Have A Safe Day

Baker’s Pick
Gary Dudney

“How’s your rice, dear?” Mother asked.

“It’s weird,” Shelli said, poking at the small pile of rice with her fork. “Can I just take my pills?”

“Shelli!” Mother implored. “Remember what the doctor said. We need to try new things.” She leaned across the table and whispered, “…for Anton, dear. You understand.”

Shelli shrugged. “I think Anton’s all right. You just never let him do anything.”

“Enough of that,” Shelli’s father said sternly. “I think your mother and I know what’s best for Anton.”

Everyone looked over at Anton, who sat tucked in the corner of the booth playing quietly with a flashing cube in his hand. Mother placed a finger under his chin to lift his face so he could see she was smiling at him. He twisted away, put the cube on the table, and pointed at his sister’s plate of rice. “Try some?”

Shelli started to push the plate across to him but Father’s hand reached out to block it.

“Oh, no, son. Choking hazard.”

“Maybe he could try a little,” Mother said.

Father glared at her. “I thought we had an agreement. We do this by the book.” Father pulled a thin plastic card out of his shirt pocket. He held it up to his lips and whispered, “Feeding precautions.”

The foggy surface on the plastic cleared and Father read, “Up to age six, it is safest to keep children on liquid diets.” He looked up and said pointedly, “I believe our little Anton is five.” Then reading on, “After that you may switch to pills. Be ever cautious with the old foodstuffs. They were not designed to be as safe as today’s products and can cause choking and stomach discomfort.”

“There,” father said triumphantly. “Better safe than sorry. I think we can agree on that.”

But before Father had finished, Mother had reached over to Shelli’s plate and taken two grains of rice. “We’ll mash them,” she said as she placed them on a small plate, crushed them with her fork, and slid the plate in front of Anton.

Anton quickly pressed his finger down on the rice and put the flattened grains in his mouth. He swallowed with a thoughtful look on his small face.

Father stiffened and held his breath like he expected Anton to suddenly clutch his throat and turn purple before his eyes. Instead Anton grinned happily.

“There, see,” Mother said. “I believe that was just what Anton needed.”

Father shook his head. “Let’s not forget about Shelli’s finger, shall we? I believe that was your idea, too, now wasn’t it, dear?”

“Oh, Father,” Shelli said. “That was nothing!”

“Let’s have a look at that finger. Is there any scarring?”

“Mother. Make him stop.”

“It was just a tiny splinter,” Mother said.

“A splinter from that old toy that you insisted on giving her. What was wrong with the approved blocks, like Anton’s?”

The hard plastic block in Anton’s hand flashed off and on. The letter B appeared on the sides of the cube and a soft voice was coming from the block, “B…B… as in boy and big…B…B.”

“She liked the old ones…the ones made of…now what was that called?”

“Wood. A very dangerous material.”

Shelli rolled her eyes and slumped back in her seat. “Never mind, Father.” Shelli reached into her pocket. A faint suggestion of music came from the tiny implant in her ear and she was lost to the rest of the family.

Father looked out the window. The restaurant was built on the edge of the water overlooking a small harbor. There were rowboats and motorboats anchored just below them. The water was as smooth as glass. In the distance, a gleaming white seawall curved out into the bay. The seawall blocked the waves and restless motion of the ocean beyond.

“Well,” Father said, “we came all this way to see the ocean so perhaps we should go. Better give Anton his jacket. There might be a breeze.”

Father paid the man at the counter as they left. “Thank you, folks. Have a safe day.”

Outside, Shelli was the first to reach the sidewalk conveyor. Anton watched as she paused next to it, leaned forward, and then quickly stepped on and was carried away. Anton rushed up for his turn.

“Not so fast, little man,” Father said as he came up behind Anton and swept him into his arms. “Don’t want to take a nasty spill.”

Anton struggled but Father held him tight. Just then a young lady wearing the distinctive powder-blue body suit of a Safety Monitor glided up to them.

She smiled at Father. “Cute boy,” she said. “Now be sure and lean forward when you step onto the walk. No small children unattended. Use the handrail once you are on board.”

