Mosquito Bites and Connect 4 Pieces
The small dog, no more than twelve or so pounds and mostly black fur, was occupied to a degree and with an intensity that I would typically attribute to the influence of foreign substances, euphoria, or childhood. The first snow of the season. A paper cup full of two scoops of chocolate ice cream. A new puppy. I focused on the dog. For a second, I thought of Csikszentmihályi’s research on flow, the remarkable sounds of “cs” and “ksz” when united, and I wondered if I’d ever find flow and/or encounter the combination again myself (but then thought better of the inquiry given its obviously depressing yet undeniable outcome). Time wins, always. Instead, I focused on the small patch of white under the dog’s chin, wondered about its genetic origins, and then simply watched the tiny but determined animal poke, stretch, claw, and whimper all while I counted, silently, to twelve. I don’t believe his claws had ever been clipped. Stretched flat, his two front paws tore at the floor beneath his front legs. A pile of toys to his right sat untouched. The dog’s determination was admirable; he frayed several of the tightly woven fibers that bound the Berber carpet. Three, maybe four. Both nothing more and nothing less. Not unlike the mosquito that had just bitten me. I swatted and missed. Then, as I scratched the pink welt on my wrist where my veins pulse and press against—though never through—the surface of my skin, I did not have the heart to inform the eager creature of the concrete slab beneath his belly. Cold. Hard, too. The Berber only for show, of course. I counted, silently, again. His work continued. In the space where his cold nose met the air on the other side of the metal pen, I realized that we were not alone. From small towns with five miles and long stretches of unlit roads—front porch patios, too—between residences to crowded cities with barely five inches of insulation between his bed and hers, we all try to get out of the cages we find ourselves in.
I turned and retreated to the other room, the one with the large wooden table. On its top was a collection of puzzles—hundreds if not thousands of brightly colored pieces and the glossy cardboard boxes they called home—and games. Boxes with letters—Monopoly, Clue, Boggle—printed on the front. Plastic pieces everywhere. Lego bricks of different rectangular sizes. Two by three. Four by two. Small red, green, and yellow coins, too. Capitalism in all corners. Some stacked in tall columns. Others scattered. I thought of childhood scoldings. Don’t spend it all in one place. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Nothing more than clichés, after all—not unlike those that cautioned.
My attention turned to an upright grid, ten rows across and eight down. Connect 4. Two children, their bodies tense and their focus intense, sat on each side of the board. Knees on wooden chairs, elbows on wooden tables. Bare feet, denim bottoms, cotton t-shirt tops. One by one the chips were placed into selected columns. Red first. Then yellow. Back to red. The second from the left first. The third from the right next. Back and forth, the children’s small fingers picked up coins and then placed them in a selected column. Once placed, the coins drop to their designated spot. Back and forth. The children’s pace quickened. Each, it seemed, had a plan or end game. I was mesmerized by their focus and the joy that accompanied their play. Childhood games—tag, catch, chase.
Then, all of a sudden, the bottom of the board gave way and all of the chips fell. The children froze in place, unable to move and uncertain of how to react. My own thoughts proceeded. I’d been conditioned to think. Too much if you ask me, but no one ever does. I thought immediately of the morning news account of a four car pileup on the interstate. The deer that ran into the street as the bus turned the corner the Tuesday before last. The tiny leak in the bottle of dishwashing soap and the slick pool of liquid upon which I had slipped two nights prior. It seems we all seek order amidst chaos, yet chaos seems to always prevail.
After the red and yellow chips had settled, the room remained silent but for the tick, maybe tock, of the circular clock on the far wall. I never did understand the phrasing. Despite childhood cautions, my own eyes wandered. Habits, once formed, linger. I saw a puzzle—near completion, but for one missing piece, at the other end of the table. The puzzle appeared complicated and the image detailed. Thick, laminated cardstock, pieced together to form a library of sorts, books on shelves in the form of a grid not unlike the plastic game board. Still thinking, I knew where to find the missing piece. I had seen it earlier, near the tiny dog’s pile of toys. Property is a relative concept, too, it seems. I retreated, quietly, and soon held the damp and slightly chewed piece in my left hand. It appeared that even the dog’s attention could be won. I wiped the piece clean on my pant leg and offered it to the children with my right palm. Their heads turned and their eyes registered the first surprise—then satisfaction, if not joy. Hope persisted, too. Each newly presented puzzle offers opportunities for new revelations and new solutions.