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Emma learns to accept "different strokes for different folks" when her aunt and uncle come to take care of her and her brother.
The morning sun came through the window curtains and made lace designs on Emma's bed. She got up and went to her parents' bedroom.
"It's morning," she called through the door. "It's time for divided grapefruit with a cherry in the middle."
There was no answer.
Emma opened the door and looked in. She had forgotten. Her mother and father were away for five days. Her father was an eyeball doctor, though he called it something else. He and her mother had gone to an eyeball meeting. Her aunt and uncle were sleeping in her parents' bed. Uncle Elliot with his face in the pillow and Aunt Evelyn with her mouth open.
Emma walked over to the bed and stood there. It wasn't fair, Emma thought, for her parents to go away and leave her with an aunt and uncle she hardly knew. Maybe they didn't know any children. What if they didn't like children? They probably didn't know anything at all about night lights and bad dreams and telling two whole stories before bedtime and no eggplant cooked in tomatoes. Emma leaned over to examine Uncle Elliot. He looked just like her father except that his hair wasn't disappearing like her father's. He was making funny noises into his pillow.
"Plah, oosh, plah, oosh. "
Emma went around the bed to study Aunt Evelyn. She had lots of curly hair and pierced ears: one earring in one ear and two in the other. Emma frowned. That wasn't even.
"It's time for breakfast," said Emma.
Aunt Evelyn closed her mouth and opened her eyes.
"Later," she said.
"I'm hungry now," said Emma.
Aunt Evelyn didn't answer. She was asleep.
Emma went over to Uncle Elliot.
"Goodmorning," she said cheerfully.
Uncle Elliot made one big ooshing sound into his pillow.
"I'm hungry," said Emma.
"I'm tired," said Uncle Elliot.
Emma frowned again.
" Would you give me seven kisses in a row?"
she asked. "Papa always gives me seven kisses in a row in the morning."
Uncle Elliot said nothing. He was asleep.
"Plah, oosh, plah, oosh. -
Emma went to the kitchen for something to eat. The cereal boxes were empty. Her big brother, Zachary, had eaten breakfast. Emma made three peanut butter and toast sandwiches. The peanut butter melted on the toast and ran down her chin.
She knocked on Zachary's door. He had his earphones on.
"It's morning," said Emma. "Uncle Elliot is Ooshing and Aunt Evelyn's cars aren't even. They're asleep. And I want divided grapefruit with a cherry in the middle."
"I hate grapefruit," said Zachary. "I don't even like to touch it. "
"May I come in?" asked Emma.
Zachary shook his head.
"I'm writing a note to my girl friend, Miranda," he said. "And listening to my Morris Fibley record. It's private. Come back later."
Emma went downstairs and whispered a while to her dog, Wayne. He turned over so Emma could scratch his stomach, but soon he fell asleep and twitched his legs, chasing a dream. He was not good company.
Emma ate four more pieces of toast and two apples and wished she had a parrot. She had read that parrots could talk and laugh. And that's what Emma wanted to do. Talk and laugh. Since she didn't have a parrot, she decided to run away, just so everyone would know, she wrote a note: Dear Aunt Evelyn, Dear Uncle Elliot (and Zachary, too),When you wake up I will not be here. You did not ntake me devided greatfruit with a cherry. You did not give me seven kisses in a row. Papa always gives me seven kisses in a row. You did not let me listen to your Moris Fibly record. He sings flat anyway.
Emma found an old letter written to her father so she would know how to end the note. She wrote: Fond regards to the family, Emma
Emma packed a paper bag with five apples and one pear, some writing paper so she could write letters, and a grape Popsicle. If she had had a parrot she would have taken him, too. She walked down the street, past a brown dog who was watching a crack in the sidewalk, past the grocery store, past the post office, until she came to Mrs. Groundwine's house. Emma always went to
Mrs. Groundwine's house when she ran away. Mrs. Groundwine was in her yard hanging sheets on the clothesline. She waved at Emma.
"Where are you headed, Emmy?" she called. Mrs. Groundwine was the only person in the world who called Emma Emmy.
"Running away," called Emma.
"Nice day for it," said Mrs. Groundwine. "But you got a little drip from your bag there."
"It must be my Popsicle," said Emma.
"Come in for a bit," invited Mrs. Groundwine. "I've got some biscuits just out of the oven."
"You don't have any divided grapefruits, do you?" asked Emma.
"No," said Mrs. Groundwine, "but I've got an orange, and you can see Molly's new kittens."
"How many kittens" asked Emma as they walked inside.
"Seven," said Mrs. Groundwine proudly.
Seven made Emma think about seven kisses in a row.
Mrs. Groudwine's house was full of cats. They
sat on the counters, the tables, the chairs, andMrs. Groundwine.
"Do the cats like parrots?" asked Emma.
"No," said Mrs. Groundwine.
"Then it is good I don't have a parrot," said Emma.
She ate a warm biscuit and told Mrs. Groundwine that nobody loved her.
"My parents are away and my aunt and uncle are only practicing being parents. But they are asleep. And Zachary is too busy."
"Ah," said Mrs. Groundwine, nodding her head. "That"s like my cats. Rosie there hasn't spoken to me in weeks. Minna only comes when she feels like it. And Molly is much too busy with her kittens now to give me any time. Sometimes they are busy being cats."
Posted April 26, 2001