Authors: Cynthia D. Grant
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Cynthia D. Grant
S FOR YOU
AND FOR THE MEMBERS OF
AY THEIR TIARAS TWINKLE ALL ACROSS THE LAND
They've always liked her better than me. I don't blame them. She's sweet. My parents call her Honey. They always call me by my name.
We're close. Twins. Mirror images. We can almost read each other's minds. Usually that's fine, but it can be a pain. A family can become too ingrown; interwoven thistles, inseparable, brittle.
That's what happens when there's a secret at the core.
Sometimes the secret prickles at the corners of her mind, but Honey wipes it away; she wants to be happy. She wants to have a perfect life.
“You can't pretend it's not happening,” I'll say.
“What's not happening?” She'll play dumb. Lately that fills me with rage.
You have to face facts, accept reality. Acknowledge some solid truths. Then maybe things will start to get better. But Honey says, “No, look at these flowers. Listen to this pretty music. Let's not think about ugly things. What's the point in being depressed?”
We've gone over this a million times. In the past, we always agreed. No more.
We got into another hassle today. We were upstairs, in our bedroom.
I said, “I don't see why we can't have the big room.” Our older sister Margaret's room, down the hall.
“Uncle Toddy's got it. It's full of his stuff.”
Maggie is away at college. The folks think she'll move back someday. I doubt it. She didn't even come home to visit last summer. She said she had to work. Sometimes I feel like I'll die if I can't see Maggie. She's three thousand miles away, in Boston.
“Richie gets a big room.”
“He's a boy,” Honey said, as if that explained everything. Richie's supposed to graduate from high school this year. At the moment, he's flunking out.
“Why can't he sleep in the den downstairs?”
“Because Papa works in there!”
He used to have an office downtown, but he couldn't afford the rent. He sells insurance. Not enough of it, apparently.
I said, “Why don't they kick Uncle Toddy out?”
“He doesn't have a job! He has no place to live! Why do we have to talk about this again?”
“The man is a vampire,” I pointed out.
The word always makes Honey flinch.
“Don't say that.”
“You know it's true.”
“He can't help it.”
“Oh, please, don't make excuses for him!” She is such an apologist.
“Anyway, he's not hurting youâ”
“I can't believe you'd say that! Are you completely crazy?” I paced around the room.
“It's not like he kills people,” Honey said.
“No, he just drinks their blood. What a break.”
“It hardly ever happens. Just when he can't help it.” Honey rearranged the stuffed animals on her bed. “Be sure to wear your cross. It might keep him away.”
“I wear it all the time! It doesn't help.” My cross was on a gold chain beneath my blouse. I yanked it out and waved it in her face. “Why do you have to pretend it's not happening?”
“Because it's not a big deal! It isn't something I can change. Why can't you forget about it and be happy?” Honey brushed the honey-colored hair that pours thick and soft to her waist. “Lots of things are fine. Mama's good lately.” Honey dusted the top of her immaculate bureau, then the desk and the armchair by the window. Our room is so neat it looks vacant.
“Sure,” I said, “she's fine, unless you tell her something she doesn't want to hear. Then she gets that look on her face, like: Please don't tell me that or I'll go crazy. Richie's so unhappy lately.”
“He's going through a phase.”
“Acting like a zombie is a phase?”
“He's not a zombie. You exaggerate everything. Why can't you just be happy?”
She's a cheerleader, for God's sake. Imagine how that makes me feel, watching her jerk around like a puppet in front of a crowd of strangers. She says: There's nothing wrong with being proud of my school. Why do you have to cut everything down? Don't come to the games, if you don't want to.
“I guess I'm not trying hard enough,” I said.
“I won't talk to you, if you're going to be sarcastic,” Honey said, and left the room.
She does that sometimes; walks out, disappears somewhere in the house, and ignores me for a while. Then she gets over it. We don't like to fight. Divided we don't stand a chance.
