August 2008 Volume Two Issue Five
Family - Mary Hodge
"Hey! Don't throw that out!" Tony protested, fishing a tattered paperback out of the trash. "I haven't finished reading it yet."
"So what's it doing in the fridge?" I asked crossly. Cleaning out the refrigerator is a depressing job at best, even when you don't have to dodge your brother's science fiction collection. "Why don't you keep it on a bookshelf like a normal person?"
Tony polished an apple on his sleeve and loftily replied that there were some concepts too complex for the feminine mind to grasp.
"Mmph," I said in my simple feminine way. "Go play in another galaxy, will you?"
Tony ignored the suggestion, and began to rummage through the fridge. "You haven't tossed my science project have you?" He peered into a plastic container of unidentified leftovers. It was infested with a bluish-white mold. "Growing your own penicillin?"
"Don't shove it in my face!"
"Does the Food and Drug Administration know about this?" he asked. "Does the local Witch and Warlock Union?"
"Oh, shut up, Tony." This was a sore spot.
"'Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.'" Tony stirred an imaginary cauldron with a demonic grin on his face.
"I said, 'Shut up.'"
"'Eye of newt, and toe of frog.'"
"'Wool of bat, and tongue --'"
I lost my temper, and Tony disappeared in a puff of blue smoke. That blue smoke was inexcusable, but I tend to get dramatic when I'm mad. Uncle Fen has warned me to keep that under control. I still forget sometimes, though I haven't had any real disasters since I was little.
Mother was still alive when our kindergarten teacher had that nervous breakdown, but it was Uncle Fen who bawled me out. And he was the one who began giving me lessons in discipline and control while Mother cried in the bedroom. Uncle Fen says that with a little luck, a lot of prayer, and a couple hundred years of practice, I'll learn to flare up like normal people do. Maybe. He doesn't think I'll ever stop losing my temper though. That runs in the family too.
Tony began pounding on the basement door. I let him. It was safely locked from the outside. Then the pounding stopped as Tony began probing for the key.
"Oh, no you don't!" I cried as the kitchen catch-all drawer slid open. Slowly, the key to the basement door untangled itself from the rest of the clutter and floated gracefully across the room. Luckily, Tony's not 100 percent clairvoyant. I was able to snatch the key long before it reached the lock.
"Got it!" I shouted, just in case Tony hadn't realized that yet. Evidently he had. There was silence for a moment. Then all the food in the refrigerator rose in unison and flung itself, lemming-like, to the floor. Except the eggs. They fluttered above my head like undecided moths, before perching in neat rows on the window sill. My brother has a well developed sense of showmanship.
He also has an unlimited imagination. I decided to let him out before he really put it into high gear.
I let go of the key, but Tony was sulking, and it fell to the floor. I sighed, picked it up, and walked over to the door and unlocked it. No response. I opened the door a crack and peered cautiously down into the gloom. "Tony?" I didn't see him anywhere.
I shoulda looked up.
"Gotcha!" Tony crowed as I floated helplessly to the ceiling.
"You shouldn't have done that," I said through clenched teeth. I never feel comfortable with my feet off the ground, and Tony knows it. He sat cross-legged in the air, just out of reach, and grinned at me.
"If you zap me," he said, "you drop."
"If you drop me, you're zapped."
"Truce?" he offered.
"Truce." I held my breath as he slowly floated me to the ground.
"By the way," he added, still floating above my head, "Claire is back in the house now. She's on her way to the kitchen."
"Oh, rats!" I groaned. "Quick, Tony. Be a good little monster and zip that stuff back into the fridge."
"Not a chance."
"Tony! Please!" But he ignored me. I gnashed my teeth and dashed upstairs to salvage what I could, wishing, for the six-thousand-five-hundred and forty-four millionth time, that I had my brother's gift of levitation. I can teleport objects from one point in space to another almost instantaneously. But when you've got a bunch of stuff to deal with . . . Well, it's quicker and easier to pick things up by hand.
"Next time don't be such an old witch," Tony advised. I didn't answer. But this time I refrained from blue smoke as Tony disappeared into the old wardrobe in the attic. And this time I didn't mean to let him out.
I had taken those stairs two at a time, but our stepmother had already discovered the mess in the kitchen.
