Read A 52-Hertz Whale Online

Authors: Bill Sommer

A 52-Hertz Whale (12 page)

BOOK: A 52-Hertz Whale
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The hall is decorated with pictures of people (saints?) enduring various forms of torture: one woman is bleeding from the head, another carries her own eyeballs on a tray like they're mini-meatball appetizers, and then there's this guy who is covered in arrows—a human dartboard. By now, I feel like I'm going to puke any minute. The first door I open is the laundry room. There's a little shrine on the folding table with a picture of Mary, candles, and a plastic bottle that reads “Holy Water” on a piece of masking tape. The second door is the bathroom, thank God. When I enter, I mistake the empty feet of Mrs. D's pantyhose dangling over the side of the tub for a snake's skin. My stomach is in my throat. There's no way I'm making it to the toilet. And I end up yacking in the bidet. Eventually, when I clean up and make it back to the bedroom, I take off the yeti costume and sleep. Two hours later, when Mrs. D wakes me up and sends me home, I feel old like I've slept through three decades.

At home, the lights are all out, and my dad is snoozing in front of some PBS special about memory loss, thank God. I grab two of my mom's Aleve out of the powder room medicine cabinet. Dad stirs, and I pray that he doesn't wake up because I suck at lying more than I suck at being an Abominable Snowman at parties. Upstairs in my room, I scour the Web for a yeti costume that looks like the one that I'd “borrowed” from work and ruined. First, do you know how expensive A.S. costumes are? They are like upwards of a hundred bucks. Second, even if I had that money (which I don't because I spent my work money on memberships to different conservation societies and a new KitchenAid mixer in neon green), the soonest a suit would arrive with express shipping (another thirty bucks) would be three days after my next shift at work.

Lying sucks. And since I lied enough for one weekend, I told Chin Piercing that I'd borrowed the costume without asking and ruined it. He said that my next few checks would have to go directly toward the cost of a new costume. Apparently, Star Arcade only uses the finest yeti fakery. The costume they purchased was $158.76.

No joke,

J-Juiced

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: December 22, 2012 at 8:47 PM
Subject: Christmas Guest

Hey Sara,

Happy almost Christmas!

I think that you and the fam are probably at that caroling party tonight. You might hate it, but just know that being forced to wear a little elf hat and sing with a bunch of adults who are tone deaf but well-meaning is nothing compared to what I had to endure today. I'd take a bad case of hat head any day over dinner with Albert Stevens.

Apparently, this whole dinner thing was planned without my knowledge. Mom invited Albert over for an early Christmas celebration since she knew there was no way in hell that Nonna would invite him over for the Seven Fishes dinner on Christmas Eve (aka the World Series of Eating). Mom only revealed that Albert was coming after an extra pizza showed up at the house. I had the joy of receiving Albert as he arrived because Mom was still doing her makeup. Here's a little taste of how the night went:

Albert: “Sophia? I've heard all about you from your mom.”

Me: “I'm sure you have.” (You've been on like three dates with Mom. Guess that makes you an expert on my family?)

Albert: “Your mom tells me that you're a vegetarian and a budding social activist.”

Me: “Actually, that's my little sister, Anna Maria. I'm the tap dancer.”

Albert (pointing at a picture in the foyer from one of my recitals): “This must be you, here?”

Me: “Yep.” (And just in case Albert thinks that this is some kind of audition for a vacant role . . .) “Me and Dad.”

Albert: “I bet he was your biggest fan.”

Me: “I'm going to go check on my mom. See if she's ready.”

Albert: “You know, Sophia, I've watched Ginger Rogers dance a thousand times in old movies. I still don't know how she manages to keep all those moves straight.”

Me: “It's called choreography.”

