We are fighting over Monopoly money…again. Or, no, wait, we are making prank phone calls. Yes, that’s it. Calling random numbers, (which you can do before “caller ID” is introduced 10 years later) and asking the person on the end of the receiver, “Good afternoon, Ma’am. Is your refrigerator running?”. “Yes,” she says. “Then you better go catch it!” we screech in unison, slamming our mother’s beige rotary phone back down, keeling over with guffaws as we imagine the perplexed face of our victim.
It is one of those rare afternoons after school when we are getting along. We dial another number after looking up a name in the kitchen phone book: “Ron Whitehead”. He answers.
“Is this Mr. Blackhead?” my brother, Chris inquires, attempting to lower his voice an octave.
“No, this is Mr. Whitehead.” Chris grins at me, eyebrows raised in a “Watch this” expression, and I am suddenly in collusion.
“Sorry, must have called the wrong pimple!” he blurts and presses the push button, leaving the phone dangling off the hook as we “slap each other five”. I am not clear on what a blackhead is, but I assume it’s hilarious because my big brother has told me as much and he is laughing and so I join in.
The recorded voice of the operator eventually chimes out of the mouthpiece, monotone without a trace of humanity. “This is a recording. A receiver appears to be off the hook. Please hang up.” Chris looks at me, surprised and then his face turns stern with delight.
“Uh oh, Mary” he says. “They know we’re making prank phone calls! The police are going to come and get us! We need a plan.”
"Oh no!” I squeak. It seems somewhat unlikely but I believe in him. He is my protector, (albeit unpredictable) - the one who defends my soccer skills to the neighbor boys on one day and then pins me down and threatens to spit in my face after I win at Monopoly the next. (Does anyone really win at Monopoly?) The afternoon is going well so I am reticent to question the logic of responding to a recorded voice. I ready myself to take orders. Chris grabs my arm.
“I want you to go and gather every pencil you can find.” He urges. “We’re going to need to defend ourselves.”
I nod and am off, scuttling around the apartment seeking pencils with sharp points – our weapons of mini destruction against the authorities. I find some with my name on them, some from school, some Ticonderogas whittled down to “Tico” and bundle them together in my fists. We meet back up in his room where Chris has been creating a sling shot of sorts out of rubber bands and a stick – no wait- it’s a pen- we’re in an apartment- there are no readily available sticks. I drop the pencils at his work station awaiting instructions obediently.
“Go stand over there so we can test this out”, he commands.
I march 10 paces away from him and turn, facing his aim, ready and willing.
“Tell me if this hurts” he says and launches a pencil in my direction.
It hits my left ear lobe and yes, it hurts – a lot - like a shot at the Doctor, a sting from a bee, sharpened lead in lenient flesh. “OW!” I yelp and huddle down, tears starting. We both know the charade is over – or did I know from the outset before carrying on with this stunt? It’s a recording, not a real person, silly! The police had never even been mentioned. Chris rushes over.
“Are you ok?”
“NO!” I yell. “You hurt me”.
I shuffle over to the full length mirror on his closet, peering at my ear. Am I bleeding? No, but there is a grey dot marking my lobe which stays in spite of my attempts to rub it off with a spit covered finger.
He will have to tell the truth that night to my parents, will say it was a game, that he didn’t mean it, that he’s sorry, while I stare at the dot in the mirror, massage the cartilage, and plan the recount of the afternoon’s events at the planned show and tell at school. I will say that it hurt, that it was fun, that I cried and that the dot will probably remain lodged in my lobe forever, even when I pierce my ears at 11, even when my first boyfriend whispers into it, even when the wisps of gray hair obscure it.