By John Thomas Tuft

The children found it in Old Man Peterson’s weathered barn, as is wont to happen when kids set out on adventures. They climbed over bales of moldy straw and poked around in the ancient furniture seemingly discarded at random; a bureau with no knobs and a cracked mirror, a glider with no runners, a kitchen table that had lost its balance, an overstuffed chair now home to a clan of mice, and various pots and pans and dishes piled on, over and around a strange wooden rocking chair with the carving of a hippopotamus in the back. Cici insisted that the boys help her move all of the old dishes so that she could get a better look at this discovery. When she could finally see it she squealed in delight and dragged it over the straw to the front door. Old Man Peterson heard the commotion and limped out to the barn. When he saw Cici standing there with a look of amazement, he stopped in his tracks and seemed to have trouble uttering the words,  “That’s Miriam’s bespoke chair.”

“What’s that?” asked Cici. “Why’s it be broke?” asked one of the boys, because—well…boys, you know. Old Man Peterson came closer. “It’s her bespoke chair. I made it for her for rocking her babies, sitting in the front room, looking out at the mountains. Had to be just so. Comfortable for her and with a hippopotamus carved into it.” He reached out and ran one calloused hand over the dark finish. “I cut  down the tree, selected the parts for her chair, shaped and fashioned it just the way she’d like it. Her bespoke chair.” He let out a heavy sigh. “What’s the hippopotamus for?” Cici was intrigued by all of this bespoke business. “Why a hippopotamus?”

OMP gave a sad smile. “It’s the sign of maternal strength. Courage and calmness until someone comes after their babies, then all hell breaks loose.” Cici studied the chair for a long moment. “But it’s out here in your old barn. Did she not like it? Did she even ask you to make it?” Cici, as usual, had questions. Lots of them. The man’s face grew quite solemn, and he fidgeted a bit. “Not exactly,” he finally muttered. “It’s the wrong kind of chair.” “Whataya mean?” asked one of the boys. “Doesn’t she know how to sit?” asked the other boy. That elicited a small smile from OMP. “She wanted a captain’s chair. Her bespoke chair is the chair of a captain. So, she left to make her own chair.”

Three curious faces stared up at him. “Captain? Like in the army?” asked one of the boys, because…well, boys. “No, a ship,” exclaimed Cici. “She wanted to be captain of a ship, didn’t she?” OMP nodded. “She had her dreams, her goals, her hopes. She had her heart set on it and so she left. I got angry and threw all her things, including my bespoke chair for her into that old barn. Her life was with the sea, not me.”

Cici thought a moment. “You weren’t happy for her?” OMP shrugged. “I suppose. I know she’s happy. Captain of a big ol’ hospital ship, going places all over the world to help people get better. She went on without me.” One of the boys tugged on OMP’s overalls. “Why didn’t you go with her? She could have sat in her hippopotamus chair on the ship!” It made perfect sense to him because….well, you know, boys.

The other boy started to argue with the first one. “You can’t be a captain on a ship in a rocking chair. Besides she didn’t want it, so she can’t ever have it, bespoke or not.” As I’ve said, boys…you know. Cici stayed quiet for the longest time as OMP wiped the sweat from his bald head. “She didn’t want to be what I wanted her to be,” he said, “and I didn’t want to look at it any more or think about her any more.” Cici piped up with, “I could use a hippopotamus.” Something in her voice made OMP ask, “And why is that?” She didn’t say anything at first, using an index finger to trace the round, solid shape of the hippopotamus in the dark wood. Finally, “I’m eight and a half years old. I’m in my third foster home now because my mom’s in jail. Who knows, a hippopotamus bespoke chair might keep me safe.”

OMP knelt there in the dirt of the barnyard and looked into Cici’s eyes. What he saw in her eyes spoke to what was missing in his heart. And that is how the bespoke chair, created for one person who did not want it because she needed something different, became the bespoke chair for someone who needed it very much for purposes of her own. Because…little girls have needs, just like the rest of us…and sometimes it’s all a hippopotamus chair can do to help…humans, you know…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.