Spout is his stuffed blue whale. "Is Spout in your backpack?" I asked him. He said he was.
I went back to his room and scanned his bed quickly. I didn't see Spout, so Pete must have packed him.
As we drove along the George Washington Parkway to Reagan National, the sun gradually stained the sky peach and pink and rose over the Capitol building and behind the Washington Monument across the Potomac. Traffic was lighter than I expected and we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I hugged everyone goodbye as I dropped them at the curb. I always worry that it's too much for Elise to handle on her own, but she would most likely counter that it was easier to check in and board a flight without me than with me; I always seem to fumble for my belt and my shoes in the security line and take the electronics out of my carry-on that don't need to be separately scanned and keep the ones that do in my bag, holding up the line. Inexcusable, really, for someone who flies as much as we do.
I drove home. The quiet was deafening. Disconcerting, to be honest.
I returned to our empty home a little after six. I tidied up in the basement, rolling up the sleeping bags that we had hung to dry from our camping trip just a few days before and started a load of laundry. Upstairs, I washed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher. Then, I went to the kids' room to strip the sheets off their bed. They'd be gone for two weeks, a perfect opportunity.
I whipped the sheets off Peter's bed and what should come tumbling out onto the floor?
Oh no, I thought. Peter traveling across country without his stuffed animal. I immediately knew what I had to do, and Googled mail and delivery stores. I saw that the Staples right behind our house had a new mail and shipping center that opened at eight, so I got ready to go to work and pulled up just as the saleswoman was unlocking the door.
The store was just opening. The lights were flickering on and cash registers were being unlocked. I waited several moments for someone to notice me at the new UPS counter. The store music came on, it was a song from the new Disney movie Zootopia. It reminded me of my kids. I felt hollowed out inside, empty, like a pumpkin that had been carved into a jack o' lantern.
The woman behind the counter asked me how she could help.
I held up Spout. "I need to overnight this whale to Washington State, but I don't have a box."
The woman then proceed to dismantle a giant cardboard carton in which reams of printer paper had been shipped and reassemble it with half a roll of packaging tape, fashioning a, perhaps, too-large box for Spout. She then measured the box with a ruler and asked me to input the shipping information into the computer.
When it was all said and done, she swiveled the computer screen back towards her and said, "That'll be $90."
"WHAT!?" I couldn't imagine that she was serious. It is a whale, but the stuffed animal can't be more than five inches in length and have a weight that is measured in ounces or grams.
"I can get there in a week for $30."
A WEEK!! Peter could be crying his eyes out for a whole week! He could not be able to fall asleep at night for a whole week!
"You could try the post office," she offered.
After dropping the car off at the dealer to get the brakes checked (the service center would later call and say the car needed repairs the sum of which was roughly half of what I paid for the car in the first place. I could buy another car for all the money they wanted me to spend on this one), I took the Metro into the city I had watched the dawn dissipate over only a few hours earlier. I stopped at the post office.
There, Ebony with aquamarine nails that were like tiger claws told me that "to this town"--she stabbed the word "Cheney" on the packing slip--they could only guarantee two-day delivery. No overnight. "I'll take it," I told her and happily coughed up $20 that I never would have parted with before someone else had quoted me $90. "UPS wanted $90," I told her. She didn't care, but the woman next to me sporting a star-spangled sequened cap informed me, "It's cuz it's private. This is the guv'ment." And she said it in a way that was not disparaging, but with a tone that said because it was government it could be relied upon. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but it made me feel proud for also being a part of the government machine, a mechanism that could be relied upon to work and give value for hard-earned tax-payer dollars.
I ripped the makeshift cardboard box open, wasting yards of packaging tape, and put Spout into a bubble-wrap envelope. I handed him to Ebony. She had me acknowledge that their were no hazardous materials in the envelope even though she had just watched me put a stuffed whale into it. She also told me that the envelope was insured up to $100 and asked me if I wanted to buy more insurance. Was she serious? The contents of the envelope had no value and yet was also invaluable, I thought, but decided to keep that to myself. I declined additional insurance. I handed the envelope to Ebony, wondering for a split second if either Peter or I would ever see Spout again.
This afternoon, Pete called to thank me for sending Spout. The left behind whale had been reunited with his pod.