This week, one of my writing groups got into a discussion about traditional, stable families. You know, the Reeds, or hell, even the Ramanos.
Since I tend to write about found family, most of my characters aren’t particularly fond of their families. I wondered if I could write the other kind.
Then I remembered that I already have.
Watching the exquisite dance of a Matthews family dinner was still entertaining, even after three weeks. The twins’ mother, Mrs. Matthews, was short and plump, but pretty. She smiled warmly and her four children obeyed her slightest suggestion instantly. That authority extended to the various nieces and nephews who chopped vegetables and fed the baby.
“Once Harry gets here, it will be just the six of us and you,” she assured him before absently ordering her nephews to put the vegetables in the pot. “Beatrice, get Paolo a drink. Jimmy, Al, please start setting the table.”
But it was Jack who followed Jimmy to the cabinets for plates. As Mrs. Matthews turned away, directing her nephews, Paolo caught Jimmy’s eye and mouthed, “Al?”
“Is he going by Jack again?” Mrs. Matthews tsked. Paolo glanced over, but her back was still to them.
“Who wouldn’t if his mother named him Albert?” Jack muttered.
“Call yourself Jack if you want. My red-haired grandfather was Albert and my red-haired father was Albert. You were the first boy of your generation with red hair. You’ll always be Al to me.”
Paolo grinned widely as all around him the kids lip synched the words perfectly.
“Only by a minute,” Albert sulked. To Paolo’s delight, the kids, including Jimmy, repeated their performance, each with their own version of Albert’s sullen scowl.
Paolo thanked Beatrice, the twins’ younger sister, for his water, and simply basked in the family. It had been a while since his own family had gathered. Most of them had moved back to Brazil. The rest had recently left New York, leaving Paolo and his brother with their grandmother.
The three of them made a point of eating together once a week, but it wasn’t the loud, vibrant affair it had been in years past. Sitting in this kitchen brought back a portion of that life and, although Paolo didn’t join in the banter, he loved the sound of it.
The bang of the front door announced the funny Uncle. Balding and skinny, with a large smile, he bounced around the kitchen greeting everybody. His kids groaned at every pun he uttered, but they laughed while they did. Paolo liked him.
When he got to the twins, he stopped and pounded out a rhythm on the counter. Paolo stood up in awe as the whole family joined in. Mrs. Matthews even handed the baby a spoon. Paolo watched transfixed as the game unfolded. Uncle started a rhythm and the kids repeated it. The next rhythm was more difficult and faster. If you messed up, you had to sit out.
Eventually Jimmy faced Uncle, and the rules changed.
Uncle went first, and Jimmy mimicked the beat perfectly. Then Jimmy made up a beat, and Uncle repeated it. They went back and forth a few times before Jimmy grabbed two wooden spoons and began to dance around the kitchen banging on everything in sight. The kids started clapping along, and Paolo joined in unabashedly.
After a minute or so, Jimmy knocked a pan off its hook, sending it spinning across the floor. Paolo held his breath. He wasn’t alone.
Uncle snorted. “He always cheats at the end.”
Paolo burst out laughing.
Uncle walked over to him, hand out stretched. “You must be the new guitarist,” he said. “I’m Harry.”
All ten of Harry’s long, spindly fingers encircled Paolo’s hand, as Harry shook it. “These boys of ours, they take you to their little grotto yet?”
Paolo grinned. “Yeah they did.” He still grew a little breathless at the thought of the garage. They practiced for at least an hour a day, though it was usually five or six. The contract with Vincenzo meant the twins could quit their landscaping jobs. Sometimes they joined Paolo at the amphitheater, but only for a band they wanted to see. He hadn’t been working as many shows as normal for that matter.
“I’m buying them matching bagpipes this year. You boys laugh, but I expect you’ll be crazy about them within hours!”
Mrs. Matthews sighed. “The worst part is, he’s probably right. Although nothing could be worse than the theremin.”
Beside him, Beatrice led the kids in a long groan, but Jack and Jimmy beamed. Paolo had tried his hand at the strange electrical instrument. Jack manipulated it well, but Jimmy could rip your heart out with it.
“I love the theremin,” Jimmy said dreamily. “It’s why we got the garage.”
“Yes and the uptight neighbors are why you got the soundproofing.” Mrs. Matthews rolled her eyes, but she smiled at her twins.
“Matilda,” Harry said with a peck on her cheek, “I’m taking my brood home. Thank you for watching them.”
Mrs. Matthews protested, saying they had been a joy and a help as she shepherded the children to the hallway and into their coats. Harry paused and walked over to Paolo again.
“My nephews are special,” he said, eyes serious and voice intent. “Thank you for stepping up and helping them out.”
Paolo found himself nodding. “It was, it is… an… honor to play with them.” Harry’s quiet worry touched him and he knew what wasn’t being said. Jack and Jimmy worked too hard and were just too damn good. And too many people couldn’t keep up with them.
Harry nodded and smacked Paolo on the arm. “Good man.” He followed his kids out the door with a wave to Jack, and a middle finger at Jimmy.
“Did you mean that?” Beatrice was seventeen and prettily plain with her large, dark eyes and messy mouse brown hair.
Paolo wasn’t blind to her crush on him. He had decided to ignore it. “Yeah,” he said with a shrug. “I’ve tried making bands since I was about twelve. I’ve never seen anybody like those two.”
Beatrice frowned. “They get everything.”
The youngest Matthews left in the house was Nicholas. The boy was almost twelve. He rolled his eyes at his older sister. “Yeah, but they share everything too,” he said. “You can use any instrument, even Jimmy’s drums.”
“Not if Jimmy has them at a show.”
“Beatrice Alexandra, don’t be a little snot. Nicholas, go get your father.” Mrs. Matthews’ tone stayed light, but her eyes flashed. The girl flounced over to the stove and started making plates for dinner. Her mother rolled her eyes as she shook her head. She shooed the twins and Paolo to the dining room.
“We have to get our own place,” Jimmy breathed as they set the table. “I’m going to kill all of them sooner or later.”
“Who’s gonna cook? You?” Jack laughed. “Besides, we’re paying the electric bill now.”
Paolo laughed with him when Jack glared.
“Stay as long as you can,” Paolo told them, still chuckling. They both looked at him, all joking gone. The identical looks of concern and curiosity made him squirm. “Look, my family scattered. I never thought I’d miss them, but now that they’re gone…”
The twins nodded, and then the three of them studied the silverware in their hands.
“It’s what? You, a brother, and your grandmother, right?” Mrs. Matthews said, from the foot of the table.
Mrs. Matthews grinned as always when he called her ‘ma’am’. “Bring them for dinner on Sunday.” The twins’ smiles matched their mother’s as she headed back into the kitchen.
“So tomorrow,” Jack said, “I think we can do a show of just our stuff.”
Jimmy shook his head. “We need the covers still. We need songs people know. What do you think, Paolo?”
“I say we play whatever sounds good.”