Nobody knows just who Mitzy Bunkler is. Not anymore. Because here’s the thing: Mitzy Bunkler isn’t real. She has never existed. Not ever, not in the whole of history and space and time. But to one little boy who lived in a little country in a little town that sat on the edge of a little hill, Mitzy Bunkler was the most very real person in the entire universe, and all the universes beyond.
Mitzy Bunkler, you see, is a picture. Not the kind you find in a museum, but the kind you might see as you’re walking down your sidewalk. You’re looking straight ahead, not paying much attention to what’s around you, and as the wind picks up or a fly or a bit of dust swirls itself up into your face, and you blink, which is only natural. But just before you blink, something in the corner of your eye, something you can’t quite see and don’t even quite know is there, moves. It just moves for a second, not even that — more like one trillionth of a second — and then it’s gone, you’ve opened your eyes again and the shadows in the corner of your eyes are just shadows again, harmless shadows that don’t move unless the sun does, and within another trillionth of a second you’ve completely forgotten about it, because you’re used to this. This happens every single time you blink.
Try it. Blink.
There. You just saw Mitzy Bunkler. She was there, just barely, ever so slightly there. But you don’t remember. You’ve gone and opened your eyes, and now you’ve forgotten again.
The thing about pictures like Mitzy Bunkler is that there really aren’t any. She’s the only one, there’s nothing like her, and remember, she doesn’t even exist. She’s the kind of picture that moves when you see something shift behind your reflection in your mirror. That shift that wasn’t there anymore when you turned around, that was Mitzy, that was her existing for just a little while.
Mitzy Bunkler: the loneliest, most wonderous, and most beautiful picture that no one, no one except one little boy, has ever seen.
That little boy’s name was Timmy.
Timmy was average. That was what everyone said. Of course, Timmy, being only six, wasn’t exactly sure what “average” meant, but he didn’t think he liked it very much. People always said it with an uncertain shrug, an uncertainly cocked eyebrow, an uncertainly crooked mouth, as if they weren’t quite sure of who exactly Timmy was and couldn’t think of another word to describe him besides “average”.
“Yes, Tallulah is a miraculously brilliant young child, not to mention pretty. Todd is doing wonderfully in his PE classes, but his math and reading could use some work. And Timmy… Timmy, Timmy… Who…? Ah yes, Timmy,” the principal of Timmy’s elementary school might say, nearly missing Timmy’s name on the list of student’s in Timmy’s class because he was busy trying not to spill a drop of coffee on Tallulah’s name, “How is young Timmy?”
“Oh,” his teacher might respond, her shoulder’s shrugged, her eyebrow cocked, her mouth crooked, and her mind focused on something else, “Oh, average, I suppose. I wouldn’t know. Doesn’t really talk much.”
That part, Timmy knew, was true. He didn’t talk much. He sat in the back of his classroom with the other T’s (except for Tallulah, who sat in the front row because she was pretty and got all A’s on her homework assignments), dutifully coloring his skies blue and his grasses green, answering on his math worksheets that a one and a one make a two and sometimes another one, but never a three, writing his name in neat cursive handwriting, remembering which hand was on the left and which was on the right, reading “A Cat in The Hat” during quiet time, when the teacher would sit behind her computer screen and laugh very loudly at whatever it was she was looking at and snap if any of the children made a noise, and occasionally answering a question when the teacher called on him during lessons. He never spoke out of turn, never forgot his homework, never cut in line, and always ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a sliced up apple for lunch. Everybody knew he was there, but nobody seemed to notice that he existed. And who could blame them, wondered Timmy. He didn’t exactly stand out from the crowd.
Timmy lived with his mother, his father, and his pet dog, Arnold. His mother worked part-time as a nurse at the doctor’s office, and then came home at the same time as Timmy. His father taught an art class at the little town college and came home for dinner, his hands, face, and clothing spattered with paint and clay, to wash up and play with Timmy and Arnold for a while before sitting down to eat whatever Mother had cooked. Then Timmy would do his homework while his parents cleaned up dinner, and then the four of them would sit in the living room (Timmy and his parents on couches, Arnold on the floor because for him couches were out-of-bounds) and watch a show on the television. Sometimes they would watch a film (his father called them “documentaries”) about something important like Ancient Egypt. Other times they would watch a movie, a real one, with a story and characters and morals. When they watched these, Mother would always quiz Timmy about the morals to see if he could spot them. Timmy liked it when Mother quizzed him. It made him feel special.
Then, once Mother and Dad were sure that he had understood the morals of the movie, Dad would scoop Timmy up onto his back and carry him up the stairs to the bathroom, where they would brush their teeth together and see who could get their teeth the whitest. Then they’d have a race to see who could get into their pajamas fastest. Dad always let Timmy win, and then he’d tell him a bedtime story as a prize. Dad’s stories were all about people who went on grand adventures and saw marvelous sights and defeated terrible foes. Magical, wonderous, beautiful, completely impossible stories that had Timmy sitting up in bed, his knees and covers pulled up to his chin, his eyes huge. And then Dad would kiss him goodnight, tuck him into bed, and go to send Mother up to Timmy’s room. Mother would sit on the edge of Timmy’s bed, ruffle his hair, check his knees and elbows for bumps and bruises, tickle his armpits to make him laugh, and then kiss him goodnight. As she leaned in to give him a kiss she would always whisper, “Never forget that Dad and I love you very much.” and Timmy never did forget it. What if he was average at school? At home, he had the best parents and the best dog in the whole world. When Mother left, Arnold would leap up onto Timmy’s bed, and Timmy would put one arm around the big dog and bury his face in Arnold’s fur. Timmy didn’t care much whether or not Arnold smelled bad.
