This week I’ve got the conclusion of The Secrets of the Mud Room. Enjoy!
The neighbor kids had their own ideas. When we were small, their thoughts centered on toys. One thought she kept all the lost baseballs and roller skate keys there in one big mound.
Some of the other kids had other hopes. “Do you think she has my slinky?”
“Or my yo-yo?”
“And mebbe all the marbles you’ve lost?” another asked, poking his little brother.
As we got older, other ideas came to mind. One girl was convinced that Aunt Sharon was a zombie hunter and the mud room was where she stashed her victims.
An older boy said he had it on good authority that Aunt Sharon was a Russian spy. That mud room held her signaling radio, weapons and James Bond gadgets. “Or else,” he said with a smirk, “she keeps her handcuffs and whips in there. The ones she uses on your Uncle Otis.”
I couldn’t see that. Aunt Sharon chasing zombies? Or spying like James Bond? Not her. Not the woman who wore pink curlers in her iron gray hair at night.
Not the woman who never, ever spanked me. Not even when I was five and tried to climb into her aquarium because I wanted to marry one of her goldfish. Instead, she nearly wet her pants laughing. She paused a little when she realized I’d stepped on her favorite fish, but then let her sense of humor overtake her again.
She didn’t laugh so hard the time when Bruce the neighbor kid convinced me to let him stick the toilet plunger on my face. She gave Bruce a talking to I don’t think he ever forgot.
Oh, Aunt Sharon could get riled up, alright. She’d be downright bloodthirsty when it came to smashing the grubs that turned the leaves of her hostas into lace. Or scary enough to chase off zombies when she saw the rabbits nibbling on her strawberries. But a spy? No. Impossible.
Now Uncle Otis, I could see him as Maxwell Smart. But what he would have done that was so awful Sharon would whip him was beyond me.
All the talk from the neighbors was making me wonder. Surely Aunt Sharon wasn’t mixed up in anything dangerous or illegal. I hoped not. If she went to jail, then where would I end up?
Once a neighbor woman tried to come in through the mud room, one day when she was bringing over a gooseberry pie “just to be neighborly.” Sharon chased her off with a hoe. Uncle Otis and I heard a lot about nosy parker busybodies for hours afterward.
A few nights later, I was snuggling down under a handmade quilt in her spare room. The silence of the night was only broken by the chirping of the cicadas and the gentle hum of the air conditioner.
A loud crash like a dozen pots and pans hitting the floor cracked the silence. I sat bolt up in bed, listening. Was that swearing I heard coming from below? Some of those words my nine-year-old ears had never heard. Surely that wasn’t my Uncle Otis?
No, it wasn’t. I heard the door to the other bedroom open. “I told you so,” said Aunt Sharon.
There was a low mutter that had to be Uncle Otis’s response.
Since neither of them seemed to be disturbed by the ruckus below, I slid out of bed and went into the hall. “What’s going on?” I asked.
Aunt Sharon was already halfway down the stairs. “Come and see, girl. It’s time you learned a thing or two.”
Uncle Otis rolled his eyes and pointed down the stairs. “You might as well.”
The swearing got louder as we descended. Aunt Sharon led the way into the kitchen. My eyes widened as she marched over to the mud room and swung open the door. Finally, I would learn the secrets of the mud room.
The first thing I noticed was the open door that led to the yard. Then a volley of cursing brought my attention to the mud room. Or rather, the gaping hole in front of the outside door where the mud room floor should have been. Leaning over to look, I could see two men, one lying on the floor clutching his ankle.
“It’s my burglar alarm,” Aunt Sharon said with a smirk. “My free burglar alarm. Otis here was after me to get one you had to pay for. Waste of money, I told him.”
She looked down through the hole at the two men, who were now demanding to be freed. “We had a flood here, years ago and the mud room floor fell in, that spot in front of the door.” She pointed to the hole. “We had a feller come out, he said all the joists would have to be replaced. We’d have to tear the whole thing out, floor and supports, to get it fixed.”
“We could have got done it, you know,” said Uncle Otis.
She shook her head. “Who’s got that kind of money? So, I got me an idea. I just covered the hole with a mat. And I hung all kinds of metal pots from the bottom of the mat so it would make a big crash if someone fell through.” She grinned at me. “I never locked the back door after that. If someone came to break in, I knew they’d come in that way. And get caught.”
Uncle Otis hung his head, shaking it back and forth. “Ok, ok. It worked. Now can we fix the floor so we can use the back door again?”
“See?” she said, directing her words to me. “It worked, but he wants to give up on it. All to use the back door. For what? To save a little time? Time is what we’ve got, not money.”
When the police came, it took them awhile to understand just how Aunt Sharon caught two members of a gang that had been responsible for a rash of break ins in the area. Then it took longer for them to free the would-be burglars from their temporary jail to take them to another one.
All the commotion brought the neighbors over. Sharon shooed everyone away from the house.
“The show’s over, folks,” she said. “Otis here heard a noise in the night and came downstairs with a baseball bat. Had to whack one of ‘em on the ankle. Go on home now and let us get back to bed. And don’t walk all over my snapdragons on your way out.”
I looked at my Uncle with wide eyes. He winked at me and shrugged. “It was nothing, really,” he said.
That was when I finally understood that the people around me didn’t always mean what they said. Some just told stories for no reason. Others had a reason, a motive that wasn’t always a bad one. I started to listen a little more carefully to what people told me, and to not take their words at face value.
Aunt Sharon wore a smug grin for two weeks and celebrated by baking my favorite cookies with the sprinkles on top.
As for Uncle Otis, I think he gave up on ever using the back door ever again.