Do as I say, Not as I Do

sadness-1325507_1280photo credit: MariangelaCastro; Pixabay

***

Some children have no access to good lessons in story-books but even those who are blessed with story-books are sometimes misled by the actions of adults. What are we teaching our children?

The little girl in my story is placed in a precarious position by her own mother. Though she doesn’t know to verbalize what she’s feeling, we can sense her embarrassment. Can there be a happy ending to this story? Would it kill us to behave differently?

***

“Young lady– obviously, you don’t know who I am. I’m Mrs. Manzanilla from Refaccionaría Manzanilla,” my mother announced in Spanish in a voice too loud for my liking. I wanted to run and hide. The way she said that, and the dignified way she looked when she said that made the poor cashier take a nose-dive into the deepest recesses of her brain. I saw it in the way the cashier tipped her head. She wanted to try to understand what this lady in front of her was talking about. As far as the young girl was concerned, there was only one Refaccionaría Manzanilla in the whole of Macondo and this lady was not that Mrs. Manzanilla. She knew.

She knew for a fact that Mrs. Manzanilla had never set foot into a Save Big Store; that instead, she sent her housekeeper into the store twice a week to drop off a grocery list. And that the necessary items then got delivered to the mansion. And besides, Mrs. Manzanilla’s daughter and she were thick-as-thieves. She knew exactly what that Mrs. looked like.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Manzanilla, but I’m just following the protocol of a report from our security personnel. They’ve instructed me to ask you to step aside and to request that you voluntarily return the items that they saw you stash into your two bags.”

“And I say, you are wrong! I have no need to do such an outrageous thing as stealing from a place like this. I demand to see the manager.”

The girl makes a phone call.

It was a busy Thursday evening and people were stocking up on items in anticipation of the long holiday weekend. The buzz of the cash machines, the intricate bustle of the happy shoppers and the upbeat tempo of the music in the store, drown the embarrassing tone of the commotion going on in front of me. But in my insides, a volcano was erupting. I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to be around to see my mother get escorted to the police station.

On my back, I carried an overstuffed rucksack that was ripping at the seams. My mother carried a small Buston-bag with wheels — just as conspicuous looking as mine.

“Oh I understand,” my mother volunteered, “you see our overstuffed bags and think the worst… well-I-never! …” she slams her fist on the counter. “We came here with our luggage because we’ve just arrived from a short trip. We stopped in to pick up a few necessities. And you immediately assume that what you see us carrying in these bags are items stolen from your shelves. Well you are wrong…wrong, I tell you!”

Any minute now, any minute now the earth will rumble and swallow me up whole, I think. That will be better than this. I start to sweat cold.

The people in line at the cashier where we stand get directed to a different line. They look at us with scorn for disrupting the rhythm of their shopping experience. But that is all they do. To them, we are nobodies. No one bothers to know more, but to me, of all the inconsistencies that I’ve seen and come to understand since turning nine, this has got to be the worst.

And people will talk, a nagging voice announces inside my head. They don’t seem interested in the heated discussion going on right now, but someone will remember. 

I start to pray…

They escort us to a room in the back; the office. They ask us to wait.  My mother gives me a side glance and the zip-it-up sign to keep my mouth shut. No need to tell me Mom, I think, even if I wanted to, words have left my thoughts moments ago. All I have now is prayers. And those won’t buy me a pardon… 

Inside, we see a row of monitors displaying every aisle in the store.

We are dead, I think, then I hold my breath. Just then I notice that the monitors show a lot of static on the screen. I exhale. But the exertion of exhaling, or perhaps it was the part about holding my breath, makes me feel light-headed. I lean on the wall and close my eyes.

I hear the voices of men talking and above theirs, I hear my mother’s unwavering voice. I do not know for how long this goes on; I remain fixed on my prayers.

“Come on child, let’s get out of here.” Mother takes my hand and together with my uncle, the owner of Refaccionaría Manzanilla, we walk out of Save Big.  He calls us a taxi.  He hugs my mother and pats me on the head. Mother and I sit in silence in the taxi until we arrive on the front steps of our house.

I drop my rucksack and make a dash for the chicken coop. I remain inside thinking I’d rather stay with the chickens than with her.

Moments later she comes to call me in for supper. “…besides, it’s time for the chickens to roost,” she soothes.

I begin to cry.

***

Thanks for reading.

The Attic Pt.2 (short story)

Photo by: Myriams-Fotos

Last time (Nov.30th) I posted The Attic Pt.1.

If you missed it, read it here.

HAVE YOU SEEN MY RISA?

Ten years have passed since Risa disappeared from our lives.

The way those pillows were placed just so, made the policemen write it off as just another runaway case. For us, the mystery continues.

I have seen my parents sway in their resolve to find her and despair as they slowly lose hope. They haven’t forgotten, but they talk less and less about her. Something like that can break down a family; I’m glad that hasn’t happened to us.

