October 25, 2017

The party isn’t for another two hours, and the older boys have been helping Mom by cleaning the house, prepping food, and moving furniture around on the patio. Foss has been helping by putting away a smattering of toys. Will has been helping by not running around undoing the work everyone else is doing. He is feeling very magnanimous this particular afternoon. Parties improve everyone’s dispositions, even those of two year olds.

Looking around and believing his work to be complete, Foss finds Will and tugs on his sleeve. “Will,” he says. “We should go outside. Mom always sends us outside when she’s getting ready for a party. She’ll love it if we go outside right now.”

“Bike,” says Will amicably.

“Yes,” says Foss. “You can ride your bike.” So he opens the door and they go outside into the pleasant afternoon sunshine, Will to ride his bike and Foss to wander around the yard, thinking Fossish thoughts.

Inside the house, Mom is thankful for the quietness, which she knows is a result of the little guys being outside. They’re so great, she thinks. Everything is going so smoothly. And she goes about her business, absorbed in conversation with the older two boys.

Outside, Will is riding his bike and jabbering loudly at birds. The birds are saying that bikes are silly because they’re stuck to the ground and cannot fly, but Will disagrees. He thinks birds are silly because they don’t have wheels. Will and the birds argue good-naturedly as he continues to ride his bike, demonstrating the superiority of wheels to wings.

Foss is thinking his Fossish thoughts. He’s particularly thinking about the bushes Mom planted in the front yard a week before. He thinks of the bright yellow and red flowers on some, and of the thick green leaves on the others. He thinks of the dirt and fertilizer and mulch they’ve added around the plants, and of the hose they use to water them. He loves those plants. I love those plants, he thinks.

As he wanders, he suddenly comes upon the dirt in the far corner of the yard, the corner with the pipe that lets in the water when they irrigate their property. The corner that is perpetually damp. He stops and stares at the mud. He thinks of the mud that develops in the front yard every time they water the plants.

Mom loves mud, he thinks. I do too. We’re the same, Mom and me. He keeps staring at the mud.

The birds have flown off, still thinking bicycles and the humans who ride them are silly, but Will doesn’t mind. He’s turned his attention to his brother, who is standing thoughtfully in the corner of the yard, near that wonderful squishy mud. It’s especially squishy today because the yard was filled with water earlier this week. He goes to join Foss in his staring.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, the boys discuss the mud pit. “It’s like Mom’s garden, Will,” says Foss. “It’s perfect for digging in. We should dig in it. Just a little bit. Just little holes.”

“Mung. Der snole,” answers Will. Foss nods. He’s glad to have a brother that understands him so well.

The ground is covered in twigs that have fallen from a nearby tree. The boys each grab a sturdy stick and then enter the mud pit. They begin to dig.

At first they just poke little holes in the mud, but their digging becomes increasingly enthusiastic, and soon they have discarded the sticks and are plunging their hands into the mucky stuff, pulling out great globs of it which they let fall to the ground beside them with satisfying thwapping sounds. And with each thwap! there are bits of mud that go flying, so that eventually it’s not only their arms but also their legs and shirts that are covered and spattered.

“Will, look! It’s like we’re gardeners!” cries Foss gleefully. Thwap.

“Gonga, muh dersher!” says Will. Thwap.

And now they are bent over, continuing to dig but also wanting to be able to closely inspect the lovely holes they are making. Will pulls out a big handful. Thwap! near Foss’s head. Foss does the same. Thwap! near Will’s. They look at each other. They laugh. They toss a few handfuls just for fun. Thwap! Thwap! Thwap! Now they are clambering over the piles of mud to get away from each other, and any part of them that hadn’t been covered in mud previously now is.

Still laughing, Foss looks over and sees Will’s mud-streaked face. And just then, he hears Mom’s voice from inside the house, calling out instructions to one of his older brothers. “Make sure you get that washed real good!” she says. About what, he doesn’t know, but it gives him pause. He looks down at his mud-covered self. He looks at Will, equally mud-covered. Mom doesn’t look like this when she takes care of her plants, he thinks. Hands muddy? Yes. Arms muddy? Sometimes. Hair, face, shirt, legs, and feet muddy? He stares into space for a moment, considering. No. Never.

He looks back at Will, and down again at his own filthy self.

This, he thinks, got a little out of hand.

He considers what to do. He suddenly doesn’t want to be muddy anymore. He wonders if he should try hosing himself off. No, he decides. Hoses are hard. And Mom might notice that I’m soaking wet. He wonders if he should sneak through the house and get himself some clean clothes. No again. I can’t reach my shirts in the closet. He thinks some more. Mom likes honesty, he suddenly recollects. I will just go tell her what happened. And with a deep breath and a clear conscience, he marches into the house.

Foss enters the kitchen, where Mom is washing dishes. Mom sees him and shrieks.

“Mom, I got some mud on me,” says Foss in his most honest voice. And he holds out his arms, as evidence.

“Get out!” shrieks Mom. “Go outside! Fast fast fast!” Surprised, Foss turns and runs outside, arms still held out in front of him. Mom comes running behind him. She sees Will, who has come to join in the fun, and she shrieks again. She corrals them both in the grass by the patio.

“Take off all your clothes!” she commands as she grabs the hose.

Foss watches her. He watches the hose. He has a feeling he knows what’s coming. This was a bad idea, he thinks glumly. He reluctantly strips down. Mom peels the mud-soaked clothes off of Will. Together, the boys stand in the yard in their birthday suits. They give each other a look of solidarity, and then Foss watches as water comes raining down on Will. On his hands, his arms, his body, his hair and face. Will begins to shout and cry, futilely batting the water away. Mom persists, until all the mud is out of his hair, off of his face, gone from his person. Big brother comes and wraps a towel around him, and he steps to the side.

Foss was observing Will’s distress. It made him a little bit sad and a lot nervous. Now it’s his turn, and it’s terrible. The water is pouring down on him, drenching him, getting in his face and mouth. I did not want an outside-shower today, he thinks miserably. Will, towel-wrapped and cozy now, looks over at Foss and laughs. Hard. Foss glares at Will. So much for solidarity, he thinks.

And then the water stops and big brother is wrapping a towel around him too. Mom is laughing, but it’s not a mean sound. It’s a mom-sound. Weary, incredulous, amused, compassionate. She’s hosing off the muddy clothes now, and she has gotten wet herself. Just a little bit, but still. See? thinks Foss. Mom and me, we’re the same.

And he goes into the clean house, puts on clean clothes, and waits for the party. He hopes none of their guests choose to play in the mud pit.

The End


Mud Babies An Illustrated and True(ish) Short Story

  1. Pat Kiefer says:

    During the party Foss was asked “so your Mom tells me that you and Will were playing in the mud earlier today?” and Foss replies “……I shouldn’t have did that”. What a sweet story, sweet kids and sweet Momma.

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