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Mr gedrick and me, p.2
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       Mr. Gedrick and Me, p.2

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “Wanna split a triple-decker Stanley special?” I asked Mom.

  She let out a big breath and slumped in her chair. “I’m not hungry, but you enjoy that. It looks delicious.”

  I thought about getting back on my bike and riding to the store for all the candy I could carry. Or maybe I could go searching for the man in the green jacket. I couldn’t stop thinking about the way he’d made those leaves dance around. I thought about learning a trick like that and showing it to my family. Maybe then I could get some attention. I put all the stuff away, poured a glass of milk, and wrapped my sandwich in a napkin.

  “I’m starting to think we might need a little help around here,” Mom said.

  “Help?” I asked. Mom looked really tired. “What kind of help?”

  Mom shrugged and pulled up a web browser. She pushed her long hair behind her ears and let out a deep breath. I took an enormous bite of my sandwich.

  “I’ve been seeing this search return at the top of the list all morning,” she said.

  “What have you been searching for?” I garbled through a mouthful of sandwich.

  Mom paused like she didn’t want to say, and then she spoke in a whisper like only she and I could know. “Nannies.”

  “Nannies?” I shouted. Some of my sandwich flew out of my mouth and bounced off Mom’s shoulder.

  “I feel like we’ve talked about this,” she said, ticking off lessons on her fingers. “Don’t put so much food in your mouth at one time, but if you do, make sure you don’t talk.”

  “Right,” I said as I tried to choke down another huge chunk of white bread and turkey that was bigger than a baseball. “Smaller bites. Got it.”

  I swallowed what was left and slugged down half a glass of milk. A burp was crawling up my throat, but somehow I managed to keep my mouth closed while it blew up in my head and exited through my nose. “Seriously, a nanny? You mean like a person who lives in our house and makes us food and does our laundry?”

  “I guess so,” Mom said. She sure seemed exhausted and stressed and confused. Sometimes it was like she didn’t know what she was thinking.

  I wondered what it might be like to have some help. A nanny? It sounded like someone was going to replace my dad. It didn’t seem like a great idea. Then again, I thought maybe this nanny person could also be a bodybuilder and they’d help me lift weights. It could happen.

  The listing at the top of Mom’s search page was very simple. It said:

  Mr. Gedrick of Swoghollow. Cleaning, cooking, caretaking.

  “Sounds strange,” I said. “And it’s a guy. Aren’t nannies supposed to be girls?”

  “Girls can be anything they want to be,” Mom said. “So guys can be mannies.”

  I thought a manny sounded hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing. Whenever I laugh like that, Mom starts laughing, too. She giggled and moved the pointer on the screen. “Let’s see where the link goes.”

  Mom clicked on the link and a page appeared. It, too, was very unusual. There was a fancy logo in the shape of a G with swirlies around it. And there was a place to enter an address. That’s all.

  “You’re not seriously going to put our address in there?” I asked. “What if this nanny is an ax murderer?”

  But I looked at Mom and felt bad for her. Her hair was all over the place. She hadn’t put any makeup on. She was wearing a wrinkled T-shirt that said Keep Calm and Eat Cookies on it. She shook her head a few times and ran off to the bathroom.

  I tried to eat the rest of my sandwich, but I’d lost my appetite so I dropped it in the trash can. While Mom was gone, I sat down and looked at the page. I felt sorry for myself. I felt sorry for Mom and my brother and my sister. I even felt sorry for Bob and the crickets. Everyone just seemed lonely.

  So I did something I probably shouldn’t have.

  I entered our address in the box on the screen and hit send.

  When the screen refreshed, it was completely empty except for five little words.

  Help is on the way.

  I closed out of the browser and said a little prayer.

  Please let him cook like a champ. And let him be really good at weight lifting.

  TIMBUKTU AND A KANGAROO

  I think I’ll talk about my dad now. He was what some people call a Mr. Mom, so I guess he might have made a pretty good manny, now that I think about it. But I never saw my dad as a Mr. Mom. More like he was my friend and my teacher. And he was really encouraging. I miss that the most, I think.

