This is a short story, in 940 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Jennie Fitzkee.
It wasn’t Scott’s fault, but he couldn’t be home much when Taylor was little. First it was Afghanistan, then a posting to Africa. He hardly saw his son grow from the little baby he left behind, and the home leave was too short for them to bond properly. Sometimes, Scott had to fight back the tears. There were other times too. Times when he thought about leaving the army, and finding a job close to home.
Leigh was his rock though. A wonderful wife, and a fantastic mother. She talked him out of quitting the army that she knew he loved, and promised him everything would be alright. “It’ll be okay, honey. I will explain things to Taylor. He’s growing fast now, and he will understand soon. Then he’ll be proud of his brave Daddy, you can bet on that”. At least there was the phone, and face-time or Skype. Scott called them whenever he could, and even when the time difference was disruptive, Leigh made sure that they both had smiles for him.
When the unit was deployed to Saudi Arabia, it was a blow. He had hoped to get a posting back at base. Scott called Leigh to apologise. As always, she was unflappable. “Look at it this way, darlin’, at least you are no longer in harm’s way. You’ll be home on leave soon, and we will be here waiting for you, like always”. He asked if he could speak to Taylor. “Sorry honey, he’s sleeping, had a bad night. There was a big old spider in his room, and you know what I told you about him and spiders. Dear Lord, he was fit to bust, and even when I put it out, he refused to go back in there. I had him in bed with me, tossing and turning”.
Scott’s next chance to call home was over a week later. Leigh sounded stressed, as if she was pretending to be happy. “I’m fine, honey. Just tired is all. Here’s Taylor, you talk to him”. Scott was pleased to hear his son’s voice. “Hi son, how’s it going? You been having fun? How’s school? Have you made friends yet? Do you like your teacher?” He had to stop himself firing off too many questions, give the boy a chance to talk.
“There was a big spider, Daddy. I didn’t like it”. When he said no more, Scott tried to reassure him. “I know, Taylor. Mummy told me about it. But she put it out and told it to never come back to your room. I bet that old spider has found a nice place to live now, and you don’t have to ever worry about seeing him again”. The boy raised his voice. “NO, Daddy. Another one. It was in a web, and it was fat and ugly!” Leigh’s voice came back on the line. “We were playing ball in the back yard, and he went to fetch the ball when it rolled under under that big bush. All of a sudden he screams, and goes running into the house. Says he saw a scary spider on a web. Now he won’t go out in the yard to play, and is still refusing to sleep in his own room. It’s getting silly, Scott, and I’m running out of ideas about what to tell him”.
Pausing for a second, Scott suddenly smiled. “Listen, Leigh. I will be home in less than four weeks. Don’t bother to challenge him about those spiders for now. I just had a great idea”.
On his way home from the airfield, Scott stopped off at the little bookstore in town. Leigh and Taylor were excited to see him, and after all the hugs and kisses, Scott sat on the floor next to his son. “Hey buddy, guess what? Tonight you and me are going to have a sleep out. We are going to sleep in my old tent, right out there, in our back yard”. His son’s lip turned down. “But Daddy, what about the big scary spider?” Scott leaned in, whispering in a conspiratorial tone. “You can trust your Dad to look after you, can’t you? And I have something that will make sure that you are never scared of spiders again. Trust me, son”.
Once they were tucked up in the tent in the sleeping bags that evening, Scott turned to his boy. “I have a story to tell you, so listen good, okay?”
“When I was about your age, I started school, just like you have. I was scared of spiders too. Hard to believe, eh? Anyway, we had the most wonderful teacher, a lady called Jennie. And when she found out that I was afraid of spiders, you know what she did?” Taylor shook his head, his eyes wide. “Well she took out this book, and she read it aloud to me”. Scott produced the book from under the sleeping bag, and showed the cover. “See, it’s about a spider called Charlotte, and the title is ‘Charlotte’s Web'”. Scott began to read aloud to his son, and as he watched the delight on the boys face, he remembered how his own fears had melted away all those years ago, in that small classroom.
After the last page, Taylor reached over and closed the book. “Read it again, daddy. Start from the beginning”.
As he settled down to sleep that night, Taylor knew he would never be scared of spiders again.
Dedicated to Jennie Fitzkee, an truly inspirational teacher of small children.
Before she teaches them anything, she starts by loving them