There wasn’t much to be done with it. It was supposed to arrive by five p.m. so Gary said, but here it be half past eight and every post office or drop off station was closed.
“Dear gods, Gary, why’d you agree to a five p.m. delivery?” Mrs. Ethel Finn Porter thought out loud. The matronly woman who still had a fire in her eye, a lightness to her step, and a quick wit that fed her fast tongue, spoke with uncharacteristic panic. But it was a muted panic–the edge to it had softened since six thirty. Now it was just a dull throb of a fear–a worry–an inevitability. What would they do if the package didn’t arrive tonight?
It is impossible, she realized. There’s no way. It being the holiday season and all. Ugh. What will the kids say?
“You know you shouldn’t have let Gary handle this,” her other self disparaged. Ethel’s twin companion, EthelOS, shook her gray head with sympathetic regret while wiping water-wrinkled hands on her holiday apron. “The grandchildren will be devastated. And you know nothing is coming tomorrow, either. After all, that’s Wintertide Eve.”
Ethel fairly whimpered to herself as she opened the front door for the twentieth time in that many minutes and poked her head out, her pert nose piercing the motionless presence of icy air and catching a subtle whiff of apple cider from the fireplace logs of neighbor Talbot’s homestead across the way. Talbot was just staggering up to his door and now turned haphazardly, pitching to the left to shout out for Mrs. Talbot to open the door. “Eight o’clock indeed?” the missus shrieked from the windowsill above him.
Indeed. “Bollocks.” Ethel muttered and slammed the door.
“Hum-dee-doo, it is me,” Gary Finn Porter sang softly to himself as he walked back to his homestead after a night’s jaunt from his office and a detour to the town’s finest liquor-soaked establishment. Ah! Indeed. He was fairly wet from the last round of the honey wheat lovelies. Inspecting his soaked shirtfront, he grimaced over how he could not close his jacket for his beer-loving belly barred the buttons’ path. He lifted his hand from his round stomach, sniffed and rubbed his red nose. “Ah! These wet clothes. I fear a bit o’ the cold coming on, I think,” he whispered conspiratorially to his other self. As he had fairly imagined, his other self was having a go at the snow drifts and kicking up the white stuff. Gary shivered as a blast of icy pellets fell over him. “Mind yourself,” Gary warned.
His threatening tone was in jest. He did not mind GaryOS’s antics in the least. In fact, he thoroughly enjoyed his other self–his better self as some might venture to mutter, thinking his ears as bad as his eyesight. His other self kept him young, reminded him of the joys in life, and also reminded him of what he shouldn’t do. Gary looked at his mirror image’s belly and down to his own unbuttoned jacket and beer-stained paunch. Like drink too much. Ah! He smelled like a brewery. He could hear Ethel say it as if she were in front of him. Best to be on his very best behavior, and he warned his other self the same. The gods only knew what his dear missus would do if the two of them dripped slush over the polished wood floor.
“Hmmm, but a breath away from my dear moonfaced Ethel,” he sighed. “Lovely, lovely as the day I first mooned her.” He snorted at the thought–he a drunken sot even then. He fancied her boot mark was still imprinted on his rump, should be for how many a time she had repeated the action, reinforcing its lithographical outline.
But he was almost home, and that be a good thing. His lovely fiery gal a’waiting with the Wintertide Surprise. The finest surprise those grandkids would ever be expecting. Hah! Nothing close to their imaginings, he was sure of it, but he had a true hope his grown children would not bemoan them and say they were being too extravagant, or worse, accuse them of spoiling the virtuously ripe little tykes.
“Naaaw,” he snorted to his other self who was sitting like a dog under a tree. “Hum-dee-doo, it is me.”
“It is me,” GaryOS echoed exuberantly.
They sang together as they neared Gary’s bright, happy home.
“Gary, concentrate,” Ethel begged as she pulled his hands away from his ears and kneeled at the foot of his chair. “Darling dear, please tell me you tracked the package.”
