Welcome to October
CHAPTER
21
An Uncle Unpleasant
Only one person could mend that which had broken. So Evie brought Bod to the doctor— her father, now.
The sun bled through October, an unpleasant blend of deep orange and dark blue. It started up the construction across the street and made young Nyxie burrow under her blankets before settling down again.
Evangeline Mortimer poked Mr. Mrs. Down in the thigh. When he stirred, she waited, and then poked him again.
“Oh Constance,” he whined, smacking his lips like a child. “Just give us a minute, will you?”
But Evie would not.
“Get up, Dad,” she demanded most distastefully.
However, Mr. Mrs. Down opened one eye as he slurred, “Evie?” and she nodded twice. “What’s the matter?” he went on, but Ichabod stirred beside her. And based on the way Mr. Mrs. Down sat up at once, Evie thought that perhaps— perhaps— this man who was her dad now was the best doctor-dad in the world.
Mr. Mrs. Down pulled Bod beside him and looked him over from head to toe. Evie watched Mr. Mrs. Down thoroughly inspect the boy without question or remark. Then when nothing seemed to be physically wrong with his patient, he nodded.
And he pulled Bod into a hug.
Bod wasn’t much of a crier but Evie did hear him sniff. Her adoptive father patted Bod’s back and asked, “Better now?”
“No,” Ichabod replied, but Evie saw that he was sorta smiling. Sorta breathing. Sorta hugging Mr. Mrs. Down even though he could be a Mr. Mrs. Downer.
Sorta crying. Sorta laughing.
Sorta better.
Sorta better now.
The service of Richard Beetle may have been light and loving. But the service of Mrs. Wutsitz was heavy and grey. Mr. Wutsitz sat in the front row sobbing. October filled the Chapel, solemn. The Mortimers did their duties, quiet. And outside there was Ichabod: peeping in through the doors that weren’t being held shut.
There was something about funerals that didn’t sit well with him. Something about a church without music. Something about a room full of tears. Something about sitting in front of a lost loved one without having a two-sided conversation.
Something about being so close—- so very close—- to the dead.
Ichabod didn’t want to go near it. Near the service. Nor the bod. Nor the people of October who looked at him with a confused kind of hate.
Nor Mrs. Wutsitz. Whom he looked at with a confused kind of guilt.
He stood outside where the world was loud and the breeze was crisp and the sun was warm and he could breathe without being clouded by pain. The pain of being hated and the pain of being loved. Of being wanted and unwanted. Of being too close to this. And being so far from the rest of them.
He stood outside so he heard the footsteps. And the familiar a-hem of Mr. Mind. He didn’t need to turn around to know who had walked up behind him and into the Down Funeral Home.
“Nephew,” his uncle noted numbly.
Like the hairs from his wrists to his elbows, Ichabod straightened up.
Nyx was not impressed with Uncle Thorne. He was an uncle unpleasant. And ugly, inside and out.
After Mrs. Wutsitz’s Committal, he took Ichabod to the rubble that was the Graves’ home. But during he talked business. He talked tautly and tortuously about all of the things he really had to do. In her suitcase, Mrs. Wutsitz groaned as if all she wanted was some peace and quiet. But in his suit (but no case), Uncle Thorne gabbed as if all he wanted was to hear his voice vacant.
Nyx didn’t dislike Uncle Thorne. She didn’t know him. Perhaps business was all he knew. And perhaps he was a decent person somehow. Perhaps he’d forgotten that funerals meant something to the mourners morose watching from behind tears and shrouds.
But she didn’t like Uncle Thorne either. He was big. He was brash. He was loud. But he didn’t say anything. Not anything useful or hopeful or kind. He was always just talking and Nyx wondered if that was why Bod rarely spoke. He was forced, perhaps, to just listen. Which wasn’t a bad thing. But what would he say if allowed a few words?
The Down Home slowly emptied. Almost emptied. All except Mr. Wutsitz, Mr. Gunn, and the Vales. Mrs. Down prepared dinner for twelve bodies.
