Mrs. Bailey demonstrated awkward nonchalance and continued: “Fr. O’Bannion and I think you should try to act more like Jesus.”
“The Bible says that Jesus drank, right?”
“Well probably, but . . .”
He got Kitty’s attention by waving one hand above his head while pointing to his empty glass with the other.
* * *
Roy fumbled with the adult-sized handset as he used his five-year-old hand to lift it from the cradle. Then he reached and dialed O like he’d seen countless people do on TV. When he brought the earpiece to his ear, the mouthpiece hovered a few inches from his pie-hole.
After two rings a female identified herself: “Operator.”
He used both hands to hike the phone up and spoke into the mouthpiece. “There’s been a moedoh an’ Janies all hopped up on goofballs.”
Beatrice Gumm had recently marked her thirtieth year as a telephone operator. The forty-eight-year-old didn’t exaggerate when she matter-of-factly told people that she’d heard it all. Beatrice took care to conscientiously handle genuine emergency calls. She’d fielded her share of false alarms and right away recognized the voice and colorful imagination of a child. Beatrice usually spoke in an impersonal and calculating manner when she assisted callers but adopted a friendly, if condescending, tone as she indulged Roy:
“Oh dear! A murder?”
“Who was murdered?”
“Me I guess. See, Emily punched me in the head—she’s my sistoh— an’ Janie, she said I was dead an’ she’s actin’ all funny an’ stuff.”
“Yeah, she always comes ovoh when mommy and Jim go out.”
“Oh, you mean your babysitter.”
Roy protested: “I’m not a baby, stoopithead!”
“God bless you little man!”
“Do you know mommy?”
The operator answered at length but Roy held the earpiece several inches from his head. He glanced down the hallway at a tearful Janie who had collapsed to her knees and used the bottoms of her fists to feebly pound the bathroom door. Then he looked beyond her to the family room.
Roy held the receiver near the mouthpiece with both hands and giggled over Beatrice’s spiel: “Guess what? I get to stay up and watch The Shohty Haewis Show! I gotta go now so bye Mrs. Opohatoh-lady.”
The five-year-old struggled to replace the gargantuan receiver, then la-la-ed while he jogged down the hallway.
Janie grabbed him as he passed and hugged him. She squeezed and kept frantically mumbling something to the tune of Thank God you’re alright. He tried to squirm free from her clutches but his floundering convinced her that she needed to squeeze harder. She’d pinned his arms to his torso; he averted his head and grimaced as if reacting to a foul odor while he kicked his airborne legs. After a good half minute of smothering and hypersensitive ramblings Janie released Roy. He tried to bolt but she grabbed his shoulders.
She pleaded: “Your poor sister thinks she killed you so she locked herself in the bathroom. Please, please, please say something to let her know you’re alright.”
Roy pulled his cap pistol from the holster, aimed and fired several times at the door. Janie winced at each loud pop.
Roy shouted, “Guess what? I called the opohratoh an' the police’ll be heoh weal soon!” Then he turned, galloped down the hallway and into the family room. He threw himself onto the floor in front of the TV just in time to catch the end of Shorty Harris’s opening monologue.
Through the bathroom door Janie heard a distressed squeal followed by whimpering. The idea of the police discovering her on E while caring for children sobered and horrified her. Would this make the newspapers? What would the faculty at her school think when they read about her sordid misadventures? Emily quickly resolved to lure Emily out of the bathroom by dangling consolation as bait.
“Your brother’s fine and that’s the most important thing, right?” Silence. Janie continued: “Oh Emily, please come out. For me? The police will see Roy running around and probably just laugh. I guess the whole thing is kinda funny.” Janie was trying to convince herself as well as Emily but her weak, shaky laugh didn’t usher mirth. Instead dread and nausea overtook the babysitter.
Roy skipped out of the family room clutching his package. He whined, “It’s the comohshul an’ I gotta pee-pee.”
For the first time tonight Janie felt angry and disgusted. She stood upright, turned to the boy. “Look here you, you should be in bed right now.”
“But the police’ll want to intaewohgate me.”
She guessed he was right but didn’t want to be bothered. Her reputation, in fact her future, was at stake.
“Use the john upstairs why don’t you?”
“I gotta go weal bad an’ I don’t think I can make it.”
She surprised herself when she sarcastically suggested, “Then put a rubber band around it.”
Roy hurried into the kitchen where he’d seen mommy routinely drop rubber bands into a drawer.