Mother's Balloon: Part Five
Featuring a Sunrise, Laundry Day and the Secret to Staying Young
”Why do you have to leave so soon?"
"I wish I didn't, dearest, but I must. I have no choice."
"But how will I live without you? If you cannot stay, then I must go with you."
"It would be a shame for you to come with me now, my darling. There is far too much you still have to do, right here. But I will see you again after today, and I will continue to help you, just as I have always done. If there is any way I can."
The white Draik turned, and her face was only a blur. The world was blurry, cast in a grey shadow filled with sights and sounds from another time. The harsh wind blew, and the white Draik opened her suitcase. Then came the song of the wind chimes. It played loud and long, echoing across the plain, filling every room in the cottage. And the white Draik took it. She took it up in her arms, and closed it in her suitcase. Then she began to walk away, her long purple dress blowing in the breeze behind her.
"Don't go, Mother!" Reyela cried, but the howling wind drowned out her voice.
Her mother walked through the door, and out into the open plain where she was lifted by the wind up higher, and higher into the sky. Reyela watched her as she rose. She watched her until all she could see was a tiny speck of purple fading into eternity...
"...city girl. Wake up, city girl! Come on, Reyela, you're missing it!"
"Don't be stupid," Reyela moaned, her eyes still shut. "I'm not missing anything."
"Yes you are!" Medis put both hands on her one shoulder that was sticking out from under the blanket, and attempted to shake her awake.
The Draik swatted at him. "You've got a lot of nerve!" she hissed, when at last she regained consciousness."Do you even know what time it is? The sun is not even up yet!"
"It's coming up now!" Medis' eyes were alight with excitement. "Come on, Reyela, you gotta come see this!"
She moaned again, and tossed her blankets over the side of the cot.
The morning air was chilly, and she scrambled to pick the blankets up again, and wrap them around herself to protect against the cold.
"Where are Bettina and Hannah?" she wondered, when she noticed the two girls were not in their beds.
"They were up half an hour ago." Medis told her. "Farmers get up at the crack of dawn to start their farm chores early. I guess we should have told you that before you went to bed last night, huh?"
"Yes, that would have been pleasant of you." she glared. "Now, what is it that is so incredible that it's worth getting up at five thirty a.m. to see?"
"I'll show you!"
"Can't you just tell me?"
"No way, city slicker."
He grabbed her by the hand, and dragged her down the stairs, through the living room and out onto the back porch, where Mr. and Mrs. Worthington, Caleb, Hannah, Bettina, and Colton were all standing, looking up at the sky.
"My goodness," Reyela gasped.
"I knew you'd wanna see it." the Kougra beamed.
It was unlike anything Reyela had ever seen. The most magnificent sunrise she could imagine was right before her eyes. The sky was not yellow, but a darker colour. Darker, and yet somehow, brighter. The sun was gold, as if someone had painted it with a golden paint brush, and it seemed closer to Neopia than it had ever been. Its glow warmed the souls of the eight neopets who gazed at it in wonder, and admiration.
"Isn't it pretty, Reyela?" Bettina looked up at the scarlet Draik with eyes that reflected the sunrise's glow.
"It's beautiful, Betty." Reyela sighed happily. "It's utterly, totally beautiful."
They watched the sky until it turned blue, and the golden sun faded to a cheerful morning yellow. At that time, Mrs. Worthington announced that it was time for breakfast, and the seven family members plus one adjourned to the postage stamp kitchen.
"It's laundry day today." the mother Yurble reminded her children. "If any of you have extra clothes that need washing , make sure you bring them out before I start, not after I finish, like a certain brown Kougra you may know."
Mr. Worthington put up his hands in defense. "Hey now, you can't all go blaming me. Ya'll know I've got a lot more to think about than just dirty clothes and washing them."
"But Pa, what could be more important than laundry day?" Bettina asked, only half kiddingly. "If you always forgot, you wouldn't ever have any clean clothes to wear."
