Cracker Jack
Tiff Holland

Finally, Sarah has tried the Cracker Jack. She is not impressed. We are disappointed. How can a kid not like Cracker Jack? After all, she loves Happy Meals and has been begging to go to Burger King for weeks because the latest toy in their kiddie meal is a Neopet or something like that. Luckily, we have no idea as to the location of the nearest Burger King.

She brings me the toy. “This is for you, Mommy,” she says. It is a little booklet, slightly larger than a postage stamp. She folds it in and out and each fold, which is a portion of a face, forehead, chin, ears, schnoz, changes the picture. In one variation, the face reveals Abraham Lincoln. In another George Washington. It must be the Presidents Day version, only they don’t even celebrate that anymore. Still, she likes the toy. She takes it with her, folding and unfolding, not paying attention, until she walks into the dog who looks up at her and licks her. Our old dog would have growled.

I am watching TV. Her father gives her a bath, sends her out to give me a kiss. She is six. She wears pajamas with the word “Bratz” across the butt. I dislike clothing with words across the butt.

Tomorrow night, I will give her a bath. I will put her to bed. I will put her in plaid pajamas. I am just now getting well enough to do these things, but not every night. Twice a week, I play parent while my mother sits downstairs in the recliner, nervous, pretending to read. Everyone in my life is just waiting to call the squad again, but not my daughter. She was there that morning. Ray yelled for the phone and she came running with it, handed it through the doorway to him, but she didn’t look at me. Popeye was on TV. She didn’t want to miss his flying fists, the appearance of the can of spinach. The “toot, toot” of the theme song was going through my head in the ambulance, right up until I went into shock, stopped remembering everything.

On the nights I put her to sleep, I tell her stories from memory. I still have trouble reading, looking at words head on. She always wants a story about my brothers. My brothers were notorious in my neighborhood. None of the other kids were allowed to play with them. They were kicked out of the corner store and off the school bus. They both repeated kindergarten. They once convinced a babysitter they were allowed to use the roof as a sliding board. My parents came home to find the asphalt shingles had worn holes through the denim. Remembering this, words don’t seem too bad.

She comes back for another kiss, leaves the picture-folder thing on the table. I can’t resist picking it up, folding corner to corner, not so much interested in forming the face of Washington or Lincoln but a mixture of the two, a Lincolnton. I think of my face, before and after the stroke, folded together in different combinations. One has two good eyes but a drooping left side of the mouth. One is puffy on the whole left side. Another has one eye bulging, but otherwise looks perfectly normal. These are the possible variations, but I came out OK. The paramedics were called. The life flight arrived. My daughter didn’t even see me on the floor. Thank you, Popeye. Thank you, firemen, who took her on the tour of the rig while I was being wheeled out.

When I tire of the toy, I toss it in my trash, head to bed. She won’t remember it tomorrow. Tomorrow is a grandma night which means a Happy Meal, a new toy. I think they’re giving out mini Barbies this month, which is less interesting than the Lincolnton but will last longer, the way the fries, dropped between the seats of the car, never seem to disappear.

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