“Yes, yes,” he moaned. “Label and all. It was to come tonight–no later than five. Oh, Fie! It is a horrible thing this. What to do? Ah, the poor children!”
“Oh, I know, dear, but never you mind that. I’ll worry for the tykes. You concentrate on what’s to be done. More the technical than I, that you are, thank the gods. But you’ll be needing two heads, just the same, to fix this spot. Please ask of your other self a boon, darling. A favor. It is good cause being so close to disaster now.”
Gary lifted his head up and straightened his shoulders, then nodded. Their household lived by the rules of Proper Respects for their OS’s. Seen as sentient in their own right, OS’s were allowed payment in favors or credits for those tasks they did for their Originals. Some, like old man Talbot, thought it heretical, but Gary paid such little mind and did not offer to tell them of his homestead’s arrangement. Oh, but truly, this night the boon would be a big one, he feared. With a sigh, he motioned his other self over and asked for the favor.
His other self looked at him mischievously. “Well, what boon could this be I wonder,” he childishly mused, “and what’s in it for me?”
“A night of the high drinking, lad of mine truly,” Gary offered. “Drink as much as you wish and I’ll be a’ carrying you home. This I promise.”
“Hmmmm, no,” GaryOS decided while rubbing a finger under his chin. “It will not do. Not enough for me!”
“A night with a sweet gray hair?” Gary offered feebly and Ethel squeaked.
“Good gods, dear,” she cried. “I would nev–”
“Not you darling heart of mine,” Gary reassured. “I meant her.” He pointed to EthelOS. Her other self looked as if he had just asked her to eat an earthworm and one out of season. She was not in the least amused or happy. But then neither was Gary’s other half.
“Nope, won’t do. Come now,” the replica admonished. “We haven’t all day.”
“All right, All right,” Gary howled, his face petulant. “What’s it you want?”
“It is a small request, actually,” his OS said finally, and his eyes turned suddenly serious and very sad. “On Wintertide Eve I want to be the Original and sit at the table with the children.”
“Oh, me,” Ethel cooed softly, touched by his heartfelt confession. “But there isn’t much to be done about it, you know. You know? The kids, they would not understand. The youngers, they think it fakery.”
“But I could pretend very well,” Gary’s other self implored, now jumping up and down. The quaint living room shook and Ethel reached for the wall as GaryOS’s face turned fairly red with overexertion. “I am perfectly good at imitating him!”
“It would be as the youngers say–a fakery. And I’ve never done such a thing to family. It is disrespectful,” Gary told him.
“Only this once.”
“Unacceptable,” Gary countered.
Ethel wrung her hands worrying and caught the look of her other self. EthelOS just shook her gray head sympathetically and made a circular motion with her finger at her ear.
“You tell him, then,” Ethel told her other self. “Tell him it is folly!”
“Like he listens to me?” her OS snapped and with a humph left for the kitchen. Moments later the slamming of cupboard doors reached them.
“Please,” GaryOS begged again. He looked from Ethel to Gary and back to Ethel. “What could happen?”
“Mayhem,” Ethel said as fact.
“Bedlam!” Gary added.
“Worse!” EthelOS shouted from behind the kitchen door.
“What’s worse than no Wintertide Surprise?” GaryOS asked pointedly. The two Originals sighed, realizing that he was, indeed, right.
“Very well,” Gary finally gave in. “You shall take my place tomorrow Eve Tide. But do not mess it up.”
“Oh, I won’t, I won’t,” he promised and then jumped around so much that Ethel, disheartened, also left for the kitchen.
“Now, come here,” Gary ordered. “Oh, Fie. But what a day,” he moaned. “I’ve a need to be checking the tracking. How’s the signal this day–or do we need to go to the barn?”
“It’s good indoors tonight,” his other self said.
Gary nodded. “Okay, then let’s get on with it.”
GaryOS closed his eyes and his neck elongated. Steam released from his collarbone as his neck detached and moved forward and his head swung completely backward. His jaw remained at the front and slowly lowered downward with precise clicking steps until the jaw hinge rested but a fingerbreadth above the collarbone.
