“Come on, girls, gather up your things. It’s time to go.”
Mike slowly opened his eyes. He wasn’t in a bed. He wasn’t in his sleeping bag. He was sitting on a chair. He glanced around the room – same room, same kind of furniture except it wasn’t the furniture he had seen in Nathaniel’s room. Two girls were sitting on the bed, one about his age, he thought, so maybe twelve, the other much younger. They wore dresses below their knees and funny-looking shoes that buttoned. Shoes that buttoned? A suitcase lay on the bed.
A woman – their mother? – stood in the doorway. She, too, wore a dress that reached almost to her ankles, a hat with a big feather stuck in it, and the same button-up shoes. She carried a coat over her arm and a purse.
“Agnes, Molly, it’s time to leave. Uncle Roy is waiting in the car downstairs.”
Mike heard sobbing; it was the younger girl. The older girl put her arm around the younger one and in so doing saw Mike sitting on the chair. Her eyes popped wide open. She shrieked.
“Who are you? Where did you come from?”
“Who are you talking to?” the woman demanded. “You know exactly who I am. I’m your Aunt Edna.”
“No, not you, Auntie, the boy sitting in the chair there.”
Auntie looked directly at Mike except he felt as if she were looking right through him. “There’s no one on the chair, now come along. And Molly, stop your crying.”
“Please, Auntie, can we sit here for just a minute till Molly stops crying?” Mike decided the older girl must be Agnes.
“Well, all right, but hurry up. Uncle Roy is losing patience,” Aunt Edna snapped. She turned on her heels and stomped down the stairs.
Agnes turned to Mike. “Well, who are you?” she demanded
“I’m Mike. Are you going to visit your aunt and uncle?”
Agnes took a deep breath. Molly started to sob even harder. “No, we are going to live with them.”
“Why? Are your parents sending you away? Were you bad or something?”
Another long pause, then Agnes said, very quietly, “Our parents passed away a couple of days ago. That’s why we are going to live with Aunt Edna and Uncle Roy.”
Molly let out a long wail. “I don’t want to live with them. They’re mean.” She put her head in her hands and began to cry even harder.
“Did your parents have the consumption?” Mike was proud he remembered that word from his dream about Nathaniel.
Mike was perplexed. He’d had the flu, so had his mother and some of his friends. He had felt miserable and got to miss a couple of days of school but he’d never heard of anyone dying of it.
“Boy, it must be bad,” he said.
“It is, everyone is dying of it.” Agnes turned back to Molly. “Shush, stop your crying. We have to go now.”
“I don’t want to live with them. Daddy says Uncle Roy is off his head and Aunt Edna is mean,” Molly wailed.
“Uncle Roy is not off his head.”
“Yes, he is. Daddy said so. Every since he came back from the Great War, he’s been strange. You know that, you’ve seen him act strange.”
Agnes sighed, put her arm around Molly and tried to comfort her.
“Your Uncle was in the war? Which one? Afghanistan? Or Iraq?” Mike asked. Wow, a real soldier, he thought. He’d never seen one in person. He wondered if Uncle Roy had enough medals to cover his jacket like some of the vets he saw on Remembrance Day.
“No, Europe, you ninny. He was in the trenches in France. He was gassed there, too.”
Mike was really confused now. First, the flu killing people and now a war in Europe? He didn’t recall any war in Europe, there were nasty demonstrations about all those immigrants, but a war?
“Um, I, um, what, uh . . . why did she call it a great war?”
“They said it was the war to end all wars.”
Mike laughed “Well, that didn’t work. There’s wars everywhere.”
Agnes glared at him. “It’s no laughing matter. Thousands of soldiers died in that war, and now thousands more people are dying of the Spanish flu.”
They heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Aunt Edna appeared at the door, paused, then marched into the room.
“Come along, you two. Uncle Roy is getting angry.” With that, she swept the suitcase off the bed. Something crashed to the floor and shattered.
“Peg!” exclaimed Molly. She flung herself down on the floor and picked up a small doll. “You’ve broken Peg’s head. Look, it’s all in pieces. I hate you!”
For the first time, Aunt Edna looked abashed. She knelt down beside Molly. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see your doll there. Let’s pick up all the pieces, perhaps we can mend it when we get home.” She put her arm around Molly, then kissed the top of her head. “Maybe we can persuade Uncle Roy to stop for some ice cream. Would you like that?”
Molly sobbed a “Yes” through sniffles, then stood up with the broken doll clutched tightly in her hand. Agnes stood up, took Molly by the other hand, and together they followed Aunt Edna out the door, but not before Agnes turned and stuck her tongue out at Mike. He gave her the finger in return. He heard them go down the stairs, heard a door open and then close, and a few minutes later a car drive away.
He was still no clearer about the flu and the Great War thing, but all this confusion left him really tired. He closed his eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.
To be continued . . .
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