Reyela snickered quietly to herself. She remembered the filthy overalls the Kougra had been wearing the first time she saw him. It was hard to believe it was only yesterday that she was flying over the farm on a magical purple balloon. Today she almost wondered if it all had been a dream. But she knew she didn't walk to the Worthington farm, and she certainly hadn't been brought here by her father, or anyone else.
"I'll go get my clothes right now, if it'll make you feel better. But I don't know what the big deal is. It's not even a special occasion."
Leaving his toast and honey on the table, Mr. Worthington left the kitchen in a flash of torn jeans, and a dirty red work shirt.
"Reyela, if you wouldn't mind wearing Hannah's clothes again today, I'd like to wash that dress of yours. It'll be dry by later on today, and you'll be able to wear it to the city tomorrow."
At the other end of the table, ever-silent Hannah looked up from her breakfast for the first time that morning. "I can do the laundry for you, Ma." she offered quietly, brushing a strand of fair hair out of her eyes. "You already have lots to do, and I know you're still getting ready for Bettina's birthday tomorrow, so..."
"You know I'd be much obliged, Hannah dear," Mrs. Worthington thanked the girl. "But you've never done the laundry all by yourself before, and washing for eight people is no easy task."
"But I wanna help, Ma."
Hannah seemed genuinely sad that she would not be able to help her mother, and there was something in her pained expression that made Reyela feel guilty. She never offered to help her father around the house, especially not with laundry. Father was the parent, and as far as she was concerned it was his job to wash the clothes, and do the dishes, make the beds, and sweep the floors. Now that she came to think of it, he probably would have appreciated her help. But not as much as Mrs. Worthington would appreciate having one less chore on her duty-filled to do list...
"I'll help you do the laundry, Mrs. Worthington." Reyela forced the words out quickly, so as to make sure she wouldn't have time to change her mind. "That is... what I mean to say is that I would be happy to help Hannah do the laundry, so that you don't have to do it."
The Yurble was surprised, to say the least. "Why, thank you Reyela, but you're not supposed to worry about things like washing our family's clothes! You're our guest! You're supposed to be relaxing and enjoying yourself, not doing chores for us."
Under normal circumstances, Reyela would have wholeheartedly agreed. But these were not normal circumstances, as she was not a guest. She was a stranger intruding on their property, and disrupting their personal lives. They as a family had allowed her to stay with them, out of the goodness of their own hearts. She did not have any money to pay them for their services, but she was able to work as well as any other neopet could. Or at least she assumed she was. She hadn't really tried her hand at chores before.
"I think I should enjoy doing chores as much as I enjoy relaxing." she fibbed. "Besides, if I'm going to stay with you for another day and a half, I believe I should at least try and earn my keep."
"Well, if you really think you'd like to."
Mrs. Worthington agreed to the proposition, and the next thing Reyela knew, she was in the backyard, being splashed by soapy water while the bubbles tickled her nose.
"If I sneeze, Hannah, it's going to be the biggest sneeze in all of Brightvale. No, in all Neopia, probably, and it's going to blow this basin over, and the clothesline too, and we're going to have to start all over again."
Hannah giggled, coughing a little when a bubble also popped under her nose. "If I sneeze, it's gonna blow the clothesline right up to Kreludor, and the Grundos will get all our clothes. They'll all be walking around up there dressed just like us, and then we'll really have to start all over."
The girls laughed.
"Would you really mind doing the whole thing again though?" asked Reyela, hoping the Kougra's answer would be the same she would have given.
"Uh-uh," Hannah shook her head. "This is fun, but my clothes are getting drenched."
"So are mine, or should I say, yours."
She stepped back for Hannah to see the checkered red and white top and blue pants she had lent her soaking wet, and covered in foam from the zillions of tiny bubbles that had risen from the lukewarm water.
"I'm sorry you won't have anything else to change into after we're done. All my clothes are in here, and I don't think they're gonna be dry any time soon. Oh!" She suddenly remembered something. "All my clothes aren't in here! I left my plaid dress in my room, and it definitely needs to be washed. I'll be right back."