Gary grabbed the jaw handle and pulled it out and down, this opening GaryOS’s chest. His ribs flipped backward and retracted into his sides, the compressed fiber bones withdrawing as the headgear, hand gloves and backup monitor pushed forward.
“Now then,” Gary sighed as he flexed his hands in the tightly fitted motion sensor gloves and grabbed the headgear from off the OS tray. “You be a’locking in on me in ten, nine–”
He placed the headgear over his eyes and ears and cleared his throat, his body loose and waiting for the surge link into the stream. “And this better not be like finding a needle in old Hawkins’s haystack.”
“It is the perfect night for Wintertide Eve, my darling dear,” Ethel said, sighing as she leaned her head against Gary’s shoulder. He kissed the side of her forehead and smoothed back the wispy strands of gray that had escaped her bun.
“That it is,” he murmured. “That it is.”
They both were silent many moments, smiling softly, enjoying the warmth of the fireplace behind them, the scent of sticky cinnamon buns and sweet pear pie and the splendid view in front of them, for the Wintertide Surprise now stood in the center of the living room. In fact, it nearly took up the entire living room space and towered above them with a huge bow on top barely seen from their viewpoint below it. Ethel had already taken a picture of it from the stairway–indeed, it was a picture for the Finn Porter History Books. If she might persuade Gary to ask a boon of his OS once more, they might upload the images for the family lineage viewing. But small as that would be, she didn’t think Gary would ask a boon for quite a while to come.
Already GaryOS was getting near a frenzy, carrying on just a bit too energetically for an old man. He had already sent EthelOS from the house in tears after he’d swung her up in his arms and done a polka, a fairly well executed polka, around the huge glory that was the Surprise. EthelOS would not return and Ethel had let her stay put, out of sight in the shed, a bit sooner than was typical, and so the final preparations had been her chore. Not that she minded. Oh, for the kids and the grandchildren–ah, it was a blessing indeed.
The door chime announced the family’s arrival and GaryOS clapped his hands happily. Then he fussed with his shirtfront. “Couldn’t I lose a bit o’ weight?” he asked. “Just for the night?”
“No,” Gary admonished softly. “Better not to attract with such changes, even if they would be me dream. Not good a’tall. Mind your ways, GaryOS. Keep to the moment at hand. And luck be with you.”
With that Gary took his place behind the living room closet’s fake wall, where typically GaryOS would have been. The muffled sound of squealing, happy children and holiday greetings seeped through the walls. The warmth of love even reached the hidden door and the old man within lifted his hand up to touch the fake wall which separated him. In the dark, Gary sniffled, though not from a coming cold.
“For the gods, let’s open it now!” Ted, a lanky thin creature of a child, with a freckly pale face and crooked smile, nearly pulled out tufts of his own red hair–so impatient was he–as he shouted toward the kitchen doorway.
“Mind your tongue, Ted.” Ethan warned his first heir. Gary and Ethel’s son was tall, dark, and if not handsome, at least he was the perfect example of a hardworking upper middleclass young man–not to mention the apple of his parents’ eyes.
“Oh, Fie!” Carrying a dish of beet salad, Sharon sighed as she opened the kitchen’s swing door with her back and made space for Ethel to pass through. Ethel shook her head and, instead, held the door with her foot.
“You do me kindly, Sharry dear, but I fear that wee one in your oven won’t let me pass.”
“Oh!” Sharon laughed as she moved into the dining room and set her dish down. “He does take up a bit of the room, doesn’t he now?” Her long blond hair brushed against her cheek as she leaned down to talk to her tummy. “You come out soon, you hear? It is a tiring time with you now. But I expect it will be a bit of the time yet. Holly was so tiny, you know, but I fear this one will come out like Tony.”
“Yes, Ma?” Tony’s dark auburn head peaked out from behind the Surprise’s corner. Two years the younger of Ted, the boy had outgrown his brother and had a healthier complexion if not temperament.
At the moment he did a perfect imitation of his older sibling for he looked at his mother with his face pinched up like he’d done something bad. “What’s that you say?”
