To himself Ural referred to Aunt Betty’s elaborate book of social etiquette as “How to Visit Sunday Island”—while she might consider her declarations guides for leading a civilized existence, to Ural it simply pointed out ways a clever boy might engineer getting sent away.
“Eyes wide open, Ural,” barked Aunt Betty, interrupting his thoughts—for what, wondered Ural, forcing his eyelids further apart. He didn’t understand why he had to spend every single Sunday afternoon at Aunt Betty’s old people party where the grownups gorged themselves alternately on pastries and his cheeks, by end of day quite pink and sore from all the pinching. It typically took Ural a day or two to recover from the facial abuse.
Lying in bed each Saturday night, Ural would visualize himself nipping those fingers clean off and spitting them out on Betty’s hand-hooked wool area rug, watching in satisfaction as the pinchers recoiled in horror from the red mist of blood spray. Ural imagined himself, unperturbed, bending over and picking up one of the offending digits from the floor and nibbling the flesh off the bone with tiny traveling bites like little pink corn on the cob. He would, of course, use finger-shaped holders.
“Ural… URAL. Stop sucking on your fingers like a savage and go wash those filthy hands—and mind you don’t go touching my nice imported silk upholstery on your way to the washroom, either.” Aunt Betty made her proclamation aloud to the room, causing heads to swivel in Ural’s direction as the boy trudged from the room to fulfill to her command.
Stepping into the first floor’s half bath, Ural closed its heavy wooden door and threw the lock with a spiteful twist of the mechanism. As an afterthought he wadded up a few squares of toilet paper and shoved it in the keyhole, none too sure Aunt Betty wouldn’t peek to ascertain full compliance with the first rule of Sunday gatherings: guest soap was for guests.
Aunt Betty had developed something of a name for herself with her party guest soap collection and near obsession with travel-soap-related conversation. In the course of motorcoach excursions with the church senior group, Betty would hoard hotel soaps and, returning home, set them out in a bone china dish as a treat for guests. During her Sunday parties Betty lost no opportunity to drop slyly detailed questions concerning the soaps’ various shapes and fragrances into conversation over coffee and dessert with those she’d mentally recorded having visited the lavatory—questions with only the truly hygienic and attentive could hope to answer correctly, and visitors’ replies served unofficially to tag those who would, or wouldn’t, be invited back. Ural would never be so lucky.
After double-checking the keyhole, Ural silently edged the pearlized faucet handle inward. As water began to wet the basin, Ural eyed the forbidden fruit of sudes and flowers. Hand still on the faucet, he jumped—“URAL,” Aunt Betty’s voice sliced through the door and stood right next him. No lock could keep her out. “Ural, don’t you dare use that guest soap. Grab the bar of pumice under the sink, and scrub those grubby hands.”
Ural’s gaze rose to settle on his reflection in the mirror.
“URAL! Do you hear me?”
Ural’s eyes his reflection’s lips form the words: “Yes, Aunt Betty,” in a musical good-boy voice. Ural’s glance shifted to the eyes of the little boy in the mirror, who was smiling fiendishly as the words of compliance melted from his lips.
Aunt Betty said no more about pumice, for the moment at least.
Above the sink the two boys eyes were locked in a silent discussion:
“I don’t live here.
“No, you don’t.”
“So aren’t I a guest, too?”
“Of course you are.”
“Then why can’t I use the guests soaps?”
“Because you’re a child.”
“You’re just saying that because she said it.”
“You’re such a child when you say things like that.”
Usually the boy in the mirror was on Ural’s side, but not today. Bored of the argument, Ural picked up a pink ball of soap from the floral painted bowl on the sink. Raising it to his nose, he inhaled deeply with eyes closed, and roses filled his head. He repeated this process a couple more times and then reached down with his free hand and brought the pumice to his nose. The rough rock smelled gray and pebbly as a cats tongue. This was not right.
Working the soap feverishly in small boy hands, Ural worked up a frothy mass of fragrant suds. Rosy bubbles exploded between his fingers and plopped heavily into the basin, stiff with bubbles. Glancing again into the mirror, he witnessed a mad scientist cackling silently as he readied himself for some monstrous surgery.
Just then two sharp old lady knuckle wraps ricocheted through the small space and petrified Ural where he stood. “URAL, what are you doing in there boy? There are guests waiting. Open this door, Ural! I demand you open this door right now.”
Ural stood frozen, hands and sink filled with a cloud of perfumed froth. Gazing into the mirror, Ural noticed that the wicked boy was gone. He was alone and stuck in every way, watching as the doorknob began to turn left then right.
“URAL! Open this door.”
In the background Ural heard Uncle Frank’s calm baritone: “Maybe the boy’s not well, Betty. He was looking a bit wet mouthed before he went in there.”
Something moved in his peripheral vision, and Ural flinched: the boy in the mirror was back and waving like a maniac, holding up a sign with some words.
Ural’s voice cracked on the written words, “I have a Montozoomies Revenge.” Not quite sure what bomb he had just dropped, Ural repeated the words, louder this time as a statement of zoomie fact.
Aunt Betty’s gasp was audible, and the doorknob immediately release. Ural overheard her calmly directing everyone to move into front room for coffee, dessert, and an enthralling parlor game she’d recently purchased on an excursion to Japan.
As the murmurs moved away, Ural heard Uncle Frank speaking softly through the wooden door, “Ural, boy, let me in, and and everything will be all right.”
“Yes, Uncle Frank.”
“Good boy, Ural,”
As the door swung open, Uncle Frank got a head-full of rosey perfume. Ural had sat back down on the closed toilet lid, forearms in the sink immersed in a beach ball size mass of bubbles.
Quietly, Uncle Frank closed and locked the door behind him. “You okay, Ural?”
Not quite understanding what had just transpired, Ural stared down at Uncle Frank’s wingtips and nodded. Uncle Frank chuckled to himself and smiled at the boy who’d just skated right up against the wrath of Aunt Betty and smelled like a rose for the experience.
“Did Aunt Betty hear what I said, Uncle Frank?”
“I believe Aunt Betty heard you loud and clear, son. Now lets clean up this mischief you’ve got going on in here. I’m pretty sure you bought us both some time, making Betty head for the hills. Do you understand, Ural?”
“Not really, Uncle Frank.”
“Don’t worry, kiddo. You will.”