“What are you doing, Jenny?”
“Nothing, mommy”, the little freckled face replied, fumbling quickly to shove a wobbly paper craft under the bed.
She had been working on it all morning and she didn’t want to show it until it was finished.
Mommy couldn’t help her curiosity and cast a lingering glance in the general direction of the unidentified paper object that had the vague outlines of a flying castle. Really puzzled she shrugged and didn’t insist, she knew how upset Jenny got when she didn’t get her way. Jenny was at the wonderful age when the ruckus of a tantrum outweighed the benefits of discipline. Mommy really didn’t have the patience to go through yet another long hour of high pitched wailing so grating that it peeled paint off the walls. She reluctantly left and soon forgot about the production, got to folding three loads of laundry and started dinner.
Jenny peeked from behind the door jamb, noticed the coast was clear and pulled the thin flying castle from under the bed. ‘Grown-ups have no understanding’, she thought, ‘for the importance of crafting beautiful things.’ Obviously the three dimensional object was meant for both flying and living in and since she went through the trouble of creating a place to live in she figured all the bells and whistles were in order.
One of the towers buckled slowly and Jenny taped it back in place with assured gestures. She advanced through the main court in the guise of a Barbie doll riding a sparkly pony whose lavender mane and tail dragged behind it like a train, passed the imaginary guards and entered a grand hall, splendidly decorated with full height tulips.
Of course the paper entrance didn’t have a door, so she took a flying shortcut over the wall instead. Jenny thought it would be a great idea if she colored the tulips blue and chartreuse, despite her older brother’s protests that there are no such things. Jenny figured that just because there are not such things that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any, and since she had thought about them she decided it would be nice to make some.
The doll was supposed to be a superhero but her body shape gave her the unfortunate stiffness of a stick and she was too top heavy to stand by herself, so Jenny had to float her around and pretend that she was walking.
Barbie had a thick and matted head of black hair that showed vague traces of grape juice and hot pink watercolor, remnants of previous stories, no doubt. Jenny stared at the outfits she had set out for the doll, all ruches, laces and bows in jewel toned colors.
At some point she had an idea that the doll would look pretty with a little make-up. That’s how she found out that permanent marker doesn’t come out. She was very sad that day and spent a couple of hours crying very loudly until her exhausted mother promised to get her another doll just like it, which she did. Jenny was very attached to the old doll, though, and soon learned to ignore the marker smudges.
Barbie awkwardly assumed a sitting position and started brushing the pony’s mane and singing like a good princess. ‘The pumpkin dress’, Jenny thought. It was satiny and beaded with little pearls and all the seams were trimmed with shiny silver lace.
The dressed up doll and the pony made themselves comfortable in a surprisingly well reinforced section of the paper castle so that the strange flying object could take off. It quietly lifted from the ground straight up and advanced along the corridor, finally making its appearance in the kitchen and startling mommy. Jenny placed the strange contraption on the countertop and stared in unspoken expectation.
Mom took a close look at the seemingly flimsy object and wondered how was it possible for it to stand up. The paper craft was extraordinary, with slim mutually balancing buttresses, tied arches reinforced in just the right places and a lattice of narrow deep beams supporting the slab of the room with the doll. The whole construction was solidly attached to an aerodynamic shuttle wing that thickened in the middle, like a fuselage. Since her daughter was way too young to understand the pull of forces and the dynamic of flight mom had to assume that the entire construction was painstakingly done and redone through trial and error, intuition and raw engineering instinct.
She didn’t know what to say, just looked at her daughter and wondered if the sparkly mind behind the pale gray eyes realized how extraordinary her construction was, but Jenny looked as scattered as usual, curly strands of copper hair sticking in every direction and throwing shadows on the freckled apples of her cheeks.
“This is very good, Jenny, where did you learn to build something like that?”
Jenny looked annoyed. Grown-ups, she thought. She immediately worried that it was mandatory for her to have learned it from somewhere and strained her mind to make up an answer that her mother would find acceptable, but she couldn’t come up with anything other than her generic indeterminate mumble.
Suddenly unsettled by the question she scooped out Barbie from the paper hall and skipped out to the back yard, giggling. Swing, slide, sandbox, running after the dog, slide again, tree house.
Jenny’s mom set the unusual object on the table next to the window, watching it intently to see how it was made. What a wonderful aeronautics engineer her daughter was going to make one day, she thought, stirring in the thickening sauce to keep it from sticking. The sunset light grew dim and purple, throwing deep shadows on the castle, reshaping it in surreal geometry defying lines. For a moment, just a fleeting moment, mom pictured it real, with busy people quickly pacing along the tulip lined hall, among clatter of horseshoes, barking dogs and chatter.
“Jenny, come back inside, dear, it’s almost time for dinner. Jenny!”
The little girl threw her a glance to acknowledge she heard and was going to comply, eventually. One more trip to the tree house to get Barbie gave her a new idea and she forgot about dinner again.
Mom looked out the window for dad’s car, turned on the lights and gathered the soft warm sweater around her body for comfort.