“Never you mind, love,” Sharon laughed softly. “Just old talk.” She straightened a plate then turned to Ethel. “Da has a bit of the fire today,” she observed. “I’ve never seen him play so with the kids.”
“Oh, oh,” Ethel stammered for a moment then laughed, hoping it sounded nonchalant, not nervous. “It is his new–uhm–prescription. Doctors doing wonders these days.”
“You don’t say?” Sharon mused and her eyes moved, as mother’s eyes do, toward the latest commotion.
On his hands and knees, GaryOS had just rounded the corner with Holly upon his back. Her strawberry blond curly locks were bouncing up and down as she giggled. “Faster, horsie, faster,” she cried.
“Mother of Gurtie, I’m a’going faster,” GaryOS laughed and then coughed a bit.
“Careful with Da, Holly,” Sharon scolded.
“He’s not Da,” she argued. Ethel sucked in her breath, her eyes widening on her granddaughter’s face which was currently comprised of one big petulant pout and two flushed cheeks. “He’s a horsie.”
As Ethel inwardly thanked the gods, Holly grabbed a good portion of GaryOS’s sparse hair and tugged to accentuate each following word. “And horsies DON’T TALK!”
“Ouch,” GaryOS cried.
“Giddy UP!” Holly demanded and kicked GaryOS’s sides with the heels of her black patent mary janes.
“Oooff,” GaryOS grunted. “That hurt, stupid!”
Ethel gasped out loud and nearly dropped the turkey. She set it down and ran to Holly just as the first tear sprung from her eyes. Her chin was quivering something fierce and Ethel rubbed her granddaughter’s flushed cheeks. Shooting a damning glare at GaryOS, she quickly looked back to Holly, soothing. “Oh honey, love. Da’s sorry. He has a roughness–”
“I’m not sorry!” GaryOS cried as he still stood there looking like a horse. When he finally caught Ethel’s warning glare, his eyes grew large and he looked away, realizing his error.
Holly quickly wiped her eyes and shook her head. “Don’t hurt me none,” she said with her little chin sticking out a bit. “Da is a poopy head, anyway.”
“That I am!” GaryOS chimed back. “That I am!”
Despite her tears, Holly hugged him and then jumped on his back again. Ethel breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived–for both Tony and Ted suddenly decided to join in. Abruptly they pushed Holly out of the way and, with a high-pitched shriek, she fell to the floor on her lacy rump as the boys hopped on GaryOS’s back. Tony pulled at his Da’s ears and Ted called him a mule. Not to be outdone, Holly jumped on her horsey once more. When the eldest kicked his grandfather’s rump, this was a bit too much for GaryOS.
He stood up and the tykes fell off him like rain, then landed like rocks. Thud, thud, and thud. Ethan swore under his breath. Sharon whispered an “Oh, dear” and GaryOS just growled like a bear.
Ted was crying a bit and rubbing his head. But he had no sympathy from his father. “Serves you right,” Ethan told him sternly. “You’re acting a bit too young for your age.”
“Really?” Ted asked softly then blinked. “Sorry, Father.”
“Animals,” GaryOS growled. “They be animals.”
“Hush now,” Ethel soothed though her voice trembled and her smile faltered. “Same as they always are, m-my darling dear. Same as always.” She turned to the others and rubbed her hands nervously on her apron. “Shall we have dinner?”
“Oh, yes! Please,” Sharon breathed and gave her a supportive smile.
Ted and Tony and Holly ran for the dinner table. As if they were laying claim to holy land, they fought over the spoons, licking them, and breathed into the glass cups. Tony and Ted fought for the favorite spot by Da, but Ted won out and licked the spoon, fork, and knife with relish. Tony stuck out his tongue and fell dejectedly back into his own unpopular spot between his parents.
“I’m not hungry,” Tony told them, his face a storm cloud of disappointment.
“But you have to eat or you’ll feel sick later,” Sharon told him.
