Another chapter from the thrilling memoir of my (um, a girl named Fern’s) life as a homeschooled 16-year-old. The names of my family members have been changed to protect their privacy, it seems. My brothers real names are Jake and Gabe I’ll leave the boyfriend a mystery.
Abel, my younger, not youngest, brother, tells me that my boyfriend Drew has called three times. He also mentions that the chamber orchestra has called for him and wants him to tour with them as their soloist this coming spring. Abel plays the flute and he is great at it. He isn’t thrilled about touring, though.
“Where will I stay?” he says into Mom’s hair as she hugs him.
“I’m so proud of you,” Mom says. “What a wonderful opportunity!”
“Mom,” says Abel, who is thirteen but huge, “Will I have to stay in hotels by myself?”
“No,” says Mom, “of course not. We’ll all come with you.”
Max, my youngest brother, groans loudly. He’s sprawled over three dining room chairs, his upside-down face set in a grimace. “Nooo…” he elaborates. “I’m NOT going.”
I walk over to him and poke his stomach. I’m in a poking mood. He shoots upright, yelping, “Stop it, Fern!” He pokes me back. Max is not impressed by Abel’s accomplishments. He’s slept through concerts.
I hug Abel, too, since Mom has finished.
“Awesome, bro,” I tell him. “You rock.” Abel is one of my favorite musicians. (Another several including my father, Max, Ella, and some famous musicians.)
“Aw,” says Abel modestly. He doesn’t pretend, he’s actually too dumb about his skill not to be modest. “Whatever. It’s not a big deal.”
I slap his back. Abel is the only person I know who I can hit with all my strength and not have the least effect on. Believe me, I’ve tried. He doesn’t even blink.
Dad is sautéing stuff in the kitchen. He yells to Mom that he’s seen this coming a long time, and of course Abel’s getting a break like this. After all, he’s a damn good flutist. Mom agrees. Max pokes my arm. Ten-year-olds never know when the game is over. I rub his hair and he ducks away.
“What did Drew say?” I ask Abel.
Abel smirks. He hates Drew. “Hey, Abe-man,” he says in a corny Drew voice. “Your sister ‘round?”
“Yeah, what else, besides that, I mean.”
Abel frowns, thinking. “He’s pining away without you and he wants you to call him. I told him you were dead, but he didn’t buy it.”
I roll my eyes. “Thanks Abey.”
We make awful faces at one another.
“You can help with dinner,” Mom suggests, noticing me. I make a mad dash for the stairs, Max at my heels, laughing like a hyena. On the balcony, I turn and peer down at everyone. Abel is standing in the same place. He is so slow! He’s looking at me, still making a face. Mom has her hands on her hips. Max sticks his head over the balcony and grins down.
“Hey, Mom!” he yells.
“Hello, Max,” says Mom. She shakes her finger threateningly at me and goes into the kitchen. I head for my room. Max beats me there and throws himself onto my bed, a queen size mattress on the floor.
“He tags first!” he yells, and raises a triumphant fist from a tangle of sheets. “The runner’s out!”
“You’re out,” I tell him, gesturing towards the door.
“Fern, dude,” he says, sitting up and giving me a direct look. “That’s not cool by me.” He sounds like Abel’s cool guy impression. We have a stare down. I win, of course.
“Let’s have a weird noise contest,” suggests Max. Max and I invented the concept of a weird noise contest a few weeks ago when we were home alone and didn’t have much to do. It’s still popular around here. It goes like this: two people sit facing each other, pretty close together. On the count of three they start making the weirdest noises they possibly can. Whoever laughs first loses. We always end up having ties.
I know I have to practice piano and voice, but I agree to the contest.
We have a tie. We both lose it when Max starts doing this bumpy noise with his tongue and wiggling his nose around at the same time. Max wants to have another contest. He swears he’ll beat me this time. We battle ferociously. I win. But Max beats me the next time. Soon it’s time for dinner. I haven’t come close to starting piano or voice. The very thought of either sounds uninviting, to say the least. I think of a poem. It’ll be called “School work for the unschooled.” Of course, piano and voice aren’t really schoolwork, but they feel like it at the moment.
Dinner looks exceedingly healthy, but it tastes fine. Everyone is talking at once. Afterwards I am instructed to help Abel with his bar-mitzvah stuff. Abel’s bar-mitzvah is in three weeks and he isn’t very studious about the prayers. His ear is so good he can pick them up in about five seconds, though. We work on the full Kaddish and the blessing after the Haftarah in my room. Abel sprawls on my bed, spreading his prayer book, Haftarah book, and prayer packet on my pillows. He sings directly into my wall. I try unflattering hairstyles at my long mirror and correct him. His pitch is great. I catch him if he mispronounces so much as a letter. I am impressed with myself. I’ve taught b’nai mitzvah kids before, but never completely from memory. Abel is not impressed. He tells me to shut up when I correct him. But he listens, too.