"Oh, Terry!" Claire dumped the grocery bags on the table and sighed as she kicked off her shoes. She sat down, shaking her red-gold curls out of her face, and wiggled her toes. She looked too young and pretty to be stepmother to two twelve year olds. "Just look at this! Can't I trust you to do anything while I'm gone?"
"It wasn't my fault."
"I suppose everything in the fridge just leapt out at you."
"It's that Tony. He--" I caught myself. Claire gave me an odd look.
"It takes two to fight," she remarked as she reached under the chair to pick up a tired lettuce leaf and a banana that had seen better days. "Every time I leave the house the two of you get into some kind of trouble. What was it this time?"
"Well . . . we were . . . kind of messing around."
"Obviously," she said.
"So am I restricted? Or is it no TV?"
Claire rubbed the side of her nose thoughtfully. "I think I'll let your father handle that one. But what am I going to do next week when he's gone?"
"Donate Tony to the zoo?" I suggested hopefully.
"Where is your brother, anyway?"
"Tony?" I began picking things up industriously. "Oh, he left. Suddenly."
"He should be helping you," Claire said. "Where did he go?" I picked up the little bowl of mold that had started the whole thing.
"He just disappeared, Claire. You know Tony." But she didn't really. Thank goodness!
My stepmom is cool in the extreme. She has to be. She's got my father on her hands and us twins as well. But I was willing to bet there were some things even she couldn't handle.
"How long is Dad going to be gone?" I asked quickly.
"With your father, who knows?" Claire smiled as she stacked the canned goods.
"He was gone six months before he came back and told us he was married again."
"That's a long time. You must have missed him."
"I'll say. Besides, Uncle Fen is a lousy cook." I shuddered. "Beans and franks four nights a week! Canned soup and frozen waffles the rest of the time."
Claire smiled. "I guess all the men in this family are strange," she said.
I looked up sharply. Tony?
"Your father's ideas of courtship are matched only by your uncle's on nutrition." She laughed, and I did too. It seems that Dad had turned up at the museum where she worked and politely asked her to get her hat, coat, and purse because he was going to marry her -- and did she have any objections? I guess she did because she called the security guard to march him out of the building. But eventually Dad got his way. He always does.
I've never heard Dad's side of the story. But then, he doesn't talk to us much. Me and Tony, I mean. I think he forgets we're not as telepathic as he is. That's why we were never quite sure how much our new stepmother knew about our family -- and its peculiarities.
I mean, Dad's proposal can be passed off as eccentric. Maybe even cute. But he didn't walk into that museum by chance. It's 150 miles away. No, he sat in our public library most of the summer flipping through phone books till he found her name. I know. I made the daily trek to the library with his sack lunch each noon.
"There," said Claire, folding the last grocery sack. "Would you go find your brother? Tell him I want him to throw out the trash."
"Sure, Claire." I skipped out of the kitchen, but took my time going up the stairs. I didn't know how mad Tony would be.
Apparently he'd already taken some private form of revenge. No old lamps or books came flying through the air when I opened the attic door. He probably had my homework papers floating near the ceiling in my bedroom.
"Don't interrupt. I'm plotting your death by slow torture." His voice, muffled by the wardrobe, had all the ominous quality of two peanut better sandwiches. "Did she catch you?
"No," I replied. "But why didn't you warn me? I don't think we can keep this up much longer."
"Don't say we!" Tony's voice was sharp. "This is your hang-up, not mine."
"If I hadn't covered for you the past few months, Claire would be a nervous wreck by now." I unlocked the wardrobe and yanked it open furiously. "And you don't even try to help."
Tony stepped out of the wardrobe, patted my head, and offered me a lint-covered piece of licorice that had been in his pocket for the last two days.
"Did you ever notice how your ears turn red when you shout?" he said.
"Be serious, Tony."
"Why should I? It might be habit forming." I threw the key at him, and his stupid piece of licorice. I threw an old catcher's mitt. I had just begun to fling old National Geographics when Tony grabbed hold of my arms and forced me to sit down on a dusty carton of old magazines.
"You are scared," said Tony.
"You're right," I said. "And very, very tired. How much longer do you think I can go on covering for you?"
"Did I ask you to?"
"And if I don't," I said bitterly, "and Claire finds out she married into a family of freaks?" I wondered if Tony had forgotten our first kindergarten class. I wish I could. Especially the little boy who used to whimper fearfully and run whenever he saw us. Not that I blamed him. Even Mother used to flinch when she'd come into the bedroom and find Tony curled up fast asleep and floating six inches above his bed. It must have been hard for her to accept my father's peculiarities, and harder still to see them sprouting up in her children.