Out in town, I catch my mother taking a long, unabashed look at the faces of strangers who come to visit our town. She is looking for her. She is looking for her in those strangers. Have you seen my Risa, my mother’s eyes inquire from them, do you have a message from her? Sometimes I have even seen her caress girls who smile back at her.

Risa, we are waiting for your return. We will not ask questions, we just want you to come back home.

I am older now than Risa was then. I miss her still. Only now I feel like the big sister.

Never a day goes by without me thinking of Risa. What is my sister doing today? I feel her near mostly when I hear thunder and lightning. Where before I would run to my mother or hide under my covers when I heard thunder, now I run to a window in my room expecting to see her. In my mind’s eye I see her wet, shoeless and exhausted from walking, waving at me and coaxing me to let her in. I will not need coaxing if I see her; I will let her in when she comes to me. I will let her in and I will let her sleep in my bed, and I will sing her the lullaby I hear in my head.

Sleep little Risa,

sleep my little one.

The horse is in the stable,

the cat and dog are entwined.

Sleep my little Risa,

Everything’s gonna be alright.

Sleep my precious Risa,

No more wandering —

Home is where you belong.

The morning when we found Risa was missing, the police came in to question me.

…when was the last time you saw her …what did you guys talk about …did she give you any hints that she was unhappy here …did she keep a journal …did she have a boyfriend …who was her best friend …did she have a hobby …did you guys have a fight…

To the eight year old that I was then nothing made sense. All the questions the policemen asked, were answered with a continuous shake of my head as my lips repeated silent I don’t knows. I didn’t know the answers.

For me, my sister was the taller of the two girls who lived in my house.

She was the one who learned her school lessons well; the one who worked odd jobs and bought me colorful writing paper to send to my pen pal in America. She never told me that she was unhappy or that she was planning to leave. We never fought or argued; though I wish we had.

Risa never talked much, but neither did she ever ask me to leave her alone. She hardly ever turned up her lips in a smile when we got our pictures taken but when we were together she would always look me in the eye when I spoke to her. She would nod and open her eyes wide when something pleased her and with dancing eyes that smiled she would clap her hands instead of a lips-upturned smile.

Did it hurt her to smile? Did it hurt her to talk? What made her so?

She went to school and had many friends but she seldom ever hung out with anyone. She made the students’ list often though she never seemed to care. And at the restaurant where she worked, she washed the dishes, emptied the trash and mopped the floor without complaining. The restaurant manager said so.

Did she have a boyfriend? Did she have a best friend? Did she keep a journal? What thoughts crossed her head?

After that frightful night, I came to sleep in my own bedroom next to my parents’. As I got older I came to like the quiet in the attic. I kept it ventilated and lived-in and I made some adjustments. I had dad install a brighter light and added a sensor light in the enclosed staircase. The window blinds still rattle but the ribbons are gone. I have renamed it my hobbit hole and I burrow in there sometimes when I feel my creative juices flowing. I have desks where beds used to be and big posters decorate the walls. I got a timer and I have the lights turn on every evening in hopes that if Risa were to return she would know that the attic was waiting for her. It was her attic.

I look around the attic and say my silent goodbyes to the windows, the walls, the low ceiling and to the silence. When tomorrow comes I will be moving out of town to go to college. The spiders will come and take residence in the attic. The mice will come in to gnaw on my posters and stalks of paper. But in the summer when I return I will open up the windows to let the sun walk in and allow the wind to blow fresh air into the room once again. And if Risa returns while the lights are turned on she will know that I have readied the attic for her. It is her attic.

***

This is the second part of ‘The Attic’ published November 30th. It ended with the words: But there was no Risa…

THANK YOU FOR READING MY SHORT STORY. IF YOU ENJOYED IT PLEASE HONOR ME WITH A COMMENT. OR BETTER YET, BY SHARING IT. THANKS.

THE ATTIC (short story)

photo: Abi Lewis, Upsplash

Aww what a mesmerizing sight, I heard myself saying in a voice that wasn’t my own. All the hues of red and brown and Crimson right before my eyes; again that was not my voice.
And this feeling, how can we be flying like this and not feel the autumn chill? I remember thinking that.

We were gliding over a red barn surrounded by trees.

I was not alone. I could feel my companion’s presence though I couldn’t see her face. In a weird way, I knew I didn’t need to look; I already knew it was Valerie Moore.

I heard footsteps and felt the floor move. They were not a part of my dream.

I opened my eyes slightly and saw the silhouette figure of my mother moving in the dark.

“Risa, I told you that rain was predicted for tonight and asked you to lock the windows. For once I’d like to get a good night’s sleep without having to be bothered by things that I specifically ask you girls to do. One of these nights someone is going to come through that window and take you away quietly.”

