The takedown

Years later, Evan and Joe would recall fondly The Day Mom Took Jeannie Down.

The path was clear and well-marked on reflection, but at the time, no one was reading the signs. Audrey was trying desperately to disengage. She’d bitten her tongue a number of times during dinner: once while avoiding a fish bone, the rest while listening to Jeannie prattle on about about the price of Bordeaux in Bordeaux and the state of German opera and that tiresome volcano gumming up European airports—

Abra-cadabra-yoo-hoo, that’s what we say on the continent. Not that it matters to you in your padded little corner of America. How do you keep yourselves occupied?”

Audrey kept her mouth full.

“Work,” Carl said.

“I meant the children. What about you, Evan?”

“School,” Evan said.

Pam Wells/The Pullets

“Public high school, I presume? Well, it might not be too late for you if you go to university abroad. You’ll find the U.S.A. is not the center of the universe we Americans think it is.”

“Ow! Oh, now, the earth isn’t even the center of the universe,” Carl said. He rubbed his leg where Audrey’s fingernails dug into him. “What do you think, Matt? Are we contracting or expanding?”

Matt leaned back in his chair. “If you mean gettin’ shorter or wider, ah’d say both,” he said. The guys laughed at the only light remark of the evening.

Jeannie turned to Joe. “And what about you? What’s your field of study?”

“I’m a writer.”

Jeannie frowned. “What sort of writer?”

“Screenwriter. I’m writing screenplays.”

“Screenplays? For Hollywood? Well, talk about a foreign country. Good thing you don’t have any responsibilities. My second husband was a writer. Technical manuals or something equally dull. I told him he should murder someone and write about that.”

Audrey took a big gulp of wine.

“I guess he didn’t take your advice,” Carl said.

“And what about Tom? I suppose he dropped out of school, too?”

Audrey tried to swallow but her throat was dry as paper.

“You mean Todd?” Carl asked.

“Oh, I knew it started with a T. That’s how I remember them, J-E-T, the jet set. Which is perfectly ridiculous—”

Audrey shot to her feet, knocking over her chair. “You pompous bag of Botox! Dinner is over.”

“Well! Mother always said you were a bitchy little hothead.”

Audrey leaped.

Dishes, forks and raspberry cheesecake went flying as Audrey took Jeannie to the floor. She went for the woman’s throat but sudden thoughts of prison food caused her to grab the clavicles instead. She clamped down and shook as Jeannie chortled, “Sto-o-o-o-p!!!”

Carl had a heck of a time pulling his wife off her half-sister. Matt was useless trying to calm his screeching spouse, so he poured himself another glass of the house red. Evan and Joe whipped out their camera-phones to document the festivities and sent it all to their brother in Japan.

The Pullets pointed the visitors toward Vancouver and shut the door.

©2010 Pam Wells

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Talk like a Viking

Evan stared intensely at his mother across the kitchen table. “Eye-juh-fuh-JALL-uh-juhhh—”

“AY as in ‘say,’ Audrey said. She glanced at her open laptop. “AY-yuh. Yuh, not juh.“

“Yuh. YUH-juh-fuh-JALL…juh. Yug. Ugh.” Evan looked at the Icelandic word in the headline: Eyjafjallajökull fills European airspace with ash. “How do you get yuh out of a J?”

“Don’t look at the word; it’ll yust confuse you. AY-yuh.”

“AY-yuh.”

Mount St. Helens ©2002

“FYAHD-lah.”

“Fuh-YAD-la.”

“YOH-kood-tl.”

“Yo-koodle.”

“AY-yuh-FYAHD-lah-YOH-koodtl.”

“Ain’t-a ‘fraid tuh YO-del,” Joe said behind them. He scuffed into the kitchen, still in his sweats and flip-flops. “What’s all the pressure, Ev? You going to Iceland or something?”

“No, I’m not going to Iceland,” Evan said. “I’m going to school.” He went down the hall, mumbling, “Ay-yuh. Fuhd-luh. No, AY-yuh-fall-uh—”

Audrey said it as fast as she could: “AY-yuh-FYAHD-lah-YOH-koodtl.”

“Mom, am I mistaken or are you showing off?” Joe was getting out some ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, buttermilk, eggs.

“Yo’ mama is remembering when we were at the mercy of whatever yokel we watched on TV. Now I can sit here and listen to a native Icelandic speaker on my little computer. I can even tell you what it means.”

“Because I’m at the mercy of whatever—”

Eyja means island,” Audrey said. “Fjalla means mountain. Jökull means glacier. Eyjafjallajökull.”

“Island… mountain… glacier. Islandmountainglacier. Volcano. Huh. It’s called exactly what it is. Mount St. Helens could be—”

“Forestrumbledome,” Audrey said, then shook her head. “No, I can do without the compound words.”

Joe pulled a skillet off the pot rack. “You want some pancakes?”

“Love some. This says there’s a whole national effort to keep the Icelandic language pure, so they adapt their own words to stay current without bringing in foreign words.”

“Like “global warming”?

“Yeah, they hate that. They make up a lot of words, too, by merging them—oh, listen to this! They banned the letter Z in 1974.”

“Banned it? Why?”

“I don’t know,” Audrey said. “I can look it up. There’s a lot going on here under the surface.”

Evan burst into the kitchen and halted.

“Ho, it’s Brotherrunswithwheeliegirl,” Joe said.

Evan fought to avoid Joe’s eyes. He spoke slowly to Audrey: “Ay. Yuh. FYAD. La. YOH-koodlt.” He got a thumb’s up from his mom and rushed outside. “Ay-yuh-fyad—” The door banged shut.

“What was that all about?” Audrey asked.

“It’s about language, mom.” Joe adjusted the flame on the big stove and flicked butter into the skillet. “Turns out I speak Viking.”

©2010 Pam Wells

You can listen to Icelandic phrases at omniglot.com