Authors: Patricia MacLachlan
“What are you going to give Aunt Evelyn for this year's anniversary?”
Uncle Elliot thought.
“I might rent a balloon and go up, or take her down the rapids in a rubber raft. Or maybe have the poem she likes engraved on a silver bracelet.” He looked at Emma. “Gold's expensive.”
“I think the balloon ride could make the baby dizzy,” she said. “And riding down the rapids in a rubber raft might make Aunt Evelyn sick.”
“Me, too,” confessed Uncle Elliot.
“The bracelet is a good idea,” said Emma. She thought how lucky Aunt Evelyn would be to have a bracelet with a large dangle on it with the romantic rotting poem engraved there. That was, Emma thought, almost as good as seals in the bathtub.
Miranda and Zachary were through listening to the record.
“I'd better go home now and see if my parents' wedding anniversary is over,” said Miranda. “Every year my mother gets a new wig and a stainless steel pot.”
“My mother got a pair of soft lenses this year,” said Zachary, whose father, after all, was an eyeball doctor.
Emma watched Miranda put on her jacket and wiggle all her rings around so that the stones sat on top. She wondered if it was healthy to wear so many rings. She watched as Miranda bent over to adjust her shoe straps so that her mother's shoes would stay on.
“Miranda,” said Emma, “are you feeling fluttery and bubbly?”
“Why?” Miranda straightened up and looked alarmed. “Is there something going around?” She stuck out her tongue and looked in the hall mirror.
feel fluttery and bubbly, Zach?” asked Emma.
“No,” said Zachary. “Is there something catching?”
“I guess,” said Emma, smiling at the two of them, “that what is catching is not here yet.”
“I am not going to sleep in my bedroom tonight,” announced Emma.
“Why not?” asked Zachary. “Because of the mess?”
“No,” said Emma. “Because of night rumbles.”
“What are night rumbles?” asked Zachary.
“I am not sure,” said Emma, “but my friend Noah has them. He says they only come at night. He says they will come here soon. They are furry things with legs who live in the closet, and whiskery shadows in the corners of the room, and a long arm that lives under the bed and tries to grab you when you jump into bed.”
“Have you seen them yet?” asked Zachary.
Emma shook her head. “Not yet. And I am not going to.”
“Where will you sleep?” asked Zachary.
“In the backyard,” said Emma. “In the tent.”
“In the tent!” exclaimed Zachary. He loved sleeping in the tent. “But what about bugs and grubs and wild wolves?”
“I am not afraid of bugs and grubs,” said Emma. “And Wayne will protect me from wild wolves. In the tent there are not a lot of corners with boxes and closets and chairs and toy chests for things to hide in. Or in back of. Or under.”
“No mess,” said Zachary, nodding.
“No mess,” agreed Emma. She began to pack her things.
Uncle Elliot poked his head in the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Emma is not going to sleep in her room tonight,” said Zachary. “Because of night rumbles. The furry things with legs who live in the closet, and the whiskery shadows in the corners of the room, and the long arm that lives under the bed and tries to grab you when you jump into bed.”
“Where?” asked Uncle Elliot, peering cautiously around the room.
“They only come at night,” said Emma. “When the lights are off.”
“You could leave the lights on,” suggested Uncle Elliot.
Emma shook her head. “Then I'd see them,” she said. She looked at Uncle Elliot. “My parents say there are no such things as night rumbles.”
“And I am sure they are right,” said Uncle Elliot heartily. He opened the closet door. “No furry things here,” he said.
“They're hiding behind the shoe boxes,” said Emma.
Uncle Elliot looked in each corner of Emma's room.
“There are no whiskery shadows,” he said.
“They're waiting for you to leave,” said Emma.
Uncle Elliot got down and peered under the bed.
“No arm,” he announced.
“There will be,” said Emma. “I am going to sleep outside in the tent.”
“The tent! All by yourself?” exclaimed Uncle Elliot. “Won't you be scared? I was always scared.”
“I could sleep out there with you,” said Zachary eagerly.
“No,” said Emma. “By myself. I'll have Wayne. And my battery lamp and my pencils and pens and writing paper and some books and two doughnuts that I've saved for a long time and Eleanor, my cactus.”
