I only awoke because my siblings were noisy coming downstairs. Appalled that I had fallen asleep, I shook myself and hoped that I had not looked too foolish sleeping on the chair. John was nowhere in sight. A look at the clock indicated that it was past one, and probably lunch was in the offing.
We gathered in the dining room, sampling the appetizers set out on the sideboard. Grandmother appeared, waving her hands to disperse us, so that she might have a share before we had eaten them all. "I may die before you attain your majority and understand that you were not born to be parasites," she said, "but this is not apparent from your appetites."
"Appetites, parasites -- that's a great rhyme, Grandmother," Kelsa quipped. "We should write a poem!"
Grandmother's face was unmoved, though I saw a twinkle in her eyes. "I agree with this, though if you are going to rhyme, you must also keep to a certain number of syllables."
"Does the number matter?" Michel asked, as his twin bounced in glee.
"No, as long as it is regular, and not boring," Grandmother proposed. "Boring poetry is an evil habit."
That meant pretty much all poetry, as Grandmother thought most of it boring, though she did love Kipling. I was glad Aunt Sully enjoyed my poems, because I knew that Grandmother would not, and Mother would just stare at them, nod, and ask me if it was an English class assignment, looking puzzled if I told her it wasn't. Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol would read my words, say, "Nice," but there wasn't really any feedback except that they knew I had made an effort to put words on paper, and found that in itself commendable.
By two-thirty, lunch was served, a vast salad with numerous salad dressings, some cheeses to spread on hot French bread, and long, thin, curling slices of beef which had been quickly seared over open flame. John and Mother and Aunt Andersol had joined us. Mother took Aunt Andersol's beef. Uncle Bodie, and Aunt Sully and Redell were not yet back at the house.
As we ate, I saw Grandmother focus her attention on Aunt Andersol, with a stare she usually only reserved for great wrongdoing, or great interest. I was curious until she finished her sizzled beef, and beckoned Dolores to bring her more. Grandmother didn't eat a full meal in the evenings, saying it hurt her digestion -- she must have been hoping Aunt Andersol would give her beef to her.
Marca also requested more beef strips. Oesha didn't, satisfying her hunger with salad and orange-salsa dressing.
The topics around the table involved the escaped cows, the decrepit fence, Uncle John's commentary on the state of New York City, and what we should avoid bringing up around the table of guests tonight. Local newspaper reporters were to be allowed to photograph us before dinner, so everyone was coached on what to wear and how to comport themselves. The salad was good, and the breads excellent, and I went upstairs afterwards to check my clothing and take yet another nap.
In alarm, I tried on my dinner suit, and then another suit, and another, and found them all to be too tight and too short. The jackets were puckered across my chest, and the pants all showed my ankles. The dress shirts were also strained at the buttons.
"Mother," I said, seeking her out in her rooms, "I'm not going to be at dinner tonight. None of my suits fit."
"What do you mean? Have you gained weight?"
"No, height. I've got two inches of wrist and ankle and something of chest that make me look like a female TV news anchor wearing a blouse that is too tight and capri pants."
"Would anything of Bodie's fit you?" she asked with a frown.
"No, I'm not that tall yet. I'm just not going to appear at dinner looking like a monkey in clothes or someone too dumb to know how badly they're dressed."
"I'm so sorry, Owen. I didn't realize ... "
"Neither did I! My pants fit fine two weeks ago ... well, maybe they were a bit short, but this is nuts."
"I can't keep up with this stuff. You need a butler. I hated that there was a butler who kept track of Charles' stuff, thought it was ostentatious, but now I understand. If you had someone to keep an eye on your things, this wouldn't be happening. Fine, you're excused from tonight. Keep Claire company, and don't fight with Kelsa and Michel."
"Wouldn't think of it."
I did, however, prowl the hallways until Aunt Sully returned, and then dogged her heels until she told me what she had been up to. "The fences are repaired for the time being, though the whole thing needs re-done, soon, and will be. Carwin has promised that the fence repair will be done within the next week."
