Familiar Voice One: “Did you pick her?”
Familiar Voice Two: “Not sure I remember who I put my money on. Its’ been over a year since the last payout.”
Click. Click. Click.
Familiar Voice Three: “Someone’s going to get paid! She’s the dark horse.”
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Familiar Voice Four: “Can’t wait until Dylan gets here, and Dad opens the envelope.”
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Me (cracking my left eye open just a slit): “You are going to wear out the shutter on that camera.”
Robbie (unrepentant): “Morticia! Did we wake you?”
My cousins (in descending order Jesse, Dylan, Ian, Dwight, and Robbie) agree with Wood that the nickname Morticia fits me better than my given one of Phoebe.
Me (staring blearily up at four out of five of my cousins crowding around the bed): “Yes. What are you guys doing here? And why is Dylan on his way?”
Jesse (continuing to snap pictures of me): “Mom texted everyone that the Black-and-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool was paying out today!”
The Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool is one of our clan’s seriously cracked institutions, inspired by Aunt Pearl and observed by my cousins, their spouses, and me.
On Thanksgiving Day six years ago, while arranging us in that year’s woodland-inspired family photo, Aunt Pearl let out a gusty sigh and thanked us for finally giving her her-heart’s-desire. We were baffled. None of us had any announcements pertaining to grandkids, promotions, or winning a marathon. So what did we give her? Besides each of us wearing (with minimal grousing) a sweater sporting a cuddly woodland creature on its chest? (At least she’d given up making us dress up as the woodland creatures. I feel sorry for my nieces and nephews.)
The Answer: A group photo unmarred by bruises, gauze, or plaster-encased limbs.
(Personally, I don’t believe the addition of crutches, slings, or the occasional brace really detracts from these tableaus of mortification she insists on and includes in her annual Christmas letters – but I digress.)
My cousins and I thought her claim pure exaggeration. During dinner, we went round and round with Aunt Pearl, until in a fit of exasperation, she pulled out every photo album in the house (there were a dauntingly large number of them) and challenged us to find single unblemished holiday, any holiday would due, photo. Which, much to my Aunt’s disgust (and due to her excellent pie, Uncle’s smooth bourbon and the overall level of tryptophan), evolved into a bout of reminiscing over all the stupid shirt we did which unintentionally mucked up Aunt Pearl’s carefully planned and themed snapshots.
Idle speculation from Jesse’s partner Tad compounded her indignation when he wondered who’d be the next one to mess up a family photo. The question caused instantaneous Bedlam when we all pointed at each other and loudly declared why our chosen-one would be “The One” to complete the deed.
Then Dwight came up with a brilliant idea.
To prove who guessed correctly and therefore won – we’d write our predictions down, put them in an envelope, seal it up and wait until one of us showed for a holiday sporting a cane, band-aid, or splint. To make things interesting, each of us stuck in a hundred bucks in, thus establishing the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool (in case you’re curious, Dylan triggered the first payout by showing up the following Easter with his left arm encased in a cast).
The crucial detail here? You must be present to win.
It doesn’t seem like Aunt Pearl totally bought whatever Wood’s explanation was last night – so she called in the cavalry.
Me (struggling to untangle myself from the blankets): “But Chinese New Year isn’t until next week.”
Uncle refuses to celebrate New Year’s Eve or Day, claiming seven days isn’t enough time to recover from his Christmas hangover. (I think he got tired of the squabbling over who had to don Baby New Years’ diaper for the photo.) So we now celebrate Chinese New Year with our neighbors, the Lu’s, instead (much to everyone’s satisfaction).
Ian (drily): “You think that shiner will be gone by then?”
Me (mumbling): “Maybe if I put a steak on it?”
Finally prevailing over the blankets and stiff muscles I sat up, the collective hiss from the four boys cut off the rest of my reply. Jesse even stopped snapping pictures (we record every injury responsible for a payout, it’s not as weird as it sounds). Looking down, I realized the scoop neck tank I wore to bed last night gave them a fair idea of the sheer square footage my bruise covered.
Dwight (recovering first): “You’re going to need an entire cow to cover that sucker.”
Robbie (sarcasm dripping off his words): “What happened? Purple hair too passé now? Decided to dye your skin instead?”
Me (rolling my eyes): “No. A colossal land squid engineered on the Island of Doctor Cousteau attacked me! The Doctor set the enormous invertebrate on my trail after I uncovered his dastardly plan to steal Rye’s entire water reservoir to create an aquatic inland base. Of course, I foiled Cousteau’s evil agenda, but not before he told Squiddy to ink me! Fighting him is how I got banged up and dyed.”
Several beats past while my cousins considered the merits of my explanation.
Jesse (laughing): “The use of a historical figure, a cephalopod, and transforming a classic science fiction story to suit was inspired! Nine out of ten stars!”
Aunt Pearl may have called in the calvary – but we’ve hurt ourselves enough over the years that we don’t fess up to how it actually happened – because it’s usually really dull. Walked into a bulldozer while texting. Tripped on our own shoelace, dog, or second base. Got punched in the eye by a three-year-old. None of these make good stories. So unless we lose consciousness or hospitalization occurs, we don’t fess up to how a payout worthy injury actually occurs.
That being said, I was pushing the limits of the acceptable non-disclosure range of injuries.
Which explains my cousin’s current close quarters hovering.
Me (smiling): “Only nine? Well, then I’m not going to lift up my shirt so you can record the magnificence of Squiddy’s inking!”
This was met with a chorus of boos and laughter.