Maybe, like she says, I'm overreacting. Imagining things. Being dramatic. Vampires can be perfectly nice. They don't stand out in a crowd; they hide their fangs. Uncle Toddy appears completely normal. His face looks young until you get up close and see all the little lines. Then you realize, with a shock: He's not eighteen. Uncle Toddy is thirty-five.
He can't seem to keep a job. This has gone on for years. Something always happens and it's not his fault. People are jealous of him because he's so good-looking. Or he's smarter than the boss, so he gets fired. Then he has to give up his apartment and move back here. He's Papa's baby brother.
Uncle Toddy never acts like a vampire around my folks, so Honey and I figure they don't know. Or don't want to know, so they tell themselves they don't. Like the time the skunks moved under the porch, and we didn't know how to make them go away so we all pretended we couldn't smell them. Tuning out reality is a consuming family passion. It gobbles up everyone's attention. If I set my bangs on fire at the dinner table, Mama would ask me if I'd lightened my hair.
Honey and I think Richie knows about our uncle, even though Uncle Toddy leaves him alone. Richie's sad because he knows that our uncle is a vampire and there isn't anything he can do about it. So now he hardly talks at all. He's gone down deep inside of himself and won't come out anymore. I miss him.
Honey was back and fiddling with her hair in front of the mirror on the closet door. She said, “Why do you make things sound worse than they are?”
“Why do you make them sound better?”
“You just like to argue.”
“Our uncle is a vampire! He could be terrorizing the neighborhood, for all we know.”
“You don't know that!”
“Listen to me,” Honey said, deliberately, as if she were talking to an idiot. “There's nothing we can do. He doesn't have any money. When he's working again, he'll move out.”
“When hell freezes over, he'll sell snow cones,” I said.
Honey didn't get mad. She knew I was sad.
“Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine. God wouldn't let anything bad happen to us.”
“It's already happening. Where's God?”
“Everywhere.” Honey touched the gold cross at her throat. She does that all the time.
I said, “Maybe the folks are vampires too. Maybe we're zombies and we don't even know it. The living dead, condemned to roam the earth in search of human blood.”
“Don't be disgusting.”
“Anything's possible in this big, wide, wonderful world!”
“Sarcasm is never attractive.”
“Yes, Mama. Yes, Papa.”
“You're impossible.” Honey threw down her brush. “No wonder everybody thinks you're a pain.”
“Ouch! Down and dirty! Honey gets funky!”
“Now I really am leaving.”
“You can't escape me! I'll haunt you from the grave!”
“You've been watching too many movies.” She left.
It's true. Watching movies, especially old ones from the forties and fifties, is one of my favorite things to do. They're black and white. No lurid colors. They've got a beginning, a middle, and an end. The story starts, the plot develops; the people solve the mystery, or get married, or killed. Whatever. Something
. Then it's over. And it makes sense.
Around here, nothing makes sense, or ends. We're trapped in the middle forever.
Now Honey's playing the piano. When in doubt, practice. Loud. She fills up her head with classical stuff. Too bad it's not a pipe organ. All we're missing around here is some spooky music.
Uncle Toddy appears to tell me dinner's ready. He's smiling. My friends think he's handsome and cute. Mostly I notice his teeth.
“How's it going?” he says.
We never talk to him about being a vampire. It's a difficult subject to discuss, to work into polite conversation. Politeness is everything. Don't rock the boat. Don't make waves. You might drown. But I think the time has come to confront him, to tell the police or our minister or someone. Honey says no; he'd get in trouble, and anyway, no one would believe us. Everybody knows that vampires are a myth and exist only in our imagination.
“Come and eat now, Carolyn.” He pats my shoulder.
“Okay,” I say. “I'll be right there.”
I keep my eyes empty so he can't see inside me. My eyes are mirrors, reflecting Uncle Toddy's smiling face.
The trouble with secrets is that they're so inconvenient. You have to keep covering them up all the time. You'd think we'd be used to that by now. But covering up is getting harder.
When we were little, friends played at our house. There's a rusty swing set in our big backyard. The slide lies on the ground.