I couldn’t think of any good reasons why my brother Parry insisted on being a pest. He was almost ten and old enough to begin acting like a human being. Yet he continued to be a source of constant irritation and frustration in my life. He continued to repeat in a high nasal tone every syllable I uttered. He continued knocking things over in my room with his giant leaps. He continued yelling my name constantly: “Janet! Janet! Janet! Listen to this, Janet. Look at this, Janet.” And he continued telling mom and dad the things he thought he had heard me say in my phone conversations.
Sometimes he really did obnoxious things, such as the time he said to Jack Patrick, “Janet likes you second best to Ralph VanBorg, but she’s crazy about him. She’s always doodling his name on everything.”
“Why do you always have to be right around me?” I asked Parry once. “Having a brother like you is like always being plagued by some kind of a giant fly. You’re always buzzing around me, trying to irritate me out of my mind.” That statement proved to be a mistake. After that, Parry made it a point to buzz loudly in my ear every chance he got or to pretend to fly about my room.
I thought I had tried everything to get rid of the pest in Parry. I had shouted, bribed, and even cried, but nothing had helped. Mom and dad certainly never helped. Parry was their joy. He had been a surprise to them when they had given up hope of being able to have more children. “I’ll talk to him,” mom always said, “but I know he just wants your attention. He loves you so.”
“Sure he does,” I would say to myself. Then mom would say, “He’s such a good boy. I don’t know why you two can’t get along better.” My parents were slightly prejudiced. Slightly? They seemed to know a totally different Parry from the one I knew.
Just when I was sure there was no hope and that there was nothing to do but look forward to the day he left for his mission, my friend Susan, who is big on adages, reminded me that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
“How does that apply?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I just thought that maybe if you were sweet to him, no matter what awful things he did, the shock might cause him to change into someone halfway decent.”
“There’s no way I could do that,” I said.
“Anything is worth a try, isn’t it?” Susan herself had been the victim of Parry’s obnoxious behavior whenever she came over to talk. She understood the problem but not the extent of it. I was desperate. I would try anything.
Although I had tried being nice before, it had never lasted for long. Somehow my good will died after 2 1/2 minutes around Parry. But maybe if I persisted … maybe if I mustered every ounce of self-control … It was worth a try.
The next morning I was determined that for one full day I would be nice to my brother. Nothing he did would bother me. Nothing. His teasing would not drive me berserk.
The morning started out with a bang. The room was a blur not only before I put on my glasses but also afterwards.
“Soaped,” I whispered. I was determined that this first test would not be my undoing. I gritted my teeth and walked to the nearest sink. Parry must have been waiting for my groan because he came into my room with a sheepish look on his face. By that time I had cleaned my glasses, washed my face with cool water, and had taken a few deep breaths. I was ready for the challenge.
“Good morning, Parry,” I said with a lilt in my voice.
“Hi,” he mumbled. “Didn’t you find a surprise this morning?”
“Uh huh, and here’s one for you.” I ruffled his hair and planted a big kiss on his forehead.
“Ugh.” Parry fell to the floor. “Ugh, I’m turning into a frog.” He began hopping out of my room. Even though he was croaking in agony, I thought I had seen an underlying look of pleasant surprise on his face.
“This just might work,” I said quietly to myself. “He’s gone. At least for a while.”
At breakfast I pretended not to notice that my egg had sugar on it and my cereal had salt on it. Parry eyed me with curiosity.
“Are you going to ball practice today?” I asked.
“Why? Are you wondering when you’ll be getting rid of me?”
“No, I just wondered. You’ve been pitching really great lately.”
“How do you know? You never go to the games.”
“I’ll have to start going. From what I’ve seen in the backyard, you’re really great.” Parry grunted and tried to hide a pleased smile.
By lunch time Parry couldn’t handle the curiosity. “You’re sure in a good mood today for a change,” he said.
I smiled. “Yes, I am.” He just sat staring at me, and I could tell he was totally confused. I decided that while I had him at a disadvantage, I would double-dose him with so much honey that he wouldn’t know what had happened to him.
I walked down the hall to my room and picked up my phone. Just as I had hoped, Parry followed me and stood outside my door, hitting the wall with the rubber ball he had been carrying around the house with him lately. Today I wouldn’t let the dull thuds bother me, because today I wanted him to eavesdrop.
