On my way home from the office to celebrate my promotion with a special dinner, I stopped at the supermarket for a few items. The grocery doors slid open, and from somewhere inside I heard the wail of a child.
The store was busy, but I was fortunate to find an empty cart. I started in the produce department with a couple of baking potatoes, a box of fresh mushrooms and a crown of broccoli. A woman across from me, a sour look on her face, grabbed several avocadoes and dropped them into her basket, putting dents in the carton of eggs.
“I want it. I want it right now,” screamed her little boy.
The lady clenched her teeth, slammed a clamshell of strawberries on top of a bag of peaches, and shoved her cart down the aisle.
On my way to the meat department, I noticed the customers who had passed the squalling child looked cranky and muttered to themselves.
“Nooo, I want the BIG one.”
My knuckles turned white on the handle. I could feel myself slipping into their peevishness.
“Do you hear me? I want the RED one.”
In my mind, the child lay across my lap with the little butt facing upward.
The butcher, normally a jovial person, slapped pork chops on the scale for the man who waited. “If that kid was mine,” a customer said, “he wouldn’t sit down for a while.”
“Too bad that won’t happen,” said the butcher. “You’d be arrested for child abuse.”
“Yeah, I know, but it sure would be tempting.”
A heavy-set woman, also waiting, said, “Do you remember how we raised our children? When they needed it, we spanked ‘em. They didn’t develop any sort of complex, did they?”
The man laughed. “When I was a kid, and I admit I was a hellion, my old man wasn’t afraid to warm my britches.”
The four of us stiffened when the child shrieked, “I want Lucky Charms, not Cheerios.”
The man took his package. “I’m out of here before I do something drastic.”
The butcher handed my wrapped filet mignon over the meat case.
“Oh, dear,” I said to him, “Glad I don’t have to do a major shopping like some of these folks.” I hurried towards the front of the store and found scowling people waiting in the check-out lines. My heart sank. The woman and boy stood in line ahead of me.
The mother said, “Stay here, I forgot something,” and walked away. For the first time I saw the child, four or maybe five years old, dark hair and eyes.
“Come back here!” He grabbed the wire on the sides of the cart and yanked again and again. “Er-er-er-er.” He looked up at me and stuck out his tongue.
That did it. My patience ran out. I leaned forward to make close eye contact with him, then said softly, “Little boy, if you aren’t quiet, I will turn you into a frog.”
His jaw dropped. His eyes popped open. He tightened his grip and clung to the cart. His mother returned with several boxes of Jell-O, then unloaded her groceries onto the conveyor belt. The boy peeked at me once, then turned away.
* * *
In the car on the way home, he sat with his head down and his hands folded in his lap.
“Are you okay, Cody?” his mother asked.
“We’ll be home soon. I’ll make us something to eat when I get everything put away. Does that sound good to you?”
They entered their gated community. She parked the Lexus in the garage and carried the groceries into the kitchen. She knelt in front of him and put her hands on his shoulders. “Now, Cody, tell me why you’ve been so quiet. What’s wrong?”
On the verge of tears, he whimpered, “A witch in the store told me if I wasn’t quiet, she’d turn me into a frog.”
“A witch said that to you?”
“Are you sure that’s what happened?” Her son had a vivid imagination. A witch turning him into a frog was quite a stretch. “We don’t want that to happen, so I guess it’s best if you are quiet.”
A neighbor boy came to play, and before they left the house, she said, “Don’t throw any more stones into the koi pond. Your father said you’re scaring the fish, and remember, the koi pond is not a swimming pool.”
She watched the boys from the kitchen window as they kicked a soccer ball around the yard. She couldn’t help but laugh. Whatever it took, a witch or a frog, the quiet was wonderful.
A little later, she heard the boys shout. She raced out of the house, but they were nowhere in sight.
“Cody, Cody, where are you?”
The silence frightened her.
“Cody, please, answer me.”
Frantic, she crisscrossed the backyard. Afraid of what she would find, her anxiety grew as she approached the koi pond.
Startled, her eyes flew open.
A frog sat on a lily pad.
And the woman fainted.