2016 Honorable Mention: A THISTLE BEDTIME by Maria Therese Qualkinbush
“So there I was…”
Barkley Thistle, the father gopher of six, began as he always did. He was chubby and wearing a brown moth-yearn waistcoat.
“Your mother and I were trapped between the man with the shovel and his dog. –“
But he was cut short when Sprig, oldest of his second litter, leaped to his paws and said loudly,
“And then a tame cat jumped in between you and the dog, kicked it in the snout, you jumped onto its back, and, together, the two of you rode away into the sunset!”
It was Sprig’s life ambition to tame a cat.
“Uh…no.” their father said.
“Go on, Barkley. No more interruptions, Sprig,” said Marigold, Barkely’s wife. She sat nect to him wearing a red sweater and rose printed skirt.
“Thank you Marigold, ahem, anyway, the dog bared his sharp fangs, drooling. The man brandished the shovel and yelled, ‘get out of my garden you filthy rodent!’”
“Barkley! May I remind you, you’re telling this to pups! Don’t say the ‘R’ word!”
“Uh, right.” Barkley cleared his throat, embarrassed, but went on. “ok. Anyway, I turned from one to the other. Then I locked eyes with the dog…”
He was interrupted again by the youngest of the first litter, Down< who was named for unusually fluffy fur. She was wearing her blue and white striped dress and a bow on her tail.
“I bet his eyes we blue, and as deep as echoing wells, eyes that you could lose yourself in, eyes that…”
“Now, Down! I’m trying to tell a story!” Barkley said, annoyed. “Do you want the little ones up all night?”
“Sorry Papa,” she replied, a faraway expression on her face. She plucked absently at her dress, as if she were still day-dreaming of the dog’s eyes.
“Anyway…Wait, were was I?”
“Ooh! Oooh! I know!” Dandelion, the youngest, hopped up and down, yellow dress bouncing, paw in the air. Her per fur-moth, perched on her shoulder, fluttered in alarm. “Daddy! You were locking up the dog’s eyes with a key!”
Dandelion sat down happily and resumed sucking on her pet moth’s fur. The moth, Fluffy, had gotten his very creative name from his owner.
Uhh…right, thank you, Dandelion, so, I locked eyes with the dog.”
“Wait, Daddy! Why were you in the man’s garden? Oh! You were stealing his food weren’t you?!” exclaimed Birch, middle pup of the second litter, who never missed an opportunity to accuse someone of something she was perfectly willing to do herself, without any guilt whatsoever.
“Oh, no, absolutely not.” Marigold said, “He only ‘borrowed’ some of the man’s radishes, AND some cabbage AND some carrots, AND –“
“Alright!” said Barkley thoroughly irritated now, “May I continue?!”
There were no objections. He glanced at Down to be sure of no interruptions, and continued:
“It growled deep in its throat, slobber slathering its muzzle. I stepped boldly forward, protecting your mother, I summoned all my courage and sprang at the mutt and –“
“No, actually, you screamed like a pup and nearly left me to fend for myself,” Marigold murmured over her knitting needles.
All the pups giggled and shouted, “Did you really, Daddy?” “OH! You didn’t!” “Ha-ha!” “How cowardly!”
“Alright! Quiet down! And, no, I was not being cowardly! I saved both of us!”
“By yourself, Daddy?” asked Dandelion.
“Yes! All by myself!”
“Well,” murmured Marigold over her knitting, “My sling might have had something to do with it, likeshooting a pebble at the amn’s head, slinging the dog’s squeaky toy across the garden to distract it. Just some little things like that”
“WOW…” said all the pups, amazed.
“Well, your mother might have helped a LITTLE, but I was the real hero!” Barkley said.
“Mm, that’s nice dear. You just keep telling yourself that,” Marigold said calmly, suppressing a smile.
“OK. Do you want to hear the rest of the story?”
The pups nodded.
“Ahem, I bared my teeth and leapt at the dog, and grabbed its ear. Then I clambered up the dog’s face. It stumbled, trying to get me off. I ducked as the man swung the shovel. The dog fell to the ground, pawing at its head, but I dodged its flailing paw. Then it rolled on the ground! I jumped off of it, grabbed a rope nearby, lassoed the dog’s neck, and…” he was interrupted again, by Sprig who spueaked with excitement:
“Then the cat jumped up from behind the man, thumped him on the head, grabbed you and mommy, and carried you –“
“SPRIG!” Marigold said, “I said NO MORE interruptions! Or no dessert tomorrow!” Sprig snapped his mouth shut. He highly valued his dessert.
