As Officer Calvin Petersen guided his police cruiser down leafy suburban streets, his inner child, Little Cal, rode gunshot.
It was a beautiful Sunday in late spring. Calvin lowered the front driver side window all the way. Little Cal stretched his legs out on the dashboard and folded his arms behind his head. “Lazy SOB,” Calvin murmured. Little Cal grinned and started pumping his feet against the dashboard. His touch was only a whisper of what a real child’s contact with the world would be. But though he made no sound, the rhythm of his legs echoed Calvin’s restless contentment.
Calvin was always proud to be seen with his inner child. Little Cal was a heavyset boy with a buzz cut and a disarming grin. He looked to be about 6 or 7. Like other inner children, he was enfolded in a faint gold and pink aura. He shone with health and promise. And he always knew how to lighten the mood. When a call came in for a domestic disturbance, he stuck his tongue out at the radio.
Calvin laughed and shook his head. “You’d think they’d do something nice on a day like this. Go on a picnic.” He turned his cruiser down a street lined with black locust trees. As quiet a street as any in the suburbs.
The house had sky blue shutters and pots of tulips by the front door. When Calvin knocked, the shouting inside quieted. He knocked again. Little Cal crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the welcome mat.
Gerald Saunders opened the door. He frowned, seeing Calvin Petersen there, but spoke respectfully enough. Everything was fine, he said. They didn’t realize how loud they’d gotten. He called his wife over. She was as stony-faced as Calvin remembered from last time. She kept her hands behind her back and didn’t look him in the eye.
Mr. Saunders said he was sorry they’d disturbed the neighbors. As he leaned on the door, it swung open wider. Behind them, in the dark hall, their inner children sat on the floor: A little girl with a glassy-eyed stare, and a little boy with dull anger in his eyes.
They had real children too, both in elementary school; Calvin heard their swings creaking in the backyard. He imagined that at some point in their teens, when people usually begin to project their inner children, they’d be showing the world two sniveling images of themselves, the same family misery in a new generation. Nothing like Little Cal.
Calvin glanced at his inner child, who was looking back at the police cruiser with longing. “Folks,” he said, using the tone of easygoing authority he’d cultivated during his dozen years on the force, “it’s a beautiful day. Seems a shame to waste it indoors. Why don’t you go out, enjoy a breather?”
Mr. Saunders assured him they would, and after a parting warning to keep the volume down, Calvin headed back to his cruiser. He eased into his seat and bumped fists with Little Cal. The slick, staticky energy of his inner child tingled up Calvin’s arm and into his brain. They both smiled at the contact. The Saunders’ house disappeared from the rear view mirror, as Calvin turned from their street towards the town’s main park.
As expected, the park was full. Dozens of people were lined up at the ice cream truck, their inner children vibrating with impatience. One man sucked on a cone while going for seconds; he cuddled his inner child, a squirmy red-faced infant, to his chest. Couples were entangled on blankets, their inner children sitting a discreet distance away with hands clasped. Real children were also running around, too young to either project their own inner children or see anyone else’s.
Calvin smiled, thinking back to when he had first seen Little Cal, who had appeared at the foot of his bed wearing a dark blue t-shirt and scruffy jeans the morning of Calvin’s sixteenth birthday. That was the day he’d also first seen his parents’ inner children. They’d been beautiful too: A porcelain doll-like girl for his mother, and a boy much like Little Cal for his father. A little champ. His parents had thrown him a party; they’d been so proud of Little Cal’s appearance.
It had, however, taken a while to get used to the world after that day. He’d lost much of his respect for his gym coach, after spotting the man’s skinny inner child cowering under the bleachers at a game. The woman who had lived alone next door, and whose chest he’d been staring at since he was ten, had turned out to have a chubby inner girl with a bruised eye. There was more ugliness out there than Calvin could sometimes stomach. His job, he felt, was to keep as much of it out of sight as possible.
To be continued… (Part 2)