Ask and You Shall Receive
Disclaimer: I claim nothing…Southerners don’t claim, we vow and declare, and sometimes stand up and testify.
Author’s note: For Teresa because she always asks for Brat stories…and if I am busy writing I have less time to get in mischief. <BG>
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“Where’s Johnny?” inquired Harlan when he entered the curiously quiet Great room.
Scrubbing his face and huffing out an exasperated breath, Murdoch replied, “Upstairs contained in his crib.”
“Isn’t it a little early for a nap?”
“I didn’t say he was taking a nap I just said he was contained in his crib. I put him there and told him to think about all the ways he has misbehaved this morning and for him to think on what he can do to help himself be better.”
“Now, Murdoch don’t you think that’s asking for more thought process than a three year old possesses? Ha chuckled indulgently, as he was already considering a way to garner Johnny’s release.
“No, I do not! I had a nice stern talk with him. I explained to him how he had to follow Papa’s rules to be safe and good. I also told him he might as well get used to following rules because when he is an adult he will have laws to follow that man made and commandants that God gave us and that if he learns to accept authority now, he will be a model citizen. I also told him when he’s not sure if he is doing the right thing he should ask for help.”
“May I ask just what he did to deserve this punishment? I assume it has something to do with the bruise on your chin.”
Grunting Murdoch rose from his desk chair and trudged tiredly to the liquor cabinet. He smirked at Harlan as he passed him because he could tell from the benevolent grandfather’s face he was already planning Johnny’s emancipation from captivity. “Sit down, Ha. I’ll pour us some drinks. I can use one and maybe it will open your eyes so you can see Johnny is not an angel.”
The sound of liquid chugging from the decanter filled the silence in the room. The amber drink made a melodious tinkle as it cascaded from one crystal container to another. With the drinks in hand Murdoch walked over to Harlan in the rocker and handed him his glass, and then plopped down on the sofa. After a few restorative sips, he began to relate the morning’s events.
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Sitting on the rug in front of the hearth building a fort with the blocks Santa had brought him, Johnny thought about how much fun Christmas had been. He wondered when Christmas would come again.
“Papa, when will Santa come down the chimney again?” Johnny asked his father, who was concentrating on balancing the ledger and did not hear him. “PAPA!”
“Hummm…what is it Johnny?” inquired Murdoch as he slowly turned his attention to his son.
“When will Santa bring some more toys down the chimney? Johnny needs some more!”
Murdoch chuckled at his son’s transparent desire for more toys. “No, you don’t need more toys, you want them, there’s a difference in that. We just had Christmas six months ago and it won’t be Christmas again for six months, that’s a long time away. And you won’t be getting any new toys for a while unless some got stuck in the chimney and just happen to fall out.” Murdoch turned his attention back to his book and was soon completely lost in his computations.
Papa’s words churned in Johnny’s active little mind. He didn’t want to think about no new toys, there was no hope in that. However, he was very intrigued with the thoughts of some toys being stuck in the chimney, after all Santa came down the chimney just maybe some gifts had fallen out. Oh my if they were stuck someone would have to get them out. Seeing that Papa was still very busy Johnny decided it wouldn’t hurt if he just looked.
Abandoning his blocks Johnny approached the fireplace. It had been a while since Papa had lit a fire because it had been warm so the firebox was clean there wasn’t even a log in it. Due to his short stature Johnny was able to walk right into the opening, looking up, eyes shining with hope at finding a forgotten gift, he sighed in discontent when all he saw was darkness. He didn’t even see a hole for smoke to get out of much less one big enough for Santa to drop through.
Johnny was about to give up when he spied a long piece of metal with a handle on the end. He almost squealed with delight but he didn’t want to disturb Papa’s work. Standing on his tiptoes he grabbed the handle and pushed, the damper protested with a creak but finally opened. Frustrated Johnny stomped his foot when he still couldn’t see anything and he was too little to get his hand in the opening. He wished Squat was here and not spending the day with Robert. Squat was tall enough he could have reached.
