Elliot & Edna Had a Son Named Tim

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Chapter I.I

The mild rays of the falling summer sun slid through the leaves and branches above, speckling the clear, snaking creek with an arrangement of glowing dots, blobs, and lines that moved in tandem with the wind coming inland from the far off sea. Years of cutting finances on public transport in New York had ironically prepared my heart for the long wooded walks I would so often find myself on. It was strange to think that I struggled less than him.

Somewhere nearby, the low hoot of an owl crawled through the brush. I recognized and identified the call just an instant after I had heard it; I was picking up an unusual assortment of wildlife knowledge through osmosis. I was still more comfortable in my office, but just by virtue of my job, I had begun to collect a trove of ecology somewhere within the deepest recesses of my brain. Before it had even crossed my conscious mind, I had turned around to check if I was being followed by a northern spotted owl, as they were known to be accustomed to humans — angry conservationists would use the buzzword "domesticated", even. Young curious owls were known to occasionally follow hikers.

The bridge over the creek had been in view for a while already, but it was only now that I was about to step onto it that I hesitated. I reached into my satchel and pulled out my tablet, opening the email my brother had sent me. I tapped on the attachment, and held the screen up so I could have it and the bridge in view at the same time.

Yeah.

This was the place.

I deviated from the trail to find an even patch of dirt or a rock that I could sit on for the coming hours. A sting in my eyes reminded me that I hadn't slept well. I'd never been great at taking care of myself, but I knew that this was pushing a line that I hadn't before. It was already getting to be late afternoon, and I didn't expect to go home that night. I had prepared with bug repellent, a sandwich, and an extra layer tied around my waist, in case the night got colder than I expected.

Once I had found an adequate sitting spot, I closed my eyes, and just listened. I wanted to get inside his head. This was what he was doing, after all.

I heard the wet trickling to my right and to my left, the foliage brushing against one another, the far away calls of birds. My nose filled with the scent of the dirt, and the often overlooked aroma of the creek. I took several centering seconds to myself. Then I was ready.

I unfolded the keyboard from my tablet, and opened a google doc. I titled it simply:

Stories My Dad Told Me

I had thought of the name sometime late last night. It had occurred to me just before my tired eyes had finally closed for the last time, only an hour or two before my morning alarm. As soon as I was done with work for the day, I had driven here, to Sandy, Oregon, to hike this trail. I had told my family where I was going, but I had white-lied as to why. This… was for me, really. Though I'd hope to share in the future.

"Tim," I typed.

No. That wasn't proper. Not for his first mention. I deleted the name, and then tried to start over. Even the slightest of hiccups had consequences to my flow.

"Dad," I typed, and that felt a little better.




Dad was born an only child to Elliot and Edna Wilson on the 29th of February, 1956. My grandpa Elliot was a taxidermist, Edna was a veterinarian. Their paths crossed when Edna unfortunately lost a dog that the owner then immediately wished to be done up. Saver of lives meets preserver of deaths, a match made in the stars above. They met on the east coast, actually, in Boston, but moved to San Diego because Elliot wasn't so happy with his family and wanted to be as far away from them as possible. Besides, they'd always wanted to go to the ever-fabled Southern California.

Beaches, palm trees, surfing, sunglasses, days spent in the sun — the brochures didn't need to do much to sell the place, it was a natural breeder of youthful fantasy. Except, instead of fantasizing, my grandparents actually moved there and made it a reality. Edna took up shop in a little pet hospital called Cotton Soft Veterinary Clinic. She was an on-call "nurse" there and worked twelve-hour shifts every day of the week. Her reputation preceded her; Cotton Soft Veterinary Clinics were a chain, which meant that the manager of any one establishment wasn't really a hard set role. Grandma Edna was offered the position several times, but she never took up the offer. She figured her job was stressful enough as is, and didn't want the extra burden of an even more important and involved occupation.

