Dirty Dishes. A Brief Recap. Woe.
Finally, the term was over and two weeks of freedom loomed. Two weeks of freedom from Sanctuary School, that is. There was no escape from Poppy.
“I think,” I said, sorrowfully, “that I liked Poppy better when he was drunk.” My back hurt from leaning over the sink, and the dishwater was now cold and greasy. Happily, I was on the last pan. It was crusty and black, but it was the last. The last pan, the last chore, and then, I would be free for the first night of term break.
“There is no pleasing some people,” Valefor replied from his vaporous perch high on top of the kitchen dresser. Valefor was the one who should have been doing the dishes, and everything else as well. Thanks to his banishment, he was a mere wisp, and his helpfulness was limited to criticism, which I did not find helpful in the slightest. And he had to lay low, too. If Mamma discovered him flitting about, he would be in a World of Hurt.
Valefor continued. “You complained when Hotspur was drunk and wallowing all the time; now he’s straight as straight, and you complain about that, too, Flora Segunda.”
I put the last pan in the dish drainer, then straightened up, feeling a hundred years old, and as though I’d been washing up for ninety of those years. It was only Mamma, Poppy, and me at home, yet somehow we were generating enough dirty dishes for an entire regiment. Poppy’s fault, really; he was cooking meals big enough for an entire regiment, even though Mamma ate only breakfast at home, I ate dinner at Sanctuary School, and it was usually just Poppy and me for supper.
“I never thought he’d turn out to be such a tyrant,” I said. “He’s a hundred times worse than Mamma. At least Mamma isn’t around enough to crawl down your throat. Poppy never leaves the house. He’s always here. There’s no escaping. Flynnie, get out of there.”
At my gentle kick, Flynn slunk away from the garbage can, looking dejected, as though he’d never been fed before in his life. Which was, of course, false, as he’d not only already had dinner, but had licked the plates before I washed them—saves on the scrubbing, you know.
“Hotspur is overcompensating,” Valefor explained. “He always goes too far. When he was brave, he was the bravest ever. When he was in love, you’d have thought no one had ever loved so much. When he was crazy, no lunatic ever howled so loud. And now that he’s sober, he’s so straight you could rule your paper with him.”
“Can’t he just be somewhere in the comfy middle?” I pulled the plug and let the nasty water glug out of the sink. There, that was it. Punto finale for Flora and the dishes. Punto finale for my last chore of the day. And not a moment too soon. The kitchen clock was about to chime eight. If I didn’t get a move on it, I was going to be late meeting Udo, and I hate being late. The only thing that it’s good to be late for, said Nini Mo, is your own funeral.
“No Fyrdraaca ever sat in the comfy middle,” Val pronounced. “We are all about the razor-thin edge of extreme. It’s our family hallmark.”
“Ha,” I said, sourly, for he was certainly right there.
“Anyway, you wanted things to change, and they did. So stop complaining.”
“Ha.” Even more sourly, for he was right there, as well.
My Catorcena—my fourteenth birthday whereon I became officially an adult—was three months past, and things had changed, and yet nothing at all changed, really. Of course, I hadn’t expected miracles—I wasn’t that childish, even at my most optimistic—but immediately after my birthday celebration, things had looked mighty promising.
Take Poppy, for example. During the Huitzil War, Poppy had been a prisoner, and almost executed for war crimes. At the end of the War, Mamma ransomed him, but Poppy came home sick, crazy, and a drunk. And so he had remained until finally he had promised to try to forget the woes of the past and stay sober.
He had kept his promise. But Poppy sober was almost as bad as Poppy drunk, only in an entirely different way. Drunk Poppy was a lunatic. Sober Poppy was a tyrant. A martinet. What in the Army they call a whip. What I call a giant huge pain in my hinder.
Sober Poppy had turned Crackpot Hall into an Army camp. There was Reveille (Get Up), Mess Call (Get to Breakfast), Assembly (Inspection before Leaving the House), Drill Call (Do Your Homework), Guard Mount (Take the Dogs Out), Inspection (Is Your Room Clean?), Reinspection (What Did I Tell You about Dusting?), Tattoo (Time for Bed), and Retreat (Lights Out). I was surprised that Poppy didn’t actually get a bugle and stand on the stairs sounding the calls. Maybe he just hadn’t thought of that yet.
Poppy had become a despot who skulked around the house, his face like a block of carved ice. I don’t think Poppy actually slept; he just stayed up all night polishing and dusting, scrubbing or sweeping. Crackpot was still decrepit, but now at least it was clean.
And cooking. When Poppy was a souse, I would not have pegged him to have much interest in cooking, but now, next to cleaning, cooking was all he did. He made bread and cakes, pies and cookies. Stews and soups, gelées and galantines, roasts and chops, tortillas and tortas. The pantry was full of food, the icebox was full of food, Mamma was full of food, I was full of food, Udo was full of food, even the dogs were full of food. Only Poppy was not full of food; I never saw him eat a single thing.
All I had wanted was order. Instead, I got tyranny.
Mamma, of course, was exempt from Poppy’s discipline, as she outranked him, but I had no choice but to hop to. My only relief was school; never before had I been so happy to escape to Sanctuary each morning, and I loitered there in the afternoon as long as possible. But eventually I had to go home.
The only bright side to Poppy’s behavior was that it was doing a great job of reminding me that I did not want to follow the Fyrdraaca family tradition. Fyrdraacas attend Benica Barracks Military Academy and then go into the Army. As far back as anyone can remember, this is so: Mamma went, Poppy went, my sister Idden went—even the Fyrdraaca dogs have gone. Fyrdraacas are soldiers. It’s our family rule.
What has soldierly duty gotten this family? Mamma is Commanding General of the Army of Califa and everyone thinks she’s a great hero for saving Califa from the Birdies, as we call the Huitzils. Thanks to Mamma’s peace accord, we are a client state instead of a conquered one. But she’s a slave to duty; she’s hardly ever home, spends all her time pushing paperwork, handling the Warlord, bowing to the Birdie Ambassador, trying to keep the Republic together.
Poppy was aide-de-camp to the