My sister thinks she’s a witch. She talks nonstop about curses and hexes. She casts spells then makes up excuses (the wind, the moon, daylight savings time) about why they never work. If that’s not bad enough, she’s got a black cat named Spook that hisses at anyone not named Molly. She asked for a cauldron for Christmas. Seriously.
It started around Halloween and she just never came out of it. Even as I’ve tried on several occasions to tell that it’s no way to survive middle school. Think she listens to me? No one listens to me.
It’s bad enough that we go to the same school. It’s even worse that Molly gets straight A’s, and so her antics are tolerated. And because I get straight C’s, my life is under a microscope. Especially after play reheasals last night.
The play. It’s part of this New Faces theater thing at school—a scam to round up suckers and get them onstage to make fools of themselves. And that’s not the worst part. The worst part is called Gypsies and Fairies. And by fairy I’m talking tights and wings and glittery mortification. Any guesses as to who’s playing the fairy?
I’d agreed to do it while udner a real spell. Staring into the wide, pleading eyes of the lead gypsy, Lani Andrews. By the time I came to my senses anbd realized what had happened, well, I had a wand in my hand.
Mr. Worsham thought it would be a good idea for the cast get “better acclimated” with their characters. For me, this means walking around Peakland Middle School with purple fairy wings, said wand, and a vial of fairy dust in my pocket. So far I’ve only gotten acclimated with humiliation.
Of course Molly is making a super big deal about me being a fairy in the play. I’ve been trying to to explain to my little sister that I don’t have time for her little witch games or her advice—both of which I’m getting in heaps as I pour Captain Crunch onto the counter, missing my bowl because it’s hard to pour cereal and roll your eyes at the same time.
“If only you had listened to me.”
She sits with a deck of playing cards spread out in front of her. Last night at rehearsal, I was attempting to flit across the stage (because fairies flit, thank you very much) when I stumbled a few steps too far and took a bit of a spill. Spill as in I plummeted off the stage and into a ladder that knocked onto a podium which crashed into a stack of speakers.
“I’m too busy for make believe.”
Molly thinks I’m cursed. I’m not. I’m accident prone, perhaps a tad bit ungraceful, but I’m not cursed. I’m on the football team for crying out loud. Sure, I’m third string and never really play, but I’m on the roster.
Molly won’t hear it. She stacks the 2’s and 3‘s and so on in neat piles on the table. “When are you going to admit it?”
I sweep the scatter of cereal into my bowl, dump in the milk, and snatch my phone. I lumber towards the table. Molly holds up a Jack of hearts. “For protection. Put it in your back pocket.”
“It is entirely too early for this.”
I shovel in three bites. Molly’s smile stretches to her ears. I drop my spoon into the bowl with a clank. “What?”
“Get it. Suit. Yourself?”
Like I said, my parents roll with Molly’s uh, witchiness. Mom thinks it’s cute. Dad calls it goth. But when it comes to the curse—if there was such a thing, which there is totally not—she’s been spared. Anything she does (besides casting spells), she does well. Violin. Dance. Chinese Checkers. She’s otherwise perfect. So we ignore the fact that she would have been burned at the stake a few centries ago.
And usually Molls is okay, when she’s not smirking about me falling off of a stage. I mean, she has a few cloaks but so far she’s not flying around on a broom or wearing black.
Mom does her morning waltz into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes and heading for the coffee maker. Molly points to a mug she’d set out. Add thoughtful to her list of superlatives.
“Colt, how are you doing sweetie?” Mom says, glancing at Molly. Like I can’t see them struggling not to laugh.. Whatever. I get back to damage control.
“I need to make sure that video didn’t—” My phone buzzes across the table. A text from Zach.
Dude ur famous.
Another buzz. This time a YouTube link. Not good. Mom, still with her back turned, glances over her shoulder. “Oh yeah, is your backside okay?”
Molly snorts, and I’m tempted to scatter her neat little piles of cards. She likes to arrange the spell casters and the spell protectors or—jeez, it’s bad enough that I even know what she’s doing.
I shake my head, waving Mom off. “I’m fine, thanks for your concern.”
I wipe the milk from my chin, take a breath, click on the link. My screen is cracked and splotchy—long story—but after a quick insurance advertisement, I’m looking at the plush red curtains of the school auditorium. Yep, there I am, about to take a fall. Watching it now is even worse. A bumbling fairy, helpless to the fate that lay before him. Attracted to a fall like iron to a magnet.
Mom eases up behind me, her feet crunching on my trail of Captain Crunch I’d left behind. “What’s it up to now?” she asks.
“You knew about this?” I ask. I can practically hear their grinning. One head over each shoulder. Sometimes I think they speak to other through some kind of girl telepathy. They’re eyes widening like a quiet squeal.
