Schadenfreude isn’t something I usually indulge in. I’ve never laughed at a funeral either.
On playground duty, teaching Kindergarten this week, I told a six-year-old not to climb in and out of the fence.
“You’ll get stuck. We don’t want that, do we?”
Smiling back at me, he made me think that yes, yes he really did want to be wedged in there. Especially when he’d spent the previous ten minutes attempting to twist himself into a small human pretzel.
Fences inside the school have strong metal bars above 4 foot retaining walls. They present irresistible climbing potential. Having tree and fence climbing against the rules doesn’t change that.
I crunched one side of my morning tea apple, watching kids play, seeing 3 mini gymnasts cartwheel across the artificial grass with strong bones and straight legs.
Toby’s screams made me run. He’d pushed his head through. Hands around the sidebars, he looked like a little old thief in medieval stocks. I tried to calm him, to get him to breathe and quieten. Instead, he panicked. I held his torso, feeling his heart pump too fast into my hand. He kept tugging his head backwards but wasn’t getting anywhere.
Howling in agony, Toby’s ears were out front. A wide load, they’d slipped forward through the rungs, but couldn’t get out in reverse. Each time he tried they were caught at the tough cartilage joining his skull. The constant pressure made those sticky-out ears swell up.
Toby was turning into Dumbo. I was a dim Dumbo too, unsure of what to do besides trying to tuck those flappy ears back in; causing more misery in the process.
I remember picking up my infants when they started crying in earnest. Holding them tight, they’d take a deep breath before directing an incredible noise into my earlobe. Toby’s cries pierced my head with loud sound and ringing the same way.
“Toby, Toby, listen to me. We’re going to get you out. It’s going to be okay.”
He couldn’t listen, couldn’t hear; couldn’t believe in a teacher who had only taught him 2 or 3 times. He had overwhelming pain and little trust.
Toby’s eyes streamed, his nose ran snot across his lips to his chin; his face was glistening wet. I imagined having to use oil or Vaseline, perhaps margarine to grease his head up. Maybe we’d need emergency services jaws of life to unstick him from the fence?
Past the point of reason to a place of horror, I almost started weeping with him. Moving back, I squeezed an emergency horn in the first aid bag we carry. The children who’d crowded around jumped back holding their own (diminutive by comparison) ears.
Another teacher came running. She stood at the low side, asking him to bend down, to slide down, to kneel down. At first, he didn’t respond to her either. He only went down when we both encouraged him. The bars were a little further apart at the bottom. Toby and those enormous ears were finally free; free at last.
I sighed; we smiled and cradled his dear head against us, checking his skin wasn’t broken. Toby gazed about with glazed Disney eyes as if disbelieving what had happened.
Still taking deep breaths, I thanked the other teacher. Relief all round, she explained how the rungs had been bent outwards at the base, allowing an easier entry point.
Crisis averted, I sat Toby down, as much to treat my shock as his.
“My ears hurt. Can I have an icepack?”
I’m a creative; my vivid imagination runs a hundred ways at once. Sticking out like two enormous commas either side of his head, Toby had jug ears.
Red, the ears were as red as beetroots, as red as roses, as red as a blooming baboon’s butt. His ears throbbed like a pair of cartoon ears zooming in and out in exaggerated animation.
I thought of ugly old English Toby jugs. I remembered ‘Old Toby,’ the relaxing weed (probably Marijuana) from Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings trilogy. And Toby the Naughty Boy stuck in the faux fence stocks, butt out, hands limp, head down and dripping tears.
I thought of our present Bonny Prince Charles, turning 70 and still with the stick out ears. How, if he is ever crowned king, they’d have to put his profile on the newly minted coins. We shouldn’t see his ears, the handles of his royal head, on currency.
I thought of a book I read about Hugh Lunn’s early life called: “Over the Top with Jim”. In the memoir, he relates how his mum used to stick his ears back with heavy-duty Elastoplast each night.
“Toby, would you like to go to sickbay so mum can take you home?”
“No, don’t tell her.”
“She’ll kill me.”
“Okay, I promise; just as long as you promise not to stick your head through the fence again.”
“It’s a deal then.”
I shake his still shaking hand, but can’t help peering at his ears.
They’d started glowing in the sun; I could see the capillaries.
After school, I tell the head teacher so she can catalogue the incident.
“It’s a wonder you didn’t burst out laughing,” she says.
Then it hits me. The Prince of Wales, “Dumbo” and Big Ears from “Noddy” and jug ears like Alfred E. Neuman on the front page of “Mad Magazine”. Tears ping from my eyes. I’m a mess, spluttering, chest vibrating, belly wobbling, chuckling.
“That sounds like Toby,” she adds, laughing too.
I erupt again later at the traffic lights. Drivers in adjoining lanes must have thought the lady in the 4 by 4 was having a complete mental breakdown. Tears streamed down my made-up face while I’m grimacing, squinting, choking and gripping the steering wheel like a maniac.
I feel horrible, but every time I remember Toby bent over and bawling, I giggle. Yesterday I snorted the coffee out my nose just thinking about pink ears like a pair of handles on a sugar bowl.
I’m a cruel, heartless teacher. Maybe it’s stress relief, or schadenfreude, but then you might have laughed too if you saw Toby of the Red Hot Jug Ears.