It’s Monday morning, and I have to laugh at the terrible punishment the school has dumped on me. Wow, I’ll be staying home all week and studying chess, poor me.
I finish my breakfast and remember something I need to do. The address book is in the bottom kitchen drawer, covered up by hot pads and hand towels. I only remember dad talking about Aunt Jessica once, and it was some kind of put-down I didn’t understand. Crap, I don’t know my aunt’s last name, but I get lucky and find it under Jessica. I study the phone number a few minutes to make sure I get the numbers in the right order. Now, I have to figure out what to say to her.
I dial the number and a woman’s soft voice answers. “Hello, is this Aunt Jessica?”
“Aunt Jessica? Who is this?” The voice is stronger now.
“Um, this is Steven Hanson. I think you’re my aunt, aren’t you?” I hear her laugh.
“Steven, for heaven’s sake. Of course, I’m your aunt. What is it, dear? I hope something bad hasn’t happened.”
Her laugh makes me feel better. “No, ma’am, I just wanted to talk to you about my mother.”
“Why, yes, of course. I’m so surprised to hear from you, Steven. And do call me auntie. You were only a baby when I saw you last. What is it you would like to know about your mom?”
“Um, well, everything. Dad never has anything good to say about her, and my sister doesn’t want to talk about her. She says it depresses her. All I have is one picture. Could you tell me what she was like?”
“Oh, Steven, your mother was the kindest woman I’ve ever known. I have all sorts of pictures of her. I can send them to you if you like.”
Now I’m really warming up. “That would be great, auntie. Could you tell me anything else about her?”
“Yes, Steven, let me think. I remember once when we were kids, I got in trouble for breaking our parent’s favorite table lamp. We were tumbling in the living room and I bumped into it. We didn’t know what to do, and your mom, being the favorite child, said she would take the blame. She did, and we got off with just a reprimand for horsing around in the house.”
Taking the leap I say, “Dad says mom was a drunk and a terrible cook. Is that true?”
It seems forever before she answers. “How old are you, Steven?”
“I’ll be 15 in March.”
“Okay, I think you’re old enough to understand. You mother was very unhappy in her marriage. She tried for years to get your father to go to counseling, but he never would. Finally, she gave up and started drinking. It’s a terrible addiction, Steven, especially for a sensitive person like your mom. And your father’s behavior didn’t help.”
I hold my breath worried about what she will say next. “What do you mean? Did dad do something to her? Did he hit her or anything?”
There is a space before Aunt Jessica finally answers. “I don’t honestly know, Steven. She never complained to me about him being rough with her, but I don’t really know.”
I don’t know what to think. My gut is telling me there’s a lot more to the story.
“Steven, I have an idea. How would you like to come to Ohio for a visit, maybe during your spring break. There are lots of things to do here and places to see. It would be a great way for us to get acquainted.”
Surprised, I don’t know what to say. “Uh, well how would I get there?”
“You could come on the train. I could send you a ticket. All you would have to do is get your father or sister to take you to the L.A. station. Why don’t you think it over and get back to me. I’d really like to get to know you, Steven.”
“Gee, thanks, auntie. I appreciate the invitation. Maybe I can work it out.”
“Meanwhile, I’ll send the pictures of your mom. Let me know when you’ve thought it over.”
Back in my room, it feels a little scary taking the train all by myself. Then I remember what Stoner said, “No risk, no reward.” Yeah, I’ll talk it over with Betty.
I pick up the chess book and turn to Controlling the Center. I study what it says for a while and pretty soon I get it. Now I have an answer for Stoner. All I have to do is figure out how to counter those basic moves. I set up the board and move my king pawn two spaces forward. The Black pawn follows. From then on, every move White makes is countered by Black. I’m not getting anywhere, and I’m getting bored.
The doorbell rings. Looking through the peep hole, I see it’s Mrs. Fredericks. Wow, I’m no longer bored. I open the door. “Hi, Mrs. Fredericks, come on in.”
“Only for a moment, Steven, I need to discuss a literature assignment with you.”
She steps into the hall and hands me a paperback. “Your class is reading The Red Badge of Courage, and you’re probably going to need some help with the reading. Do you think your sister could help you?”
I flip over the pages. “Uh, maybe. It will probably take me a little longer, but I might be able to read it myself.”
Mrs. Fredericks looks me square in the eyes. “Here’s the thing, Steven, the class will be reading a chapter a night and discussing the characters and plot every day in class. Since Peter is in the same period, he has volunteered to cassette record the discussion for this week. And I can drop off the recorder next Friday so you can listen and catch up over the weekend. But you’re still going to need to read the chapters so you don’t get behind.”
I can see by the frown on her forehead that she is worried about me. “Gee, Mrs. Fredericks, that would be great. I’ll ask my sister to help with the reading. I really appreciate it.”
A smile takes the place of the frown. “Good, I’ll see you next Friday, then.”
I watch her walk to her car parked at the curb. She waves goodbye before getting in. I’ll bet my mother was just like Mrs. Fredericks.
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