Chapter 7: The relatives come to visit
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
Summer cannot come quickly enough. School’s been a drag, since I already know the material. People seem out of sorts, waiting for summer. Or maybe they’re just waiting for the mud to go away.
But it’s not summer today. It’s the Saturday before the Memorial Day weekend, as close to summer as one can get and still be in the cruel grips of what passes for spring in this cold and dreary land. And it’s the day Uncle Jeff is coming to visit.
Mom’s in a tizzy. Everything, everything must be in perfect shape for Uncle Jeff. Yeah, well, since Uncle Jeff bought her and Stan this house, I can understand why she’s freaking out. Making it worse is that she doesn’t know when he’ll be arriving, or what his plans are.
But why do I have to be part of the everything she’s trying to make perfect? I don’t do perfect. She’s had my hair permed again, and yet another new dress. She even insisted on high heels, and went with me to buy them. I had to break a glass vase one of the times I fell before she realized I could not walk in the things and relented.
We are all sitting around in the living room, Mom dividing her attention between us and watching for Uncle Jeff out the window. Of the five of us, Freddie is the least uncomfortable; he’s still allowed to dress like a kid. Donna has a pimple, and is in agonies that Uncle Jeff’s wife Tara will comment on it. And Stan is doing his best not to look at the clock to see whether he’s going to miss the game. He looks unnatural without his baseball cap on.
Mom turns to us. “They’re here.” She looks back out the window, and says, “New car, Stan.” She pauses, and then snorts, “And I can’t believe the skimpy outfit Tara is wearing.” Tara is not one of my mother’s favorite relatives.
Uncle Jeff comes through the door. He and Mom look much alike, light brown hair, medium build, and generally fit. But Uncle Jeff is almost twenty years older than Mom, the oldest of the three siblings. (Aunt Charlene is almost exactly in between them in age, and doesn’t look like either of them.) He calls out to my mother, “Roberta,” and gives her a big hug.
In comes Tara, and, yes, she’s wearing a skimpy outfit for the weather: a dress with a deep v-neck that ends way above her knees. How far above? I can see she’s wearing lacy black panties.
While Uncle Jeff is working the rest of the family, Tara and Mom face off. Mom likes being the pretty one in the family. It’s okay for Donna to be prettier, after all, she’s Mom’s daughter, but the wife of Uncle Jeff should be an older woman. Not Tara, who’s the whole of 21, and has the body of a centerfold. Tara somehow manages to make my mother feel old without any indication that she’s trying. Maybe that makes it even worse for my mom. She’s got on a wide smile, but I can tell it’s costing her an effort.
Having tackled everyone else, Uncle Jeff greets me. “How’s my favorite niece, besides my other favorite niece?”
“Trying to escape second place,” I reply.
My mother hears me and throws a frown my way. Uncle Jeff realizes he put his foot in his mouth, and says, “Well, I’ve got a little something that might help that a bit. Come on out to the car with me.”
So we go out. New car indeed: shiny, enormous SUV. Uncle Jeff lights up when he sees me staring at it. “Brand new luxury SUV, Jane,” he tells me. “It’s got everything from electronic stabilization to voice-controlled GPS to an entertainment center that can stream movies off the Internet.”
“No hovercraft functionality?” I ask.
Uncle Jeff is nonplussed for a moment, and then laughs. “I put that in the specs, but they forgot and left it out. Maybe next time.” He reaches out and slides open one of the doors. “Take a look inside. And that present there, the flat one, is for you.”
I step in. It’s about what I expected. Not only does it have leather seats, but they have individually controlled heaters. This is really a luxury SUV, amazingly stupid concept though that is. I mean, it’s an SUV: sport utility vehicle. It’s supposed to be a stripped-down vehicle that can function off-road in the rough. This thing is so big that the only way it’s going into the woods is if someone rams a superhighway through first. People who need one of these are not going camping in the rough.
By the time I get out, clutching my present (it’s a book, I can tell through the wrapping paper), the others have come out, and Uncle Jeff is telling them all about the SUV. Everyone else is admiring, except Donna, who looks bored. Ever since I blew her off a month ago, Donna’s been even more distant with me that she was before. I regret doing it now. So I go back into the vehicle and get Uncle Jeff’s gift for Donna and bring it over to her. Donna gives me a quizzical look and then smiles. Maybe we’ll start talking. But not today.
Freddie sees what we’ve got and goes scooting over to the SUV to get his present. He pops out with it a moment later and starts opening it. Mom sees him and says, “Hold on there, Freddie. Let’s go inside so you can open your present properly and thank Uncle Jeff and Aunt Tara.”