“Don’t care,” he said. He stood up and pushed his chair backward defiantly.
“Sit down,” Ethan ordered sternly. His face was getting a bit dark as well.
“No!” Tony argued. A smug little smile came to his face as he crossed his arms in front of his little chest.
A tiny gurgling cry came from behind the Wintertide Surprise. The youngest Finn Porter, Emily, had been forgotten.
“Honey, can you get her?” Sharon asked Ethan sweetly.
“I can!” GaryOS offered. He jumped to the task and nearly pulled the tablecloth with him.
“No!” Ethel fairly shouted. Then laughed a bit hysterically. “No. No d-darling. Let the youngers do it.”
“I don’t want to eat!” Ted decided, joining his brother’s protest. “I want to open the Surprise!”
“Yeah!” cried Tony.
“Yay!” shrilled Holly.
“Goo?” called Emily from somewhere far off as Ethan looked behind the Surprise and around the chairs. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
The Finn Porter grandchildren seized the moment. As one they jumped from their perches and fell upon the Surprise. Their fingers gouged into the wrapping paper and made short work of it. They squealed and howled and raced around and around the box. Slowly the box came apart and the bow atop fell to the side as the box opened like a peeled banana. The children pushed and pulled against each other, fighting for dominance, and white packing paper and popcorn kernels fell around them. Despite themselves, the adults stepped back and laughed, watching bemused as the children broke apart the last of the packaging and pulled down the paper to reveal their prize.
“Oh, my gods,” Ethan breathed amazed as he returned to stand beside his wife and Emily was for the moment forgotten as they looked on and admired the gift.
Within the mountain of paper and popcorn an orange light turned on and pumping music began, like a circus organ. As the children stepped back the adults got a perfect view of the miniature carousel, just big enough for five children to ride. Oh, but it was glorious. There was a horse, a dragon, a crane, an ostrich and a lion, all painted in the brightest, richest colors. The crane’s neck regal, the lion’s eyes ferocious, the ostrich’s plumage breathtaking, and the music was incredibly beautiful in its carnival frivolity.
As the carousel gained speed, the mouths of the animals began to move. The crane’s neck lifted and lowered as its beak opened and snapped shut as if upon a fish. The ostrich ruffled and shook its extravagant plumage. The lion’s roar rose above the music.
“I hope the dragon doesn’t breath fire,” Ethan worried under his breath, but he was amazed just the same.
Perhaps the prettiest things of all, ornately etched mirrors lined the core of the carousel. Beyond the intricate design the mirrors reflected the animals within and, unfortunately, those little mad ones without.
“This is a baby toy!” Ted hollered angrily and kicked at the paper.
“Yeah, a baby toy!” Tony howled and jumped up and down.
“Horsie, horsie,” Holly cried. Sharon picked her up and placed her on the passing dragon while Ethan tried to manage the boys.
“I hate this present,” Ted fumed. “It is the worst thing ever.”
“Not horsie!” Holly screamed and hit at the dragon’s snout. The dragon snarled. Surprised into silence, Holly bit her lip but then began to cry.
“I have had enough with you two,” Ethan growled angrily at his sons. “This is a great present. You better apologize this instant.”
“No!” they shouted.
“Oh, Fie!” Ethel fretted, wringing her hands. “We were worried it might be too technical. I n-never thought it might be too baby–”
“Ma, don’t,” Ethan cut her off. “It is perfect. Right boys?”
“Down! Down!” Holly howled as she passed them.
“Well, it is a bit technical,” Sharon admitted. “How will we get it home?”
“She means extravagant, Ma,” Ethan smoothed over. “You shouldn’t spoil them so.”
“Oh dear,” Ethel sighed. It was just as they had worried and yet so much more. If only Gary were here in the room. He had such a way to smooth things over, but GaryOS would have to do, she thought. But, come to think of it, where was he?
As the children’s tantrums grew more livid, Ethel’s eyes darted to every corner of the room. She squinted to see beyond the carousel’s bright lights. He didn’t stay missing for long. Her hope he might save the day was dashed as GaryOS came from around the carousel. As luck would have it, he had recovered baby Emily, but was holding her up by the wrist as if she were a string of fish.
