I heard frantic scribbling behind me and glanced over my shoulder at the couch. Lydia was bent over a pink clipboard feverishly producing some form of artwork with a newly sharpened pencil. It promptly snapped and without hesitation, she tossed it aside and picked up a new one from a small woodpile of backup pencils that were waiting nearby.
“So, what are you drawing?” I asked, carefully timing my interruption to a moment when she was brushing a tangle of hair out of her eyes and taking a gulping breath of air.
“What?” she looked around, as if unsure of where she was for a moment, then she noticed me and smiled. “What am I drawing?”
“Yes,” I moved closer and the two of us leaned over her clipboard to look.
“Oh. It’s just, these guys.” She pointed around the page at the various heads that were drawn there. “They are just a bunch of very angry guys.”
“Oh wow.” They were, in fact, a bunch of angry guys. On this sheet of paper, the little girl had drawn about twenty-five different faces, all shapes and sizes, and each looking in a different direction. But all of them were clearly angry. Some were very grumpy. Others were possibly in pain. The biggest one in the center seemed to be screaming as if he were charging into battle. “Well, they do seem angry…” I said politely.
“Yeah,” she agreed with a mysterious little chuckled that I could not entirely figure out.
“So,” I said, “um… only heads though, huh?”
She scratched her forehead with the pencil eraser, leaving a smudged circle. “Yes, just the heads. They don’t have bodies.”
“And, um…” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to ask the next question. “But, they are all, um… are all of the heads on sticks then? Is that what those lines are that are coming out of each of their necks? The angry men’s heads are on sticks?”
She seemed confused for a moment, and then she nodded and traced over one of the dark lines that were trailing out of the neck of one of the men. “Yes. Yes, their heads are all on sticks.”
“Okay, so, why is that then?” I tried to hide the trembling in my voice, and I did my best to keep things casual. Like you would if a bear suddenly walked out from behind a tree while you were taking a walk in the woods, and then you saw that this bear was drawing pictures of a collection of heads stuck on spikes.
“Why are they on sticks? Oh, they are all, like, you know… What do they call it. Like horses? Right?”
I waited for a moment, hoping for a better explanation, but she seemed to be slowly forgetting that I was there again, and started sketching another angry head on a stick in an empty corner of the page. “Okay, I don’t know what you are talking about. What horses?”
“You know,” she said, “like horse’s heads, on sticks.” And when I still didn’t respond she continued, with mild frustration, “Like… kids ride them around! You know? Wee Wee!” and she held a hand above her head and bounced pretended to ride a horse.
“Wait. You mean, like a hobby horse?”
She just shrugged.
“Like, so kids can hold it between their legs and pretend to ride a horse around the house? That kind of horse?”
Her face brightened. “That’s right!”
I stood up and spun in a circle and then leaned back down. “You mean, these heads are on sticks for kids to play with? Like a hobby horse? Only, instead of a horse, the kids pretend they are riding around on the back of a very angry man?” I noticed my voice was getting louder with every question and I had to sit down and close my eyes for a moment.
“Yes,” the little girl said simply with a wave of her hand in my direction. “This is a picture of the toy store I’m going to own someday.”
“Oh of course,” I said to myself, standing up and spinning in two circles this time. “It’s a toy store!”
She seemed bored with the conversation and clearly wanted to keep working on her art without having to explain it to an ignorant old man. So, I returned to what I was doing.
A few moments later she asked from the couch, “So, how do you spell, ‘Bad’?”
“B.A.D.” I said, not wanting to even know why she was asking.
“Okay, and ‘Free’ has two Es?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
An hour or so later I was walking through the living room and I found the finished masterpiece on the floor, moments from being stepped on and destroyed.
The faces seemed angrier than they had when I first saw them. The sticks that were driven into each of their necks were even darker and more pronounced. At the top of the page was a neatly worded sign that read “Free Bad Boys”. And attached to the necks of each angry head was a small tag that said “Free”. Apparently, even in Lydia’s imaginary world, there is very little demand for children to pretend to ride around the house on the back of an enraged man. Maybe the world just isn’t ready for that sort of thing.