Grandpa Elliot, on the other hand, ran a business he created himself, wholesale. It was simply and aptly named Wilson Taxidermy, and sat strangely prominent in the middle of an otherwise average shopping mall. Grandpa Elliot made good business turning people's beloved deceased into stuffies that they could cherish forever (or put up on little pedestals like macabre trophies). He could also make actual hunting trophies, if people wanted him to, but you didn't get many hunters toting around dead moose in the middle of San Diego. Grandpa Elliot usually sat in his office there, not doing too much of anything, but looking very busy all the while. If he wasn't in his office, he was doing the grim work itself, which Tim was forbidden from ever viewing; Elliot kept his work very private and refused to do it for family members.

The Wilsons had a house in the San Diego suburbs, but Tim always liked to say that the house was a bed and fridge. He was right, in a sense. After a close run in with a fork and an outlet, his mom and dad thought it better to simply let him tag along. They most certainly didn't trust babysitters anymore. Since Grandpa's job was less hectic and his workspace more customizable (it was his building, after all), Tim grew up primarily at Wilson Taxidermy. His room was Elliot's office, his stomping grounds the lobby. He had a crib there, and then he had toys there, and almost always he had books there. His real "babysitter" was the receptionist, this old man that worked for Elliot for as long as Tim was in San Diego. This man's name was Hank, and you could tell from his voice that he hailed from somewhere up north. He called soda "pop", followed hockey religiously, and taught Tim to love snow.

While Elliot was in the back, carving up some poor terrier or whatever the animal was on that day, Hank would make sure Tim was occupied. My dad liked to joke that Hank was my second grandpa, because he was Tim's second dad. I suspect that Tim probably thought of Hank more like his first dad, though. Hank always took Tim out to lunch on his lunch breaks, and frequently showed him around the city when there was no other parent to look after him. It was through Hank that Tim saw his first big stores, that he explored placing his feet into the cold Pacific Ocean, that he ate ice cream bars or got the tiniest sip of beer. It was through Hank that Tim became adventurous, respectful, and loving where perhaps his parents would disagree. Well, as much as you can be adventurous, respectful, and loving as a little pre-preschool tot.

Tim told me that his first memory wasn't even of his parents.

Tim's first memory was of sharing a crepe with Hank, somewhere within earshot of the ocean, and trying to reach over to play with Hank's gray, scraggly beard.

Right alongside that memory was the drive between home and Wilson Taxidermy which he took with his dad every morning and every night, his mom giving him pancakes with a smiling face, and visiting some plant nursery where he got bugs to crawl on his hands.


* * * * *


One weekend, Edna and Elliot had gone out for what we can retrospectively guess to be romantic reasons; Tim doesn't remember, and they're not around to tell us, but they had gone out, and Tim was left to Hank for a Saturday and Sunday. He was likely the Wilsons' most trusted friend.

So after Wilson Taxidermy closed, late on a Friday night, Tim half opened heavy eyelids. He was laying on his dad's office chair, and had fallen half asleep playing with a quill pen (Elliot was into calligraphy, and he used them and an inkwell to sign papers). Grandpa Elliot was coming out of the back room, his "studio", trying to make as little noise as possible. Of course, he wasn't very good at it. He always wore these big leather boots that could trudge through the arctic, and he had a twitch in his right leg that made it impossible for him to sit still. It also meant that if he was walking for a while, you might hear a suspicious "double step", where his foot would quickly tap the ground before he actually made his footing sure.

After organizing the pieces of his desk that he had let Tim play with, he picked up Tim and slung him over his shoulder. Par for the course for Tim, he usually fell asleep before the drive home. But this time, Grandpa and Hank had stopped to banter. Tim felt lazy, and his eyes shuttered closed.

When he next woke up, he was riding shotgun in a car that smelled like cigarettes masked by a painfully artificial vanilla freshener. Confused, Tim sat up and took in his surroundings. They were on some city road, flanked on both sides by palms, with the moon high and looming. Looking over, the dim electric lights of San Diego illuminated just enough of Hank's face to make him recognizable.

He was wearing his usual (or more like, as Tim liked to jest, his "unusual"); a fuzzy flannel, a beard ring, standard jeans, and black polished shoes. The inside of his car was decorated with Michigan Wolverines merchandise, stickers, and memorabilia; he even had a Michigan Wolverines baseball cap on the dashboard that Tim had never seen him wear. His sleeves were rolled up — a look he never wore on the job — to show three golden bracelets on his right arm, each with a small symbol patterned across. A heart, a snake, and a snowflake.

