Jackie’s Jokes

Jackie’s Jokes: Chapter 1

—Start.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008, approximately five thirty in the morning.

“Annie, Durinda, Georgia, Jackie, Petal, Rebecca, Zinnia—come quick!” Marcia shouted.

Six of us rubbed sleep from our eyes before obeying Marcia’s insanely early summons. We weren’t supposed to get up for school for another forty minutes. One of the Eights summoned, Jackie, was nowhere to be seen.

We followed Marcia’s shouting voice down to the kitchen.

“Look!” she cried, pointing at the window.

“What?” Annie asked. “Is there another pigeon out there with a note?”

“No!” Marcia said excitedly. “Can’t you see it? There’s a horse’s behind right outside the window.”

What?” six Eights cried, hurrying to look out the window.

Huh. There was nothing there.

“Happy April Fool’s Day!” Marcia gloated with glee.

“Fine. You got us,” Rebecca said sourly. “But don’t think you can get us again.”

“As long as we’re all up early,” Durinda said, “I may as well start breakfast. Jackie, could you please get me the—Oh dear. Where is Jackie?”

“I can help you with breakfast this morning,” Zinnia offered.

“That’s great,” Durinda said, looking meaningfully at Georgia and Rebecca. “It’s always nice when someone around here helps out.”

“Hey!” Georgia said. “Don’t look at me! I haven’t said anything awful.”

“Yet,” Annie provided.

“Yet,” Georgia admitted with a blush.

“OK, Zinnia,” Durinda directed, “you get the milk out of the fridge—I think we’ll make pancakes this morning—while everyone else gets dressed.”

Zinnia opened the refrigerator door. The rest of us weren’t even out of the room when we heard Carl the talking refrigerator announce: “All out of tasty worms. Must buy more.”

“Did Carl just say we needed more tasty worms?” Durinda asked.

Before anyone could answer her, Carl spoke again. “And slugs,” he said. “Must buy more juicy slugs.”

“Juicy sl—? But we don’t eat —”

“And slimy caterpillars,” Carl said, cutting Durinda off, “and crunchy dead leaves and hairy spiders and —”

“Oh, no!” Petal shrieked. “Carl the talking refrigerator has gone mad! If we follow his shopping instructions and then eat all those awful things, we will all be dead by nightfall! We will—”

“Ha-ha,” Carl laughed dryly. “April Fools’ on you.”

“This is insane.” Rebecca was disgusted. “We’re even being mocked by our own refrigerator today.”

* * *

“That’s odd,” Marcia said, as five of us headed back downstairs, having gotten dressed. There was still no sign of Jackie. “Durinda and Zinnia said they’d cook breakfast, but I don’t smell anything.”

We took our places at the table, looked down at our plates. The pancakes didn’t look quite right. Annie was the first to try to cut hers, but the fork wouldn’t even make a dent. None of us could make a dent.

“I’m starving,” Rebecca said, giving up on the fork and resorting to her fingers. But when she went to take a bite—

“Ugh!” she cried. “This pancake isn’t made out of pancake! It’s made out of rubber!”

“April Fools’!” Durinda and Zinnia shouted, high-fiving each another.

“I don’t think it’s very funny,” Rebecca said. “Some of us are starving here, you know.”

“Oh, where’s your sense of humor?” Durnida said. Then, when it was clear Rebecca hadn’t any, at least not where rubber food was concerned, Durinda added, “Why don’t you have some pink frosting?”

“And why don’t the rest of us adjourn to the front room while Durinda makes us all some Pop-Tarts?” Annie suggested. “It’s about all we have time for now.”

“Oh, no!” Petal cried as we entered the front room. Then she fainted.

We all looked around to see what had bothered her so, and there it was:

Daddy Sparky, the suit of armor we usually dressed up in Daddy’s quilted smoking jacket and fedora hat to make nosey parkers believe there was a real man in the house, was wearing Mommy Sally’s sleeveless purple dress and pearls, while Mommy Sally, the dressmaker’s dummy we dressed up so people would believe there was still a proper lady of the house, was wearing Daddy Sparky’s smoking jacket and hat. We must admit, the corncob pipe in her hand looked very elegant there.

“April Fools’?” Annie winced out the words, as we tried to bring Petal around by whispering her name and patting her cheeks softly. Okay, so maybe Rebecca did shout her name…and slap her.

“Wh-wh-wh-what happened?” Petal stammered, coming back to life.

“This is your doing?” Rebecca rounded on Annie.

Annie nodded, meekly for once.

