The light of the outside lantern came through the small window of his room, where plastic action figures, little cars, and the stuffed leopard were strewn about. Mom was against the leopard from the start. She said she didn’t like the leopard because it collected dust, and she warned that “he can’t go to the beach with us, he’s afraid of water, and there’s nothing for him to do there.” But Nick hadn’t even thought of taking the leopard to the beach; Nick was already big enough to know what you could and couldn’t do. Tomorrow, when they would go to the beach, he’d only take what was most necessary: fins, a mask, Pokémon cards, a flying snake, an inflatable shark, a ball, and… the leopard, if mom didn’t notice. It would be good to bring the laptop, too, but Nick was a realist and wouldn’t even dream of it.

Nick looked around, noticed the familiar shape of his stuffed leopard on the floor, and grabbed its tail. In a moment, the leopard lay next to his head on the pillow.

Nick thought about his mother: she is strict, constantly requiring him to write his alphabet nicely, and to study his math. She checked over all his homework. Mom also likes to listen to classical music and flip through fashion magazines. She is always peaceful and thoughtfully nice while she was engaged in these activities. And sometimes she would take up a little leather-bound book embossed with a golden cross, bless herself, and start to pray in a quiet voice. She would sometimes wipe the tears from her eyes, and then Nick would feel sorry for her.

Dad doesn’t pray, doesn’t wear a cross, and doesn’t read boring books. Dad always has a camera or a video camera. He often goes out for a long while, or stays in his room for a time—where even mom isn’t allowed to go without permission. Unfortunately, dad’s film, which Nick’s parents talked much about and which many guests noisily discussed, was completely uninteresting: no dinosaurs or Spiderman at all. Children of the same age as him, or slightly older, most of them bald and very thin, talk about their dreams, their aspirations, and their pains. All this is very boring for Nick, and honestly even a bit scary.

Dad sometimes, very rarely though, goes with them to church, which Nick finds a total yawn. There is no entertainment at all. Nick waits until the mournful singing is finished and he can take communion from the priest’s hand. Then afterwards: to the pizzeria or McDonalds!