Stepping out of the firebox Johnny saw the fireplace tools resting in their stand. A mischievous grin brightened his face. This was just what he need. He grabbed the poker and scooted back into the firebox, looking up he raised the poker and pushed it into the opening. After only a few jabs a cloud of debris fluttered down and coated his upturned face, all thoughts of finding toys fled as the mix of ash, soot and creosol burned his eyes. The poker was dropped and caused a loud clatter preceded by Johnny’s loud screech of indignant pain.
Johnny’s wail snatched Murdoch from his deep concentration. He jumped from his chair so fast it scooted back, hit the window sill and bounced back hitting his long legs as he tried to escape from behind his desk. When he realized Johnny was standing in the fire box, his head coated in chimney debris, he hurdled over the couch instead of going around it. Maria, hearing the unmistakable sounds of the niño’s distress, rushed in the Great room in time to see Murdoch pulling Johnny out of the fireplace. The concerned father was already cooing words of comfort to the upset child as his large hands held a handkerchief and gently brushed the ash and soot from his face.
“Bring him to the kitchen, Senor Lancer we need to try and wash his eyes out with some water.”
Striding to the kitchen and trying to take Johnny’s mind off his suffering, Murdoch asked, “Son, what in the world were you trying to do?” as he sat him on the counter next to the sink.
Black rivulets ran down Johnny’s soot streaked cheeks, and his eyes were already red rimmed from the irritants that had fallen in them. His nose was running and his breath coming in gasping snubs as he replied, “Papa say more toys might fall out the chimney, Johnny looked for them,” sobs shook the little body as he added, “But all Johnny finded was trash!”
Murdoch’s mouth dropped opened and he slapped his own forehead with enough force the sound of flesh striking flesh echoed in the kitchen. He pulled his hand down his face in agitation unaware of the black smudges his hand was leaving due to the soot from Johnny coating it. He had the wild desire to kick his own tail for forgetting how literally his youngest took everything.
Maria snorted, crossed her arms and began to tap her foot with disgruntled dismay as her normally kind brown eyes shot daggers of accusation at the Patron.
“Johnny…there are no presents left in the chimney.”
Red rimmed blue eyes glittering with tears stared in shock, “Papa lied!”
Feeling like he had shrunk to a two inch height, Murdoch squirmed under the intense observation of Johnny and Maria. “No, son, Papa didn’t lie. I was being sarcastic when I said it.” Seeing the look of confusion on Johnny’s face, he endeavored to explain. “I was trying to be funny.”
“Waaaahhhhhh,” a fresh round of tears flooded the soot smudged cheeks. Johnny gasped between hitching breaths, “That not funny, Papa. Johnny gotted trash all over Johnny’s face.”
The upsetting situation escalated when Papa had to hold Johnny down for Maria to wash out his eyes with cold water. He never would have imagined the small child could put up such a fight. In the midst of the struggle to hold Johnny down on the counter with his head hanging over the sink, one wildly thrashing leg managed to get loose and popped Murdoch right in the chin. When he was finally able to shake off the stunned stupor, Murdoch could have sworn he heard Maria snickering.
Lifting Johnny up, Papa tried to comfort the little one with soothing words as he dried his hair with a towel. As he worked he realized a bath and change of clothes were in order due to the fine coating of soot all over Johnny, and some had filtered under his collar to dust his little chest.
“Come on Johnny, my boy, let’s go upstairs and get you a bath and change your clothes.”
“Waaaahhhh…Johnny not want a bath,” Johnny shrieked in red faced temper.
“Okay…how about if Papa fills the tub and lets you swim for a while?”
Sniff sniff… “Yea! Johnny like swimming!” he exclaimed his good humor restored with the right choice of words.
After filling the tub, stripping Johnny and dropping him in Murdoch removed his own soiled shirt and stepped to the sink to give his self a quick bird bath while Johnny happily splashed about the large tub. Studying his reflection in the mirror, Murdoch wasn’t sure who had been more upset by the incidence of water torture downstairs, but he was pretty sure he got the worst of the deal as he had a vivid purple bruise on his chin.
Cavorting about in the warm water, Johnny showed no fear of getting water in his face. He bravely dunked under and swam from one end of the tub to the other by pulling his self along the bottom of the tub. He had to surface and giggle when his tummy rumbled, the sound was muffled by the water and making it sound like a growl.
