“Mommy,” Winslow Hughes said crisply, but politely to his mother Verity as she stopped typing in her den to hear what her six-year-old son had to say. “May our beloved Cousin Helen come over for supper tonight? It has been a while and we all would be quite happy to invite her again.”
“Ask her mother if she is allowed to come.”
“Our beloved Aunt Holly said we could invite her any time and agreed to tonight’s invitation.”
“We can easily set another plate if she wishes to come over.”
He kissed his mother on the cheek. “Why, thank you, Mommy, for your sensitivity and hospitality,” he said happily as he skipped to the hallway before he shouted with a roar, “Fellas! Mommy said yes!”
“How exciting!” his five-year-old brother Malcolm cheered as he jumped for joy, “Beloved Helen’s insights and gracious company are most enthralling!”
“Helen will be thrilled,” the youngest boy Rufus said as he fixed his red tie with his tiny hands, “I will notify her of the good news immediately!”
“Beloved Helen!” corrected Winslow loudly as his four-year-old brother ran out of the house, slamming the door behind him as his curly red hair bounced up and down.
Hammond Hughes watched the rambunctious scene and after looking out of the window to see his youngest son run to his cousin’s house and run inside, he walked to the den with his hand-carved cane of a hammer-shaped clock tower with an actual working clock as he refused to fix the broken wrist watch his wife gave him on their wedding day. He looked at Verity knowingly. “Again?”
“They truly adore Helen and she is about the only child they even notice exists. I was so hoping they’d also take to Jane’s little boy Douglas, but every time he comes for a visit, he sticks by Helen as he gives our lot funny looks and then mutters something about them being like the weird old man who yells at him for being too loud in the corridors back in London. They confuse the poor boy with their revelations no end, but Helen is the only one who appreciates them as she can hold her own with them.”
“Mind you, Douglas is a few years older than them, but I still didn’t think our brood would be so entrenched in that other realm,” sighed Hammond as he sat down on the sofa and straighten his long and wavy white ponytail before pushing up his thick eyeglasses that had been his most iconic trademark: the frames were black on one side and white on the other, while one lens was yellow-tinted while the other was red-tinted.
“Yes,” agreed Verity, “Sometimes I think they are a little too precocious for their own good. If they aren’t playing with telescopes and microscopes, they have their noses firmly planted in one of my old scholarly journals. It keeps me up at night worrying if they aren’t too proper and serious. Those suits and ties they insist on wearing…”
“I know,” groused Hammond as he pulled up his purple and orange sock on his right foot, “Those boring black socks they wear all the time makes me want to kick their backsides. I don’t want them to be little adults. I want them to be children. I take them to Carnivalia every week and you have built them a playground of wonder in the backyard and yet they are determined to be pint-sized old codgers. Where did we go wrong, Verity?”
“It’s not our fault they have a natural curiosity and drive to better themselves. Perhaps spending more time with darling Helen would be good for them. They seem to want to play games when she is around and fuss over her teddy bears and puppets while they attend her milk and cookie parties.”
“I wish they’d also do that when she wasn’t around.” Hammond took off his prosthetic leg on the left side and gave his stump below the knee a rest.
“Perhaps one day, this will, but until them, all we can do is cherish their ways as watch them blossom in the way they want and need.”
The Hughes Boys marched up and down in the living in anticipation of the arrival of their favourite cousin. They wore their finest suits and ties, and were particular on how to set the china on the large dining room table. Their parents watched with amusement as Winslow behaved like an emperor as his younger brothers had many insights to share on the placement of cutlery and plates.
The marching continued until the doorbell rang, causing much cheering, as the three Hughes Boys ran to the front door at once as Winslow opened it. The little girl standing patiently outside looked like a miniature replica of her mother Holly: she was a beautiful young lady who was nearly seven with brown eyes and long wavy brown hair with a dreamy and gentle disposition. Children naturally gravitated toward her as she was as friendly and loving as she looked, but no one seemed to gravitate to her more than her three equally dreamy and sweet cousins and she was as enthusiastic about spending time with them as they were with her. They were, after all, each other’s closest friends and confidantes. As soon as the four saw one another, their faces all beamed at once.
“Ta da!” Helen said brightly.
“Ta da!” the Hughes Boys sang in a showy three-part harmony.
“Why don’t you boys ever give me an enthusiastic greeting like that when I come home?” Hammond asked as he closed the door behind Helen as she daintily walked inside and Winslow took off her coat. “When you three see me, you barely manage to grunt a limp hello.”
