April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four. — Mark Twain
I rolled over, reached my arm out from beneath the comforter, and walked my fingers along the carpet until they found my phone. It was 8:01 a.m. I had a missed call, a voicemail, and a text message, all from my sister Jane. I checked the text first: “OK — I can’t do it to U — my VM is an april fool, pls don’t hate me 4 calling so early and ill call u on the way;)”
I hauled myself out of bed and dialed Jane. Instead of a greeting, she answered, “I’m so sorry! As soon as I finished leaving the message I regretted it because I didn’t want to stress you out. That’s why I texted right away.”
“Jane, chill out. I knew there would be early calls today — before going to sleep last night, I turned the ringer off on the landline and put my mobile on the floor instead of the nightstand, so the vibration wouldn’t wake me. Did you really think I’d answer my phone early in the morning on April freakin’ Fools’ Day?”
“It’s just that I was talking to Mom, and she’s always saying it’s best to get people super early, before they realize what day it is,” Jane said.
“Yeah, I know the drill, freako. I’ll see you when you get here.” I checked the landline for missed calls — only one. It was strange that my mother hadn’t tried calling — she invented the early-morning gotcha. But I’d been turning my ringer off for a few years now. Maybe she’d given up.
When Jane arrived at my place for a day of paperwork, she told me about the hoaxes she’d attempted thus far. Since I hadn’t listened to her message, Jane recounted how she’d invented a meeting in Orange County and was claiming to be desperate for me to watch her girls for eight hours.
“You know that’s not really a ‘prank,’ right? I mean, I wouldn’t have freaked out,” I said. “You’d be the one left feeling stupid. The point of a prank is to make somebody else believe something that they would later feel stupid for believing.”
“Whatever, Jacko,” Jane said, using one of her nicknames for me, a shortened version of “jackass.” Jane went on to share how she had forced her eldest, Bella, to call our mother.
“I told her to call Nana and tell her she needed a ride to school,” Jane told me. “Bella was worried. She said she didn’t want to do it because ‘pranking is illegal’ and she thought she might get arrested. But I told her, ‘It’s not illegal if you’re pranking your Nana.’”
“Mom must have loved that,” I said. “Did she play along?” Jane nodded. So that was it, I thought. Mom was too busy training the next generation of pranksters to bother with the rest of us.
Shortly after lunch, Heather called. After she successfully pranked Jane by pretending to flake on a family outing to Birch Aquarium, she told us how well her boys had performed that morning.
“Liam held out for a long time, he went on and on about how sick he was, that he had 102 fever, and Mom just fanned the flames, saying, ‘My poor baby,’ while Liam smiled and gave me a thumbs up,” Heather said. When Brian called her less than a minute after she got off the phone with Liam, Mom reacted the same way, telling the six-year-old he was so thoughtful and generous for offering to buy everyone popcorn at the movies with the $20 he found. She pretended to believe all the kids’ ruses, giving them the satisfaction of thinking they “got” her. She reminded me of a lioness teaching her cubs to hunt by playing with the food.
Late in the afternoon, I received an email from Mom: “Barb, I was looking this morning real quick on your blogs (I don’t know what you call it). I am really confused and hurt and I am upset why you would allow someone to bash me like that.”
I read it aloud to Jane and said, “Huh, I just checked all of my sites. I didn’t see anything.” It took fewer than ten seconds for me to blast out a reply: “What are you talking about? I haven’t seen any comments today. I’m going to go check.” The moment my finger pressed “send,” I said, “Shit! She got me! Damn my hands for typing so fast.” While Jane was still laughing, and before my mother could respond, I quickly sent a follow-up message: “HA! You got me. But I’m quick. Figured it out just as I hit send.”
To Jane, I said, “She’s good. She skipped the morning and allowed me to think I was safe.” Then I typed out a third message: “You haven’t lost your touch. You’ll always be the Queen of April Fools Day.” It was to this last one that my mother finally responded: “Yeahhhhhhhh.”
When I later spoke with her on the phone, Mom boasted about her multitude of triumphant tricks, some of which she had spent days constructing in order to make them more believable on the day that everyone’s guard is up. Then she mocked Jane’s pathetic attempt — Jane had called and claimed to be stuck on the freeway with the girls. My mother told her to have Bella get out of the car and try hitchhiking.
“She wouldn’t have called me first; she’d have called a tow truck,” Mom said. “When you talk to the master, you don’t come up with the idiotic stuff, like, ‘My car broke down’ — Jenny tried the same thing on me today. You think…you rack your brain to come up with something that could be true and use it. Jenny was getting Brad all day; he kept falling for stuff over and over. But when she tried to get me at work, it was hysterical. Nobody could get me.”
That was true. If a real emergency were ever to occur on the first day of April, my mother would be the last person informed. The thing that killed me about the joke Mom played on me was that I could have so easily turned it around on her. If I had taken one extra second to think, rather than firing off a response of my thought process, I’d have waited a few minutes and then responded with, “I didn’t think the comment was so bad.”