“Just remember bugs and grubs and wild wolves,” whispered Zachary.
They went to the garage to look for the tent. Aunt Evelyn was doing her ballet exercises with her hand on the car door handle.
“We're putting up the tent, Ev,” said Uncle Elliot. “Emma's going to sleep outside tonight because of the night rumbles.”
Aunt Evelyn looked at Emma. She raised her eyebrows.
Emma sighed. “The furry things with legs who live in the closet,” she explained again, “and the whiskery shadows in the corners of the room, and the long arm that lives under the bed and tries to grab you when you jump into bed. My mother and father and Uncle Elliot do not think there are such things.”
“Great loving George!” exclaimed Aunt Evelyn. “Of course there are! I slept in my closet for two weeks because of the
?” Emma moved closer to Zachary.
rustled and murmured all night long in my room when I was your age,” said Aunt Evelyn. “But won't you be lonely out in the tent by yourself? I would be real lonely.”
“No,” said Emma. “I'll have Wayne.”
“I'd be lonely,” said Aunt Evelyn.
Zachary and Uncle Elliot carried the tent out to the backyard.
“Can we put it up on the little hill?” asked Emma.
Zachary shook his head. “Everything will fall out the front door of the tent. You will, too.”
“How about under the tree?” suggested Emma.
“The acorns will fall on the tent roof,” said Zachary.
“That will not be good,” said Emma. “Wayne barks at dropping acorns.”
Finally they decided on a flat place in the middle of the yard where it would be easy for Wayne to watch for wild wolves.
Zachary helped Uncle Elliot put up the tent. He helped when Uncle Elliot tried to put up the tent upside down. He helped pound in the tent stakes when Uncle Elliot put them in the wrong place. He straightened the ropes so that the tent would not lean to one side. He helped by getting a bandage and ice when Uncle Elliot hit his finger with a hammer.
“It's done,” called Uncle Elliot, collapsing on the ground and crawling inside the tent to pant in the shade.
Later, Emma moved all her things to the tent. Zachary did not help. She moved her sleeping bag first, and her Martha Mouse pillow. She moved her battery lamp and her pencils and pens and paper and books and old doughnuts and Eleanor, her cactus. Then Emma waited for nighttime. She ate dinner early so that she could get into the tent before the night rumbles came to her room. Zachary took a twenty-seven-minute shower and left soggy towels and cold puddles on the floor. Emma took a bubblebath and lost a herd of plastic animals and three marbles under the suds. Then it was nighttime.
“Good night Emma,” said Uncle Elliot. “Are you sure you won't be scared?”
“No,” said Emma. “I won't be scared.”
“Will you be lonely?” asked Aunt Evelyn.
“Don't you want me to come too?” asked Zachary.
“No,” said Emma. “Come, Wayne.”
“Remember bugs and grubs and wild wolves,” called Zachary as Emma padded out to the tent.
It was quiet and peaceful in the tent, and Wayne fell asleep right away, snorting and wheezing a bit. Emma read a chapter of her book, ate half an old doughnut, then watched the stars outside the tent flap. She closed her eyes.
“Emma.” She woke up with a start as Zachary climbed inside the tent, dragging his sleeping bag. “Were you asleep already?”
“Yes,” said Emma.
“I'm sorry I scared you about bugs and grubs and wild wolves,” said Zachary. “I wanted to sleep in the tent with you.”
“That's all right,” said Emma. “You can stay for a while.”
Emma moved over, and together they rolled Wayne farther into the corner.
“Good night, Emma.”
“Good night, Zach.”
It was quiet and peaceful again and Zachary fell asleep right away.
“Emma?” Just as Emma was about to fall asleep, she saw Aunt Evelyn crouched down with a thermos in her hand. “I thought you must be lonely. And thirsty. I brought you some hot chocolate.”
Emma smiled. “Zach's here. Come in.”
Aunt Evelyn crawled inside the tent. She lay down next to Emma. She yawned. “Now you won't be lonely,” she said.
Emma drank some hot chocolate and watched Aunt Evelyn fall asleep. She wiggled back inside her sleeping bag, gently moving Wayne's head with her foot, and waited for Uncle Elliot.