“Daddy,” Malcolm said with a resigned sigh, “That is the way children in Queen’s Heights greet one another. Uncle Greg’s show in Carnivalia inspired us to embrace the magic within.”
“Apparently, you lose it in adulthood,” said Rufus, “At least that’s what I read between the lines…”
“Brats,” Hammond replied as the group went to the dining room table to feast on the meal Verity and Hammond made together.
When everyone sat down and began to eat, Hammond noticed their guest was not as perky and garrulous as usual.
“What is the matter, Helen?” he asked the girl who seemed uncharacteristically sulky.
“My daddy’s old boss came for a visit today and he brought his awful son Donny,” Helen frowned pointedly.
“Did he give you any trouble?” asked Verity.
“Yes! He is rude and mean! He was trying to boss me around in my own home and tell me what toys I could play with and when I ignored him, he called me stuck up and then he passed wind in my face,” Helen replied with a pout as she fanned her nose with her tiny hand as if the whiff of Donny’s rude actions still lingered.
“What?” Winslow bellowed indignantly as Hammond did his best to suppress his laughter, “That is an outrage against a cherished member of our own family! Daddy, have you ever heard of such savagery?”
“Well,” Hammond said doing his best to sound parental, “Some boys who have crushes on girls who are too good for them will do just about anything to get their attention, even if it is the bad sort of attention, and they will resort to such childish acts.”
“That’s disgusting!” Malcolm said incredulously, “I know we never did such things.”
“I don’t know what kind of little boy told you such rubbish,” the youngest Hughes said as he looked at his father skeptically, “But I think you’ve been had, Daddy…”
“Now, wait a minute,” Hammond replied as he snapped his head back, “I know these things personally as I was a little boy at one time in my life…”
Rufus turned to his mother and looked at her searchingly, “Is this true, Mommy?”
“That boys have been known to comport themselves in an uncouth manner or that your father was once a little boy?”
Hammond rolled his eyes as his wife slyly winked at him.
“Yes, your father was a little boy, and yes, some boys are sorely lacking in basic civility, and need to have someone unleash their righteousness on them. I am sorry to hear about your troubles, Helen.”
Helen continued to pout. “I tried to be nice to him, and he just was rude.”
Winslow pounded his fist on the table. “Donny Atwater should be banned from Queen’s Heights!”
“As Donny’s father is good friends with your Uncle Eli, I doubt that will happen,” said Verity.
“We ought to have a rousing protest with placards in front of his house,” said Rufus.
“I volunteer to make the placards!” said Malcolm.
“No one is having a protest in front of the Atwater house,” said Hammond, “I am certain your parents will have a talk with his father, and will straighten this terrible incident out.”
Winslow pursed his lips as he whispered to his brothers, “I do not approve of leaving these affairs to adults.”
“Neither do I,” concurred Malcolm.
“Then it is settled. We must find a way to confront this dreadful Atwater child ourselves,” said Rufus and their parents consoled Helen who began to smile and be comforted by the aunt and uncle she absolutely adored and revered.
Winslow looked at his parents’ sprawling and towering bookshelves. They were both avid readers and liked thick books with big words. Somewhere in this vast library there would have to be some answer he could use to get back at Donny Atwater for passing wind in Beloved Helen’s face.
He began to climb up to the top of the bookcase. He could climb trees as their tree lab was high up amid the branches and he was extremely dexterous and agile. Grown-ups had their own peculiar logic: if you don’t want the shorter and younger members of your family to see something, then put it on the top shelf. Naturally, this would be the first place where Winslow always looked and he had a perfect success rate of hitting the mother lode on his first try.
“What are you doing?” asked Malcolm.
“Looking for answers. How much time do I have?” said Winslow seriously as he studied the bookcase as he held on to the edge with his reddening fingers.
“Don’t worry; mommy and daddy are out on the veranda drinking Turkish coffee, and I have sent Rufus as our lookout.”
“Excellent,” said Winslow as he furrowed his brow, “He is very good at it. He knows when someone is coming from far away.”
“Do you have an idea in mind?” asked Malcolm.
“War,” said Winslow grimly, “I am looking for books about how to win a war.”
“Mommy wrote a book about war.”
“But it was a book about stopping wars, not winning them.”
“We can stop our war against Donny Atwater once we win it.”
“Do you think mommy and daddy even have those kinds of books?”
“They have to,” said Winslow in a low voice, “How do you know how people who start wars think unless you read the way they think?”
