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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

The Subheroes Chapter 7: Bedtime

Submitted by on September 3, 2004 – 9:18 AMNo Comment

Shelley told Olivia to sit on the brown couch in the office, so Olivia is sitting there, rubbing the strap of her bag with her thumb, watching Marie stick Post-It flags on a take-out menu. Who are these people? Why can't they work the radio? When is someone going to tell me what's going on?

Vander is sitting next to her in his pajamas, reading the dictionary.

"So," Olivia says. "What are you doing?"

"Reading the dictionary," Vander says, and holds it out to her and points to the word "awry." "How come it's pronounced like that, do you suppose?"

"I…"

"Doesn't 'aw-ree' sound more like what the word means?"

"Yeah, it does. So, are you — is this for school?"

"Regional spelling bee," Vander says, paging forward. "'Bilious,' that's another one. Why isn't that a long I? 'Bile' has a long I."

"He's home-schooled," Marie says, and blows a dust bunny out of her out box. "Vander, don't pester her."

"I'm not."

"Well, don't."

"He's not pestering me," Olivia says.

"I'm self-schooled, actually," Vander says.

Marie looks sternly at Vander, then goes back to pinning her bangs to the side with paper clips. Olivia lowers her voice and says to Vander, "Listen, can I ask you something?"

"That's what I'm here for," Vander says, sticking his finger through a square hole in the page. "Mom!"

"Well, you don't need to be looking up dirty words."

"Mom. There are words on the other side that I can't look up now. And I already know what a douchebag is."

"Vander!"

"What? I do."

"Well, I'll tell you what you don't do, mister, you don't use the internet for a week is what you don't do, or go to the library on your own."

Vander rolls his eyes.

"Or roll your eyes at me — go brush your teeth."

"Mom," Vander says patiently.

"You go brush your teeth, right now!"

"Mom."

"Teeth!"

"Okay, okay."

Vander pulls a book down from the shelf above the couch; it looks like an annotated Audubon, but it's really a hollow box. Vander takes a toothbrush and paste out of the box and goes into the bathroom. Marie watches him and shakes her head.

"Precocious Grade-Schooler," she says to Olivia. "It's a constant battle."

"What does he do?"

"Up until all hours reading the encyclopedia, losing pieces of his chess set, he keeps saying the phrase 'social intercourse' just to bug me –"

"No, I mean — a Precocious Grade-Schooler, what is that?"

"Oh." Marie repositions one of her paper clip barrettes. "Well, you know. Insightful but non-threatening source of information. Like — that Culkin. In that alien movie."

"Ah."

Vander comes out to say around a mouthful of foam, "Mow? Cauw Ah hauw a toweh?"

"No story tonight, she's busy."

"Couw oh, Mow. Peah?"

"She's busy! Finish your teeth."

"Cauw oo uff aff huh?"

"Vander. Teeth."

Vander rolls his eyes again and goes back into the bathroom and spits and rinses and comes back out and says, "Can you just ask her?"

"Vander, honey, I told you. She's busy."

"Who's busy?" Shelley says, coming out into the front office. She's slapping her pockets.

"Never mind," Marie says, but Vander says, "The Voice. I'd like a story before bed but Mom says she's busy."

"Oh, she's not that busy," Shelley says.

"Shelley," Marie says.

"Marie?" Shelley says.

"So can I?" Vander says.

Marie rubs her forehead. "All right. But to go to sleep by."

"Okay." Vander puts his toothbrush box away. "Where's Benny?"

"In the cabinet already."

Vander opens a cabinet under one of the bookshelves. Inside is a small air mattress, made up with sheets and a pillow and a stuffed rabbit. The sheet is turned back, waiting.

"Hi, Benny," Vander says, and climbs into the little shelf bed. "I sleep here some nights," he tells Olivia. "Cool," Olivia says. Which it is, when she thinks about it. When she was a kid, her favorite place to look at the atlas was the floor of the coat closet, behind the umbrellas.

"Voice to Marie, you need me? Over."

"I'll put her on closed circuit," Shelley says to Marie. "You see my keys, stop 'em."

Marie flips a tab switch on the bottom of her desk speaker and says, "Vander would like a story if you have the time, please, Voice," and she motions Vander over to the desk, and he scrambles out of the cabinet.

"Which story, Vander?"

This one, Olivia thinks. And start at the beginning.

"You pick."

"Happy or sad?"

"A sad one, please," Vander says. Marie frowns.

"Made-up or real-life?"

"Real-life. An old one."

"Vander," Marie says, "why don't you ask for a new one now and then?"

"She does the old ones better."

"Thanks, I think," The Voice says.

"The new ones are good too," Vander says. "In the cabinet now," Marie says, and kisses his head, and Vander turns the speaker to face out, and goes to the cabinet and climbs in and settles back on his pillow, and he looks at Olivia and says, "This will be good."

"Hope so," Olivia says, and smiles weakly, and Marie, about to step outside with the cordless phone, says, "No, it will be," and winks at Vander and goes out into the bar area.

"You all tucked in over there?" The Voice says.

"Yes, you can start," Vander says.

Olivia leans forward to listen, and The Voice begins the story.

September 3, 2004

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