When Kyle Lost Teddy
This month's 3 words were: duck-billed platypus, ergo, earworm
"Daddy!!" Kyle's blood-curdling scream stretched its bony fingers down the steps and into Malcolm's ears. "Daddy! HELP ME!"
Three years ago, Malcolm could have slept through an earthquake. He might have heaved a sigh, rolled to the middle of the bed, and wrapped himself around Mayra. But he'd never wake. Even when Kyle was born, a thundering, terrifying miracle, his eyelids barely flinched at the sound of his son's wails. It's one of the reasons Mayra left. At least, that's what she told him as she placed Kyle in his arms and walked out of their lives. That was six months ago. Now, Malcolm doesn't just hear Kyle's screams. He senses them with everything in his body. They feel like daggers, taste like blood and iron, and smell like the terror he felt the moment he realized he was doing this alone.
Malcolm took the stairs in threes, arriving on the landing in four mighty bounds. "I'm coming!" he roared as he turned the corner to his son's room.
Kyle sat in the center of his little crib, his eyes trained on the doorway as his father came barreling into the room. His big, brown, tear-filled eyes broke Malcolm's heart as he made his way to the crib to examine him.
"Are you okay?" he asked breathlessly, tugging at Kyle's clothing to check his skin for bruises and scratches. "What happened? What's wrong?"
"Teddy!" Kyle wailed. "I can't find Teddy!"
Exhaustion slapped Malcolm across the face, forcing a flood of relief and frustration from his lungs. Angry words crowded his tongue, pushing their way to the front of his mouth, trying to pry his teeth apart to escape. Malcolm resisted the urge. He bit down against their force and swallowed them back into his stomach, where they marched in protest, churning his stomach into knots of anger and release. He closed his eyes and ordered his heart to send reinforcements to his mouth.
"You can't find Teddy?" Malcolm asked in that feigned concerned voice parents use when their children's fears are cute instead of concerning. "Where is the last place you saw him?"
But Malcolm knew that Kyle wouldn't find Teddy. He spent countless hours tearing apart their house while Kyle was at daycare, but there were no signs of Teddy. He backtracked his steps to the park Kyle and Malcolm walk to every morning, but Teddy wasn't there either. His running theory was that Kyle had dropped Teddy at the park, and another child had picked him up.
Not to be bested by his two-year-old's teddy bear, Malcolm had spent the entire day printing flyers and posting them around the park. But that wasn't going to guarantee Teddy would be home in time for Kyle's bedtime.
"Why don't I take a quick look downstairs?" Malcolm offered. "Take a few deep breaths, kiddo. It will be okay."
Malcolm ran his mammoth hand through his son's thick, brown hair and walked out of the room. His room was just down the hallway from his son's, and waiting for him in a box under the bed was a large, stuffed duck-billed platypus. Its bright, beady eyes and long snout brought a smile to Malcolm's lips as he retrieved the note from his bedside table.
"Hey buddy," Malcolm said as he strode back into Kyle's room. "I didn't find Teddy, but I did find this little guy! And he has a message from Teddy for you!"
"Read the 'essage, daddy, read it!" Kyle yelled, stretching his tiny hand out for his new stuffed toy.
"Dear Kyle, I'm sorry I left so suddenly. I was asked to go on a secret space mission! I'm the only one who can save Princess Bo-Peep from the Evil Emperor, Zurg. Don't worry about me, though. You raised me to be tough, and I know I can bring her home. While I'm gone, I asked my friend, Denny the duck-billed platypus, to look after you. Remember – my mission is a secret. Please, don't tell anyone. Until I see you again. Teddy." Malcolm finished reading and looked up at his son. Kyle stood at the center of his crib, his little chest towering over its side. He carefully examined Denny, turning him over in his hands and running his tiny fingers through the stuffed animal's fur.
"Denny," Kyle whispered, pulling Denny into his chest and hugging him tightly. "Denny the fuck-bill playa-pus!"
Malcolm shook his head, the fog of exhaustion had crept back in, and he was certain his ears were playing tricks on him. "What did you say?"
"Denny the fuck-bill playa-pus!" Kyle announced happily. "Denny the fuck-bill playa-pus! Denny the fuck-bill playa-pus!"
Kyle sang the name to a beat in his head, giggling wildly at the end of each made-up stanza.
"No, no, no, no, no," Malcolm pleaded, desperately suppressing his laughter so he wouldn't encourage his son's madness. "Buddy, Denny is a duck-billed platypus. Here, let's pronounce it together. Repeat after me. Duck."
"Fuck," Kyle said in his best two-year-old voice.
Malcolm's eyes danced to the clock on Kyle's nightstand. It was hours past Kyle's bedtime, and he knew he would have a terror on his hands if Kyle didn't get some sleep.
"Okay, buddy," Malcolm conceded. "We’ll try again tomorrow. For now, you need to get back to sleep.”
Malcolm picked up his son, who was still clutching Denny tightly in his tiny fists, and bounced him like he did when he was an infant. He hummed the melodies that struck him, some familiar, some more unique and original, but all deep and slow enough to lull his toddler back to sleep.
When the morning sun broke through the sheer curtains of Kyle’s room, Malcolm realized his humming must have put the two of them out. He was lying on the floor, his arm wrapped around a plush Buzz Lightyear doll. His heart skipped a beat as he sensed the room was otherwise empty—just him and Kyle’s toys.
“Kyle?” Malcolm called calmly. He listened carefully, and the sound of Kyle’s little voice wafted up the steps. Malcolm could tell he was singing to himself but couldn’t quite make out the words.
