Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Tale of Betsy And Her Brother Fred

What I saw were two spheres of packed snow on the white lawn, the smaller 

ball on top. Was that what she saw, too?

Two round, smooth pebbles which we had taken from the base of the large maple in the yard, were pressed into where conceivably a snowman’s eyes should be, if indeed this picasso-like creation of Betsy's and mine could be termed man in any sense of the word. A larger pebble, or nose, was more-or-less centered on the ball, and for a mouth, a short brown stick was pressed in at a rakish angle, giving the snowman a jaunty look.

             “I like your little snowman,” I said.  “He has character.”

       “He’s my brother Fred.”

       “Your brother Fred?  Honey, he’s just a snowman.”

       Betsy smiled.

       At first her mother and father and I had delighted in her made-up stories.  We marveled at the depth of imagination at her mere four years of age, and told ourselves that she must be very bright. The belief filled us with pride. However, as the stories became more and more frequent, uneasiness began to reign in our hearts.

   A few years went by, and then one time, off-handedly, she announced that Harry Potter lived in their basement, and that she was in love with him.  Another time she said that as soon as her daddy and mommy were sound asleep each night, she went off to the bat cave for an hour or two.  

“With Batman?” I asked.

“No,” she said.  “With the other vampire bats.”

The other vampire bats?  What other?  

“You’re just pretending,” I said, barely disguising the plea in my voice. “Aren't you, Honey?”  

She smiled. 

“Honey, you do know that’s just pretending, don’t you, and not real?”  

Again she just smiled.

A few years later, Mrs. Willison, her Sunday-school teacher, told of a conversation she and Betsy had. “You know,” Betsy had told the Sunday-school teacher, “I have an older brother.”

Mrs. Willison knew Betsy to be an only child, and assuming that she longed

for a sibling, she played along.

“Really?” she said.  “Why have I never seen him at church?”  

According to Mrs. Willison, Betsy's answer was to smile a knowing smile. 

Now, as Betsy and I stood together in the snow-covered yard, a gray winter 

cloud hid the sun, and a sudden wind stirred the bare branches of the maple tree. 

Betsy took the scarf from around her neck and wrapped it where the two large 

snow spheres met, knotting it in front.  

“There,” she said. “Fred gets cold easy.”

It was useless.  

“Well, I get cold easily, too,” I said. “Time to go in.”

During the night, the temperature inched upward, not uncharacteristic for early December, and when I checked the thermometer outside my bedroom window the 

next morning, I saw that the red mercury line topped forty-seven degrees.

Fred will be sinking into a watery grave, I thought.  When Betsy wakes up, 

we’ll have to talk more about this fantasy thing of hers.  She simply must stop living 

in the world she creates for herself and start living in this one.  But when I looked 

out onto the lawn, I saw the snowman intact, still as fat and saucy as before. How

could that be? And did I imagine it, or was Fred several steps closer to the house?  

The uneasiness that for several years I had kept lodged in a far corner broke loose and spread.