Life was going along okay when my mother and father dropped the news. Bam! Just like that.
“We have something wonderful to tell you, Peter,” Mom said before dinner. She was slicing carrots into the salad bowl. I grabbed one.
“What is it?” I asked. I figured maybe my father’s been made president of the company. Or maybe my teacher phoned, saying that even though I don’t get the best grades in the fifth grade, I am definitely the smartest kid in the class.
“We’re going to have a baby,” Mom said.
“We’re going to what?” I asked, starting to choke. Dad had to whack me on the back. Tiny pieces of chewed up carrot flew out of my mouth and hit the counter. Mom wiped them up with a sponge.
“Have a baby,” Dad said.
“You mean you’re pregnant?” I asked Mom.
“That’s right,” she told me, patting her middle.“Almost four months.”
“Four months! You’ve know for four months and you didn’t tell me?”
“We wanted to be sure,” Dad said.
“It took you four months to be sure?”
“I saw the doctor for the second time today,” Mom said. “The baby’s due in February.” She reached over and tried to tousle my hair. I ducked and got out of the way before she could touch me.
Dad took the lid off the pot on the stove and stirred up the stew. Mom went back to slicing carrots. You’d have thought we were discussing the weather.
“How could you?” I shouted. “How could you? Isn’t one enough?”
They both stopped and looked at me.
I kept right on shouting. “Another Fudge! Just what the family needs.” I turned and stormed down the hall.
Fudge, my four- year-old brother, was in the living room. He was shoving crackers into his mouth and laughing like a loon at Sesame Street on TV. I looked at him and thought about having to go through it all over again. The kicking and the screaming and the messes and more-much more. I felt so angry that I kicked the wall.
Fudge turned. “Hi, Pee-tah,” he said.
“You are the biggest pain ever invented!” I yelled.
He tossed a handful of crackers at me.
I raced to my room and slammed the door, so hard my map of the world fell of the wall and landed on the bed. My dog, Turtle, barked. I opened the door just enough to let him squeeze though, then slammed it shut again. I pulled my Adidas bag out of the closet and emptied two dresser drawers into it. Another Fudge, I said to myself. They’re going to have another Fudge.
There was a knock at my door, and Dad called, “Peter…”
“Go away,” I told him.
“I’d like to talk to you,” he said.
“About what?” As if I didn’t know.
“You know what baby!”
“We don’t need another baby.”
“Need it or not, it’s coming,” Dad said. “So you might as well get used to the idea.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Dad said. “In the meantime, scrub up. It’s time for dinner.”
“I’m not hungry.”
I zipped up my bag grabbed a jacket and opened my bedroom door. No one was there. I marched down the hall and found my parents in the kitchen.
“I’m leaving,” I announced. “I’m not going to hang around waiting for another Fudge to get born. Good-bye.”
I didn’t move. I just stood there, waiting to see what they’d do next.
“Where are you going?” Mom asked. She took four plates out of the cabinet and handed them to Dad.
“To Jimmy Fargo’s,” I said, although until that moment I hadn’t thought at all about where I would go.
“They have a one-bedroom apartment,” Mom said.
“You’d be very crowded.”
“Then I’ll go to Grandma’s. She’ll be happy to have me.”
“Grandma’s in Boston for the week, visiting Aunt Linda.”
“So why don’t you scrub up and have your dinner, and then you can decide where to go,” Mom said.
I didn’t want to admit that I was hungry, but I was. And all those goods smells coming from the pots and pans on the stove were making my mouth water. So I dropped my Adidas bag and went down the hall to the bathroom.
Fudge was at the sink. He stood on his stool, lathering his hands with three inches of suds. “Hello, you must be Bert,” he said in his best Sesame Street voice. “My name is Ernie. Glad to meet you.” He offered me one of his sudsy little hands.
“Roll up your sleeves,” I told him. “You’re making a mess.”
“Mess, mess…I love to make a mess,” he sang.
“We know…we know,” I told him.
I ran my hands under the faucet and dried them on my jeans.
When we got to the table, Fudge arranged himself in his chair. Since he refuses to sit in his booster seat, he has to kneel so that he can reach his place at the table. “Pee-tah didn’t scrub,” he said. “He only rinsed.”
“You little…” I started to say, but Fudge was already yapping away to my father.