“Maybe mommy got those books at the library…”
“It’s here; I can feel it.” He looked until his vibrant blue eyes sparkled as he smiled triumphantly, taking two books out as he threw them to Malcolm, and then jumped down and the two studied the covers carefully.
One book was called The Art of War by some fellow named Sun Tzu, and another book on war by some other fellow named Clausewitz.
“Those are the books, but I will have to put them back.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can sign them out at the library.”
“Why would you sign them out when we have them right here?”
“Because I don’t want them to know about our plans.”
“They will sit us all down to a long lecture,” bristled Winslow as he stared intensely at the prized books in front of him, “They will tell us very long stories about how they had to survive in war and you know how daddy’s eyes always well up with tears thinking about how he became in love with her and then mommy kisses him all over his face and he gets all mushy. If I take them out of the library, I can read them in peace.”
“But mommy and daddy always ask what books we sign out and then they ask all sorts of questions about them,” Malcolm reminded his brother, “You could read those books here while mommy and daddy are out on their Tuesday mischief and poker game.”
“That is a very good idea,” said Winslow as he nodded, “After I learn how to win wars, we will hold our meeting to decide how to use them to crush Donny Atwater and show him what happens when you gas our favourite cousin.”
“Who’s the babysitter tonight?” whispered Malcolm as their parents were readying for the Tuesday outings with Verity having her regular Tuesday mischief with her sister Holly, and their friends Ava, Modesty, Greg, and Ardith, and Hammond going with Eli and their friends to their usual poker game at the Greatest Show in Carnivalia.
“Grandpa Lewis,” answered Rufus, “Grandma Calista has a poetry reading tonight.”
“Oh good,” nodded Winslow assuredly, “He always sees the garden out back and thinks it needs some work. I can read the books without interruption.”
“If he gets any ideas, I can distract him,” said Rufus, “All I have to do is jump up and down in one spot and he laughs at my curly red hair and then he goes on how I look like mommy when she was my age before telling me all the naughty things she did as a girl in the name of science.”
“If there is anything new, remember it,” said Winslow, “Sometimes we don’t have any good ideas of our own and we can try out some of things she did.”
“I will, and then we can find more of the deepest truths of the universe.”
“Excellent,” said Winslow, “As mommy and daddy are always giggling and kissing, they have been very neglectful to their intellectual duties.”
“They should use us as their example of refined pursuits,” Malcolm noted grimly.
When their grandfather arrived, and their parents left, Winslow and Malcolm disappeared into their parents’ den as Rufus followed his grandfather into the backyard where he looked intently at the garden. He looked at the window where Malcolm was keeping watch and saluted Rufus as Rufus returned the salute while he could see Winslow furiously reading and writing notes.
“How is the garden, Grandpapa?” he asked as Lewis shook his head.
“Some of these vegetables are a bit overcrowded,” said replied in his crisp British accent.
“We could grab a basket and pick some of the zucchini and tomatoes.”
“In your suit and tie?”
“I do everything in my suit and tie. How else will I be renowned around the world as a dapper and dashing intellectual with curly red hair unless I do everything in a suit and tie.”
His grandfather chuckled as he went to grab a basket to pick some of the ripe vegetables with Rufus helping him. Lewis could not help but notice that despite working in formal wear, Rufus was productive, yet unwrinkled.
The work took a while with the two happily chatting, but when Rufus saw the work was almost done, he looked at the window with Malcolm shaking his head and waving to him.
“Confound it,” Rufus whispered to himself. He then looked at his grandfather’s gaze and body movements: he was ready to go back into the house and Winslow would be discovered.
Thinking quickly, he began jumping up and down in place as his grandfather began to heartily laugh and mess his hair.
Lewis sat down and signalled Rufus to join him, “You look just like your mum when she was your age. She used to jump up and down sometimes, usually when one of her experiments backfired and she had to jump back before the shed exploded.
“That sounds thrilling,”
“It wasn’t thrilling. It was horrifying.”
“But she gleaned many of the deepest truths of the universe.”
“Well, the time she took apart the automobile didn’t produce any valuable insights, but a rather large mechanic’s bill.”
Rufus perked up. “I do not believe Mommy or Grandmother Calista told me that episode.”
As Lewis began to recount the episode, Rufus sighed in relief as their plan was progressing on schedule.
