Do you know a perfect dad?
GiGi and The Crab weren't sure.
A bang shook the floor that dad stood on. What happened this time, he wondered? The bang came from the basement where they all lived while he built their new home.
Everything seemed to go wrong. The rain didn’t stop until after the roof was shingled. Dad had to move everyone into a travel trailer while he replaced the waterlogged subfloor and shoveled mud out of the basement until it was dry enough. Then he moved mom, GiGi and The Crab back into the basement.
Down the stairs he ran to find the source of the bang. It sounded like a gunshot. He kept guns in the house, but they were unloaded. At least he hoped they were unloaded. Downstairs, the basement had filled with smoke, not pungent like gun smoke or household combustibles, but more like graphite. He could taste it, and it gave his mouth a metallic taste.
Skidding across the basement into a temporary kitchen, he came to rest at what looked like the source of the strange smelling smoke. The microwave door stood open and emitted a sooty trickle into the air. His eleven-year-old son, The Crab, leaned into the electronic cooking wonder and vigorously thumped a dishtowel around the inside, turning his head just enough to shoot his father a deer-caught-in-the-headlights glance.
The Crab didn’t reply, turned his face to the microwave and thumped his dish towel around a little faster.
As the sound of footsteps tramped down the stairs behind him, dad glanced down at The Crab’s feet and noticed a thin strip of yellow paint on the linoleum that covered the floor. Scooping up the strip, he examined it and announced loudly,
“One-Three-Eight-Eight dash two forward-slash H-B soft!”
The strip appeared to be a pencil fragment, and then Dad bellowed,
“What did you do?”
Dad already knew what The Crab had done. He wasn’t stupid, but he had to ask anyway, as his voice shook sawdust from the floor joists above him.
“Did you put a pencil in the microwave?”
The Crab stopped thumping the dishtowel long enough to crank a distressed face toward his father, lips parting slightly, and his medium-blue eyes drifting to the floor. His arms went limp, his dishtowel dangled, and he slouched.
Mom skidded into the kitchen with five-year-old GiGi close behind and asked, “What’s going on?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Dad replied.
“GiGi and I were pulling weeds in the garden. We thought we heard an explosion down here.”
“No one’s hurt,” Dad informed her, “but the microwave isn’t looking so good.” Dad hadn’t missed the look of confession in The Crab’s posture. Everyone knows that criminals slouch when they’re caught flagrante delicto. Dad knew he did it, and Dad knew the Crab knew that he knew. Glaring at The Crab he persisted.
“What were you thinking?”
“It’ll take you all summer to earn enough to buy a new microwave.”
Mom stepped between them and asked, “How do you know he did anything wrong.”
“Because he has soot all over his hands and face,” Dad grumbled. “And look at this.” He held up the yellow strip adding, “And look at the way he’s standing. You can see he’s guilty. You can see that he blew up the microwave by putting a pencil in it!”
“It’s not that bad.” Mom nervously dampened another dishtowel. “You’re making something out of nothing again.” She wiped the microwave and then The Crab’s hanging face and drooping hands. With a free hand, she lifted his chin and smiled into a face that resembled her own, asking, “What were you trying to do?”
The boy’s eyes welled. “I wanted to turn it into rubber, like dad did the time he showed us that magic trick.” he mumbled.
Mom’s glance narrowed suddenly and she flashed her violet-blues at Dad. “So . . . This is your fault!”
“How can it be my fault?” Dad felt her gaze shift to the side of his head. “He’s the one who put a pencil in the microwave.”
“Give me that!” Mom demanded.
From behind Dad’s ear she snatched his only pencil, the one he used for marking two-by-fours. Somewhere he knew he had dozens of pencils, maybe hundreds of dozens of pencils. If he ever found the place where he kept losing them, he’d never have to buy another one. “Hey! I need that,” he protested and grabbed at the pencil.
She drew away faster than he could snatch it back from her, and the corner of her mouth twisted mischievously. Then with her upright palm facing him, she dangled the pencil loosely by its eraser between the sides of her second and third fingertips, and slowly wagged her palm from side to side. The pencil swayed in opposite directions, giving the illusion that it had become rubbery and flexible.
“Oh yeah,” Dad dropped his chin and mumbled sheepishly.
“Didn’t you just show him and GiGi this trick the other day after supper?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “Three or four days ago.”
“You told them it was magic?”
“But you didn’t show them how you did it?” She closed the microwave door, set the timer for five seconds and pressed start. The appliance sprang to life and dinged off five seconds later.
“See,” she pointed out to him. “No harm done.” Straightening her mouth, she added, “I think you owe somebody an apology.”
Alongside The Crab, Dad took a step, slung an arm around his son’s slouching shoulders and said. “Your mom is right, and I’m sorry. I should have showed you how to do the pencil trick. It’s just a trick, you know. It's not real magic. You don’t have to put it in the microwave and turn it into rubber. And you know I’m not a perfect dad. Will you forgive me for not being perfect and for not showing you the trick?”
The Crab nodded.
“I’m just glad I didn’t show you how to saw your sister in half.”
“So am I,” GiGi agreed as she clung tightly to her mother’s gardening smock.