by Bill Vernon
Mom’s friend Betty entered our house one afternoon as if blown inside by the wind. The door banged against the wall, and from the kitchen Mom was there in an instant. Betty leaned against the door as if exhausted. “Ruth, you won’t believe what that fool did this time.”
Tony appeared in the doorway behind her. “Now, Betty, stop….”
Betty glanced at him. “No, everyone should hear what I have to endure, living with you.”
Tony shook his head, squeezed past her, and collapsed on the couch. “It was just a joke.”
Betty sneered, “A joke!”
Tony’s face became a rubber mask featuring a smirk and downcast, guilty eyes.
She’d come home from Sherwood’s Market with a bag of groceries in each arm, and found “the moron” sprawled on the floor. A lamp was on, she supposed to light up the pool of red on the floor, the big red splotch on his shirt, and the handle of the butcher knife. “It seemed to be sticking up out of him. Well I screamed, of course, and dropped the sacks. There’s a dozen eggs, a big jar of dill pickles, and God knows what else broken on the living room floor.”
Tony said, “I’ll clean it up.”
“Damn right you will.” Betty turned around to face him. “You’ll also go back to the store and replace whatever is ruined.”
Mom said, “Tony was stabbed?”
Betty turned back to Mom. “No, that was just my first impression. Then I noticed the knife was sticking up between his arm and his chest.” She put a hand flat in her armpit to demonstrate. “I also noticed the half empty ketchup bottle on the desk.”
My mother shook her head. “Tony, what were you thinking?”
Betty said, “He was trying to frighten the life out of me.”
“It was a joke,” Tony said.
Betty twisted around and yelled. “You think that’s funny?”
My mother turned away, but I saw the smile she was hiding. “No wonder you dropped the bags.”
“I grabbed the dust mop from the closet and beat him over the head until the idiot had enough sense to get up and run.”
“Ah, Betty, it wasn’t that bad.”
She glared at him. “It could very well have killed me right on the spot.”
“I pull jokes on you because I love you.”
We all stared at him. After a minute Betty said, “How can I be so lucky. Ruth, do you have any coffee perked?”
“Good idea,” Tony said. “A cup of coffee will settle us down.”
“Not you,” Betty said. “You go home and clean up the mess.”
Mom led Betty to the kitchen while Tony stood in the doorway watching. When they disappeared, Tony left. He walked hunched over as if carrying a heavy burden. He might have felt bad, but his trick seemed neat enough for me to try on my brother.
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.
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