much rather be at home with Mr. Tuck. He imagined what it must be like to be at home, alone, all day. You could watch TV, any channel you wanted! You could eat snacks and sweets all day, not some sandwich that had absorbed so much jelly the bread was translucent. You could get the mail right when it got there, and you could play with your toys and leave them all over!
Jimmy was jealous of Mr. Tuck. He wanted to be home all day with his new friend. He had invited Mr. Tuck to come to school, but Mr. Tuck said he needed time to get accla…acclomentated to his new surroundings. Mr. Tuck said he needed time to be alone and think about things and what he would do now that he had a friend.
The teacher came over to Jimmy’s table when she noticed that he wasn’t working on his art. “Jimmy, why aren’t you making a mother’s day card?” she asked.
“I don’t know what to make.”
“Why don’t you make a picture of yourself? Or a heart? Or a smiley face!”
Jimmy didn’t know what overly-optimistic meant, but he knew when someone was so chipper he wanted to puke. “That’s what I made the last time. Me holding a heart with a smiley face.”
“Well, why don’t you make a happy sun! It can shine down on your house, with a little chimney going ‘puff puff puff’!” said Teacher.
Jimmy fought down his Pop-Tarts. “I can’t make a sun or my house.”
“Why not, Jimmy?”
“All I have is red glitter. My house is blue and the sun is yellow.”
“Well, I don’t think your mom will…” Teacher trailed off. She was staring at the pile of blue glitter sitting in front of Jimmy. “Jimmy, do you remember when we learned our colors?”
“Then look at that glitter and try to remember what color it is.”
Jimmy looked at the glitter for a second, then back to Teacher. “It’s red.”
Teacher’s ear-to-ear smile receded to her cheekbones. No Jimmy, try again. What color is it…?”
Jimmy looked back to the glitter.
“Not red, but…bllllll…” Teacher prompted.
Jimmy didn’t know what a trick question was, either, but he knew when something was amiss. The glitter was red. He looked over to the color wheel on the wall. Yep, red, same color it was last time he’d realized something was red.
“It’s red,” he finally announced.
Teacher’s smile barely even had any teeth in it now. She stared at Jimmy, at the glitter, at the other robins, back to Jimmy. “Jimmy, what color is an apple?”
“And what color is a rose?”
“What color is the sky, Jimmy?”
“Blue.” (Now that question was just dumb.)
“And what color is your glitter?”
Teacher wasn’t smiling anymore.
That afternoon, when Bobby was leaving, Teacher gave him a note. “Now Jimmy, this note is very important. I need you to make sure that your mommy gets this, ok?”
“Now what are you going to do with this note?”
“My glitter was red,” said Jimmy.
“I’m sure it was,” said Teacher. Jimmy had absolutely no clue what sarcasm was, but he knew that when daddy used that tone with mommy he had to sleep on the couch and mommy got breakfast in bed the next day.
“Give this note to mommy,” said Teacher.
Jimmy threw the note away in the first trashcan he came to. Why should he get in trouble because Teacher didn’t believe him?
* * *
“What did you do in school today?” Mrs. Walsh asked Jimmy. She asked him the same question every afternoon when she took him home. He had to answer before they got on the highway, because that’s when mommy would start speaking French with the other drivers.
“I made you a Mother’s Day card.”
“Oh, how nice! I can’t wait for Mother’s Day!”
“You can have it now.” Jimmy started unzipping his bag.
“Oh no, I want to be surprised on Mother’s Day! Why did Teacher make you make your card two weeks before?”
“She’s going to be a mommy soon, and she wants us to do it before the subsisute comes.”
“Oh, you’ll be having a substitute? That’ll be fun for you!”
“I ‘spose so,” said Jimmy.
“Well, I can’t wait until Mother’s Day so I can get my card!” Jimmy knew mommy really liked Mother’s Day because daddy cleaned and cooked and everything and mommy didn’t have to yell or even go upstairs to get him to. Jimmy couldn’t understand how things worked. When mommy threw a tantrum, she got flowers or jewelry. When Jimmy threw a tantrum, he got spanked. Mommy also seemed to get anything from daddy she wanted when she’d stamp upstairs and slam the bedroom door. (At which point Jimmy and his Mr. Walsh would stare uncomfortably at each other, and then Mr. Walsh would take Jimmy for a Happy Meal and pancake mix.) The time Jimmy had stamped upstairs and slammed his door, they had left him up there without inviting him down for dinner.