“ANYHOW! I dodged the dog’s teeth. I tied the rope to a wooden post and ran, carrying your mother in my paws, out of the garden. She clung to my neck, weeping with fear—
“I most certainly did not!” said Marigold indignantly. She had finished a mitten.
“Err, Okay forget the part about her weeping with fear then, ok, so we ran away, the man chasing is, swinging the shovel and yelling. I turned and…Dandelion! Get that mitten out of your mouth!”
His youngest stopped chewing on her mother’s new knitted glove, and looked at him innocently, grinning around the soggy yarn.
“I turned, put your mother safely under a bush, and faced the man. I waited for him to strike again, and when the blow came, I dodged it, then I ran up the shovel, up his arm and down his shirt. I-“
“ALRIGHT, time for bed pups. Go brush your teeth.” The mother gopher said, setting aside her needles and standing up.
A collective “aww” came from all six, then they rushed off, down the hall.
“Marigold! That’s my favorite part!” Barkley said, and harrumphed.
“Uh, huh,” she muttered.
In the stampede toward the washroom, Petal, the oldest, squealed, as Cloves, the second oldest of the second litter, stepped on her paw. Then Sprig tripped over his own tail and blamed it on Birch.
“You hit me!” Sprig yelled at Birch.
“Did not!” his sister replied, “And you poked my eye! You filthy rodent!” she blinked furiously to emphasize her pain.
“Children!” snapped Marigold, “Language! Now stop squabbling! Go wash up!”
Petal ran into the washroom and locked the door, shouting “Dibs on the rub!”
“You can’t do that!” bellowed Cloves, banging on the door.
“No dib-calling!” Marigold said sternly, “Come out Petal! You’re older, you can wait.”
The eldest unlatched the door sulkily and the other five poured in. Dandelion snatched up a toothbrush, a twig tufted with a fluff of moth-fur cotton on the tip, and dipped it in a gooey substance made out of wildflower sap and crushed pine needles. Petal pumped warm water into the tub and slid in. Birch wetted a leaf and washed her face with it. Sprig shoved his head into the water-filled sink while Down counted out load how long he could hold his breath. Dandelion somehow got her head stuck in the towel rack and they had to call their mother to rescue her.
“Alright pups, pajamas on. Now, it’s already past your bed time.” Marigold said.
“Mommy, I’m not done yet,” said Sprig.
“Me neither,” Birch exclaimed.
Marigold sighed, Dandelion on her hip. “Alright, then, hurry up you two.” She walked around the corner to their room.
“Hey, Papa!” Sprig and Birch whispered into the main room, “Could you come and finish the story?”
He came immediately, “And so, I bit the man repeatedly,” he whispered, “he clawed at his shirt. ‘Fet out! Get out!’ he yelled, then I jumped out of his shirt, and scurried down his arm.”
“Then what happened??” the two pups asked excitedly.
“Then I picked you mother up and ran out of the garden –“
“BARKLEY PINE THISTLE! THE PUPS NEED THEIR SLEEP!” Marigold stormed into the hall, Dandelion at her heels, Fluffy on her head.
“Uh…” mumbled Barkley. “I forgot to read the newspaper!” he said and rushed away.
The pups scrambled into their separate rooms and shut the doors. Petal had put on her white lacy night gown, and was already in bed. Birch wanted to try on the blue pajama top Down was putting on, no matter how big for her it was. Dandelion started to cry because she couldn’t find her special duck footy pajamas. The boys, in their room next door, put on their p.js and hopped into bed, laughing at their sisters’ annoyed squeals from next door. Sprig was holding up Dandelion’s pajamas and snickering as Cloves high-foured him. Marigold burst in and grabbed up the footies.
“NO DESSERT TOMMOROW SPRIG OAK THISTLE! OR YOU, CLOVES!” she yelled.
After a while the uproar died down, Sprig apologized, under Marigold’s orders, and both parents came in. They kissed each pup in turn, then blew out the candles, “Goodnight”