The next morning, capped with her favorite Nike half-hat, Wren came bounding up to the dock waving a folded and crinkled piece of paper at Foster. He could guess easily as to what was written. Breathlessly, she handed it to him and puffed, “The whole class put stuff on the board and I copied it down. Mrs. Henderson was not allowed to help. So, your job is there?”
Foster uncrumpled it and read:
4. Mixer driver
5. Oven driver
6. Telephone answerer
7. Helicopter driver
8. Security guard
9. Food inspector
10. Bug catcher
11. Grocery store cookie stuff getter
12. Cookie monster
He laughed and looked up at Wren who was peering into Foster’s face.
“Uh, Wren, number seven. Was that your idea?”
She grasped the paper to turn it slightly towards herself and tilted her head to line up to read. She puzzled, “Seven? Helicopter driver.” With a serious look on her face, she replied, “That was Harold Wilson’s idea. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
“It’s not something we have here.” Foster smiled as he read the rest of the list. He looked up at Wren.
She smiled at him, “You haven’t heard my idea.”
Foster wrinkled his brow, “Yours is not on here?”
She climbed upon the same 5-gallon can she had perched on the day before and replied, "I just made it up right now." She pointed to a small red toolbox to one side of the dock.
Foster looked at it and then back at Wren. “You know what that is?”
“You are a fixer guy. Those are your tools.”
Foster pursed his lips, “What if I told you they are not mine?”
“Then I don’t get the cookies.” Her eyes flashed as her brows fell into a scowl.
Foster laughed heartily, “No, those are not my tools. They belong to the bakery.” He paused, staring into her stormy eyes and then, “I just use them to fix things.”
Wren screeched, “I was right! You are a fixer guy!”
Foster gave her two thumbs up and motioned to her to follow him into the bakery. The two of them walked through the noisy machines, stacks of supplies, and heat radiating from ovens and on to the bakery shop-front where Foster spoke to the counter attendant, "This young lady is ordering…" he paused. Turning to Wren, he asked, "How many in your class?"
She stopped to count in her head, and then, "Twenty-six. Do you want to count Mrs. Henderson, too?"
Foster nodded and turned to the counter girl again, “Make that three dozen…” Again, he paused and turned to Wren, “What kind would you like?”
“Chocolate chip, of course!” She smiled with her entire face as the counter girl grabbed a cookie box and began collecting the cookies.
Foster paid for the cookies then he and Wren walked out the front door. As Wren departed towards the bus stop, Foster called out, “You must tell them that it was your idea that won these cookies for them!”
She laughed and waved a goodbye. Foster watched her boyish figure disappear into her school day.
The following day, Wren returned for Foster’s lunch break carrying a couple typical grade-school books. She was not wearing her half-hat but she was wearing an iridescent green and blue curve-fitting gymnast’s body suit although there wasn’t much of a complicated set of curves to fit. Nonetheless, Foster admired her child-athlete form anyway. When he offered her a chocolate chip cookie, she declined.
“I have something for you, today.” She dropped her books near the stairs of the dock and regarded the parking ramp, now empty of trucks.
“Today,” she began, “my P.E. class is having a tumbling competition and I’m going to do an acrobat show for you.”
Foster raised his eyebrows and asked, “What types of things do you want to do?”
“Well, first,” Wren itemized, “I’m going to do cartwheels. Then I’ll do a backwards walkover. Next will be…” she paused. Then, “Well, you’ll see!”
She walked slowly to the end of the parking area, raising her hands and arms above her head in a gymnast’s stretch, tossing first to one side, then the other, and braced herself, with her back and narrow butt facing Foster. Wren placed her feet for a start to a cartwheel. She slowly leaned into the first rotation and almost stopped halfway through from lack of speed. She dropped to her feet and stood up facing her audience of one.
“I didn’t do that one right. Let me do it over.”
Foster sat silent but admiring.
This time, Wren began with a short run, a brief twist and a tossing of her hands and arms towards the ground. Leg followed leg as the centrifugal “force” carried them up and over as she twirled blindingly through three perfect cartwheels across the parking lot. The fourth one ended in the middle of several old, gray metal dilapidated garbage cans which scattered at the impact of the spinning girl. Once the cans stopped their clattering and Foster, in a blurred run, managed to get to her and peer into her frowning green eyes, Wren smiled wryly, “I couldn’t stop.”
“I can see that. You were great up to the part where you did stop.” He began studying her for injuries asking, “Are you hurt anywhere?” His careful inspection began gradually down from her head, neck, shoulders, and arms, out to her fingers to see blackened dirty palms but no blood.
“I bumped my leg.”
Foster’s scrutiny continued down her chest, stomach and hips, glancing briefly at places sure to not have been injured, then down at a substantial cut in her left shin. As he gingerly pulled her gymnast’s pant-leg up higher, he could see it was just a surface scrape, the shin bone looking perfectly shin-bone-ish. Foster shouted sharply towards the bakery back door.
“Need some help out here! Quickly!”
The lumbering Mrs. Demster appeared in the doorway, “Mein Gott! Was ist passiert?”
Wren laughed, “I couldn’t stop.”
Foster picked her up in his arms and pointed to her books on the ground where she had laid them, “Mrs. Demster, I’m going to carry her to her home across the way. Will you take care of her things? I’ll come back for them in a few moments.” Then, to Wren, “What’s your address?”
She told him and Foster repeated it to Mrs. Demster, “I’ll be back as soon as I can. It looks like just a little scrape but it’s best to get her to her Mom and Dad.”
Mrs. Demster stared in amazement as Foster carried the little girl across the field, towards the housing subdivision.
Wren held loosely to Foster’s lapel with both her hands as they thumped heavily across the verdant field and onto the subdivision’s broad sidewalk. She stared up at him, swaying rhythmically to his footsteps, “Your boss is going to be angry because you aren’t working.”