It just so happen the spot he came up in was right next to the soap dish. Ha’s expensive hand milled French vanilla scented soap lay in the dish. It sure smelled good to Johnny. He thought it smelled just like some of the cakes in the bakery. His stomach grumbled again but before he could tell Papa he was hungry, Papa spoke to him.
Seeing Johnny staring at Harlan’s soap, Murdoch called to his son, “Johnny, grab Ha’s cake of soap and use it.”
Johnny grinned at Papa’s words. They weren’t supposed to touch Papa’s or Ha’s stuff unless they were given permission because they were made for grownups, which of course made the items very appealing to little boys. Grabbing the soap, Johnny dunked it into the water. He made the bar swim around like a fish, and then lifted it out, intending to let it dive off his hand. The warm water made the French vanilla scent even stronger, in fact the aroma made Johnny’s stomach grumble again, reminding him he was hungry. He sure wished he had some cake. The thought had formed in his head and was quickly replaced by another thought. /Papa and Ha call it cakes of soap. It sure smells like cake. It must really be cake, that’s why it smells like it./ Arriving at this conclusion, Johnny raised the soap to his mouth and took a bite out of it.
Scrunching his face up as he chewed, Johnny waited for the sweet flavor of cake, but much to his dismay what he got was a bitter stinging sensation that made his mouth pucker and water. He was about to fly into a fit of temper until he hiccoughed and a big bubble formed at his mouth. When he huffed to laugh the bubble broke free and floated away. Johnny was thrilled with his new talent, and decided to try and make more. He sucked in, gagging slightly over the flavor and then blew out, another bubble formed and drifted away on an air current. Taking another bite of soap, Johnny worked up a foamy lather in and around his mouth and blew one bubble after the other.
As he was buttoning his clean shirt, Murdoch detected movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and was surprised to see several large bubbles silently dancing about the atmosphere. Whirling around, Papa was shocked to see Johnny sitting in the tub, apparently foaming at the mouth, to his horror he saw Johnny raise the cake of soap to his mouth and take a bite.
“NO! Johnny, don’t put that in your mouth. You don’t eat soap!”
“But Papa said it was cake soap and it smells like cake,” Johnny reasoned as fluffy mounds of white foamed dripped from his chin into the bath.
Rushing to the tub, Papa shoved his hand under the toddler’s mouth and instructed, “Spit it out, Johnny. You’ll make yourself sick!” Shaking the chewed up bits of soap from his hand into the bathroom trash, Murdoch grabbed a towel to wrap Johnny in and then raced down the hall and stairs, his heart thudding as loudly to his ears as his footsteps. He arrived in the kitchen winded and pale, his frantic eyes seeking out Maria.
“MARIA!” he bellowed, panicking when he didn’t see her. He went weak with relief when she hurried out of the large pantry.
“Ay…why do you shout so, I am right here?” Maria exclaimed.
“Maria, Johnny ate soap, or at least I think he did. He had it in his mouth and was blowing bubbles. I don’t know if he swallowed it or not. What should we do? Should I send for Sam? Will he be alright?” The questions tumbled from the distraught father’s mouth.
Sensing his Papa’s distress, Johnny’s face puckered up and tears welled and glittered in his eyes. He whimpered and squirmed as his father squeezed him tightly to his chest. Papa began to rub his back and coo to him, gently rocking him back and forth in his arms until he calmed.
“Do not be so upset. Johnny is not the first niño to eat soap, and I’m sure he won’t be the last. It won’t really hurt him. He might throw up if he did swallow some, or it can give him diarrhea. There is no need to call the doctor now.”
The calm that had settled over Johnny as his Papa rocked and soothed him dissolved as he deciphered Maria’s words. /Whoa…did Mamacita just say there was no need to call the doctor cause Johnny was gonna die? Johnny didn’t want to die. When you die they dig a hole and put you in the ground and you fall apart. Johnny knew it was true cause him and Squat found a dead bird and buried it and then a couple of weeks later they dug it up to see what it looked like…and it came apart and Squat said it was because it rotted away and Johnny didn’t want to rot…/
“WAAAAHHHHHH! Johnny not want to die!” Johnny screamed.