She scurried away, leaving Reyela alone with the laundry for a moment while she went to retrieve her dress. With Hannah gone, the Draik could finally give in to the temptation she had been fighting ever since she had started to wash. She no longer had to resist the urge to do something embarrassing, something she was by no means good at, and for that reason something she rarely did. She started to whistle, an old song her mother had taught her when she was very young. The song did have words to it, but she didn't sing them. Her singing was worse than her whistling, and if Hannah came out and heard her she would never be able to live it down.
So she continued her whistling, and when she looked up from the laundry and saw a biscuit Kougra in a red shirt and baggy overalls standing before her, she nearly leaped into the basin of water.
"Oh, don't stop 'cause I'm here." Medis instructed. "That was a real nice song you were whistling."
"You idiot! You scared me! What are you doing here?" the red Draik bristled with rage.
"I live here," he smirked. "This is my family's property. And I was told by a little Mallard that a world famous whistler was in my backyard."
Medis could see that Reyela was unmoved.
"I just thought I'd stop by, and see how you and Hannah were getting along with the laundry."
"Hannah went to get a dress she forgot to bring down. I'm doing just fine on my own, though."
Medis picked up the cloth Hannah had been using, and began to scrub one of Bettina's grape-juice-stained jumpers.
"That kid has really gotta be more careful. I don't think this'll ever come clean."
"It will come clean eventually. You have to scrub it very hard, like this." Reyela took the jumper from him, and tackled the stain with her own cloth. "You mustn't let the stain get the better of you. That's the secret to doing laundry successfully. Or at least, it seems to be. I don't entirely know, as this is my first time doing it."
"It's no fun at all, is it?" He tossed down his cloth, and water squirted all over his overalls.
"It actually is quite fun, once you get the hang of it." She smiled broadly. "I feel like I'm a grown-up, and I'm washing clothes for my many children. If I had known doing chores would make me feel like this, I would have offered to help my father years ago!"
Medis was confused. "Why do you enjoy feeling like a grown-up so much? Grown-ups have to do household chores all the time, whether they feel like it or not!"
"That's true," Reyela concurred. "But grown-ups also have privileges that would make all the work they have to do worth while. Nobody tells them what to do, but they get to tell their children what to eat, and what to wear, and what to say, or they don't have to do anything with them at all!"
"They don't have to do what now?"
"Anything!" Reyela exclaimed, and kept talking. "And, and they can be the owners of their own houses, and they have their own jobs that pay them their own neopoints, and they can use them however they want to, and don't have to ask anyone's permission before they buy something just for themselves. Why, life doesn't really begin until adulthood, Medis. Childhood is only something that... Well something that gets a person ready for adulthood."
The biscuit Kougra frowned. "What are ya talking about? Life begins when you're born,"
"I know that." Reyela cut in.
"And ends when you stop being a child." Medis finished, leaving the scarlet Draik in apparent bewilderment.
"So you're saying that you die when you're eighteen or twenty years old?"
"I didn't say that." he said, rolling his eyes. "I said life ends when you stop being a child, and that can happen at any age. My Ma's forty, and my Pa's forty-one, and they're both still very much children."
Reyela took one confounded look at the Kougra before turning and walking away.
"Where are you going?" he called after her.
"To tell your mother that you have gone delirious." she said plainly. "Your parents are not children, Medis. They're far, far too old to be."
Medis ran in front of her, and blocked her from entering the house. "We're gonna play games for Bettina's birthday tomorrow, and my Ma and Pa are gonna play too. They love playing games, like hide-and-go-seek and ring toss, and they play them with us whenever they get the chance to. Does your daddy do that?"
"Of course not!" She didn't even have to think about her answer.
"And does your daddy like opening birthday presents as much as you do? Or run down the stairs with you Christmas morning?"
This question she did think about, somewhat. "He doesn't often get birthday presents, and our house is only one floor, so we haven't got any stairs to run down Christmas morning, but if we did, he wouldn't do it. He would say he was too old to do things like that."
