Starting at the age of 10, humans are given companion animals that develop along side them. These animals can range anywhere from a goldfish to a horse to even a dragon. The only catch is that they are assigned based on your behavior during childhood.
This one felt pretty good to write. It all just seemed to flow as I just channeled my experience with my own mom and days when she would be in a hurry.
“Johnny get up.” His mother’s voice was annoyed, but not malicious.
Mothers often have no malicious bones in their body when it comes to their children and Johnny’s mother certainly was no exception. She was tired though. Although she was often tired. She had been up for a few hours first making coffee– two cups for herself. Then it was time for chores, each one growing in audibility in an attempt to invade the boy’s unconscious dream state that it was time to get up. It never did. Around 8 a.m. She swung his door open, abandoning all caution and walked over the 10 year old’s bead. She sat down on the right side and put her gently shook his arm. Johnny’s eyes blinked open.
“Uhhh, good morning.” Johnny said still half asleep. “What time is it?”
“Eight, now come on. It’s time to get dressed.”
Johnny let a whimper slip out but agreed audibly with a grunt to get out of bed. His mother was satisfied for now and she left the room to attend the dryer that was just now, she estimated, finishing up the second load of the morning. As she left the room her full-grown Cheetah met her at the door, arching its back in that completely graceful and muscular way that all cats, large and small, manage to do.
“C’mon Margie,” Johnny’s mother said patting the Cheetah’s head. “We still have some dishes to finish up.”
The Cheetah responded with a deep purr and raised its chin for a small scratch. Johnny’s mother obliged and the two walked down the down stairs, Margie following close at her heels.
Johnny continued to blink his eye crusts away rolling this way and that. When his vision settled down and came into focus he craned around to look at his old disney alarm clock. When it sounded the alarm a small twinkle, a mere piece of quartz attached to an extendable arm that was supposedly tinkerbell, sprung from the castle in a sweeping arc to the sound of the Walt Disney movie intro. Johnny had never bothered to set an alarm though and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the piece of quartz.
The clock’s digital display read 8:20 in faint red lettering. This was the most difficult part of Johnny’s day: whether or not to throw his warm covers aside and get up when he could easily try and eak out five more minutes of blissful stillness. Could he afford the minutes? He almost never could. The minutes always seemed to expound and multiply until his mother was shaking him awake and pushing him out the door.
Today though, he didn’t seem to mind. It was, after all, his special day. He turned 10 just last week and his mother had scheduled their trip to the local companionship bureau today.
For the last week he had dreamed of another Cheetah to match his moms. She had told him not to hold his breath and that everyone’s animal was different. It was going to be a Cheetah though. He just had that special feeling.
‘Where is that boy?’ Johnny’s mother thought looking at the clock on the stove: 8:40. ‘Why does he do this every morning?’ She sighed and slipped her bright yellow gloves off and folded them over the kitchen sink’s divider. Marge stood next to her and as if on cue pushed the adjacent dishwasher door closed.
“Good girl Margie,” Johnny’s mother turned towards the stairs. “Oh, you’re up.” Johnny’s mother said. “How about some breakfast?”
“No thanks.” Johnny said yawning hanging onto the banister. It was obvious that the boy had dressed himself. The buttons on Johnny’s blue and white checkered shirt did not line up, his jean’s zipper was still open for the world to see and managed to find different patterned socks.
‘It’s still an improvement,’ she thought.
Johnny padded over to the kitchen in his different socks and took a seat at the kitchen table. He watched Margie’s spots sprawl out on the kitchen floor while his mother went to retrieve her shoes.
“You’re going to have a friend soon,” Johnny whispered to the dozing cat.
Marge lifted her head and looked at him as if to understand. Slowly and deliberately the Cheetah stood up and walked over to the bright-eyed boy and licked his upturned palm.
“I’m gonna name my Cheetah Timmy.”
Marge cocked her head at the boy and then turned to his mother who was coming down the stairs.
“Alright let’s go. Get your shoes on.” Johnny’s mother was looking down at her coat and didn’t notice that Johnny had already put on his shoes.
“Okay,” Johnny replied, not moving from his seat.
“C’mon,” she said again more tiredly after a pause. She looked at her son and saw that he’d already slipped into his velcro sneakers. “Oh,” was all she said after.
The three climbed into the old 1993 Volvo 240 that sit, lightly dusted with snow, in the driveway. Johnny instinctively hopped in the back while Marge and his mother climbed in the front. The ride was quiet for the most part besides the occasional purr from Marge. Johnny was still half-asleep and thinking about his future adventures with his Cheetah which every moment seemed a more imminent reality. Johnny’s mother usually drove in silence. It was a nice time to just let the brain handle driving while she planned out her day. Now though, she was just relieved and a bit nervous about the appointment.
