And while I was pondering this, something finally occurred to The Littlest Edward:
"The four newest ponies--where did they come from?"
"Well, my closet. That's where all of this came from."
"But... are there more in there?"
"Well, I mean... yeah. If you're good, you can have a few more."
"But they're all in there right now?" He was horrified, his fears confirmed: "But who is taking care of them?"
"No one--look, they've been boxed up for twenty years, it's not like a few weeks or even months are gonna hurt them."
"But they're in there all by themselves! Alone! In the dark!"
"They've got each other, don't they? Look, they'll be fine."
And it was funny, how thoroughly devoted to them he was now, given that he'd started out acting like it was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Tonner Edward was still deeply unimpressed with the whole thing, though--maybe because he wasn't the one taking care of them, I don't know. It had taken The Littlest Edward a while to come around, and part of that process had involved him learning to take care of something that depended on him--and while I would have liked to see Tonner Edward so transformed, I wasn't exactly confident in his ability to not chow on the first living (or "living") thing I handed him.
"I can't believe you let him have so many of those horrible little things," he said.
"Well, you know what? They give him something useful to do, and they make him happy. If you could find something to do besides mope and read and bitch, I'd support you in whatever it was. Besides, ten is really not all that many. I'll probably give him a couple more pretty soon--"
He laughed: "You think there's only ten in there?"
He let out a loud, long whistle.
Rollin,' rollin', rollin'
Keep them ponies rollin'
Rollin,' rollin', rollin'
"EDWARD! EDWARD DAMN HELL ASS CULLEN!"
A series of tiny frantic whistles brought the ponies back to their keeper. "Please don't take them away," he said, trembling. "They were all alone! In the dark!"
I sighed. (OH COME ON. I AM NOT MADE OF STONE.) "Do you have enough grass for all of them?"
Tonner Edward rolled his eyes.
I don't quite know whether he envied The Littlest Edward's contentment--and sense of purpose--or if he just scorned it. He seemed genuinely miserable at times on one hand, and yet on another, determined to keep being miserable. Maybe just to prove that he could. Maybe just to prove how downtrodden he was. Maybe because he secretly enjoyed it, I don't know. The fact remains, however, that he usually looked down on The Littlest Edward (no, I mean, also figuratively), and he could always be counted on to rat out his smaller counterpart:
"You do realize that those little freaks are breeding, don't you? Or were you not aware of that either?"
My heart sank as I recalled my childhood pony inventory more clearly. "No... they're not breeding... exactly."
I don't know I'd missed seeing them among the new herd the first time--if Little Edward had just stuffed them all into the stable or what, but this time I was able to catch him unawares.
"What the hell is this? Are you running a daycare?"
He lifted his chin defiantly. "You can't tell me it's okay to let the big ones out and then say that I ought to leave the babies all by themselves."
"Well, you know, asking first would be--" I stopped short. "Edward, I'm going to ask you a question, and the answer better be no. Is that pony wearing a diaper?"
"Those are TRAINING PANTS."
"Well--you know--I--augh. If you're happy doing this--you know what? Go with God. I can't even--just--whatever."
"You are seriously going to let him run a pony kindergarten?"
"Look, I am just beyond it at this point. If he can handle it--whatever. NO STAINS ON THE CARPET, THOUGH."
We watched the whole circus, Tonner Edward and I, from the doorway for a while, until finally Little Edward put the babies to bed in the big white wicker basket and read to them from a three-inch-tall copy of Peter Rabbit.
"He's really good with them, isn't he?"
"I can't believe you're letting him do this." He folded his arms. "You know, I can cull the herd any time you want me to."
"How many does he have now, three dozen? He won't notice."
"HE MOST CERTAINLY WILL! DON'T YOU DARE!"
"Not even a baby? They're snack-sized, even--like tiny pastel Skittles, surely he won't miss one--"
Which only highlighted the difference between the two of them, in my opinion. I had already decided that Little Edward had earned a chance at love; now I just wanted to put him through one more stress test. After all, he tempted more by fluff than by plastic; he had confessed to an initial struggle not to chomp the ponies, but he'd mastered that urge pretty thoroughly, if he was taking care of tiny
"Edward," I said, "this is Clarice."
Clarice frisked around him in circles.
"You and Clarice are going to spend a little time together."
"In the linen cabinet."
"What--what do you mean--"
"I need to see if you can handle it."
" 'It'?" he repeated, and I could see panic rising in his eyes.
"You know. Temptation. So if you'll just come with me--"
"No! NO! I CAN'T DO IT!"
