Hell Sat and Bantered
by Allison Mulder
I. A CHIDED FLIRT
I glimpsed my name on a crumpled note in the front hall trash can, just as I was headed
out the door. I uncurled the blue Post-it's edges, flattening it against the little table where our
landline used to live.
Maybe don't go out tonight.
And Mom had signed it with a trio of tiny stars, like she always did, before wadding up
the note and throwing it away, like she often did.
I dallied in the doorway, then called to Mom. "What's this?"
She was painting more stars on the ceiling where the front hall met the kitchen, perched
atop a ladder, intent as Michelangelo as she flecked white paint across a field of deep blue. Her
usual sunglasses were pushed up on her head, and her eyes were far away again--cloudy with
that silent, proud, wisdom of foresight vibe that always rolled off her in waves. I searched them
for portents, omens. Hints.
Then I snapped my fingers at her. "Hey! Mom!"
Gram poked her head in from the living room, scowling. "Honey, take a break from
doodling all over my dream house and talk to your daughter, would you? I'm working." She
retreated, and the clicking of her beads resumed as Mom roused herself to look down at me.
I held up the crumpled note. "Something you need to tell me about tonight?"
"Nothing important," Mom said.
I leaned against the front door. "Normal nothing important, where nothing big happens?
Or an oracle nothing important, where you're just not going to tell me?"
"We all have to make our own choices," Gram called from the other room, implying the
note's disposal may have been her suggestion in the first place.
"You mean I'm about to make a bad choice tonight," I said, crossing my arms. "And
you're both just going to watch."
I tried, for the millionth time, to summon up some vision of whatever future they were
seeing. I'd had inklings before, often--scattered little epiphanies popping up ever since I learned
to walk and make decisions for myself.
But that was nothing compared to Mom and Gram's visions, and they wouldn't even tell
me how it all worked.
"Ignore the note," Mom said. "I just worried for a minute that you were going to have too
much fun tonight, when the time might be better served filling out more job applications, getting
in touch with your alma mater's career services center . . ."
"Mom," I groaned. "I know--"
". . . and then I remembered you're going to a movie marathon at some geek bar," Mom
said. "And I'm not even sure they serve too much fun there, so I threw the note away. Just normal
Sometimes it was hard to tell if the women in my family were actually oracles, or just
very accurate pessimists. They usually amounted to about the same thing.
"Great," I said. "Well, now I'm late, and I promised a friend a ride, so I'm gonna go.
Mom watched from the living room window--inscrutable sunglasses back in place, one
eyebrow arched above them--as I pulled out of the driveway.
As it turned out, the geeky bar did serve "too much fun," especially if you had a point to
make against your cryptic, stupidly secretive seer of a mother.
So when Mae ditched me to make out with an overzealous cosplayer, and some guy
approached me during the break between movies two and three, I went ahead and sat down with
him near the shelves of obscure board games and fatigued videogame consoles.
Dating never went well for me. Even my scattered epiphanies often gave a good sense of
how a relationship would go, and everything was more discouraging when the end was always in
sight. But I was nothing if not persistent. And after all, the one streak of optimism in our
household came when Mom named me.
"Faith Riddle? Like Voldemort?" The delight on the guy's face was why I came to all
these things, even for franchises I'd never seen and didn't care about. Anything to draw in more
nerds I'd never met before. For one dazzling instant post-introduction, I was an unexpected gift,
instead of the predictable (predictive) downer of the group.
The guy grabbed a napkin from the middle of the table and a pen from the pocket of his
jeans. "Full name. Right now."
People played this game, too. They tried to Tom-Marvolo me out of hiding, looking in
rearranged letters for any magic that clung to me when it was in my last name the whole time.
"Faith C. Riddle," I said. "Just C." Gram's idea, Mom claimed. An awful pun: Faith sees
"Ed," the guy said. "I'd filch art." He wrote the sentence down on the napkin next to the
other anagrams, and I laughed as I caught on. "My name really is Ed, though. Edmund Peter
Peabody--I know. My parents' first bonding moment was over the Narnia books."
But Ed didn't look like a king. More like he could grow up to be Gandalf, something wise
in the set of his face, some quirk that missed the mark on handsome but landed somewhere
around . . . pleasant.
And either he was good at anagrams or just highly motivated, because three minutes later
he added Date? Chil Frid.? to the bottom of the list, and it was such a good effort that I scrawled
my phone number underneath it.
I anagrammed his name too. The silliest, most cheerful anagrams I could find.
Ad ended puberty mope
Debuted, rapped, money.
I ignored whatever worse words I saw. We skipped the last movie in the marathon to
make out in the back of his car until Mae came looking for me.
As I drove her home, she took in my grin and raised her eyebrows, even though she
shouldn't have judged with streaks of someone else's costume make-up smeared across her cheek.
"Glad you came along?"
"Yeah." And I meant it. "I met a nice boy--"
"I saw." She giggled.
"--with a stupid name," I went on, tapping the steering wheel. My head was still fuzzy,
even though it felt like ages since I'd finished my last drink. About ten percent of my focus was
all I could lend to the conversation. "Edmund Peter Peabody."
I laughed, but Mae's smile dropped away, her mouth parting.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing." She shrugged, grimacing. "I just think I've heard that name before. Not sure.
It's fine. Glad you had fun."
"I did have fun," I said, turning onto Mae's street.
Not too much fun. Just the right amount.