Eggie Spills it All
When my little brother Engelbert knows a secret he has to tell it, or else he pees in his pants. Like last Christmas, when Eggie knew what I was giving Dad, he managed not to tell, but he peed right by the tree while Dad was shaking the box. We all try not to make too big a deal out of it when he does things like that -- he's only six years old -- but Grandma blew up at Mom for not toilet-training him properly. After Grandma left, Dad asked Mom if we had to keep having "that woman" around during the holidays. Mom just looked at him like he was crazy and said, "She's my mother!"
Grandma hates Ralph too much even to sit in the same room with him, so we all knew she would throw a fit about Ralph and my aunt Susanna getting engaged. Mom said maybe it would go smoother if there were witnesses present when Grandma heard the news. She planned an engagement party, but she told Grandma that it was a surprise birthday party for my father and that Ralph would not be invited.
On the morning of the party, Eggie eavesdropped on Mom while she was on the phone with Susanna, so he knew she was tricking Grandma. If I didn't figure out how to keep him from telling, Grandma would leave the party before anyone else even got there.
That was why I tried to bribe him with the story about his name. I said I'd tell him who the original Engelbert was if he could just hang onto Susanna's secret, and his bladder, until after the party. But the fact that there was a story behind Eggie's name was also sort of a secret, something he'd never heard of before.
Now he was flooded with secrets, ready to burst.
The party was at one o'clock, but Grandma showed up at noon, supposedly to help keep me and Eggie busy so we wouldn't give Dad any hints about his surprise party. When she rang the bell, Mom was in the kitchen mixing punch. The first thing she said to my mother was, "Laura, you make me a pitcher of martinis. I won't make it through this party for that stupid husband of yours if I have to do it sober." Grandma told me once that drinking can be a sin, but if keeps you from committing bigger sins, like shooting people, then it becomes a virtue.
Mom rolled her eyes and winked at me as soon as Grandma turned her back. Grandma always calls my father "your stupid husband" or "that so-called father of yours," never "James." She doesn't usually address him directly, but when she does, she doesn't call him anything at all. For which we are all grateful.
I took her into the living room, where I figured I could keep her busy playing cribbage for at least half an hour. Then Eggie was supposed to come upstairs and ask us both to play Monopoly with him.
We had just settled into a corner of the old couch when Eggie came into the room, thirty minutes ahead of schedule. I frowned at him and shook my head, but he ignored me. He had the same smug little smile on his face that he gets whenever he manages to solve a math problem by himself.
As Mom was handing her the first martini, Eggie walked right up to Grandma and said, "I'll tell you that Ralph and Susanna are getting married if you tell me who Engelbert was."
Grandma's eyes bulged like the olives in her drink. She squeezed the stem of that glass so hard I was afraid she would break it.
Mom yelled "Goddammit, Eggie!" and Grandma screamed "What in tarnation!" and Eggie let fly with the piss, on top of both of the secrets, making it one of his worst days on record.
I slid over to the other end of the couch.
Grandma stood up and glowered at Eggie, her eyes even blacker than usual. I thought she was going to pour her drink over his head, but Mom stepped between them and glared at Grandma until she sat down again. Mom nudged Eggie over to the couch in spite of his wet pants. He squished on up between Grandma and me.
I figured I was doomed, since I was the only one who could have told him about Engelbert, but Mom just looked at Eggie and said, "Okay, then. Since you asked."
I couldn't believe it.
"You had an Aunt Maggie who died before you born." Mom said.
Eggie nodded. He had seen Maggie's picture plenty of times.
"Engelbert was your Aunt Maggie's boyfriend until he asked her to marry him. We were all having dinner at your grandmother's house when they told us about their engagement. Grandma called Engelbert all kinds of horrible names and chased him out into the yard."
"What kind of names?" Eggie asked.
"Nothing you haven't heard before, young man!" Grandma sat up straighter when she said this.
"He didn't take abuse as well as Ralph does." Mom had her hands on her hips, and she was looking at Eggie, but she was leaning in Grandma's direction, as if she might have to push her back down onto the couch at any moment. "Engelbert told Maggie she would have to choose between Grandma and him, and when Maggie said she didn't know what to do, he broke up with her."
