It was early on a Saturday morning and showering was my only accomplishment thus far. I was digging through a pile of clean laundry, looking for a shirt to throw over my blue jeans and black bra, when the phone rang. I grabbed the receiver in the bedroom, glanced at the number displayed on the screen, and answered. "Yo." This short syllable, forced out in a deep masculine tone of voice, is how my sisters and I begin conversations with each other. Jane started it. The rest of us gradually adopted the habit through the art of mockery. Jane's "gangsta-bitch" phrases are an endless source of amusement for my family. There's something inherently funny about a clean-cut, corporate-pharmaceutical-selling Nordstrom mommy who has her jeans tailored and her shoes colored to match her purses look up at you with those big brown eyes and say, in an incredibly accurate Latino accent, "Choo gotta lotta heart, ese . Maybe too much ," which is a phrase Jane has randomly dropped into conversations ever since she first heard it while watching the movie Blood In, Blood Out .
"Hey," said Jenny. She sounded exhausted, but it was the glaring lack of "Yo" that indicated something was wrong. "I didn't wake you up, did I?"
"No, not at all," I said. "Everything okay?"
"I didn't know who else to call, Barb. I need your help."
The "h" word summoned my full attention. I was needed. This was important stuff. I lowered my voice and softly coaxed, "Tell me."
"I was supposed to have my period three weeks ago." Her speech was even, measured, as though she had rehearsed the best way to deliver the most information in the fewest amount of words, like trying to figure out how to unload a truck full of granite without having to make too many trips.
I quickly flipped through possible responses in my mind's file drawer, marked "Delicate Subject Matter," until I stumbled upon the reasonable sounding, "That doesn't necessarily mean anything. I've missed entire months before. It could be because of diet or stress or--"
"No, Barb. I never miss. I take the pill. Something's wrong."
Next tactic. "I've never been on the pill. Are you supposed to take it the same time every day?"
"Yeah, but I didn't think that mattered so much. About a month ago I was taking it at all different times."
Deep breath. "Okay. Three weeks -- anything's possible. There's no reason to stress until we know for sure. We'll go to the store and buy a test kit."
"Well, I'm not sure if it's been exactly three weeks," Jenny said. I let her talk as I scanned the laundry, less finicky now that being dressed and ready to go was priority one. "It was March, I know that. What's the date today?"
"The first of April," I said mindlessly, settling on a simple red T-shirt.
"Yeah, but what day is it?"
"Saturday, but that doesn't matter, we can figure it all out together."
The phone became staticky for a moment as I pulled the shirt over my head, and then Jenny repeated, "But what's the date? "
"It's April fuh-oh -- you bitch! It's April Fools Day. Okay, you got me," I said. The surge of "fight or flight" energy drained from my body, and I was left relieved that my sister wasn't in real distress.
She hardly paused to giggle -- this was all business. "All right, I gotta go. I still need to make a few phone calls." Her voice was cheery, with a high note of satisfaction.
Five minutes later, the phone rang again. "Yo," I said.
"Yo," said Jane.
"You're too late, Jenny got me."
" Shit! "
"I'm embarrassed -- she got me with the oldest one in the book."
"I tried to get her ," Jane said. "I even woke her up! And she didn't even flinch. I told her, 'Heather's late,' and she said, 'Oh, that's right, it's April Fools Day! I gotta go, I need to think of what I'm going to do to Brad.'" Poor Jane. She is so much easier to fool than she is good at fooling others for two reasons: 1. She never strays from the script -- the names may change, but someone is always "late." 2. She is incapable of lying well.
My sisters and I strive to reinvent the pregnant prank each year in the same way comedians rework that joke "The Aristocrats." (There are a million ways to tell it, but the punch line remains the same.) In high school, despite their disbelieving faces, I continued to try and convince my family that my best friend's older sister was pregnant. It was after noon, and those who had already been fooled were intent to not let it happen again. But my tenacity prevailed and, in the end, everyone but Jenny believed me. Hours after I had begun my plausible version of the pregnancy prank, I proclaimed with glee to my converted believers, "April Fools Day!" Ten minutes later, Jane asked, "But what is she going to do with the baby?"
Now I could hear my trusting sister speaking to her daughter at the other end of the line. "Hey, have you talked to Mom yet?" I asked. I refrained from kicking myself as I suddenly realized I had only cheated myself of being entertained with whatever pregnancy story Jane had concocted this year when I told her I'd already been fooled.
"Jenny got Mom, said her car broke down and that she was stranded."
"Ooh, that's a good one," I said.
"Then Mom called me and told me she was coughing blood," Jane said. I knew our mother had been home sick all week and that she was taking prescribed medication, but I didn't know the nature of her ailment.
"Was she?" I asked Jane. On one hand I felt stupid for my gullibility, but on the other, it wasn't so farfetched. I didn't want to make light of Mom's pain if she was really experiencing it.