Message in a Bottle: Starchie Unbends

29 Jan

[This one was written for an adult audience. With language modifications, it can work well with ages 4 and up.]

It’s been a while since we visited our friends in Sascha’s bathroom, hasn’t it? Them of the bottled feelings and mostly well-meaning hearts, they’ve lived through arrivals (hello, Hair Serum and Lotion,) and departures (adieu, Baby Powder!) as Sasha lopes eagerly toward teendom. Now a tall, long-limbed girl with blue-and-brown glasses, she undertakes athletics training at a neighborhood track thrice a week, and comes home all sweaty and red in the face. On one such evening, she bounced into the bathroom, humming a tune that the bottlehood had heard before. It was called Favorite Girl and a boy with irksome hair sang it on the telly. Peeling off her sportswear, she tossed it into the laundry basket, proceeded to shower, and hurried out when done.

All was quiet for a while. The family was in the dining room, Nanny was folding laundry and the maid worked in the kitchen. Then, in the growing darkness of the advancing evening, Condi, Shampoo, and their friends heard sniffling. It came from a far corner of the bathroom and they strained to listen. There it was again, two muffled sobs this time, and a sigh. Emboldened by his last act of bravery, Condi spoke up. It couldn’t be a burglar again, he reasoned, and this sounded like someone in distress. “Who’s there?” he ventured, glad to have Serum and Lotion by his side. The crying stopped. For a full minute, the room listened intently, and they were soon rewarded with a tremulous answer.

“It’s us,” ventured a voice from the laundry basket, “we’re Sascha’s socks. She calls us Floppy 1 and Floppy 2 because we can’t hold up,” and it broke into fresh sobs of pain. “There, there,” whispered her twin, and leaned toward her, trying to put on a brave face. The bottles saw them in the dim light, two soft ankle socks, dull white and sorrowful, huddled atop orange sweatpants. “Don’t be sad, friends,” chimed in Lotion, who was as shiny in her heart as she was outside. “How can we help?”

They shook their cotton heads and more tears spilled over. “It’s no use,” said Floppy 2, “Sascha’s tired of repeatedly pulling us up.”

“A day or two and we’ll be gone,” Floppy 1’s voice trembled.

The bottles took in this news silently. No one knew quite how to make the Floppies feel better. They all dreaded the day they would be declared redundant and have to say goodbye to the security of their bathroom world. As they stood under a pall of gloom, a throat was cleared on the top shelf.

Starchie McStarcherson was a big, tall bottle with an officious manner and deep voice. He took his job very seriously and had no time for the likes of Shampoo and Bath Salts, whom he thought frothy and irreverent. Older and aloof, he lived with his old pal Detergent on the top shelf while the rest of the bottles camped on the window ledge. The newer entrants to the bathroom kept out of his way, knowing well enough to lower their voices during his nap times.  Starchie modeled himself on a butler he had once seen on telly, while working in Sascha’s parents’ bathroom. He had been watching the unfolding dilemma with remote interest until a bulb went off in his wise old head. “I can be of assistance,” he boomed imperiously, as the bottles all craned their necks shelfward. Quickly taking charge of the situation, he crystallized a Plan.

The action began at midnight, when Sascha was safely in air-conditioned slumber, the bathroom door firmly closed.  At a signal from Starchie, the Floppies flung themselves off the laundry heap into a waiting bathroom pail. “We’re in,” they called up, rather unnecessarily, for their every move was being watched by the entire bottle sorority. Next up, Tap did a little pirouette, dribbling hot water onto them until they were submerged. Her number done, she added a curtsy for effect, and turned the other way. Now, it was the Big Moment.

With Detergent holding on tight, Starchie leaned over the shelf. His positioning had to be precise, or else he’d tip over and ruin Operation Stop-the-Flop. He leaned. He leaned further. Then he leaned some more. And then some more. “Steady on, old boy!” grunted Detergent, acutely aware of the dangers of being carried off by his bulky friend, and struggled to keep him grounded. Starchie looked below him. And then regretted it. A wave of dizziness hit him hard and he keeled. The shelf slipped out from under him. He heard a collective gasp from the window ledge. His life flashed before his tightly shut eyes, slow-motion and everything. It had been a good life, he concluded, one rooted in duty. He could’ve been friendlier with the bottles, he realized, even as the thought surprised him. Next thing he knew, he felt determined arms yank him backward and landed with a thump on his rear end.

“What…??” he cried, disoriented and embarrassed. Detergent was holding on to him for dear life, and the bottles looked delighted! “Want to look down again?” teased Detergent kindly, and when Starchie mustered the courage to do so, he saw the Floppies floating in a starch-water mixture, looking up at him in gratitude.

A cheer went around the room. Bath Salts and Shampoo bubbled with delight. Condi showed off his smooth moves. Lotion sparkled in all her pink glory and Tap did several pirouettes until an annoyed Floppy 1 asked him to quit. The bottles let out hoorays for good old Starchie, and Detergent thumped him on his back. “A million thanks,” called out the Floppies, who were now delightedly doing flip-flops of their own.  “You’re welcome,” Starchie acknowledged stiffly, and managed a little smile.

When Bai found the Floppies late next morning, she hung them out to dry. Their moment in the sun had arrived and soon they were crisp like soldiers headed to battle. Sascha wore them on numerous occasions, and fleetingly wondered where her old socks had disappeared to, but you won’t tell her, will you?

A rechristening is in order: Now that they aren’t Floppies any longer, they’d love another name. And you who shared in their story are invited to chime in. Starchie will be the Master of Ceremonies, so I’d advise no late arrivals; and yes, do hazard a glance at your own socks before you come in.

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9 Responses to “Message in a Bottle: Starchie Unbends”

  1. sraik January 29, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    Love it and the story will be told tomorrow at bedtime to the younger ones

  2. Orange Jammies January 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    sraik: Did they like it? 🙂

  3. sukanyaboraSukanya February 1, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    nice ….OJ, very nice, can’t wait to read it to my kids.

  4. dipali February 3, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    Such fun! But can’t think of a good name for the Floppies- Stiffies?

  5. Nidhi February 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    You write so beautifully. I cant believe I discovered your blog only now – seen your comments on MMs blog for ages but was too lazy to click on the link I guess 🙂
    BTW you are in CA now? where? I stay in Sunnyvale (moved here from Bangalore 3 months back) and knowing how good you are with kids (I read through all your entries last night and I am positive you are great with kids :D) I would really like to know where you work so that I can enroll my tyke there too if possible (she is 20 months old and needs atleast 2 people to handle her – an energizer bunny!!)

  6. Orange Jammies February 4, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    sukanya: Thanks! Let me know what they think of it.

    dipali: Erm…maybe not quite “Stiffy”.

    Nidhi: Yes, I’m in the Bay area. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by. I’ll share info over email.

  7. Roxana February 8, 2012 at 1:10 am #

    Wow! I wish I had some little kids around to read this out aloud to!

  8. rajni February 8, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    OJ this is simply fabulous!I remember telling the last story to the kids.They loved it.

  9. Orange Jammies February 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Roxana: Grab some off the street. Just kidding. 😉

    rajni: Let me know how they respond to this one.

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