By Maria G
Within seconds of my scream, Mother and Mrs. Hampton simultaneously arrived through the door. Mrs. Hampton was shushing all of us in hopes that we hadn’t awakened poor Big Mark from his hard-earned slumber. I was cradling my hand against my chest afraid to look at the bloody stumps that I was sure I would see. I hadn’t yet redrawn a breath to emit another blood-curdler when Mother scooped me up and rushed into the nearest bathroom slamming the door to muffle any noises that I made. On the closed toilet lid, she sat and held me tightly while rocking back and forth. Between gasping sobs, I was able to inform her of my missing fingers which she instantly wished to see. When, out of fear, I couldn’t show them to her, she convinced me to close my eyes while I showed her my hand. She turned the water on at the sink and slowly put the deformed hand, that I imagined I was left with, under the warm stream. There is something so medicinal about warm running water that even a severely maimed extremity can be healed. When she was finally able to have me look, all I saw were five slightly red and barely swollen little pinkies. But the relief at the sight was insufficient to allow Mother to extricate herself from my glued-on presence.
Resignedly, she relented and took me to her place at the breakfast table. She let me sit on her lap until I was sufficiently under control. She planned to calm and then return me to Little Mark’s bedroom. At the sight of the gastronomic fantasy before me, my focus moved immediately away from my injured hand.
The mood in the room had changed from convivial banter to one of maternal concern as one after another of the ladies present asked Mother if I was alright. She assured everyone that I was fine and that I would be quickly returning to my former playroom.
In the meantime, Mrs. Hampton returned to her place at the table between Mother and Mrs. Annabelle Weaver. She leaned over me and whispered that she was afraid the ruckus had awakened Big Mark because she had heard him in the guest bathroom.
As if to confirm her fears, Big Mark, in his pajamas, ambled fuzzily into the kitchen from the hallway. He was sleepily rubbing the bald area of his head when he spotted the coffee pot on the counter. Without a glance in any direction, he grabbed a cup from the cabinet above and poured himself a generous serving of the hot, steaming liquid. With his forefinger looped through the cup handle, he shuffled toward the breakfast table. When he reached the doorway, he stopped abruptly and looked around with an expression that suggested he had been abducted by aliens and was now standing in their ship from outer space. I was still sitting in Mother’s lap surreptitiously trying to snag the silver platter with what was left of the finger sandwiches. I had already been able to wolf down an olive and a cherry tomato. I glanced up and thought how much the look on Big Mark’s face made him appear like a frightened Elmer Fudd in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I was preparing to make a little finger wave and to say hi to him when I caught sight of Little Mark streaking from the hallway directly to where his father was standing. I thought how funny it would be if he ran into the back of his dad’s knees and brought him tumbling to the floor. But at the last moment, Little Mark stopped and in one swift motion he grabbed and jerked his father’s pajama bottoms straight to the floor.
At that moment, time for me went into slow motion. Big Mark removed his forefinger from the cup he was holding as if he were setting it down on some invisible hard surface. I swear that the cup lingered in midair for a split second while he stooped and grabbed his pajama bottoms jerking them up with both hands. He whirled and was almost into the hallway chasing Little Mark before the cup had hit the floor. As they disappeared down the long hall I could hear Bellie yelling, “Run, Markie, run!”
As I looked around the room at the stricken faces, all chatter, and in fact all sounds, had stopped. It seemed that everyone, except Mother, was now looking directly at Mrs. Hampton. Mother, in her embarrassment, had looked down and was slowly taking a long mouthful of her hot tea. At that moment, Mrs. Annabelle Weaver leaned forward slightly, put her hand gently on Mrs. Hampton’s forearm, and said,
“You must be very happy, my dear!”
Mother spit hot tea on the back of my head.
I had finally latched onto the sandwich tray, which I then launched skyward. How we got from that point to the next is completely blank in my memory.
The next thing I remember, slow motion had ended and normal time passing was restored. I was lying on the floor next to Mother who was sitting with her back to the formal dining room wall. Her chair was on its side next to her. Tears were streaming down her face as she shrieked with laughter. Holding the back of my head I kept asking,
“Why did you do that?” over and over.
Each time seemed to bring a new wave of laughter. I looked up to see Grandmother and Mrs. Dalton standing at the foot of the table and laughing so hard they had to hold on to each other to keep from falling. Mrs. Hampton crawled over to Mother on all fours and plopped next to her. With her face crimson and tears streaming down her face, I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying; or both. Mrs. Annabelle Weaver had pushed herself back in her chair and with her face cradled in both hands was desperately trying to stifle a guffaw and failing miserably. I looked at the ceiling and watched as one half of a finger sandwich which had stuck there slowly peeled off and fell to the table with a muffled splat.
Just as the hilarity began to subside, in another part of the house we heard Big Mark yell, “Open this door you little ass hole!”
The renewed burst of hysteria was almost deafening. Two of the ladies bolted from their tables and headed straight for the nearest bathrooms. I didn’t know what caused the urgency but I do remember Mother telling my aunt that during the high point of amusement she’d “peed a little” and was certainly happy that she had worn a black skirt that day.
And that is how The Legend of Big Mark and the Tea Party came to be.
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