Georgia’s Greatness: Chapter 1
“It was a dark and stormy night,” Rebecca said.
It was that. It was also the first of March, a Saturday.
“I believe that line has been used before,” Jackie pointed out to Rebecca.
Jackie read more books than any of us. Some of us thought she read too much. But whenever any of us tried to mention that, she told us that such a thing was impossible.
We were all in the front room, lined out the window, watching the rain pour down. Daddy Sparky, the suit of armor we dressed up so nosy people peeking in would think he was our real daddy was there, sat in his usual chair, the big comfy one. Mommy Sally, the dressmaker’s dummy we dressed up to look like our real mommy, was standing at his side, wearing a sleeveless purple dress and a string of pearls. Daddy Sparky and Mommy Sally weren’t much good at conversation, but at least they provided some adult company. Plus, they were both smart dressers.
“It was raining cats and dogs,” Annie said, thinking to improve upon Rebecca’s opening line. That was Annie all over: always trying to one-up the rest of us.
“I think that would be very scary for the cats,” Petal said. “In fact, I know Precious wouldn’t want to be part of a downpour.”
We had eight gray-and-white puffballs that were our cats, one for each sister. Their names were: Anthrax, Dandruff, Greatorex, Jaguar, Minx, Precious, Rambunctious and Zither. Precious was Petal’s cat.
Well, we sighed, at least Petal was worrying about someone other than herself for a change, even if that someone was a cat.
“March is coming in like a lion,” Durinda began.
“But are you completely sure it will go out like a lamb?” Zinnia asked.
“If this were April,” Marcia observed, “we could have showers that would bring May flowers.”
“Would you all just stop?” Georgia shouted.
“Did we say something wrong?” Jackie asked.
Georgia continued to stare out into the dark and stormy night as the rain machine-gunned our windows.
“Why does my month have to be riddled with clichés?” Georgia finally whined.
“What’s a cliché?” Petal wanted to know.
Not only did Petal worry more than any person who ever lived, she also didn’t pay attention during vocabulary lessons at the Whistle Stop, the school where we were all third-graders. We tried to tell her that vocabulary was important, but she always told us that to her it was all just so many words, words, words.
“A cliché,” Annie said, as though she were reciting from a dictionary, “is a trite phrase or expression. Also, a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation.”
“Great.” Rebecca sneered. “And what do trite and hackneyed mean? Don’t even bother defining characterization. I’m sure it doesn’t concern us.”
“Trite,” Annie said, “is when something becomes hackneyed or boring from too much use. It means not fresh, not original. Hackneyed means lacking in freshness or originality. Also, it means trite.”
“Trite is hackneyed, hackneyed is trite.” Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Well, that clears it all up. Why can’t the people who write dictionaries just agree on one word for it?”
“Exactly,” Georgia said. “And that one word should be cliché.” She sulked some more, pressing her nose against the glass. “I don’t know why my month has to be riddled with — ”
Yes, that was when the carrier pigeon struck the other side of the windowpane that Georgia’s nose was pressed against. The carrier pigeon’s little body struck the glass with more force than…well, than any carrier pigeon’s body had ever thumped against glass before.
We were used to carrier pigeons visiting the house and bringing notes. They were Daddy’s friends. And even now that he was gone, wherever he’d gone to, they still came. But they’d never before come in the midst of a dark and stormy night.
“Well, let it in. Let it in!” Durinda cried, pushing Georgia out of the way and opening the window for the pigeon.
The pigeon, looking about as grateful as we’d ever seen a pigeon look, hopped onto Durinda’s outstretched finger.
“Poor little pigeon,” Durinda cooed. “All your feathers are soaked.”
Just as Annie performed a lot of the daddy functions around the household in the absence of our real daddy, Durinda had turned out to be the most motherly. And we had grown used to things being that way. Really, Daddy Sparky and Mommy Sally might have been sharp dressers, but there was nothing like having real human beings to tuck you in at night, to show you love when you needed it.