It was grim times like these when the Hughes Boys could be found in the backyard pirate ship their mother had made them out of wood. It was also the go-to destination for the children of the town – more so than the tree lab she also made for them, though it was the pirate ship that was the place the Hughes Boys held their most important gatherings. The ship had a plank that also served as the diving board for their pool, and for a flag, their beloved Aunt Holly drew the head of a fuzzy dog holding a bone in its mouth. Inside the ship was filled with quilts and pillows various family members made for them as well as some froggy hops and moose notes the boys bought at the Candy Shoppe as the unanimous rule was that no meeting could commence without the ceremonial munching on a froggy hop or end without the devouring of a moose note.
Now that Winslow had read both books on war, the Hughes Boys were ready to devise their campaign against that foul nefarious scoundrel and undeveloped simian Donny Atwater.
“Fellas,” Winslow said solemnly as he began the meeting, “We have a wrong to right. Beloved Helen has been gassed by that foul nefarious scoundrel and undeveloped simian Donny Atwater.”
“It is a crime against Beloved Helen’s humanity,” agreed Malcolm, “And we must devise a way to declare war on Donny Atwater, defeat him in a single decisive blow, even at the risk of gross parental disapproval and grounding.”
“Agreed,” said Winslow, “We must confront the enemy directly to show him what happens when you commit an atrocity against a cherished member of our family. The siege must be swift, and severe, and he must know precisely why he is being attacked as he is made to feel what Beloved Helen felt. He may be of lowly cultured and of rudimentary intelligence, but I am certain even the Atwater child is capable of learning a stern lesson.”
“Then the matter is settled,” Rufus declared excitedly, “We kick Donny Atwater in the shins like gentlemen.”
“Problem, problem,” chimed in Malcolm, “He will then blame us and say he was justified in passing wind in a beloved relative’s face as we are even more barbaric than his undeveloped line. We do not want him to win in any comparison.”
“That is a grave concern,” conceded Winslow, “Our ambush must not reek of ruffianism.”
“Wait,” said Malcolm, “There is a simple way to demonstrate the level of his barbarity.”
“You have the floor,” said Winslow.
“We give him a whiff of his own flatulent medicine.”
Rufus gasped. “We are to ambush him and pass wind in his face the way he did to Beloved Helen?”
“Yes,” said Malcolm proudly, “We throw him to the ground and then one of us should assault his olfactory senses as one of us keep him in place, and the third explain the reason for the assault.”
Winslow nodded in approval, “That is a brilliant campaign, Malcolm; however, as none of us are particularly flatulent, we will have to make radical adjustments to our regular dietary intake to induce the right sort of fumes that can be discharged on cue. We will have to do some experimentation and testing before we decide who would be the most effective messenger.”
“Too bad Grandma Patrice is in Somerset right now,” sighed Malcolm ruefully, “Her cooking always makes me want to pass wind, but I always think to run to the bathroom to do it. It is inconsiderate to leave a room smelling worse than it was when you came in.”
“Agreed,” said Winslow with an indignant air, “It speaks poorly of your contributions to your environment.”
“Settled then,” said Rufus, “Time to devour our Moose notes, even though they do not induce any gaseous conditions.”
And on the count of three, the invigorated Hughes Boys messily ate their sweets.
Though the meeting was a decisive ad resounding success, Winslow was uncertain whether or not they should proceed. He decided to speak with his parents to ask indirectly lest the discovered the Hughes’ Boy covert operations.
Winslow found his parents in the den where they did all of their work as authors. They always sat across from one another at their large glass desk as they exchanged pages and often veered off into deep philosophical conversations that usually led to their gushing, giggling, and guffawing at one another’s insights, though sometimes they would break out into spontaneous singing and warble a duet together, usually some mushy love song called It’s Your Heart Inside of Mine. Other times, they would good-naturedly impersonate each other and then reach over as they kissed with their father always turning a deep rosy hue with a twinkle in his eyes. Somehow, despite their silliosity, they always were productive, and his parents told him nothing made a person more productive than when love and truth came together.
His father’s side of the desk was always immaculately neat and tidy with the latest model of writing machine while his mother’s side was always a surrealist mess with papers, books, and other unusual sundries with the same old typewriter her beloved grandmother Alena Love had received in the early 1900’s. Yesterday, his mother had a stack of empty marking pens forming a fortress around an apple. Today, she had a stack of crumbled and torn envelopes from old letters crushed up forming some sort of crude staircase.
Usually, both Mommy and Daddy were typing furiously at once, but today it was only his father who was typing as his mother was looking intensely at a gold ring that she rested on her typewriter.
“Mommy, I was wondering…” began Winslow.
“Not now, Winslow, your mother is having a revelation,” his father said matter-of-factly as he continued typing without taking his eyes off the paper.
“What is it this time, Daddy?”