Foster questioned with a nod to the left, “This way?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry I messed up.”
“You’re a kid. Kids do that sometimes. Sure was impressive up until you rearranged the garbage cans.”
Her home was a corner lot with a curved driveway entering from one street and exiting onto the other. There was no car in the driveway nor beyond the two gaping garage doors offering a blatant invitation into the sparsely decorated garage. The luxuriant lawn had been recently cut according to Foster’s nose yet there were no signs of grass clippings anywhere. The lawn looked so manicured, almost artificial, yet as the two of them traversed it, bent blades under Foster’s shoes told of its biology. As they began to climb the three blindingly white concrete stairs to a huge carved dark-wood front double door, Foster huffed, “Your Dad has already gone to work? I hope your Mom is home.”
Wren said nothing, pulled a key clip from just underneath her soft white neckline where her suit of iridescent blue skin began and she reached for the door handle. Foster leaned her towards it to allow her to begin unlocking the heavy looking, brassy lock-latch but one of the doors swung quickly inward by itself.
“You’ve decided not to attend school today?”
Wren giggled, “Gymnastics was cut short today. I bumped my leg. Mr. Foster thinks I should be brought here.”
Wren’s mother glanced at Foster then pulled at Wren’s pant leg. Foster announced, “There doesn’t seem to be any broken bones, just a slight scrape. It can’t have been too traumatic as your daughter has not shed one tear nor cried out in pain. She hasn’t been diagnosed with congenital analgesia, has she?”
“Are you a doctor, Mr. Foster?”
“Oh, no, Ma’am. But the condition was one of the first things that crossed my mind when Wren did not cry out in pain.”
Wren crossed to a huge furry white sofa underneath but just to one side of a diamond-flashing hanging chandelier, plopped herself supine, raised her injured leg, and then commented, "I could scream now if you like."
Foster returned his attention to Wren’s mother, a tall thin woman folded into a gray bespoke business suit that was actually creased. She just shrugged beneath her tightly pulled, pony-tailed hair and invited him further into their home, pointing to the same sofa Wren had claimed. Foster, however, took the plush, white matching armchair and settled uneasily into it. "I work over yonder a piece at Wendy’s Gourmet Cookies. Wren was giving me an acrobatics show when things got away from her. Her books and things are back at the bakery. I can…”
Wren’s mother interrupted, “Not to worry, Mr. Foster. Wren will be staying home today and after I finish my work, I’ll drop by and pick them up myself.”
She did not offer to lead Foster to the front door again; Foster rose to leave.
“Please, Mr. Foster. If you would check on the silly girl’s injuries, I’ll retrieve some antiseptic from the medicine cabinet.” She paused, and then, “You are from the South, then?”
“Your accent. It sounds like you are from Alabama.” She clacked her way across a white marble floor where her modestly high heeled shoes were silenced by more white fur adorning a broad stairway leading up.
Foster smiled, returning to his seat, “No Ma’am, I’m originally from New York City but I spent quite a few years in Texas. I suppose I picked up some of their speech impediments.” Foster watched Wren rub her parking-lot-black fingers on her scrape while she leaned up to peer at the damage.
“Ah, Texas,” she acknowledged. “I spent several months in a little town called Longview, near the Louisiana border. I had contract work there. But I never picked up…” She disappeared with her words up the white clouds of stairs. Her voiced, a bit raised, continued, “… but, back then, the money wasn’t that good.” Again, she trailed off into distant mumbles.
Foster brought his gaze to Wren only to see Wren gazing right back at him, still idly inoculating herself with parking-lot toxins and bacteria. At the sound of a medicine cabinet closing, Wren confided in Foster, “My Mom is a terrible torture artist. I would much rather you torture me than her.”
The thought of touching Wren’s slender leg to apply whatever medicaments were needed to be applied had Foster worrying about the state of his comportment. He had not touched a little girl in well over 13 years; touching Wren was a sharp-toothed compulsion that bit ravenously into his considerations. Yet, he thought, her Mother was but a few feet away; surely such compelling demands on his actions would be constrained by her proximity? But would his hand waiver? Would it accidently bring a cry of embarrassment from such an angelic creature? Would his fiery desire elicit an exaggerated wander blatantly, or even subtly, to places suggestive of impropriety? Could he survive the touch? Wanting to feel her warmth, wanting to witness her pain-relief, wanting to suggest possible pleasure for her – wanting – was probably a good indication it was time for Foster to leave.
He rose, turning to face Wren’s mother and stammered adolescent nonsense syllables which approximated, “I must return to work, now. Have a nice day, Miss Wren.” Wren remained quiet, her Mother smiled enormously, grabbed his hand to shake a “thank you” to him, and cooed, “Mr. Foster, I will see you later on this afternoon, say, around lunch time.”
His mind cleared, “Oh, sorry. My shift ends at 10:30. Perhaps I can leave Wren’s things with Mrs. Demster and you can pick them up from her.”
As she stepped to the massive hardwood door, grabbed his hand again, and pleaded, "I am so wrapped up in my work today, it would be a big help to me if you would bring them by yourself. If it's not too much of a bother. Wren is going to miss enough schooling today, she should have her books to study here at home. I could pay you for your time if that's…"
“Oh, god, no! I will bring her things by around quarter till eleven, would that be okay?”
“Great, then. I’ll finish these insane reports and head to my meeting after lunch. Buzz the bell and Miss Topsy-Turvy will let you in when you get here. Thank you so much, Mr. Foster.”
The big front door snicked shut leaving Foster shaking as he made his way down the concrete stairway towards the cookie factory. He would have to see this house again. He would have to. He was afraid to. He wanted to. Terribly.