Press L Plus R

Want me to write a book? You get to pick it! I’ll be posting snippets from the dozen or so I have been working on, and you’ll pick which one I finish! More details will be on the way in the coming weeks.

This post is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events would be just plain weird.

The little baby penguin floated down the river. It wasn’t really a penguin, and it wasn’t really a river; it was a Leapster screen, and it was a numbers game. 

The Leapster wasn’t Mommy’s first electronic purchase. She had originally picked out a talking book-reader called a Leap Pad. She would stick a little plastic cartridge into the slot on the side, clip down a mostly-pictures book into place, and listen to the Leap Pad read stories to her son. However, instead of reading the Leap Pad stories along with the spoken words, her son’s hand would always drift directly to the “Let’s Play a Game!” star button. She was happy he was making use of the money she had spent, even though it wasn’t really in the manner she had originally hoped. When his interest in the Leap Pad story-games waned, she gave the device to her sister’s children. Her sister never mentioned in conversation if her kids used the Leap Pad, and Mommy really didn’t care that much; in her head it was just the thought that counted.

This new toy, a Leapster, was a learning device disguised as a small child’s handheld video game. All the games were designed to teach lessons to a child–spelling, math, and the like–instead of just being colorful, addictive blips on the screen. Mommy was trying her best to funnel his desire to play games into skills he would soon need in school.

This penguin on the screen had a purpose. Run over the right number, and you’ll get a little speed boost; but whatever you do, don’t let the penguin bump into a log on the river or the wrong number, or you’ll slow down and lose your race against the polar bear. Comically, Mommy thought, the penguin and the polar bear were about the same size. She never brought it up to her son.

The lights were off in the living room, save for the small tabletop lamp beside the couch. Bobby had taken over Mommy’s recliner; he would only sit in it when she wasn’t paying attention to him. Mommy was in the kitchen, cleaning and cleaning, clinking plates together and clanging fistfuls of silverware as she emptied the dishwasher. The recliner was his. The Leapster’s screen illuminated his face, giving his skin a soft blue glow. The top of the screen said “4 + 2”.

Bobby navigated the penguin and his canoe towards the right down the 2-dimensional river, picking up a 6 and giving himself a little forward boost. The polar bear’s canoe fell behind for the moment but was still visible at the bottom of the screen, behind him on the river. Bobby veered his penguin hard left to avoid a floating log. He found himself wondering if the water was icy cold. Penguins, he thought, so it must be cold. It must be icy cold and wet.

“Bobby, five minutes,” Mommy called from the kitchen. He could hear the dinner glasses clinking together in the cabinet next to the fridge, the task that normally was the end of her kitchen routine. If there was anything his mommy was good at, it was routine; and Bobby found comfort in that. Five minutes ago, it had been “Bobby, ten minutes;” and five minutes before that, it had been “Bobby, fifteen minutes.”  At least he was somewhere on her mind while she ambled through her evening chores.

Two more math problems and three dodged logs later, the penguin crossed under the finish line banner stretched across the river. The polar bear came in a distant second. The penguin hop-hop-hopped up onto the shore to begin his cute little victory dance, while the polar bear remained in his canoe in the belly-button-deep water, shaking his head in defeat and covering his eyes.

Bobby looked up from the screen, then looked straight up at the ceiling, realizing his neck was a little bit stiff. He tucked his skinny, red-pajama-covered legs up under his bottom and scooted his back a little further down in the chair, bringing the screen closer to his face. He hadn’t heard Daddy make a peep since dinner; he was probably on his laptop computer, working away while sitting up in bed, still in his clothes, with the blankets covering his legs.  Bobby hadn’t talked to Daddy much since he had gotten home from school. This wasn’t by choice; it just didn’t happen. Oh, there was a word or two over the dinner of meatloaf and potatoes, but that was about it. There wasn’t ball-tossing in the backyard or pushing on the swings. That just wasn’t Daddy’s thing. So after the yummy dinner, he snuggled up his body into his little Bobby-ball and started playing games… and oh goodness if Mommy knew how many times he had farted into her recliner…
There’s time for one more river race, he thought as he picked “Race Again” from the round bubble menu that had popped up on the screen. The Leapster screen flashed back to the beginning of the race. The penguin climbed into his little canoe again, and with a big bubble “GO!” in the middle of the screen, he was off down the river. Darnit, there had been no way to avoid that log…

“Time to turn it off,” Mommy said as she walked lightly into the living room and up to her recliner.
“I’m almost done with this race…” the little boy mumbled, not looking up from the Leapster screen.
Mommy reached down and pushed the power button at the top of the screen. “You’re done now,” she said quietly. She took the Leapster from his hands, and he gave it up without complaint. The stylus, which Mommy had re-attached to the Leapster twice with yarn, dangled down from the bottom of the game, dancing as she moved across the living room and placed it on the coffee table.  

The game was set on the coffee table, and the boy was scooped up into her arms. Bobby got a little heavier every day, and his mommy had the fleeting thought that one day he would be too big to easily scoop up like this.  She didn’t want to think about that now. Her little boy’s legs wrapped around her back, like a monkey, she thought, and his hands rested on her shoulders. He was carried that way, Mommy waddling a bit, down the hall towards the bathroom to brush his teeth before bed.

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About Susan Pitman

Susan is an artist who grew up in Massachusetts and now lives in Texas. She writes songs, short stories, and books. You can follow @susanpitman143 on Twitter.

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