“I’m shocked, I tell you,” Rebecca said, “simply shocked. I’d expect such behavior from Georgia and, well, from me, of course, but you? You’re supposed to be the eldest, you’re supposed to be in charge, you must have known such a trick would be too much for Petal, who is always so—”

“All right,” Annie said through gritted teeth. She’d felt guilty for a moment, but she certainly wasn’t going to go on feeling that way forever. “Zinnia,” Annie instructed, “why don’t you take Petal to the bathroom and, oh, I don’t know, put a cold washcloth on her face?”

So that’s what Zinnia and Petal did.

There was still no sign of Jackie.

* * *

Rebecca’s mood was not improved when Georgia put on a monster mask and then leaped out from around a corner and shouted, “Boo!” right in Rebecca’s face. Rebecca nearly went through the roof, in more ways than one.

“April Fools’!” Georgia laughed, removing the mask.

“This whole house has gone insane,” Rebecca muttered. “Am I the only one left here who has any sense?”

And Rebecca’s mood really didn’t improve any when Petal and Zinnia returned, all excited.

“What’s wrong?” Annie asked immediately, for Petal and Zinnia were so excited, they couldn’t even speak. Well, at least Petal wasn’t fainting anymore.

“Come quick!” Zinnia at last gasped out the words.

“Yes!” Petal blurted. “Come quick! The cats are going crazy!”

Not that this was anything new. It seemed as though our cats were always going crazy. Someone breaks into the house while we’re out at a party? Cats go crazy. Someone steals Mommy’s Top Secret folder from her private study? Cats go crazy. Too much fruitcake smell in the air? Cats go really crazy. Honestly, those cats were hysterical so often, they might as well have been Petal.

As it turned out, when seven of us entered the cat room (which is like our drawing room, only for cats) the cats weren’t going crazy at all. In fact, they looked downright peaceful.

“Are you sure they’re going crazy?” Marcia asked, one eyebrow raised. “It looks to me like they’re practically sleeping.”

It was true. Anthrax, Dandruff, Greatorex, Minx, Precious, Rambunctious and Zither—they were all curled up together like one giant ball of gray and white yarn.

“Well, yes,” Petal said hurriedly, “they do look peaceful now—

“Actually,” Zinnia said, cutting her off, “they never looked not peaceful, but — ”

“But Zinnia heard them all talking,” Petal said, “and they were saying they heard that the Wicket returned last night.”

The Wicket was our evil neighbor, stealer of Top Secret folders everywhere, who back in February we’d tricked into going to Beijing by making her think that Mommy had taken her secret to eternal life and fled there. We’d long been worrying about her return; the Wicket’s, that is.

“Is this true?” Annie demanded of Zinnia.

“Of course it’s not true,” Georgia said.

“Exactly,” Rebecca agreed. “Everyone except Zinnia knows that the cats don’t really talk to Zinnia, nor do the cats understand her.”

“Oh, but that’s exactly what the cats said,” Petal said. “You see, this time, I heard them too.”

“You did?”

All eyes were on Petal.

“Oh, yes,” Petal said, practically hopping from foot to foot. It was hard to tell if she were excited, nervous, or had simply failed to use the bathroom when she’d gone in there with Zinnia. “And what’s more, Zinnia and I also heard the cats talking amongst themselves, and they’re plotting to…they’re plotting to…they’re plotting to…”

“Plotting to what?” Rebecca snapped.

“They’re plotting to take over the house!” Petal burst out at last.

What?” Annie said. “This is serious.”

“But they are only cats,” Marcia observed.

“There’s no such thing as ‘only cats,’” said Durinda, who took her Dandruff very seriously. “That’s like saying we’re ‘only eight little girls home all alone.’ As if we have no power. As if we don’t count. As if—”

“Cut the drama,” Rebecca said to Durinda. Then she glared at Petal and Zinnia. “You two, tell us all about the kitty coup.”

But Petal and Zinnia couldn’t tell us that or anything else. They were too busy laughing so hard, they were nearly crying.

“Kitty coup,” Petal at last gasped. “April Fools’!”

Petal, who’d never played a practical joke on anybody in her life, looked particularly pleased with herself.

There was still no sign of Jackie.

Come to think of it, there was no sign of her cat, Jaguar, either.

* * *

“Ta-da!”

At last, Jackie was finally back among us. The only problem was…

“Your hair!” Rebecca shrieked.

“Happy April Fools’ Day!” Jackie trumpeted.