  “Have you ever heard of a place called Timbuktu?” he asked us kids a while back, when we were all younger.

  “That’s not a real place,” we all said. “Is it?”

  “Oh, it’s real. I’ll show you. It’s right there.”

  He showed it to us on a big globe he kept in the garage. The globe was so big, if any of us could have opened it up, we could have lived inside of it. We could have put beds in there and a couch and a TV and a bunch of bananas and stayed in there for a month. Maybe it wasn’t that big, but none of us could get our arms all the way around it. So it wasn’t small.

  Dad talked all about invaders and relics and golden ages and we were suddenly big fans of Timbuktu. We could tell he was just as excited by the way he talked, waving his arms around as his voice got louder and he talked faster. Like I said before, Amelia does this, too, just like my dad used to. She loves throwing her arms around while she talks.

  Sometimes the places my dad would tell us about didn’t seem real at all. Magical places with giant bunnies and big, open plains. But then we got older and realized that Australia probably was a real place and that kangaroos acted a lot like giant bunnies. My brother and my sister didn’t care about stuff like this anymore, but I did. I still wondered sometimes if the places Dad told me about were real, or if maybe some of them were made up. Or if some of them were magic places, because sometimes he talked about unicorns and that didn’t seem possible.

  But I wished and wished anyway. I wished that some kind of magic would arrive and put my family back together. I left the kitchen and went to the garage, where I spun the big globe like I used to. I felt the smooth surface of the globe run along my palm. I listened to it spin on its axis, squeaking as it moved in a circle. It’s heavy, so once you get it going, it turns for a long time. I thought about my dad and the garage felt very empty. Everything was quiet by the time the globe stopped.

  I closed my eyes and pointed to a place on the globe, just like I did with my dad. He would tell me all about whatever place I’d pointed to. As I opened my eyes in the garage and moved in real close, I squinted so I could read the tiny type. I pointed to a city or a town, I wasn’t sure which. It was on a big continent and it was all alone: Swoghollow.

  “Where have I heard that name before?” I asked myself.

  I stared at it for a minute, and then I let my hand fall to my side and looked around the garage where Dad’s imagination used to take up so much space. I heard a cricket chirp. I made a promise then—from the bottom of my flip-flops to the top of my Chicago Cubs baseball cap—that I would find a way to put my family back together again.

  Now if only I had a clue about how I was going to do it.

  MR. GEDRICK OF SWOGHOLLOW

  Six hours later, my family was sitting at the dinner table staring at the food. We were eating frozen pizza, and there was a big bowl of uneaten broccoli sitting next to Fergus. He passed it to his left, knowing it would be just as full when it came back around.

  “So what did everyone do today?” Mom asked. She wasn’t very good at small talk. She took a bite of her pizza and realized it was burned on the bottom.

  “I fed Bob,” I said. “And I rode over and visited Dad.”

  That got everyone’s attention.

  “What a nice thing to do,” Amelia said. But there was an edge to her voice, I thought because it made her feel guilty for not visiting the cemetery more often. I didn’t think she’d been there in months. She dropped a half-eaten piece of pizza on her plate an
d went to her room.

  “I’m not eating her share of the broccoli,” Fergus said. “No way.”

  “Was it something I said?” I asked.

  Fergus shook his head like I should have known better. “She’s sensitive, remember?”

  “Yeah but—”

  “Don’t worry about it, little bro,” Fergus cut me off, stuffing pizza in his mouth. “Women are a mystery.”

  Mom looked at Fergus like he was four years old and didn’t have a clue.

  Then the doorbell rang.

  “Are you expecting someone?” Mom asked. She looked back and forth between Fergus and me.

  “Not me,” I said.

  “Nope,” Fergus mumbled. I could tell he hoped one of his baseball buddies was coming by to rescue him from the morgue that had become his home.

  For a while after Dad died a lot of the nosy neighbors dropped by with casseroles and plates of cookies. Dad had been friendly with all the moms, but Mom went into Chicago every day for work. She left early and got home late. I think some of the other moms thought she worked too much. They might have wondered if Mom could handle us without my dad. After all, he was the one who fed us and got us off to school on time and mowed the lawn. I think Mom was happy when the free food and the advice stopped showing up.

