During that sunday in which uncle Henry came by our house and took daddy and mammy by car to godmother Meg's funeral in San Francisco I woke up later than usually 'cause it was vacation time and I knew that the moment I get out of my room Joss and I would have to go straight to the back yard do mow the grass.
When I definitely woke up and Joss hearded the fearful noise of my slippers crossing de rug he did not lose time.
-- Come on, Andy -- he said, while he scratched with his dirty finger nails the door's surface. -- Come on! I won't start anything without you.
-- I'm coming, Joss, start it without me willia?
-- No way! -- he answered with the conviction of the stronger. -- Daddy said you and I should get together and do the mowing together. "Together!", daddy said, Andy.
Joss slapped the door on my sleeppy face and left. I kept listening the echo of that word many times repeated, each time with more anger, and then suddenly the sound disappeared. I went back to my bed again and lied down my head over the pillow. The intimate silence of my bedroom dominated my mind for a few seconds. In a while I noticed in a very clear way the sound of my breathing and the pumping of my heart. I remembered godmother Meg died yesterday. Had she been able to hear the very last beating of her heart before it stopped beating?
I heard my brother crying once again.
-- I am waiting, Andy. But I ain't gonna wait any longer.
I figured it wasn't fair any working obligations on holidays and vacations, mainly because everybody I knew (and I say everybody) went out travelling to some fine places with their parents or even with their friends that summer. Everybody, really, except my sister Cathy, Joss and me. And it was the second time it happened in our family. Two years, two summers in a row with our feet plastered in Pleasant Hill's ground.
-- I'm on the way -- I answered confidentlessly, while I raised my body out of the bed and took off my pijamas discouragedly.
All dressed up I walked out, crossed the lobby and reached the family room. I was disappointed because I expected to meet Cathy in front of the fireside, with her old yellow walkman squeezing her big ears while her lips moved almost without any noise trying to follow the lyrics; she would be ironning some skirt she planned to wear later in the evening and would certainly say something unpleasant like "move, Andy, move, Joss wants you outside", or "why do you like scaring people like that; don't you think you should at least make some noise when you walk?"
But she wasn't there that morning and I wished she could be there just to say with a mirth: "Hello filthy brother, I promise I won't iron your pijamas never more. Now what?"
I must confess Cathy although childish and somehow foolish is the closest thing I have in my life. I love her, indeed, even when she dances in front of the mirror dreaming of something it is for me unbearably nasty or nauseous and probably unatainable by regular means. Anyhow something very big makes me always remain close to her.
I stared the empty room. A smell mixture of leather, wet dog fur and glass cleaner spray came to my nose. She wasn't there for me, but it seemed that the whole family, with its manners and idyosysincrasies (a fine word I learned a few days ago), was there, abstractly, spying each other, sitting side-by-side the way people sit when there is no room for everyone and nobody is at ease.
I left the place and reached the garage following the sound of Joss exercizing his muscles on his brand new weight bench grandma Dorothy gave him in his last birthday. When he noticed I had arrived he hastened his movements to show me how good he was. Deliberately I gave my back to the scene and watched for while the shelves and many drawers the garage walls exhibit like an old warehouse a long time abandoned.
All kinds of tools live their, most of them rusty; automobile spare parts, spark plugs, ignition cables, old broken umbrellas with the fabric torn in many places; screw-driver boxes of all sizes, for all purposes; old travel suitcases, bags, truncks, timber sections; mammy's kitchen stuffs, electric stuffs, the old house's letter box, pans and kettle pots; a screw-drivers collection, a scissors collection, daddy's chisels collection; Christmas stuff, camping stuff, golf stuff, barbecue stuff; many things with their scary and grim look.
One day our solitary neighbour Walt Pater came to visit us, as he often does, and examining with a philosophical interest the garage shelves said with an open gesture of arms that all those gathered objects represented pretty well the material story of my family. I am not sure I understood perfectly well what he meant by that, but I knew, from the very first moment I noticed that silver plate fancy box partially unrapped (hidden behind the new set of tires daddy bought two days ago), that it was not at all part of our common story.
Joss halted his exercise when he discovered his efforts to call for my attention were not working. I interrupted my digressive thinking and turned my face to him with a premeditated candidness:
-- Shall we go, Joss? Don't you wanna mow the grass?
Joss knew I wasn't at all a good sportsman; intimately he probably also knew I would never be trasformed into something much different than what I am now: a person who cares more about his brains than about his muscles. However, Joss believed his ruggy manners and vallues were the only worthful and legitimate to prevail on earth, and his vallues made him expect everybody would like very much to be like him: a sportsman without brains, inclusive me. He was definitely wrong.
