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Very Rich

Rupert Brown came from a large family. They lived in a very plain small house on the edge of Steelville, Ohio. Rupert had so many brothers and sisters that it was like living in a small city-state. They crawled over the furniture. They ran in and out of doors. They were big and small and male and female. They all had sandy-brown hair, pinched noses, high cheekbones and narrow lips. They were all thin.
There were so many children in the Brown family that Mrs. Brown claimed not to be able to remember all their names. She often addressed them by “Hey you.” Rupert had siblings he rarely talked to and hardly knew at all. There were many different alliances within the family, many secrets, many separate lives. Close proximity does not always make for coziness. Sometimes it is just crowded.
Rupert was ten, and he moved among his family largely unnoticed except by his favorite sister,
six-year-old Elise. She, like Rupert, was quiet and shy and spent a lot of time trying to keep out of everyone’s way.
One day before Christmas, Rupert’s teenage brothers John and Dirk came home with a cat. Because they were often bringing home stolen cats, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the origin of this cat. It was not a stray. Perhaps they secretly longed for a pet and this is why they did it, although what they told the family was that it was sport.
“Catch and release. Like fly-fishing. Only with cats,” explained John as he held the new one up for his mother to see. There was a wistful look in his eyes. Rupert wondered if he was hoping that his mother would fall in love with it and let them keep it.
“Did I not tell you to stop doing that!” shrieked Mrs. Brown, just home from her job cleaning the offices in the steelworks.
She tore across the room, grabbed the cat, and threw it into the backyard. Then she slammed the door.
Elise looked out the window in concern. “The cat isn’t moving,” she whispered as Rupert joined her.
“I’ll check,” Rupert whispered back. Their mother had gone to the kitchen to make the thin gruel of oatmeal that, along with other people’s kitchen scraps that their father collected every day, passed for dinner nightly.
All the Brown children tiptoed around their mother. Sometimes she lashed out. Sometimes she hoisted one of the younger Browns onto her lap to watch television and cuddled them as if this, this soft and comforting jolly person, was who she really was. Because you never knew which mother would emerge, it was better to err on the side of caution.

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Mya's Strategy to Save the World

There are two types of people in the world: those who sleep with tissue boxes on their bedside tables, and those who pick their noses before bed and wipe their boogers on the sheets. I am the first type. My sister, Nanda, is the second.
I know this because (a) we share a bedroom, and (b) my mother once read that kids who get more sleep are more intelligent. Which meant I had to go to bed at 8:30 p.m., the same as Nanda (who is FOUR YEARS younger than I am). It’s practically still light outside, which meant I could see her wipe her snot on her sheets.
And Mom and Dad wonder why I refuse to share a bed with Nanda on vacation. Who would want to share sheets with a known snot-wiper?
On the Saturday night after our second week of school, I was awake for plenty of time to watch Nanda handle her snot, and for a long time after. Mom was away and Dad had a work party to attend, so I was left babysitting. I had been begging them, forever, to stop hiring Joanna from down the street because I was twelve years and three months old, almost a teenager myself, and it was ultra-humiliating to be babysat when I wasn’t a baby and did not need to be sat upon. I was totally up for the job.
It wasn’t easy to supervise my eight-year-old sister, though. At first, I thought Nanda would watch TV and I would call my best friend, Cleo, so we could talk about how Drew cried in the cloakroom at lunchtime after his soccer team lost. But we had hardly started discussing whether Drew was wonderfully sensitive (Cleo’s opinion) or weirdly competitive and a bad sport (my opinion) when, from the corner of my eye, I saw zombies. Nanda was watching a show about dead things with flesh still hanging from them. They were staggering around a city as if that was the best thing dead people could find to do with their time.
Nanda always ruins everything.
After I made her turn off the TV and put on her pajamas, she threw a fit.
“Mya, I’m not making this up,” she said. “There’s something outside the window.”
There was nothing there, of course, but I had to open our bedroom window and yell, “Come and get us, flesh-eating figments of Nanda’s imagination,” before she would believe me. Then I had to stay in our room while she curled up, picked her nose and went to sleep.

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