What on earth are you doing, Sam?” Mrs. Krupnik stood in the doorway staring at her son. Sam looked up.
Moms are sometimes very strange, he thought. They always ask what you are doing, even though they can see what you are doing.
Once, when he was younger and naughtier, Sam had found it interesting to unroll toilet paper. He knew that he wasn’t supposed to. But every time he wandered past the bathroom and glanced in and saw that roll of paper hanging there, with its end dangling in a tantalizing way, he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He would have to go in and unroll it. If he got it going just right, he could twirl the roll around very fast, and the paper would go all over the floor, and it was wonderfully interesting to him.
And always, whenever he did that, his mom would appear in the bathroom doorway and say, “Sam! What on earth are you doing?”
He could never figure it out. What did she think he was doing—taking a bath? Brushing his teeth?
Today, though, he wasn’t unrolling toilet paper. He was much too old to do a baby thing like that.
Today he wasn’t even in the bathroom. He was in the study. His dad’s study. He looked over at his mother, who was still in the doorway. Then he said patiently, even though he was quite certain she knew exactly what he was doing, “I’m typing.”
She came across the room and stood behind him, looking down over his shoulder. “My goodness,” she said. “You really are!”
Good, she didn’t sound angry. She sounded surprised.
Sam didn’t know why his mom would be surprised that he was typing. His father’s typewriter, here in the study, was a fascinating thing. And his dad had shown him, once, how you rolled in a piece of paper and then pushed the keys with letters on them.
“I typed my name,” Sam told her with pride.
And he had. sam sam sam
He had made some mistakes, of course, since it was his first try at typing. One of his sams had come out sal and another said wam.
But he was getting better at it.
“Look,” he said. Very carefully, with his tongue wedged between his teeth, he typed mom. Then he rolled the paper a bit in order to start in a fresh place.
“Attaboy, Sam!” his mother said. “You’re an absolutely amazing son!”
Mrs. Krupnik pulled up a chair beside Sam and showed him all sorts of interesting things: how to make big letters, so that he could type SAM instead of just sam. How to make little stars, *****, so that he could now type S*A*M and M*O*M.
She showed him how to make a sideways smiling face:
Then Sam figured out, all by himself, how to make a sideways grumpy face:
And together he and his mom discovered how to do a sideways winking smiling face:
Finally, when the page was filled, Sam took it out of the typewriter and gave it to his mother.
“That’s fabulous, Sam,” she said. “I’ll stick it on the bulletin board in the kitchen. Now, how about lunch? I cooked some hot dogs.”
Sam trotted behind her down the hall to the kitchen and watched with pride while she thumbtacked his typing paper to the bulletin board next to a painting of a rainbow he had done in school.
“I want mustard on my hot dog,” he said. “Yellow mustard, not brown. And ketchup. And also I want a pickle, and three cookies, and I want chocolate in my milk, and after that, an apple.”
His mother, smiling, arranged all of those things in front of him on the kitchen table. As Sam began to eat, he glanced over at the refrigerator door, where his magnetic plastic letters had lived for months. SAM, they said, in yellow and green, and LOOK in red and blue.
It was the magnetic letters (helped along by his mom, dad, and big sister) that had taught him the sounds of the letters.
“After lunch,” Sam announced, “I’m going to take all my letters off the refrigerator and throw them away.”
“Throw them away? Why?” Mrs. Krupnik asked.
Sam thought about it. He made a new decision. “No, not throw them away,” he said. “I’ll give them to babies. Maybe to the kids at my nursery school. Because now that I’m a typer, I don’t need baby stuff like those letters anymore.”
“Gosh,” his mother said, “if you’re so grown up that you don’t want your plastic letters anymore, maybe we should think about giving away your toys, too. Maybe, instead of your Matchbox cars and your Lego set, you’d rather have a briefcase and a box of cigars.”
Sam thought about that. He pictured how it would be to show up at nursery school some morning carrying a briefcase and smoking a cigar. Maybe he would take a bottle of beer, too.
It sounded like a great idea. But he had a feeling that Mrs. Bennett, his nursery school teacher, wouldn’t like it much. She’d probably say, “Time out, Sam,” and he would have to sit in the big green chair, drinking his beer and smoking his cigar all alone while the other kids were doing something fun, like fingerpainting with chocolate syrup or spelling their names in macaroni.
He smeared the ketchup and mustard together along the top of his hot dog with one finger. Then he licked his finger carefully.
“No,” he said. “I think I’ll keep my toys for a while.”
“Good,” his mother said. “I’m glad you decided that, because I hate the smell of cigars.”
“Not pipes, though,” Sam pointed out. “You don’t hate the smell of pipes, do you?” He tried holding his hot dog like a pipe, but it bent in the middle.
“Well, no,” his mother admitted, laughing. “I wish your dad didn’t smoke at all, because it’s bad for him. But I do love the smell of his pipe. As a matter of fact, I think I can smell it right now, coming up the back porch steps. Dad and Anastasia must be home from the store.”
“Hi, guys,” Sam’s sister, Anastasia, said as she entered the kitchen. She set a grocery bag on top of the washing machine and went to hang up her jacket.