“Found her!” he said proudly and lifted her up higher for all to see.
“Gary!” Ethel cried out. Sharon rushed forward and tried to take Emily.
“Hey,” GaryOS said as he pulled Emily away from Sharon. “I found her. You owe me a favor for a boon.”
“What?” Sharon exclaimed, her face bunched up with angry surprise.
“Oh dear,” Ethel repeated to herself. Things had gone from bad to worse. What would she do? Wintertide Eve had come undone.
Well, the gig was surely up, thank the gods, for in a heartbeat Gary, the real Gary, her darling dear Gary, was out of the hidden compartment and in the living room. He took little Emily from GaryOS and handed her to her mother, then hit the switch to the carousel. As it slowed, he scooped up Holly and placed her safely on the floor.
“This isn’t any bit of fun,” GaryOS decided, then. “They hate the present. I haven’t eaten a bite, and these beasts are brats. I’m done.” With that he sat down, turned off and literally opened his hatch, letting steam burst out from several orifices.
Many moments passed as steam filled the room and then dissipated. Finally, Ethan turned to his mother with a look of incredulous shock on his face. “Ma?”
But all she could do was twist her hands together and sheepishly avoid his stare. Oh, no. Oh, no indeed. Caught in a fakery.
“So sorry about that, so sorry,” Gary offered as he hugged Ethan and Sharon, then messed up the kids’ hair. His grandchildren looked on with mouths gaping open, amazed, and finally, blessedly silent.
“Da, thank the gods–I thought,” he looked to the two of them. “I thought you were well done in the head and Ma–”
“Oh no, dear fate, no my boy,” Gary chuckled, his belly giggling. “I’m me. I’m here still. All is well. All is well.”
Ethan did not respond but his eyebrow lifted.
Gary cleared his throat. “Yes, well, uhm–that. My boy. Yes. I am sorry, very sorry. This was the first and last time I would ever, ever do such a thing as place my OS in my stead. Bad stuff. Improper. So sorry.”
“No,” Ethan said firmly. “No, Da. It is I who should apologize.”
“Why?” Ethel cried. “Whatever for?”
“Uhm, how can I say this?” He scratched his head. “We’ve been having a bit of the trouble with the holidays. You know, going between Sharry’s family, and ours and friends. A bit of the time taking, you know, and I with work high to my chin. Let me say I am more than a wee bit sorry, I am. I never meant for this sort of a Wintertide Eve.”
“But I don’t understand,” Ethel said softly.
“Oh Ma, you know Sharry and the kids love you as much as I do. Truly. But it’s so difficult divvying up the holidays and we’ve never wanted to let anyone down. Here, I’ll show you.” He turned toward Sharon. “Sharry, love. Show them what I mean.”
Sharon nodded and whistled between her teeth. The pitch was high and sharp and the children suddenly shifted to attention, right down to little baby Emily who suddenly balanced very well on her feet.
Sharon went to each, tapping them just under the ear, and one by one puffs of steam released as each revealed their inner mechanical and electrical workings. Finally, Sharon stood at her place and clicked her head to the left. Her face pulled backwards and her chest opened up. A portion of her belly opened like a trapdoor and out popped a baby droid, bobbing up and down, in and out of its plastic womb while coo-cooing “peek-a-boo” to its grandparents.
“Oh,” Ethel whispered.
“Indeed,” Gary breathed.
“I’m sorry, Ma–Da,” Ethan said somberly. “We’ve been doing this for years now, switching every other year so that you see the kids. This year was supposed to be your year to have the real kids but then the OS’s started acting up and being miserable about it. I knew Sharry’s parents wouldn’t be able to handle them acting like little monsters, not like you can. Your patience is saintly! So we had to make arrangements. I’m really, really sorry.”
“Not to worry, son,” Gary said and hugged Ethan while patting him on the back. “No need to apologize. In fact, I know exactly how you feel. At least we can program them to clean up the mess and dismantle the carousel. I should be able to get a good return on it–”
“Do no such thing,” Ethan exclaimed. “The kids will love it. I promise you.”
“Great! As long as you owe the boon for the cleaning this night, we’re fine with it all. Right, love?” Gary asked as he looked toward his beloved wife.
“No matter,” Ethel said softly, a bit taken aback by the revealing recent events, “as long as Ethan doesn’t mind.”
“Not a’tall, Ma,” Ethan assured.
Gary grabbed his son’s arm and led him to the front door. “Did you know Black Eye’s Tavern is open over holiday? Over a pint I might ask you how you managed to secure five OS’s.”
“Six, Da,” Ethan explained as he opened the door. “Mine is at Sharry’s parent’s homestead tonight.”
“Of course, of course. But it is expensive, surely?”
“Oh yeah, expensive indeed.”
“Ethel my love, we’re going to Black Eyes for a pint or three,” Gary called from outside.
“Off with you then, darling dear,” she hollered back from the dining room.
Ethel was pleasantly surprised as her son left his father momentarily at the door and walked around the dining room table to give her a hug.
“Don’t you worry, Ma,” he assured. “It will be but a pint.”
Ethel smiled gently and her eyes misted a bit as she reached up to pat his cheek. “Dear heart,” she said, emotion making her voice deep. It was too long a time between and sad to be missing his sweet face. For a moment she saw his younger image behind his soft eyes. “Off with you then.”
“It will be but a pint,” he repeated.
“I believe you,” she laughed. “Off with you now.” She gently shooed him with her hands.
“It will be but a pint,” he echoed. His eyes blinked rapidly for a few seconds, then stopped. “Bu-bu-but a pint.”
Ethel’s smile leveled and her eyebrow arched. Her eyes snapped as she took the palm of her hand to the flat of his forehead. “Off with you then,” she fairly grated out.
An uncertain smile appeared on his face. He nodded and hesitated like a child who had just finished a play and did not know what to do for curtain call. Then he turned from her and walked briskly to the door. Gary, gods love him, none the wiser, threw an arm over the shoulder of his son’s OS and they left. The wind brought in a small drizzling of snow before slamming shut the door.
“Bollocks,” Ethel grunted.
She wiped her palms on her apron and placed her hands upon her hips as she assessed the remaining OSfamily. “Such fibbing and fakery. You should be ashamed, everyone.”
She went to each one and turned it on, giving orders–”pack the meal up” or “clean the living room,” or “dismantle the carousel” or her favorite, “wash the dishes.”
She did not feel like being about all these fake selves, and so she went to the shed and joined EthelOS there, because being with her own other self she didn’t mind so much. That wasn’t fakery, at least.
With their legs swinging over the edge, they watched the IWT from their perch on the second floor. Their favorite sitcom was on. Splendid. As they watched, Ethel told her OS about next year’s plans. They would be making everyone sweaters.
And maybe just maybe, she thought to herself, planning in the back of her mind, there might be the remotest possibility Gary and she could go to the tropics this time. They’d always wanted to go to the islands, but commitments had kept them grounded, so to speak.
Surprisingly, the thought did not make her feel guilty. After all, if Ethan and Sharon hadn’t figured out their OSfamily issues by then, who would be the wiser, really? The idea was truly new to her, but she had the sudden suspicion it was rather old to society at large. She wondered how many households in the land had holidays in which every Original was in the tropics while OS’s carried on with the civil gatherings and proper etiquette of family.
What did it matter, truly? Ethel closed her eyes and sighed. She dreamed just a wee bit of warm tropical sunbeams and sand-covered toes and drinking a frosty pint herself.
“Wintertide Surprise” copyright 2007 by Ann Hasseler De Carrasco, first published in Reflections Edge as the featured story for December. Edited by Sharon Dodge.
“Wintertide Surprise” copyright 2014 by A. H. De Carrasco on Wattpad.com
All rights reserved.
Cover photo stock, depositphotos.com; artist: majcot