By covering his ears, Ethan could block out most of the grown-ups' chatter. They talked an awful lot and his head was tired of trying to figure out even half of what they were saying. He wished Aunt Matilda and Uncle Frank had some children; then he could have played with them. But at their house he was the only child.
Earlier, Uncle Frank had been talking. “We caught him on the bottle. Drinks like a fish, you know. I had to let him go.”
“You did the right thing, Frank,” concurred Dad. “Someone like that will only be trouble in the future.”
Ethan's mind drew a picture - a man like a fish, sitting on a bottle, drinking some water.
“Could he swim?” he piped up.
“What, son? Why do you ask that?” Dad asked.
“Well, Uncle Frank said he drinks like a fish, so I s'pose he can swim like a fish.”
Dad had patted him on the head. “He just drinks a lot, that's all.” The others laughed. Ethan blushed; they were laughing at him.
That's when he put his hands over his ears and lay on the carpet. He didn't want to hear their silly chatter if it didn't make sense and besides, they laughed at him. He watched the ceiling fan's blades going round and round and felt the breeze on his face.
But Aunt Matilda was talking very loudly. Even his hands couldn't block her out. So he gave up and listened to her tirade.
“He left her with five children, the scoundrel! No-one knows where he is but all of us are pretty sure there's a woman in the case.”
Ethan sat up straight. Did he hear that right? A woman in the case. He looked around the room for the big case that usually stood in the corner, next to Aunt Matilda's harp. He crawled crab-style across the floor, very slowly, so no-one would notice. Should he peep through the keyhole, into the case? Was the woman alive? Would she see him? He put his ear up to the outside of the case and listened hard. Not a sound.
“What are you doing, Ethan?" asked Mum. "Don't play with Aunt Matilda's harp case.”
“I'm checking on the woman.”
“The woman in the case. Aunt Matilda said there was a woman in the case.”
This time the room exploded in laughter. Something was funny but Ethan didn't know what. His face turned beetroot again. Silly grown-ups.
Aunt Matilda bustled out and came back with afternoon tea for them all.
“Come and have some cake, Ethan,” she called. He wasted no time in helping himself to some cake. Aunt Matilda may be boring but she made delicious cake. He followed up with a biscuit, then another piece of cake. But he couldn't finish the last piece; he was too full.
Mum noticed, of course. “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach, Ethan Storr! Next time don't take so much.”
Ethan looked at his stomach and measured his eye with his finger. More nonsense from a grown-up! His eyes were much, much smaller than his stomach.
The grown-ups were still talking so Ethan headed off to explore the room next door. Uncle Frank and Aunt Matilda had a very strange house. There were animals' heads on the walls and animal rugs on the floor. He stared into the eyes of a stag on the wall, and it stared back.
“Having a look at my trophies, are you Ethan?” Uncle Frank had come in behind him.
“Uncle Frank, where's the rest of this animal? How did you get its head?”
“Young man, the rest of the stag is long gone and I don't want to tell you how I got it. Maybe, when you're older, I'll explain.”
“Please, Uncle Frank, tell me.”
“No, lad.” Uncle Frank tried to fob him off. “Curiosity killed the cat.”
“Where's the cat's head then? And who's Cur'osity?”
Uncle Frank was laughing now, but Ethan had had enough.
“Bet ya Cur'osity killed the stag, and the woman too! And the fish man. I'm going to call the police. I know how to use your phone Uncle Frank.” And he stormed out into the hall to find the phone.
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