The first day Pete was ever allowed up to the house on the hill was when they were eight. He and Melancholia decided to play horseshoes in the garden. It was a week before the last month of summer vacation and the sky was patched with clouds. In the warm air, the ragged, stitched to the sky things threw shadows on the ground. To Melancholia they reminded her of a lazy procession of sailing ships drifting over their heads.
Mischievia and Destructia were elsewhere and the housekeeper, Gregman was off on the other side of the lawn, near where the lifeless garden started, pruning a shriveled rosebush. Gregman also happened to be the groundskeeper.
Melancholia's horseshoe went flying through the air and landed with a thud.
“I don’t think that counts.” Pete jogged over to the thrown horseshoe and picked it up from where it was resting on Gregman’s shoe. “Sorry, Gregman.”
The housekeeper only nodded slightly and continued pruning.
Melancholia tilted her head, rusty hair spreading over her starched white collar. “Why?”
“I think it has to stay on the stake for it to count.” Pete was a stocky, round-faced boy of Melancholia’s age with eyes that tilted down towards his freckled nose. His hair was a neatly trimmed poof of dark brown curls and he had skin that matched the color of his hair almost perfectly. He also had buckteeth that everyone, except for Melancholia, made fun of.
“Well, Gregman is twice as far as the stake, shouldn’t it be twice as many points?”
Pete said, “I don’t think so. But it’s okay, Mel, you can try again.”
“Yes, try again, Mel.” With bouncing steps, half walking on the balls of her feet, Mischievia appeared out of the double doors at the side of the house. Coming down the gravel path to the lawn, she laughed and her red curls bounced around her head like shiny, coiled snakes. “Or is it just another thing you can’t do?”
“Shut-up, Mischievia.” Pete was younger than the girl, but almost taller and his round, flattish nose was level with her pointed one. He looked at her, nose to nose, “Nobody cares about your stupid opinions.”
“That wasn’t an opinion, peon, it was a question.” Mischievia tilted her nose down condescendingly, as if Pete was not even worth pointing at.
Mischievia and Pete had fought many times at school, but that was before she started being tutored at home. Mischievia had fought with almost everyone at school. So it was decided, the previous June, that it would be best for everyone if she was taught privately. Away from other children.
“You don’t even know what peon means,” Pete said.
Mischievia rolled her eyes, “Everyone knows what a peon is. It is a disgusting, dumb, creepy-crawly thing and that is what you are. Except you’re a disgusting, dumb, creepy-crawly thing with big teeth.”
Pete’s cheeks turned a deep, ruddy color. “Take that back.”
Mischievia laughed, tossing her curls again, “No. Peons can’t order anyone around because they’re too stupid. They're the ones that get ordered around.”
Melancholia just stood very still, nervously holding a horseshoe.
There came a crash from the far end of the garden and the next moment Destructia ran out from behind a dried-up hedge.
Gregman continued pruning, “Miss Destructia?”
The wild haired girl stopped, out of breath and trying to hide a smile. She was darker than her sisters, tanned a dark, golden brown from refusing to come inside when called. Her hair stood out from her head, a frizzy, tangled mahogany colored halo. Her right arm ended in a tapered stump, just past where the wrist should have been. Destructia called it her no-hand.
"Has anything occurred?" he asked, carefully and properly pronouncing each word the way he always did.
Destructia began, rubbing her no-hand into her side, “Well, I was chasing this mouse, or squirrel, or raccoon - and it ran behind the bucket and somehow the hose got turned on and tangled in the lawnmower - and then, I don’t know, but the mower turned on - and they ran away and um, and . . . nothing?”
“Did the lawnmower run away with the hose?”
Destructia began to shake her head no, then smiled and nodded as she began to giggle.
“Alright, Miss Destructia,” Gregman put down the pruning shears. “Whatever it is, I am sure it is nothing I cannot attend to. I suggest first I catch the hose and lawnmower. Then perhaps obtain a book on common backyard creatures for your education.”
As he left, Destructia put a finger over a fresh scratch on her chin. “Are you staying for dinner, Pete?”
“No, Mel’s coming over to my house tonight.”
“Really? What are you having? Gregman’s making his lumpy leaking potato soup tonight. Can I come over too?” Destructia clapped her left hand and her no-hand together with an excited smack!
“Um, well, sure. I guess if I called my mom she’d be prepared for - I mean, able to set another place- ” Pete was trying hard to look up at his eyebrows.
Mischievia cut Pete off, “That’s very nice of you to invite my dear sister, but I’m afraid she can’t join you. She is assisting me tonight.”
“You're helping me.”
“I am? Oh, okay. I can’t remember what I was going to help you with, but it was supposed to be fun?” Destructia looked sideways at her older sister, rubbing absently at a scab on her elbow.
“So, have a pleasant dinner. We will see you when you arrive home, Mel.” Mischievia swung her sharp nose back towards the house. “Come, Destructia, we must prepare.”
Destructia shrugged with her shoulders and her eyebrows before following after.
Pete asked, “What do you think they’re doing?”
Melancholia did not answer as she watched her sisters disappear back into the house.