“2,200 hits,” Molly announces.
Mom shushes her just in time for my grand performance. There I go, teetering and wobbling before I slip, flip, and tumble over the stage, into the band equipment, setting in motion the whole domino effect that gives the video a punch of drama as the cymbals crash. Lots of giggling. In the video and at the table.
“Such a shame,” Molly says in her Mom voice. “Theater is no place for a clumsy fairy.”
This time Mom doesn’t even try to hide her laugh.
Fine. I’ll admit it. I have an uncanny knack for accidents. Last summer, I gave myself a black eye while clipping my toe nails. I once ruptured an ear drum trying to put a shirt on. If there’s something to knock over, into, break, spill, tangle, fumble, flop, snap, crack, or scramble, I will find a way to make it happen. Even my shadow is a tripping hazard. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember.
Mom gives my shoulder a squeeze. “Oh sweetie, don’t worry, it happens to your father too.”
“Oh my gosh,” Molly gushes, “Remember when Dad fell off the ladder hanging the Christmas lights?”
“Or when he got tangled up in the mini-blinds,” Mom adds, and they’re off, reliving every mishap, pointing and giggling. I ignored them and get back to my phone, 2,268 now. I scroll to the comment section. (Tip: if you ever find yourself on YouTube, do not read the comments. Some things are better not seen).
Mom and Molly continue to live it up. “What about when he hit himself in the head with the golf club?” Mom says, and I think back to the day Dad came home with that big hulking lump on his head. He’d been golfing with some guys at work, and well, the details are sketchy.
“The Clutts family curse,” Molly says grimly. “I’m sure glad that I’m protected. Aren’t you, Mom?”
Mom sips her coffee, says that she is, lending legitimacy to Molly’s foolishness. But then I can’t help myself. “So what about Dad?” I say, crossing my arms to hide a prickle of chillbumps. “Why can’t you ‘protect’ him?”
Molly holds up four jacks, tilting her head at me because she thinks I’m dense. “I’m afraid it’s too late for Dad. He’s too old and his curse is too strong.” She leans in, closer, hushed, dramatic. “But there’s still hope for you. Maybe.”
Did I mention how I hate curse talk? I try to scoff but can’t find my breath. The slips and scrapes over the years. Dad coming through the ceiling from the attic. His blackened fingernails whenever he uses the hammer, how he sometimes falls up the stairs. He spills and splatters, nicks and dents. Dad can crack fine china from three rooms away. And I’m his only son.
Where Molly got Mom’s sandy blonde hair, I inherited my father’s dicey relationship with gravity.
“Colt,” Mom says, breaking my trance “Just remember, the best thing we can do is to take caution. Slow down. That’s what I tell your father. That’s what Grandma told Papa. And what Great Grandma…”
“Mom, I got it.”
“I don’t know,” Molly says with my phone now. She replays the video. Again the crash of the cymbals. The howls of laughter. “He’s got it pretty bad.”
Being reminded that you’ve have been hit with a family curse is not the best way to start your day. But I can’t let some stupid superstition keep me down. I snatch my phone and launch out of my chair, only to trip as I start for the sink and the milk in my cereal bowl drenches my face.
Molly and Mom gawk at me me.
“Oh come on, that could happen to anyone.” I wipe my face with my shirt.
“Uh huh,” Molly says, fanning the deck of cars. I stomp off, leaving all of the snorting and giggling in the kitchen.
Time to focus. Today is gameday. In my room, I find my Panther’s jersey at the foot of my bed. The sheets lay mangled and twisted from a restless sleep. Soda bottles and yogurt cups claimed most of my dresser, and an impressive stack of cereal bowls are piled high on the desk.
I pull on my sparkling, sky blue jersey. A jersey that’s never touched the dirt because I have a better chance of space travel than getting in the game.
Outside, the morning sun is out and a nice day was taking shape. Some days I wait for Molly but after all the laughing she can take the broom to school for all I care.
The leaves scrape the street with my steps. A cool breeze on my back. I shake off any thoughts of spells and curses. How Papa is always bandaged with a band aid or gauze from a fall or trip or knocking something over onto his head. Just last week, he’d yanked up his blue sock to show off his newest bruise that looked like a jellyfish. He’d been raking the yard and twisted his ankle. But that was only half of it. Grandma told us how he’d rolled feet over head into in the compost pile. She’d had to hose him off because he was covered in banana peels and eggshells and a sludge of wet coffee grinds.
At Zach’s house, I wait at the steps, still shaking off all the curse talk. I check my back pocket, where, just like yesterday I find four jacks. Maybe I should be more thankful that Molly goes to all the trouble. Instead, just like yesterday, I toss them in Zach’s trash can.
The door opens and Zach steps out, looks at the can and smiles. “How does she do that, anyway?”
“I have no idea.”