Freddie’s face falls, but he knows better than to protest. So he heads into the house. And the rest of us follow behind.
It takes Freddie the whole of two seconds to unwrap his gift: a new video console and two new games to go with it. Donna gets a new smart phone. “With the first year service paid,” Uncle Jeff adds, thus sparing my mother a fit over the cost. Everyone turns to me. I’m sitting there with my present still wrapped up.
“Well, aren’t you going to open your present, dear?” my mother asks in that dangerous tone that presumes the answer to her question.
I don’t know why, but somehow I just want to stir things up a bit. “No,” I answer. “I think I’ll wait until later tonight, when people get bored.”
My mother turns red. Stan and Tara look at me as if I’m a two-headed calf. Only Uncle Jeff gets the joke. He laughs. “We’re bored now, princess. Our salvation rests in your hands. And that’s a special book you’ve got there. Your mother told me about what you’ve been reading, and I knew exactly what to get you.”
I prepare to gush undeservedly over whatever my uncle’s interpretation of my mother’s idea of what I’m reading amounts to. To my surprise, they actually got something right: this book is something I should have heard of but haven’t, and should really enjoy: The Supernaturalism of New England by John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier? Isn’t he nineteenth century or something? When was this book written? I flip to the opening pages. And there it is: 1847. Okay, it’s a reprint, but the text is old enough to be a legend itself. I look up with a big and authentic smile on my face. “Thank you, Uncle Jeff.”
I never thought I’d be disappointed at going back to Boston. Yet here I am, down by Fenway Park, wishing I were anywhere else.
We are sightseeing. Which is to say, Uncle Jeff is sightseeing. Stan, Mom, Donna, Freddie, and I, we’ve lived in Boston. We’ve seen all this before. What really makes this weird is that Uncle Jeff isn’t that big on history. He has to see the sights, but he doesn’t know much about them. Like, when we visited the Paul Revere House, Uncle Jeff figured that Paul Revere must have built it because it was named after him. That, if true, Paul Revere would have to be over a century old when the Revolution came if he had built this house is something Uncle Jeff just didn’t realize. And when we visited the Mapparium, Uncle Jeff couldn’t figure out why the political borders looked different, even though the guide mentioned that they’re from the 1930s. (I could have told him that even without the guide.) I almost told him that the lanterns that warned Paul Revere which way the British were coming had burned down the Old North Chuch, and then decided that one would get me into too much trouble if my mom found out. Besides, I like Uncle Jeff, mostly. Just not now.
Uncle Jeff is trying to explain Fenway Park to Tara. “This is where the Red Sox play, honey.”
Tara looks dubious, though perhaps that’s giving her too much credit for thought. “But I thought you told me this was a park. It looks like a building, not a park.”
“It’s a sports stadium. Some of them used to be called parks.”
“Oh.” Hard to judge from that exclamation whether Tara understands, or has given up on the subject. She looks at Fenway some more. “You mean like they play football games and give concerts here and stuff?”
Well, logical, if ignorant. Donna and Tara get along well (how??), and Donna’s told me that Tara is really up on pop culture, especially fashion, modeling, celebrities, and music.
Uncle Jeff shakes his head vigorously. “Only baseball games. I don’t think they do concerts. Do they do concerts here, Jane?”
Moi? Like, when have I been to a concert? But I know. “Mostly older acts, Uncle Jeff. I think the newer acts are at the Garden.”
Tara is amazed. “They hold them outdoors in that beautiful park?”
Oh. My. God. “No, that’s the Public Gardens. They hold concerts in the Boston Garden.” Which has some corporate name, but who cares?
Tara and Uncle Jeff look confused. I try to clarify. “The Public Gardens, which we visited, are in Boston, but they are not the Boston Garden. The Boston Garden is a building where they have basketball and hockey games, as well as concerts.”
Tara’s still puzzled. “Then why is it called a garden?”
We’re at dinner at some no doubt horribly expensive waterfront restaurant. Trust Uncle Jeff to pick the best, and to pay for it, too. I remember my mother once figuring out that the wine bill alone from one of Uncle Jeff’s dinners would be enough to feed us for a week. We don’t let the price deter us, there’s no false dignity here, we all just order what we want, no matter how expensive. Though Freddie is having a burger and fries, after complaining that they don’t have pizza on the menu.
The adults are doing most of the talking, as usual, mostly my mom and Uncle Jeff. Uncle Jeff is in his element. He always looks happiest when he’s surrounded by evidence that he’s wealthy. Which he is, he’s a retired millionaire. I have to wonder if it’s partly because he and Mom grew up in a hardscrabble family. Maybe being surrounded by evidence that’s he’s wealthy reassures Uncle Jeff he is. That would explain the luxury SUV.
