I’VE NEVER had the pleasure of carving. The way Walter and I saw it, wood was destined to be nothing but embers. After its useful life it would provide warmth for my family throughout the frost bitten month of October.
I held a knife once; it was at the dinner table. My mother was in the kitchen fetching a hot plate of garlic bread and Papa had excused himself from the table in such a hurry that the satin table cloth almost followed him to the outhouse.
My baby brother, Zachery, had been sitting across from me, drooling on himself and probably smelling worse than our stable. Two silver steak knives gleamed as if whispering my name, pulling me…calling me. I looked at Zachery, my eyes forming the question, “should I touch it?” Wide eyed he stared at me then cooed, and that was all the reassurance that I needed.
The chair wobbled under my feet as I tried to extend my hand to the knife. My fingers danced along the table cloth, almost there I thought. The chair began to slip under my weight; as it did, my palms slapped against the table top to steady myself.
There was something tucked under a serving plate that I didn’t notice before. Cherry colored wood peeked out the side. My eyes followed along the object, discovering the shiny wooden handle. Further up the dull metal blade ended in a point six inches above where the handle ended.
Decisions like these shouldn’t be answered by drooling babies. “Walter, this one is bigger. What should I do?” I whispered as I looked over my shoulder. Biting my lip I nodded. Ya see, Walter has always been there for me. He watches over me like an angel. Mother tells me that Walter isn’t real but I just know he is.
A toothy smile spread across my face as I held the foreign object.
“Walter, you were right. It’s so pretty.”
Fingers explored the handle then worked their way up the side of the blade. I extended my index finger and slowly moved it towards the point.
“Put that down, this instant!”
My pointer finger never made it to the tip. Mother came crashing into the dining room and stole my knife. I sat staring down at my lap as my mother scolded me. Walter’s cold hand rested upon my interlaced fingers, letting me know that I wasn’t alone.
“What were you thinking? You could have hurt yourself,” exclaimed Mother.
With my head still down I replied, “I just wanted to touch it.” Under my breath I added, “Walter was watching me. He said it was ok.”
“Walter isn’t real!”
My friend’s grip hardened. “Yes he is,” I pleaded.
“Your father and I are going to have a talk about this. Honey, you’re eight years old, this Walter business needs to end.”
I opened my mouth in preparation to speak but mother cut me off and sent me to my room. My head hung low as I grabbed my teddy bear off the chair, took Walter’s hand, and walked upstairs.
That night Walter had said something to me, but I wasn’t listening. I knew it wasn’t his fault. I just wanted to be alone. He sat in a wooden chair at the corner of my room while I slept. He never moved, never looked away, and never blinked; but that’s how Walter always is.
PSYCHIATRIC AWARD of excellence presented to Doctor Edward L. Baker Jr. September 1928. The plaque loomed over me. A wave of nervousness crashed onto my skin, I had no idea why I was here. I put a hand on my forehead; I wasn’t burning up, my tummy didn’t ache, and I hadn’t had a cough in many months. Looking at Walter I shrugged my shoulders. He was as clueless as I was.
Behind the closed door I could see mother talking to Doctor Baker, through the small window slit. Although I couldn’t hear them I knew the conversation was about me.
Walter sat on the couch and I climbed onto his lap. We waited for mother.
“Where is mother,” I asked when I saw Doctor Baker return.
“Your mother is in the waiting room. I wanted to talk about Walter, just you and me.” I couldn’t hold back my smile. No one had ever wanted to talk about him.
Springing off of Walter’s lap I said, “He’s my best friend in the whole world! We do everything together.”
“Is Walter here right now?”
“Yup!” I walked over to the couch and struggled with all my strength to pull Walter in front of Doctor Baker.
Behind thick glasses Doctor Baker looked at my hand which held onto Walter’s. He scribbled something on a notepad and said, “What kind of things do you do with Walter?”
“Well, we like to sit and listen to the radio. Walter’s favorite show is The Adventures of Buck Rodgers. Oh! We also go on treasure hunts.” My arms spread wide, “one day we found a chest full of gold!”
Doing my best Patsy Cline impersonation I said, “We also sing together.” I grabbed Walter’s other hand and bounced around, “Walter is also a great dancer.”
Stopping to catch my breath I looked down at my feet and brushed my hair behind my ear. “He’s the only one there for me when mother yells at me,” I breathed. Again Doctor Baker scribbled.
“Is Walter human like you and me?” Doctor Baker asked.
I tilted my head upwards to look at Walter’s face, “don’t be silly of course he’s like us.”
“How long have you known Walter?”
“For as long as I can remember.”
“How did you meet him?”
“It was night time and I was sleeping in my room. I woke up when I rolled over and knocked Teddy onto the floor, that’s when Walter appeared. At first I was scared but he told me that he was my guardian angel. After that he handed me Teddy and watched me sleep,” I said smiling.
Again he scribbled, “Walter sounds like a great friend. Is there anything else you would like to tell me about him?”
My shoulders shrank and I waved the doctor closer. Cupping my hand next to my mouth I whispered in his ear, “I’m throwing Walter a surprise birthday party tomorrow.”
“How old is he going to be? Eight? Nine?” He replied with a matching muted volume.
Giggling at the ages he suggested I said, “Sixty Three.”
EVERY YEAR Papa grew pumpkins in our garden. For the past four years on October thirtieth he would bring two inside and we would paint faces on them, but today was different.
“Honey I have a surprise for you,” said Papa as he walked up the stairs.
I put down my toys and ran to meet him at the top of the stairs, Walter in tow.