Jimmy once told his daddy he wanted a husband when he grew up so someone would buy him candy whenever he cried. Mr. Walsh rushed out and bought his son a football and a toy battleship. (Thinking better of it on the drive home, Mr. Walsh had actually returned the battleship for a toy tank and a bag of Army men.)
* * *
Jimmy hid the card in his closet in a red box as soon as he got home, then got down to business with Mr. Tuck. What was it like where he came from? Were there more guys like him? What did his mommy and daddy do?
He learned little. It was warm, very warm. Mr. Tuck was lonely. That’s why he had made friends with Jimmy. He didn’t have a mommy, and his daddy had wanted him gone. His only wish was to see his daddy again. Mr. Tuck then asked Jimmy how his day at school had been.
“Well, my teacher had a bad day,” said Jimmy.
“Oh did she? Were you misbehaving?”
“I don’t think so…no, I wasn’t bad. She just thought my red glitter was blue. It was so weird.”
“Where is your glitter now?” asked Mr. Tuck.
“Well, some of it’s on my card I made for mom. But Teacher said I got more on the carpet than on the paper.”
“Where is the paper now?”
“Inside that red box.” Mr. Tuck looked inside the red box and saw a piece of paper with iridescent pasta on it.
“You were right, of course. This is red,” said Mr. Tuck.
“I said it was, but she didn’t believe me.”
“Well, shame on her! She should know a good boy like you would never lie!”
“That’s what I told her!” Jimmy threw up his hands in charming-little-boy exasperation.
“Well, she’ll learn,” said Mr. Tuck. Jimmy couldn’t wait.
* * *
A few days later, Jimmy’s mom began to worry about Jimmy. That night he had sworn his mashed potatoes were red. She could tell he wasn’t lying, and she didn’t think he was making it up at all. He seemed to genuinely believe that his potatoes were red. She put him to bed that night, and she and Mr. Walsh discussed what should be done. Jimmy said he hadn’t hurt his head, hadn’t been staring at bright lights, and wasn’t playing any sort of game.
They decided the best thing would be to an eye doctor. If he couldn’t find anything, they’d consider a counselor. They could then also discuss the fact that Jimmy spent almost all his time shut in his room with his imaginary friend “Mr. Tuck.”
They slept little that night, she crying and he wondering if he shouldn’t let have let Jimmy stay up and watch the Gore Channel’s All Night Slaughter Fest when Mrs. Walsh was away on business.
* * *
Nothing in doctors’ offices was ever higher than 31 degrees. Even the bed was cold. Beds were supposed to be warm and soft and inviting. With its paper wrapper, hopping onto it was like hopping onto a giant Popsicle, with the added fun of being in one’s underwear.
The eye doctor swore there was nothing wrong with his eyes, at least nothing that would cause him to see red. They were now at the physician, one last stop before the child psychologist.
After being poked, prodded, tapped, listened to, and shone upon, it was decided that Jimmy was in perfect health, and there was no medical – medical said with a slight “hint-hint” tone – reason why he should think some things are red.
At the psychologist’s office, the doctor found nothing wrong with Jimmy that would cause him to see red. He was, however, interested in Mr. Tuck.
“Jimmy, where does Mr. Tuck come from?”
“I’m not really sure. But he said it’s warm, and he’s lonely.”
“Uh-huh. And what does he look like?”
“I don’t really know…” Jimmy scrunched his face up and thought real hard. Mr. Tuck wasn’t any sort of bear, he’d decided. And he wasn’t any of the animals in his picture books. “He’s furry, and he has sort of a tail, and I guess he looks kind of like half bear and half monkey and half horsey and half kitty.”
“What color is Mr. Tuck, Jimmy?”
“What kind of red is he? Is he red like a rose, or like my tie, or like when Elmer Fudd’s face turns red after Bugs Bunny gets him?”
Jimmy laughed at the mental image. Then he imagined Elmer Fudd hunting Mr. Tuck. He laughed again.
“Is Mr. Tuck red like blood, Jimmy?”
Sssshhh…Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting Mistuw Tuck! Jimmy laughed again. He didn’t think Mr. Tuck would appreciate being hunted.
“I asked you a question Jimmy…what’s funny?” Jimmy explained his joviality. Everyone nodded uncomfortably. The doctor flashed a brief smile and then got back to his question. “Is Mr. Tuck red like blood?”
Jimmy thought about it. Mr. Tuck wasn’t really as
dark as blood…except when he got excited. When he told Jimmy
secrets, he got dark red, and his veins all stood out like a muscle man. “Only sometimes.”
“When is sometimes? When does he turn blood colored?”
“When he tells me things.”
“What does Mr. Tuck tell you, Jimmy?”
