To Care for Him
ACT 3: ASH
Chapter 22: Princess Molly
ACT 3: ASH
Chapter 22: Princess Molly
Author’s Note: The fairy tale mentioned in this chapter is from a friend of mine, Serge, but since this isn’t some kind of NC-17 fic I’ll arrange it so it reads more like a fairy tale, but really, folks, do you read Grimm’s fairy tales? Not for the faint of heart…
One cold winter night, Delia lay on the couch, watching television with Ash as he sat on the floor in front of her, his spiky black hair sometimes interrupting her view. They were watching a Pokemon League tournament, a yearly ratings sweeps bonanza that always ensured the broadcasters filled their coffers back up to the brim. During a commercial, Ash, holding a plush poke ball in his hand (which contained a plush squirtle), looked up at his mother, who seemed to him like she was the goddess Hera, if he knew of such things -- although in his eyes she was the ultimate ruler of his universe.
“Mom?” he asked, his voice wavering and hushed because he knew this question might upset his mother. “Can Molly and I play a game tomorrow?”
Delia frowned before she could stop it. She smiled quickly to recover, but she could tell from her son’s face that he was disappointed already. “I … I’m sorry, Ash -- I was still tired from all the housework this morning. What kind of game do you want to play? I hope you’re not going to tease her again. It’s important that you be nice to our company, you understand?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Molly found this book and we want to turn it into a play for our friends in Pallet.”
“What kind of book?” Delia asked, suddenly aware that maybe her son, barely nine-and-a-half, was turning into some kind of scholar.
“A fairy tale by some guy named Serge,” he replied. “It’s about a boy and a girl and the boy finds out the girl is actually a princess but an evil witch doesn’t want people to know about that so she lies to the girl to make her stop believing she’s a princess and then the boy sets out to kill the witch.” He started beaming as he began to describe some more violent acts of the story.
Boys, Delia thought to herself.
“Ash, do you remember what happened last year?”
Ash sat there, his face still and slightly puzzled. Finally, he shrugged.
“Do you remember your friend Gary’s mother passing away and Amber too?” she asked him, even though she didn’t want to upset the boy. She had had to let him sleep in her bed for weeks afterward because he was having nightmares, but after his initial mourning he seemed to forget all about it. Still, she was surprised when he looked down at the floor first and then nodded. “Well, is that why you and Molly are going to do this play? Because you’re upset? If it is, it’s alright to talk about it, too.”
Ash sighed and rolled his eyes and turned back to the television. “Gaaawwwwsssshhhh, Mom … I’m not a little kid, y’know. I can take lots of bad news. I’m not a crybaby. Gary and I want to be in it ‘cause there’s lots of fighting and rescuing. We can be heroes. Some stupid gloomy funeral doesn’t bother us. Get a life, Mom.” He started bouncing on the floor as he became more animated with the thought of acting in this play. “Besides, Professor Oak’s gonna let us borrow some pokemon and they’re going to be in the play too. It’s going to be so cool, we should charge people to show up and Gary and I can be rich too, like Molly is!”
“What makes you think she’s rich?”
Ash glanced at her like she didn’t know the sky was blue. “Jeez, Mom … she lives in a super-huge house with a gazillion rooms and has servants and everything. Her dad must have money in his bedroom that reaches to his ceiling.” He thought for a moment before adding with a playful grin, “Or maybe his house is made of money that they just painted over. That’d be cool!”
Delia lay back on the couch, stunned by Ash’s choice of words to describe … Molly’s father. Molly’s father? “Ash,” she managed to say at last, “what do you think of your … of Molly’s father? Do you remember seeing him when you were younger?”
Ash shrugged and pulled on the bottom of his yellow pajama top, stretching it over his ever-growing legs. “A little, I guess. Molly’s dad lives in Greenfield and he’s a scientist like Professor Oak but he doesn’t let you play around like Professor Oak does. He actually kinda sucks. I can see why Molly likes coming over here better. Professor Oak is more fun.”
Delia sat up, straightening her pink cotton nightgown, and bent over to hug her only son, who struggled to get out of her embarrassing embrace.
She was deeply saddened, but she was also very happy …
… that he didn’t see her crying silently.
The next morning Delia went outside to the snow-covered ground in her backyard and spotted Gary, whose dark red hair seemed to match the dark blue shirt and blue jeans he wore, Ash, wearing his favorite orange-and-white striped shirt and blue jean shorts, and Molly, the youngest, with her light-blue jumper and a picture of a lapras on the front. The air was quite warm since the cold front had moved through and the snow was beginning to melt in the sunlight. The boys were telling Molly about the play, barely masking their frustration that she seemed too young to understand what was going on … and what “pretend” meant.
