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Beware of Prepositions
Tommy Hartford was a stout boy. He lived in a plain, beige cookie-cutter home, with his mother Carla
and his father Phil. Carla was the average suburban mother, blonde, skinny, and overly medicated.
Phil worked from eight to five, brought home lots of bacon, and spent the entirety of his nights
drinking beer and watching football. I was never very fond of the Hartfords. I kept my distance.
However, one particularly dreary Tuesday afternoon, I opened my front door ' the clamorous door bell
still ringing ' to Carla Hartford, adorned with a basket of blueberry muffins. Delving into my
imaginary jar of phony smiles, I smeared a warm and welcoming grin across my face and invited Mrs.
Hartford inside. She soon confessed Tommy's need for a babysitter the following Friday night.
Although I was hesitant to spend my Friday night with a fifth grader, Mrs. Hartford's indications
that I would be paid handsomely were reassuring.
The following Friday came quickly. I hoped I was mistaken, but my calendar confirmed that the gloomy
day had arrived at last. After dinner, I headed across the street to the Hartford's. I rang the door
bell and was greeted by Phil Hartford. He welcomed me into their home, explained how the house was
laid out, and then ran off toward the master bedroom yelling, 'Carla, if you try on any more shoes,
your feet will fall off! Now come on, we're already late as it is.' Carla came out of two, dark
mahogany doors, centered on the living rooms farthest wall. Her shoes were stunning.
'Oh hello, sweetie, has Phil introduced you to Thomas yet''
'No, no, I only just arrived,' I responded promptly.
'Thomas!' her voice rang out loudly. 'Thomas!' Little Tommy Hartford came skipping down the main
staircase, laughing gaily.
'Thomas come meet your babysitter, she'll be watching you and your friends tonight.' I felt my
stomach drop as these last words rolled off her tongue.
'Friends'' I asked.
'Oh yes, didn't I tell you' Shucks, I'm so forgetful sometimes. Thomas is having some friends spend
the night. Their parents should be by soon to drop them off.
'Okay'' I responded slowly. Straining to keep the blood in my face, I questioned whether I could
handle multiple kids. As if sensing my fear, Carla rested a soothing hand on my shoulder and
reminded me it was only for a couple of hours.
Tommy's friends turned up within the hour. Patrick Noble, a small, scrawny, red-haired child, was
the first to arrive. He was followed by Dennis Mason, a bright-eyed, eager looking boy with sandy
blonde hair and a rippling, childlike laugh. Jon and Peter Davidson were the last to arrive. Jon and
Peter were identical twins, so similar in appearance I couldn't tell them apart. Each had an oddly
straight nose, short, neatly trimmed, mouse brown hair, and a timid, wavering smile.
Once all the boys had arrived, I made them popcorn, and then convinced them to play a game of Go
Fish. Each boy took a seat at the Hartford's large wooden kitchen table. From my seat on the living
room couch, I could hear, 'Patrick, do you have any Jacks''
'Nope! Go Fish!' The boys continued to play for sometime as I sat reading my magazine. Over the dull
murmur of the TV, I could hear their childish tales and conversation.
Suddenly, Tommy Hartford exclaimed 'Have any you guys ever played with yourselves' Sometimes, I like
to.' An icy sheet of silence broke out in the room, and my mouth dropped open.
After a few motionless seconds, Dennis Mason responded 'Well, I used to' but I don't anymore.'
Patrick Noble, finding comfort in his friend's honesty, also spoke out, 'I tried one time, but I
don't know if we're supposed to.'
Jon Davidson looked to his brother Peter for support but found no comfort in his brother's empty
gaze. Feeling lonesome, Jon added softly, 'I do from time to time, but not very often'' Although
both Patrick and Dennis glanced to Peter for a response, he remained silent.
Once again, Tommy Hartford spoke out, 'Yeah, you know, when no one else in the neighborhood can
play.' The table of young boys became awkwardly quiet. Gawking, all except Tommy Hartford drew timid
as they recognized their confusion and felt the hot burn of embarrassment at their cheeks. I sat in
'Had that just happened'' Tommy Hartford's blatant English blunder led to three shy, young boys'
confessions of masturbation. Had Tommy used the preposition 'by' instead of 'with', the boys would
have continued their game of Go Fish undisturbed. At most, they would have remarked lightly on his
comment 'Sometimes, I like to play by myself.'
I never mentioned overhearing the boys' confessions, nor did I inquire about them again. I did,
however, learn a simple lesson: Beware of prepositions; the English language is a temptress to