Mrs. Piggle Wigggle sipped her glass of chardonnay. She stared through her upside down window, and out into the empty street beyond. Then she glanced at the clock over the mantle. Only 3:16?
Well, she figured, surely it’s five oclock somewhere…
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle polished off the glass and reached for the bottle with a sigh. It had been a good ten years since anyone—any lonely kids or harried parents—had come knocking at her door. So really, what difference could it possibly make if she had one more teensy tiny glass?
Next morning, still wearing her daytime apron and one lonely little black highheeled shoe, her hair a fright, she sat up from the hearthrug where she’d spent the night, and remembered. With a groan she sat up and massaged her temples. “Oh, my!” she said. “Oooch!”
Then, being an efficient sort of woman, she showered, changed her clothes, put the kettle on, brewed herself a cup of strong tea, and reached into her spice cupboard for an old yellowed packet that read, “The naughty-mommy tipsy-topsy cure.”
She shook the silvery lilac powder into her mug and took a deep gulp of the elixir. Then, as the pain in her head began to subside, as the world jumped into focus, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle resolved to fix things. She resolved to take the bull by the horns! She decided that today, she would do something she had never done before. She would make some calls.
Right after she took a bubble bath, and maybe a little nap.
That afternoon, refreshed and renewed, in a nice clean apron, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle picked up the phone to call some of her old regulars.
“Hello?” she said on her first try. “Mrs. Harroway? This is Mrs. Piggle Wiggle!”
“Mrs. Piggle Wiggle!” cried Mrs. Harroway. “How lovely to hear from you. It’s been years, dahling—simply years!”
“Yes, well,” said Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. “That’s what I’m calling about. “You see, business has been rather slow over here, and I wondered if you might have any problems to be solved? Any interrupters? Any dawdlers? Any issues I could help you with”
Mrs. Harroway laughed. “Goodness, no!” she said. “Of course, Fetlock is all grown up now, so we’re done worrying about him. And Bloom, his little girl, has never given us the littlest bit of trouble.”
“No trouble at all?” asked Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, puzzled. What child on earth, she wondered, has never been a bit of trouble?
“Not one whit,” tittered Mrs. Harroway. “When she started biting her nails, Fetlock just took her to the doctor and he prescribed a lovely medication that made her into a perfect doll. We’ve never had a problem since! She’s so good. Extremely docile. Like nothing you’ve seen.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. “Oh.”
“You know, though,” added Mrs. Harroway, “Now that I think about it, you might call my neighbor, Mrs. Muskrat! Her son Chard is a holy terror He’s been kicked out of four schools. For biting! And language!”
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle perked right up when she heard that. “Oh, thank you,” she said. “The information is much appreciated. I’ll call her right away!”
But when she did, she wasn’t quite sure what to say. She’d never cold-called a customer before. She’d never had to.
“Hello?” she tried. “Mrs. Muskrat? This is Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. I heard that you might have a problem I could help you with?”
“A problem?” said the tired-sounding woman. “Are you an exterminator? A landscaper? Has the yard grown too high? What exactly do you mean by problem?”
“Well,” said Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, trying to be tactful. “You see, I specialize in helping children with their more, ahh, difficult traits. Their more challenging aspects…”
“Why on earth would I need help with my children?” asked Mrs. Muskrat. She sounded as baffled as she sounded worn-down.
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle wasn’t quite sure how best to proceed. “Well. I, ahh, I heard that your son has had some recent trouble. In school?”
“Oh that,” said Mrs. Muskrat with a sigh. “People just don’t understand my little Chard. He’s got a ton of creative energy. He’s not an in-the-box thinker. He’s a real boy, and schools can be so closedminded, don’t you think? The other children can be so oversensitive! And people can be so limiting with their silly personal boundaries.”
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle wasn’t sure how to respond to that, but it didn’t matter, because just as she opened her mouth to speak, she heard a terrible noise through the phone—a sound of screaming, followed by a loud bang.
“I should be going,” said Mrs. Muskrat breathlessly, moments before slamming down the phone.
