When the two boys entered the kitchen, they saw Aunt Clara beating at something with a towel. Matt stood on his tip toes to try and peer over to see exactly what it was that she was smacking with her towel, but his father pulled him back again.
“Clara?” Matt’s father stepped over the threshold. “What are you doing?”
She turned to look at the two of them. Her face was red and her normally static-y hair looked like she had been struck by lightning. “Neither of you are going to tell Bart about this, but I just set all of the spaghetti on fire.”
Matt felt his mouth hang open and his gaze rose up to meet his father’s. Blue eyes met blue eyes as they just stared at each other for a moment. As one they looked back at Aunt Clara.
His father took a few steps forward again. “How did you…how is it even possible to set spaghetti on fire? It’s pasta.”
Taking advantage of the lull in the conversation provided by the soupy awkwardness, Matt raced around his father and his aunt to see the damage done. His mouth dropped back open at the scene in front of him.
The pot on the stove was lying on its side, what remained of the water in it dripping rhythmically onto the floor. Black char marks speckled across the surface of the stove and down beside Matt’s feet. Charred sticks of what used to be spaghetti were scattered all across the area in front of the stove. A few of the sticks floated in the puddles of water from the overturned pot. When he reached down to wipe away some of the char marks they didn’t brush away.
“Aunt Clara, I think you burned the t-tile.” Matt looked up in time to see his aunt hurry to him. He was just able to scoot out of the way before she bowled him over.
“Oh, your uncle is going to have it out with me. He had just finished redoing these tiles last week. You remember how picky he was about them.”
Matt nodded. Some of his longer hairs poked him in the eyes at the furious bobbing. “I remember. He nearly exploded when he found out Grace had walked on them the next day.”
“Exactly! And now I managed to scorch the brand new flooring.”
“You managed to do what?!”
The air in the room froze at his uncle’s outburst. Matt could nearly imagine little ice crystals suspended in the still air of the room. Inch by inch, he turned around to see his uncle standing in the doorway, his eyes nearly hidden beneath his frown and his arms crossed over a muddy shirt.
“I had just made and installed those tiles and you’re telling me that you have burned them? How did you do that?”
Aunt Clara stood up, brushing her hands off on her apron. “I did it making spaghetti.”
Uncle Bart’s eyes were clearly seen when his eyebrows shot to his hairline. “How…?”
“That’s what I wanted to know.” Matt’s father sighed and leaned against the wall. “We came in here and saw her beating something with the towel and that’s the answer we were given. Needless to say, I think lunch is going to be delayed a while.”
“But I was getting hungry.” Matt looked from his father to his aunt and back again.
“You’re father is right, Matthew. I need to clean this mess up, then get started on something else.” Aunt Clara turned back to the mess behind her.
“Don’t worry about cleaning it up, Clara.” A heavy hand landed on Matt’s shoulder and he looked up to see his father grinning down at him and giving him that look. “I’m sure Matthew would be more than happy to help you with that.”
Matt looked over at his aunt and nodded. He gave a one shoulder shrug and hustled out of the kitchen to get the mop. It was only a minute or so before he was back in the kitchen, trying to soak up all the spilled water before his aunt slipped on it.
“Why do you think your father insisted up you helping me clean up? Don’t you have chores in the barn to do?” Aunt Clara reached over Matt as she placed a pot on the stove.
“It’s probably punishment for me sneaking in to see the circuit.”
“Oh yes, the circuit we have all been warned not to touch in case our static electricity messes it up. That circuit?”
He sighed and sat back on his heels, looking up at his aunt. “Y-yes. That circuit.”
She turned to her cutting board on the kitchen island and started chopping something Matt couldn’t see from his position. “And why did you go see it knowing you weren’t allowed?”
Something in her voice told him that she already knew the answer to that question. However, past experience has shown him that not answering would result in other awkward questions. “I just wanted to see it. I just wanted to know if this…nightmare could finally be over. I’m s-so sick of l-living like this.”
Water splashed when he slammed his hands onto the floor. Why was his heart pounding like a wild animal against his ribs? He was gritting his teeth so hard, he could feel the actual pressure inside his head as his jaws screamed to be let go.
“Matt, if you weren’t here, if the world was how it was before, what would you be doing right now?”
He looked up from the stained floor into his aunt’s clear eyes. “I…I think I would be swinging in the swing we had in the backyard. Or maybe trying to find horny-toads.”
“Okay, so you would be outside. Do you think that the reason you keep getting so riled up and emotional could be because you feel stifled inside?”
Well, that’s not something he had thought of before. He got plenty of exercise with caring for the animals, but had he been cooped up for too long?
“I…suppose that could be it. What do you think?”
Aunt Clara went back to her cutting board, but her head was turned a little to him. “I certainly think it’s possible. In fact, I think we are all suffering from it a little bit. The four of us have been in this house together with the animals for almost a year. I think the proper name for it is cabin fever.”
He went back to scrubbing the floor. “What can we d-do about it?”
“Well, just as it so happens, your sister’s birthday is next week. How about the two of us do something a little special that no one suspects? We’ll have to be sneaky about it though so your father and uncle don’t know.”
Matt jumped up from his position on the floor, the grin plastered on his face stretching from ear to ear. “Perfect!”
Though he didn’t have a mother anymore, Aunt Clara was the next best thing and he loved her for it.