“Mister Milo, you have a bit of an eyelash. Do you mind?” Erik lifted a hand.
Milo removed his glasses and brushed under both eyes.
“Oh, so close. Can I just get it?”
Mordecai was awake and looking over and he knew what she was trying to do. He did not warn Milo or speak up because he didn’t mind about Auntie Enora at the moment. It was okay when she did that. It was nice. Maybe Milo might like it.
It would be sort of interesting to see, though. He wondered if she might get Milo to talk.
Milo leaned down so that Auntie Enora could remove the eyelash that he didn’t have.
She touched him gently.
Milo’s expression became abject horror. His eyes widened, his mouth gaped, and all his color drained away. He clapped both hands over his face and collapsed to the floor.
Erik sat down quite suddenly as well, though he had a little less distance to fall. He put a hand over his mouth and began shaking his head. “Milo…” He crawled forward, reaching out a hand.
Milo scrabbled back from him and slammed into the base of the counter. He was not crying, not even tears, and somehow that was worse. He buried his head in his arms and began to rock back and forth.
“Milo, I’m sorry,” Auntie Enora said. “Milo, I’m so sorry.” She tried to put a hand on him, just on his arm. Milo shuddered and thumped back into the cabinet. His mouth gaped open again, as if he were screaming. He began to hit the side of his head against the wooden frame beside him. The kitchen cabinets had no doors.
That doesn’t seem nice, thought Mordecai.
I should be upset about this. Can I be upset about this?
Nooo, seemed like he couldn’t. Oh, well. It was something to look at. He might want to know about it later.
“Oh, gods,” said Auntie Enora. She engaged the step-stool, retrieved a glass from the countertop, dipped it full of water and made it medicine. It went bright green. “Milo, I need you to drink this. Please.”
Please? thought Mordecai. Doesn’t he want to? Doesn’t that work on him at all?
He thought that was a little unfair, but he wasn’t sure in what way.
Milo covered his face. He continued to hit his head. He made no other reply.
“Milo!” said Auntie Enora — sternly, like when she made Hyacinth stand in the corner. Erik had grown a faint, green aura, but it didn’t seem to be an angry one. It was soft. “Stop doing that and drink this. Now!”
He stopped doing that. He put both his hands down. His eyes were terrified.
No. No. No. No. No…
He couldn’t say ‘no.’ He couldn’t even shake his head.
His hand went out, he took the glass and he drank the whole thing.
It tasted a little like ginger ale.
I want to be dead. I hope it makes me be dead.
Then he couldn’t think that anymore. He couldn’t even think that he was scared, or that he didn’t want to be stupid. It just faded out. He couldn’t remember what he just did. He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know anything about being a young boy in a metal bed who wasn’t allowed to bite. He wanted to sleep. He closed his eyes and slid down to the floor.
Erik knelt beside him and picked up his head, pillowing it in his lap. “I’m sorry, Milo. You won’t remember it, but I am so very sorry.”
Milo whimpered, audibly. He twisted, and he spoke soft words that Mordecai could not hear.
Erik stroked him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, child,” said Auntie Enora. “I would if I could. It’s just not in my power.”
He sobbed. Again, aloud.
“Shh,” said Auntie Enora. “It’s all right now.”
He sighed. He settled.
A moment later, he opened his eyes and sat up. He touched the heel of his palm to his forehead and looked around him, blinking. He looked at Auntie Enora.
“I’m sorry, dear. That was entirely my fault. Are you just a bit scrambled?”
Erik smiled at him. “You’ve hit your head. And I see you’ve lost your glasses. Here they are.”
Milo replaced his glasses. He reached a hand up to the counter and attempted to stand. Erik bore up on the other side of him to help.
“Be careful, dear. You’ve had a bit of a fall. I knocked into you. I wasn’t looking where I was going at all. I am dreadfully sorry about it.”
Milo shook his head. It was all right. He couldn’t remember… He had just been confused for a second. He breathed on his glasses and cleaned them. He didn’t really need to do that, he had repel charms on them because he did a lot of stuff with oil, but he’d got used to doing it when he worked in the laundry — they always got steamed up and spattered. It was familiar and it helped him collect himself.
