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Patricia sat crouched close to the TV, breaking all the rules concerning safe distance viewing. Your eyes are gonna get fried, that’s after what’s left of your brain! She had heard it many times, pretty much through her whole eleven years of life. From her mom, other people’s moms, any mom in fact as it was a basic aphorism of the day, much like change your underwear daily in case you get in an accident.
But the truth was that Patricia didn’t care. It was Saturday morning! Hallowe’en to boot! though the revelry would begin much later. She had plopped down in front of the TV for that treasured line up, Looney Tunes, Spiderman, Scooby Doo, that trifecta of animated magic for any young viewer. These were the days before the cartoon channel, the days when Saturday morning was the only slated time for cartoon fare.
Patricia sat cross-legged on the gold shag rug. She ate directly from the jar of peanut butter with a spoon. Watching fascinated as Spiderman swung from skyscraper to skyscraper, she was sucked into the TV screen. Yet all the while she was privy to rumblings in the next room.
“There’s no other way. Beatrice is gonna burn that house to the ground.”
“But it’s such a nasty trick!”
“There’s no other way. You know what Beatrice is like.”
“She’s just an old lady.”
“That’s my point.”
Cocking her head to the side, Patricia listened. They are talking about Grandma again. Beatrice this, Beatrice that...
Wish they’d leave her alone! Shut up already! Gram’s excited for Hallowe’en same as I am. She talked about whipping up a batch of popcorn balls like she does every year.
She was dismayed by everyone’s sudden preoccupation with her grandma — everyone, her parents, extended family, aunts chiming in like the ringing of church bells. It made her feel uneasy around the whole lot of them. She knew how severe and unpredictable adults could be at times.
Spiderman had just ended. The closing credits were on.
After the commercials, Scooby Doo will start. Can’t wait! She loved Scooby and Shaggy. Yet commercials were always the chance to take care of oneself. Like right then.
As the roof of her mouth was feeling hot and stuck from the excess peanut butter, Patricia scampered to the kitchen. She got the jug of grape Freshie from the avocado green fridge and poured herself a glass in one of the Coke tumblers the gas station gave out. She gulped it down.
“Louise, I just don’t see how there is any other way,” her father said to her mother.
Behind him was floral print wallpaper and a mushroom motif all through the kitchen, a row of mugs, canisters, a sugar and crème set with lurid and bright orange toadstools — her father seemed almost amid an explosion of wildness. He puffed absent-mindedly on a cigarette, smoke expelled like a devil.
“I guess so,” her mother relented.
“What?” Patricia queried. “What?”
Both frowned at her.
“Never you mind grown up talk,” her mother said. There was a certain tone in her voice, a soft veiled melancholy that suggested Patricia would understand all meaning later on. She had heard it before, that same voice, that familiar entreating reticence.