That mangy goat is asleep on top of my car again. I can see him through my kitchen window, lolled out like a hairy sunbather, dribbling slobber on my windshield. Dammit.
The oven timer dings. Steam blasts my trifocals as I pull out a pan of Cosmopolitan Brownies. The gourmet cocoa came from a mail order chocolatier in the city. I hope the book club ladies appreciate its complex terroir.
Peeking out the window, I see the trespassing goat’s still drooling on my Cadillac. I grab the broom and head outside to shoo him away. He bleats and stares at me with his glassy black-slit eyes, so I whack him on the head. He belches and slides off the car, sending up a puff of dust as he belly-flops on the dry ground.
Great, now there’s a greasy goat-streak on the side window. Bobbie Sue should bathe her pet more often. Either that, or keep the gate on his pen latched up tight.
“Go home, Red Angus. You’re not welcome here,” I scold, waving the broom at him. He bleats again and ambles away. Slobber crust covers the windshield. Frazzlin’ goat.
I grab the water hose and drag it over. The key to removing goat residue is getting to it quick. The longer that spit bakes in the sun, the harder it’ll be to clean off. I give it a good squirt, and then I see the full extent of the damage. Both front tires are flat. The rubber’s gouged in multiple places, in the shape of teeth. I eye Red Angus. He’s perched on my barbecue grill now. Fine shreds of rubber cling to the creases of his goaty lips. Smug bastard.
Book club starts in ten minutes. Bobbie Sue is hosting this time, and I don’t want to be late, not only because she now owes me for two new tires, but also because this month’s book was my pick.
Secrets of the Posh City is a tell-all from a sophisticated socialite with a luxury car—she’s never once had to scrape livestock off its roof—and a swanky penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. She attends lavish parties with suave suitors, and wears more snazzy shoes than you can shake a stick at.
If they’d asked me, I would have given the book five stars just for its sparkling descriptions of ritzy museum galas. My discussion questions are ready to go, but I can’t walk all the way to the end of the block carrying my brownie pan. These creaky knees will never make it. I scowl at the flat tires, then sigh and scuff back into the house to call my twin sister, Imogene. She can pick me up on her way.
Her voice soars when she hears my predicament.
“I’ll be right there, Ernestine!”
That enthusiasm worries me. Our birthday is coming up soon. I hope she doesn’t have another crazy twin-day shenanigan brewing. She’s been getting me into birthday trouble since we were kids.
Four minutes later, she slides sideways into my driveway, but she’s not in her Oldsmobile. She’s on that motorized tricycle contraption of her grandson’s, wearing a fluttery white scarf and World War II-style aviator goggles.
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Why are you on that ridiculous thing?”
“I traded Sprockett for it,” she says with a grin.
“You gave him your car?”
“Look!” She levers herself off the seat, waving her hands around the machine as if she’s unveiling a priceless artwork.
“Thunderation, Imogene, you let him snooker you into taking this old piece-of-crap tricycle?”
“It’s not a tricycle. Sprockett says it’s an ‘All-Terrain Vehicle.’ Look at my name!”
Words are stenciled on the glittery red side panel in swirly script: The ImoCycle. She slides her goggles up to her hairline and poses with her scarf. It refuses to ripple in the dull afternoon air, so she holds the end out behind her, frittering it with her fingers—a feminine version of The Red Baron in a windswept nosedive. Lordy.
I rub my temples; a headache is coming on, strong. “This candy-apple dangerbucket is going to get us both killed.”
“Don’t be such a daisy, Ernestine. Climb on.” She throws her leg part way over the seat, scooches up on her toes, leans, waits for gravity to do its work, then thunks into place. She squirms until she can reach the footrests. “Let’s go!”
I scowl and slide my brownie pan under the cargo bungee cord. Too bad there’s not a bungee for the humans, too. The darn thing doesn’t even have seat belts.
“Hurry, Ernie,” my sister urges. “I don’t like the way that goat is looking at us.”
Yikes. Red Angus is ogling the ImoCycle’s tires. I hustle, bouncing to get my hiney high enough to mount the seat. Imogene guns the engine and I squeak, grabbing hold of her to keep from flying off the back.
Red Angus bleats and dives off my grill, racing after us in hot pursuit.
Actually, it’s more of a brisk walk.
“The ImoCycle’s kinda pokey,” I yell in her ear.
“Sprockett fiddled with the controls so I won’t get a speeding ticket,” she says. “Woohoo!”
I don’t know what she’s woohooing about. We’re going just fast enough to let her baron scarf flap me in the face, but I hug her a little harder, just to be safe.
We pass Tico Johnson’s trailer house and the vacant lot where the teenagers park to drink beer. Imogene has to steer away from the ruts in the dirt road. I wonder if the ImoCycle would make better time if we were on citified pavement. Red Angus is catching up with us, and I don’t know what will happen if he bites the ImoTires while we’re cruising.
Bobbie Sue’s house is across the street from the beer-drinking lot. She’s set up a picnic table under the shade tree for book club.
“Oh, that’s nice,” Imogene says.
“It’ll be nicer if she takes her rubber-eating goat back,” I say, but the fancy garden flowers arranged on her table catch my eye.
