Sunday, April 01, 2012

April Fools Circa 1967

Enjoy this April Fools Day excerpt from my yet-to-be-published novel, The Sword Swallower's Daughter. This scene is from protagonist Sheila as a nine-year-old girl. In later years Sheila pulls the same trick her grandmother uses here to get back at her sword-swallowing father.

Mama hated April Fool’s Day and let it be known she would not tolerate any jokes at her expense. She said that growing up with Uncle Teddy had been like April Fool’s Day every single day of the year. That didn’t stop us from pooling our tricks on Grandma.

A penny in a gumball machine had recently rewarded me with a black plastic spider about the size of a quarter. Holly and I tied a long piece of thread around one of the spider’s legs and placed the prop on the kitchen floor just under the counter in front of the coffee percolator. Holly held one end of the string while we sat at the kitchen table eating Cheerios and waiting for Grandma to appear in her fluffy robe and floppy slippers.

“Good morning, Grandma,” I said, as she stepped through the kitchen door.

Holly tugged the string just enough for the spider to appear out from under the cabinet.

Morning, girls.” She cast us a sleepy smile and headed directly to the coffee pot.

Holly tugged the string again.

Grandma’s face went white. She lurched forward and stomped onto the spider with her floppy-slippered foot, while Holly and I went into peals of laughter. Grandma lifted her foot and Holly pulled the string again. Holly and I doubled over as Grandma shrieked and repeated the stomp and twist. When Grandma pulled her foot away the second time, Holly pulled again and Grandma’s eyes followed the spider’s movement to Holly’s hand. Her face went hard, then soft, then relieved, then something I couldn’t read. She collapsed into a chair and exhaled.

“I’m too old for this.” Grandma shook her head at us. “Go on now. I’ll make your lunches today—just leave me alone to gather my wits.”

Grandma gathered her wits and put them in our sandwiches. Sitting next to Dorris and Tracy at lunchtime, I bit into my bologna sandwich and couldn’t pull the bite away. I drew the sandwich back and lifted it apart to find a slice of brown shopping bag cut in the shape of bologna. Printed in big black letters were the words: “April Fools.”

Later that afternoon I was up in the bedroom reading when the phone rang. Most of the time I raced Holly to the phone, suffering her shoves of the shoulder or elbows in the chest. Today I let the phone ring, immersed in the problems of Julie Trelling in Up A Road Slowly.

Holly burst into the room and said, “It’s for you. It’s Lee-roy.”

I laid my book aside, raced down the stairs to the kitchen, and picked up the receiver resting on the floor in a tangle of cord.

“Hello?” I accentuated the question mark, hoping to mask the exclamation points of excitement.

“Hey, baby. Wanna braid my hair?”

So off was the voice, so un-Leroy-like the question, that it took a moment to sink in. “Who is this?”

“Not that long-hair hippie freak. April Fools!” I heard a cacophony of laughter before the phone clicked on the other end. It wasn’t until I noticed Holly staring at me with mocking eyes did I get it.

Holly burst into laughter, doubled over, and pointed to me. “You should have seen your face! You can thank Cassius for that.”

I slammed the phone into the cradle and stormed back up the stairs and closed myself away with my book.

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