"I believe in you, Edward. You can do this. Besides, I already ordered the Bella, so I need you to man up here."
We have a really weird linen cabinet in my bathroom--they built it into the wall, into a sliver of space behind the shower, so the shelves are really narrow, but really deep--maybe two, two and a half feet deep. So I figured, we could put Little Edward and Clarice into one of those shelves, shut the door (they're toys, right? They don't need air) and leave them there for a few hours. I'd have to shove some packing boxes in front of the door so he couldn't open it, of course, but that was easily done.
"YOU CAN'T DO THIS TO MEEEEEEE!"
(Un?)fortunately, I could, and I did, so Galadriel, Tonner Edward and I settled in on the floor by the sink for the long haul. Well, actually, I had Galadriel there as a secondary supervisor, since she's both the unofficial Shelf den mother and also one of Edward's few supporters. Tonner Edward just showed up to see the fun.
Little Edward started out kind of panicky; you could tell he was pacing up and down the shelf-cubby, trying to calm himself down, hyperventilating a bit: "You can do this. You can do this. (Heeeeehhhhhhhh.) You get plenty to eat. You don't need a sheep. You don't need a whole sheep. You don't need a whole sheep that's delicious on the inside and on the outside. Heeeeehhhhhhhh. Heeeeehhhhhhhh."
Part of the problem was that Clarice had your typical spring lamb energy, and (from what I could hear) was skipping up and down the shelf, trying to get Edward to play with her, generally romping, gamboling, frolicking, etc.
"Please stop following me. Please sit down. Please--please don't--please sit down over there--don't--please stop frisking, all right, I can't take the FRISKING! Heeeeehhhhhhhh."
About forty-five minutes in, he started screaming to be let out. Seems like he wasn't adored by just his ponies--he was now irresistible to every cuddlesome stuffed animal out there. You could hear Clarice bleating plaintively (albeit faintly, through the door) to be petted--more and more insistently as time wore on, unable to figure out why he scorned her so. Was she not sufficiently fluffy? Was she not a veritable meringue of lambness? Could he not see her in the dark? Because she could headbutt him a bit more if that would help--
"I really think you should let him out," said Galadriel. "I am really very concerned now. Very. Really."
"Look, he can do this. I believe in him. And he needs to know he can do it."
Ten minutes into the screaming, he started actually beating on the closet door with his tiny, tiny fists. Again, I can't be entirely sure what was going on in there, but apparently Clarice--not understanding the reason for his distress--tried to comfort him. "NOOOOO! NOT THE NUZZLING! NOT THE NUZZLINNNNNNG!"
"If he eats the sheep, I get the ponies."
"NO, you DON'T."
"So you really don't believe he can do it then."
"NO ONE EATS PONIES, REGARDLESS."
He screamed and begged for about an hour all told, maybe a bit longer--I was impressed, really.
"I really don't know how you can sit there and listen to that."
"Because it's for his own good. Seriously. If he can withstand this, a Bella will be no problem."
After that, the sobbing started up.
"Do you want to die? Why are doing this to me? Why do you want to die, sheep? WHYYYY? NOOOOOOOO. (Heeeeehhhhhhhh.)"
The weeping finally quietened down after about half an hour. I was determined to leave him in there for at least three hours, and time was nearly up--we hadn't heard anything from the closet for a while, but I was perfectly content to wait out the full period of time. Galadriel, on the other hand, was getting concerned:
"It's far too quiet--are you sure they're all right in there?"
"Maybe he cried himself to sleep...?"
"We don't sleep, remember?"
"Well--I mean--surely--surely we would have heard something, if he were to--some kind of struggle--"
"Oh, come on," said Tonner Edward with a nasty smirk (twisting the knife, as it were), "I think the sheep would go quietly. Didn't you hear him? He dazzled her. She loves him. You wouldn't hear a thing."
"Open the door! OPEN THE DOOR!"
We found him sprawled out half-conscious, half-demented, with Clarice the giant lamb curled up happily next to him: he had triumphed, even though he looked totally wrung out. Exanimate, I daresay.
"He'll be fine," I said, scooping him up. "I'll tuck him into some Easter grass. Some cotton balls, some pony hugs, never better."
"What will you do with the sheep now?"
"I don't know--hadn't really thought about it. Put her back with the other Webkinz, I guess."
"But I want to stay with him!"
Edward reached out, half-dead from the strain of not snacking on her, and patted her plush hoof.
"... Well, then."
And everywhere that Edward went, the lamb did surely go.
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