On Friday my teacher and the principal sorted out the homework with me, as well as giving me a Critz Elementary T-shirt to wear in Africa.
"Don't worry about a thing," they said. I know it's one of those things that people say and they meant it kindly, but surely they can't imagine that someone whose mother has been lost in Uganda is ever going to be able to put it out of his mind for long.
The odd thing was that once we hit the road, for a while I did. For one thing, there was the giant ball of string.
Aunt Magnolia and Aunt Pigg argued in the car all the way to the giant ball of string. They argued about whether it was just another giant ball of string or the world's biggest ball of string. They argued about whether when Aunt Magnolia's doctor said, "Please leave," she meant her office or that Aunt Magnolia was well enough to travel. They argued about whether they should stop at their house in Floyd and get their swimsuits and cruise wear for warmer weather or whether to go on and buy stuff on the road as needed. But Aunt Magnolia wanted her cell phone, so they returned to Floyd and stopped at their office, where half a dozen assistants waited on them anxiously. They told the office staff to give my parents the cell phone number when they would inevitably call, having tried and failed to reach us in Critz. Then we went to their house, but I did not get to see the amazingly small backyard because they, rudely, did not invite me in but left me in the car while they packed. Then we were back on the road and I returned to sprawling in the backseat. Aunt Magnolia should really have been sprawled in the backseat because she wasn't well enough to sit up all day yet, although, thank goodness for small favors, she was past the point where she was going to ooze blood all over the car. That would have made the trip impossible. But she seemed to think seat position denoted rank, and she refused to be relegated to backseat status. Instead, she lowered the front seat until her head was almost resting on whatever part of me happened to be lounging behind her seat. In case of an accident we would probably end up wound together like one huge sticky lump of dough. It did not bear thinking about.
After they came out of their house and threw their suitcases, presumably packed with cruise wear, into the trunk, they spent the rest of the drive arguing about whether all their cruise wear was suitable for a Virginia beach. I would like to go on record as saying that by the end of the day I hated them both all over again with a renewed passion that might have been invigorating but was a little disturbing at times. You don't like to find yourself pausing in your day to plan the best way to tie your relatives (no matter how unlovely) to railroad tracks.
By the time we finally reached the giant ball of twine (it was not string, as Aunt Pigg had said it would be; this started another argument), we were all hot and thirsty and less interested than we might otherwise have been. I wanted to go into the museum and gift shop devoted to Colonel Beaumont Wilke's twine obsession. For one thing, I was desperate for some time out of the car. But Aunt Pigg and Aunt Magnolia, having found a Coke machine outside the museum, decided this was excitement enough and refused to take me inside because of the small admission charge and their sudden passion for thrift.
"After all, if we are to stay at the beach for a month or two or three, until your parents return, then we must save our pennies," said Aunt Magnolia as we shared the one Diet Coke she had bought.
Aunt Pigg chose that unfortunate moment to put a dime into the Coke machine, preparatory to putting fourteen more in, and Aunt Magnolia slapped her hand. I think she had meant to just sort of flick it away, because when it made more solid contact than that, she looked as surprised as Aunt Pigg and me.
Excerpt from Vacation by Polly Horvath, pages 34-39. Copyright . 2005 by Polly Horvath. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC in 2005. All rights reserved. Visitors to this web site are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
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No Man's Land
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