Authors: Allison Gutknecht
“We know your age, Amanda,” Dad answers. “Thanks for reminding us.”
“I am too old to sit at a stupid kiddie table,” I call back. “I am not a baby.”
“Don't say 'stupid,'â” Mom answers, because she is not a good listener about my problems.
I slouch down at the table and eat a couple of bites of chicken and all my macaroni and cheese. I rip the treetops off my pieces of broccoli but leave the trunks, and then I stand up to leave.
“I not done,” Timmy says to me with a glob of macaroni and cheese hanging from his mouth.
“Chew faster,” I tell him, and I carry all the food that I do not want to eat into the kitchen and put it in the trash before Mom or Dad can make me take five more bites of anything. I want to go practice my cartwheel because I cannot have Natalie able to do a cartwheel and me not. That is just humiliating.
Dad is sitting on the couch in the den, trying to get one of the twins to sleep.
“How do I learn a cartwheel?” I ask him.
“Yes,” I say. “All the girls in second grade can do a cartwheel except me.” I do not actually know if this is true, but it is close enough.
“Hmm,” Dad says. “I don't know if I've ever done a cartwheel myself, but I think you need a lot of upper-body strength.”
“It means you need big arm muscles,” Dad says. He holds out the arm that does not have the twin and tightens it so that his muscles stick out. “Why don't you drop and give me ten?”
“Ten what?” Dad makes no sense sometimes.
“Push-ups,” he says. “Let me put Cody down, and I'll come back and show you.” But I know that putting the twin down could take all night, and I do not have that kind of time if I am going to learn how to do a cartwheel before bed.
I walk over to Dad's dumbbell collection in the corner of the den. “Dumbbell” is a funny name, I think, because weights do not talk, so I do not understand how people know they are dumb. Maybe they are smart and have a mean name-call for no reason, like how Dennis calls me “Polka Dot” even though I stopped wearing the underwear.
Dad always lifts these weights to make his arm
muscles big, so I think this will be much faster than any push-up or whatever they are called.
I try to pick up one of the weights, but I cannot get it even with both of my hands. The next one is also too heavy, so I go all the way to the end of the rack for one of the smallest. I lift it up and hold it over my head with both hands, which is a lot harder than I think it should be, and I see why Dad's arm muscles are so big. I try to move the weight to only one hand so I can bring it down, and it slips.
It slips onto the floor and makes a huge crash.
It also almost hits my toe but does not, and no one is even happy that my foot is not broken when they come into the den to yell at me.
“Those weights are too heavy for you, Amanda!” Dad yells.
“You're going to wake the twins, Amanda!” Mom yells.
“At least I didn't break my toes!” I yell back,
and I stomp out of the room. I feel tears start to tickle the corners of my eyes for the second time today, but I push them back inside.
Because I may be only the narrator and I may not be able to do a cartwheel, but I, Mandy Berr, will never be a damp crybaby.
I DO NOT TALK TO
the twins ever.
I know that they do not talkâI am not a dope. But Mom and Dad always talk to them as if they are going to answer, which I think is silly, because what is the point?
But today Mrs. Spangle let the rest of the class practice their lines during school, and I did not get to practice once. She had lined up all the presidents in order and had them read their parts. They each have only eight lines, so I don't
know why they have to practice so much. I have fifty-six lines altogetherâI counted themâso if anyone should get to practice in front of everybody, it is me.
“You are the thread that holds the quilt together,” Mrs. Spangle had said when I asked if it was my turn yet. “We need to get the squares all assembled and in order before we can sew them into one piece.” And I do not know what she is talking about with this quilt, but I do know that I am not happy that I was sitting by myself for a whole hour and did not get to say one line.
So now here I am: a whole day with no practice and the most lines of anyone. I ask Timmy if he will listen to me read my lines again, but he does not want to, which I think is rude. He is three years old and should not have a say in what he gets to do. If I could make him throw up those gummy bears, I would take them back.
I want to read my lines to Mom, but she is in the laundry room, which is the loudest room in the whole house, and I do not feel like shouting. Dad is still at work, and I want to practice right this minute.
This leaves the twins. And I never talk to the twins.
The twins are sitting in their carriers on the kitchen table. They are not asleep, but they do not look very awake, either. They kind of look like globs, but they are the best that I have.
I stand in front of them and start to read, and they do not even open their eyes a little bit more to show that they are listening.
I read my lines with a lot of expression and everything, and I know that I am doing a good job, thank you very much. Plus, I am pretty funny about it, and the twins do not laugh once. I do not know if they even know how to laugh yet, but if
anything should make them laugh, it is me.