Humph, as if, I thought to myself still half asleep.

My mother continued: “Spare yourselves and me the worry of such an awful ordeal or I’ll buy a lock and those windows will stay closed forever.”
Mom said all that in one go. That was just like her. Always saying things the grownup way. Only she would have the stamina for such a discourse in the middle of the night. Mom was talking to Risa but Risa didn’t budge.

Feeling exhilarated from the dream I was just dreaming I tried not to listen to her words for fear of losing the feeling I was trying to hold on to in my autumn dream.
Valerie Moore was my childhood penpal. We started corresponding before the end of the school year in Third Grade. This particular evening I had received a letter from her.

Valerie lived in Wisconsin. Her family owned a cherry orchard and she had a pony she called Cubby. She and I were 8 years old and both of us had birthdays in September.

Every letter she wrote to me was riddled with eraser holes and consisted of ugly pages carelessly torn out from big writing pads. But that didn’t matter to me. She told me about learning to milk their cows, about driving a tractor and about picking cherries.

I have never been cherry-picking and much less never milked a cow in my life.
This time she told me about fall coming and described a foliage scene behind her farm. The image stayed in my mind all evening only to resurface in my dream that damp rainy night. In fact, the words I had uttered in my dream had come directly from Valerie’s letter.

The stairs leading up to the attic were dark, narrow and cold. They were enclosed in a small upward-going tunnel and they swerved round so that you couldn’t see if someone was coming down or going up until you were right smack in front of them. It was void of day light, lacked a light switch and a light bulb.

Risa and I shared a room up there but I had had no say in the matter. My mother, suspecting my teenage sister to be up to something, used me as a bargaining condition.

“…only if you agree to share the space with your sister,” mother bargained assured that Risa would soon give up the idea. When Risa said ok without a moment’s hesitation, mother couldn’t go back on her word. And so it was that I ended sleeping in the attic.

Risa chose the attic because of the way it felt so disconnected from the rest of the house. Perhaps it was because the stairs were completely encapsulated, but once upstairs one could not hear anything going on downstairs. And vice versa. I didn’t like being upstairs but once upstairs I dreaded going down those stairs. I always got the distinct feeling that I was about to bump into a ghost.

We had two beds. Mine was closest to the stairs and Risa’s was next to the windows. Mom let me have a small table next to my bed and on it I kept a small glow-in-the-dark lamp. But the lamp hardly got any real light from outside or from the one dim light bulb that illuminated the room. In order to get any use of the glow, I had to wait for Risa to be in the room for a few minutes before going upstairs. Once under my covers, Risa would turn off the light and then I would get my glow. Good thing was that I fell asleep right away even before the lamp lost its glow.

There were no partitions between our beds so Risa spent her allowance on thick silk ribbons. I mean lots and lots of ribbons. She thumbtacked the ribbons to the ceiling boards. She made it so that from the top of the stairs, one couldn’t see her bed and also from my bed I couldn’t see hers.

The ribbons were of all different colors and they cascaded from the low ceiling all the way to the floor. During the day I loved looking at the ribbons swaying with the wind, but at night the ribbons grazing against my face or any part of my body, sent shivers down my spine. They scared me.

That night, the rains came strong. There was thunder and there was lightening.
The old house moaned and groaned. Shrrrrrrooweeee shrrrrrooweeeee rushed in the wind through small openings on the window frame. The blinds rattled uncontrollably. Oh that howling; how angry that wind sounded.

Realizing that I had lost my dream, I thought of following after Mother but I was afraid to descend the stairs. I called out to Risa but she paid me no mind. Closer and closer to her bed I went until I was right above her.

She laid on her side — still as a corpse. I could see the shape of her body and even her hair but her face lay hidden under the blanket.

“Can I sleep with you,” I whispered in a groggy voice, “I’m sssc– scared,” I moaned. I touched her shoulder to shake her but there was no shoulder where a shoulder was supposed to have been. I ran my hand over her body. There was no body there either.

Scary as that was, I snatched off the light blanket only to find that two cushions lay where Risa was supposed to have laid.

At that revelation, my eyes got forced open. These didn’t feel like my eyes. The area around them felt tight. They were being held wide open by cold fingers. My eyeballs felt cold. I couldn’t manage a blink. My mouth flew open as if the ligaments in my neck had been wound too tightly. I screamed but the scream was only coming from inside my head. My voice had deserted me.

Without thinking I scurried over to the stairs and stomped down the dark stairs as if the ON button had just been turned-on inside me.

No time for knocking. I flung the door open. I got to mother’s side of the bed and yanked the covers off of her. I still couldn’t get my eyes to blink or my neck to release the pull it had on my open mouth. I started slapping mother. This woke my father too. He jumped out of bed and turned on the big light in the room.