Tim could handle the smell.

It was a Hank smell, so it was a good smell.

Tim drifted back into sleep.


* * * * *


Tim found himself in an apartment. He woke to morning light, peeking through the blinds, laying on an unfamiliar futon. He was covered by a scratchy wool blanket and propped up by stiff red pillows. Immediately in view were a coat rack (on which were a coat and a sweatband), a small table, a petite bookshelf, and a glass case that Tim couldn't see into from his angle.

After a few moments of semi-consciousness, Tim identified a secondary reason for his awakening; there was the sound, and associated smell, of eggs cooking. He yawned wide and tried to sit up. Tim saw a very quaint apartment, small in stature and green in color. There was a kitchen, separated by no doors from the rest of the room, where Hank stood over a sizzling stove.

But his eyes drifted back to the glass case.

It stood on four legs, it was slanted. A display case. But what for?

"Uncle Hank," Tim groggily aimed in the direction of the egg smell, "what's the glass?"

Hank turned slightly to see Tim propping himself up on one arm.

"What's in the glass?" Tim asked again.

Hank told Tim he was going to have to wait, because the eggs were almost ready.

Tim wiped the sleep from his eyes and took his word for it. After several more minutes of lying and almost falling back to sleep, Hank called Tim to the little table by the window. The eggs were good, scrambled and imbued with cheese. Hank even gave him orange juice. It was a good breakfast. But Tim still wanted to know what was in the case.

"Alright, c'mere Timmy," Hank scooped Tim up from his seat and carried him over to the glass case. It was Hank's pinned bug collection.

From here Tim beheld a great array of colorful bugs, something he had never rightly seen. He'd seen spiders, he'd caught glimpses of ants before, and he'd seen cartoonish depictions of them in children's books, but never had Tim seen bugs up close and personal. The city doesn't allow for many of them, save flies and roaches. But what was here… Tim was looking at orb weavers, kite spiders, millipedes, centipedes, stick bugs, leaf bugs, rhinoceros beetles, ladybugs… it was like some tiny, frozen zoo.

Hank smiled, proud to have filled a child with wonder. He'd accomplished the same effect with simple magic tricks before but he was not nearly as skilled at that. Pinning bugs was a passionate hobby, and it's suspected he didn't have many people to show it off to.

Tim pointed at bugs. Hank identified bugs. Hank had a whole section on beetles, a whole section on spiders, and each of those was organized by regions of the world. It was less expansive than Hank would have liked, of course, but it was a good size. Right next to the dragonflies, Tim spotted the little caterpillars.

There were fuzzy ones, spiny ones, slick ones, short ones, long ones, yellow ones, green ones, brown and orange ones, and he fell in love with them instantly. They were like strings of yarn with eyes and legs. Or sometimes pills. Sometimes they came dangerously close to being balls. But Tim thought that all of them were adorable. Right next to them were the butterflies.

"Did you know, Timmy, that these butterflies are the same as those caterpillars?"

Tim gave Hank a blank look.

"How?"

Hank explained that when a caterpillar got to a certain age, it would make itself a little house, called a cocoon. "I have a couple right here," Hank said, pointing to a small conglomeration of cocoons. He told Tim how they staid in their cocoon for a couple days, and how when they came out, they came out as butterflies, or sometimes moths.

But Tim glanced between the caterpillars and butterflies. He wasn't buying it.

"Why?" he asked.

"Well, the goal of any wild animal is to survive," Hank explained. "The caterpillar is vulnerable and slow. It needs to take flight to give itself some defenses. As is one of the most common ideas of nature, one must adapt to survive. No animal shows this as clearly as caterpillars do."

Tim was frowning.

Hank asked what was wrong, and Tim insisted that the caterpillars were "perfect".

Hank chuckled. He tried to explain that if the caterpillar did not adapt, did not turn into a butterfly, it would certainly die and never reproduce.

"They won't die!" Tim insisted, ever confident in the caterpillar's abilities.

Hank explained at length why caterpillars did what they did. He explained the beauty and grace of moths, he showed Tim all their intricate winged patterns.

But try and try as Hank might, Tim just liked the caterpillars more.




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