“It’s Denny! The fuck-bill playa-pus. It’s Denny! The fuck-bill playa-pus,” Kyle sang, tugging and pulling on Denny’s stuffed arms to make him dance to the imaginary beat.
Malcolm was at the bottom of the stairs when he heard the new song and let out a small laugh. He thought about leaving it alone for a moment. What harm was really being done? Kyle was two. He didn’t know the meaning of his words. Then again, Miss Atta would be here soon to watch him for the day. No doubt she’d be appalled by this new development. She judged him enough as a single father; he didn’t need this added to her list of reasons to think less of him.
“Good morning, buddy,” Malcolm said, taking a seat next to Kyle on the living room floor.
“Breffast?” Kyle asked, putting his hand on his stomach.
“Sure, kiddo.” Malcolm conceded, listening to the growling in his stomach. He’d address the platypus issue after they ate. “How do pancakes sound?”
Kyle cheered as Malcolm made his way into the kitchen and looked in horror at the clock on the stove. How in the hell was it already eight o’clock? He needed to be at work in an hour, which left him thirty minutes to bathe, feed, and dress himself and Kyle before Miss Atta came to collect Kyle. Malcolm’s brain kicked into autopilot as he quickly scrubbed his son, dressed him in the first outfit he could find, and fed him two handfuls of cereal. By some miracle, he was able to get himself dressed and to the door just as Miss Atta pulled into the driveway.
“I made a mistake,” Malcolm admitted readily. “I bought Kyle a new toy because Teddy went missing, and he can’t quite pronounce it, so it sounds a bit explicit when he says it. I promise to work on it with him when I get home. Please don’t scold him for it.”
Miss Atta only raised her eyebrows at Malcolm and pushed past him toward the kitchen. As she walked past, Malcolm could have sworn he heard her say, “It’s not Kyle who needs scolding,” but he brushed it off.
Malcolm didn’t allow his foot off the gas for more than a few seconds on his way to work, his son’s new song boring into his brain like an earworm.
“You’re late,” Bill scoffed as Malcolm walked through the front door of the insurance firm. “Again.”
“I’m sorry,” Malcolm said quickly. “My son is having some trouble wi-”
“Save it,” Bill said, holding his free hand up to make Malcolm stop. His black, slicked-back hair and bushy eyebrows always reminded Malcolm of Eugene Levy, if Eugene Levy were from the seventh circle of hell. “You’ve used your single father excuse one too many times. If it happens again, it will be the last time.”
Malcolm nodded stoically as Bill sipped from his mug. Narcissism and repression dripped from Bill’s jowls as he watched Malcolm walk to his cubicle.
The rest of the morning went as they all did, except for Kyle’s duck-billed platypus song on loop in his head. He accidentally typed it as the make and model of a client’s car twice before deciding to take a walk and clear his head. He chuckled as he recalled Kyle’s inability to pronounce the name of his new, stuffed-animal friend. His son’s sweet face filled his head, bringing with it a renewed sense of calm and focus. Just a few more hours until he could get home to his boy.
“Staff meeting,” Claire said, rushing past Malcolm’s desk. “He called it as soon as he saw you walk away from your desk. I stalled as long as I could.” Claire flashed her brightest smile and scurried toward the board room as Malcolm frantically gathered his things. He drew up the image of his son in his mind, begging it to help him stay calm. Kyle’s sweet voice filled his ears with the inappropriate lyrics to his new song.
“Nice of you to join us,” Bill said as Malcolm made his way to an empty chair.
“I took a quick break,” Malcolm said, feeling heat behind his cheeks. “This meeting wasn’t on my calendar, or else I’d have been here early.”
“You have a project due in two hours, and you decided to take a break?” Bill pried.
“I just needed to clear my head,” Malcolm said, trying to stay calm. “It’s been a stressful few days.”
“What could possibly be so stressful that you need to take a walk less than 2 hours after getting to work?” Bill demanded, ignoring the stunned faces of his employees in the room.
“My son lost his teddy bear. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but without it, he has…”
“Doesn’t sound like much? It sounds like complete bullshit,” Bill spat. “So, you’re telling me that your son lost his teddy bear, ergo you are having a stressful morning?”
“Fuck-bill playa-pus!” Malcolm heard someone shout. His eyes darted around the room to find out who else knew his secret, but everyone’s eyes were staring at him in complete shock.
“What was that?” Bill said, his eyes bulging out of his head.
“I’m so sorry. I- I gave my son a duck-billed platypus, and he can’t pronounce it, and he’s been running around the house yelling that, and it just came out, I guess.” Malcolm’s explanation spilled from his mouth in a terrified fury.
“Fuck-bill playa-pus!” Malcolm heard the voice again. This time he was certain it didn’t come from him, and it sounded exactly like Kyle. His eyes shot to through the glass windows and toward his desk where Miss Atta stood, her foot tapping furiously against the tiled floor. She bounced Kyle gently in her arms as he flung the duck-billed platypus around in the air.
The room remained silent as everyone tried to sort out what was happening. But seeing Kyle’s smiling face bouncing in Miss Atta’s arms filled Malcolm with that same sense of calm.
“Excuse me,” Malcolm said. “I need to go take care of my son.”
“We’re in the middle of a meeting,” Bill seethed.
“Right,” Malcolm looked around the room as his colleagues anticipated his next move. “Well, in that case, I guess I quit.”
Malcolm handed the perfectly executed project documents to Bill and walked out to his son.