My hands gripped the top of the oak hand railed balcony and I got on my tippy toes in order to see him walking with two fresh bright orange pumpkins in his hands. Excitement left me. It was just like every year I thought. My arms fell lifeless to my sides and I began to turn around to fetch the paint.
Papa’s finger lifted my chin up and said, “This year I’m going to teach you how to carve a pumpkin.”
Blood rushed into my cheeks and I wrapped my arms around him, burying my face into his belly.
We put down newspaper to set the pumpkins on and grabbed two bowls, one for the seeds and the other for the guts with which mother made pie. Papa had laid down two small knives with blades no larger than three inches. My first instinct was to grab one, but I remembered the words Papa had said to me, “Knives aren’t toys and if you don’t follow my directions then I’m taking them away for good and we will paint again.” I couldn’t let that happen so I sat patiently as I listened to Papa’s instructions.
He had cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin around the green stem. It was now my turn. Reaching for the knife I looked at Papa. “Go ahead,” he said. Walter motioned with his hands, pushing me toward the knife.
My hands started shaking. The knife wobbled in my hands as I tried to cut. I applied more pressure and the knife slipped. With a loud commotion it banged against the table sending shivers down my spine.
Great my only chance and I blew it, I thought. We sat in silence for a few moments. I couldn’t bring myself to see Papa’s expression.
Papa placed the knife back in my hand. When I regained control he said, “Here try this.” He then put his hand over mine and began to sing.
I had joined in, repeating the song along with Papa. He was right. My chest stopped pounding so hard and when he removed his hand mine remained steady.
We carved for hours while we sand the little tune. Once we were satisfied with our creations we cleaned up the table. Papa had placed a candle in each pumpkin and l it the wicks.
“Thank you Papa,” I said as I jumped onto his lap. “I love you,” I added. Papa kissed me on my forehead and put his arms around me.
Still clinging on I looked for Walter. He was standing outside the door that left to the hallway, his face illuminated with each flicker of candle light.
I motioned for him to join our hug, but he didn’t come. His hands clawed at the wooden door frame… he looked different. Walter’s eyes seemed hollow, his white skin too tight against his skull, but what scared me the most was that he shot me a look that resembled one of my mother when I did something wrong.
My arms tightened around Papa and Walter retreated into the shadows.
WALTER WOKE me up that night. He was babbling about something that I couldn’t understand. Wiping the sleep out of my eyes I placed my feet on the cold smooth wooden floor of my room. Ignoring Walter I walked to the window. Flashes of lightning sent shadows throughout the trees making them seem monstrous. Walter had finally gotten my attention.
“What is it Walter?”
With one finger he motioned me to follow him. I was glad that Walter looked normal again and wasn’t mad anymore. I’ll ask him why he was being so weird later. Grabbing teddy I walked out into the hallway.
I had looked just in time to see Walter round the hallway corner. The floor boards creaked as I tip toed trying to keep up with Walter. The sound of door hinges echoed throughout the corridor. When I approached my Parent’s room the door was open. Hugging teddy close to my chest I pushed the door open.
“Papa?” I whispered while shuffling into the room.
Zachery was asleep in his crib across from my Parent’s bed. I looked down on him while he sucked his thumb. A baby brother was something I had always wanted. When Zachery is older Walter, Him, and me can go on adventures. I placed teddy next to him so he wouldn’t be alone, then turned away.
“Walter?” I said keeping my voice low.
Flashes of lighting flooded the room. Near my parent’s bed Walter appeared impishly squatting and pointing a long boney finger. This was the first time I had noticed how much Walter’s fingers resembled claws. At the end of his cracked fingernail was a butcher’s knife that had been buried to the handle in the pillow, inches away from Papa’s face.
“Where did you get that?” I said gasping.
My hand took the knife. I held it up to my face, mesmerized. Walter put his hands on my shoulders and spoke.
Shocked I said, “No Walter I can’t do that!”
Thunder had caught up with the lightning making me drop the knife as I let out a short squeal. The blade quietly landed on the bed.
The thunder hadn’t bothered Papa; because, he remained asleep with a low snore. His arm draped around mother who was also fast asleep.
Walter’s face was close to mine. I could feel his ice cold breath on my face.
“Because it’s bad,” I explained. My ears perked up listening.
“Well ok, if you really think Papa will like it,” I said while picking up the knife. Silent as a mouse I snuck back to my room.
I WAS singing the carving song Papa had taught me earlier that day. “Oh Walter it’s perfect.”
I had been putting the finishing touches on Papa’s gift when I heard my door open. Behind me came the sound of Papa’s voice, “Honey, what are you doing up?”
My head hurt and I felt really tired, “I made you something Papa,” gurgling the words. Walter had taken my hand and turned me around to walk me toward the sound of Papa’s voice. My room was darker than it had ever been. Warm liquid ran down my face dripping on my body. My feet stuck to the floor boards with each step I took.
Papa must have loved what I had done for him because I heard him run to me. Big loving arms wrapped around my body. He brushed the hair out of my face and was wiping my face franticly.
Crying? Why was Papa crying? I had done everything Walter had said, starting with drawing those odd symbols on my hands. After that…well I can’t remember. I felt something in my hands, I let go. The familiar sound rang out as the knife hit the ground.
A dull pain formed and I touched my face. Everything was wet. My fingers felt where my nose used to be, then I poked at empty eye sockets. I opened my mouth to scream but the only sound that came was the sound of sticky blood pulling apart as my lips and the sides of my cheeks opened.
“Wake up…Elizabeth please wake up,” I heard Papa say as he rocked me back and forth. In the background I heard Walter laughing and singing the carving song until I had fallen asleep.