Twelve.
And Nyx couldn’t believe they were all actually staying. There were never any guests just hanging around.
But as Evie set the table Mr. Wutsitz rolled to his place. Then Mr. Gunn sat down. Then Miss Vienna and Mr. Vale. And then Mr. Mind led Bod and his uncle into the house.
Then Dr. Down had a seat near Leila. And Mrs. Down told him to save the seat on his other side. Then Evie sat near Bod taking her first sip of tea. Then all that was left was the plate in the empty seat at the head of the table. And all that was left was for Nyx to sit in it now.
But that was her seat there and Nyx didn’t quite like Uncle Thorne who was sitting on its right though she did enjoy Bod who was on its left. How could she sit there, though, between them? How could she sit there? When it wasn’t her place at all?
Nyx knew she was the youngest now, but she wasn’t Clara. And Clara was gone. So there should have been a place for her. A hole. A space where Clara might have gone.
But Mrs. Down had never prepared dinner for twelve before. For that there was no table, no space, no seat for a thirteenth hole. Clara would just have to sit under her. Or stand over her. Or float. Nyx knew their Clara wasn’t a ghost—- couldn’t float—- but she took a deep breath, sat down, and watched the ceiling while they ate in a pact polite, just checking the skies. Just in case she’d spot Clara saying it was alright.
Mort’s momma was in a casket, but he’d bought an urn, too. ‘Cause it was blue. And his momma’d always liked the color blue although she’d be proud of him for not burning her ‘cause she hated fire.
‘Cause it was red.
And red was the color of blood and guts. Of anger and rust. Of violence. Of...
Love?
Mort’s momma always loved love. She loved family and friendship. Most of all, she loved him. Mort knew that. She loved her baby, her son. And he loved his momma. But now, she was gone.
Mort was invited to spend a night in the Down Home. The Inn was cold, dark, and quiet. And it was lonely. And there was a lot a lot of red. His mother’s heart failed and fragile but faithful to the end. His own anger turned hatred. And the violence that came from it in the end.
There was rust on the handrails and red in the carpets. And his momma never liked red. But she loved blue which was everywhere in the Down Home. In the tea cups and rugs. In the children.
In the kid.
Mort couldn’t believe how blue that boy was. How quiet beside his uncle. How his small face seemed so long. And Mort had heard something... he’d heard something Thorne said to Mind or Mind to Thorne... He had heard something...
Something about that boy blue’s mom.
Mort couldn’t believe how sorry he felt for the kid. Sorry for yelling at him. Sorry for saying things that painted the town red. How sorry he was. He was sorry.
He was.
So he held on to the blue urn. His red bled into it. It caught his tears, but it couldn’t take back the things he’d done.
Ichabod hated too much attention. He hated people feeling sorry for him most of all. But there was something strange suddenly about all the grown-ups.
Something most sinister was going on.
“I know my uncle may not be very charming,” he’d explained to a Mrs. Down most mute after dinner.
“But he’s factual and practical,” he’d said to the doctor distracted while doing the washing up.
“And he’s family,” he’d said to the Mortimers while Mr. Gunn listened in, reading with a face long.
“And family is perhaps the most important thing of all.”
At this, Mr. Wutsitz had gone absolutely grey. He paused on the landing, near the room Leila had grudgingly given up.
“Perhaps you’re right, Kid,” he said without being nasty. And this confused Ichabod. They held each other’s gaze as Mort’s glassy eyes worked to emphasize his point. “In the end, no matter what, family’s important. They should always come first.”
Ichabod was used to being stonewalled. He was a kid surrounded by grown-ups, and grown-ups always thought that being silent and secretive was best for the children who could understand nothing at all. But Ichabod understood from their silence and their secrets that something had happened. And he could handle it.
“Uncle,” he said stiffly as he opened the door to the Attic. “I believe we need to talk.”
He could handle it. He’d handled horrible happenings before.
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