“Are you going to be all right for breakfast?”
Breakfast? Oh, yes. That’s what he was doing. Then work. Thor’s Day. Green silk dress.
“I’ll just get you a little coffee, dear. Two sugars, isn’t it? Then I’ll leave you in peace.”
He shrugged. It was all right if she wanted to talk to him. He didn’t mind Auntie Enora so much anymore. But if she didn’t want to talk to him, that was okay, too.
He had cereal and coffee and he went to work and he was fine.
Erik’s pleasant smile faded as soon as Milo was out of the room. He began shaking his head.
“I have been punished for my curiosity,” Auntie Enora said softly. Erik turned. She demanded of Mordecai,”Why are you people so cruel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I think we try not to be.”
“You are bad at it!” she snapped at him. “I cannot abide cruelty! I understand war, it’s like a fever. Like one of those tropical fevers that keeps coming back. Sometimes the whole damn race of you goes mad for a while, but then it passes. But the cruelty just goes on and on!” Erik’s expression was midway between sorrow and snarling, like an animal caught in a trap. “Do you have any idea what they’ve done to that child?”
Mordecai shook his head. He had some idea it was pretty bad, though. Auntie Enora had made no interference with his ability to do logic, only to feel pain about it. “I think Hyacinth said he grew up in a workhouse.”
“A workhouse!” said Auntie Enora. “Is that what you call that? I’ll have to remember it the next time I visit hell! You listen to me, young man.” Erik crouched down beside him and grabbed hold of his shirt. “I know you’re with me and I know you’re going to remember this, so don’t ever try to pretend that you don’t. If that child ever lets on that he doesn’t feel well — and he may never, but if he does, you take care of him. You know how to take care of a person, I have seen that in you, and I admire it. I don’t know if there’s anyone else in this house who can do it as well. So you take care of him. And you make sure he has some ginger ale!”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Mordecai. “Anything else?”
“There isn’t anything else,” said Auntie Enora. “He’s never had anything else. For an upset stomach, they let them have ginger ale. It seems cruelty does not preclude common sense. You figure out what else he likes and give him that, too, but make sure he has ginger ale. If I ever see you again, and I find out you didn’t take care of that boy, I will make you a better person. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Seemed like he couldn’t feel fear, either. He’d have to remember Auntie Enora making Erik threaten him that way and come back to it later. Particularly the look in the eyes. He was sure he’d have a lot more to think about it then.
“Good.” Erik released him. The green child looked down at himself and adjusted his shirt. He looked up and smiled again. “All right, dear. What would you like for breakfast?”
“Some oatmeal would be nice, Auntie Enora.”
She did it with brown sugar and cinnamon like he liked it. He didn’t even have to ask.
Mordecai did fairly well that day. He was able to sit up on his own, and he didn’t mind eating. He didn’t even mind hot tea. He didn’t mention what Auntie Enora had done to Milo. Milo didn’t remember it, anyway, and it wasn’t like there were any new circumstances that needed explaining. The idea of it being upsetting or wrong had failed to get any traction at all.
After some discussion, they helped him out of bed and tried sitting him at the table for dinner. He did all right. It was tiring, and he got cold and needed to bundle up in a blanket, but he refrained from going face-first into his plate and did not bring up the subject of supply runs or chocolate cake. Everyone seemed rather pleased with him and they also kept looking across the table at Erik, who drank coffee and did not indulge in dinner. (Mordecai was not bothered about that, and couldn’t quite comprehend that the others were. It just seemed like they were interested in Erik.)
“Tonight?” Hyacinth asked Auntie Enora, as they were clearing the table. Erik was capable of managing one plate at a time. Two, and his hands started to shake.
“We’ll see how he is,” Aunie Enora replied. Erik looked down at himself. “We’ll see how this child is, too. I promise, Miz Hyacinth, I’ll take care of him before I go.”
Erik dropped a dish on the way to the sink and it broke into three pieces.
Ann said, “Oh!” and Hyacinth folded arms across her chest and glowered.
“I assure you, it was not on purpose,” Auntie Enora said faintly. “I believe I will sit down. You ladies can manage the dishes yourselves.”