The little hand on the clock pointed to four. That meant it was time for Mister Rogers. I sat cross-legged on the floor, bouncing when I saw that pretty little neighborhood with white-painted fences and no chain link. Finally, Mr. Rogers stepped inside, changed into his sweater, and put on his sneakers.
He sang Won’t You be my Neighbor?
“Yes!” I screamed. And then inside myself, I whispered, “Can I live there, too?”
Mama’s bracelets jangled behind me. I smelled her special juice, the stuff I wasn’t allowed to drink.
She put on red lipstick, looking at herself in her little round mirror. “Mama’ll be back soon, hun. Watch your little shows, and don’t answer the door or phone, okay?”
“Okay. When you coming back?”
“I said soon, Daisy. There’s some food in the fridge. Things’ll be better when I get you a new daddy.”
Mama dropped the mirror into her sparkly black purse. She wobbled like she was dizzy. She did that a lot. I think it was her heels. I couldn’t walk good in ‘em either.
She left, and I locked the door. The Neighborhood Trolley rang his friendly bells, I plopped back down to visit The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and pretended that I was Princess Thursday, Prince Tuesday’s sister. Daniel Lion and Henrietta Pussycat were my best friends. Lady Elaine Fairchilde scared me a little. Her long nose was bright red on the end; so were her cheeks, like Mama’s were every time she came home from the daddy-hunt.
Soon, the trolley came back to Mr. Rogers. He fed his fish and sang his goodbye song. I pulled my knees up to my chin. Dark crawled into the apartment, so I scooted closer to the TV’s light. My tummy grumbled. I went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Mama’s juice bottles clinked against each other. The milk smelled bad, and all I found was a bowl of orange cheese with red things in it.
I held the cold bowl, closed my eyes, and made a wish: “I wish this cheese would turn into a cheeseburger.”
I got a spoon and ate a little of it, trying not to get any of those red things, while I watched commercials about Rice-a-Roni and Shake-n-Bake. Mama used to make that.
I laid on the couch with Grandma’s afghan. It smelled like mothballs and Marlboros. The news came on and put me to sleep.
I woke up to someone saying my name. “Daisy!”
“Mama?” I rubbed my eyes.
“Here, Daisy, look over here!”
I stretched real good and sat up. The TV was still on. The door was still locked. Mama wasn’t in the kitchen or our bedroom or the bathroom. Her Datsun wasn’t parked outside.
“Daisy, come here. We’re waiting for you.”
I looked at the TV.
Queen Sarah Saturday was looking right at me, waving her puppet arm. “Daisy, come. You can stay with us.”
My eyes got really big. I pointed at my chest. “Are you talking to me?”
“Why, yes, child. Take my hand.”
The screen went all fuzzy. But out came her hand. A real-looking one. She had pretty nails and gold rings. I reached out real slow, and she took my hand.
“Now, stand up,” she said.
“Close your eyes, hold your breath, and I’ll pull. Ready?”
“Ready.” I thought I was dreaming, but it was a nice dream, so I did what she said.
She pulled me, and I felt all crackly like static on my clothes in winter. Then I landed on my feet.
“You can open your eyes now,” she said.
I was in the castle of King Friday and Queen Sarah Saturday in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. And it was big, like a real one.
She placed a crown on my head. “Welcome, Princess Thursday.”
She didn’t look like a puppet. None of them did. They were real people, with real skin and hair. The queen and king and Prince Tuesday hugged me. Tuesday showed me to my new room. There was a big bed with a pink roof over it, lots of toys, and even a TV.
Tuesday pointed to the screen. “You can see your old life there, but they can’t see you. If you want to return, step through the screen again. If you want to stay, change the channel, and you’ll be here forever.”
“You’ll like it here, and you’ll never go hungry.” He pointed to a table filled with fruit, bread, cheese, and pies.
My mouth watered.
“I’ve always wanted a sister, but you must decide for yourself.”
I sat in front of the TV and saw our apartment. Mama came through the door. She yelled for me, but it sounded far away. She went all over yelling, “Daisy!” She picked up the phone and hit three buttons. Just a second later, she said, “It’s my daughter! She’s missing.”
Mama hung up, started crying. She took a drink of her juice. In a little while, there was a loud bang on the door. She hid the bottle and answered it.
Two policemen came in. One wrote in his notebook, while the other talked to Mama. She got louder. He got louder. He put her in handcuffs. She cried and cried, and they walked her to the door.
Tuesday said I could stay forever. But forever meant not seeing Mama again. She’d never know what happened to me.
“Mama,” I whispered, moving closer.
She got away and fell on the floor, kicking at the cops with her heels. I looked back at all that food, but I had to help Mama, so I put my fingers through the screen and felt that crackly feeling.
Then she yelled, “I told that little brat not to go nowhere! I’m a good mama to her!”
My stomach rumbled. Mama couldn’t take care of me or make my wishes come true. Only one person could do that.
I turned the channel.
Mysti Parker is a wife, mother, and shameless chocoholic. While her first love is romance, including an award-winning historical soon to be published, she enjoys writing flash fiction (the weirder the better) and children’s stories. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband, three children and too many pets.