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February 19, 2024

Transitions 07

By Sand Pilarski

Seven: Revelations

We knew that Aunt Andersol had classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And she habitually went to the University library every Thursday morning. So when she got up early, had a solitary breakfast of toast and tea on Tuesday, we gathered before school and speculated on her activity.

"We're rich kids, we ought to be able to just call a taxi and tail her, see where she's going and what she's doing. I can't believe our mother isn't doing that."

"Owen, Mother doesn't even check on us to see what we're doing, as long as it's light outside and the staff doesn't say anything. That's how we got on that bus tour to Napa Valley last year. Do you remember? No one noticed we were missing until suppertime!"

Oesha was right. We were pretty much on our own most days, except for homework and social occasions. I looked at Marca, and gave a little nod. She curled her lip at me and turned away, standing up, and then she left the room.

"Where's she going?" asked Kelsa.

"Go ask her," I said, knowing that none of them would. Marca was like a samurai warrior ... only she didn't have much discipline. Maybe she was like a ninja .. without the secretiveness. Okay, she was like a drunk prize fighter in a trenchcoat on a dark night in the rain ...

"Where are you going, Owen?"

"To make some notes for a novel," I answered, and left them. When I got to my office (my father's office), I pulled my journal from behind books and wrote down the date and what Aunt Andersol had done. With a sigh I slammed the notebook shut, put it away, and let it all go so that I could enter the gladiatorial arena that was school.

I can't remember when I didn't hate school. When we were little, we went to the snooty little Port Laughton Academy, a private school with political agendas that invaded even the first grade. With some unknown senses, we were supposed to know who we should make friends with, and who we shouldn't. Poor kids who were there on scholarships were to be avoided; children of city council members or the faculty of the university or the mayor and his pals were the "right stuff." As the son of a Port Laughton University faculty member who also happened to be a millionaire benefactor, I had plenty of "friends." I complained about beaming teachers and grasping classmates to Aunt Sully.

"Be as kind as you can be to them, without committing yourself to anything," she said. "They might be your employers or your critics in the future. You're lucky in more than a few ways -- you're rich, your family is well respected, and you're a nice guy. People want to be associated with the nice guy.

"The rich guy." I'd folded my arms on the table and put my chin on my arms.

"Owen, people tend to suck up to the rich guy, no matter what. But the nice guy is where they want to put their heart, especially when the nice guy is a leader. You can make a difference in the world."

Thinking about the kids who wanted to be friends, I couldn't believe Aunt Sully could be so wrong. "Those kids aren't interested in me, or my heart. They just hear 'Reich' and I see dollar signs in their eyes like in cartoons." I did not look at my aunt; if I looked into her intense green eyes and saw the concern in them, I would have burst into childish tears.

"Your father told me that he never felt that he had any real friends until he was in college," Aunt Sully said. "So I'm not going to offer you any false hope. But I can tell you to choose your friends by their sense of humor, or their passions, if you share them, or by their willingness to guard your back. Being a rich boy genius can be a pain in the ass."

"So, do other kids have to go through this same sorting?" I asked, feeling weighed down by the responsibility of judging my peers.

Aunt Sully sighed. "No, they don't. They make their mistakes and have their lives end up in car wreck after car wreck, so to speak. But they have little or nothing to lose, so it doesn't matter to them or to their families. Sorry, Owen -- you have a lot of monetary and historical heritage you have to carry, like a load of cement blocks. You have to weigh all your decisions in light of this estate."

"I'm not the oldest, so why should I have to? Marca doesn't, Oesha doesn't ... "

"Because you're the one who will, Owen."

I put my head against her shoulder, knowing there weren't many more times I could do that. She grasped my hair with her other hand, and kissed the top of my head.

Later that day, when our school day had ended, Marca herded us all into the nursery. Her eyes were glittering with triumph. "I followed her! Aunt Andersol went to Doctor Arlin Donlingson."

"How'd you manage it?" I asked, out of professional curiosity.

"The truck she drives, Uncle Bodie's and her truck, they have that tool box on the back -- it has about ten inches or so above the bed of the truck. I slid underneath the tool box and just rode along, slick as snot."

"What? You could have been killed, you dumb ass!" I blurted.

Kelsa and Michel gasped.

Not wanting them to try to emulate Marca's insanity, I turned to them and snarled, "There are no seat belts under that tool box. In an accident, she could have been thrown out like a lacrosse ball! Marca," I said to my eldest sister, "don't do that again, please!"