Gary held the book in his hands as he told Molly about her part in the play, while she cried next to a spherical pink balloon-like pokemon called a jigglypuff. He growled, but managed to keep a smile on his face. “Molly, I’m telling you: the jigglypuff has to be Molly. You can’t be Molly.”
Molly wailed and hugged the pokemon tighter. “I am Molly! I wanna be Molly!” She repeated “I wanna be Molly” over and over until Ash calmly put her hand on her short brown hair.
“Molly,” Ash said soothingly, “there’s a princess in this story. Do you want to be the normal little girl or do you want to be the princess?”
Molly’s four-year-old eyes lit up. “I wanna be a p’incess!” she announced, dropping her arms and releasing a relieved pokemon from her grasp. She got up and started twirling around. “Look! I can dance like a p’incess! See?” She began to laugh at her own attempts to dizzy herself with dancing. The boys glanced at each other and sighed. Finally, they could begin the play.
“Uh,” Gary noted, “but we don’t have a witch. Where are we going to get one?”
Ash scratched his head for a moment. “Maybe Mom can be the witch.”
“Ash!” Delia exclaimed. The boys jumped at her voice and blushed.
“Sorry, Mrs. Ketchum,” Gary said. “We didn’t mean you were a witch. We were only going to pretend.”
“Missus Ketzum is too nice to be a witch,” Molly complained while stroking the little curl of fur above the jigglypuff’s eyes. “The witch should be someone ugly and mean.”
Professor Oak suddenly appeared behind Delia and pinched her on the shoulder, making her yelp and jump about two feet off the ground. She spun around and pushed the professor away. “Don’t do that!”
He laughed, his long white lab coat swaying in a brief breeze. “I’m sorry, Delia,” he told her playfully. “I just wanted to see how Gary’s play was doing.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Ever since Marie died, I’ve tried to raise the boy as best I can. I don’t want him to be unduly influenced by his father. I want to raise Gary into an upstanding member of the pokemon community.” He started talking again so that the children could hear him. “Anyway, what’s the problem? I thought you kids were going to have a play today.”
Gary shook his head. “We can’t find a witch to kill like in the book. There aren’t any girls around … well, except Molly and she wants to be the princess … and we can’t think of a pokemon that would like being attacked.”
“I see,” the professor noted, stroking his chin. Suddenly, his eyes lit up. “I have it! I’ll bring over one of my pokemon who knows Substitute. It creates a fake version of itself that you can attack as much as you like and it won’t hurt the pokemon one bit. You can dress it up as your witch and blow it to kingdom come, if you like.”
“That’s perfect!” Ash replied happily. The children continued their discussions about the various events in the play as Professor Oak tugged at Delia’s sleeve.
“Delia,” he said quietly, “I need to talk to you.”
“Of course, Professor.” They rounded the corner to the front of the house. “What is it?”
“I’ve noticed the way you look when you deal with Molly. Delia, you can’t take out your frustrations about Spencer on her. She’s done nothing to deserve your contempt.”
Delia could kick herself. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t escape her teacher’s expert gaze. Well, she thought to herself, there was no point in lying now. “Professor, this is the third time this year I’ve had to babysit that girl because her father is busy going on lecture tours around Johto. I’m considering asking a judge to yank away his visitation rights, as good as it does Ash. Ash doesn’t even associate Spencer with fatherhood anymore. It’s like Spencer doesn’t even exist. Yet, despite his complete lack of wanting to see his son, he wants me to take care of his child, not his own wife, while he avoids his responsibilities. It’s not fair!”
Professor Oak sighed and leaned back to peek at the children as they began their play in the back. “Delia, I know you think the girl is spoiled to the core, but she is a princess, of a kind.”
“Yeah, the spoiled kind.”
“She’s the light of Ash, Delia,” he replied somberly and almost pleadingly. “And maybe Gary too. All three have parents who have been missing from their lives for some time now and by playing with Molly the two boys can also come to grips with their own grief. Ash has the added benefit of playing with Molly since she’s the only reminder of his father he has left. If she were to go away, he’d have nothing but fading memories. You shouldn’t take that away from him, Delia. He may not see his relationship with Molly as such, but you can tell that they explore their pain only with each other, not with any of the other kids in Pallet. They will heal themselves by helping her heal from all her frustrations and disappointments. I,” he said, pausing to place his hand on her shoulder, “just don’t want your hatred of Spencer to shield Ash from a potential source of healing, that’s all. Two of my colleagues, Kurt and Dr. Fuji, have recently lost loved ones and have turned themselves into hermits, living alone in their houses and shunning everyone who might be able to help them. I don’t want Gary and Ash to end up the same way … or Molly. When you hide from the world, it ends up consuming you.”