Then the next day he would go to school and Mother and Dad would go to work, and he would be quietly average again. Quietly Average Timmy. That was him. Whatever “average” meant.
Timmy didn’t like being average very much.
One day, Timmy felt so very invisible that when he came home from school, he didn’t play in the yard with Arnold, or wrestle with Dad, or eat Mom’s dinner. He didn’t even do his homework. He got off the bus, walked through his door, marched up the stairs and slammed the door. Mother was worried about him. She tried to get him to come out and talk to her, or to let her come in so she could talk to him, but he wouldn’t do it. Eventually Mother decided to wait until Dad got home and went downstairs to make dinner, so Arnold took her place by the door and whined his worries at Timmy through the wood. But Timmy still wouldn’t come out. When Dad got home, he tried, too, but to no avail; Timmy was going to stay in his room all night long and he wasn’t coming out. So Dad and Mother and Arnold talked it over and decided that something was definitely making Timmy very sad, but they couldn’t make him talk about it. So they decided to let him have his space, and ate dinner and cleaned up without him, but they left his plate on the table.
Eventually, Timmy came down. Mother heated up his dinner for him in the microwave, and she and Dad went into the living room to watch television shows until he was done. When he finished, he washed his plate, standing on tip-toe so that he could reach the sink, did his homework, and followed his parents into the living room.
He stood in the doorway for a minute, not sure what to do.
“Dad? Mother?” he said finally.
Dad turned off the television. “Hey, kiddo,” he said, he and Mother turning around to look at him. “You finish you dinner?”
“Wash your plate?”
“Do your homework?”
“Had enough quiet time?”
“Okay.” Dad patted the space on the couch between him and Mother. “Let’s talk.”
So Timmy talked. He sat in between Dad and Mother with Arnold on the floor in front of him, and told them everything: about sitting in the back of the class, about not talking much, about blue skies and one plus one and cursive handwriting, about the teacher’s computer and the principal’s coffee, about Tallulah sitting in the front row because she was special, and most of all, about “average”. His parents and Arnold sat and listened. They didn’t say a lot, they just watched him and listened to what he had to say, occasionally glancing at each other with expressions that Timmy didn’t quite understand. Finally, he finished. He took a very deep breath, and then looked from Dad to Arnold to Mother, wondering what was supposed to happen next, and hoping that whatever it was made him feel better.
Mother put her arm around Timmy’s shoulders. She didn’t say anything at first, or look at Timmy. She and Dad were both staring at the black television screen, looking very thoughtful. Then Mother turned her head to look at Timmy, and she said very quietly, “Timmy, you aren’t average. There’s no such thing as average. Average is a made-up thing. It’s imaginary.”
“But it isn’t,” said Timmy, surprised. “It’s real. Teacher talks about average grades and test scores all the time.”
Dad shook his head. “‘Average’ means what happens often. An average grade is the grade that most kids in a certain grade level are likely to get on a test or something. ‘Average’ can apply to things like tests and grades, but when people try to use it on other people, the word becomes imaginary.”
“You don’t happen often, Timmy,” said Mother. “You happen only once. You can’t be average because there are lots of people in the world, but only one Timmy. Only one you.”
As if to prove what Mother and Dad were saying, Arnold barked and nestled his nose in between Timmy’s sneakers. He sniffed them, and barked again.
“There’s only one Arnold, too,” laughed Timmy, wiping his nose on the back of his hand.
“Only one Arnold,” agreed Dad, smiling and scratching Arnold between the ears. “Arnold is not your average dog.”
“And I’m not your average Timmy,” replied Timmy, smiling back.
“No, you’re absolutely not,” said Mother. “Timmy, you know those stories your dad tells you every night? The ones about knights and dragons and strange worlds where magic happens?”
“The people in those stories might seem incredible, but at the beginning of the story, everybody thinks they’re pretty average.”
Timmy blinked. He hadn’t noticed that.
“What I mean, Timmy, is that no matter how average people think you are, no matter how invisible you may seem to others, and no matter how much you think you blend in, wonderous, beautiful, and miraculous things can still happen to you. You can make them happen to you. You don’t have to seem special to other people to make the world magical.”
Timmy went to bed that night feeling much better. Dad told him a story, Mother checked him for bumps and bruises, and Timmy went to sleep feeling peaceful and happy.
That was the night that Mitzy Bunkler appeared in his toy box.
Don’t worry, reader. I haven’t forgotten Mitzy Bunkler, though everyone else has. Mitzy Bunkler, the strange, lonely, just-out-of-sight picture was about to become Timmy’s first wonder.
It began at midnight.
… went the toy box. Timmy and Arnold didn’t move. Arnold snored.
… went the toy box again. Arnold started, lifted up his head, and gazed at the toy box uncertainly. Were Mother and Dad just moving around? Or was there really something in the toy box?
There was a long silence. Arnold put his head back down.
Arnold leapt to his feet, scowling at the toy box. He growled at it, his fur bristling. Something was in there…
Timmy stirred, rubbed his eyes, and sat up, blinking and squinting furiously.
“What? Arnold, what’s wrong –”
BUMP, BUMP, BUMP!!!
Timmy gasped and grabbed onto Arnold’s head. “Arnold, what is it? What’s in my toy box?”
BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP!!!!
Timmy started to call for Mother and Dad, but the toy box bumped again, and this time, he heard a tiny “ouch!!” from inside it.
And for the first time, the thought occurred to Timmy that whatever was in his toy box might not want to be in there. Maybe it wasn’t a monster trying to scare him. Maybe, just maybe, it was trying to be somewhere else, but it was stuck in his toy box.
Something magical was trapped. In Timmy’s toy box.
Timmy decided, then and there, that he was going to let it out.
And that’s when the miracle started.