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Cricket teams, both batting and fielding, may have up to eleven players each. The captain of the batting team determines the order of the batsmen; the captain of the fielding team sets players in positions determined by the style and pace of the bowler.
If it hadn’t been the first day of school, and if my mother hadn’t been crying her eyes out the night before, and if the fuel pump on the Jeep had been doing what a fuel pump on a Jeep is supposed to be doing, and if it hadn’t been raining like an Australian tropical thunderstorm—?and I’ve been in one, so I know what it’s like—?and if the very last quart of one percent milk hadn’t gone sour and clumped up, then probably my mother would never have let the Butler into our house.
But that’s what the day had been like so far, and it was only 7:15 in the morning.
7:15 in the morning on the first day of school, when the Butler rang our doorbell.
I answered it.
I looked at the guy standing on our front stoop.
“Are you kidding?” I said.
That’s what you would have said too. He was tall and big around the belly and wearing the kind of suit you’d wear to a funeral—?I’ve been to one of those too, so I know what a funeral suit looks like—?and he had a bowler on his head. A bowler! Which nobody has worn since, like, horses and carriages went out of business. And everything—?the big belly, the funeral suit, the bowler—?everything was completely dry even though it was an Australian tropical thunderstorm outside because he stood underneath an umbrella as big as a satellite disk.
The guy looked down at me. “I assure you, young man, I am never kidding.”
I closed the door.
I went to the kitchen. Mom was tying back Emily’s hair, which explains why the dry Ace Robotroid Sugar Stars Emily was eating were dribbling out both sides of her mouth. Charlie was still looking for her other yellow sock because she couldn’t start fourth grade without it—?she couldn’t she couldn’t she couldn’t—?and Annie was telling her what a baby she was, and Charlie was saying she was not she was not she was not, and just because Annie was going into fifth grade that didn’t make Annie the boss of her. Then Charlie looked at me and said, “Does it?” and I said, “You think I care?”
“Carter,” my mom said, “your oatmeal is on the stove and you’ll have to mix in your own raisins and there’s some walnuts too but no more brown sugar. And, Carter, before you do that, I need you to run down to the deli and—”
“There’s a guy out on our front stoop,” I said.
“There’s a guy out on our front stoop.”
My mother stopped tying back Emily’s hair.
“Is he from the army?” she said.
“Is he or isn’t he?”
“He’s not wearing a uniform.”
“Are you sure?”
My mother started tying back Emily’s hair again. “Tell him it’s the first day of school and he should go find someone else to buy whatever he’s selling at seven fifteen in the morning.”
“Annie can do it.”
My mother gave me That Look, so I went back to the front door and opened it. “My mom says it’s the first day of school and you should go find someone else to buy whatever you’re selling at seven fifteen in the morning.”
He shook his umbrella.
“Young Master Jones,” he said, “please inform your mother that I would very much like to speak with her.”
I closed the door.
I went back to the kitchen.
“Did you tell him to go away?” said my mother. I think this is what she said. She had a bunch of bobby pins in her mouth and she was sticking them around Emily’s head and Emily was hollering and spitting out Ace Robotroid Sugar Stars at every poke, so it was hard to understand what my mother was saying.
“He wants to talk to you,” I said.
“He’s not going to—”
A sudden wail from Charlie, who held up her other yellow sock, which Ned had thrown up on. Ned is our dachshund and dachshunds throw up a lot.
“Carter, go get some milk,” said my mother. “Charlie, stop crying. Annie, it doesn’t help to make faces at Charlie. Emily, if you move your head again I’m going to bobby-pin your bangs to your eyebrows.”
I went back to the front and opened the door.
The guy was still standing on the stoop, but the Australian tropical thunderstorm was starting to get in under the umbrella.
“Listen,” I said, “my mom’s going crazy in there. I have to go to the deli and get milk so we can eat breakfast. And Charlie’s crying because Ned threw up on her other yellow sock, and Annie’s being a pain in the glutes, and Emily’s bangs are about to get pinned to her eyebrows, and I haven’t even packed my backpack yet—?and that takes a while, you know—?and we have to leave soon since we have to walk to school because the fuel pump on the Jeep isn’t working, and we only have one umbrella. So just go away.”
The guy leaned down.
“Young Master Jones,” he said, “if you were able to sprint between wickets with the speed of your run-on sentences, you would be welcome in any test match in the world. For now, though, go back inside. In your room, gather what is needed for your backpack. When you have completed that task, find your mother and do whatever is necessary to insure that she is no longer”—?he paused—?“going crazy.” He angled the umbrella a little to keep off the Australian tropical thunderstorm. “While you are doing whatever is necessary, I will purchase the milk.”
I looked at the guy. He was wet up to his knees now.
“Do you always talk like that?” I said.
“If you are inquiring whether I always speak the Queen’s English, the answer is, of course, yes.”
“I mean the way you say everything like you want it ...