"Bet she knows more than you think," said Tony. "Grownups always do." I shook my head.
"Bet she doesn't, or she wouldn't still be here. After all, Dad doesn't act as weird as he used to."
"Well, yeah," Tony agreed with a grin. "But I should think Claire was his problem, not yours. Anyway, I don't see why you're so worried. Don't you think she can take it?" I didn't answer. What kind of reaction would you expect from a woman who finds out -- suddenly -- that her family is a bunch of weirds? People who don't know why they do the things they do, or how they do them? My stomach churned.
"I don't know," I said. "I don't want to find out."
Tony held me by the wrists, and my rapid pulse began to slow. I could feel the tension, bitterness, anger, and fear drain quietly out of my system.
"Stop it, Tony!" I jerked my wrists out of his hands. "I'll be mad if I want to." Tony got up and walked lazily across the room. He stood for a moment, as if listening to something, then bent over and picked up the scorned piece of licorice and the wardrobe key. He locked the wardrobe and put the key in his pocket.
"I guess I was right the first time," he said with a mocking smile. "You're just an old witch -- in more ways than one."
I hesitated. I really did, for at least five seconds. Tony speculated on the uses to which I put hair cuttings and finger nail clippings and the probable nature of my relationship with the kitchen broom. I seethed -- and he was back in the wardrobe. I wasn't sure, the sides of that wardrobe are thick, but I thought I heard him chuckle.
"What are you laughing about?"
"The wardrobe is locked," he said. "And the key is inside with me."
"So what? I can zap you out again. When I'm good and ready, that is." I heard the distinct sound of a chortle.
"What's so funny?"
The way you're going to explain to Claire how I got into a wardrobe that's locked on the outside."
I had scarcely begun to outline the long and lonely residence he might expect in said wardrobe, when the click of a doorknob and the squeak of hinges brought me down from the heights of my eloquent rage to the present awkward reality.
"Terry, what have you been doing all this time?" Claire stood, hands on hips, waiting for an explanation.
"Uh, looking for Tony. Like you told me to."
"I'm in here, Claire." Tony's voice was cheerful as he pounded on the wardrobe door. "Terry locked me in."
"I did not!" I hollered which, strictly speaking, was true.
"Spare me the grisly details." Claire sounded exasperated as she tried the wardrobe door and found it locked. "Where's the key, Terry?"
I probably looked as uncomfortable as I felt. "I don't have it."
"I do," said Tony ever helpful. "In here."
"And what's it doing inside a wardrobe that's locked from the outside?"
"It took talent, Claire. Ask Terry."
My stomach hurt. And Claire was still waiting.
"Every time I turn around you two get into some kind of mess." She paused, and raised a puzzled eyebrow. A curious expression flitted across her face, as though she were listening to something that was faint and very far off. "Terry Masterson, I don't know what kind of feud you and your brother have got going, but I want it stopped right now! Do you hear?" I heard the phone ringing downstairs, but Claire ignored it. After five or six rings it stopped. "Your father is leaving town next week and I don't intend to put up with this sort of thing. Now you let your brother out of that wardrobe right now!"
"I can't!" I hollered. "I haven't got the key!"
"Then how did you get him in?" Claire could yell as loud as I could.
"I zapped him in."
"Then you can just zap him out, young lady!"
I did. Then I waited for the disbelief and horror that would spread across her face; I steeled myself for her revulsion.
"I don't care how mad you are, Terry. That blue smoke is inexcusable." Claire laughed at the shock on my face. "There, there," she soothed, brushing my hair out of my eyes as though I were a little child. "I hope there are better ways to manage you besides making you lose your temper."
"But, but how can you --" Claire tilted my chin up so that I had to look into her green-gold eyes. "Every family has its own little quirks and peculiarities," she said. "Look at the family I came from. My father eats spaghetti for breakfast. My brother writes science fiction. My mother plays the krummhorn. And we all . . . Well, not many people know about it, but we all . . ." She paused, with that listening look on her face again. "Tony, will you go answer the telephone?"
"What phone?" he protested. "I don't hear anything."
"And tell your father I'll be glad to wait dinner for him."
Downstairs the phone began to ring
- END -