“Hold on,” Imogene says, preparing to pull into Bobbie Sue’s. She twists the handlebar throttle. The ImoCycle doesn’t slow.
“We’re gonna overshoot the driveway,” I shout.
“The hoodickus is stuck.”
We buzz right past Bobbie Sue.
“I can’t get it to stop,” Imogene yells, “so I’m gonna circle the block.”
I tense, squeezing her tight. Her motions are jerky, so I think she’s as scared as I am—then I realize she’s laughing.
“Isn’t this fun, Ernie?”
“No, Imogene. We’re trapped on a runaway tricycle with a deranged goat on our tail. Nothing about this is fun.”
She cackles as she turns the corner. I unsquinch my eyes, shocked that we didn’t tip over. The ImoCycle barely wobbled.
“When did you learn to drive this thing?”
“Sprockett taught me. We’ve been practicing out at Coyote Ridge. I wanted to surprise you.”
Red Angus pops out of the ditch and lunges at a back tire.
“I’m surprised,” I yell.
He bites at the rotating rubber, jolting us on the seat. He must have lost some of his goaty lip in the ImoTread, because he makes a startled bleat-scream and stumbles to a stop.
“Not so tasty when the tires bite back, eh, Goat?” Imogene yells.
I snort out an unladylike laugh.
“See, told ya this’d be fun,” she says. “Hang on, we’re gonna cut through the alley.”
We bounce over bumps in the narrow track behind Bobbie Sue’s house and find her waiting at the edge of her yard.
“Y’all need help?”
“Get Sprockett. The engine-revver is stuck.”
She nods and scurries across the street to the beer-drinking lot. Should’ve known that’s where Sprockett would be.
He leaps up and runs into the road to match our pace, but he can’t get a hold of the handlebar thingie.
“Go around again,” he yells.
“No other choice,” I grumble.
“Don’t worry,” Imogene says. “We’ll run out of gas soon.”
“But I wanted to talk about my book. We’re gonna miss the meeting.”
“Next time we go by, tell ‘em why you picked it.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Oh, hell no. I never read the books. Too old to waste time.”
“You’re not old.”
“Yes, dear, we both are. And I want to grab every last minute and kick its ass.”
“You’ve always been the ass-kicker,” I say.
We round the alley corner again, and the book club ladies are waiting there for us.
“The characters were superficial,” Barb calls.
“Nice picture on the cover,” Loretta shouts.
“What about the big party in the penthouse?” I ask. We pass out of discussion-range before anyone can answer.
Looks like Sprockett has enlisted help. Tico runs out of the tool shed attached to his trailer and tries to grab the broken engine revver with his pliers. Red Angus bursts through a hedge—he’s angry now—and head-butts Tico right into Sprockett. They trip over each other and crash in a tangled heap. The kids in the beer lot stand and cheer.
“Hand me one of those brownies,” Imogene says after we make the next turn.
I slide the pan from the bungee cord and let the plastic wrap flutter away, knowing the goat will find it and eat it before I can be arrested for littering—while absconding on a disorderly trike. Glory be, what a day.
Imogene takes a huge bite of the brownie and I shove the rest in my mouth.
“Mmm,” she mumbles. “Multi-layered flavor profile.”
I stifle a giggle and sneak another one.
We find the girls stationed in their chairs by the alley exit. Barb holds up a big sheet of paper that says “Protagonist is snotty.” Loretta yells something about wanting more action.
“Not enough sex!” my sister yells.
The ladies give us the thumbs-up, and then we pass the teenagers again. They’re chanting “I-Mo Cy-Cle.” Imogene holds one fist high like a prizefighter accepting her accolades, then Sprockett catches up with us. He grabs a thingamajig on the rear of the cycle and yanks. It pops off in his hand.
“You’ll start slowing down now, Gramma Imo,” he yells. “One more lap.”
She waves her scarf, diva-style, as we head for the back side of the block.
“Another brownie?” I offer.
“Here’s a better idea,” she counters. “Let’s take a trip to New York. We can go to the museum and one of those snooty chocolate shops.”
“You know airplanes make me nervous,” I say.
“You’re scared of hot-rod tricycles, too, but look at you now.”
She’s right. I’m not even holding on. Maybe I can visit the city in person, especially if my spunky sister goes with me.
The ImoCycle coughs and sputters, wheezing to a halt a few feet from the book club girls.
“You made it,” Bobbie Sue shouts. Red Angus is tied to the fence on the other side of the yard, but he’s ignoring us now. Looks like he’s having a staring contest with Tico.
I hope Tico wins.
A familiar engine buzz gets my attention, and I see Sprockett driving another tricycle. He stops next to us, gives Imogene a wink, and climbs off. It’s painted sparkling blue, my favorite color.
“It’s a little early, but happy twin-day, Ernie!” My sister hands me a set of aviator goggles. The elegant letters on the machine spell out ErnieCycle.
The teenagers in the beer-drinking lot hold up their cans and start a new chant. “Er-Nee Cy-Cle!”
My mouth opens, but no words come out. Finally, I pull Imogene into a hug. “As far as birthday shenanigans go, this is twice as weird as normal,” I whisper.