Father stepped carefully onto the moving walk. He put Anton down and the three of them stood in a small knot against the handrail. Shelli was up ahead. The conveyor took them slowly beyond the buildings and along the edge of the harbor. They went past where the seawall curved in to meet the shore. Once they were in sight of the ocean, Father led them off the walk onto a platform.

“Will you look at that?” Father said, as he held out his hands to keep the family back. “I believe the ground is covered with grass.” A freshly clipped lawn spread out before them. At the edge of the lawn was a tall fence, which stretched as far as the eye could see down the shore. A few people stood along the fence looking at the ocean in the distance.

An older gentleman in a Safety Monitor uniform stepped up to them. “Help you folks?” he said.

“Is it safe to walk on the grass?” Father asked looking uncertainly at the people down by the fence.

“Oh, sure,” the man said. “Was a time when people had their own grass, you know. Used to walk on it all the time.” He noticed Anton peeking out from behind Father’s leg and gave him a wink. “Kids used to love the stuff as a matter of fact.”

Father reached down and held Anton firmly in place on the platform. “We’ll see about that,” he said and pulled his card from his pocket. He read for a moment and said, “Ah, ha. Says here there are germs in the grass and something called ‘chiggers.’ Now what about that?”

The safety monitor shrugged. “Never heard that it hurt anyone to play in the grass, Sir.”

Shelli had had enough. She pushed by Father and ran down to the fence. Mother said, “Let’s risk it, dear. I think Anton will be all right.”

“But the germs,” Father sputtered, but Mother had already pried Anton from Father’s grip and was leading him across the lawn.

Soon, they were all standing at the fence, looking at the ocean beyond. From where they were, they could barely hear the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. Even Father seemed a bit disappointed that the fence kept them so far from the water. “Well,” he sighed. “It would be terribly unsafe if people could just walk right out to the water, now wouldn’t it?”

He had barely finished speaking when they saw a small figure beyond the fence dart across the sand not far from where they were standing. Shelli was the first to react. “Ah, oh,” she said.

Father and Mother gasped together as they recognized Anton. He was marching across the sand toward where the seawall swept in and met the shore. “I thought you were watching him,” Father said angrily to Mother as they ran along the fence.

“I thought you were,” she cried.

They found the spot where Anton had crawled beneath the fence. The ground had given way and left just enough of a gap for a small boy to fit under. Father grabbed the bottom of the fence and began yanking but it wouldn’t give. He ran off searching for a way over or under. Trying hard to control her voice, Mother called out, “Anton. Stop right there. Turn around, dear, and come back here. Stop, Anton!”

Apparently Anton could not hear her because of the noise of the waves and the steady breeze blowing toward the shore. He had reached a set of steps that led up to the top of the seawall. He climbed the steps with surprising speed.

Father returned dragging the Safety Monitor, who was fumbling with a gadget in his hand. “I can’t get this thing to work,” the man was saying.

They all watched as Anton began making his way along the top of the seawall heading out to sea.

“Oh, my God!” Mother said.

Father was shaking the Safety Monitor by the shoulders. “He’ll be killed if you don’t do something quick. He’s five years old. He has no idea what’s safe. He’ll walk right off the wall into the water and drown. Now get help at once!”

The top of the wall was smooth and flat. Anton thought it looked like the moving sidewalk except there was no rail on either side. He stayed right in the middle and walked along slowly. On his right, the water was calm and smooth. On his left, the water was churning up and down, foaming and slapping at the rocks below.

Some brightly-colored shapes on the rocks caught his eye. He lay down on his stomach and slid his legs carefully down the slant of the wall until his feet touched the rocks. He sucked in his breath when the cold water lapped up over his shoes and socks. There were starfish and other creatures attached to the rocks. Anton reached down into the water and felt their leathery skins.

Suddenly, two sleek brown heads appeared out of the water nearby. A pair of sea otters wreathed around one another, slithering back and forth. They looked at Anton and he looked back at them. Then he heard an odd barking sound, a deep-throated, hoarse “arhp, arhp.” He looked up to see brown sea lions scattered on the rocks farther along the seawall. One raised his head and shook it as he barked.

