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I’m convinced:

Behind a red curtain in the basement of the mall is a sneaky little wizard whose sole purpose is to watch the monitors for any sign of Vicki Murphy and her ginger-head man. When he sees us, he flips a switch that emits sugar vapour from all the vents. Max breathes the sweet stuff in and – presto – he’s a shopping sidekick from hell.

So today, when we took him to the mall to get his snap taken with Santa, I expected no different. I even brought my video camera to capture the chaos and share it with the world. Here I am, wizard. Go ahead and press your button. This will be excellent material for my blog.

He was the perfect child. What a disappointment.

It was quick and painless. Max walked right up to the jolly elf and said, “Bring Thomas.” (What else.) Then he sat in his lap for five or six minutes, which is like half a century in Turbo Ginger time.

I was so happy, I paid $18 for a single crappy, poorly-lit photo. And gosh darn it, how swell is that – I still had tons of time before I had to get back to work. So we went to Winners – the three of us, hand in hand in hand. Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds was playing on the loud speaker. What a perfect day.

[Insert ‘record needle scratching’ sound effect.]

40 seconds after we entered the store, Max vanished. Gone. He broke free from our hands, ran down the shoe aisle, turned a corner, and disappeared. Andrew was on his heels with his gazelle-like stride, but the three-foot fugitive had the advantage of flying under the radar – and the clothes racks. This is why short men can not be trusted.

Genghis Khan – famous warlord, 5’1″

Harry Houdini – famous trickster, 5’5″

George “Baby Face” Nelson – famous gangster, 5’5″

Joseph Stalin – famous Communist freakazoid, 5’6″

Prince – famous wearer of high-heel booties, 5’2″

Robert Blake – famous actor, better known for the suspicious death of his wife than his acting, 5’4″

Ghandi – 5’3″.

Scratch that last one.

My cell phone rang. It was Andrew. “I can’t find him.

“Oh Jesus.”

Click.

Panic.

In half a second, my blood pressure skyrocketed from normal to Notorious BIG.

We scoped out the store for three or four minutes, asking people if they had seen a little boy about “yea high.” Nope. Nobody had. My mind was racing…

How long do you search before freaking the hell out?

Should I jump up on a chair and start yelling for help?

Do I go grab the microphone at the front of the store and announce “Attention shoppers: This is a Ginger Alert. A toddler is missing in the store. Three feet tall, plaid shirt, answers to the name Max, as well as Thomas.”

Do I send Max’s picture to the good people at Central Dairies? You know… for the side of the milk carton.

“Do you have a recent photo?” they’ll ask.

“Can Santa be in it?” I’ll reply.

Oh God oh God. Every second he’s missing increases the chances that some sicko will come along and snatch him. I had seen some dude scratching tickets at the lotto booth earlier like he was trying to start a fire. It was weird. He better not be in this store. He might think Max is a leprechaun and demand, “I just spent my entire EI cheque. Now take me to the pot of gold – or else!”

Someone find my precious child because I’ll be damned if I have to go make another one, you hear me!?!!!

Andrew stepped outside the store to talk to two old guys on the bench facing the store, no doubt waiting for wives with big purses and bigger perms.

“Did you see a kid run out of here?”

They hadn’t.

“If a little boy runs out of here, grab him for me.”

They agreed. Exit points covered. Unless those guys were creeps, in which case we were royally screwed.

I scoped out the toy aisle first. No Max. Then I tried the jewelry counter; maybe he was admiring the shiny stuff. Nope, guess he didn’t inherit that gene. Next, I scurried toward housewares, and immediately saw a young woman leading a child by the hand. But I couldn’t see the short stuff until I turned the corner. Then, there he was, pube-headed little frigger.

“Thank you so much. Where did you find him?”

“He was playing with a toy over there. I saw your husband looking around earlier so I figured it was him.”

Phew. Relief is such an underrated emotion, isn’t it?

I grabbed his hand tight.

“Listen here, Charles Lindbergh Jr. Don’t ever run away from mommy and daddy again. If you do, Santa won’t bring you any trains. He’ll only bring you what fuels them…”

 

 

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