Coffee and Criticism

“I don’t think he goes to her school,” I said.  DeeDee came out of the living room behind Michael and slipped her hand into his.

“Don’t start!”  My sister glared at me, and since she was still holding the knife this came across as rather sinister.  “Are you two finished then?”

“Kind of,” said DeeDee sounding chirpy.  “Michael’s been telling me about these Spanish guitarists, it’s a whole different style of playing.  We were just going to pop into town and maybe pick up some music from the music shop so I can give it a try.  Oh, hi Uncle Joe!  How’s it going?”

“Heya DeeDee,” I said.  “I don’t think I’ve met your friend before.  He goes to your school, your mum said.”

“Oh, yes!  Michael, this is Uncle Joe; Uncle this is Michael.  He’s on a guitar scholarship.”  Just before her last sentence her face froze a little, and her eyes seemed glazed while she was speaking.  I knew without even asking that my sister wouldn’t have noticed it.

“You know, I have the oddest feeling that I’ve seen you somewhere else,” I said to Michael, offering him my hand.  To my relief he didn’t take it, instead shuffling behind DeeDee and staring at his feet.

“Really?” said DeeDee after a moment’s silence.  “Perhaps you saw him last time you picked me up from school?”

“That’s probably it,” I said.  “A guitar scholarship, that’s impressive!  Do you perform at all, Michael?”

“Actually, Uncle, we’ve got to get going or the shop’ll shut,” said DeeDee after another’s moment’s silence.  “See you later!”

“Come straight home!” said her mother in her sternest voice, but the front door was already closing on them both.  “That girl, barely out of hospital and you’d never know it!  It’s good to have her back.”

“A guitar scholarship?  Why would DeeDee’s school offer a guitar scholarship?  They’ve never done anything musical before, have they?”

“Oh Joe, please don’t start.  I’ve no idea why they’ve offered the scholarship.  It’s probably to get government money, isn’t it?  They probably want to become an Academy, or they’re trying to attract teachers, or whatever.  Why do you have to be like this?  Can’t you just be happy that DeeDee’s back?”

“I am happy, really happy.  For both of you.  I’m just a little worried that she might be....”  I trailed off.  How did I explain that I was worried that she was possessed by the guitar?

“She’s a teenager, Joe.  They do their own things and we’re lucky if we get told that they’re doing anything.  I didn’t know DeeDee had learned to play the guitar, and yet you turn up with one and she’s suddenly got a brand-new interest, and there’s a boy involved.  I’m sure that the guitar will disappear as soon as the boy does, but what does it matter if she learns something useful in the meantime?”

“What if he’s the wrong kind of boy?”

“Well, there’s enough of them around.  She’s going to have to find out about them sooner or later, isn’t she?”

I paused long enough to try the cake, which was very good.  My sister has always been the cook of the family, though her baking is ten times better than the rest of her cooking.  While I was eating, I came to a decision.

“Look, sis, I actually came to get the guitar back.”

“We talked about this yesterday--”

“No, we didn’t, you just sai--”

“Yes we did Joe.  I told you then you can’t have it back.  Buy another, tell me how much it costs and I’ll pay you back.  If I must.  But you gave this one to DeeDee and you’re not taking it away.”

“But that’s just it, sis.  I need this one back, I’ll take DeeDee out to the shop and buy her whatever guitar takes her fancy.”

“She’s happy with this one.”

“But it’s mine.  I need it back.”

“Fine, well you can ask her, but I don’t think she’ll go for it.”

“That’s a bit awkward,” I said, squirming in my chair.  “I need it back now, I don’t think I can wait for DeeDee to come back.  Just let me take it, and I’ll come back tomorrow morning and take her out to pick one of her own.”

“DeeDee has school in the morning.  And no, Joe.  What’s the fuss about a guitar anyway?”

“It’s dangerous.”  I knew as soon as I’d said it that it was the wrong thing to say.  The sneer on my sister’s face was more eloquent than her words.

“Oh don’t be ridiculous Joe, guitar’s aren’t dangerous.  What, is this one packed with explosives?  Or does it just cause bad dreams?”  I started a little, my sister was hitting below the belt now.  I opened my mouth, but she cut me off again.

“Go home, Joe, and stop being such a pain about the guitar.  Be happy that you’re the reason DeeDee’s awake again and doing things; be happy for her and me.  Do you think you can manage that?”

I put my cup down, abandoned the cake half-eaten on my plate and walked out of the house.  I kept listening for my sister to shout something after me, something about how pathetic I was being, but it never came, and when I sneaked a look behind me, the door was closed and there was no-one stood at the windows.

When I got into my own home, there was a pile of noses on the kitchen table, maybe fifteen of them tumbled over one another.  I stood and stared, wondering what the Ilmatu was trying to tell me, and then swept them into a plastic bag.  When I opened the bread-bin to put the noses in with the ears, the ears had gone.

The End

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