“There, there,” Durinda continued to soothe the pigeon, now using her other hand to stroke its sopping feathers. Then a puzzled look came over Durinda’s face. “Hey,” she said, “what’s this strapped under your wing?”
“It’s probably just another one of those stupid notes,” Georgia grumped.
“No, I don’t think so,” Marcia said. “The notes always come rolled up inside the little metal tube attached to the pigeon’s leg. And this pigeon has one of those tubes on his leg, so that can’t be it.”
After much fumbling, Durinda’s searching fingers produced a waterproof sack that was cinched with a drawstring. The drawstring was not waterproof, so it was dripping.
“Here.” Durinda handed it to Georgia. “You open it. I can’t take care of the pigeon, hold the sack and open it and remove whatever is in it all at the same time.”
“She’s right,” Petal said. “I’m pretty sure she would need at least one extra hand to do all of that.”
So, still grumping, Georgia took the sack.
“I don’t know why I always have to do all the work around here,” she grumbled.
We all glared at her. Georgia hardly ever did any work, unless it was mischief.
“The drawstring on this sack is dripping all over my socks,” Georgia complained.
“Just open it!” Zinnia hurried her along. “I think it must be one of our gifts!”
“Why in the world would you think a stupid thing like…Hello!” Georgia said, wonder filling her face as she removed a gold object from the sack. The object looked like a compact case, and on the front of it was engraved the name Georgia.
“What’s this?” Georgia asked.
“It’s your gift, obviously.” Now it was Zinnia’s turn to sulk. “I was kind of hoping that the order had somehow been switched around, that somehow it would turn out to be my gift.”
Jackie put her arm around Zinnia and gave her shoulders a squeeze. Whenever Annie or Durinda didn’t take care of us right away, Jackie was good at filling the gap.
“Fine,” Georgia said. “So it’s my gift.” She kept turning it around in her fingers, held it up to the light, squinted at it. “But what is it?”
“Haven’t you ever seen a compact before?” Rebecca asked. “I’ll bet anything there’s a mirror inside there.” She made a kissy face with her lips. “You’re supposed to look in the mirror to check your lipstick and make sure you look bea-u-ti-ful.”
“But I don’t wear lipstick!” Georgia was clearly annoyed. “Do I look like the kind of girl who would have any need of a compact mirror?”
We studied Georgia closely and we had to admit: she didn’t. Really, had she even bothered to comb her hair today?
“I have to say, Georgia,” Annie said, “you’re probably the only person in the history of the world who has ever looked a gift horse in the mouth.”
“It’s a gift compact,” Georgia said, “and stop talking in clichés. It’s trite.” She paused, considered. “I’m pretty sure it’s hackneyed too.” She sighed a heavy sigh. “Just my luck,” she said. “I get my gift and it’s not even anything I would ever want. What’s next? Will my power be something useless too?”
“I should think you’d be more grateful,” Zinnia said with an unusual show of spirit. “At least you got your gift. While some of us are still waiting—”
“Hey! Wait a second!” Annie snapped her fingers. “No matter that you don’t like your gift, Georgia—each power and gift we find brings us one step closer to discovering what happened to Mommy and Daddy!”
“But isn’t it a bit odd,” Jackie said, “Georgia finding her gift at the beginning of the month instead of the end of it, like what usually happens? Plus, she didn’t exactly find it. You could say that it found her.” Jackie really was puzzled, a rare thing. “It just doesn’t make any sense for the gift to arrive now, and like this.”
“We never did read the note the pigeon brought,” Marcia pointed out.
“Read it!” Petal cried.
“Read it!” Zinnia cried.
So Durinda, still carefully handling the wet pigeon, removed the tiny metal tube from its leg and took out the scroll of paper from the tube.
“Look at Durinda go now,” Rebecca said. “It’s like she suddenly has three hands.”
Durinda ignored Rebecca, which was a habit among us. First, Durinda read whatever was written on the scroll silently to herself, her lips working while she did.
“Do you think you could read it aloud,” Annie asked, “so we can all hear it?”
“It says,” Durinda said, “We’re delivering her gift early, because we just can’t bear to hear Georgia whine all month.”
