My name is Jason Wencer. I am old and flagging. But not too old to remember when I was five years old. I was the youngest of three boys by quite a margin; my two older brothers were twelve-year-old twins. They are no more; I miss them. As we grew older the significance of the difference in our ages disappeared and we became very close. But it was not always like that. As a five year old I was in awe of them in the truest sense of the word; I admired them, badly wanted to be part of their world, for everything revolved around them in our home. When they were home from school the house woke up, and not just because of the decibel increase. For Mom – and for Dad when he got home – Max and Rex were the focus. It was as if a spotlight was trained upon them.
But I was also fearful of them. They were like one person and I hardly existed. Except, of course, if I could be the object of their amusement, then I was fair game. In everything they did, the games they played, they were the ‘X Men Superheroes’. I wanted to be one of them but as Max told me one day, “You can’t. Your name doesn’t end in ‘X’.”
I thought this was a shoddy oversight on behalf of my parents and so I mentioned it to the redoubtable Aunt Nell when next she visited. It was risky; Aunt Nell was feisty, often telling me to stand up to the twins and ‘not be a wimp’. Aunt Nell had taken to the twins from the day they were born, but she could be equally blunt with them. She laughed and said to me, “Why do you want to hang out with two boys with dogs’ names? You’ve got friends of your own. Listen, every time one of them bugs you, just say ‘arf, arf’, and don’t tell them why. I bet they will stop bugging you.”
Aunt Nell was fast becoming my heroine. (I don’t believe in female heroes). She was the one that told me how to end the ‘Egg Carton Crisis’. Back when the twins were my age, Mom would allow them to stomp the empty egg cartons flat, that way they took up less room in the garbage.
They saw no reason to allow the ‘newcomer’ to be given a free pass – ‘you’ve got to be quicker, Jason, that all.’ On the appointed day, my co-conspirator Aunt Nell was in the sitting room with Mom, Dad and the twins. I was in the kitchen, quietly removing all but two of the eggs from the carton. I then placed it on the counter-top where we put recycling stuff to go out. The stage was set.
I walked to the far end of the kitchen and called out, “Mom! If this egg carton is empty, can I stomp it?” Her reply was drowned out by the sound of the stampede. It was a sight to behold: Max and Rex, like synchronized gymnasts, leapt through the doorway, both grabbed the carton, dropped it on the floor and between them, crushed it. As I left the kitchen and headed for the sitting room I said to Mom, “Thanks, Mom, when it’s empty, I’ll stomp on it.” Of course I pleaded innocence in the ensuring scolding, but the boys, noticing Aunt Nell was the only one smiling, could smell a rat. They stared at me, shaking their heads, but I sensed their recrimination had a tinge of respect.
In the eyes of both the grown-ups and my siblings I was still the wimp and a borderline hypochondriac, so when I discovered I was a tongue roller – could curl my tongue into a tube – I decided to tell no one. I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t an abnormal condition. It was a fateful decision.
One Saturday when Mom and Dad were at a trade show, Aunt Nell arrived to ‘supervise’ us. On the front lawn was a 15 foot piece of scrap broadloom, a mixing bowl containing dried chickpeas infused with #40 Red Food Dye, a gaggle of boisterous boys and one quiet one, me.
“Aunt Nell! You’re just in time!”
“What’s going on here, Rex? Who are all these kids?”
“It’s great. We’re having a spitting contest.” Such an admission spoke volumes about how Aunt Nell was regarded; the boys would never have got away with it if Mom were home.
“Disgusting,” she said, “But hardly surprising.”
“First, each kid has to pay the entry fee, one dollar,” elaborated Max.
“One dollar!” said Aunt Nell, pretending to be shocked. “That’s a bit steep isn’t it?”
“This is big time, Aunt Nell,” chimed in Rex, grinning. “For that they get two championship garbanzo beans; two tries. They stand behind the line and see how far down the rug they can spit a bean. Then we mark the spot with those little flags with their initials.”
“I hope you are not reusing the beans.”
“Yuck! That would be so disgusting, Aunt Nell.”
“Anyway, it’s like athletics,” continued Max, “like shot putting. Whoever spits the longest bean, wins the pot.” He pointed to a brick on the lawn holding down a bunch of one-dollar bills.
“And how much is in the pot?” asked Aunt Nell.
“Nine dollars, winner takes all!”
She could see that not everyone was smiling. Judging by the number of little flags the contest was nearly over. In first place was Max’s flag with only Luke Cracher to come. Luke came running up to the line, giving momentum to his spitball, which landed two inches in front of Max’s flag. A deadly silence descended, broken only by me asking, “Can I have a shot?” The ensuing laughter was at least kind. Cute kid!
Somebody replied, “No, Jason, you haven’t got a dollar and enough spit.”
I felt myself getting angry. “It’s not fair,” I said, “I can do this. Aunt Nell can you lend me a dollar? I’ll pay you back.” More laughter until Aunt Nell opened her purse and deposited a bill under the brick.
“Give him his ammo,” she said.
I stood on the line, my mouth closed so they couldn’t see my curled tongue, my little rifle with a musket ball inside. It was too easy, the bright red ball bounced past Luke’s flag.
“Mom, mom, guess what? The twins have made me an X Man Superhero. My new name is Lex.”
“That’s nice, honey,” she said without taking her eyes off the saucepan she was stirring. “That’s Latin for ‘the Law’. Are you going to be a lawyer like me?”
“I guess,” I said, thinking I might as well please her as she was taking the news so well.
Aunt Nell was philosophical about the fact she never had children. As she told me much later on, “I’ve had the joy of loving three great kids without having to put up them when they’re a pain in the ass”.
By Hugh Marchand