“Yes, Uncle Elliot.”
“Are you scared? Hey, everyone's here.” He crawled over Zachary and pushed Wayne's rump around. “Got any doughnuts left?”
Together they watched the stars while Uncle Elliot ate a doughnut. He lay down next to Zachary. “Boy,” he said just before he fell asleep, “this isn't scary at all, is it?”
Emma turned over carefully and counted the stars. She thought about the bugs and grubs sleeping deep underneath the tent. She watched awhile for wild wolves. But she didn't worry. There was no room for wild wolves in the tent. Emma smiled and closed her eyes. No room for the
, whoever they were. And no room at all for night rumbles.
Aunt Evelyn squeezed between Emma's bedroom door and some boxes. She stepped over a pile of clothes, picked up two plates and three stuffed animals, jumped over a chair, and sat on Emma's bed. She looked around.
“You know, I think there is something here we need to do before your parents come home day after tomorrow.”
“Do you mean pierce my ears?” asked Emma.
“I was thinking about your room,” said Aunt Evelyn. “We could surprise your parents.”
“My parents are never surprised,” said Emma.
“Well, this room needs something,” said Aunt Evelyn.
Emma looked around.
“We could paint the walls lavender,” she said.
“Wrong,” said Aunt Evelyn.
Emma grinned. “I know you mean cleaning it,” she said. “But I'd still rather have my ears pierced.”
“You could start by clearing a walking path,” suggested Aunt Evelyn.
“I like everything out in the open this way,” said Emma. “I can see where everything is.”
Aunt Evelyn opened Emma's bureau drawers. Emma's clothes popped up and peeked out.
“There are too many clothes in these drawers,” said Aunt Evelyn. “You should get rid of all the things you don't wear.”
“I like them all,” protested Emma. “Even the things that are too small.”
“I roll everything into little sausage rolls,” said Uncle Elliot, who was standing in the doorway. “Then everything fits.”
“That's because Uncle Elliot is a saver,” said Aunt Evelyn. “He has so many things he has to roll them into sausage rolls.”
“Different strokes,” said Uncle Elliot, shrugging his shoulders.
“What does different strokes mean?” asked Emma.
“Different people do things in different ways,” said Uncle Elliot. “They like different things. Different strokes for different folks.”
Emma looked around.
“I like that,” she said. “This is my stroke.”
“Not while I'm in charge,” said Aunt Evelyn. “Clean up. Find places for all those stuffed animals. There are too many for this room.”
“Too many!” exclaimed Emma. “I need them all. They all have names.”
“Even that one?” asked Aunt Evelyn, pointing.
“That's J.R., for Just Rabbit,” said Emma. “He's my favorite.”
“He only has one ear,” said Uncle Elliot.
“That's all he needs for hearing,” said Emma. “Different strokes.”
“Maybe Zachary can help you,” said Aunt Evelyn. “His room is always neat. He even has empty drawers.”
Aunt Evelyn went into Zachary's room. Her feet made crunching noises on the floor.
“Why, Zach,” she exclaimed, “what is all of this? Your room is always so neat and clean.”
“It is neat and clean underneath all of this stuff,” said Zachary. “I am cleaning out my collections.”
“What am I stepping on?” asked Aunt Evelyn.
“His bottle caps,” said Emma. “He has one thousand and two.”
“You're standing on two,” said Zachary.
“I always wanted to save bottle caps,” said Uncle Elliot wistfully.
“And what's that?” asked Aunt Evelyn.
“That is my dirt collection,” said Zachary. “It is all labeled. This jar is from Miranda's garden. This is from the baseball field. This is from the swamp.”
“Ugh,” said Aunt Evelyn. “That one smells terrible.”
“I had a collection of door knockers once,” said Uncle Elliot. “My mother made me give it away. It took up too much room. Bottle caps don't take up much room.”
“I never heard of a door knocker collection before,” said Zachary. “That's interesting.”
Uncle Elliot looked at Aunt Evelyn. “Different strokes,” he said.
When Aunt Evelyn left, Uncle Elliot and Zachary went into Emma's room. Emma's clothes had slithered out of her drawers and were hanging down onto the floor.