Then Durinda looked down at the pigeon in her hand.
“How,” Durinda addressed the pigeon, “did you ever fly all the way here from wherever you came from with that sack holding the compact folded under your wing? It can’t have been easy flying like that.”
The pigeon gazed straight back at Durinda. We couldn’t be certain, but it looked as though the pigeon shrugged.
“What kind of note is that?” Georgia demanded. Her face was practically purple with rage. “This is supposed to be my month, and yet even the note insults me!”
“But at least you got your gift,” Zinnia said, “and you got it early, at that. I wonder, if I were to whine like you do all the time, could I make my gift come early?”
“But this is still all wrong,” Jackie said. “The return with the elixir isn’t supposed to happen until near the end of the story.”
“The return with the what?” Rebecca looked peeved. “What are you talking about, Jackie?”
“The return with the elixir,” Jackie repeated patiently.
“There are a lot of involved definitions of elixir,” Annie said, “but it’s basically just a wonderful thing.”
“I’ve been reading a book on screenwriting,” Jackie went on, as if Annie hadn’t spoken. This was odd; we did that to Rebecca, Georgia too, but we never to Annie.
“What’s screenwriting?” Petal asked.
“It’s writing scripts for movies and things,” Annie said. She was clearly miffed at Jackie’s previous snub. “You do all know what movies are, don’t you?”
“Anyway,” Jackie continued, “the book says that only after the heroine or heroines have gone through their entire adventure, only then does she or they return with the elixir. It’s like coming home with a prize. It’s the last of twelve stages.”
“Then I really don’t want this now!” Georgia cried. She took the compact with her name was engraved on it and forced it back up under the pigeon’s wing.
The pigeon looked startled, as did we all.
“Take it back, you bloody pigeon!” Georgia cried. “I don’t want it now if it’s not the proper time.” Georgia hustled the poor little pigeon toward the window – really, we thought, the poor little thing was only doing his job. Georgia yelled after him as he flew away, “And don’t come back until the end of the month!” then slammed the window shut.
There, we thought, Georgia had handled that well.
A moment of stunned silence followed, then we heard Rebecca tsk-tsk into the void.
“What are you tsk-tsking about now?” Georgia demanded.
“It’s just, you know.” Rebecca shrugged. “Only you, Georgia.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The beginning of her month having been riddled with clichés, Georgia was obviously in no mood for riddles. “Only me, what?”
“She means,” Annie said, “that only you would send your gift back to wherever our gifts come from.”
“Huh.” The anger had disappeared from Georgia’s face like a pigeon flying off into the night. She was puzzled. “You mean I wasn’t supposed to do that?”
We didn’t usually like to be insulting, but…
“Duh!” we all shouted at her.
Once we had stopped shouting, and Georgia got over being shouted at, Marcia spoke.
“You know,” she said, “usually whenever one of us discovers her power or gift, there’s a new note left in the space behind that loose stone in the wall of the drawing room.”
With that in mind, we all trooped off to the drawing room.
“You do the honors,” Annie said to Georgia as we stood before the wall. “It was your gift.”
“Yeah,” Rebecca said, “until she gave it back.”
Ignoring Rebecca, Georgia carefully removed the loose stone. Then she reached into the space and pulled out a note. We all crowded around her to read what it said:
This is the part where I’d normally say: “Nice work. Five down, eleven to go.” But, sadly, I can’t do that this time, can I?
As always, the note was unsigned.
Georgia looked so sad that we couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, despite what she’d done.
We watched as Georgia let go of the note; it floated idly down to the floor like a feather on a breeze.
“It’s still only the first day of my month,” she said glumly, “and already I’m not handling things very well, am I?”
We tried to there, there her—not just Annie and Durinda and even Jackie, but all of us. But that dark and stormy night, there were not enough there, theres in the world to soothe Georgia’s upset feelings.
If only Daddy Sparky and Mommy Sally were our real mommy and daddy, we thought as we put Georgia to bed. They could have at least helped us kiss her good night before we turned out the lights.