I had left them in the entryway to the restaurant for too long. By the time I found them Clara was already handing out quarters from her little pink handbag so they could each buy something from the little candy and toy dispensers.
“Oh no. No no no. What are you doing?” I objected, walking up to them cautiously, as I would approach a pack of raccoons that were about to climb into my garbage and make a terrible mess of things. “You do not want to buy any of that?”
They looked up at me and blinked with their beady little black eyes and chittered, “But why? They are just toys. It’s fun.”
“Fun? Look in there!” I pointed into the display case they were about to put money into. “What is this stuff. It’s just little plastic rings and necklaces.”
I looked over my shoulder and realized that this had not convinced Lydia that she didn’t want one. In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect.
I sighed, “And Gideon? Really? You want to pay fifty cents just so you can get…” I leaned over the little glass display case. “Okay, those are little plastic army men and race cars. I admit those ones are pretty cool. But really, we don’t need this junk. It will get lost before we even get home.”
Clara protested, coming between me and her little brother and sister. “But it’s my money, and I think it will be fine. Fifty cents for one day of fun is not bad.” She argued. She was referring back to a previous conversation we had about the nature of value, and how cost divided by use was the real judge of worth.
I threw up my hands in defeat. “Okay… Okay. If you want that. Sure. Go for it. It’s your money, I guess.”
They cheered and rushed past me to stand around the first machine, the one holding plastic jewelry and tiny paper butterflies. Lydia slid her coins into the slot and gently turned the lever. Something plinked into the tray. She scrambled to pull open the little metal door. “What is it? What did you get!” She was jostled and something fumbled from her hand and started bouncing across the floor.
“A Pingpong ball?”
“No no.” Clara chased after it and raised it up into the sunlight. “A Pingpong EYEball.”
Sure enough. The jewelry machine had given my daughter a small white eyeball with a staring blue iris. She groaned in disgust. “What? Why? Why was that even in there?” She collapsed into me and wailed, and I tried not to say “I told you so,” even though I thought it very hard as I pat her on the back.
Gideon was already happily bouncing the eyeball off the walls and laughing as customers coming in and out of the doors had to skip to keep from stepping on the strange eyeball. They gave me a concerned look. I ignored them.
“Gideon. Do yours now. Get it over with.”
I motioned him over to the machine with capsules full of little Vikings and soldiers. He pressed the money into place and then made it disappear with a CHINK then a CHANG and then a TUMBLE TUMBLE PLUNK. He opened the door. His hand vanished and then appeared again holding a little snowglobe shaped container. Everyone’s heads were sucked towards it as we tried to make out what was inside.
“Are you serious…?”
He squeezed the container and popped off the lid and lifted a small rubber object into the air. It was flesh-colored and flopped around between his fingers, but it was quite clear what he was holding.
“A nose?!” he said in disbelief. He checked to make sure he had put money in the correct machine. “Why did them give me a nose?!” He looked at his sisters then at his hands. He was now holding an eyeball in one hand and a nose in the other.
“See?” I was already saying while trying not to laugh. “This is what I was trying to explain earlier. You just can’t tell with these things. You will end up with a nose and an eyeball and you will both be disappointed. How can you even play with those things? You can’t.”
The boy looked at his sister sadly. She looked back at him and frowned. “Well,” he said finally. “Do you want to trade?”
“YES!” she said, lunging across the tiled floor and grabbing the little nose out of his fingers. “Please. Keep the eyeball. I want the nose.”
“What…?” I stared on in disbelief.
The two of them cheered and danced in circles. The boy tried to bounce the eyeball as high as it could possibly go. The strange little girl was already pressing the fake nose against her own nose. “This is so cool! I’m going to see if you can stick it to fruit!”
“Fruit? What fruit?”
“At the store!” she yelled. (We did eventually go to the store that day, but for other reasons. And she did bring the nose with her, although I advised against it. And she did attempt to stick it to an apple, although I asked her not to. And to a tomato, although I only found out because I caught people watching us like we were lunatics. And to a watermelon, even though this made her and her little brother collapse onto the floor in the middle of the produce department as they dissolved into laughter and I was forced to pull them to their feet and confiscate the nose until we got back to the car.)
Back in the entryway of the restaurant, I turned to Clara who was still holding her two quarters between her fingers and eyeing the various machines. “Can you please just get a gumball?” I begged.
She glanced suspiciously at the machine behind me. “Are you sure there aren’t any body parts inside that one?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know anything, anymore.”