The building they pulled up to was entirely uninviting. Backed up against a small wooded area filled with gnarly box elder trees peppered with the occasional ever-green spruce, the huge brutalist bureau building that loomed over them. The gray slabs of walls matched the shade of the sky to give the illusion that the building never ended.
“You ready?” Johnny’s mother said as she turned to her son in the backseat and shifted to “P”. He nodded.
“Let’s go Marge.” Johnny’s mother exited the car first and walked around to let Marge out. Johnny fumbled with the seatbelt for a moment while his mother walked over to the passenger’s side and closed the door. Soon they found themselves in front of the bureau’s twelve-foot-high doors.
‘For a bureau whose main focus is companionship their office doesn’t make you seem welcome.’ His mother thought.
“It seems smaller than last time,” Johnny’s mother muttered to herself as the three entered the lobby.
“Huh?” asked Johnny.
Inside was just as bleak looking as outside. White sterile floors, white light, and rows upon rows of off-white cubical walls. Reminiscent of the DMV, but much emptier.
Johnny’s mother approached the front desk.
“Hi there,” she said greeting the expressionless lumpy man behind the receptionist placard. “We have a 9:30 appointment for Grupenowski.”
“Hmm, okay” said the clerk. He looked down his nose through his glasses at the outdated computer monitor and then down once more to a stack of clipboards. He handed Johnny’s mother one and reached for a pen from the cup to the right of the stack.
“Just fill this out and your number is 34.” He said. “When you see your number flash on the screen,” he pointed at the display above his desk, “head to the corresponding lettered counter. Have a nice day,” he added as an afterthought.
“You too.” She said now preoccupied with the clipboard. Johnny’s mother looked up around the room for any reason to be the 34th in line. There was no one else in the building. After waiting another 20 minutes a bell rung out over the lobby’s PA system and the number 34 flashed followed by the letter “R”. Counter R was near the end of the row of cubicles to the left of the receptionist desk. The Grupenowski’s walked past the lumpy man once again but he didn’t seem to notice, instead fixing his eyes on his computer screen. Johnny and Marge followed by Johnny’s mother with clipboard in hand.
“Uhh, hello.” Johnny’s mother felt that she was intruding on clerks space. Behind the counter on the cubical walls hung countless old Maxine comic calendar pages and pictures of small newborn children. The women looked slightly annoyed but turned to Johnny’s mother all the same and responded.
“What can I do for you today?”
“Well my son just turned 10 last week.”
“Happy Birthday young man” The woman craned over the counter.
“Thank you.” Johnny said looking up to the desk. Margie responded too with a deep purr.
“So you’re here for a companion I suppose.” The clerk continued looking over the edge of her desk.
“Yes,” Johnny said lightly.
“Well, alrighty then,” the clerk said turning back up to Johnny’s mother. “He’ll just need to take a few tests so we can place him in our matrices and find a good match.”
“Of course,” Johnny’s mother responded remembering the process quite well.
“If you’ll all follow me,” the clerk said stepping down from her computer chair.
The four walked down a series of exceedingly sterile government hallways into the placement wing. They came to a door with the placard ‘Exam room 5’ and the clerk opened the door motioning Johnny in.
“Alright,” Johnny’s mother said crouching down. “I’m just going to be out in the waiting room. You have to take a few tests, but don’t worry honey, there are no wrong answers.”
Johnny didn’t respond, instead he smiled as he followed the clerk into the room.
Two silent hours later and many Marge purrs later, Johnny turned the corner to the lobby and emerged with his companion draped over his shoulder. Johnny’s mother couldn’t help but laugh.
“A sloth?” his mother asked as he walked towards her with a huge grin.
“Oh my god mom look at him. He’s so cool. I named him Slowmo. He sleeps like 15 hours a day and can turn his head all the way around. And look at his toes.” Johnny said turning to his sloth draped over his shoulder who had matched his smile.
“He does have some big toes,” his mother said.
“You’re all set.” The clerk said walking a few feet behind Johnny.
“Thanks,” his mother called back. “So it’s better than a Cheetah?” She asked turning back to her son.
“It’s not better,” Johnny said looking at Margie. “It’s just different.”
What was once three was now four. They exited the large white-washed building and got into the Volvo station wagon. Margie and mom in front and Johnny with Slowmo in the back. As soon as he they were belted in the backseat the boy and his new companion promptly fell asleep.