2. Fix it
3. Huddled in the corner
The kid was three or four, I suppose, with blond hair and those big eyes that are supposed to melt even the toughest heart. He—at least I assumed it was a he—just stood there in front of a card table by the preschool window. Ten minutes earlier the table had held a large, flat cardboard box, and the box had held about a million tiny little silkworms and a good handful of fresh mulberry leaves.
I knew this because I’d been somehow talked into stripping the succulent, first-of-spring leaves from the tree in my front yard. That handful of leaves had cost me half an hour of my precious time and a couple of square inches of my precious skin. Now the leaves, already chewed down to nubs, were scattered on the floor and silkworms were skittering in all directions.
“Damn!” I said, and earned myself a nasty stare from the kids’ teacher. She started toward me with all the finesse of a Peterbilt truck and I wished I’d kept my mouth shut.
“Mr. Pelargonia, we don’t use that word in our classroom.” I nodded and tried to escape her evil eye.
“I’m sorry, Miss…Um…,” I whispered. “Shall I apologize to the kids…um…children?”
She snapped her head back and looked down her nose at me. I didn’t think people really did that, but she certainly did.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’d just make matters worse.”
She suddenly seemed to notice the clean, empty surface of the small table beside me.
“What,” she muttered, “have you done with our silkworms?” The voice was cold, but I had a feeling a fairly warm temper was just waiting to erupt.
“Me! I didn’t do anything!” I protested. “It was this kid in the green shirt.” I looked around for the offender and spotted him huddled in the corner with a small book and a large pillow.
“That kid in the green shirt,” I said, pointing in that direction.
“Just Fix It,” the teacher hissed at me, and strode toward the kid.
Fix it, indeed! I shouldn’t have been here at all. If it hadn’t been for the fact that my yard held a big old mulberry tree I’d never have set foot in this place. But it seems that the specks that emerge from silkworm eggs every year about this time won’t eat anything else but the tasty leaves of arborus mulberrius, or whatever the hell it is. The two neighbors who’d come to convince me of my civic duty in this regard had, with a complete lack of conscience, brought their kids along.
“The children wait all year for the eggs to hatch, so they’ll grow up into moths and spin cocoons. If there are no leaves, nothing happens,” the mother pleaded.
Two blond heads, four big eyes. How could I have said no?