And one by one, call after call, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle hit dead ends.
Mrs. Coffeecake said that her twins, Tippy and Tappy, had been diagnosed by an expert for their sensitivity to certain colors, and she didn’t think a babysitter like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle should meddle, in case her methods weren’t the same as those of the esteemed medical professional.
Mrs. Macaroon said that her son, Marmite, had indeed a recent incident with a knife, but it wasn’t really his fault, because he was a Capricorn, and anyway that they were addressing that problem with a dietary regimen that required he not leave the house.
Mrs. Ballbearing informed Mrs. Piggle Wiggle that her daughter, Josiepie, had been dealing with some self-esteem issues last year, but that they’d fixed the problem easily.
“Really? How?” asked Mirs. Piggle Wiggle.
“It was the simplest thing!” chortled Mrs. Ballbearing. “We discovered that as long as we don’t ask Josiepie to do anything she doesn’t already do well, she’s as confident as anyone! Provided, of course, that she remains surrounded only by family and close reliable friends and there are no loud noises.”
And so it was at every house she called. Plenty of children were gifted and special, requiring special tutoring and extracurricular classes. Other children had very specific medical diagnoses that required trained professionals and medications. But most of the parents she spoke with swore up and down that their own children were quite perfect, though sometimes misunderstood by the world at large, on account of their delightful quirks and intense personalities. With each call, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle grew more frustrated. It seemed that bad behavior had simply disappeared.
On her seventeenth and final call, Mrs. Piggle at last cried out in frustration, “But Mrs. Sassafras, surely there’s something that could be improved about your little Sunshine! Perhaps I could help her work on a small thing like her table manners?”
To which Mrs. Sassafras responded in a condescending tone, “Oh, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. We do not embrace the idea of table manners in our house. This is an important part of our parenting philosophy.” Then she hung up.
Parenting philosophies? Mrs. Piggle Wiggle knew she was in over her head. So she sadly hung the old rotary phone in its cradle, crossed the room, rooted through Mr. Piggle Wiggle’s old sea chest, and emerged with what appeared to be a pack of cigarettes in her hand. Then she stepped out onto the porch and sat down in an old wicker chair. She drew out what looked like an ordinary cigarette, struck a match, and inhaled deeply, staring up at the sky.
But then, she heard a voice. A teeny tiny voice, coming from the tree above her porch roof.
“Jeex! You shouldn’t smoke cigarettes,” said the voice. “They will kill you dead.” A moment later, a small girl climbed down from the tree.”
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle blew a smoke ring. “They aren’t cigarettes,” said Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, holding up the pack. “They’re prescribed. See!”
The girl walked over towards the porch and peered curiously at the pack, which read, “Relaxo-sticks: In case of absolute-despair-itis.”
“They look ‘zactly like cigarettes to me,” said the girl, squinting at Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. “I think you’re just taking something you don’t like to fess up to, and renaming it, to make yourself feel better.”
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle laughed and drew on her Relaxo-stick again. “Smart kid,” she said, adding, “Who are you, and where did you come from?”
“I’m Jenny,” said the girl. “I ran away from home. My parents suck.”
“I don’t doubt it, my dear,” said Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. “I do not doubt it one bit. She stubbed out her Relaxo-stick, and stood up. “I don’t suppose, Jenny, you’d like to join me for a tea party? With cookies?”
“I’m not supposed to drink tea,” said Jenny, shaking her head and disappointing Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to no end. “Or eat sugar.” But then she added, “However, I’m also not supposed to talk to strangers, and I’m already doing that, so sure! Why not? What the hell!”
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle opened the door and ushered Jenny inside, not even bothering to correct the child’s foul language. Times had changed. Her day was done. And anyway, she’d probably be arrested if she gave the child a dose of “cuss-be-gone” or even a stern talking-to.
But more than that, she found that she didn’t want to fix Jenny. Not at all. Jenny might well be the only plain-old-badly-behaved child left in the world. The final inheritor of a grand old tradition. The last of a dying breed.
It was enough—just to have her to tea.