Charlie: A toilet is just a bowl of swamp water.
Cassie: Hmmm. Imagine if you have to clean that bowl every once in a while.
Charlie: Moms clean ’em; dads plunge ’em.
Cassie: I guess.
Charlie: I need you and Dad in my life for a very long time since I can’t imagine doing either of those things…ever. Total barf.
Cassie: That’s what we’re good for? Cleaning and plunging bowls of swamp water?
Charlie: There are a few other things but those two things are definitely high on my list.
(Max enters the kitchen for his morning breakfast ritual, which never involves talking.)
Cassie: Why are we even discussing this?
Charlie: I don’t know. I can’t explain how these things just pop into my head but they do and they have to come out. Like a big—
Cassie: Alright. Enough.
Charlie: (To Max) Swamp water. We were talking about how toilets are just bowls of swamp water, Max.
(Max refuses to respond, or even to look at anyone. The back of the cereal box is extremely interesting.)
Charlie: Did you hear me? Max?
Cassie: He’s ignoring us. No one wants to talk about swamp water first thing in the morning, Charlie.
Charlie: He prefers silence. Lately, that’s all we get from him. I wonder when it is that a kid’s mind just slows down and then it’s so slow, like a turtle, that it almost comes to a halt and then, you know, it takes half the day to wake up again and by that time so many hours have gone by. Time gets all used up just from being SLOW and it’s like you forgot how to form words even. It’s frightening. It’s high school. That’s what does it.
(Max and I look over at Charlie, considering his words while we chew cereal and sip coffee. Max says nothing, still. He cocks an eyebrow, though, as if poised to pounce with a verbal punch at any moment.)
Charlie: You really need to do some mind exercises in the morning, Big Brother. Or maybe some voice exercises, like the singers do, because you’re becoming too slow at this time in your life. I’m dreading the day I head to high school. Dreading it. (Shaking his head in mock concern.)
(And then I think maybe it’s an actual punch that may land on the “Swamp Water Philosopher” for Max has started to pant.)
Cassie: Don’t touch him, Max. Finish up, you’re going to be late.
(Then, the Silent One speaks.)
Max: Tomorrow, I’d like to eat at the school. I’ll get ten more minutes of sleep and I won’t be subjected to this verbal crap-ola from swamp water mouth here.
Cassie: Breakfast at school? They have breakfast at the high school?
Charlie: “Verbal Crap-ola.” That’s pretty good. I’m just pointing out that you’ve become slow. That’s all. It’s like your mind is asleep. Is everything going down hill already? You’re only fifteen.
Max: Shut it, you pest. Yea. Two bucks for a sausage egg sandwich.
Cassie: You’d eat that?
Max: I really need a break. (He nods in Charlie’s direction.)
Cassie: Okay. Sure. Tomorrow.
(On the way out of the kitchen, as he passes behind Charlie’s stool, Max flicks his younger brother in the back of the head.)
Charlie: Face it! You’ve just been swamped! Get it?! (He yells after Max — but there’s no response, so then, to me) Get it, Mom? We were talking about swamp water and he couldn’t take it so he got “swamped!”
Cassie: I get it. Hilarious!
Charlie: I know. (Pause.) That’s another thing. You clean the toilets but you also listen to my jokes about stuff, which is good.
Cassie: Yup. I sure hope you’ll remember this swamp water/toilet memory and put me in a good light when you’re famous.
Charlie: I don’t think I’ll forget it. Swamp water and toilets will pop back out somewhere down the road. I usually never forget stuff.
Cassie: I know, which is worrisome in itself. And you WILL put me in a good light? There are always mean jokes about the mother.
Charlie: I’ll try.
Cassie: Good. It’s the least you can do….after all my years of cleaning the bowls of swamp water.