“Hi, Sue. How did you like that book I loaned you?” I asked the time and temperature man. “Oh, uh huh. Yes, I think so too. No. Yes. Uh huh. Oh, Parry? He’s fine.” At this point I began whispering, but I kept my voice just loud enough for Parry to hear. “I can tell he’s really growing up. He’s grown about three inches this summer, I think. And he’s really athletic.” I swallowed before I continued, winced, then said the words: “I’ve never told him this, but I do love him. I know I don’t act like I do, but I do.”
Parry had stopped hitting the ball against the wall and seemed to be listening intently. I congratulated myself on my great idea. Surprisingly, it really hadn’t hurt that much to say the words. I was convinced that this much honey was bound to smother Parry in stickiness for the rest of his life. But contrary to my calculations, Parry burst into my room and began grabbing at my phone. “Gimme that.”
“What are you doing? Quit it! I’m trying to talk to Susan. See you, Susan,” I said loudly, but it was too late. Parry had the phone close enough to his ear to hear the dial tone.
“I knew it,” Parry said miserably. “What did you do, call the time?”
“None of your business. Why don’t you get out of here and give me my phone,” I shouted, totally losing my cool. “Who do you think you are?”
“I knew there was something funny going on,” Parry said. “You must think I’m pretty dumb with all that phony stuff. Well, I didn’t believe any of it. You think I can’t tell when you’re faking it? I know you hate me, so don’t try to fake it.” Parry slammed the door to my room, and then I heard the ball crash into the entry.
“Oh, oh,” I said aloud. “Mom’s vase.” If Parry had broken my mother’s delft, he was in trouble.
Sure enough, the next thing I heard was my mother’s cry. “Ohhhhhh. Oh, Parry, my best … ohhhhh, I could cry. My only nice … ohhhhh.” The tone of her voice changed for a moment. “That does it, young man. You’re grounded for the week. Ohhhh, it’s ruined.”
Parry must have gone straight to his room because I heard his door close. Then I heard a strange muffled sound coming from behind it. Finally I realized that Parry was sobbing into his pillow. Parry never cried. He was the type to hide his feelings behind some goofy act.
“Oh shoot,” I whispered, feeling rotten. There was no doubt Parry would be mortified if he knew that I could hear him, so I sat still. “Oh shoot,” I whispered again. “Now he’s really done it.” Parry and I both knew that when mom grounded us, she meant it. Very rarely did she change her mind. She could be mighty stubborn. That meant Parry would miss the important game coming up, the game he had been talking about for weeks. “Well, I can’t think about it now, or I’ll get my headache back,” I decided. My stomach ache would do for now. I tried not to think about it for the rest of the day, but I couldn’t help myself, especially when I admitted that I was partially to blame for the predicament Parry was in.
That night was mom and dad’s date night, and I had cooked dinner with the help of the casserole left over from the night before and the spaghetti left over from the night before that. Parry obviously wasn’t planning to speak, and I kept quiet too, not really knowing what to say anyway. But when I brought out the pudding and Parry mumbled, “Oh good!” I warmed up.
“I’m sorry about what happened today,” I said. Parry shrugged. “And I guess it was pretty phony of me to call the time. That part was phony, anyway.”
“It was all pretty phony,” Parry said.
“No, not what I said.” Parry didn’t look up. “Just for the record, sometimes I can’t stand you, you know that. But, well, that doesn’t mean I don’t love you, because I do. What I said on the phone is true.” I paused. “And … I’ll talk to mom about the game you’ve got coming up. I’ll tell her it was my fault and see if I can get her to change her mind. I know that game is important to you.”
Parry grinned and began slurping his pudding happily. “Glurk! Glurrrrrrrk! That’s a frog sinking into a sea of mud. Glurrrk! Glurk! Glub, glub, glub.”
He’s hopeless, I thought.
After the dishes, I went to my room to read, and I decided to let Parry stay up as late as he wanted to. I didn’t need a hassle with him tonight. I could hear him watching the movie The Ant from Outer Space, and as long as he was watching that, he wouldn’t bother me. But he had only watched it for about a half hour when I heard him click the TV off. I half-expected him to burst into my room as the ant from outer space, making an orgh sound and leaping at me from the doorway. But he didn’t. Instead he paused at my door, knocked, and said, “Goodnight, Janet.” I put down my book when I realized what had happened. Parry had been just plain Parry, a regular, normal, courteous human being. He hadn’t been a fly or a frog, or even an ant. He hadn’t been any pest at all, and he had knocked, showing respect for my privacy. He had knocked! I couldn’t believe it! As far as I was concerned, it was as good as saying “I love you.” I sighed before I turned out my bedside lamp. Then I smiled. There was hope after all.