The Boy in My Pocket

Sicktimes as a boy I'd lie quietly and let my mom run her hand over me and sing I Am a Promise. I wouldn't dare move too much for fear of letting on that I might not be quite sick enough to merit the attention. I did not know that parents are all too happy to join you in the lie, provided you do not push it.

Lying there with her hand on my back or belly and her lips on my forehead was bathing in need and quiet and you-poor-poor-dear. I would pretend to be asleep until I woke up later, confused.

Then I became a young man and I kept that boy in my pocket. When I was alone I would take him out and make him tell me stories of spacemen and giants and remind me of the old expeditions we took with Frog up his underground stream where we would catch lizards and snakes and poison ivy.

I didn't dare let him go, and I didn't dare show him to anyone. After awhile I didn't bring him out so much. I forgot to feed him every day.

Then there were children in my family, and then I made my own boy and my own girl, no more real than he, but of the flesh-and-blood sort a grown man could be excused for playing with. For them I found I could bring the boy back out and introduce them.

I still have him right here in my pocket, next to Molly's watch and my slab of meteorite. These days I don't always need to wait until I'm alone to let him out. Sometimes I introduce him around. Particularly if there are other children or animals for him to play with.

Jack has a fever. He played it with me just as I did with my own parents, and I played along. I whuffled in beside him at bedtime, put my hand on his back and took his temperature with my lips. We lay there, he and I, and I did not even dare to sing to him. He finally broke the spell, yoinked out of our reverie by an urgent question:

"How long do you think it takes carrots to grow?"