“I hope you made more of those hot dogs,” Sam’s dad said. He put his two grocery bags on the counter beside the refrigerator. “Shopping makes me hungry. I bought a whole lot of stuff we don’t even need just because I was hungry.”
Mrs. Krupnik groaned as she peered into one of the bags. She made a face. “Frozen enchiladas?” she asked. “That wasn’t on my list.”
Sam’s dad shrugged. “They looked good,” he said. “I told you: I was hungry, and I lost control.”
Mrs. Krupnik sighed, wedged the frozen enchiladas into the freezer beside the ice cube trays, and prepared hot dogs for Mr. Krupnik and Anastasia.
“Bad news,” Mr. Krupnik announced when he was seated at the table and had decorated his hot dog with mustard.
Sam wiggled in his chair and listened intently. Sam loved bad news. It was always much more interesting than good news. Sometimes, usually at breakfast, he listened when his parents read newspaper headlines aloud to each other.
Good news was boring, like: “Harvard Physicist Wins Nobel Prize.” Sam didn’t even know what that meant, though his parents seemed to, and even Anastasia, who was thirteen, squealed, “Hey, that’s Norman Berkowitz’s father!” Ho-hum, thought Sam.
But bad news was something else. Bad news was like: “Train Crash Injures 47.” Or: “Bridge Collapse Leaves Terrified Motorists Stranded.” Sam always listened carefully to bad news; it was just as good as listening to Mrs. Bennett read a scary story about monsters. It made you shiver a little.
“What is it? What’s the bad news?” Sam asked, since his dad was chewing his hot dog and had forgotten to tell.
“Well,” Mr. Krupnik said sadly, “This morning I went to Lord and Taylor’s to get your mother some perfume for her birthday—”
Anastasia interrupted him with a giggle. “Dad hates going to Lord and Taylor’s!”
“That’s true,” Mr. Krupnik acknowledged. “But I did it, Katherine, because your birthday is coming, and I went to the perfume department, which is the worst, in terms of geography.”
“Why?” Sam asked. “What’s worst about it?”
Anastasia explained to her brother. “In order to get to the perfume department, you have to walk through Lingerie and Night-gowns. Dad hates that.”
“Is that the bad news? What’s lingerie?”
“Underpants and bras,” Anastasia explained impatiently. “Dad hates walking through underpants and bras.”
Sam shrugged. It didn’t seem like such a big deal, walking through underpants and bras. He would do it if he had to. Sometimes he did do it, in the kitchen, when the laundry was on the floor in front of the washing machine. He walked through underpants, and bras, and nightgowns, and T-shirts, and blue jeans, and everything else, and he thought it was fun.
“What is the bad news, Myron?” his mother asked.
“No more Je Reviens,” Mr. Krupnik said sadly. “I was going to get you some for your birthday, but the salesgirl said that they don’t carry it anymore.”
“Oh, no!” Sam’s mother wailed. “That’s the only perfume I’ve worn for years!”
“Don’t worry, Mom, we can find you some other perfume. Maybe it’s time for a change anyway,” Anastasia said reassuringly.
Sam almost yawned, he was so bored. “I’m done,” he said. “Can I be excused?”
“May I be excused,” his mother corrected automatically. “Yes, you may. Let me wipe your hands; they’re all mustardy.” She reached across the table with her napkin and wiped the bright yellow smears from Sam’s hands.
Sam wandered out of the kitchen while his parents and sister were still talking about perfume. He began thinking about birthdays. His mother’s birthday was next week.
She had told the whole family that she really truly didn’t want fancy gifts for her birthday—except for a new bottle of perfume, because her old one was almost empty. What she really wanted, Katherine Krupnik had announced, was homemade things. She liked those best. She still had, in the studio attached to their house where she worked on illustrations for children’s books, a little clay paperweight that Anastasia had made for her years before.
So Sam was making her a card at nursery school. It was purple construction paper, and he was pasting gold hearts on it; inside, he planned to write MOM and SAM and LOVE, and maybe he would also write HAPPY BIRTHDAY if there was room and if Mrs. Bennett would spell it for him. And probably, too, he would draw a dinosaur.
He knew that Anastasia was planning to bake a cake and that she would let him help frost it and set up the candles.
But now, climbing the stairs to his room, where he had been working for several days setting up a complicated speedway for his cars and trucks, Sam began thinking about perfume.
His mom needed new perfume. She wanted new perfume. But the store didn’t have the kind she wanted. They didn’t make her kind anymore.
But I could, Sam thought. I’m probably the only person in the world who knows all of Mom’s favorite smells. If I start collecting them now and putting them together, it would take me about a week, and then, just in time for her birthday, I would finish. What a surprise! A special perfume, invented by Sam Krupnik!
Shaking his head in amazement at what a wonderful idea he had had, Sam entered his bedroom. He knelt on the floor by his speedway and halfheartedly moved a dump truck from one place to another, making room for an ambulance to enter from a side road.
But he wasn’t really thinking about his speedway at all. He was thinking about how to begin his perfume. He remembered his mother saying, just a few minutes earlier, “I love the smell of your dad’s pipe.”
Pipe smell would be the starting place. He would start as soon as no one was looking, because it was going to be a surprise.
Sam grinned. Attaboy, Sam, he said to himself with satisfaction.