“I bought her a gold ring I saw at the Queen’s Castle department store as a token of my undying love for her as its intricate filigree reminded me very much of her beautifully complex nature. Just as I gave it to her, she took one look and is now in deep revelation.”
“What is she thinking about it?”
“You know I cannot know until your mother returns from her reverie and has a chance to ponder it as she writes her thoughts on the walls and tells me.”
“We are running out of space on the walls, Daddy.”
“She is not impressed with her thoughts after pondering the Weavers’ broken chandelier, and she may paint over those revelations, though I do see a certain charm on her meditations on how emotional bad habits interfere with a good education in mathematics and will encourage her to keep those.”
“She usually comes out of it sooner than this.”
“I do hope she does as I am almost finished my chapter chronicling the space travelling adventures of Pillar Rivers and her husband Fletch Phoenix with their daughter Sparrow and would become very distressed if I did not get to read her chapter on Azura and Zacharias and their trek up the Stairs That Were Never Made for Climbing. I am worried that Ingrid will stay trapped in the Dungeon without Walls or a Door unless they explain to her that the lines drawn in the sand around her cannot actually stop her from walking across it.”
Winslow waited patiently, but gave up after two additional minutes of her current revelation, and decided it was a sign to proceed. Just as he left, Verity began typing furiously as she finished her chapter.
“So you return.”
“What did Winslow want?” she asked as she stopped briefly to place her new ring on her finger, admired it, and then continued to type.
“You heard him come in?”
“I can hear his steps as he came out. Was it important?”
“He didn’t say.”
“I do wish he’d leave a message with you from time to time. Children are rather impatient and inconsiderate.”
“Speaking of impatient, have you finished writing your chapter?’
The two swapped chapters and began reading each other’s chapters. They put down the papers at the same time and looked at each other.
Hammond looked relieved. “So, Ingrid was told the good news, but now the Stairs That Were Never Made for Climbing crumbled when one of the grains of sand flew away and knocked them down and have transmuted into Envelopes that Refuse to Carry Truthful Messages as their only means of letting Frula, Jonas, Alphonse, Leith, and Eumelia know what has happened.”
Verity nonchalantly knocked down the crumbled envelopes from her desk and nodded before she spoke. “Your latest chapter is the best one I have ever read. Pillar and Fletch have saved the race of Alphanians from being devoured by the new breed of space demons, but the Betans are now in fear of their lives as their ruse to make their Alphanians believe they were their allies has been exposed by the Gammans. It is an exciting twist as Pillar and Fletch had more faith in the Betans and must contend with an entire planet of traitors – or so it seems.”
Hammond guffawed boyishly, but stopped when Verity suddenly gathered up the papers she knocked to the ground and threw all the envelopes in the waste bin. Hammond’s eyes widened.
“You are actually throwing away all those crumbled envelopes?”
“I don’t need them anymore.”
“You kept them all for years in the closet ever since we were married.”
“I know, but I am now officially through with them. They no longer inspire me.”
“They’ll be more of those…”
“And they can now all go into the trash directly.”
Hammond sighed in relief. Her side of the closet was always a hurricane of peculiar messes, and now the two worst and longest offenders – the empty marking pens and the crumbled envelopes were gone forever, and though there was no guarantee it would stay that way, her messes were becoming less messy lately. He took it as a sign that Azura and her friends were on the verge of returning to their paradise and would know how to fix it, which made him even more excited to read tomorrow’s installment. He was rooting for Azura and Zacharias to enter a new and even more loving phase of order and it looked like he would get his wish. Their novels were their never-ending love letters to one another and now their letters were beginning an even more joyous phase that made him feel blissful over their numerous blessings.
Hammond inhaled the air deeply as he smiled in satisfaction. Verity was making her Gaisburger Marsch, which was his favourite meal of all. Her spätzle melted in his mouth and the meat was tender and hearty. Though they often cooked together, when she decided to make it, Hammond became giddy with glee.
“Boys,” Hammond said as he called his brood, “Dinner will be ready!”
The Hughes Boys walked down the ramp slowly, surprising their father who had expected their usual running and cheers.
“What is the matter?” he asked.
“We aren’t hungry,” Winslow said, “And we must respectfully decline tonight’s offering.”
“How can you not be hungry for your mother’s Gaisburger Marsch?”
“We are not hungry at all,” said Malcolm.
“It is best for us not to eat against our will,” added Rufus, “Perhaps we are having a temporary mutual feeling of satiation as part of our never-ending quest of finding all of the deepest truths of the universe.”
