Tuesday, June 2, 2015

an un prompted exercise

The small shop felt humid and far too hot after the brisk chill of the world outside. Sister ducked her head as she passed the owner, avoiding pleasantries because they were all just lies, really. She made her way directly to the greeting cards. She hated buying birthday cards. Hated their philosophising on age, their degradation of it, their over the top cheeriness. She wanted a card that was unsentimental, and succinct. 'You happen to be my Father, and you were born on this day, which is nice....because I (am supposed to) love you'. What she truly wanted was to forgo the card altogether. To simply push the words 'happy birthday' and 'I love you' through her clenched teeth but she knew this would somehow be unacceptable and the entire thing made her furious. Reluctantly, she chose a card with a watercolored figure in mid leap. She hated it.

She shouldered her way into the wind, pushing back stubbornly as it bullied her in the direction of home. In the force and frustration of it, she found herself arguing with her mother. About the clothes she was wearing. The length of her hair. That time in high school when she had slapped her in public for sassing back. One small round pearl of anger sat in her chest, wrapped in the word Mother. It was not alone. She was also angry at her father. At her younger brother. At the cat she loved, who loved everyone else best. She was unaware of the fact that her anger consumed her. That it hung in the air around her like the scent of perfume and was the reason she was alone. If you asked her whether she was angry, she would likely say 'Of course I get angry, but so does everyone. Right? Doesn't everyone? You can't live an entire life without feeling angry at people.' And the little pearls in her chest would roll softly against one another, wrapped in the words Mother Father Brother Cat.

She arrived with a gust of wind and the whirl of autumn leaves. They snuck in around her ankles, eddying in the corner of the foyer. "Look at those leaves! You're just like that little pigpen boy from those Charles Brown cartoons!" Mother laughed as she rushed toward her, arms outstretched as if to push her right back out again. Sister held her breath, closed her eyes a moment and swallowed the impulse to slap her. When she opened them she sing songed "Mother! I'll take them with me when I leave, I promise! Let me take off my coat and kiss Father hello". She led Mother from the foyer lightly, as if she were leading her in a waltz. Straight into the den together, and a twirl at the end to achieve the quiet laugh from Mother, and the booming one from Father. 'Sister!' he rang out "Sister is here!" over his shoulder and into the kitchen like a cry to arms. Brother sauntered into the room, grinning wide and followed by his exceedingly petite and monochromatic wife. Ever in shades of ecru, bisque, camel, fawn, and wheat, Jane was still 'new' to the family. With her pale hair and pale eyes and pale skin she stood in stark contrast to the family's bright hair and blue eyes and their affinity for shades of coral, turquoise, and lime green. Bearable enough, Sister thought, in spite of the tiny pearl of anger wrapped in 'Jane' within her.

Supper was perfection. Mother outdid herself, and all of Father's favorites lay on the heavy mahogany table at which they ate every meal. The room was filled with delicious aromas, the silver gleamed brightly, the red wine shone deep and warm in cut crystal glasses. There were bone china plates and linen napkins and the soft glow of candlelight. Sister felt smothered by it all. She heard a million slights in the course of the evening, and they set her teeth on edge. Her family's judgement rang clearest in the questions they badgered her with. "How is your work coming along?" "Have you met anyone nice?" "Do you have any plans for the holidays, or can we count on you for skiing in Vale?" And so she judged them in return, Mother's aging neck and empty laugher. Father's red nose and false charm. Brother's cocky swagger and his loathsome habit of blinking more often than could possibly be necessary. Jane's demure invisibility. Sister guarded herself thus against the world at large. A glance from a stranger on the street would send her into a fit, and she responded by silently abusing the person for the next several blocks. She never considered that anyone looked at her kindly.

Sister stood before the unopened bag of powdered sugar and the sifter, barely containing the scream that was building in her. Mother took her by the shoulders and turned her around. "Dear, your dress." she chided, slipping an apron over her head. She kissed her on the cheek, lightly, the suggestion of a kiss that left only the impression of warmth behind. 'Typical, typical' Sister hissed in her head. She turned back to the cake, and after filling the sifter began to tap it in time with her heartbeat, watching the arsenic fall like tiny pearls.

I didn't intend for Sister to poison her family. It was going to be a tale about who we are on the inside and how it projects onto the world around us. But there you go. Also, if you haven't read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived In The Castle, it's an excellent read. Also, spoiler alert. Oh, and I never got to the cat. But I think Sister would poison it, too.

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