A Month 2 of 12 Transient Visitors Very Tiny Tale by David O’Boyle
Skeleton T-Rex emerged from the highway. The giant theropod stood kingly on the front lawn of Stew Farms. Above its head, an orange sign with black lettering said, “ALL HALLOWEEN ITEMS MUST GO”.
Our turn off I-80 exposed a second set of bones from the late Cretaceous period- Skeleton Triceratops. The extinct three-horned beast lounged in the pumpkin patch beside a pen of hoofed mammals entertaining handsy children.
On days like this one, the demand for Stew’s fell short of its parking supply. For most people, that meant waiting in the car for an open spot. Not for me and dad. With his Sheriff badge in hand and the shield of qualified immunity omnipresent, we made our own spot.
Normally I objected to this behavior. However, it being Halloween, I abstained. Dad had an evening of toilet paper trees, shaving-creamed streets, egg-battered cars, and jack-o-lantern genocide to tackle. Quarreling over proper civil servant etiquette could wait until tomorrow.
Also, Dad was like a ripped sail since the divorce. Until he found oars or a motor or some other means of propulsion, he could not move forward. In his present state, I didn’t have the heart to fight with him. Instead my energy went into trying to enjoy my weekend time with him. For Saturday was Dad Day under the decree. And on this particular Dad Day, we were decorating.
“Can I help you, Sheriff?” a cracking voice said to my father.
“Just looking around,” Dad said, far more interested in dealing with the dinosaurs than talking with a gawky teenager wearing an enormous purple jester hat.
“Boomers can’t resist these things,” the cracking voice said to me.
“Seems that way, yeah,” I said.
Unlike Dad, I had a harder time deflecting conversation with the speaker. I knew Declan well. He fancied me, had since he moved here years ago. From then on, I avoided the wretch the best I could. No easy task. Knowing Declan’s whereabouts was like keeping tabs on a termite. You didn’t see him until he swarmed. His employment history aggravated this problem. No exaggeration, Declan had been hired, fired, and re-hired from every store in town.
“Dino’s are big right now,” Declan said to my father, returning to his sales pitch.
This time Dad was listening. Declan’s words were all the reassurance the Sheriff needed to hear.
“I’ll take two T-Rex’s,” Dad said.
“Not one for diversity I see,” Declan said, stroking the neglected Triceratops skeleton with one arm and twirling a tentacle on his purple jester hat with the other. “Could’ve guessed that you don’t think herbivores’ lives’ matter.”
“This is Halloween. Plant-eaters aren’t scary,” Dad replied.
“Your daughter here is a plant-eater Sir, and I’ve been scared to talk to her since middle school,” Declan said.
“Thoughts, Maddie?” Dad asked, surprised by the boldness of the young salesman.
“I don’t get political about dinosaurs,” I said. “Let’s defer to the expert in the jester hat.”
Declan, skilled in embracing ridicule, a trait developed from years of being our grade’s insult receptacle, forfeited his rebuttal to refocus on the sale.
“We don’t have a second T-Rex in stock. But if you buy Skeleton T-Rex I’ll give you half off Skeleton Triceratops.”
“Tie em’ down in the back of my truck and you have a deal,” the Sheriff said.
“You giving yourself a ticket for parking there Sheriff?” Declan said when we exited Stew’s and saw our ‘custom’ parking space.
“The ratchet straps are in the back. We’re going to grab some cider donuts and coffee,” Dad replied, ignoring Declan’s remark.
“Couldn’t have guessed that,” Declan said.
“What’s that?” the Sheriff asked.
“Nothing, enjoy your breakfast,” Declan replied.
When we returned to the parking lot, Declan was sitting on the bumper, back against a closed tailgate. T-Rex and Triceratops were woven into the truck bed like giant spider food.
“Good thing T-Rex has small arms Sheriff, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to jam them both in there,” Declan said, pointing back to his work.
“Why is that anyways? Why such small arms,” the Sheriff asked rhetorically.
Declan answered literally. “Could be a few things. Some say the small arms prevented T-Rex from biting its arms off while eating. Accidental amputation.”
“Maybe that’s why your arms are so small daddy. All that meat you eat,” I said.
Declan continued talking, his desire to show he knew something overpowering his need for banter. “Others say the small arms are a type of pectoral claspers.”
“Pectoral claspers?” Dad asked, unfamiliar with the term.