Their father looked suspiciously at them. “You very well know it was your mother’s Gaisburger Marsch that saved us both from the Nazis when we were fleeing Europe during the War.”
Winslow nodded as he had heard the stories countless times from his father who would gush about it with tears in his eyes as his mother would then wrap her arms around him and kiss his face all over. “Yes, we do love her Marsch, but today, we all very politely have to decline our dinner as we are not hungry.”
“Not hungry? Her spätzle alone makes it a divine dish to open any appetite.”
“We do not wish to eat against our will,” said Winslow.
Their father frowned. “Are you boys ill?”
“No, just lacking an appetite this evening,” said Winslow, “We must be going as we have an appointment to keep, Daddy?”
“An appointment? What sort of appointment?”
“To see Dotty Weavers.”
“Now, I know something is amiss. You rarely notice any children, save for your cousin and Mrs. Link’s nephews who you three have thrashed mercilessly for no good reason at all.”
“Well, Daddy,” Malcolm said haughtily, “Those dreadful children called us names and had it coming. And course we notice children as we are all students at the local school and are forced to interact with those immature ruffians on occasion, but as we have a superior intellect, some of them require our assistance.”
“I do not approve of your behaviour, but if you promised to help Dotty, then you may go.”
The Hughes Boys ran out of the house and across the lawn to the Weavers’ home and rang the bell.
Dotty answered it. “Hi, fellas!” she said brightly, “Come on in, dinner’s ready!”
“Thank you for your hospitality, Dotty,” said Winslow.
“No problem! When you fellas told me about what that awful Donny Atwater did to Helen, I was so mad! Helen is so nice and a good friend. I don’t know how eating supper here is going to help Helen, but if you say it does, I’ll believe you. Just remember that my grandma can’t remember how to make anything anymore; so, if she offers you something, just take it from her, thank her, but don’t put it in your mouth.”
“I cannot understand it, Sweetness. They absolutely love your Gaisburger Marsch as much as I do and it is my absolute favourite meal.”
“I wonder if they are ill…yet they do not seem to have any symptoms and I can usually tell before cold manifests itself.”
“I wonder what those three brats are up to this time.”
“Perhaps it is an experiment they have devised to unlock the deepest truths of the universe.”
“How can it be even worth knowing without a hearty helping of your Gaisburger Marsch? What is the point of knowing when you deny yourself the most divine and nourishing meal of them all?”
Verity gave Hammond a kiss as he held her close. Whatever her boys were doing, she was certain they would find out about it soon enough.
The Hughes Boys limped home after eating at the Weavers. “Ugh,” groaned Malcolm, “I have never felt so bloated in my life. I never thought I would see the day where I turned down my favourite meal for something as gas-inducing as tonight’s meal.”
Malcolm looked devastated. “I love Mommy’s Gaisburger Marsch, and now I am sad.”
“Confound it,” said Rufus sulkily, “I could eat it every night. Her spätzle alone makes it a divine dish. If it were a question of finding the meaning of life or having her Gaisburger Marsch, I would take her Gaisburger Marsch. I already don’t know the meaning of life and I am very happy, but now a supper without her Gaisburger Marsch is making me very sad.”
“It is a grim turn of events in our own campaign against Donny Atwater,” said a stoic Winslow, “But we must make it to my room so we can make some crucial decisions in our war for peace and civility.”
Hammond sat on the sofa as his three sons entered furtively and ran up the ramp to their rooms. He had been suspicious of his sons behaviour, as they had never declined their mother’s signature dish, but had spent the evening over at the Weavers’ on some pretence of helping Dotty on some unknown matter, though it seemed as though Malcolm was parsing his words, something that was uncharacteristic of his most precise child.
In fact, all three of his sons were behaving strangely since their cousin had recounted her unsavoury encounter with the abusive Donny. They were seething, and now Hammond wondered if they were planning something behind their parents’ back knowing full well the action would never be sanctioned by their parents.
He waited a few moments before setting up and walking toward Winslow’s room where he heard peculiar noises with Winslow sounding more like an army general than a child.
At this, Hammond was certain there was a plot afoot, and he decided to forego the knocking, and entered the room where the sight – and smells shocked him.
“Just what on earth are you three brats doing?” he shouted.
The Hughes Boys did not know what was worse – seeing Daddy catching wind of their plot, or the stink he was about raise about it.
When Verity entered the living room after speaking to her friend Florence Tenney on the telephone to order some new tools from Japan, she saw her husband nearly collapsed on the sofa, looking up at her with the usual expression he had when one or more of their sons had been in trouble.
