The Narrow Door
Dad used a hose to fill the pool. It was attached to a spigot in the garage. I shivered when I saw the level of water rising, the fresh dose of chemicals slightly burned my eyes.
“What time are they getting here?” I asked.
Dad replied, “I don’t know, Timmy. Stop whining. And get away from that hose. Go inside and help your mother.”
They were my cousins, Jared and Janeen. My Dad’s older brother’s kids. I never really thought they liked each other. My Uncle Martin was what my Dad called a “Fuddy duddy,” and that was when Dad was being nice. Uncle Marty was a successful stockbroker in New York City, and I think Dad felt like a hick, staying on the upstate farm where they’d grown up.
Mom was icing a German chocolate cake in the kitchen. “Want to lick the bowl, honey?”
She always made me feel better, as she smoothed her fingers over my curly brown hair. “Nah, thanks.”
“I’ll lick it!” My little sister, Melinda, squealed.
Mom handed her the green Tupperware bowl. “Why don’t you share it, Lynnie?”
“He said he didn’t want any,” she replied. She plopped on the banquette, and scooped out generous portions of leftover frosting.
“What’s up with you, T.J.?” Mom asked. “It’s not like you to pass on the frosting bowl.”
“I dunno. I’m nervous.”
“Nervous? Whatever for?” Mom placed one hand on her hip. She looked so pretty, like an ad from one of her magazines.
“When will our cousins get here?” I whined. I didn’t mean to, just came out that way.
I slid down the wall until I plopped on the floor. Sparky, our mutt, tried to lick my face,but I elbowed him away.
“Honey, you know your Uncle Marty. He’s probably stopped at every antique shop and silly store along the Hudson between here and Manhattan. It won’t do you any good to get so nervous about something over which you have no control.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“Timmy’s nutty, Mom.” Melinda had frosting all over her face.
“Melinda- don’t talk about your brother like that.” Mom held out her hand to me, I took it, standing. “Timmy, go help your father with the pool.”
“But he sent me in here.”
“Okay, do you want to vacuum?” I shook my head. “Dust?”
“I didn’t think so. Ask Dad if he wants to put the horses in the pasture. Looks like a good day for it. And you can take Sparky out with you.”
“Okay.” I started out of the kitchen. “C’mon, Sparks.”
I turned back. “Yeah, Mom?”
“I love you honey. They’ll be here before you know it. Try not to mope around all morning, okay?”
And Mom was right, within an hour, my cousins were driving up our circular, lengthy driveway. Uncle Martin, robust and grinning from ear-to-ear, and my cousins Jared and his sister, Janeen. It had been a few years since we last saw them, and the huge difference was that my Aunt Jackie had passed, at 36, from some form of cancer that attacked what Dad called her “female parts.” Grandpa had a different form of a similar illness. Now, as we were hugging hello, there was a stranger getting out of the passenger side of Uncle Marty’s new red Camaro.
“Hey, everyone, this is Alberta!” Her lipstick matched the car. And funny thing, she looked a little like a rabbit. I noticed how her nose moved inward when she breathed, like a strange creature. She wore a blue sweater, tight fitting, without sleeves. It looked as if they’d been cut off.
“You must be Timmy!” she said, like I was the President of the United States. I leaned back. “So adorable!” She clucked, then spun around to Marty. “He looks just like you.” She turned back and pushed her sunglasses, which seemed to take up her entire face, higher on her nose. “And where’s your precious little Melinda?”
“She’s probably hiding in the house,” Mom said. “Hello- I’m-”
“Helen. Yes, I know. Alberta Butterfield. Of the Brooklyn Butterfields.”
“Oh,” Mom nodded, pretending to understand.
“Pleased to meet your acquaintance. And you are Mitchell? Martin’s younger brother?”
Dad’s sunburnt skin seemed to turn a shade redder. “The one and only,” he replied. “Come on, everyone, let’s go in the house. Whatcha’ drinking these days, Marty?”
Jared and Janeen’s blank expressions matched mine.
“Wanna see the barn?” I asked them.
“Yeah!” they both agreed, and Sparky followed on our heels.
Turns out that Alberta moved in with Uncle Marty four months after they met, and this, according to Janeen, was the worst thing in her entire life. They’d met at one of Uncle Marty’s stodgy Yale bars. Alberta was starring in a local production of “Living By Design.”
“She’s only a senior in college,” Janeen retorted.
Jared plucked out a dried piece of hay and chewed on it. “She’s on the six year plan.”
All of these details made me dizzy. “Still, wow- I mean, she looks…young and-”
“Um, because she is!” Janeen interrupted. “I’m way more mature than she is.” She affected her voice to sound like Alberta. “Martin, dahhhling, shall we dine now?”
“Really?” I rubbed Sparky’s stomach. A certain spot made him kick his hind legs like he was chasing a squirrel, and we laughed.
Janeen continued. “Martin, sweeeetie, could you rub Mommy’s shoulders?” Janeen pouted, then grimaced. “She’s a joke.”
I shrugged. “She sounds hilarious!”
“Well, here’s an idea,” Jared said. “We’ll stay here with Sparky, and you move in with Dad and Alberta.” He rubbed Sparky’s head.
I thought about what it might be like to live in Manhattan. The subway scared me. Something about going underground to get somewhere. And all of those people. I’m not such a people person. Animals seem kinder. “Nah, but thanks.”