“You’re not going to die! Why would you think that?” questioned Murdoch, calmer due to Maria’s assurances.
“Mamacita said not to call the doctor cause Johnny was going to die.”
“No she didn’t. She said if your swallowed the soap it might give you diarrhea.”
“What die rees?”
“Diarrhea,” corrected Papa. “It means your tummy might not feel good and that you might have to poop a lot.”
“Oh, like when Johnny ated all the blueberries?”
“Yes,” chuckled Papa remembering the incident that resulted in a blue tinged Johnny. “Now let’s go get some clothes on you.”
Father and son departed for upstairs as Maria returned to her chores. Strolling into the nursery Papa sat Johnny on top or the dresser, which also served as a changing table. Johnny was, for the most part, potty trained except for the occasional nocturnal mishap so there were still diapering supplies stored on top the dresser for use at night.
“Find Johnny some brown pants,” begged Johnny, as Papa pulled open the top drawer to grab a pair of underpants.
“I’ll look, but if I don’t find any, there is to be no fuss about it young man,” replied Papa as he stooped to pull open the second drawer which contained shirts and pants.
While Papa’s hands were busy shifting through clothes, trying to find the requested article without making a jumbled mess of the folded clothes, Johnny turned his attention to the items on the dresser top. He spied the talcum powder can; he loved the smell of it. He especially loved the silky feel of it when it was rubbed on his skin, it made him feel cool.
Pushing the towel from around him, Johnny reached back and snatched the powder. He held the can over his chest and began to heartily shake it. Fine white powder sprinkled over his little nude body. The harder he shook the container the more area he was able to coat. He held up his legs and bent forward to try and powder his feet and toes. The shift in his weight combined with the angle of his body and the motion of shaking the can sent Johnny toppling head first off the dresser. The open second drawer stopped Johnny’s descent towards the hard oak floor. He landed with a puffing cloud of powder in the middle of his clean, folded clothes, the talcum container still clutched in his hand.
“Oops,” Johnny muttered as he looked up into Papa’s startled face. One second his father’s mouth was opening and closing like a fish’s mouth, the next second Papa’s face was turning red and purple.
Murdoch stared at his youngest sprawled over his clean clothes, looking like he had been dredged in flour. The hassled father growled to himself. He was sure he could feel his blood beginning to boil as he seized the abandoned towel and wrapped Johnny up before he could dust anymore of the clothes with his excess coating of powder.
Holding Johnny close, Murdoch stomped out of the nursery, in the direction of the bathroom. Sensing how mad Papa was Johnny very wisely kept quiet. In the bathroom Papa stood him in the tub and quickly rinsed him off. Turning the water off, he reached and grabbed a clean towel and vigorously began to rub Johnny dry. When he finished, he applied three firm swats to a little bare backside.
“Tell Papa what you have been told about playing with the talcum.”
Johnny glared at his father, his bottom lip pushed out in a petulant pout, blue eyes glaring with outrage, as his little hand massaged his stinging bottom. Seeing his father’s eyebrow arch in that manner that said he was trying his luck, Johnny decided it was time for a show of remorse and what better way than a few tears.
“Waaaahhhhhhhh…Johnny not playing. Johnny tried to help Papa by putting on the powder,” Johnny exclaimed, as he sniffed and nailed his father with his best sorrowful eyes, fluttering his long black lashes that glittered with beads of moisture from his teardrops.
“I fail to see how you emptying a full can of powder, all over yourself and the dresser, helps me.”
Seeing his father’s face take on the grumpy grouchy look that meant he was in no mood to put up with Johnny’s ‘she nap agains’ pushed Johnny to spout the worst threat he could think of. “Papa is a bad carrot, Johnny want Ha!” He punctuated his statement with an indignant crossing of his arms across his little naked body.
Murdoch pursued his lips and growled faintly, his face turning a curious mottled red and purple. Johnny shivered and not due to the fact there was a chill in the air but because he was buck naked, facing down his Papa and had just pushed his luck too far.
