BY Michael Czyzniejewski
Despite my better judgment, I attend this week’s meeting of the Fuzzy Stuffed Animal Candy Council. The meeting starts five minutes late—they were waiting for someone—then they take roll. Though I’ve been there once or twice before, no one on the Council gives me a look, all eyes forward, all business. I start to think I don’t belong, but remember the meetings are open to the public, that I’m entitled to witness the proceedings.
Popo the Panda introduces the first order of business: the seating arrangement on the toy chest. Popo states that the bears are tired of the back row, against the wall, and how some of the other Council members, because space is tight, are forced to lie across their laps. Popo’s motion calls for open seating, plus permission to move the excess members to the white dresser by the window. Cinnamon, Honey, and Smokie all second Popo’s motion. In the end, four votes aren’t enough. For another week, the bears will anchor the toy chest, populate the back row.
The next item, presented by Gil Gorilla, speaks to the growing discord between the stuffed animals and the dolls. Gil’s first beef is how the dolls get to sit at their meeting table ad infinitum, complete with full tea set, while the stuffed animals get nothing. Worse, with the exception of a random bow tie, top hat, or felt vest, the stuffed animals live in the nude, while the dolls not only get to wear clothes—lacey dresses and bountiful bonnets—but all of them have changes of clothes, folded in the bottom drawer of the white dresser by the window. Snapper Gator, Council Chair, attempts to keep heads cool, suggesting a fairness committee be formed to evaluate the best course of action. So many of the dolls are children, she reminds us, and no one’s suggesting any aggressive action towards a child at this juncture. Butterfly Betsy flaps her wings to second, and the Council, sated by the proposal of the fairness committee, moves forward.
After a short recess, the Council brings forth an array of smaller, less pressing issues. They discuss painting the playroom to look like a forest or jungle, maybe a combination of both. A Council member, who asks to remain anonymous, proposes lifting the ban on intermaterial marriages, while Button Eyes the Bunny suggests a smoking ban, good for within a hundred yards of the playroom—for the first time, I feel the Council’s eyes drawn to me. Gil Gorilla calls for more money in the nightlight fund, and when Jennifer the Pink Polka-Dotted Giraffe inquires as to where in “the hell” this extra nightlight money would come from, Gil suggests they bump the sin tax on honey to 8 percent, which only makes the teddy bears more furious, the last thing anyone wanted. The meeting adjourns and the animals move back to the toy chest to pursue their personal agendas.
Dinner isn’t ready when my wife comes home, her first day back at work. I feel awful, this meal my only imperative for the day, and for some reason, I’d promised her something extra special. It won’t be. I microwave-defrost freezer-burned chicken, sprinkle it with oregano, old White Zinfandel serving as marinade. As it bakes, she tells me they got a new printer, and that no one talked to her unless they had to, the ladies room, the break room, et cetera, but still, it wasn’t as bad as she’d imagined.
My wife then asks me what I did all day. I tell her that I did the dinner dishes from the night before, which I did, threw a load of darks in, including her black dress, which I did, and talked to my parents on the phone for quite a while, which isn’t quite as true as the first two. I consider telling her about the Council Meeting, all the issues on the table, but we’d talked about these meetings a few days before, how she didn’t think it was a good idea that I go anymore, that maybe it was best I steer clear of the playroom altogether. I don’t tell my wife about the Council meeting, because of this talk, but also because my wife does not tell me, in that great of detail, what she did all day, nor did I expect a real answer when I asked her how her day was.
Most of all, I don’t tell my wife about the Fuzzy Stuffed Animal Candy Council meeting because, if I’m not mistaken, her loyalties lie with the dolls. The stuffed animals spoke openly in my presence, confided in me their intentions, and while I didn’t sign a gag order or even pinky swear, giving secrets to the enemy is the worst kind of treason. While my wife sides with the dolls, their pretty dresses in large part supplied by her, I side with the stuffed animals, see their point of view. After all, they have some pretty legitimate concerns.
Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of two collections of stories, Elephants in Our Bedroom (Dzanc Books, 2009) and Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions (Curbside Splendor, 2012), and a 2010 recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Prose. He is an assistant professor at Missouri State University, where he serves as Editor of Moon City Review.