Uncle Bodie had never ignored us, per se, though he was always distracted when Mother was in the room, so I didn't think that he'd seen the recorder and just passed over it. "I'm going to head upstairs and write for a while, I think," I said quietly.
He nodded, and I rose and left the room, glad that he hadn't turned to see my face with sweat on it. Apparently, subterfuge was not going to be my life's work. At least not subterfuge perpetrated on my family.
The adults were the easy ones to spy on; if they had found out, they would have simply erased the recording and thrown the little machine out. Had I tried such a stunt with Marca, she would have pounded me and poisoned my breakfasts with cayenne pepper in perpetuity. Had I done so with Oesha, she would have told Marca, with the same result. Kelsa and Michel also would have taken a foul revenge upon me, stealing toilet paper at the most inopportune times, and putting slimy things in my school backpack for me to find.
But I had the goods, so to speak, if the machine had worked. Now the question was, Where do we get together to listen to this thing? The adults had a "no closed doors" policy regarding us kids. Our bedroom doors were not to be closed, period, end of discussion. Did we listen to music? Then it was not to be at a level that offended anyone else. Marca's television had to be kept at low volume. If Mother wanted to get up and prowl at one o'clock in the morning, she wanted to be able to peek into our rooms and see us safe and sound. "You shut that door for more than five minutes while you're changing clothes," she lectured us, " and you will find yourself without a door at all." As Mother never threatened, but only promised, we didn't test her on the matter. So where to play the forbidden recording?
The five of us met in the nursery again, which had no door at all. "I don't know if we got anything on the recording," I said. "But I don't want to play it where we'll be overheard."
"Aunt Sully and Uncle John are in her study. They'll hear it," offered Kelsa.
"Back porch," said Oesha. "Get jackets, and take off your shoes. We'll use the staff stairs, and no lights."
It was already dark, and most fortunately we'd had dinner early, and a meal was an option after the requirement of the family table. The five of us huddled on the farthest reaches of the back porch patio, in our coats, standing by the patio railing, listening, hearing our mother order us out of the room. Then ...
Mother: "Andersol, dear, why didn't you tell us sooner? We've been so worried about you!"
Aunt Andersol: (sobbing)" I didn't want to tell you until I decided what to do, and then I was afraid to say anything."
Uncle Bodie: "Afraid? Sister, why would you be afraid of me?"
Aunt Andersol: "Because it was wrong, and I knew it was wrong, but I didn't know I'd get pregnant, the timing was so totally off."
Aunt Andersol: "Yes, timing. I should have been in my safe time in my cycle, okay? But I guess I wasn't."
Aunt Andersol: "This is bullshit. You now know I'm pregnant, and I've got twins, too. What more is there to say?"
Uncle Bodie: "Andersol. Look at me. When we were eighteen, we left everything and everyone behind so that we could be together, because we couldn't bear to be cut off from each other. Why are you cutting me off now?"
Aunt Andersol, sobbing again: "Because I screwed up."
Uncle Bodie: "Maybe you did, and maybe you didn't. You did what you did, and you have another two people inside you waiting for you to love them. I think the love is more important than any mistake."
* Prolongued session of Aunt Andersol crying.*
"Do you know who the father is, Andersol, dear?" asked my mother after a while.
"Yes." Aunt Andersol said, through a cloggy nose.
"Is it someone whose kneecaps we should shoot off, I think is what Jesse is trying to get around to," Uncle Bodie said.
Aunt Andersol: "No, he's gone. Doctor Aleksandr Khorodov. Remember, he did those guest lectures last summer?"
Mother: "Khorodov? That dirty bastard!"
Aunt Andersol: "No, he wasn't, not at all!"
Mother: "He has a wife and three kids!"
Aunt Andersol: "His kids are grown and gone, he doesn't even live with his wife anymore. He was lonely, I was lonely. There was something between us."
Mother: "Oh my god. That was when I was hung up in Chicago and told you to take my place at his farewell party, isn't it?"
Aunt Andersol: "Yes. Boring party, great company afterwards."
Uncle Bodie: "This is someone you fell in love with?"
Aunt Andersol: "No, I wasn't in love with him. He was just there and I was there, too. We had two nights and a day, that was all, and he was wonderful."
Mother: "I'll wonderful him, the philandering son of a bitch."
Aunt Andersol: "NO! Leave him be!"
There was a protracted silence on the recording.
Mother: "Why? He fathered offspring on a member of one of the richest families in the country, and he wasn't aware of that? You think he isn't going to try to cash in on those sweepstakes?"
Aunt Andersol: "I never told him my real name. Even my classmates don't know I'm your sister-in-law. I don't socialize around the University at all, you know that."
Uncle Bodie: "What about your trip up to the snow the other week?"
