THE BIRTHDAY CURSE
Life is a Fish Poofy
Penelope slammed the backdoor of the Manor with enough force to rattle the pots and pans hanging above the eight-burner stove. She pivoted off a throw rug in the mudroom and turned left, kicking it back into the corner. Ten feet into the kitchen, she stopped, breathless.
“Where have you been?” Mother scolded. “And must you wear that silly hat? It looks like a stretched out sock. It was cute when you were nine, but you’re almost thirteen, and much too old for such nonsense.”
Penelope pulled the stocking cap tighter around her head, forcing her curly hair to bulge more from around its edges. “I like this hat. It says me.”
Mother wrinkled her nose. “Look at the rest of you. Your hands are dirty, your shirt’s stained and your pants are too long. You’re a mess.”
Penelope pushed her hands into the pockets of her bib overalls and stared down at the bunched fabric by her ankles. “I’m four-foot-nine, Mother. Everything I wear is too long.”
Winifred Amour, author of seven books of the Old American West, stood with perfect posture at the counter, chopping vegetables with a vengeance. She never wore an apron while cooking, and she never spilt anything on herself. Her red fingernails contrasted against the growing mound of green peppers.
“Wear the white lace dress with pink ribbons for our guests.” She punctuated her sentence with a chirp.
Penelope gritted her teeth and shuddered. “It looks like the bathroom curtains. I never wanted that dress.”
“As I recall, the dress was a gift for your twelfth birthday.” Mother grabbed another pepper and turned it to pulp.
The back door slammed again.
Father rushed into the kitchen, waving a snow shovel with a six foot AC cord attached to it. “We’re having a blizzard. At this rate, we will have enough snow to test my self-defrosting snow shovel.”
Gustaf Amour, Penelope’s father and inventor, always wore three-piece suits, always in grey tweed, always pressed. His face was chiseled, his jaw square. A handlebar mustache floated above a droll smile. To battle the weather, he had wrapped a red scarf around his neck.
“A fabulous invention.” Penelope examined the back of the shovel where Father had attached heating coils. She held the AC cord out at arm’s length. “Unless you plan to only remove snow on the porch, shouldn’t this be longer?”
Father stroked his mustache and studied the invention. “Excellent observation. I will need an extension cord.”
“Gustaf, the snow can wait. We have guests.” Mother stopped chopping. “My sister Natalie will not be coming. Her illness again.”
Penelope could not remember her aunt. But she had a son, Cousin Lemmy. She remembered him from a week at the beach when she was five.
“She never comes to these things.” Father walked to the back door and held up the shovel. “I’ll put it away.”
Penelope hoped to escape, too, but Mother pushed a tray of appetizers in her hands.
“Take the fish poofies to our guests.”
“My life is a fish poofy,” she said, yielding to Mother’s demand.