"Oh, bullshit. I was wedged under there so tight I tore my jacket getting out again. Anyway, once she had the truck parked, I followed her and saw where she went. All we have to do is look up 'Arlin Donlingson' in the Yellow Pages and we'll know what kind of doctor she's seeing."

"I'll get the phone book," Oesha said, leaving the room.

"How'd you get to school?" Michel asked. "You were on the bus home."

Marca cackled with even more triumph. "I rode the city bus! It cost a dollar, and dropped me off right at the school! I told the school monitor that I messed myself with my period on the way to school, and got a taxi to take me home to clean up." She was plainly proud of herself, though the rest of us were grossed out. "Just the way you guys reacted, that was how the monitor was. They call that TMI -- Too Much Information. You give people more than they want to know and they just forget what happened."

Oesha came into the room again with a big yellow tome. "Donlingson is an obstetrics doctor," she said. "Here, look." She put it on the table.

"A baby doctor?" asked Kelsa. "Aunt Andersol's having a baby? But how can she? She's not married."

"People see obstetrics doctors for more than just babies," Oesha said. "They go there when they need hysterectomies, too, if they're sick that way."

Michel and Kelsa looked at each other, obviously puzzled.

Oesha twisted her mouth in impatience. "Don't worry about it," she said. "There are a lot of reasons women go to obstetricians, and not all of them mean there's a baby coming."

I was less interested in the doctor's profession -- after all, I'd been doing my research and found that women are supposed to go to an obstetrician once a year for a checkup -- than I was concerned about Marca's mode of transport. "Marca, you can't do that again. It's not safe."

"Shove it, Nanny," she said dismissively. "I got the information, didn't I? I saw it done in a movie, all right? It was fine, it was fun. All I got was my jacket ripped."

"Your jacket got ripped. You're lucky, then. How will you explain the rip?"

"Come on, Owen, who gives a shit about rips or missing sleeves in our clothing? The maids? They don't care a damn," Marca said.

Marca was correct. The maids repaired minor destruction of our clothes without reporting. All of us were still young enough to be adventurous, and the clothes that we wore for everyday were Target brand or at best, Macy's.

That hadn't been the case when Dad had been alive; Macy's had been the bottom edge of the scale.

Of course, when Dad had been alive, we were just little kids whose clothes showed up in our closets; we weren't taken 'clothes-shopping'. I think our Nanny must have shopped for us, because Mother, even now, was confused by the sizes of clothing for kids and mostly left the shopping up to Aunt Sully or Aunt Andersol. Aunt Andersol grumbled, "Kids' clothes are supposed to get used up. You can pay fifty dollars for a shirt when you're old enough to know not to put ketchup on your food; but until then, Target is your best friend."

Aunt Sully critically went through Macy's like a storm if we had to shop for "nice clothes". She could not stand seeing the girls in too-tight tops or cuffed pants for us boys. "Cuffs not only gather dirt," she said, "but also date the very year you bought them. And having the hems lowered is too expensive for something that looks stupid to begin with."

Myself, I wished that zoot suits were still in fashion. Now that was cool, and I couldn't imagine why they had gone out of style.

And all of that was well and good, but it was also whistling in the dark. Aunt Andersol was sick, and went to an "OB/GYN." As I've said, I know that women are supposed to see one once a year; the question now became, how often was Aunt Andersol seeing one?

If she had cancer and was receiving chemotherapy, she'd have frequent visits. I knew this from listening to Aunt Sully talk to people at church after Mass. Fidgeting with a hymnal at Aunt Sully's shoulder, I was instantly invisible to the ladies she talked to, and privy to all kinds of information. For instance, I heard that Mr. Saunders had had surgery to correct a painful varicose vein, and that was why he was wearing sandals and support hose; Mrs. McDonald had fallen and broken a hip and was likely never to leave her nursing home; the pastor had been upbraided by his bishop for offending a wealthy parishioner with his unabashed denouncement of abortion. No one attends to the kid in conversations like these. I listened, and stored them away, including one that involved uterine cancer and a woman whom I didn't know personally, but frequently saw at Aunt Sully's parish wearing a bandana wrapped tightly around her head.

To my sisters and brother I said, "If she has cancer, she'll have to be going to the hospital for chemotherapy on a regular basis. We should be able to figure out if she's doing that."

Kelsa was once again on the verge of tears. "She's not going to die, is she?" she asked.

I knew that she wanted assurance, but I had none for her. "I don't think she is, because no one else in the house seems upset, and Uncle Bodie would be, for sure. And he's not."

She nodded, sniffling.

"Keep an eye on her," Marca growled, "all of you."

We all nodded, even me, even though I thought that I was the one who should have said it.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-03-30
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