“They’re for reproduction, Daddy,” I said, hopping into the front seat. “Basic biology. Male sharks and rays use them to secure the female. Dinosaurs too, I guess. C’mon let’s go.”
“Oh right, we have to hit the costume store,” Dad said.
“What’re you being?” Declan asked.
“A witch,” I said.
“You don’t need a costume for that,” Declan said.
“You didn’t need one either,” I said, referring to his jester hat.
Ultra-corny conversation, I know. It did, however, serve to move the subject beyond pectoral claspers. The Sheriff should have thanked me. I certainly thanked myself.
“Where you going for Halloween?” Declan asked.
“A party,” I said, cryptically.
“Where at?” Declan asked, shamelessly pursuing an invite. He knew that by asking in front of my Dad I had to disclose the info or lie to them both.
“Well, where at?” Declan persisted when met with silence.
“I’ll text you,” I said, mindful of the social consequence of Declan showing up at a party on my account.
“It’s easier if I text you,” Declan said, pulling out his phone. “What’s your number?”
Crafty move. Declan knew I’d never text him. Mentos had a better shot at being dormant in a Diet Coke. Still, I respected his cunning. For that, and because I felt it fitting to begin Halloween with a nightmare, I conceded to his request.
With this penance complete, Dad and I left Stew’s.
Daylight waned by the time we got home and set everything up. On every side of us, excited trick-or-treaters gathered on nearby stoops. At any moment, a combination of parental approval and pure ecstasy would send them straight to our doorstep with sacs of open candy bags. Thankfully, we finished before the first wave, and Dad, who now wore the biggest smile of them all, filled their bags with bliss.
It was the best father-daughter moment we had since the divorce. Dad was proud. Real proud.
He didn’t feel the same way a few hours later.
Busting up a Halloween party and finding your daughter scaling a picket fence in a suggestive witch outfit to avoid arrest can have that effect on the local Sheriff. Making matters worse, the spotlight from his squad car gave everyone an unintentional tour of my undergarments.
Where did we run to escape the cops? The woods of course! Booby-trapped by darkness, the woods was the way to the backup party. But potential backup party spots were numerous, almost infinite. Once inside the wood you only knew where to go if you were told where to go.
Until recently, these exclusive invites came easy to me. Not anymore. Not since people started thinking that keeping me away from parties kept the Sheriff away too.
Whether those concerns had merit-and looking back they did- did not matter to me. My new mantra- come August, come college- kept me grounded. In the meantime, I could handle being alone. With all the chaos at home, I even preferred it. Solitary long walks like the one from that party were now a favorite past time, my armor against the details of the divorce. They were even better when, like that night, they finished at an empty house. Remember, Dad was out chasing my ‘friends’ until sunrise. For at least a little while, I had the place to myself.
When he came home, however, he made himself known. Rather than physically stir me, he pulled back my window curtain, ushering in the moonlit front lawn. A light sleeper, I woke the moment the light came in. Once he saw me awake, he pointed outside to indicate his purpose.
Both dinosaurs were dispossessed of their afternoon gentility. Before they posed well-mannered, perhaps prudent. Now they posed as libertines, flaunting the secrets of the Kama sutra.
“You did this?” Dad asked.
“Did what?” I asked, forcing him to describe the obscenity occurring on the lawn between two giant reptile skeletons absent from this earth for the past 66 million years.
“You know. Look…at the… pectoral claspers!” he said.
I denied doing it. Dad believed me. But not for the right reason. Even as a senior in high school, even as a scantily clad witch who scaled picket fences in flight from the arms of the law, I was still Daddy’s little girl. And Daddy’s little girl couldn’t assemble such advanced erotica.
So I was off the hook. But who was on the hook in my place?
I walked over to the dresser and clicked my phone to see the time. Then I started to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” Dad asked.
I showed him Declan’s text from a few hours ago. I hadn’t read it yet because I fell asleep before he sent it. The text read:
“NO TIP AFTER ALL THAT WORK FASTENING THE TRUCK! TELL THE SHERIFF THAT HE’S CHEAP. AND AS YOU CAN SEE, SO IS HIS TRICERATOPS!”
Dad went outside to return the dinos to decency. “He’s nuts but he’s got guts,” were the first words he said to me when he came back inside.
I learned later that Declan got his twenty-dollar tip from the Sheriff the next morning. The gratuity was secured with a warning: never come near Maddie again.
Shame. I had just started to like him.