I duck out of work early to pick up my daughter, Emma, from daycare but when I arrive she comes rushing up to me. “We can’t leave now,” she says, breathless. “My turn is coming up.” Because I am a terrible parent I have no idea what she’s talking about. And because my wife died a few months ago and I still haven’t figured out how to do a ponytail, let alone an elaborate braid, I notice with a pang of guilt that Miss Aurora must have styled Emma’s hair.
“Turn for what?” I say, as a noise, a heavy whomp, whomp, whomp, passes overhead. Outside the window, the autumn leaves scatter and swirl, while the parking lot puddle next to my rusted-out Outback begins to tremble. A giggling stampede of children heads for the windows while a red helicopter shakily descends from the sky and lands near a silver Lexus. The pilot—round helmet, dark sunglasses, smug goatee—waves a gloved hand. The kids shriek with delight.
“What’s that?” I ask.
Emma looks up at me like I’m an idiot, “That’s Henry’s show-and-tell.”
The teacher, Miss Aurora, a lady with large hoops in her ears who exudes a cool authority and patchouli, claps her hands, “Alright, friends, back to the Chill Zone.” Peeling themselves from the window, the children head toward the beaded curtain and beanbags.
Still staring at the helicopter, wondering what the hell is going on, I slink into a small wooden chair. The teacher asks, “Are there any questions for Henry?” A classroom of four and five-year-old hands shoot up. I raise mine as well, I have questions.
Madison—blue Frozen Disney shirt, light-up shoes, White House reporter’s death stare—is called on. “Henry,” she says standing. “With its absurdly high CO2 emission rate, how can you justify utilizing a helicopter?” I scooch up the chair, I too want to know how Henry makes amends with his little conscience.
A moose pokes its head through the classroom door. “Nora,” Miss Aurora says with a lilt in her voice. “Your show-and-tell’s here.” Relieved, Henry sits back down while the moose, furry antlers, drooling all over, clomps into the room. I scooch back.
“My parents vacationed in Canada,” Nora says, waving her hand at the moose as it inhales a succulent off a cabinet. “And they brought me back a moose. Which is like a horse, but better.”
Miss Aurora nods, the hoops in her ears swing. “You don’t realize how large they are until you’re up close.” Perhaps too large, because even though it appears to be ducking, the moose’s antlers are demolishing the ceiling tiles; popcorn-like particles rain down while the children watch enthralled. Miss Aurora pats the beast on the rump, “Such a majestic animal.” She seems so calm compared to my heart which is racing so fast that I wonder if I’m overreacting because I’m beginning to freak out. Better than a horse, better than a horse, I repeat to myself as the moose kicks out a hind leg and snaps the faucet of the children’s sink in half like a twig. The kids scream. I scream louder. Water gushes into the air, but Miss Aurora is already sweeping across the room in her Birkenstocks and turns the water shutoff valve.
The moose laps the puddle at its feet. “Water,” Miss Aurora says, “Nature’s nectar.”
“Is this,” I say to Miss Aurora, lowering my voice so I don’t alarm the children, “an emergency situation?”
“Don’t be silly,” she says. “Some of the parents tend to go a little overboard, but it’s all right.” The moose looks up at me accusingly; bits of ceiling tile are stuck in its beard.
Harper, a round-faced girl with severe bangs and a helmet of thick blonde hair goes next. Tossing paper money into the air she explains that her mother is a branch manager at a bank and she brings Harper home the leftover cash. As the windfall scatters, the children scramble and I recall the time I tried to impress Emma with a drafting ruler that I had swiped from work. I snap out of it when a bill lands near my foot. Not knowing if the money is intended only for the kids—like a parting gift at a child’s birthday party—I place one of my chunky Hoka sneakers over Ben Franklin’s face. When I see Miss Aurora pluck a twenty from the air, I stuff the bill in my pocket.
“Emma,” Miss Aurora says, “your turn sweety.” My heart sinks. She’s been through so much but she’s so determined, so fierce. Seeing her march up there empty-handed because I forgot her show-and-tell reminds me that I’ll never be the parent Emma deserves.
Then Emma smiles a rare, wonderful, happy smile. “My dad is my show-and-tell,” she says. Miss Aurora waves me forward and I move toward the two of them in a joyous daze like a contestant on a game show getting called up from the audience.
“Questions?” Miss Aurora asks.
Madison raises her hand. My stomach plummets. “What is your father’s profession? Dressed like that, I’m guessing it’s in a field involving little face-to-face human interaction.”
“Madison,” Miss Aurora says. “Let’s use our kind words. A physician prescribed Emma’s dad those shoes.”
“What?” I look down at my chunky Hoka’s. “No, I bought these at Kohl’s. And I’m an accountant. It’s actually fun, I get to—”
“My dad’s in space,” Madison says, cutting me off.
“Really?” I ask, impressed.
Madison crosses her arms, the bottom of one shoe flashes. “He’s an astronaut, on the space station.”
Miss Aurora throws back her head and spreads her arms to what’s left of the ceiling. “He could be orbiting above us right now,” she says.
“Well, my dad,” Emma says, her hand slipping into mine, “is right here.”
Richie Zaborowske is a dad, librarian, and author from the Midwest. He puts a contemporary twist on traditional library offerings; his monthly Short Story Night packs the local brewery and features trivia, comedy, and author interviews. His writing appears in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, New World Writing Quarterly, Brevity, The Los Angeles Review, HAD, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Identity Theory, Jet Fuel Review, and others.
Lead image: “Moose” (via Flickr user Hank Frinkel)