These Days are Dark (Elementarily-so)

Madeline and I were playing DDR when the telephone rang. Mum's gray 1950s model happened to be set up next to the television, so I grabbed it and sat on top of my mat. "Hello?"

There was an answer, but it was fuzzy because Madeline had just pounced on top of me. Finally we stopped giggling enough to hear. "Is this Ava? This is Mrs. Ritalin."

"Hi!" Mrs. Ritalin, my kindergarten teacher, calls my mom sometimes. She's what grown-ups call a "nice lady": the kind who can drive you places and give you candy. Sometimes she calls everyone in class to tell our parents how we're doing. She calls these "mini-conferences", and she says they're just so our parents know what we're learning. She started them after Bug blew up our classroom on Orientation Day.

"Ava, can I speak to your mum, please?"

"Uh-huh!" I raced Madeline down the hall, which was easy, because Madeline's petticoat always gets in her way. "MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!!" I screamed down the steps to my mum's office. She's a teacher like Mrs. Ritalin, and she grades papers on Saturdays when I have play-dates.

"Ava, dear, I've picked up down here!"

"Kay!"

I went back to the television room and hung up the phone. Madeline padded down the hall after me, and yawned. We were too big for naps, but sometimes on Saturdays when Madeline comes we have "quiet time". I grabbed Guillotine, and we pulled the mattress out of the futon and curled up under the blankets. Madeline grabbed Amadeus and leaned back, waiting for me to pick the video, because it was my turn.

I looked at the video shelf. It was all messy because my brother Derek had been watching "Donnie Darko" again and hadn't put anything back. Even though Derek's nineteen, he's messier than me. I finally dug out Sailor Moon, and put it in the player, crawling back to Guillotine.

On Saturdays, Madeline's mom goes to meetings at the newspaper office. Since her dad is away in Hollywood directing a movie right now, Madeline stays at my house. Her dad comes home on Saturday nights and stays until Monday, so he picks her up. We always watch Sailor Moon, and Mum knows it and usually we get left alone. But this time Derek came in just at the best part. "Av, Mum wants you," he grumbled and then walked back to his room.

Madeline and I looked at each other, looked at Amadeus and Guillotine and looked at the door. "Be good," I instructed my bear, and we left. Guillotine can be such a trouble-maker when Amadeus is here. We left the teddies anyways and headed into my mum's office, and watched her finish her paper, but she was just staring at it, holding the telephone. Madeline and I watched her.

"Mrs. Ritalin's sister is going in to hospital," she said, still staring at the paper. "She's going to be fine, but she's volunteered to be part of a test. She's sending her daughter to Mrs. Ritalin for a bit."

"But mummy, Mrs. Ritalin is my-"

"There's no room in Mrs. Ritalin's house, so she's going to stay here."

"Where?"

"With you."

I didn't want some stranger staying in my room. It was MY room! But Mum looked excited now that she was talking, so I nodded and smiled, too. "When is she coming?"

"Tomorrow, so we'll need to go shopping…"

We got home late from the Cyanide Mall, so I was yawning as I stood in the front hall with Derek waiting for Mrs. Ritalin's niece. Derek was grumbling as usual, but I was getting excited. AT the mall I got to pick out a new dress- It had the same white collar as my usual ones and was the same maroon, but it hade black lace trim shaped like little skulls, and there was a sparkly belt and the skirt was puffier. I jumped up and down a little, and Derek elbowed me. I opened my mouth to yell at him, but just then the door opened and Mrs. Ritalin walked in. She hugged mum and me, too. "Thank you so much," she said as she stood back up. She handed Mum a small, pink suitcase. I felt bad for Mrs. Ritalin's niece, if that was what she had to carry around. Pastels are so…icky. "Odette!"

Now I felt extra-bad for her, so I decided to be extra-nice. Her name sounded like someone who should go to school in the city, at Sunshiny Day School. Poor thing. Then there was this little girl with blonde hair in a big pink bow and a little white lacey dress and a pink sash standing in my front hall, and Mrs. Ritalin was saying goodbye and she was kissing Mrs. Ritalin's cheek and smiling this big smile and curtsying. Not the way Madeline does when she's playing with my cousin George, Odette curtsied like a little ballerina. It was horrifying.

Suddenly Mum was kneeling in front of me. "Now, Odette hasn't turned five yet, so you be the big-girl hostess and show her your room, okay? Maybe she'd like to meet Guillotine."

I nodded and took the white-and-pink-thing-named-Odette's hand. "Would you like to see my room?" I asked her as we started up the stairs.

She stared around and her eyes were real big by the time we got to my room. "Your house is so…dark," was all she said.

I smiled, glad she was feeling better. "Thanks!"

"Oh, I don't like the dark," I heard behind me as I walked into my room, which has maroon walls. Merrick's band, "Poison Play-doh", decorated it for me with posters and ribbons. Odette made a small sobbing sound as we walked in, and I looked at her again. Her eyes were watering and she was about to cry, so I smiled as hostess-y as I could and put her suitcase on the extra bed. "Do you want to meet my kitten?"

This made her feel better. "You have a kitten?"

I dragged Cemetery off my pillow and held him up. He was seven weeks old and just a little gray ball of fluff. "He's so CUTE!!" Odette squealed.

I grinned. "Thanks." I put him in my lap and sat on my bed. "His name is Cemetery."

"Ick," Odette wrinkled her pale little nose. "Why would you name a cat that?"

Silence.

I sighed. Being the big-girl was hard. "Want to play with stuffed animals?"

Odette seemed more open to this game. I pulled out guillotine. "Do you have a bear?"

She nodded and grinned. "This is Daisy," she pointed to the thing on her lap. I didn't want to be mean, so I just introduced her to Guillotine, but her bear was hideous. It was pale pink with a big white and yellow flower over one ear. It made me cringe. I definitely didn't like being the big girl.

"Why is your bear so strange?" She was wrinkling her stupid nose again.

"Why is your bear deformed?"

We glared at each other. Maybe dolls were safer.

It was the same thing all over again for the rest of the afternoon. I'd show her something and she'd hate it, and hers would be hideous but she'd say it was better. Turned out she was from Sunshiny Day School. Finally, just when I couldn't stand it anymore Mum called us for dinner. Odette, her nose now permanently wrinkled, followed me down the hall. Just as she started to say something else we passed Derek's closet, and the key was in the door. I smiled. "Odette, would you like to help my mum and get the ice out of the closet?"

Odette was sweet as sugar. "Sure."

"After you," I motioned for her to step inside. She hesitated.

"It's dark…"

I shut the door behind her, put the key in my pocket, and skipped down the hall to dinner. Being a big-girl could turn out to be fun, after all.