You have to be tactful when talking to teenagers. I am not a tactful person. That’s why I declined to take my sister’s son for the fall term while she went gallivanting in Africa. That didn’t stop him from showing up at my door with two suitcases, earbuds, and a pair of over-active thumbs.
“What’s the problem with your wifi?” he asked me.
“Hello,” I said YOURURL.com.
“I’m not getting anything,” he said. He was still standing on the threshold punching his phone screen with his thumbs.
“Come in,” I said. “I’ve got supper on the table. Do you like spaghetti?”
I was being as polite as I know how. Jeremy, my nephew, has been a brat since he turned ten years old, but I believe in letting the past go and living in the present, so I was still smiling.
He came in. I made him go out again to collect his suitcases and carry them upstairs to the guest room. Guest is what my sister calls it. It’s really an overflow room for my extra books. He’d have plenty of diverse reading material. When my sister called me from the airport, she left me very little time to clear the bed, but I managed to create stacks of books as a kind of footboard.
When he came down into the kitchen, I was already eating, a book in my hand. I was willing to offer him some help in choosing one for himself, but before I could do so, we got into the same conversation regarding wifi.
“I don’t have any,” I said.
“Is that possible? Do they still sell modems without wifi?”
“I don’t have internet.”
“No internet.” I said it slowly.
“I don’t need it.”
“Everybody needs it.”
“Not me. It makes me faint.”
He sat down heavily as if sentenced to prison, but that isn’t quite right because I think that they do get wifi in prison, though I imagine it would have to be censored wouldn’t it? Anyway I can’t google it, so I’ll live without that factoid. “What do you mean Aunt Gladdie?”
“Gladys,” I said. “Just call me Gladys. You’re old enough.”
He’s sixteen, which is the age of consent here, and if he could consent to sex, then he could call me by my proper name. I never thought of myself as the auntie type and neither did my sister. She is twenty years younger than me, and a very busy woman. Practically another Albert Schweitzer, so when she got pregnant, I assumed she’d have an abortion. She has no time to be a mother. And that’s why, periodically, Jeremy gets dumped on me, and we just have to put up with each other.
“You had internet,” he said.
“But you don’t now.”
“Are you sure it’s not in your head?”
I didn’t deign to reply. Why am I expected to be a diplomat but not him? I think children have too few expectations put on them these days. My sister was a brat, and her son is brattier. At least he wasn’t throwing the spaghetti the way he did when he was younger.
“This isn’t going to work, Aunt Gladdie,” he said. “I am going to have to stay with a friend.”
“Feel free,” I said. Wrong response, I know. My sister would have a fit. Diplomacy, compromise, understanding, talking things out—that’s how she would handle it. That’s why she runs away to Africa when she gets fed up.
“I will!” He pushed back his chair and stalked away, with, I noticed, a full plate of spaghetti in his hand.
“Don’t get any on the books!” I called after him.
“Like I’ll touch them,” he said as he stormed out.
He knows, after all these years, that I won’t run after him. I keep sitting at the table, finish my meal and dessert, a freshly baked apple pie, which, since he hasn’t stayed, leaves me more for myself. The remainder I wrap up to take to my neighbour who never gets out, along with a book, which I leave on his porch.