Johnny sits down at the kitchen table with its red-and-white, checkered tablecloth, as his mother places a glass of milk and his birthday cake in front of him.
The birthday cake is nothing more than a small cupcake smeared with icing with five lighted candles stuck into it, but to Johnny it is the biggest and most beautiful cake he has ever seen.
“Oh, Mother,” cries Johnny, giving her a great big hug, “thank you ever so much! Are you going to have some?” he asks, seeing her place is empty.
“I am not hungry, son,” says Maria, knowing the cupboard is nearly bare. “Are you going to make a wish?”
“Oh yes,” says Johnny, as he makes his wish and blows out the candles with one breath.
“Now I am going to read you the story ‘The Adventures of Freddie Fingernail’ for your birthday,” says Maria, opening a large, colorfully illustrated children’s book. She lovingly runs her fingers through Johnny’s unruly hair. “It’s about a mouse named Freddie Fingernail who was born no bigger than a fingernail, wears a pair of red suspenders to hold up his breeches and is fearless.”
“Is Freddie afraid of nothing, mother?” asks Johnny, shaking his ruffled hair.
“Yes, Freddie is afraid of the parish cat with its sharp, rapier-like claws,” explains Maria. “The cat strikes fear into the hearts of all the mice living beneath the floor boards of Father Michael’s study in St. Thomas’ Church. Freddie, because he is not afraid of being afraid, is fearless.”
Johnny eagerly throws his elbows on the table and cups his chin on his hands as Maria begins.
“Freddie’s apartment has a brass, nutcracker door knocker, tin-can-and-string intercom, thick, plush, wall-to-wall carpeting, cotton filled, matchbox chairs, harmonica box chesterfield, sardine can coffee table, pork pie can dining table with matching, cufflink stools, pincushion humpty and pocket flashlight lamps.
Kings, queens, and knaves stare with sightless eyes from playing-card papers walls.
Freddie sits in his matchbox armchair.”
Maria is pleased Johnny’s interest is completely captured with her story, as his toy boat lays on the floor by his dangling feet.
“A toy soldier, in a bright red, shiny uniform, stands in a corner, beating on his drum.
The THUMP, THUMP, THUMP of the cat’s footsteps is heard overhead.
The cat’s cold, green, unblinking eyes stare down at Freddie through the cracks in the floor. Freddie removes the drum from the toy soldier, whose arms continue to flail wildly and noiselessly until its key runs down. He switches off the pocket flashlight lamps and crouches in the darkness, as the hot breath of the cat pours down upon him.
The cat’s sharp claws slash at him greedily. Freddie is fearless. He climbs the cat’s tail dangling though the knothole in the floor and wraps his paw in the cat’s flea collar rodeo style. The startled cat, hissing and spitting madly, jumps up and down, twisting and turning in the air, trying to shake Freddie off its back. Billowing clouds of wool rise like dust from the patch of claw-torn carpet.”
‘Ride, Freddie! Ride!’ cries Johnny, laughing with delight.