“But cutting your hair is no practical joke,” Rebecca said. “It’s certainly not a temporary one. So let me point out, once more” —and here she started to shriek again, bitting off each word — “You! Cut! Off! Your! Hair!”

“Not all of it,” Jackie said, bobbing the tips of her new short hair.

In fact, her new haircut was a bob —short, straight, parted in the middle —which was very different from her usual look: long hair. It did take getting used to.

“Don’t you like it?” Jackie asked, but she didn’t look worried about our opinion. We could tell she was pleased with what she’d done.

“I…think I do,” Petal said, walking in a wide circle around Jackie. “But however did you manage it?”

“Simple.” Jackie shrugged. “I went to the haircutting room.”

“The haircutting room?” Petal reeled back in horror. In truth, we all reeled back in horror, all except Annie. Annie was the only one brave enough to go by herself into the haircutting room, where scissors flew around your head like crazy and you never knew if you might lose an ear. The rest of us hadn’t gone in there since Mommy had disappeared. Or died.

“You went in there all by yourself?” Petal gulped. It was obvious Petal couldn’t think of a scarier thing in the world for a person to do. At least not right that minute. But give our Petal five more minutes, and she’d think of something new to be scared to death over.

“Of course I didn’t go alone,” Jackie said, “not entirely.” Then Jackie placed her thumb and forefinger in the corners of her mouth and let out a loud whistle.

Jaguar came running and threw her little gray and white body straight into Jackie’s open arms.

Turned out, Jaguar had had a haircut too.

“Your cat is practically bald,” Rebecca said.

“No, she’s not.” Jackie finally looked offended, and she hugged Jaguar a little closer, stroking her furry chin. “She just has less hair now than all of your cats. So she’ll stand out more. It will be very nice for her.”

“And now you’ll stand out more too,” Rebecca said, not looking at all pleased. “Just like your cat, now you have shorter hair than the rest of us.”

“Not true,” Marcia pointed out. Sometimes, it was as though she had rulers where the rest of us had eyes. “Annie’s is still shorter, by a smidge.”

“Plus,” Georgia added, “Jackie’s looks more…oh, I don’t know…French.”

“It is elegant,” Zinnia said.

“Yes, it is,” Petal agreed. “I can see that now that I have survived my initial horror.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s elegant,” Rebecca said.

“Why don’t you tell us how you really feel, Rebecca?” Annie said with a heavy sigh. “We’ve already missed the bus, and will have to call Pete for a ride to school because I certainly can’t let people see me pull up there in the purple Hummer.”

“I think it stinks!” Rebecca said.

“May I ask why?” Jackie asked, peacefully enough.

“Because you’re not supposed to change anything about yourself,” Rebecca at last admitted. “None of us are.”

Then Jackie did something that surprised us all: she laughed.

“What are you talking about, you silly girl?” Jackie asked Rebecca. “Not ever change? But I’m not Peter Pan! None of us are! Of course we can change. Even you can change something about yourself if you want to…and not just your hair either.”

But Rebecca was in no mood for change, hers or anyone else’s, as she made clear with a huffy, “Well, while Annie calls Pete to come get us, I’m going to the drawing room to get my backpack —you know, the one with the same pattern I get every year.”

And then she was gone. Of course, we did have Jackie back, so we figured we were ahead, or at least even.

* * *

“Everyone, come quick!” we heard Rebecca’s voice shout from the drawing room a moment later.

We had heard a lot of people calling us to come quick that morning, and nothing had turned out to be worth rushing for, but we went quickly now anyway. A person could never tell when speed might actually be required.

In the drawing room we found Rebecca pointing at a stone in the wall. Whoever was leaving us notes always left them behind this stone, and it was now loose; a telltale sign that a note was there.

“Pull it out!” Rebecca urged Jackie. “I’ll bet anything that it’s your gift arriving early—just like what happened with Georgia!”

“Ooh, your gift!” Zinnia said. “I’ll bet it will be something grand!” She sighed heavily. “I wish it were mine.”

A gift? Who could resist such a thing? Not even Jackie. Okay, maybe Georgia could, at least initially, but Georgia was always different. Come to that, we all were.

Jackie went to the loose stone, pulled it all the way out, and…

Rebecca’s cat, Rambunctious, leaped out, practically knocking her over. When cats are put in small places, they are always eager to get out. We must say, though, this time, it wasn’t nearly as funny as it had been when we’d put a cat in the mailbox and surprised the mailperson.

“You are evil,” Jackie said to Rebecca.

“I do try,” Rebecca said with a grin and then turned serious. “And I never intend to change.”