Mother clung to the fence with tears streaming down her face. Shelli held her around her waist. Father was still cursing at the Safety Monitor who in turn was cursing at the gadget in his hand. Then Mother gasped. Two small hands had appeared on the edge of the seawall right where Anton had disappeared a moment before. The rest of Anton appeared. He began calmly walking back to shore along the top of the wall. He climbed down the steps and ran back to the fence where his family stood.

Mother and Father each took an arm and dragged him back through the hole under the fence. As soon as he was through, Mother locked him in a bear hug, sobbing violently.

Anton struggled to free his face. He was grinning from ear to ear. “There were nice animals out there,” he said. “The water is very cold. There are orange things stuck to the rocks and big animals barking!”

“Anton, you should never have gone out there,” Father said shaking his finger, but Mother stopped him.

“What’s important is that he came back,” she said. “Thank God.”

Father thought about that for a moment. “Gosh, Anton, why did you come back? I mean…well…you came right back.”

“I had to come back.”

“But why?”

“Because, Daddy, it wasn’t safe.”

For once, Father was speechless.

“You know what,” Mother said. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s find a place where we can all go right down on the beach. We could even build a sand castle.”

Everyone looked at Father. He started to reach for the card in his pocket but stopped when he saw the frown appear on Anton’s face.

“Well,” he said after a long pause, “if we all stay together, maybe we could.”

Shelli gasped with surprise. “Gee, Daddy, that would be awesome!”


“I’ve been freelance writing both fiction and non-fiction for the past 4 years with some success. For the past 22 years, I’ve worked for CTB/McGraw-Hill in Monterey, California, in achievement test publishing. Before that I lived in Poland for four years teaching English as a Second Language on a Fulbright Exchange. I’m married with two teenage children.” E-mail: gdudney[at]ctb.com.


Beaver’s Pick
Gary Dudney

The first note Mary Jo slipped to me was a shocker. She and Janet Haddock wanted to know which one of them I liked best.

Which one I liked best? I didn’t like anyone best! It was fifth grade for crying out loud. Girls weren’t on the radar screen.

But then there was the thing with Joel, my best friend. One day out of a clear blue sky he ups and announces he’s going over to Becky Smythe’s house.

“Becky’s house? What are you going to Becky’s house for?”

“Watch TV,” he said coolly.

“Whadda ya mean?”

“We sit on her couch down in the basement and watch TV.”

“You sit next to her on the couch?”

“Yeah,” said Joel. I looked at him, this guy who I suddenly didn’t know from Adam. “It’s fun. We just goof around.”


I showed him Mary Jo’s note.

“Whoa! Lookin’ sharp!” he said.

“Whadda I do?”

“Tell ’em who you like.”

“I don’t like either of them.”

“Just play along and see what happens.”

I took out a piece of paper and wrote, “Dear Mary Jo and Janet, I like Mary Jo best. Yours truly, Dale.”

Without a word, Mary Jo snatched my note from me and ran off giggling with Janet to a far corner of the playground, where I guess Janet got the hatchet right in the back of the neck.

Then comes a new note with a heart drawn on it. I had it out on my desk. I looked up and stupid Lamar Wells was turned around in his seat grinning at me. It slowly dawned on me the whole class had gone silent. The teacher, Mr. LaPointe, was standing right behind me. His arm came past my nose and plucked the note right out of my hand.

I shot a glance over to Mary Jo. Her face was frozen in horror. Her mouth formed a perfect O.

Mr. LaPointe sidled up to the front of the classroom with my note between his two fingers like it was a playing card he was about to flick at a hat. Any of the gray-haired old teachers at my school would have given me a break, but not Mr. LaPointe. He unfolded the note and read it to himself. I looked at Mary Jo again and saw in her face what a loathsome idiot I had just become.

“Shall we get back to our math?” Mr. LaPointe said, glowering at me.

That was it with Mary Jo.

“Who are you taking to Fun Night?” Joel asked.

“What?” I said. “We’re going to Fun Night together, aren’t we?”