Aunt Andersol: "I lied. I drove to Sonora and stayed in a hotel there, alone. I wanted to think. And just sleep. I've been so tired, and worried about how I was going to tell you ... "
Mother: "Oh, my God. I just realized -- it was when we were stuck in Chicago that I -- you're due the same time I am!"
Aunt Andersol: "Yeah." (pause) "I'm sorry, Jesse."
Mother: "Do you want to tell Khorodov?"
Aunt Andersol: "No. There's no point in complicating the life of a man I have no interest in maintaining a relationship with. It was a whim, a mistake. A few days after he was gone, I was kicking myself for having done such a stupid thing -- I couldn't even remember why I wanted to ..."
Aunt Sully: "Sometimes you and your brother are too close in thought, it seems."
Another long pause.
Mother: "Would you like something to drink? We were just going to watch football."
Aunt Andersol: "I think I'd like to nap. I'm exhausted. Maybe a little later we can have some sandwiches?"
Aunt Sully: "Sounds good. And stop worrying. We're all here for you, and love you."
Uncle John: "See you later. Sully and I are going for a walk."
After that, there was nothing but low mumbles, unintelligible, on the recording, and the indistinct sound of the television.
"You think there's anything more to hear?" asked Marca.
"I think we heard what we wanted to know," I answered her. "More than I wanted to know, actually." I clicked the machine off. "Mother was asleep when I went to pick this up, so I don't believe there is anything more of interest on it."
"What if we get caught going back up the stairs?" Kelsa squeaked.
"I thought about that. We've been too quiet too long -- either Aunt Sully or Redell will have started listening for us. So we won't go back up the stairs. We'll go to the old ballroom, turn on the CD player, and hang out until they come and find us there."
"And what, pray tell, will we have been doing? Sitting on the floor meditating?" Marca asked sarcastically.
"I will have been giving my beloved siblings beginning instruction on fencing, of course. Who wants to be the first victim? Er, student?"
"Count me out," Marca said. "I've got trials next week and can't afford to pull up stiff and sore from using muscles for your freaky fencing moves. I'll be the DJ and pick the music."
We removed our shoes again and slipped inside, Michel going on ahead to make sure the coast was clear. We made it into the ballroom uncaptured, turned the lights on to a dim glow. When no one noticed the dim glow we raised the lights; by that time we were laughing like stifled maniacs over Kelsa in fencing gear. "Put yours on, Michel, you jerk," she cried. "You're not much taller than me, quit laughing!" To my surprise, Oesha willingly donned the gear, too.
My instructor had us keep four sets of gear ready; he was convinced that my siblings would envy my skill and eventually want lessons, too. Perhaps he was right. For the next forty minutes, I taught Oesha, Michel, and Kelsa the first basic exercises that my instructor had shown me, a series of steps and lunges that stretched across the ballroom floor. When they had the sequence down, Marca changed the music to some wicked techno stuff and shouted, "Do it to the music, you dorks!"
By the second time through to the music, we were really getting into it. Marca cranked up the music louder, then came over to stand in line with us. Moving to the music, we danced the exercise across the ballroom again; I was surprised to feel a euphoric wave of harmony wash over me as we moved in unison. When we got to the far wall, I ran to the "front" space of the line to be the guide, and off we all went again.
We turned to go back across again, and saw, in the doorway that led to the storage hall off the back staircase, Aunt Sully standing, her arms crossed. Uncle John was leaning against the doorjamb. Marca walked over to the CD player and turned it down. I pushed up my mask, and the others followed suit.
"You guys never cease to amaze me," Aunt Sully said. "That was simply breathtaking to watch."
"It was fun!" shouted Kelsa. "We're going to do it again, aren't we?"
She had sweat dripping off the end of her nose. "No," I said. "We should all stretch gently a little, and then pack it in."
"Aw," she said. "That's not fair."
"We'll do it again sometime, I promise," I told her.
"Me, too," said Michel. "That was cool."
"I'm not cool," said Oesha. "I'm sweating like a pig. But that was fun."
"Are you stopping because I intruded?" Aunt Sully had a worried look on her face.
"No, not at all," I assured her and Uncle John. "From the way we're all sweating, it was time to take a rest. We just got caught up in the movement, I think."
The gear was put away, and Oesha was the first to head for upstairs and a hot bath. Kelsa and Michel scampered away, practicing lunges and pretending to stab each other with imaginary epees.
"That was so amazing I forgot why I came looking for you. Do you want turkey sandwiches tonight?"
"Yes," called Marca from the CD player.
"Yes for me, too. I'll ask the youngers if you ask Oesha, Marca."
"Can do," she said, joining us as we walked out of the ballroom, turning off the lights. "After soccer is done, I want you to teach me those moves."
"Sure," I agreed, hoping she would not skewer me after I did.