“What’s wrong?” she says as soon as she recognizes my voice.
“Nothing, every thing’s fine. I’m calling to check on you guys.”
If something had been wrong she’d tell me how she and my Dad had been feeling that something was wrong- somewhere- they thought it might be me.
“So how’s everyone there?”, I ask.
“Exhausted!”,she says, “We had a long night-“ There is a huge crashing sound from her end of the line and the phone goes dead. I hang up and wait. She calls back. “Sorry, the phone just fell into the mop bucket, but it’s okay now.”
“So why were you up all night? Is somebody sick?”, I ask.
“What? I can hardly hear you.” The phone goes dead again. I hang up and wait. She calls back, “I’m going to have to call the phone company again, there is something the matter with this phone. They’ve been out here three times and they keep telling me there is nothing wrong with the line- listen to this, can you hear this?”
I hear a terrible scratching noise from her end and then she’s back. “Did you hear that?”
“Yeah, that’s terrible. What is it?”
“It was me scratching the phone. You do it- just scratch the mouth piece on your phone.”
There is no point in arguing. I scratch the mouth piece on my phone, scratch, scratch, scratch, and put the phone back to my ear. “Did you do it?” my mom asks.
“See”, she says, “I could hardly hear that. I’m gonna have to call the phone company again.”
One of my biggest fears has always been that some day I will be sitting in a court room, on the stand, sworn in, and some representative from the phone company will be asking me, “Have you ever seen your mother abuse a phone?” I will have to perjure myself. Or it might be a representative from the company that made my parents vacuum. My mom claims it has never worked properly though I’ve seen it suck up bedsheets, small pets and pasta- things it was never designed for. Or maybe it will be a representative from the company that made my parents van. My Mom is always threatening to sue them even though the most common phrase I hear her say while driving is, “How long has that emergency brake been on?”
“So, why were you up all night?” I ask again.
“We were wrapping chickens…just a second Tammy… Lydia!” she yells at the top of here lungs, “Come and get this goat!”
“What chickens?” I ask, moving the phone to the ear I can still hear with.
“You know the Smiths down the road from us?”
“No.” as soon as I say it I start kicking myself.
“Yes you do, remember you met them when you went with me to visit Buella in the hospital?”
“Mom, that must have been one of the other girls. I don’t know Buella.”
“No, it was you because I specifically remember…”
“Oh yeah, I think I know who your talking about” I lie.
“I thought you did, her husband is the state trooper. Well, he called late last night and said a truck full of frozen chickens tipped over on the Interstate and if we went right then we could get all we wanted. We got there as fast as we could. Traffic was backed up forever and there were chickens all over the highway. We picked up about 350 pounds of chicken. We didn’t think to bring gloves, of course. So our hands were freezing, but next time we’ll know. We had to put them all in new freezer bags since their wrapping got ripped open when they went skidding across the highway. Good thing we had room in the deep freeze”
“Are you lying? I ask.
“No!” she shouts, “Ask Liz.”
She’s not offended by my asking as they’re all known as practical jokers always making up stories and planning elaborate tricks to play on each other, like putting a mannequin in my bed after I’d been out late. Or our favorite, the rock that my dad found in the garden that looked exactly like a large Idaho baking potato. They love to have people over and serve potatoes wrapped in tin foil. They'd heat the rock up a little with the rest of the potatoes and watch as their guests put butter on it and try to cut it open.
But my sister Liz confirms the story, chickens all over the highway, hands freezing… Then Liz has to get off the phone because she’s reheating Chinese food and doesn’t want it to burn. “Left over Chinese food for breakfast? Yum!”
“We’re pretty much eating Chinese every meal now.” my mom says, “Last week we took the kids out to eat Chinese at the new buffet place and the waiter commented about how many kids we had, so of course we told him that this was only a third of the kids we have and he got so excited and went and got the manager. The manager just thought it was the greatest thing he had ever heard and said - It must be hard to feed that many kids, so then when we were leaving they brought us all these boxes of food to take home and said that during the week they always have left over food they have to throw out, and they’d just start bring it by if we wanted. So now, the fridge is full of Chinese food.”
“So, what else is going on?” I ask.
“Well your sisters set off the fire alarm the other night- scared your dad and I half to death. They decided to start up the cotton candy machine at ten o’clock at night while they were watching a movie…”
“You guys have a cotton candy machine?” I ask.
“Yeah, didn’t I tell you I found one for sale?”
“A real cotton candy machine?”
“Yeah, we have it down stairs, next to the washer and dryer, but you have to be careful because it throws that extra fine sugar into the air and that sets off the fire alarm- but we had been practicing our fire drills, and everyone made it out to the designated tree. Of course, Tasha was hysterical because her hedgehog is lost somewhere in the house and she was afraid he’d burn up.”
“I didn’t know she had a hedgehog.”
“Well, she only had it a day before it escaped. We thought it would be easy to spot since it’s an albino, but it got into the laundry room and we think it must be lost in the whites.”
“I hope you find it.”
“I'm sure it'll turn up sooner or later- but I'd better let you go- Mary got bit by a goat so she needs that looked at and I have to run Sophia by the police station.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Oh, one of the kids found an old pair of handcuffs your brother had in his car from when he worked at the prison. They snapped them on Sophia thinking it would be funny, but the key is lost so we called and the police say they can get them off. I’m sure it happens all the time. So I better go, but I’ll let you know if anything exciting happens.”