Crazy Uncle Albert can still be found in the overstuffed family closet. That year, my mother sent my brother Simon and I to stay in the country. We had nothing against the country, clean air, or getting out of the city. But, mother had decided she was going back to the city and that we would be looked after by Uncle Albert. Yes, our crazy uncle — the man that couldn’t care for himself — was to look after us. Somehow the irony of it never met my mother.
Things seemed normal at first. Uncle Albert greeted us at the door in his bathrobe but was otherwise quite amicable and lucid. Perhaps that was what tipped the balance and convinced mother that her plan was sound. She couldn’t have been more incorrect. After she left on the train back to the city, our uncle bolted himself in his rooms and would not answer. I watched my brother and I as we stood upside-down in the brass handle of the door, waiting for an answer, a noise, something, anything, after we had knocked. Albert had as good as disappeared.
Simon asked, “What the heck?”
I shrugged in response.
“Should we call mom?” he asked.
I shrugged again. “I think she’s on the train still.” I was hungry. “Let’s get something to eat. Race you to the kitchen!” I taunted already having burst into a sprint down the hallway.
Simon screamed at my back, “Wait for me!”
We had free run of the place most of the time. There was a housekeeper who came three days a week though to make sure the kitchen was stocked, things got cleaned, and perhaps to check on Albert. She was a big burly woman with the personality of a old boot with rusted nails poking through the soles into one’s foot.
Unsurprisingly, Simon and I decided fairly quickly that we didn’t like Uncle Albert’s housekeeper. Not one bit.
During one of our all-speed carefree chases through the house, we discovered an access door that led out onto an old flat roof. I realized at once that this was meant for us. Inspired, we’d make a game out of it, a touch of turnabout under our present predicament. We laughed ourselves silly with the idea. For on the days that Ms. O’Neal was to attend to the housekeeping at Albert’s estate, Simon and I would avoid, evade, and hide. Like Albert did to us, we would return in kind and become invisible. Unseen mice in the walls.
It then became our routine to smuggle our lunches, games, and books out onto the rooftop, where we could spend the day completely unobserved. Naturally, we’d hear shouts of “Simon!” and “William!” from inside the house as Ms. O’Neal looked vainly for us. Laughing loudly, we’d have to shush one another. From the rooftop, we could even look down to the driveway and watch her mutter to herself as she got into her car, waved a fist at the house, and drove off.
Sadly, our extended stay in the country got cut short. After just a few weeks, mother returned on the Sunday morning train. A day that we were not hiding. Rather, Simon and I were playing tennis in one of the hallways, trying not to mar the walls too badly with the rackets, when she appeared unexpectedly from out of an archway. She was quite in a rage. And, I don’t think my bouncing the tennis ball off her nose improved her furious disposition at all. No. I’m quite sure, in fact, that it did not. At any rate, I did have an uncomfortable seat on the train back to the city.