“What is the matter, Hammond?”
“Our boys have been preparing a campaign of vengeance behind our backs.”
“What do you mean? Don’t tell me they still have a vendetta against Donny Atwater…”
“The reason they have seemingly lost their appetite is they go from house to house, hoping to find someone willing to feed them the most gas-inducing meal available. They hit the mother lode when the Weavers were having pork and beans with coleslaw for dinner tonight…”
“I thought we raised them to be dignified gentlemen.”
“Oh Verity, they are boys and that good breeding will not truly manifest itself until their early thirties.”
“Were you that crude at their age?”
“Let me put it this way: I never passed wind in the name of restoring family honour or was that precise and scientific about it. Those are new ones for me, though I suppose it is a sign of evolutionary progress. They are planning gas warfare to avenge Helen’s suffering at any rate, and I caught them comparing their emissions in Winslow's room to see which one will do the honours of letting Donny Atwater get a whiff of his own medicine while the other two hold him down to take it, though judging by the noxious fumes I encountered, I’d say it was a three-way draw. I had to put a stop to it before they gassed the entire neighbourhood. They can be relentless little hoodlums when provoked.”
“Oh, confound it – I teach them to unleash their righteousness, not their flatulence…”
The two looked at each other and began to laugh.
Verity sighed. “I suppose somewhere in all those noxious fumes, that could be construed as righteousness to little boys, but still I wished they found a more mature way to express it…”
“And we were worried they were too adult-like for their own good. No parent ever ought to get too full of himself or all that hot air will just blow up in his face…”
The two looked at each other again and began to roar with laughter for a long time before finally composing themselves.
“I better go to their rooms to speak with them.”
Hammond shouted as his wife as she walked down the hall, “Make certain you tell them to open the window to air out their rooms first!” He then got up. “On second thought, let me come in there with you. How Winslow explains himself this time is certainly going to be amusing.”
When Verity and Hammond entered their eldest son’s room, Hammond took a whiff and frowned. “The results of your campaign still linger, Winslow.”
Verity looked at her son and sighed. “Have you considered the irrational nature of your campaign, Winslow?”
“It was rather embarrassing when Daddy walked in. The look on his face was both shock and disappointment.”
“Not to mention nausea,” quipped Hammond.
“You have been reading my books on war,” said Verity as Winslow looked shocked.
“But Mommy, how did you know?”
“You left footprints on the bookshelf and disturbed the shelf where the books are.”
“You have become so focussed on settling a matter Helen is more than capable of handling herself, that you have been ignoring the world around you, and behaving in ways that are in not in tune with your more honest and rational tendencies.”
“I have been outraged at the injustice.”
“Of course,” said Hammond, “Donny Atwater had been cruel to Helen and was unpunished. As you admired your cousin, the injustice consumed you.”
Verity continued, “War manuals never tell you how to see the situation with rationality, Winslow.”
“Yes, those books are deceptive. Seeing Daddy’s reaction shook me, and I was afraid I had become a disappointment to the family, and I would become worse than Donny Atwater,” Winslow nodded grimly, “Clausewitz and Sun Tzu never said war was stinky, but it is. It is a very stinky business.”
His parents both deeply inhaled and nodded in unison, doing their absolute best to look parental and not break out into a laughing fit.
“I am glad we can resume eating Mommy’s Gaisburger Marsch,” said Rufus as the Hughes Boys walked with their parents to Aunt Holly’s house across the street, “But how will we wage war if we are not going to wage it?”
Winslow straightened his tie, “As Donny Atwater has returned today, we will speak to him directly and together, we will all unleash our righteousness.”
“That is a very good idea,” said Malcolm, “Let him tremble at our collective rage.”
“I hope he doesn’t bother Beloved Helen again,” said Rufus.
“Mommy thinks she can hold her own, but I am worried all the same,” said Winslow.
They entered the house where their Aunt and Uncle greeted the brood warmly, and Mr. Atwater and his wife were present. The Hughes Boys looked for their cousin, but she was not inside.
Suddenly, there was the shouting of children’s voices.
“That sounds like Beloved Helen!” gasped Malcolm. “If Donny Atwater has caused her any harm, I will personally thrash him!”
Helen gracefully came inside smiling and ran over to greeted her cousins with hugs.
She looked at her aunt and uncle.
“Auntie Verity! Uncle Hammond! I am so happy to see you!” she said as she gave each a warm hug.
