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       The Elf Hat, p.1

           Rene Natan
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The Elf Hat
The Elf Hat

  by Rene Natan

  Copyright © 2012 Rene Natan

  All Rights Reserved.

  Contact: [email protected]

  The Elf Hat

  Strathroy, November 2010

  Glenda Vaillot rocked back and forth in her chair as she watched her son, Norbert play on the floor with his favorite toy, the Rollipop. She should take him to the Santa Claus Parade, but the thoughts of leaving her cozy pre-fabricated house for the frosty elements outside and the crowds downtown seemed to immobilize her. She looked over at Zufolo, her border collie snoring on the rug in the corner, then back to her three-year-old son.

  “Santa Claus Parade, Norbert?” she asked in her nasal voice.

  “Yes, mum.” He nodded, then started jumping up and down, waking Zufolo up.

  The dog pranced around on the floor as Glenda bundled up her son with a heavy coat, last year’s elf hat and red boots trimmed with white fur.

  “Zufolo, stay,” she said, pointing at him. She had to do this on her own.

  Mother and son arrived early at the Kenwich Mall, parked there and found a good spot where to stand close to the road, so that Norbert would have a clear view. Their wait turned into a long and a cold one; to keep warm they pounded their feet on the ground. Glenda kept looking around, worried. As usual, vehicles were banned from the parade route, so she didn’t expect to see the Schimts’ Cadillac anywhere close. However, Krimhilde or Otto could shove their way in on foot. They were both big and strong.

  Yesterday she’d almost run into them at the Strathroy Ontario Early Years Centre. She’d been at this wonderful resource facility to learn about parenting from the Centre’s qualified staff while enjoying time with Norbert and other parents and their kids. Single parenthood wasn’t easy especially when the father’s family constantly harassed her. Just before she and Norbert left, she’d seen the Cadillac parked on the street, and Norbert’s grandparents pacing back and forth, waiting for her to come out. When the other children and parents had retrieved their coats, ready to leave, she’d hustled Norbert out the back door.

  Norbert’s father, Karl, had died from a car accident only a week before his son’s birth. Then his parents started their campaign to take Norbert away from her. First, they’d tried to convince her that she wouldn’t be able to raise her child properly due to her hearing impairment. Then they’d used the moral issue that she and Karl hadn’t been married. When Glenda didn’t give in, they took legal action. But they didn’t plan to stop there.

  “I’m not waiting until a court date to get Norbert,” Krimhilde had shouted. “I’ll try anything and everything to get my grandson. He doesn’t belong with you or in that shabby house.”

  She’d shaken her hand at Glenda and scrunched up her face so much Glenda was sure she saw smoke coming out her ears. Karl’s family had money and social status, and Glenda felt deeply troubled by their threat.

  Now Glenda wrapped part of her coat around Norbert to keep him warm while they waited for the parade to start. She sighed, remembering how beautifully her love story with Karl had started…

  One day she’d taken Zufolo, the four-year service dog she had gotten from The Dogs for the Deaf, to the Strathroy Animal Clinic for his annual shots. There she’d met Karl Schmit, an assistant veterinarian who became very interested in assessing the dog’s ability. Glenda had shown him how Zufolo reacted to the occurrence of several sounds she couldn’t hear—his only limitation being the simultaneous presence of many sounds.

  From that day Karl had shown up frequently at the bakery where she worked with the excuse of buying a fresh loaf of bread, of getting some pastry, or for tasting the bakery’s famous grissini. A few weeks later he’d asked her out—and from that time on they’d been inseparable. Glenda remembered that in the first year of their relationship she felt like living in dreamland. Karl often complimented her for her lush dark hair, big brown eyes and fine features, and expressed admiration for the way she coped with her disability. When she became pregnant they’d started planning for a house of their own, but would wait to get married until after the child’s birth—hoping, meanwhile, to gain his family’s approval.

  Fortunately, Karl had deposited $100,000 dollars in their joint account, and that had helped her to survive after Karl’s accident. The joy she’d experienced at Norbert’s birth had been obfuscated by the loss of her love.

  She felt Norbert tugging on her sleeve; she looked down at him as he said, “Look, mum, look!”

  A marching band opened the parade, and a big Santa Claus advanced, greeting the crowd on both sides of the street. She watched Norbert wave his hand at Santa with all the energy he had.

  The crowd pressed from behind and the sides so Glenda moved Norbert in front of her, as the parade had now reached its full swing, with more floats to come. The band had drums and horns and Glenda thought how wonderful it’d be to hear the music. Just before meeting Karl her family doctor had suggested that she take part in a research study, which would entail the implant of an artificial sensory device. She’d been scared of the lengthy operation and had decided not to participate. She read lips quickly and that skill had been sufficient for her job. Now she regretted her withdrawal from the research project; if she acquired even a limited sense of hearing, she’d remove one of the Schimts’ motives for questioning her parental ability.

  Glenda caressed Norbert’s many blond locks that escaped from his elf hat. The hat didn’t fit him well anymore, but Norbert had insisted on wearing it. All of a sudden she felt a push and the boy’s shoulders slid away from her hold. She looked sideways and for an instant she saw a man’s hand clamped on Norbert’s shoulder.