Max is under a blanket. He’s making gurgling noises and creeping around my floor. I make out the words, “I am the green blob,” from somewhere deep within the gurgling.
“Shut up, Max,” Abel says, his face now very near my wall. He looks as though he’s about to shove his way through it, still chanting Hebrew.
Max gurgles mysteriously in response. The green blob bumps into my leg and is rolled onto its back. It makes apologetic sounds and slimes away again. I pull my hair up very high. Hideous! I cackle at my reflection and set about with large clips and pins.
“Tzur, not Tzo,” I say to Abel.
“Tzur!” he cries, “shut up, Fern!” He continues.
The green blob oozes up onto my bed and congeals over Abel’s foot. There is a slight scuffle, Abel shrieks, and the blob is hurled to the floor where it lies, giggling in a self-satisfied manner. Abel tosses the prayer packet aside and shouts creative insults at the blob. He is finally facing away from the wall. He shakes his fist at the blob, which is now quivering in its mirth.
“You scummy little twit!” he yells. Actually he’s grinning. It seems to me that both parties are having an excellent time. The blob bulges in several areas, a spiteful gesture, ruined by the giggling. Suddenly its middle opens and a sock whizzes out, hitting Abel squarely in the chest. His eyes widen enormously and, while he doesn’t actually move, he gives the appearance of one who is about to fall rapidly backwards.
“You! You!” he sputters. He regains his composure within the space of a few seconds and hurls the sock back into the blob. It’s returned instantly, accompanied by a second. I remember that Max pitches for his little league team. My hair begins to slide slowly and determinedly down over my face. I have a lot of hair and it doesn’t like to go against gravity.
“Hebrew,” I remind Abel. This doesn’t seem to register; he’s busy throwing my pillows at Max, who has pulled the blanket back to aim better.
“YAH!!!!!!!” Max screams, spinning his own pillow over his head and looking ill intentioned. I try to grab the pillow away, but can’t really see where to grab because of all my hair. The phone rings. I dodge two pillows and make a low dive for it.
“Hello?” I shout, midair, hurtling out my door. What a move!
“Fern? Is that you?!” the person on the other end is also shouting. Drew.
I slide to a rough stop. “Oh, hey.”
“Hi, Fern! You know what I love about you?”
I wait. Shit, he wants me to ask. “Um, what?”
“The way you answer the phone.”
I roll my eyes, but I’m kind of flattered. “Thanks, Drew.”
“Sure! How are you, Fern?” He says something else, too, but I don’t catch it cause of a weird, high pitched yodeling that has risen within my room. I press my ear hard against the receiver.
“The green blob attacks!” comes a fierce war cry.
“You moron!!” Abel shouts. Thumping noises erupt.
“Hold on, Drew,” I yell.
There is a huge crash; I guess that Abel has jumped off my bed. I’m right.
“Cut it out, guys!” I shout authoritatively. “Hebrew!!” then I shut my door and sit outside it with the phone. It’s slightly less loud.
“Hi,” I say.
“Is everything ok, Fern?”
“Yeah, just my brothers.”
“Oh, ok. Good. How are you? How has your day been? I’m a little sick today. The weather’s been pretty harsh up here. Slopes are real icy. What’s up?”
“Well.” I try to straighten my thoughts. The phone beeps at me. Call waiting.
“Hold on a second, Drew,” I say, and beep out.
“Fern? Hey.” It’s my friend Nicole.
“Nicole! What’s up?”
“Can you hang out tomorrow? Wyatt and I are going to the coffee shop in town. I am, like, soo exhausted right now. My god, you wouldn’t believe it.”
She sounds even more girly than usual. I make a weird scrunchy face. “I’ll ask my mom.”
I leave the phone and call to mom over the balcony. She says I can go if I get my work done. AND, she says coldly, that involves TWO WHOLE lessons of geometry.
Ouch. Reconsiderations squirm into my mind, but I’m a loyal friend, and I really should see Nicole to find out what’s going on, since it’s possible she’s lost her virginity, so I agree to the geometry, stony faced and resolved, and return to the phone.
“Yup,” I say, as cheerfully as possible. “What time?”
“Time? Girlfriend? Do I ever know? Look, I’ll email you, k?”
“Yeah, right. K.” K?
“K, funky. See ya then.” She hangs up.
“K, see ya,” I say to the phone. I beep back to Drew.
“Drew, are you there? Nicole’s a wreck, I really need to talk to her now, can we talk later?” I really don’t want to talk to him now.
“What? Fern! But I- well, sure, I guess so. I love you so much, Fern. Hope everything’s alright. I really wanted to talk to you, I will- we’ll- we have to talk later. I love you.”
Drew can never just say bye.
“Love you too. Sorry about this.” I don’t even feel that guilty, which makes me feel guilty.
“Goodbye, Fern! I’ll talk to you soon. Goodbye!”
“Bye.” I hang up. He always waits for me to. I sigh and get up. I go to try and restore some semblance of peace to my room. My hair is back to normal, hanging stubbornly down my back.
To be continued (one more time)…..