Apparently not. Everybody was pairing up this year. Joel had already asked Becky. That night I tossed and turned. I tried a trick for getting to sleep where I got out from under my covers until I was freezing cold and then crawled back under the blankets and tried to fall asleep while I was warming back up. It wasn’t working.

A couple of days later, there was an air raid drill at school. We marched into the hallway and sat down cross-legged on the floor with our backs against the wall. Then we bent forward and folded our hands over our necks. This was supposed to protect us from all the flying debris caused by the atom bomb that Nikita Kruschev had promised to drop on us. After awhile, I got tired of staring at the crack on the floor in front of me and looked up. Right across the hall was Della Parker. Her long thin fingers were clamped over her skinny neck. The other girls were whispering to each other and giggling but she was quiet and perfectly still. Part of her wavy brown hair brushed the floor she was bent over so far.

Della Parker. It struck me that I couldn’t remember anybody ever calling her just Della. You said her whole name, Della Parker. She didn’t seem to have any friends. She was smart. She could always answer questions when she got picked. She sat on the far side of the room from me. I could picture her over there with her skinny arm raised up, bent at the elbow a little. It was never straight up and down.

When the air raid drill was over, Della raised her head up and saw me looking at her. She wore glasses with frames that were turquoise blue on top and clear on the bottom. The lenses were thick. Her eyes swam behind them, slightly magnified. She looked back at me and smiled.

“Della,” I said to Joel on our way home from school.

“What?” he said, picking up a little helicopter seed pod that had dropped off the oak tree that grew at the corner of the playground. “Who?”

“Della Parker,” I said.

“Oh, yeah. What about her?”

“Maybe I’ll ask her to Fun Night.”

Joel didn’t say anything right away. He flicked the seed pod into the air and we watched it whirl to the ground. “She’s sort of a brainiac, isn’t she?”

“Well, yeah,” I said.

It took me awhile to work up the gumption to ask her. One day I waited for her after school. I caught up to her on the sidewalk and fell into step. But I didn’t know what to say. It was like there was a freight train roaring through my head.

“Hello, Dale,” she said puzzled.

“I… uh… thought that… uh… are you going to Fun Night with anyone?”

“No, I have to—”

I didn’t let her finish. “Will you go to Fun Night with me?” I blurted out.

She stopped. “Gosh, Dale, that’s so nice of you to ask but I’m supposed to sell cookies at the Girl Scout booth.”

It was like a swift kick in the stomach. “Okay,” I said and then I didn’t know what to do. Walk off? Talk to her?

But she rescued me. “Wait… you know what… I guess it would be okay if I went around with you for awhile. There are other girls selling cookies. We can take turns.”

“That would be great,” I said. “Umm… I’ll find you at your booth. So… okay… I’ll be there.” And I ran off.

In the car ride over to Fun Night, my mom asked, “Dale, honey, are you going to be with Joel tonight?”

“No,” I said looking out the window. “I’m just going to walk around.”

“So you’re going alone?”

“No. Well, part of the time. I don’t know. A bunch of us are getting together.”

“What’s Joel doing?”

“He’s going with someone.”

“Oh,” my mother said.

By the time we got to the school, it had gotten dark and a sharp wind was blowing. I hurried inside. It was already crowded. The air was warm and smelled of popcorn. The younger kids were dragging their parents from room to room where all the games were set up. The older kids were standing around talking. A banner hung on the wall, “Welcome to Fun Night!”

The Girl Scout booth was at the far end of the corridor. I could see the girls in their uniforms. I decided to look around before I joined up with Della. I went upstairs and went into the first room I came to. It was the Ring Toss. Kids were throwing rings made of rope at soda pop bottles that had been glued down to a big piece of plywood. I watched for awhile and then started out the door. I ran into Joel and Becky.

“Where’s Della?” Joel asked.

“I… uh… I’m looking for her,” I said.

Becky focused her attention on me. “Della?” she said. “Della Parker?”

“Yeah. Della Parker,” I said.

“Ooo-kay,” she said grinning.

They went in to do the ring toss. I made my way past a cakewalk that was going on in the hallway and came to the far staircase. Halfway down the steps I stopped and spotted Della at the Girl Scout booth. She was helping a kid wrap his cookie in a napkin. She had on her uniform. Her sash in the front was covered with badges.

