Catsup Sandwiches


A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance (Prov. 15:13).

My six-year-old sister, Emily, eats catsup sandwiches. Just bread and catsup. It looks gross. She walks around the house, talking to herself too. Sometimes she even crawls around barking and howling like a wolf. Mom says she has a vivid imagination. I think she’s just crazy.

Usually I try ignoring Emily, but that’s hard to do because we share a bedroom. My half is neat, and my clothes are put away. Emily always leaves her bottom drawer open, and her bed is lumpy. There are stuffed animals all over the place, and she talks to them. I shut the door and find a quiet place to read. That’s what I was doing when Mom made her big announcement. “I have a new job,” she said. “It’s only on Saturdays. I’m going to work at the ceramic shop.”

“Wow!” Emily exclaimed. “Can I come?”

Mom looked right at me with her serious look. I felt my whole stomach flop over.

“Margaret,” she said, “I’ll need you to keep an eye on Emily. It’ll only be until your dad gets home at noon.”

I blinked hard, then nodded reluctantly. Sometimes I hate being eleven.

That first Saturday, Emily woke me up at eight o’clock. “Mom just left,” she reported. “Want to play checkers? Want to play dress up? You can be the witch, and I’ll be the princess.”

“No,” I muttered. “Definitely not.”

“OK, you can be the princess. I’ll be the witch.”

“Forget it,” I said a little louder. “Emily, I just have to watch you. No one said I have to act out fairy tales.”

She shrugged. “I’m going to eat my breakfast.”

Dana called me at ten o’clock. She wanted to go bike riding.

“I’d have to bring Emily,” I told her, but she still wanted to go.

I had a long talk with Emily. “No making animal noises,” I said. “And absolutely no talking to pretend people when you’re with me—got it?”

Emily nodded.

We rode down to the library and picked out some new books. Emily wanted one on unicorns, but I helped her find a beginning mystery instead. I was starting to feel a little better about things. Maybe I could straighten crazy Emily out.

At lunchtime, I made us all normal peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Emily ate hers without saying a word. In fact, she hardly said anything all morning. Then Dad came home, and I left to play basketball. I walked Emily to school on my way. She had play practice.

On the next Saturday, Dana wanted me to come over to her house. She was helping her mom make cookies for a bake sale. She didn’t mind about Emily. That’s because Dana’s my very best friend.

I told Emily not to talk to the cookies or try any other funny stuff. She nodded. Then I found a clean red shirt.

“Here, put this on,” I said. She didn’t move for a minute; then she pulled off her old green one real slow. She wore it every Saturday, and I hated that shirt. Next, we smoothed out her bed and picked up the room.

Emily was pretty quiet at Dana’s. Even Dana noticed. “Are you OK?” she asked.

“I’m fine.” Emily didn’t even wiggle her eyebrows.

I smiled at her. She was shaping up, after all.

On Friday Emily burst into the house after school. Our school play was that night, and she had a small part. Not me. I’d melt if they made me get on a stage in front of a million people. “You’re going, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Of course,” I told her. “Dana and I are going together.”

The play was about Alice in Wonderland. Emily was a giant green caterpillar. Everyone laughed when she shouted out her lines. Then they clapped real hard for her.

“Your sister is soooo funny,” Dana giggled. “You must be laughing all the time at home.”

I kind of squirmed around in my chair, and I felt sort of sick.

Afterward, Emily came running up with her long tail bumping behind her. “Did you like it?” Her cheeks were pink, and her eyes were laughing.

“You did great,” I said.

“Do you really think so?” she asked.

I nodded, and she smiled bigger than ever. Then I did some thinking about Emily and me.

The next day was Saturday. Emily didn’t wake me up. She was eating cornflakes and watching cartoons when I checked on her.

“What are we doing today?” she asked. She didn’t seem too excited.

I smiled. “Guess!”

“Are we going to Dana’s?” she sighed.

“Nope,” I said, pleased with myself. “I’m going to take you to the puppet theater at the library if you want to go.”

Emily exploded. “Hip, hip, hurray!” Then she froze in her tracks. “I’ll go change,” she said.

I eyed the green shirt. “You’re fine,” I said, “but don’t forget to make your bed.”

After the puppet show, we invited Dana over to our house for lunch. Before we ate, Emily put on the whole puppet show all over again. Dana laughed until her face was as red as Mom’s pickled beets. I even laughed too.

Then we ate lunch. My catsup sandwich tasted kind of zingy, but it was really good.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown