Against her better judgement, Tallulah had offered to babysit her niece and nephew for an afternoon while her older sister Cynthia was in the city running errands. She said running errands, but Tallulah had checked her phone calendar when Cynthia had left it unattended to go the washroom and she was getting mani-pedis with her friend Carolyn. Cynthia had come by the apartment to drop off Hilary and Harris and some child-friendly snacks and activities.
“I know what you two keep in your fridge,” Cynthia said with a judgmental look.
“What do you keep in your fridge?” Hilary asked with an excited gleam in her eye. She probably thought she would find a severed head or some disembodied eyeballs floating in a jar of brine if she opened the fridge.
“Mostly beer,” Tallulah told her with a shrug. Hilary’s expression immediately soured. At seven, she had no need for beer. What she needed was the blood of a lamb to summon the dead.
“Don’t let Harris have too much dairy,” Cynthia instructed Tallulah, gathering up her purse to leave. “He gets gassy.”
Tallulah wrinkled her nose and looked over at Harris, who grinned up at her like a sweet little cherub. His cheeks were so round and freckly and his eyes were enormous. Both he and Hilary were quite doe-eyed, which Tallulah suspected they used to their advantage with strangers to trick them into thinking they were innocent, happy children and not the chilling monsters they actually were.
Since it was a Saturday, Tallulah got several visitors. Her apartment got numerous visitors on any given day, but it was pronounced on weekends. The first over was Jemima and Noel. Jemima journeyed across the hall in her pyjamas, but Noel was dressed for the day in a pair of leather pants and a button-down blouse that appeared to be made entirely of sequins. It was blinding. Harris couldn’t take his eyes off of Noel. Harris had a tendency to be drawn to shiny things, like a magpie. Hilary, on the other hand, wasn’t so easily won over.
“I’m the smartest in my class,” Hilary informed the room while Tallulah, Jemima, and Noel were sitting on the living room couch, drinking tea. Hilary was drawing a picture of a grizzly bear. Harris was featured in the picture, but fortunately he was riding the grizzly bear and not being mauled by the grizzly bear. It could’ve so easily gone the other way.
“That’s cool,” Noel told her. He spoke to her like he was indulging a child, because he was in essence indulging a child, but Hilary was no ordinary child. She looked at him through narrowed eyes.
“It used to be Jake C., but then he got a Smartie stuck up his nose,” Hilary continued. “So now he’s stupid.”
“That’s not very nice,” Jemima admonished Hilary unwisely and ineffectually. Hilary just looked at her like she was pond scum and returned her attention to her grizzly bear drawing.
After Jemima and Noel returned to her apartment, not missed by either Hilary or Harris, the next person to turn up at the apartment was Iggy. She had come to drop off a pair of shoes she’d borrowed from Priscilla for a dinner with Miles and some of his work colleagues. She stopped in briefly while Hilary and Harris were eating lunch. Tallulah had made them Kraft Dinner because she figured the actual amount of dairy that was really in there would be minimal. Harris was delighted. He got cheese sauce on his nose.
“Hello, little gremlins,” Iggy greeted Hilary and Harris. It was startlingly accurate.
“Who are you?” Hilary asked with her mouth full.
“This is my friend Iggy,” Tallulah answered. “This is Hilary and Harris.”
“Why is your name Iggy?” Hilary asked.
“Well, my real name is Elizabeth,” Iggy explained.
“That’s boring,” Hilary told her immediately. Harris continued to eat his KD like he might never see food again and this was his last chance at eating.
“Yes, I know,” Iggy nodded. “That’s why I changed it to Iggy.”
“Aunt Tallulah, can I change my name?” Hilary asked, turning to look up at Tallulah instead, apparently done with hers and Iggy’s conversation; she’d gotten all she needed from it.
“What do you want to change it to?” Tallulah asked her. Hilary thought it over for a long moment.
“Bert,” she answered eventually. Cynthia and her family lived next door to a man named Bert. He was a World War II war veteran. He was gruff and mean and he threw rocks at squirrels who tried to eat the birdseed he put out to attract blue jays. He wasn’t friendly at all and he yelled at Cynthia’s husband all the time for parking his SUV on an angle. Hilary loved him.
“Yes, absolutely,” Tallulah nodded. Hilary legitimately fist pumped.
The final person to turn up at the apartment before Cynthia came to pick up Hilary and Harris was Oscar. He came in search of reprieve from the fruit flies he claimed were taking over his apartment. According to Oscar, they had organized themselves and were staging a coup.
“That can’t be true,” Tallulah protested when he told her this. “They only live for twenty-four hours. Their lives aren’t nearly long enough for them to organize themselves into some sort of attack formation.”
“It is true,” Oscar returned adamantly. “Some of them are working on burrowing into my pillow.”
“I don’t think fruit flies burrow,” Tallulah pointed out.
“I think I would know,” Oscar retorted. He looked frazzled and quite close to the deep end so Tallulah let him have it. He joined her, Hilary, and Harris in the living room where the three of them were watching some irritating children’s show that Cynthia had suggested. Hilary wasn’t remotely interested, neither was Tallulah, and Harris was bouncing around adorably, but he would definitely do that no matter what they were watching.
“Oh, you,” Hilary said when Oscar sat down on the couch beside Tallulah. Tallulah laughed and Oscar looked both startled and offended.
“So charming,” he remarked dryly.
When Cynthia returned to pick up her children, nails freshly painted, Hilary and Harris were sitting on the floor in front of the TV, Oscar was lying on the floor, head propped up by a throw pillow, and Tallulah was sprawled on the couch. The four of them were watching K-Pop music videos and had been for about a forty minutes. There was still cheese sauce on Harris’ nose. Hilary had abandoned her gruesome drawing of Harris riding a grizzly bear as it chased after unsuspecting hikers.
“What are you watching?” Cynthia asked, standing by one end of the couch.
“K-Pop music videos,” Tallulah answered plainly. Cynthia shot her a look and opened her mouth to respond, but Hilary shushed her. They ended up staying to watch another four videos before Cynthia had to physically pry Harris away from the television to help him get his shoes on.