-- What is up, Andy? You're 'fraid of increasing biceps like eveyone? Freaky, aren't ya?
-- Don't you come again with that, Joss!
-- Girls don't like lazy boys like you!
I promptly figured girls may not like stupid guys like him, either, but something in the air told me it was a good moment to ignore his words and concentrate my attention on that fine peace of mistery behind the tires.
All of a sudden I jumped over the tires and reached the silver box, grabbing it firmly with my two hands while I shouted as if he was far away from me:
-- Funny, Joss, this thing here. It wasn't there yesterday. Is it yours, Joss?
I wasn't absolutely sure of what I was saying, but one fact could not be denied: that box had been placed over there behind the tires in the last 48 hours. Guess who could be stupid enough to choose such a place to hide an object? Right: Joss. He was the only person capable of doing something like that. Hence, the box was his, or, he was the guardian of the box. Hence, we had a new game to play.
Joss stood up, and his pimpled snout arose against my face instantly, as if he had been pulled out of the weight bench by an imaginary spring. Joss bent his body over me, and his nose was almost touching mine. Our bodies squeezed the box. I heard the sound of something being torn inside.
-- Leave it, Andy. Gime that, now! -- He shouted.
-- Is it yours, Joss? I asked again. -- Of course it is yours -- I asserted, while a feeling of fear grew unavoidable inside of me.
-- No, of course not. It is daddy's.
I counted to three. I should calm myself immediately.
-- If it's daddy's why are you so nervous?
-- It is a daddy's surprise to mammy -- he answered showing off he was a bad lier.
-- If it is a daddy's surprise to mammy why are you so nervous, Joss? -- I insisted.
-- Gime that! Joss shouted.
-- No -- I said, intimidated and feeling in my nerves the presage of an imminent coward retreat.
My chances were not good in that particular moment and the only alternative I had in mind was to do all the possible efforts to avoid showing him I was afraid again. The only strategy to safeguard my position against his physical strenght was to show him my despite and moral superiority.
-- No -- I said once again, looking into his eyes like a snake would do before his final attack upon its prey.
If Joss was a bit smart, he would certainly reckon my poison was not enough to submit him. He would hold my shoulders and shake my body till my glasses fell off my face. I would certainly surrender. Nobody would go further than that for the unknown contents of a silver box hidden in a garage. But Joss was not at all a smart guy and thus did not take the right decision. Instead of showing to his younger brother that he was the cock of the walk, Joss decided to negotiate. Great! He was just about to dig a hole around his feet. I started to breathe normally.
-- Look, Andy, it is a gift, this box is a gift Scotty wants to give to his mother.
-- Sure, Joss. I'm gonna go right away to Scotty's house and ask him what kind of surprise he is preparing to his mammy. Oh, yes, I go right now. Scotty is probably there now.
-- No, Andy, I will not let you talk to anyone about it. Don't try me!
Joss was getting a bit anxious again and I, on the contrary, was feeling each time better.
-- Let's do something, Joss. I won't go to Scotty's but you gotta show me what is in the box, dealed?
-- It is none of your business what is in here! -- answered Joss, grabbing the box and trying to take it out of my hands.
The box was unappealably (expression my father uses in the court) -- unappealably being ripped and Joss could not continue to grab it and pull it. He noticed that and decided to refrain his appetite withdrewing his hands.
-- Joss, I wanna know what is in the box -- I said calm and cool like I've never been before in his presence.
-- I don' t know, Andy. It isn't mine, I told ya.
-- The box is yours, Joss. And you know that I know that it belongs to you and to nobody else. Let's open it, now! -- I said pronouncing the words slowly but vigorously. -- If you don't share your secret with me I will tell pah you have a dirty secret you don't want to share with anyone.
-- I still can't, Andy. Later maybe.
-- When do you want to do it, Joss? -- I asked.
-- Tonight. I promise I'll open it tonight.
I had to think fast. "Tonight" represented a risky waste of time for me. Time enough to get rid of the evidence (using again my daddy's court words). I concluded it was not a good agreement. The battle should continue.
-- No way, Joss, I want you to open it now, otherwise I will do it myself.
Joss lower his chin and stared the tip of his tennis-shoes for a moment. Everyone in the family knows perfectly well that when Joss does that he is about to surrender.
Suddenly I heard somewhere Cathy's voice. Very well, I reckon. She is back! I openned the compass of my short legs so that I could feel the solid ground under me and stabbed him with these words:
-- I will call in Cathy for an opinion. How about that?