“He tells me some secrets, but I swored I wouldn’t tell them.”
“That’s ok, Jimmy. You don’t have to tell us now. Is there anything he tells you that isn’t secret?”
“Well…he told me about his mommy and daddy…”
The doctor cast a glance at Mr. and Mrs. Walsh. They both shrugged their shoulders and widened their eyes. “What are his mommy and daddy like? Do they look like him?”
“I haven’t seen them…but he says he doesn’t have a mommy, and his daddy threw him out of his house.”
“Hmm…” the doctor murmured something and made a quick note on his pad. “Does he like his dad?”
“I think so. He wants to see him again, and I’m helping.”
“How are you helping, Jimmy?”
“That’s one of the secrets, and I told you I swored I wouldn’t tell!”
“Ok, Jimmy. Does Mr. Tuck ever tell you to hurt yourself, Jimmy? Or does he ever tell you to hurt other people?”
Jimmy pondered this one a bit longer. “No to one, and the other one is a secret, too. And I swored.”
* * *
The doctor made it quite clear. Jimmy felt like he had no mother, and that his father didn’t want him. He has no friends, which is why he feels the need to share his secrets with an imaginary friend. He wants his father to accept him, but he would be happy if his mother just noticed him. He has anger issues, and no, Mr. Walsh you should not have let him watch anything on the Gore Channel, let alone Slaughter Fest, and yes, that is likely why he sees red sometimes.
The ride home was colder than the doctor’s instruments.
* * *
Mr. Tuck was not happy.
Jimmy had been bad, said Mr. Tuck. He had told the grownups too much. He was to tell them no more, said Mr. Tuck. And Mr. Tuck punished Jimmy. He told Jimmy he had to do it, to make sure Jimmy would remember to be quiet next time. He was more honest than Mr. Walsh, who always said, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Jimmy knew what bullshit was… it was French for “this isn’t at all the truth.”
No, Mr. Tuck was not full of bullshit like Mr.
Mr. Tuck told Jimmy it would hurt. Jimmy. Lots. And it did. But
Jimmy didn’t cry. Not this time.
Mr. Tuck also said he would have to move forward sooner than he had wanted because of Jimmy. (The fact that it was Jimmy’s fault can not be overemphasized.)
* * *
Several more days passed, with Mr. and Mrs. Walsh keeping a close eye on Jimmy. They also quit asking him what things were red. Nearly everything was, no matter what the actual color. He said even they were sort of turning red.
Jimmy heard them talking about him sometimes. They talked about more doctors, and who’s fault it was, and when the voices hit a certain volume level, they would go back to whispering for a while. Jimmy didn’t want to see more doctors. He was afraid he might accindentally tell them more, like last time.
It was the second Saturday in May. Mother’s Day was tomorrow.
That night Mr. Tuck told Jimmy to be sure to surprise Mrs. Walsh with her pretty card tomorrow.
* * *
The next morning was like any other, except mommy had that look she always had after she spent all night playing monkeys with daddy. He had heard them, like he normally would when they’d had grownup drinks at dinner. Mommy had apparently won. He wondered if maybe he could play sometime…
He had his card’s front pressed tightly to his chest. Mrs. And Mr. Walsh greeted him as he came into the kitchen, and Mr. Walsh told Jimmy to tell his mommy happy Mother’s Day.
“Happy Mother’s Day, mommy!”
“Thank you, baby. How do you feel today?” Mrs. Walsh pressed the back of her hand to Jimmy’s forehead, as she had every morning for the last week or so.
“I’m ok, Mommy.” Jimmy smiled up at her.
“Is this my card?” Jimmy nodded. “Oh boy, I told you I’d be excited when I got surprised with it! May I see it?”
Jimmy pulled it away from his chest, leaving glitter all over his favorite red (yellow, actually) sweater. He handed his card to Mrs. Walsh.
She took the macaroni art card from her son, made with love and affection to honor her, his mother. She blanched and dropped her coffee cup on the floor.
Mr. Walsh dashed to his wife’s side. He held her hand up so he could see what was on the card. His eyebrows went up, followed, slowly, by his eyes. They came to rest on Jimmy. “Jimmy, what is this a picture of?”
“Oh.” Mr. Walsh paused and looked at Mrs. Walsh. She was shaking and her jaw was to her bosom.
“And who are the other people?”
“You and Mommy, Daddy.”
“Oh. And…and what is Mr. Tuck doing to us in this picture, Jimmy?”
“Decembering you, Daddy.”
This whole time, Jimmy had not taken his eyes from the gaze of his mother.