’I didn’t do it’ Aloysius said the moment his mother exited the kitchen. She had a thoughtful expression on her face … no, not thoughtful, Aloysius realized. In fact, her expression mirrored Aloysius’ own: she seemed to be panicking.
When Marilla Fletcher didn’t reply, ‘Mum?’ Aloysius said hesitantly; he knew that she had been on the phone-possibly with Mrs. Beverly, Mick’s mother. Mercifully, his father hadn’t come home yet (dinner wouldn’t be ready for another hour), so Aloysius was spared a double beating.
‘Yes Aloysius?’ she asked, finally looking at him as she wiped her hands on her apron and tucked a few flyaway strands of hair behind her ear.
‘Who-who was it?’ Aloysius asked.
‘On the phone, you mean?’
‘Just Mrs. Beverly, with some unbelievable story’ his mother chuckled uncomfortably.
‘What did she say?’
’Something about Mick being strangled to death by a bunch of vines. Apparently, she thinks you’re responsible’ another short laugh, ‘But don’t worry, there’s no proof that anything of that sort even occurred’
‘But the vines …’
‘Disappeared, evidently’ Mrs. Fletcher shook her head and dusted the last remnants of flour from her hands, ’Convenient, don’t you think? Besides, when was the last time you ever saw even a plant grow in the Shanty?’
‘Never’ Aloysius said honestly.
‘Exactly. So, I simply told Mrs. Beverly that I wasn’t buying her cock-and-bull story!’
‘Right. Ridiculous’ Aloysius agreed with a nod; he sighed with relief, for at least this meant that he wouldn’t be getting punished. But then why did his mother appear so disturbed? He couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling that something odd was going on. So, ‘Mum?’ he said again.
‘Yes?’ she sounded slightly aggravated now.
’What if-what if Mrs. Beverly wasn’t lying?’ she shot him such a sharp look that Aloysius corrected hastily, ‘I mean, not about me being responsible, of course. But, perhaps, well, the vines that strangled Mick? What if that actually happened?’
‘Stranger things have happened’ Marilla Fletcher responded with a shrug.
Perhaps, Aloysius thought, but not in the Shanty. Never in the Shanty.
‘You have to admit that-’
’I don’t have to admit anything’ his mother interrupted, her tone final. Then she went on, ‘Now, be a good boy and mind the water boiling on the stove. I’ll just pay Mrs. Orson a short visit; I have to return an umbrella I borrowed. I’ll make us some soup when I return’ and she hurried towards the door, pulling on her coat as she went.
‘Mum’ Aloysius said for the third time in the last five minutes.
‘Yes?’ she glanced back, opening the door.
‘You forgot the umbrella’
She flushed a bright red and slammed the door behind her. Aloysius had known it was a lie the moment she said it; it hadn’t rained once in several months.
So why was she lying to him, then? It wasn’t anything new, really, his mother keeping things from him, yet now, for the first time since in many years, Aloysius was curious. He felt like a little kid again, asking his mum and dad about things, and getting scolded and pinched.
Those vines, he thought. They had been there. He had seen them with his own eyes. Also … though he was sure he was mistaken, he had a feeling that he was more responsible for them than he wanted to admit. He knew it was silly: no person could make plants appear out of thin air. Perhaps he was simply giving himself too much credit.
But he couldn’t shake away the feeling that maybe, just maybe, there was more to the story than anyone was willing to let on. With a groan, he fell back into the sofa-which was in considerably bad shape and creaked loudly; Aloysius only groaned again, for the straw stuck out and poked his back. Still, it was better than the hard-wooden chair, which was the only other piece of furniture available to sit on. He slumped down, face in hands, deep in thought. He was only shaken out of this stupor when, almost ten minutes later, a shrill whistle sounded from the kitchen.
The kettle! Aloysius remembered suddenly, rushing to the kitchen only to find a burnt kettle, lid askew and water running down the sides. This is not a good day, he said to himself, wondering whether he would be able to scrub the stupid vessel clean and boil more water before his mother got back home. As if in reply to his question, he heard he front door open a moment later.
‘Aloysius!’ he heard his mother cry.
‘Coming!’ he shouted back; I suppose I’ll just have to listen to her rant, he decided with a resigned sigh, bounding out of the kitchen only to run straight into his mother.
‘Did the water boil?’ she asked, making her way inside.
‘Um, actually-’ Aloysius began, doing his best to appear petulant.
‘Oh good, now I can get around to preparing some vegetable soup. Get out the tomatoes, would you?’
Aloysius spun around, and his mouth fell open, for there on the stove stood a perfectly clean kettle-the metal was shining, in fact-filled with steaming water.
What the heck is going on? he wondered for what seemed the tenth time that day.