“I don't need you twins!” I finally shout at them with my “You are driving me bananas” face. “I have a best friend who is a better listener.” But then I remember that I am not speaking to Anya because of the cartwheel problem, and this makes me sad.
I will have to make up with Anya, I guess, or else I will have no one to read to. I am not so mad at her about the cartwheel problem anymore. And we sat together at lunch today, so maybe we are already made up. I just have to make sure.
I decide to call Anya's house right away, even though Mom does not like me to use the phone without her permission. This call is too important to wait. Plus, the twins are not crying, so I will be able to hear.
I dial Anya's number, and I am very good at remembering it.
“Hello?” Anya's mom answers.
“Hi, this is Mandy. Is Anya there, please?” I am super polite on the phone, and Mom should have no complaints.
“Just a minute, Mandy,” and then I hear Anya's mom call her to the phone.
“Hello?” Anya answers.
“We're friends, right?”
“Yes, we're friends. Why?” Anya asks.
I let out a sigh, and I think I was maybe holding my breath this whole time. “Good. I thought you were still mad about the cartwheel problem.”
“I wasn't mad. You were mad at me, remember?” she says.
“Oh. Yeah. Well, good, I'm not mad.”
“Can I practice my narrator part with you?
Mrs. Spangle didn't let me read it all day.”
“I can't now, I haveâ”
“AmandaÂ .Â .Â .Â ,” I hear over my shoulder. Uh-oh.
I hang up on Anya real fast and hope that she will not be mad now, even though she was not mad before.
“I had to talk to Anya,” I explain to Mom. “No one will listen to me practice my narrator lines for the Presidential Pageant.”
“Narrator? I thought you were George Washington?” Mom asks. And then I feel a little bit hot on my forehead, because maybe I am wrong and George Washington is still the better part, even though he only has eight lines.
“Mrs. Spangle made me the narrator,” I explain, keeping my eyes on the kitchen floor, which needs to be washed, I think. “She made Natalie George Washington.”
“I'm sure you'll make a perfect narrator,” Mom
tells me. “Don't you like even one thing about your part?”
“I have a lot of lines,” I answer, because I do like having a lot of things, like lines and like gummy bears.
“That's great,” Mom says. And I was not expecting this, if I am being honest.
“Of course,” Mom says.
“Better than being George Washington?”
“I'm sure Natalie will do a great job too,” Mom answers. “But I think you have the perfect part for you.” And this makes me feel a little bit better about the whole George Washington thing.
“How about you practice your lines with me? I'm ready now,” Mom says.
“But what aboutâ?” I begin, and I look around for Timmy or laundry or a crying twin
or something else that will make Mom not pay attention to me.
“Let me hear it,” Mom says.
I begin to read my part, and I use a ton of expression and everything. And I get almost halfway finished before a twin starts to fuss.
“We'll have to continue later,” Mom says. “Great job so far.”
But I do not feel like stopping yet, so I keep practicing.
“Amanda, I have to take care of the twins,” Mom interrupts me. “You need to stop for a while.”
So I stomp my foot and cross my arms and yell, “I wish I were five years old!”
“Don't be so dramatic, Amanda,” Mom says. “I'll listen to the rest of your lines after dinner.” But dinner is forever away and I want to practice my lines now. “Do me a favor and go get the Packles' mail from next door. They're on vacation
this week, and I said we would pick it up for them.”
“No, thank you,” I answer.
“Amanda,” Mom says in her “This is your warning” voice. “I'm not asking, I'm telling.”
I groan real loud like a dinosaur and stomp out of our house and across our front lawn to the Packles' mailbox. Inside, the box is stuffed with white envelopes and no magazines, which is the worst kind of mail because it does not even have any pictures. I march back to my house and throw the mail on the couch.
“Here's the stupid mail!” I yell super loud so Mom knows I have listened.
“Don't say 'stupid,' Amanda,” Mom calls back. “And no yelling. Timmy is still taking his nap.”
I pound up the stairs to my room. I had five whole years with no brother or sister, I remember, and those were the best years of my life. I think
Mom was a better listener then, though maybe she was not. I flop onto my bed and stare down at my Magic Mountain Wonderland. I wish I could live on the mountain for real, in one of the holes at the very top with all of the red bears. I would decorate it with Rainbow Sparkle wallpaper and periwinkle furniture, and I would eat dinner with the gummy bears every night, and not at some silly kiddie table either. I would watch TV whenever Rainbow Sparkle was on, and I would talk to Anya on the phone anytime I wanted, and my Magic Mountain Wonderland would be very quiet, except for when I made noise.
And Natalie would never, ever be invited over because she would do cartwheels and steal my George Washington parts and be no fun at all.