“Hello, I’m Bert. You must be Ernie.”
“That’s right,” my father said, playing along with him. “How are you, Bert?”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” Fudge said. “My liver’s turning green and my toenails are falling off.”
“Sorry to hear that, Bert,” my father said. “Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.”
“Yes, maybe,” Fudge said.
I shook my head and piled up some mashed potatoes on my plate. Then I drowned them in gravy. “Remember when we took Fudge to Hamburger Heaven,” I said, “and he smeared mashed potatoes all over the wall?”
“I did that?” Fudge asked, suddenly interested.
“Yes,” I told him, “and you dumped a plate of peas on your head too.”
My mother started to laugh. “I’d forgotten all about that day.”
“Too bad you didn’t remember before you decided to have another baby,” I said.
“Baby?” Fudge asked.
My mother and father looked at each other. I got the message. They hadn’t told Fudge the good news yet.
“Yes,” Mom said. “We’re going to have a baby.”
“Tomorrow?” Fudge asked/
“No, not tomorrow,” Mom said.
“When?” Fudge asked.
“February,” Dad said.
“January, February, March, April, May, June, July…” Fudge recited.
“Okay…okay…” I said. “We all know how smart you are.”
“Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty…”
“Enough!” I said.
“A, B, C, D, E, F, G, R, B, Y, Z…”
“Will somebody turn him off?” I said.
Fudge was quite for a few minutes. Then he said, “What kind of new baby will it be?”
“Let’s hope it’s not like you,” I said.
“Why not? I was a good baby, wasn’t I, Mommy?”
“You were an interesting baby, Fudgie, Mom said.
“See I was an interesting baby, he said to me.
“And Peter was a sweet baby,” Mom said. “He was very quiet.”
“Lucky you had me first,” I said to Mom, “or you might not have had any more kids.”
“Was I a quite baby, too? Fudge asked.
“I wouldn’t say that, “ Dad said.
“I want to see the baby,” Fudge asked.
“You can’t see it now,” Dad said.
“Why not?” Fudge asked.
“Because it’s inside of me,” Mom told him.
Here it comes, I thought, the big question. When I asked it, I got a book called How Babies Are Made. I wondered what Mom and Dad would say to Fudge. But Fudge didn’t ask. Instead, he banged his spoon against the plate and howled. “I want to see the baby. I want to see the baby now!”
“You’ll have to wait until February,” Dad said, “just like the rest of us.”
“Now now now!” Fudge screamed.
Another five years of this, I thought. Maybe even more. And who’s to say that they aren’t going to keep on having babies, one after the other. “Excuse me.” I said, getting up from the table. I went into the kitchen and grabbed my Adidas bag. Then I stood in the doorway and called “Well, I’d better be on my way.” I sort of waved good-bye.
“Where is Pee-tah going?” Fudge asked.
“I’m running away,” I told him. “But I’ll come back to visit. Someday.”
“No, Pee-tah…don’t go!” Fudge jumped off his chair and ran to me. He grabbed my leg and started bawling. “Pee-tah…Pee-tah…take me with you.”
I tried to shake him off my leg but I couldn’t. He can be really strong. I looked at my mother and father. Then I looked at Fudge, who gave me the same look as Turtle when he’s begging for a biscuit. “If only I knew for sure what the baby would be like,” I said.
“Take a chance, Peter,” Dad said. “The baby won’t necessarily be anything like Fudge.”
“But it won’t necessarily not be like him either,” I answered.
Fudge tugged at my leg. “I want an interesting baby,” he said. “Like me.”
I sighed. “If you think it’s going to sleep in my room, you’re crazy,” I told Mom and
“The baby will sleep in here,” Mom said. “In the dining area.”
“Then where will we eat?”
“Oh, we’ll think of something,” Mom said.
I put my Adidas bag down and tried shaking Fudge off one more time. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll stay for now. But when the baby comes, if I don’t like it, I’m leaving.”
“Me too,” Fudge said. “Sam got a new baby and it smells.” He held up his nose. “P.U.”
“Who want dessert?” Dad asked. “It’s vanilla pudding.”
“I do…I do…” Fudge yelped. He let go of me and climbed into his chair.
“Peter?” Dad said.
“Sure, why not?” And I sat down at the table too. Mom reached over and tousled my hair. This time I let her.