“We heard shouting in the backyard,” said Verity, “Is everything all right?”
“It sure is!”
Just then, Hammond saw Donny Atwater entering inside and then looked at Helen.
“So why is Donny limping?” asked Hammond.
“Because I kicked him in the shins as hard as I can,” said Helen sweetly.
“I just knew it,” said Rufus sulkily, “My suggestion was shot down and it is discrimination that only one third of our club votes ever goes in my favour. If I didn’t know my brothers better, I’d say they were just jealous because I am lucky to have curly red hair.”
As Donny Atwater limped away, Helen smiled serenely before Winslow gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“You do our family proud, Beloved Helen,” said an admiring Winslow as Helen also gave him a kiss on his cheek.
“Thank you for standing up to Donny for me, Winslow,” said Helen, “You’re the best friend and the best cousin anyone could ever have.”
Verity was always elegantly dressed and she looked stunning in her glamourous black sleeveless evening gown as her husband’s cobalt blue silk shirt, yellow tie and matching blue and yellow pants and blazer with identical shoes in different colours made a bold statement – he wore one blue that adorned his right foot and one yellow on his prosthetic, with a yellow sock on his right foot, but kept the prosthetic sock-free as was his habit. He had worn the outfit once before at an art exhibit in their town of Queen’s Heights where a world-renowned surrealist artist held his exhibition and had offered Hammond an enormous sum to purchase the suit from him to wear himself in Paris, though he absolutely refused as his wife always swooned over him when he wore blue and yellow, though she also swooned over him in red, purple, orange, and even lime green.
“We are going out to dinner at Viand,” Hammond said as he put his arm around Verity’s waist, “Would you boys care to join us?”
Winslow seemed indignant. “Daddy, Viand cannot compare to the youth-centric choreographed spectacle at the Greatest Show in Carnivalia.”
Malcolm became animated. “They don’t even offer to shape balloons into ambiguous animals or have a clown sing in rhyming couplets as they bring you your brightly coloured desserts.”
Rufus nodded as he pulled on his blue blazer to straighten it. “Thankfully, Beloved Helen anticipated your lackluster choice for venue and invited the three of us over to dinner at her house.”
Hammond sighed as he shook his head. “It would not hurt you boys to eat at a place that prepares a healthy meal that nourishes the soul as well as the body. Besides, I do not recall your Aunt Holly or Uncle Eli dressing up as clowns and giving you balloons over their natural-coloured dinner.”
The Hughes Boys all folded their arms in unison at the perceived slight. “But Beloved Aunt Holly always draws us something comical if we eat all our vegetables,” said Malcolm blithely as he blushed, “Besides, not even the Greatest Show has Beloved Helen there tonight and after dinner, she has invited us for a milk and cookie party with a puppet show and we never say no to those.”
Verity looked at Hammond. “No parent can compete with cookies and puppets.”
“Bah, wait until they become adults and it finally sinks in what they are missing. Very well, boys, we will drop you off to your sugar binging and repurposed socks viewing and then your mother and I are off for a blissful evening out on the town.”
“But all you two ever do is hold hands and giggle,” said Winslow as he rolled his eyes.
“And all that kissing,” added Malcolm as he made a face.
“And all that cuddling you do when you two think no one is looking is a sight. What have you two got to say for yourselves?” demanded a disapproving Rufus.
“That the two of us shall have a more thrilling evening than the three of you,” Verity replied matter-of-factly as her husband roared with laughter. The five then left their house and walked across the street to drop off the Hughes Boys as Helen was already at the front steps, bouncily waiting for her best friends to arrive.
It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon as the Hughes Boys were at their grandparents’ house with Helen while their parents were busy typing their stories in their den on their typewriters. They had just finished their chapters when they swapped their work so the other could read it.
Hammond looked at Verity’s chapter and nodded in approval while doing his absolute best not to laugh out loud, “Yes, I see that Azura and Zacharias are now stuck in the Gaseous Place That Wages War Through Its Tooting, and have had to send word to Frula through it to toot the message to her.”
Verity nodded as she also had to hold back her giggling, “Just as Fletch and Pillar have been unexpectedly ambushed by the evil Deltan Space Hawks who have now tried to overtake the Omicronian’s space sector through disseminating very noxious fumes through their…their…” she stopped as she could barely contain herself.
Hammond looked at Verity as he tittered, “What can I say, Sweetness? War is a stinky business. It is a very stinky business.”
The two of them looked at each other as they howled with laughter as Verity rapidly stomped her feet and Hammond repeatedly pounded the table with his fist.