Cheap Toys

I dreamed I was in school with my nine-year-old daughter. I mean, I was one of her schoolmates. She and I were in the same classroom. Yet I was still her mother—and I was not a child. I was my own age.

First, I had no idea which classroom we were supposed to be in. Even though we’d been to that classroom several times, I could not remember anything about it. This upset me because I needed to take this class to graduate from there. I have been trying for years and years to graduate from there but I have not been able to take all the required classes.

“Come on, Mom, I’ll show you,” my daughter said.

She led me up the winding stairs of a large old schoolhouse. The classroom surrounded the opening of the stairwell—that is, the floorspace was on the periphery of the top of the stairs. (Thus, in the center of the classroom was this gaping—perhaps dangerous—hole where the stairs descended.) The “desks” were a monolithic ledge that jutted out from the wall all around the stairs. There were stools positioned all around. At each student’s workspace, set atop a felt placemat, was a miniature red typewriter—a toy typewriter that doesn’t really type. I’m thinking, What are we supposed to do with this? My daughter was acting like nothing was amiss, however. She seemed quite pleased with her toy typewriter and seemed sure that she could make it work.

The teacher was this stout middle-aged man, balding, fleshy faced. Very condescending in a cheerful way. He loved gleefully bossing around all those children. He was a man who had found his true calling.

I took offense, though, at his attitude. I said to him:

“I am a grown-up lady. You do not need to talk to me like that.”

This despite the fact that I was wearing a very childish dress—one of those dirndl dresses: a high bodice and full skirt. It was purple velvet and it was adorned with small figurines sewn on at critical points: at the wrists and the neckline and the elbows. These were charming little plastic figurines—animals and fairies. They were quite detailed. They were painted many different colors—but only the proper colors, nothing wild or odd.

When I’d selected the dress to wear that morning, I’d thought it was entirely appropriate. Only later, in the classroom, did I wonder why on earth I had selected this childish dress and why had I thought it was attractive or in any way right for me?

Now, in the basement of this schoolhouse, there was an ongoing clearance sale of handmade Christmas decorations and toys. All of these things had been made by mothers whose children attended the school. Everything was on sale for 65 cents each—a bargain, indeed, although I was hesitant to buy even one thing. All the stuff was amazingly clever. What workmanship! I realize this now that I am awake. I’m thinking, Why didn’t I buy some of that shit? I am such a cheapskate. Although, truth be told, all of the things were purely decorative—useless, really. There were wooden toy cars that didn’t go, and smiling stuffed elephants wearing scarves, and bejeweled angels in fishnet skirts, and smug-looking soldiers with stiff blue legs. All I could think was: If this is the stuff that’s left, imagine the stuff they sold! There was a sign begging people to buy the stuff. It said: “Please. In addition to the items displayed, there are two more bags of similar items.” Meaning: Please buy this stuff so we can get rid of it. Take it off our hands! We don’t want it!

All I could think was, I’m coming back here in December before Christmas when the ladies have made some new stuff and I’ll grab it all up and give it to everyone as presents!

These cheap 65-cent leftovers, though—pfffft! Who needs them? Castoffs!

Now that I’m awake I can see that this was a very foolish attitude. I should have bought everything right then and there. Like I said, I am a terrible cheapskate.

—Ellen Parker