  “Mum!” the boy screamed.

  Glenda couldn’t hear him; she only saw his mouth wide open and fear in his eyes. She crushed her body against the anonymous crowd and drew her son close.

  “I’m here, luv.” She hugged him tight and kissed his rosy cheeks.

  She tried to spot where that push and pull had come from, but she couldn’t. The crowd now was like a sea wave, running after the parade’s last carriage.

  Norbert pulled on her hand, ready to follow the wave but Glenda didn’t feel safe joining the crowd once again.

  “Let’s go to McDonald’s,” she said. “If we hurry, we’ll get one of those new toys they advertise.”

  “The Toys 3?” Norbert asked, looking up at her.

  “Hmm…I’m not sure; but it could very well be.”

  Holding on to his mum’s coat Norbert grinned as they marched toward the Kenwich parking lot.

  They were still on Front St. when a blue pickup brushed past the curb and a man snatched Norbert away.

  Glenda yelled to get the attention of passersby but she saw no one. She ran toward her car; luckily, her old Toyota started right away. The pickup had turned on Head St. and Glenda began the chase. Nobody, but nobody would take away her boy—not without a fight.

  She hadn’t noticed the vehicle’s license number, but she knew that it was a Ford Ram. The pickup moved well ahead on the narrow road, but she could see it clearly. Then an old clunker, pulling a trailer full of pine trees cut for the season, came out of a side road, making her slam on the breaks as the old vehicle turned in front of her. She blew the horn once and then again, not so much because of the poor driving but because it obstructed her view. At last the truck pulled to the right and she passed it.

  The pickup had disappeared. Glenda banged on the steering wheel and sped toward Second Street where Head St. ended. No pickup on either side of the road. She guessed that it had stopped in one of the houses on Head St., but which one? For a moment she considered calling the police and reporting the kidnapping, but lately the authorities had knocked on her
door to inquire about her lifestyle and her boy’s wellbeing, almost as if they suspected her of some wrongdoing. No, for now she’d try to rescue her boy by herself.

  She drove home to get her dog. Glenda quickly fondled Zufolo’s ears and slipped on his orange cape that carried the script Hearing Ear Dog. She went back to the car, the dog by her side. He sat on his hunches, his ears pricked with attention as if he knew that he was on a mission. Zufolo was trained to respond to specific sounds such as the doorbell, the phone’s thrill, an oven’s whistle, a baby’s cry or a car’s horn by pawing at her or pulling on her top; he then would lead her to the noise source. He was very protective of her and her boy, and would growl and bar the way to anybody at her “go” command.

  She retraced her route, paying particular attention to the dwellings corresponding to the stretch she’d driven on when behind the old truck. None of the houses bore any sign of recognition—the Schimts lived on the other side of town. She arrived again at Second Street, made a U-turn and covered Head St. once more.

  Then she saw it; close to one of the house walls on her left lay Norbert’s elf hat. Bingo! Norbert was in that house. She inverted her direction again, and looked at the owners’ plaque: it read Anne and Robert Donalson. She knew of Mr. Donalson, a local ex-lawyer, on two accounts. He had come with Krimhilde and Otto Schimt to pressure her into relinquishing her parental rights. He’d been disbarred because of the accusations brought against him, namely that he offered his services to retroactively date pre-nuptial agreements for wealthy men in town.

  Glenda resumed driving and pondered the situation. She couldn’t attempt to rescue Norbert in daylight; she had to wait until dusk. However, she should monitor the moves around the house; she didn’t want Norbert to be taken elsewhere. She parked in a vacant lot not far away from the ex-lawyer’s house, and waited.

  Around five o’clock she drove by the Donalsons’ house to get another look at the premises. Two rooms showed light: she assumed one to be the kitchen and another, adjacent to the kitchen, the family room. She parked on the road shoulder and tiptoed around the house and into the backyard; she tugged on the back door, but it was locked, so she couldn’t sneak in. Another plan took place in her mind. She returned to her car and drove away, looking for a brick or a rock. When she found a large rock, she parked her car very close to the Donalsons’ driveway and climbed out, followed by Zufolo.

  She coasted the wall, crouched underneath the larger room with the light on and peeked. Sure enough, Norbert slouched in a big chair; an afghan covered him and he appeared asleep. She hesitated no more. She threw the rock against the pane of the big bay window, and shouted her son’s name. Norbert woke up and looked around, clearly disoriented. With her gloved hands she cleaned up the shards around the window’s hole, which made the hole larger. Then she gave Zufolo the “go” command. In one smooth leap, the dog was inside the room, barking and growling at the old man seated in front of the television. Glenda jumped in the room and grabbed her son. She came out the way she’d gone in and rushed to the car. Zufolo continued his barking patrol inside. Only after Glenda put the car in motion did she shout the next command.

  “Come,” she screamed as she opened the car’s rear door.

  Zufolo charged out of the house and jumped inside.

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