I came down the stairs.

“Oh, Dale. It’s you. Hi. Can I get you a cookie?”

I was thrown by the question. “N-no,” I stammered. “I came to pick you up.”

“I know,” she said laughing. “I was just kidding. I have to tell Mrs. Weingarten I’m leaving.”

She disappeared into the room behind the booth.

“Okay, Dale. Where are we going?” she said when she reappeared.

“Let’s go to the fishing hole.”

We entered a room labeled “Ye Olde Fishing Hole” where sheets had been hung over a line that cut the room in half. We were given bamboo poles with a string attached to the end and a clothes pin on the end of the string. We threw the lines over the sheets and waited. Before long a tug signaled to pull back the line. I had a pack of chewing gum on my line. Della had a whistle. We opened up my gum and each had a stick.

From there we hit the Ring Toss and the Wishing Well. Then we got in the line for the Ghost House. A teacher was there to make sure only a few people went in at a time.

“I guess we have to wait,” I said. “Unless you want to do something else.”

“No. This is fine,” Della said. She brushed her hands down her Girl Scout skirt and straightened her sash.

When we finally got inside, a ghost jumped out at us from behind a screen. Della reached for my arm and held it tight as we felt our way back to the cloak room where a black light lit up the fluorescent signs in front of a row of bowls: “Brains!” “Eyeballs!” “Guts!” We gamely pushed our hands down into each bowl. At the end someone handed us paper towels to wipe our hands off.

After that Della asked if we could go by the Girl Scout booth to see how things were going. I left her there for a minute to use the bathroom.

Lamar Wells was there when I went in. He stood washing his hands.

“Saw you with Della Parker,” he said to my back. “She’s just the ugliest girl in the whole school.”

I kept my head down and ignored him. When he opened the door to leave, the noise from the hall was suddenly sharp and loud. Then it cut off as the door closed.

I rinsed my hands in the sink, ripped off a length of paper towel, and slowly dried my hands. The ugliest girl in the school? I hadn’t even thought about what Della looked like. I hadn’t thought of that at all.

I took a long drink from the water fountain. Della was standing in front of the booth waiting. She brightened when I came over to her.

“The girls here can handle the booth,” she said. “I can still be with you.”

“Okay. Let’s… ” I looked up and down the hall to see what we hadn’t done yet. “Let’s go watch the cartoons.”

Mr. LaPointe was running the projector in the cartoon room. Only a few kids were there. The cartoons weren’t too popular. We sat through the end of a Tom and Jerry film. Mr. LaPointe flipped the lights on and rewound the film. Then he threaded the next film through the projector. It seemed to take forever. Della and I sat and waited. Finally the lights went back off. It was another Tom and Jerry cartoon.

When that ended, Della said, “Dale, do you want to do something else now?”

“Ya know,” I said. “I’m getting sort of tired. Maybe I should take you back to the booth.”

Della looked surprised. Her mouth opened just a bit, then shut. “Let’s go back then,” she said.

When we got to the booth, she reached out and gave my hand a little shake. “Thank you, Dale,” she said and quickly turned and walked through the door behind the booth. I stood there for a minute with a bad feeling welling up in me.

After that, I didn’t want to hang around. I found my mom in the teacher’s lounge sipping coffee and talking.

“I’m ready to go,” I said.

She looked at her watch. “Well, that’s a record.”

Outside it was freezing. It was like winter had arrived that night. I zipped my jacket up as high as it would go. I could see my breath. Orion was glittering brightly above me. I jumped into the car and scrunched my hands deep in my pockets. I felt like curling up on the car floor in front of the heater like I used to do when I was a little kid.

“Dale,” my mother said, “who was that girl I saw you with?”

A voice in my head said, It was Della Parker. Della Parker and she was so nice.

But out loud to my mother, I said, “Nobody.”


“Originally from Wichita, Kansas. Spent four years in Poland on a Fulbright exchange and married there. We now live in Monterey, California, have two teenage kids and almost no time to write.” E-mail: gdudney[at]ctb.com.