Mom paused for few seconds. Then she sighed. "Well, kids. It got ugly. Engelbert went off to his favorite bar and got soused. Then he came back and stood in your grandmother's driveway, howling for Maggie to come out and talk to him. Maggie was asleep on the couch with a headache, so she didn't even know he was there, but your grandmother told him that Maggie didn't want to see him, and that furthermore, if he didn't clear out, she'd call the police."
Eggie was looking at Grandma with big round eyes. Grandma was looking out the window.
"And then Engelbert lost it. You kids know how much your grandmother loves her garden..." We nodded. Grandma was obsessed with the garden. We weren't allowed to go anywhere near it.
"Engelbert ate it," said Mom.
"Huh?" Eggie scrunched up his little eyebrows like he does when he's trying to spell a big word.
"He ate all of Grandma's flowers, every single one. The roses, the petunias, even those big chrysanthemums, and God only knows what else. And then he passed out. We thought it was just the alcohol, but it turns out some of those flowers were toxic. By the time we realized what the problem was, Engelbert had died."
Grandma muttered something that might have been "good riddance."
"And then Maggie woke up," Mom went on, "and when she understood what had happened to Engelbert, she wailed and sobbed and screamed for three whole days, and then she started wandering the neighborhood, eating the neighbors' flowers. She was determined to die the same way Engelbert did. First Mr. Wetherell found her stuffing handfuls of his prize snapdragons into her mouth, and then she turned up in the Hemleys' garden. Everyone tried to keep an eye on her, but she persevered until she finally got lucky and ate something poisonous."
"What was it?" Eggie asked. He always liked to know all the details about how people died.
"One of the night watchmen found her sprawled on the floor out at the Botanical Gardens, where she'd had a bite of every plant in the place. It could have been anything."
I still remember Aunt Maggie's funeral. It was grim, because nobody was allowed to send any flowers.
"I was pregnant with you at the time, Eggie," Mom said, "and I decided that I would name you after one or the other of them when you were born."
"Why didn't you just call me Maggie?" he asked, looking confused.
"You little moron!" Grandma exploded. She stood up and poured her martini over his head. She took the olives out first, though.
Eggie had seen Grandma blow up at other people at least a thousand times, but she had never done it to him before. He started to cry.
Then Grandma felt bad. I could tell, because even though she didn't apologize, she sat down again, and she gave him one of her olives.
Now my little brother had booze trickling down his neck and tears dripping down his cheeks, and he was probably leaving a pee stain on the couch, besides. And that's when the doorbell rang.
It was a few minutes past one o'clock. Ralph and Susanna had waited outside to keep anyone from coming in until everyone was there, so nine people trouped in at once-Ralph and Susanna and all seven of their guests. And Dad came upstairs and squeezed in between Eggie and me on the couch. He sniffed at the gin in Eggie's hair, but he didn't ask.
Since Grandma knew that this wasn't really a surprise party for Dad, thanks to Eggie, Mom stayed in the living room to keep watch over her and sent me into the kitchen to pour her a new martini. Boy, did I get a dirty look from Grandma when I handed her that glass.
Susanna and Ralph stood in the doorway to the living room. Ralph cleared his throat and said, "Thank you all for coming. We have a very happy announcement to make!"
And my grandmother growled. I'm not kidding. Ralph stopped talking and everyone looked at Grandma, waiting to see if she would do it again.
Then Eggie got off the couch and walked over to Ralph and Susanna, trailing a stinky pee smell in his wake. He took Ralph's hand and stood there in his soggy khakis, blinking at Grandma. I figured he was thinking about Maggie and Engelbert, and that he wanted to protect Ralph.
I was never so proud of my little brother in my whole life.
"We're getting married!" Ralph smiled at Susannah. The room held its breath.
Grandma pressed her lips into a thin, tight line, but instead of scowling at Susanna and Ralph, she was looking at Eggie.
"Okay," she said at last.
Then she tossed back her drink and walked out, without even slamming the door.
Everybody let out a whoop. My father started singing "Ding, dong, the witch is dead," but Mom shushed him.
Eggie went downstairs to change his pants while they cut the cake. I saved him the biggest piece.
I don't think Grandma will be coming to the wedding. Mom couldn't think of a way to trick her into that.
About the author:
Danielle LaVaque-Manty lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her work has recently been in Bold Type, Eyeshot, Literary Potpourri, and Vestal Review.