Papa wrapped Johnny in his towel and picked him up. The arms that normally cuddled and comforted were stiff with anger, and being used to restrain. Murdoch marched down the hall his breath hissing through his teeth as he panted, silently counting to one hundred to contain his ire. He passed by the nursery and stomped to his room. He had yet to speak to his defiant son as he wanted to consider his words well before he spoke. He sat Johnny on the dresser while he retrieved clothes from the spares kept in his room.
“I want brown pants,” whined Johnny when he saw the gray ones in Papa’s hand.
“Young man, I have put up with all I am going to today. You will put on these clothes, whether you like them or not.”
Johnny poked his bottom lip out, as he pouted over the indignity of wearing something that looked like Squat’s clothes. He didn’t resist as Papa dressed him, but neither could he be accused of helping either.
Once he was dressed Papa strode to the crib and dropped him in, pausing long enough to make sure the side rail was latched in place so the little scamp couldn’t climb out as he had done before. Papa towered over the toddler, shaking his finger at him as he peered up from the confines of his crib. “Now then young man, you are to sit here and think about your behavior this morning. You did several things this morning, which had you thought about them, you knew they were wrong. First of all you know better than to play in the fireplace, second, you do not eat soap, third, you have been told repeatedly not to play with the talcum powder, and fourth, you do not back talk your elders. If you are unsure about whether or not something would be breaking the rules, then you need to ask someone, such as me, Ha, Mamacita…any grown-up…even Scott. You have got to learn to follow the rules, mine and God’s. It will help you be a model citizen one day!”
“Can I ask Harold,” questioned Johnny using the moniker he thought was God’s name.
“Certainly, ask and you shall receive. I don’t care who you ask for help as long as you try to be a better boy by following the rules. We’ve talked about this before, I don’t make rules to be mean to you, or keep you from having fun. I make rules to help you be safe and do the right thing. If you can follow Papa’s rules, it will help you follow God’s rules and when you grow up all the laws that grownups have to live by. You don’t want to end up in jail do you?”
“No, Papa. Johnny not like jail,” he replied as he grasped the bars of his crib and stared forlornly at the freedom on the other side of the vertical bars.
“Well, you think about how much you would rather be out playing instead of stuck in your bed, and remember the kind of behavior your Papa won’t put up with from you and what you can do to do to help yourself, only then can you get out of your crib.”
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Murdoch finished his narrative and gulped down the reminder of his drink. He watched as Ha slowly and methodically rocked, biting his bottom lip, a characteristic Johnny had picked up from his grandfather. He knew Harlan well enough to know he was formulating an argument in his head that would sway Murdoch into freeing the wild child from his confinement. He smirked to himself as he rose from the couch to return his glass to the liquor cabinet, as usually happened, just discussing the whole ordeal with Harlan helped him to calm down and see where Johnny’s natural curiosity and exuberance for life were the root cause of the toddler’s behavior and not outright defiance.
Murdoch’s attention was drawn outside when a strong cool breeze rushed into the room through the open French doors. The air smelled of hay and sweet grass, the same scent that clung to the boys when they spent the day outside playing. And a good romp outside made for tired little boys who go down to sleep much easier.
Turning back towards Harlan, Murdoch relented without Ha even having to plead Johnny’s case. “What do you say we go get Johnny and take him out to release some of his abundant energy? We might as well make use of this nice strong breeze.”
Little did the two men know as they made their way upstairs to retrieve the youngest Lancer, Johnny was already making good use of the breeze.
Johnny had sat in his bed …forever…thinking about what he had done that morning and why Papa couldn’t put up with it. He didn’t think he had been bad, well except for shaking all that powder out. Papa had told him about that before, he told him it was too ‘spensive’ to waste, but he wasn’t sprinkling it on other stuff he was just putting on himself, which is what Papa had said it was for. Papa had told him not to play or get near the fireplace when there was a fire in it because he could get burned, so he thought it was alright since there was no fire. And he didn’t know you couldn’t eat cakes of soap. He thought all cake was for eating because that’s what Papa said when he played with his cake and got chocolate all over himself. He didn’t mean to back talk when he told Papa he was a bad carrot and that he wanted Ha, he was just telling the truth.
“I need to talk to Harold about this,” Johnny decided as he bowed his head, clasped his hands and talked to God like the lady at church showed him.