"See?" he showed her. "Now why would he think he was too old? Are his legs all wobbly and weak, so he can't run down the stairs? Or is he afraid he's gonna fall and break his creaky old bones? Or is he afraid of opening presents, maybe? Maybe he's scared he'll cut his thin, wrinkly skin if he tears the rapping paper too hard."
The Draik started to laugh, but stopped herself before Medis could see. "I don't appreciate you talking about my father that way. He's not the only one who acts like that, I'm sure. Getting over excited is for children, and no self-respecting adult wants to look immature."
"Who are they trying to impress?" he raised his voice, a little more than usual. "What isn't exciting about playing games at birthday parties, or getting presents, or waking up Christmas morning'? And whoever said there was an age where you had to stop being excited, and enjoying life? If you can tell me, Reyela, and it's a real good answer, I won't bother you anymore about it."
Reyela couldn't tell him. She didn't know, and now that he had brought it to her attention, it didn't really make sense at all.
"You're only fully alive when your young, because that's the only time you live life how it's meant to be. But if you keep yourself young on the inside, no matter what age you turn, you've got nothing to worry about." Medis shrugged his customary shrug. "I know it sounds stupid, but hey, it's the way I see things."
Reyela heard the door slam behind her, and out came Hannah, waving her orange dress in the air like a flag.
"I found it!" she cried, as loudly as her soft voice could manage. "I forgot that Bettina took it the other night when it was really cold out. She was using it as an extra blanket for her doll." She blushed. "Hi Medis. Are you doing the laundry with Reyela now?"
"No, I just stopped by to see how you two were doing. I guess I'd better go give Jimmy his daily visit."
Reyela had already gone back to the laundry. Her own sky-blue dress was the next to be washed. She scrubbed at the grass stains until her hand was sore, and the cloth was beginning to wear thin.
"What is wrong with this dress?"
She grabbed Hannah's cloth and tried the stains with that. She lightly stroked them with her bare hand, and then she clawed at them with brutal force. When the stains still refused to come out, the Draik dropped the dress into the water, and rammed her foot into the wash basin.
"Why do you have all this infernal grass on your farm? It's good for nothing! Absolutely nothing but... but stupid, ugly grass stains!"
The siblings stared at her in shock as she had her temper tantrum, stomping her feet and squealing like a baby Snorkel. It took about six minutes for Hannah to get up the nerve to tell her she needed to walk away from the laundry for the time being, and another four minutes for Medis to be brave enough to suggest she go to the barn with him to visit Jimmy. It appeared Mrs. Worthington was even afraid of the raging draik, as she waited until she and Medis had left the yard to come out of the house and ask Hannah what had happened.
"Reyela was having one of her fits again, Ma." Hannah answered, her voice still shaking as much as her hands and knees. "Why do you think she does that? She seemed so happy before. It's like she has a split personality!"
"Medis did say that she does that sometimes, but I had no idea how bad it was."
She spotted Reyela's dress floating in the water, the grass stains still as green as ever. "Is this what she was upset about?"
"I think so, but she started shouting about other things, and asking why we had so much grass. Medis said because we live on a farm, and she looked like she was going to hit him or something."
The blue Yurble shuttered. "She's seemed like such a nice girl when I've talked to her."
"I thought so too, but she changes so quick. We were having a good time, and then she had to go and ruin it all. It's too bad, isn't it Ma?"
"It is too bad." Mrs. Worthington agreed. "But let's not be too hard on Reyela. She's probably going through a very hard time right now. She's an awful long way from her father, and everything she knows. And think of how you'd feel if you were taken away from your family, on your birthday of all days?"
"I wouldn't like it much at all." She ran to her mother and embraced her.
"I know what we can do to make Reyela happier." She whispered her idea in the Yurble's ear.
"That sounds like a fine idea." Mrs. Worthington pronounced. "But you'll have to take it up with your sister first."
"I'll ask her right now!" Hannah cried, and with that, darted into the house again.
Mrs. Worthington looked at the door, and then at the dirty clothes that were still yet to be washed. She took up a cloth, added more soap to the cooling water, and began to sing a cheerful washing song. Some jobs were, and would always be, only for moms.
To be continued…