Joss made his chin pratically disappear in his chest and asked again advice to his tennis-shoes, and did that for a longer time. It seemed his usual counsellorship was not working that sunday. I waited. Finally he said:
-- I wanna make a deal.
-- What kind of deal? -- I asked. -- I don't think you are in a very confortable position to deal with me.
-- Look, I let you keep the box with you untill pah and mah come back from Meg Burke's funeral.
-- Daddy and mammy, you know, will come home pretty late. It happens everytime they go out with uncle Henry. By this time we both shall be sleeping in our rooms. -- I left the silver box over the tires and pointed out his face: -- I will not wait till tomorrow. I'm gonna have a conversation with Cathy right now, Joss!
Joss lifted up his both arms and showed me the palms of his hands. For a moment I thought he was going to beat me. (I was getting tired and sick of all that, I confess. Why aren't we allowed to retire from families like workers do when they don't have conditions to carry on?)
Gratefully I was wrong. He simply wanted to do business with me and it was a primitive sign of his commitment will.
I was planning to add some more words in the benefit of my plea when I heard the outside door being closed and two seconds after that the sound of a telephone ringing insistently. Guess! Yes, you are correct: Cathy left home again. Betsy's swimming-pull (Besty is her friend and lives next block) is far better than our's back yard hammock, I promise.
Joss lower his arms and I thank God the telephone stopped ringing (had he noticed all that?).
-- I'll show it to you and you mow the lawn, he said.
-- Let's do this way: you show me what is inside that silver box, I mow the back yard, you cut the front garden and trim both. Deal?
-- Whelk! -- he cried, very much unhappy and violently.
I waited. A moment later he announced in a sudden mitigated voice: -- We have a deal. I agree we have a deal.
-- I want to see it all, Joss. Let's unpack it right now -- I cried out full of spirit.
Joss pulled out my arm:
-- You ain't gonna tell anyone about it, Andy. Do you promise me?
-- Yes, yes, Joss. It is a promise, sure! -- I answered almost breathless.
Joss lifted up the cap and unveilled the secret, taking out of the bottom of the box a plastic bag, where one could read very distinctively the name Rachel printed on it.
I could not bear my anxiety. If someone told me there was a slaughtered corpse cut in pieces inside that bag, I wouldn't care. I wanted to touch it. I wanted to be sure I could beat Joss once in my life in his territory
Moved by these feelings I hold firmly the bag, pulled out its ceiling-wax with all my strenght. Joss was very much upset with all that, but nothing in the world would be strong enough to hinder me to continue. A thing with a human head shape and a human hair started to swell and swell. All of a sudden the thing jumped out of the bag and continued to grow and grow. I could not hold it any longer. I was confused and almost in panic. I let the bag and the thing drop on the floor.
I drew back, I don't really know why. Maybe because I was afraid it could blow up. Joss was pale and bewildered. He drew back also, seemingly defeated and gropping the air like a blind man.
Nevertheless it continued to grow after touching the ground, blown by something I could not yet identify. In the beginning it had no form, but in an instant it had acquired a human shape, more precisely a woman shape, with long arms, round legs and a formidable pair of breasts. As she continued to be blown up her neck emerged out of her thorax, she stood up tightly streched. Her eyes, partially covered by her red hair, alined with mine and focused my face in a very anguished and disturbed way. It seems she was asking me why everything should be like that. I had no answer.
Meanwhile Joss recovered. He drew himself near the thing.
-- Let's turn it off, Andy -- He ordered.
-- I don't know how to do it, Joss. It is your doll, not mine.
I pushed the body towards Joss so that he could hold her, but he didn't. Rachel fell off my hands and hit the ground. Immediately we could here a buzz sound coming out of her body while she had her size constantly diminuished. The buzz persisted, sometimes mingled to a gargling noise. I must say it was awful.
Joss pulled out a screw-driver that was nailed against the garage wall, stucked furiously many times Rachel's belly, crumbling over a stool after that.
I left the garage. I didn't want to see him crying.
The first naked girl I had ever seen in my life was a lie. Her name was Rachel, five years guaranteed by the manufacturer; deaf and mute, one bit taller than me, but for little or no reason she shrinked and whistled. Definitely it was a bad start for me in girl's business, but worst for Joss. My valiant brother was condemned to live in the real world. Bad, too bad for him, mainly when one considers the fact that Jennifer, thetrue one, left Pleasant Hill and moved to the East Coast with her parents.
After all that, I remember, I went mowing the grass. What else could I do?