Finishing his prayer Johnny opened his eyes, very proud that he had asked for help with his problem. Papa would be so happy that he had figured out a way for Papa not to get so upset with him. Johnny was startled from his thoughts by the flutter of the thick green drapes hanging at Papa’s windows. Standing in the crib, Johnny popped his left thumb in his mouth and lifted his head enjoying the feel of the air current caressing his face and lifting his hair. He could see out the open window, it was a nice day. He wished he was outside but Papa said Johnny had to stay here and think about what he did, that Papa couldn’t put up with and how he could help.
A bright smile curved around Johnny’s thumb stuck in his mouth and his eyes twinkled as he realized he had done exactly what Papa told him too. He had even talked to Harold and asked him to help with the problem. He sure wished he could tell Papa about it, and then maybe they could go outside. If he could just get out of this bed he would go tell Papa. The wind whistled harder through the window and the long emerald green curtains billowed straight out, one panel of the fabric flew over the side of the crib. The breeze died and the bottom of the drape fell limply into the bed.
Johnny giggled when a wonderful plan took root in his mind as he eyed the green velvet fabric. Small dimpled hands rubbed the soft material as he recalled yesterday when Patty Pat had chased one of the barn cats into the house. The kitten had climbed the curtains, and then jumped down. Johnny decided he could do the same thing.
Holding on to the drape, Johnny was able to pull his self up the side rail. Once he made it over the top gravity took over and little boy and curtain swung back towards the window. The rod hanger couldn’t take Johnny’s weight and was torn from the plaster. The heavy metal pole crashed down, breaking glass as it did and clattering noisily on the floor. Johnny ended up caught in the folds of the material as the top portion dropped over him, hiding him from view as he hung halfway out of the open window. His scream for helped was so strident and loud the thick fabric was thankfully unable to muffle it entirely.
Murdoch and Harlan had just reached the top of the staircase when the resulting noise from the latest disaster and Johnny’s shriek had them racing in heart stopping, breath stealing panic to Murdoch’s room. They busted through the door to find an empty crib and the drapes torn from the wall and hanging partially out the window. They could hear Johnny’s shrieks but couldn’t see him.
“Oh dear God, did he fall out the window?” Harlan shouted.
They rushed to the window as the curtain began to slither further out. When Murdoch put his hand on the material to lean out and look for Johnny he realized the little boy was wrapped in the fabric. Murdoch grabbed his son still encased in the cloth and staggered to his bed, light headed and dizzy from the realization Johnny could have fallen to the stone patio below had they been just seconds later. He clutched Johnny to his chest in fear as the enormity of the situation robbed him of the ability to function properly, or even find his voice.
Johnny kicked and struggled to be free of the dark shroud around him. Something was squeezing him so tight he could barely get enough air to scream out his displeasure of the foul treatment.
Ha, seeing that Murdoch was too stunned to react any further, gently began to move the fabric around so that Johnny’s face was finally released from the cloth imprisonment.
Looking down as the dark little head popped out, Papa whispered incredulously, “Johnny, what in the world have you been doing in here.”
“Johnny was thinking Papa, just like Papa said too. Papa say for Johnny to think about Johnny’s behavior and what Johnny can do to help. Johnny was coming to tell Papa, Johnny found a way to help cause Johnny talked to Harold.”
The sweet earnest look on Johnny’s cherubic little face as he spoke soothed the fear that had coursed coldly through Murdoch’s veins over what might have happened had they arrived in the room a second later. Murdoch smiled at Johnny, and then Harlan as he sat down next to them on the mattress.
“So, you talked to Harold? Murdoch questioned. "Fine," said the pleased father. "I did tell you to ask and you shall receive. If you ask God to help you not misbehave, he will help you."
"Oh, Johnny didn't ask Him to help Johnny not misbehave," said Johnny. "Johnny asked Harold to help you put up with Johnny."
Murdoch jerked like he had been struck in the head with a sledge hammer as his large body collapsed like all his bones had turned to water and he slid off the bed into a heap on the floor, taking Johnny with him.
Ha shouted with laughter and fell back on the bed, laughing so hard he wheezed.
Johnny struggled out of the folds of the curtain and stared at his father and grandfather, sometimes they did the silliest things.
August 13, 2008