  We all went to the door. Who would come see us out of the blue? Even Amelia came out of her room, holding a tissue and sniffling. The house was in shambles, and looking around, I hoped the visitor wouldn’t want to come inside.

  “Whoever it is, they’re getting quite a welcome,” Mom said as we gathered around her.

  She opened the door and my jaw dropped. It might have actually hit the floor.

  The strange man from the cemetery was standing on the front porch. He had the same fuzzy green jacket, and up close, it really did look like pool table felt. He had the matching green vest and the white shirt and the red tie. His black hair was perfectly combed, like an old movie star’s. He had bright green eyes that gave us a grave look. His pointed nose was a little long for his face, and he was taller than I had realized from a distance when I’d seen him in the cemetery.

  “Can I help you?” Mom asked, pushing us back behind her like she was trying to protect us from a pack of wolves.

  “I believe it is I who can help you,” the man said. He bowed and stood up straight again. And then he introduced himself and I almost fainted.

  “Mr. Gedrick of Swoghollow, at your service.”

  SOMETHING IMPOSSIBLE HAPPENS IN THE KITCHEN

  Mom was having a momentary lapse of brain function. Instead of saying no thank you, we’re fine, and then closing the door on Mr. Gedrick, she allowed him to take one step into the house. And then another. Before she knew it he had his retractable pointer out at full length, poking at a sock stuck on top of the ceiling fan. He pulled it down with the pointer.

  “Size eleven, white,” he said. Then he sniffed it. “Baseball field.”

  “Maybe that’s mine,” Fergus said, even though he was sure it was his. I’d watched him throw it up there weeks ago.

  Mr. Gedrick held the sock out in Fergus’s direction, where it sat on the end of the pointer. “I know it’s your sock, Fergus. Let’s not make a habit of storing it there in the future, shall we?”

  Fergus took the sock and stuffed it in his pocket like he had no idea where else to put it. I looked at Mr. Gedrick and wondered: How does this guy know about my brother’s stinky socks?

  Mom was still standing at the door, holding it open like she was getting ready to go somewhere. She blew a strand of blond hair out of her face and it fell right back where it was before.

  “Excuse me, Mr. Gedrick, was it?” she asked. “I don’t recall sending a message for any help. I’m afraid you must have the wrong house. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

  That was true, Mom hadn’t sent for Mr. Gedrick. But I had! Mom was awfully busy, and I could see the wheels turning in her head. Had she requested his services? Maybe she had filled in the blanks without even thinking about it. She nodded her head toward the door as if to say could you please go find another family to help? But her face said something different.

  Mr. Gedrick paid no attention to my mom. He walked right through the living room, carefully moving around backpacks and piles of old homework and empty pizza boxes. As he passed by the remote control for the television set, he tapped it with his pointer and the TV turned off.

  “Hey, I was watching that,” Fergus said. Then he seemed to remember that no, he had actually been eating dinner. “I mean I was going to watch that. Turn it back on.”

  “How much baseball can one person stand?” Amelia asked.

  “I’m sure you’d rather watch a dance competition,” Fergus yelled.

  “If it saves us all from a bunch of idiots running around in circles with sticks in their hands, yes!” Amelia fired back.

  Fergus shook his head and let out a snort. “For starters, they don’t carry anything around the bases,” Fergus said as he walked over and picked up the remote. “And it’s not a stick, you nitwit, it’s a bat.”

  Mom put her hand on her forehead and stared at the floor, shaking her head. This was getting embarrassing.

  I could tell Amelia was about to lay into Fergus but Mom looked up and cut her off.

  “Mr. Gedrick, I really do need you to leave.”

