It sounded as though a person was saying or an old hinge was squeaking, “Ananders.” But when I looked out across the snow and around the back yard, I could not see a person or a hinge or anything at all that might have been making such a sound. Just snow.
I went back to committing my felony.
I set down the rusty green toolbox. “Okay, Harry,” I said. “Am I hearing things? I keep hearing like a voice from somewhere, or…”
Harry did not turn around. He was having a lot of trouble picking the back door lock of my brother’s house, which used to be my grandmother’s house, which used to be my great grandmother’s house, which used to be my great-great grandfather’s house.
And without turning away from his important work, Harry said, “Next door. There’s an old tree root wearing a doily trying to get your attention.”
I looked around again and I scanned the yard again and sure enough, just on the other side of the peony bushes and the wire storm fence stood a tree root wrapped in a doily. At its feet a Pomeranian, mostly covered in snow, smiled and panted and smiled and panted.
“You are an Anders,” the tree root said and it sounded as though it were passing judgment.
“I don’t know what that means,” I said. I was trying to play it off.
Then the tree root shook. It said, “Don’t give me that. The bulging Chihuahua eyes? The square jaw? The overbite? The claw hands? I’ve seen generations of you people. I know an Anders when I see one.”
Claw hands? Had I gotten the claw hands after all? But I thought that always skipped a generation!
I tilted my head to the left to consider the root. I tilted my head to the right to consider the root. And I said, “Mrs. Boushka? Are you Mrs. Boushka?”
Mrs. Boushka, you see, was a fixture in old Anders family stories. My great grandmother referred to her as “The old woman who lived next door.” But by then, the Mrs. Boushka of old Anders family stories would have been about twenty years past her expiration date, while this tree root here looked…
Her lips were moving. Silently. Like she was calculating something. She said, “You must be one of the twins Gerry had down in Houston.”
Some more calculating and then, “Katherine.”
Busted! Harry threw down his lock pick and turned around. The Pomeranian smiled and panted and smiled and panted. The four of us faced off.
“Why are you trying to break into that poor man’s house?” Mrs. Boushka said.
I said, “He’s um… He’s the other one of the twins Gerry had down in Houston.”
“Hmmm…” Mrs. Boushka said. She looked surprised. Antony lacked those distinguishing claw hands, I suppose.
“He abandoned his pregnant wife and kids after his wife had a stroke,” I said. “We came here to exact our revenge.”
That sounded a lot harsher than I intended it to.
The snow had picked back up again and Mrs. Boushka said, “What are you planning to do to him?”
Harry and I shifted on our feet uncomfortably. I said, “Steal his dog, maybe? We… we haven’t really worked it out yet.”
Mrs. Boushka began emitting a clucking sound. Cluck cluck cluck. Quietly at first, and then louder. And then louder still. Cluck cluck cluck. Cluck Cluck cluck.
It gradually dawned on me that this was laughter. “You came a thousand miles to steal a dog?” Mrs Boushka clucked and she clucked and by then, I wanted to punch her happy little dog in its happy little throat.
She tapped a rhizome on the top of the fence and said, “Hop on over, Charles Bronson.” She said, “I will make some tea and we will come up with a better plan.”
And so I hopped on over the fence and Harry hopped on over the fence and the four of us trudged through the snow and up to a house that looked as though it were caught in a time loop in 1971. We were going to come up with a better plan.
But still, I thought, “Charles Bronson?”
Charles Bronson? Didn’t this woman know I was an Anders?