Tara’s also looking happy, sitting beside him. She makes the perfect trophy wife, both in temperament and looks. She’s submissive, always willing to do whatever Uncle Jeff wants. And she’s really got the body of a centerfold, because she actually was one at 19. (I’ve seen it online.) She even starred in a porno flick, too. It’s some weird horror porno about a young, innocent girl who gets raped by Satan and then turns evil, taking control of men as part of her plan to ruin another young, innocent girl. Stan has a copy, but I have no interest in seeing it. Uncle Jeff met Tara just after she finished the porn flick, and just before she was scheduled to star in another, and married her within the week. He didn’t even bother with a pre-nuptial agreement, unlike with his second wife.
Normally, I wouldn’t know any of this. Mom usually glosses over anything that might be scandalous. But when she first heard about Tara, she hit the roof and went on a long verbal rampage to Stan about how inexcusable it was for Uncle Jeff to be “mesmerized by tits” at his age. I don’t think she realized how loudly she was speaking. When she told us kids about Uncle Jeff’s marriage, you can bet she stripped out any hint that things weren’t right and proper. But she’s been walking a tightrope ever since, trying to pretend that Tara’s just another aunt to us, while privately thinking of her as a gold-digging slut.
The funny thing is that Tara may be indirectly responsible for our newly respectable status. In past, Uncle Jeff sometimes helped out Mom financially, but never in a big way. And he’s disliked most of the men in Mom’s life, including Stan. (Which is how I feel, too.) But Mom and Stan announced their engagement just after Uncle Jeff and Tara got married. I think Uncle Jeff was so happy with his third marriage that he decided to really help out my mother on her third marriage. And so he had our house in Nethfield built as a wedding gift and got Mom and Stan jobs in the area, too.
Which means I should like Tara, I suppose, but I don’t. It’s not that I dislike her, either. She’s just so foreign to me. She can talk fashion and models and stuff like that to Donna, but Tara and I have never managed to have a conversation without long, awkward pauses. That she was a centerfold and porn star doesn’t matter to me.
Oh, who am I kidding? I’m ready to kill her out of envy. It’s not the sex, so much. I just want the admiration. I want people to think I’m cute and smart and sexy. I want them to like me. Would I go naked and have sex with strangers in front of a camera to get it? I can’t even imagine that, but that’s because I can’t really see myself having sex. As an abstract proposition, yeah, I might be willing to do it. If only people would like me.
Well, somebody likes you, Jane. There’s Cindy. Welcome to the Land of Misfit People. And yet I really like Cindy, even with her voices and brain-dead intervals. It’s kind of sad I think of her as being damaged. Because I bet a lot of people think the same of me.
It’s after midnight and I’m just sitting up flipping through my new book. I’m too tired to actually read. We didn’t leave Boston until 9:30 PM, so it’s now after midnight.
I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open, so I put the book down. Time to go to sleep. I rearrange the pillows and glance around the room before turning off the light.
The girl is standing there.
She’s just beyond the end of my bed. She looks to be about five. She’s wearing the same old-fashioned nightgown she had on in the hallway a month ago. She doesn’t look like me this time. No empty eyes, either; she’s got blue eyes. Yet I know it’s the same person or thing or ghost or whatever she is.
I don’t know what to say or do. I freeze.
She opens her mouth and in a faint, tiny voice says, “Watch out for.”
And then she abruptly disappears.
I am no longer sleepy. I stare at where she was. I get up, check to see she’s not hiding in my room. I don’t let fear stop me, and even open up my door and look into the hall. No trace of her.
I go back and sit up in bed, thinking. I think I’ve just seen a ghost. The last time I saw it, it tried to terrify me. This time, it seemed to be warning me. But it was as if it (she) got cut off before delivering the warning.
The whole business makes no sense. I turn it over and over, but can make no headway. So I turn out the light and try to fall asleep. But one question nags at me for some time. Watch out for what?
End of chapter seven
END OF PART ONE
(Part one? Yep. Remember the title? It’s not summer yet. But it will be summer in chapter 8. So the real story should get going. Wonder why we had to mess around with all this preliminary stuff. Well, that was Jane’s decision. Teenage girl, what can we say? At least it’s more entertaining that reading about a teenage boy thinking about sex every seven seconds. By now we’d have had at least one lurid fantasy of the boy getting it on with his teacher, or maybe the librarian. Maybe even one in every chapter.)