When my daughter was a baby, I often baby-sat for my older sister, who had three girls and my boyfriend's older sister, who had one boy and one girl.
John was the oldest by two years, the only boy, and therefore, possessing the standard male ego, imagined himself to be "in charge." He spent the better portion of the day bossing the girls around, and when they became insolent toward him, he would try to boss me around by informing me how I should go about keeping the little girls in line.
My four-year-old, authoritarian, dictator nephew John often stared at the glass display box that encased the life-sized model of a human skull my mother had given to me for my fifteenth birthday. It had arrived in a kit that had to be glued together. I was extremely proud that I had put it together correctly without fusing my fingers into a gluey mess, so it became a piece of my everyday decor in every house that I lived in from that day on. I think it was meant to be an educational gift. My mother was big on educational things.
I kept it in a wooden-framed glass box that was originally intended to house showcase dolls. My skull fit perfectly, and I have never owned a showcase doll in my life, so, there you have it. A life-like plastic skull in a dainty glass box hovered above the kitchen table where I fed the little ones lunch every day. I never thought twice about interior design. I put it where I liked it, and everybody else (if they were wise) kept their opinions to themselves.
It was a blessing to me that John liked to look at it during lunch. He was a mouthy little man most of the time, but during lunch, he kept one eye on his PB&J and one eye on the eerie, grinnning skull.
One day, after I had rationed out the applesauce and corndogs to the children, I noticed John winking at the skull, as if they shared some secret together. He smiled, and at that point, I thought to myself, that maybe there was hope for a relationship with this child after all. I enjoyed children with a good imagination, and probably that would be the only thing that Tyrannical John and I would ever have in common.
I caught his eye and smiled at him. He lifted an eyebrow, nodded toward the skull and asked, "Who is that, anyway?"
Oh dear. He thought it was real.
And he thought I knew who it was.
In my mind, this was power.
"That's Thomas," I told him without missing a beat.
I shrugged one shoulder nonchalantly and said, "Thomas. The boy I used to baby-sit."
He gulped, his eyes grew wide and he stared more intently at the skull than he ever had before.
"What happened to him?" he almost whispered.
I poured his milk, sighed a bit and said, "He wasn't very well-behaved..."