As you can tell from the script above, this was a scene no one would want to watch, let alone live. The rest of the night featured Mom talking incessantly, smiling too hard, and trying to make connections between Albert and me or Anna Maria that really weren't there. (“Looks like we all like olives on our pizza.”) Then Albert gave us all gifts. He got Mom her favorite slippers, the very slippers I'd bought her already for Christmas. And there was something else—a cat. Or kitten, I should say. Albert had the nerve to give all this to Mom with Dad staring down at him from the picture on the fireplace. Albert gave me a gift, too (which I guess is mandatory when you are trying to kiss up to the kids of someone you like)—that Coach purse I wanted so bad. He didn't put a penny inside for good luck like you're supposed to. Nonna would go ballistic. The last thing we need is more bad luck.

Love,

Soph

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: December 22, 2012 at 9:35 PM
Subject: RE: Christmas Guest

Soph-

@ home. Sick-flare w/fever. Missed caroling prty. :) Call?

XO,

Sara

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: December 22, 2012 at 9:55 PM
Subject: RE: Christmas Guest

Hey Sara-

So sorry you got sick! How bad is your fever this time? Anyway, I can't call because I don't want Mom to hear me talking about Albert.

Love,

Soph

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: December 23, 2012 at 9:14 PM
Subject: RE: Christmas Guest

Hey Sara-

So here's what I couldn't say earlier on the phone. The cat, Baby, is a complete disaster. Albert called tonight during dinner and Mom left the table—and her soup. The stupid cat started lapping up soup from Mom's bowl. Nonna hates cats so she's been carrying a spray bottle with vinegar in her apron pocket since Baby arrived. Once Baby jumped on the table to get the soup, Nonna aimed and spritzed wildly, one blast catching me in the face. The vinegar burned my eyes, smeared the room into a fog. I heard Italian curse words and Nonna's house slippers shuffling as she chased Baby through the kitchen. Then there was the sound of Anna Maria—who's got to be the youngest card-carrying member of PETA—begging Nonna to stop assaulting Baby. Of course, Mom was completely oblivious, still on the phone with Albert in the other room.

Anna Maria's pleas became louder, more urgent, and then . . . there was a crash. Once I rubbed enough of the vinegar out of my eyes, I saw Mom standing in front of me, slightly out of breath. Anna Maria was picking up pieces of a glass. Nonna had returned her spray bottle to her apron pocket holster. And there was Baby. The stupid cat cowered under the table until Mom convinced him to come to her.

Mom: “What happened?”

Me: “It's Baby. He's messing up everything, Mom.”

Nonna: “In my house, animals, dey were not pets. We keep dem outside until we get hungry—”

Anna Maria: “God, that's so inhumane.”

Nonna: “The mouse traps Peter put in the cellar, dey still work, no?”

Mom: “I got rid of those this summer. They were just collecting dust.”

All I want for Christmas? For that cat to disappear.

Love,

Soph

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: December 23, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Subject: RE: Christmas Guest

I'm allergic 2 cats. We'll have 2 hang @ my house frm now on.

Do u think Sam Pick wud go w/me 2 Turnabout? Who r u asking?

<3,

Sara

P.S. Can I borrow ur Coach bag?

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: December 23, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Subject: RE: Christmas Guest

Hey Sara,

Purse: The thing is total trash. It's so small. I can't fit my life inside. At least the old one accommodated phone, wallet, Saint Jude prayer card, my lucky pig, lip gloss, keys, emergency tampon, etc. I didn't realize how well it held everything. Until now.

You and Sam: So cute.

Turnabout: Can't say. I want it to be a surprise!

Love,

Soph

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: December 27, 2012 at 1:31 PM
Subject: RE: Dude!

Bummer about the punched-up suit. At least the red all over you was spiked juice and not your own gushing blood. I realize I'm being a bit of a silver-lining searcher, but sometimes it's comforting to know that things could have been worse, like if Mrs. D hadn't been on that bus. Which is something to consider the next time you find yourself around some booze. Booze is tricky. As a person who has turned bad decision-making into a kind of high art, I can say with confidence that booze has factored heavily in some of my all-time worst choices. Anyway, I hope you've paid off your debt to Star Arcade society by now. And I hope the social waters have calmed since then and you're navigating them with ease.