"But his rudeness to Maida...?"
"He will apologize tomorrow, and if he ever does such again, he's fired, he knows that now. Some people are just truly stupid, and say things out of ignorance. He knows better now. There is no further excuse."
"Will he really be fired if he does it again?" I pestered.
"Yes. You don't put up with that kind of behavior."
"I agree, but what happens to the cows if he gets fired?" I asked.
"They get taken care of, because someone here keeps an eye out from now on for someone to replace Carwin at a moment's notice.
"So he's actually fired already as soon as you find a replacement."
"Yes, pretty much in fact. I have to shower and change for dinner, Owen, and so do you."
"No, I'm excused. My clothes don't fit."
"What?" she almost shouted.
"I grew," I offered, with a lame smile.
"Is there anything in this place that anyone is taking notice of?" she hissed, her face turning pink. "Scram. I reek of horse. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
Tomorrow was Sunday, and there would be no chance for conversation until after church. "Okay," I said. "See you then."
Tonight's dinner was not a big, formal affair, and so the guests would not be roaming about the second floor. Michel, Kelsa, and I were free to move about, eavesdrop, play, or work, as we saw fit. We hid in our rooms until the dinner downstairs had begun, avoiding Marca's curses.
I heard Kelsa's piping voice say, "Aunt Andersol!" with vocal optimism. I left my room to see Michel coming out of his room as well, and we joined our aunt in the hall for hugs and greetings.
To our surprise (all of us), the door to Grandmother's wing opened, and she waved to us to join her. Grandmother's will was not to be challenged, so we trailed along the hallway with mixed joy and trepidation.
"Have you eaten dinner?" Grandmother Claire asked. "No? Then let us order some good food. What would you like?"
Raising my eyebrows at the suggestion that we might have what we liked, I said, "Some of the breads, lots of the chicken, and some of the asparagus with a lot of the cheese sauce."
The rest concurred, with the exception of Michel, who asked for a hamburger and salad, with a cutely woeful expression. Grandmother patted his head, smiling, and ordered our food.
While Kelsa, Michel, and I began a game of dice in front of the fire, Aunt Andersol was the object of Grandmother's attention. "How are you feeling, Andersol?" she asked, our aunt's name sounding strange on her voice. Usually she did not address her directly, and when referring to her, called her "this sister," as though she would perpetually be an outsider.
"I'm feeling all right," my step-aunt said, feeling her way. "If I stick to small portions of food, I seem to feel fine."
Grandmother nodded. "When I was pregnant, I became as skinny as a stick until four months had passed, and then no amount of food could satisfy me. I craved pork chops and roasts and fried potatoes, and large salads as snacks, with garlic dressing. Nowadays people would say it was too much fat, but I tell you, I had not one stretch mark, though I gained forty pounds."
Aunt Andersol laughed, throwing her head back. "I hope that I can say that next spring."
"Were you not feeling well, that you didn't join your brother and sister-in-law this evening?"
"No." After a pause, Aunt Andersol said, "When I heard there were going to be photographs, I was ... uneasy. (She was more formal, as we all were, talking to Grandmother -- had she been talking to us, she would have said, "Photographers? The hell with that!") I know the local papers post their society pictures on the web, and I ... don't want the world to see the Baby Bump, as they call it."
Grandmother patted her hand. "You are wise, wiser than your sisters. Ah, here is food already. Let us savor this goodness as the people downstairs cannot."
We moved to Grandmother's little table by the east windows and ate hungrily. All the food was excellent, and after the dishes were cleared, we sat by the fire and listened to Aunt Andersol and Grandmother Claire talk as though they were new-found friends, which seemed very suspicious to me, and so I lost at every game of dice we kids played, as I had my ear tuned to what the adults were talking about, knowing that their low voices held more important information than whether or not I had three dice to throw, or two.