The Plant Queen
One day I got home from school and found Iris with Mama’s red and gold address book, frantically turning pages. “No one has books any more,” Iris was gritting her teeth through her braces. “Everything is on computer so nothing gets lost.”
“Everything on a computer is already lost,” said Mama, striding in. She was dressed in army type fatigues and a crimson shirt that barely buttoned across her ample bosom. “That’s because it doesn’t exist to begin with.”
“That is utter nonsense,” Iris replied, sounding exactly like Mama. Iris still had her blue and green uniform from school on.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, “And where is Max?”
“She is at school,” said Mama, who had crumpled down into the three legged chair and begun rocking.
“Max isn’t old enough for school,” I said, looking around.
“That is going to tip over someday and kill you,” said Iris, turning furiously towards Mama. She grabbed the chair, steadied it and stuck the dictionary under it.
“You wish,” said Mama, not accommodating the transfer.
“Hold the chair up,” Iris said to me. “Then we’ll find Max.”
I pushed the edge up, trying not to hit Mama’s chin, as Iris shoved the big book under the corner where the fourth leg had been. As soon as she did, Mama stood and the chair slipped backwards, positioning itself level.
“It works if no one sits in it, Iris, which is not good enough to be workable,” said Mama, sitting back down heavily. We all watched as the book thrust itself away from under the chair.
Iris banged out the door.
“What was she looking for in your book?” I asked.
“Uncle Tod,” said Mama.
Iris burst back in with her laptop. “Mama, try to remember the name of the school you took her to,” she directed.
“PS, something,” Mama said. “They’re all PS something’s with numbers. One fifty, sixty-nine, it doesn’t matter. She’s fine,” said Mama, looking sad and suddenly small in the big chair.
The police brought Max in a couple of hours later. She had fallen asleep in a cubby hole and was discovered by the janitor. She did seem just fine, announced that she was ready for pie and fell into Mama’s arms. The police wanted to know if it was true that Mama had told Max that she was to live at school and eat pie all day and whether Max was really still age two.
And so it came out that Mama had taken Max to a pre-preschool open house where not only did she happen to mention that math is where you learn about pi, but had also left the building with parents in heated debate over algebra for toddlers, thus neglecting to confirm Max among the children tailing behind, nor paying attention to where she had been walking.
As far as the sleeping at school part, Mama blamed the principal for focusing on college in the welcoming speech, which just goes to show you that anyone can become a principal. That Max had managed to fall asleep was a tribute to the security instilled in her by her mother and sisters. Smiling confidently, Mama excused herself to go upstairs to vomit, hoping that everyone understood now.
I confirmed that this had never happened before, Max said she had been looking for pie in the cubby hole because elves could have been in there baking them, and Iris said that Max was precocious with a vivid imagination.
“Is she like that all the time?” one of the policemen asked, meaning Mama.
“No,” I said, truthfully.
It struck me as odd that inconsistency halted further inquiry but then I figured out it’s because you don’t have to do anything about it.
Iris told also told the police that she was 18 and everything was under control. They stood uncomfortably.
“I look young for my age, I’d show you my driver’s license but I left it in my locker, I mean my car.” Iris was grasping at straws.
“How old are you?” one of them asked me. I looked at Iris.
“Thirteen,” she said, making me her age.
“Yes sir,” I said, crossing my fingers behind my back.
On their way out, one of the policemen remarked that the plants looked like they needed some sun and maybe, so did we.
The next day, Max had a terrible case of diarrhea. Mama had a stomach flu. That, I knew to be somatic. Mama had taught me that word so I didn’t waste time looking up all her symptoms in the medical encyclopedia every time she was sick.
I stayed home from school dragging both of them to and fro the bathroom. In-between, I attempted to find Uncle Tod. Try Sweden, Iris instructed, prior to leaving for school.
I had no idea where to begin until it hit me, all of our furniture had to be assembled. Most of it wasn’t done correctly (thus the three legged chair) so Mama kept the directions in the top kitchen drawer. The directions were illustrated with unpronounceable names accented with that symbol of two dots that I knew was Swedish, sure as the hieroglyphics in fortune cookies were Chinese.
Then I hit pay dirt. There was a corporate directory of head of this and that, all abroad, except for an office in PA. Sure enough, the General Manager was “Tod Ludimswanson.”
Uncle Todd had a fake last name. Iris had told me that he had been in Hollywood and somehow a feature film’s financing had disappeared simultaneously with Uncle Todd’s elopement with someone named Olga. I don’t know where “Ludim” came from but “Swanson” came from Uncle Todd’s favorite silent movie star and TV dinners.
There was a number for the PA office and I called it. Uncle Tod himself, answered, “Hello, Ikea North American Headquarters, Mr. Lindstrom speaking.” Apparently, he had changed his name again.
By the time Uncle Tod arrived, the plants were looking spritely, due to Iris’s care and Mama’s reduced interest in jazz orchestrations featuring mainly horns.
Mama’s spirits however, had plummeted and she rose as the Martha Stewart of depression, crafting a multiple shades of black, experiential, interior makeover that turned our home into a sort of goth adventure park.