Merry holidays and all that jazz,

D

From: [email protected]
Tro: [email protected]
Date: December 28, 2012 at 4:37 PM
Subject: Two Peas

Well, well. How are my wonderful grandbabies? Still perfect, I'm assuming. Christmas in south Florida is a bit of an odd proposition. We all went down to the beach this morning just because you can, even though it was cool and breezy and not quite an ideal beach day. I enjoyed the sun, but the company left something to be desired. Although it was enlightening.

I'm always looking for things that your brother and father have in common, and I don't often find too much. But I could see it today. We rode down to the beach. We parked. We walked out and lay down a towel. And in all this time, neither your Dad nor Darren said a single word. For some reason, the only time either of those two are quiet is around the other, but they're usually not this bad. So when Darren went and dove in the water for a few minutes, I asked your father what was wrong, and it turned out the whole reason he was sulky was because he'd run into McDowell High's football coach at the grocery store when he was going to pick up a Christmas ham. That was three days ago, and the state semifinal game Henson lost to McDowell was two months ago! He said, “I know, I'm pathetic.” And I said to forget pathetic. It was downright unhealthy. Life is too short to be sad for two months about a high school football game. He said he hadn't been sad for two months, just that seeing the McDowell guy reminded him of how hard it was to lose the game. “But you've lost playoff games before. Why's this one different?” I asked, and he said it was because of how they'd lost. I asked him how, and your father, ever the model of elocution, said, “This kid, this kid I really like, this kid—not the best player, but a good kid, has some struggles but really a good kid—he totally screwed the pooch on the last play of the game. I mean big time. As in we probably woulda won if he hadn't messed up.” He said the kid had been having problems and playing poorly leading up to that game and he probably should've been benched, but Dad had been giving him extra chances because he knew the kid had been having a hard time at home, and that just ended up causing them to lose and the other kids to be mad at the kid who botched the play.

By that time, Darren had come back. His swim consisted mostly of letting out primal screams and moans about how cold the water was, diving down below then popping back up and screaming in joyful agony again. I can remember him doing the exact same thing on vacation at the beach when he was about eight. Anyway, as we were walking to the car I asked him what was up, and he went into this big thing about how Corinne had left this residue on all of his senses—I don't have to tell you all of it, it's how he always talks—but he'd been making good headway in not hearing her voice in his head as often but that now it was back.

So there you have it. The Olmstead men: fall hard and heal slow. Beyond that, they can't agree on anything.

Love,

Mom

P.S. Hug and kiss those grandbabies for me!

JANAUARY 2013

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: January 5, 2013 at 7:45 AM
Subject: RE: Dude!

Dear Darren,

Christmas consisted of me watching made-for-TV specials like “I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown.” Ever notice how none of the adults in Charlie Brown movies speak English? The teacher sounds like an off-tune trombone. It's pretty freaking weird. Anyway, Mom and Dad also got me a new tennis racket—something I'll never use. Given that the tennis instructor who gave me lessons for three years finally told Dad to save his money last spring, there are only two possible reasons that they got me this gift:

1) Dad played in college, and he still holds out hope that I might actually return one of his serves one day.

2) Tennis is a game you have to play with another person (which, of course, feeds Mom's whole social interaction crusade).

What I really wanted for Christmas was the complete collection of all
Whale Wars
seasons on DVD.

2013 has gotten off to a rough start. Ever since Smith's party, things at work have been pretty bad. Chin Piercing's got me on a tight leash, which means that I can't leave the break room to snag a slice of pizza from the snack station for lunch. Blunt, the guy who “cooks” in the snack station, won't give me anything for free anymore either. Not even nachos (and I'm pretty sure that the cheese is made from paper cement or at least a derivative of glue). Blunt stole a dollar a day from the cash register for a whole year, which is a lot worse than soiling an Abominable Snowman costume. But now, he acts like the Pope around me.

How was your holiday?

Sincerely,

James

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: January 11, 2013 at 6:31 PM
Subject: Holiday In

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