Home > A Head Full of Ghosts(10)

A Head Full of Ghosts(10)
Paul Tremblay

I flung the covers off me and checked for security breaches. The robe belt was still tied and the empty orange juice jug was in place. My stuffed animals were still on watch. I scolded them for falling asleep on the job. I checked my cameras and laptop. Nothing. My tower of books was intact, but All Around the World was gone, stolen, and replaced with Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. Did she just yank the book out and stuff in the replacement without the tower falling? Did she patiently break down the book tower piece by piece to get to the book and then rebuild? Maybe I forgot to put the book back after one of my structural integrity tests, but no, All Around the World wasn’t anywhere else in my room.

I stormed into my cardboard house and I opened the folded note she’d left on my chest. Surely, it was from Marjorie and not Mom or Dad, though Dad was an occasional trickster if he was in a good mood.

It was written in green crayon.

I sneak into your room when you are asleep, Merry-monkey. I’ve been doing it for weeks now, since the end of summer. You’re so pretty when you’re asleep. Last night, I pinched your nose shut until you opened your little mouth and gasped.

Tonight it’s your turn. Sneak out to my room, after you’re supposed to be in bed, and I’ll have a new made-up story ready for you. Pictures and everything. It’ll be so much fun! Please stop being mad at me and do this.

xoxo

Marjorie

CHAPTER 6

WE ATE DINNER in the kitchen, never in the dining room. Our dining room table, as far as I could tell, was not for dining, but for stacking the clean and folded laundry we were supposed to bring upstairs to our rooms and neatly put away, which we never did. The piles of folded clothes would grow to dizzying, unstable heights and shrink into sad little leaf piles of socks and underwear after we’d cherry-picked what we wanted to wear.

Mom made spaghetti and sighed loudly in the general direction of my father because he was still in the living room, sitting in front of the computer. We all heard the traitorous keyboard keys clacking away. Dinner was ready five minutes ago. Marjorie and I sat with our full steaming plates of pasta; hers topped with red sauce, mine with melted butter, pepper, and a blizzard of grated cheese. Mom said that we weren’t allowed to start eating until “he showed up.” Our not eating was supposed to be some sort of punishment for him.

I grabbed my stomach, swayed in my chair, and announced, “I’m gonna die if I don’t eat! Come on, Dad!”

Marjorie was all slumped and disheveled, lost in her sweatshirt. She whispered, “Shut up, monkey,” to me, apparently low enough that only I heard her, because Mom, who was standing right behind us, didn’t admonish Marjorie.

Dad tiptoed into the kitchen and poured himself into a chair. I was always shocked by how quietly graceful he could be for such a large man. “Sorry. Just had to check a few emails. Didn’t hear back from any of the places I’d hoped to.”

Dad had lost his job more than a year and a half ago. When he graduated high school he’d started working at Barter Brothers, a New England–based toy manufacturer. By the end of his nineteen-year tenure he was in charge of the corporate office mail room. Barter Brothers hadn’t been doing well for years and Dad managed to survive a few layoffs, but didn’t survive the sale of the factory, and he was cut loose. He hadn’t found another job yet.

Mom said, “I’m sure it could’ve waited until after dinner.” She was extra agitated tonight. Surely a carryover from earlier, when she and Marjorie had come home from wherever it was they were. Marjorie ran upstairs to her room before the front door shut. Mom threw her keys on the kitchen table and went out back to smoke three cigarettes. Yes, I counted them. Three meant something was wrong.

Our kitchen table was round, a light shade of brown that had never been in style, and its legs were as wobbly and unsteady as an old dog’s. So when Dad did a quick drum roll with his hands, our plates and glasses bounced and clinked together.

He said, “Hey, maybe tonight we should say grace.”

This was new. I looked to Mom. She rolled her eyes, pulled her chair in tighter to the table, and took a large bite of garlic bread.

Marjorie said, “Seriously, Dad. Grace?”

I asked, “What’s grace?”

Mom said, “You get to explain that one.”

Dad smiled and rubbed his dark wirehair beard. “You don’t remember? Has it been that long?”

I shrugged.

“It’s something we used to do all the time in my family. Someone at the dinner table says a few words about how thankful we are for the food and for everyone in our lives, right? It’s like a prayer.”

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