  Mr. Gedrick seemed to me like someone who had been in situations like this before, a guy who was observing everything but acting like he wasn’t. He busied himself looking at the ceiling, then the doorway to the kitchen, and then the hallway that led to my dad’s old study and the bedrooms. He retracted the pointer and placed it back into his pocket. When his hand came back out he was holding a small booklet, which he opened. I peeked over and saw the cover: Field Guide, Darrows. Maybe he thought we were a family of birds. A pen found its way into his other hand and he began jotting down notes.

  “Hey, the dang TV won’t turn on,” Fergus said, his frustration building.

  “Good,” Amelia grumbled as she sat down on the couch. She stood right back up again and picked up one of my Star Wars action figures. “Stanley, I swear, if you don’t stop leaving these butt zappers lying around I’m going to hit them all with a hammer.”

  “Butt zappers, good one,” I said. Amelia threw the toy at my head and missed by a mile.

  “You’re really out of practice,” I said. “Wanna play catch later?”

  Amelia huffed and sank back down into the couch. But I could tell she was just as curious as everyone else about this strange person standing in our house. She kept her eye on Mr. Gedrick.

  “Amelia, calm down,” Mom said. She shut the front door so the entire neighborhood couldn’t hear all the yelling. I wondered if the neighbors were worried about us. Or maybe they were just curious? Mom eyed Fergus. “The last thing we need is a baseball game right now. Everyone be quiet while I figure this out.”

  She turned to where Mr. Gedrick had been standing and started to say something, but then she noticed that he was gone. It was very strange—one second he was there, and the next he wasn’t.

  “Which way did he go?” Mom asked, looking at each of us one at a time.

  “What is up with this TV?” Fergus complained. He kept pointing the remote and hitting all the buttons like he was firing a laser gun.

  “He must have gone down the hallway!” I said.

  Fergus and Amelia looked at each other like they were going to start arguing again. But they both shrugged—a silent truce. I led the charge toward the back of the house and everyone followed me. We found Mr. Gedrick peering into one room after another, taking notes in his field guide.

  “Mr. Gedrick,” Mom said pleadingly, approaching him slowly like he was a dog that had wandered in and might snap at one of us.

  “A moment, if you please,” Mr. Gedrick said as he wrote with impressive speed. He finished whatever he was jotting down and walked right into Amelia’s room.

  “Hey!” Amel
ia shouted. “You can’t go in there. That’s my room!”

  Everyone arrived at her door at the same time and tried to jam in close so we could see what was going on. Mr. Gedrick was standing at the window, staring outside. There was something sad about the way he gazed out into the yard. He turned in our direction, raised a dark eyebrow, and the doorbell rang.

  “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Mom said.

  I could already imagine Mrs. Tingman or Mrs. Fleewert from down the street standing on our porch asking if everything was okay. The last thing Mom needed was a rumor running up and down the streets about a man in a green felt jacket loose in her house. She pointed a finger at Mr. Gedrick. “Don’t go anywhere.”

  While Mom was racing back toward the door, Mr. Gedrick walked right past the rest of us like we weren’t even there. I looked at my brother and sister and thought: useless as usual. Then I chased after Mr. Gedrick.

  “Hmmmm, yes. This will do just fine,” Mr. Gedrick said when he arrived at the door to my room.

  “It’s the best room in the house, for sure,” I said. I’m proud of my room, even if it currently looked like a toy and underwear bomb had exploded in a thousand directions.

  “This will all have to go,” Mr. Gedrick said, sweeping his arm across the space. He looked down his long nose at me and flashed his brilliant green eyes. “I’m afraid you’ll need to move in with your brother.”

  “What!” Fergus yelled.

  “Cool!” I said as I looked at my big brother. “What’s up, roomie?”

  “This is insane,” Amelia complained.

  Mr. Gedrick walked back to the living room and we all followed him. This was turning out to be one heck of an adventure.

  Mom was arguing with someone at the door when Mr. Gedrick showed up behind her. She closed the door partway so she could hide the weirdness taking place in our living room.

  “Who’s at the door, Mom?” I asked.

  Mom glanced back and forth from the front porch to Mr. Gedrick. “Just a neighbor, it’s nothing. Why don’t you take our guest into the kitchen? A glass of water, maybe?”

 
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