As if this was the cue that I had been waiting for, a loud insistent wailing bubbled from within me. I started to shake uncontrollably and burning tears splattered from my eyes all at once. My voice was incoherent and husky so with exaggerated hand gestures I tried telling them about Risa. But my parents couldn’t understand.

I dragged them to the stairs and pushed them toward the attic. Mom got to the top first.

“Risa,” called my mother in that voice she used to let us know that we were in trouble. “Risa get out here this minute. Risaaaaa!

But there was no Risa…

Recently published on Medium

Hooray for the fun! Is the pudding done?

by Selma

“The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day.”

BY LYDIA MARIA CHILD (1844 poem)

Fondly known as “Over the River and Through the Wood.”

Are you familiar with the song? If so, I invite you to sing along with me. I’ve attached some amazing pictures I found at Pixabay to help you remember. I hope they help. The hint is in the fond title… and it ends with the pumpkin pie. Enjoy.

Hooray for the pumpkin pie!

Pause! Enjoy the simple joys in life. Happy Thanks and Giving Day; Happy Thanksgiving!

Their Ears, Not Pierced

by Selma

February and March had me busy working on this contest piece. I worked hard on it, submitted and Short Fiction Break Magazine published it. Yay!

I didn’t win the contest but certainly emerged a Winner in more ways than one. I invite you to Please read in its entirety. Thank you. And I’d be thrilled to read your comments to me there… Thank you.

http://shortfictionbreak.com/their-ears-not-pierced/

But, if you don’t want to visit that link, here it is again. Open.

THEIR EARS, NOT PIERCED

“The Heresy of one age becomes the Orthodoxy of the next” Helen Keller

I sit on a bench outside the airport newly arrived on my flight from Asia. Two little girls sit beside me. They’re either twins, or very close in age. Their ears, not pierced. They are wearing dresses that reveal chubby arms with rubber bracelets of many colors. They are completely absorbed in their iPads whose cases match the color of the dresses they wear. They don’t acknowledge my presence and neither does the young mother. She stands swaying from side to side tapping her baby’s bottom with a rhythmic beat as she hums softly. The baby, she carries in a sling. The baby’s hand is all I can see because it is dressed in a hooded-Pikachu-romper. Yellow. The young mother’s gaze is focused on the street and she is obviously waiting for her ride. I close my eyes for a moment and immediately, I’m transported back to a time when there were no iPads.

Both of my sisters and I wanted to sit by the window on the bus. We wanted to look out the window to see the villages go by. We wanted to see the dogs barking and chasing after the bus. But we were too little; the windows too high. More than once people sitting on window seats offered that we sit on their laps. Mom would let us. But the roads soon lulled us to sleep. We’d wake up with our cheeks stuck to the unfamiliar necks of sweaty people; the necks of people whose faces we didn’t ever remember seeing before. Who were these people we’d think and then we’d give out a cry for our mother.

Once I remember being awakened by a pair of hands with rough nails caressing me down the front of my little body under my little dress. The unfamiliarity of the hands alerted my senses and startled me awake. And yet another time a woman shoved me way under her own blouse and had me sucking on her breast like a baby. The salty taste of her skin made me feel like gagging and woke me up with a tremendous start.

Growing up in Macondo my friends and I always saw it as a good place to grow up and a good place for raising kids. There was nothing the townspeople wouldn’t do to help young mothers. It was as if the entire town was involved in the raising of children.

As young girls learning about our place in society, we all agreed that here, mothers did a lot to help their children form lasting friendships by exposing them to other children. Someone was always ready to attest that growing up their mothers were good at making play-dates for them, at hosting parties, picnics and outings. That observation was uncontested. Sleepovers at friends’ homes were unheard of though. For that, mothers here relied on their own sisters and sisters-in-law and employed the assistance of cousins. In my case, sleepovers with my cousins meant a 5-hour bus ride in the company of strangers.

In my mind I can still see my mother carrying one baby boy, a big over-stuffed bag holding books, blankets and baby clothes and three little girls running behind her. The day before the trip we were made to understand that we would be wearing our cousins’ clothes because though he was still too young to notice that he was a boy, society required that mom had him dressed in boys’ clothes at all times. This was mostly as a tribute to dad for having reached that coveted goal of procuring a boy — dad’s trophy.

Girls were produced at a-dollar-a-dozen but boys had to be special-made. So that when a family was blessed to introduce a son into the world, God forbid they’d ever be mistaken for a girl. In those days, no boy-baby ever knew the joys of wearing pink and orange and purple or variations of those colors. So cloaked in that mentality, mom did as she was told.

Those early practices of sharing clothes and riding buses molded us. They taught us that we belonged in a community of girls and that we had each other to rely on when we needed support. Every bus ride ended being a happy time; unhappy incidents, if any, only lived on in our minds.

In the Macondo that I know, there has always been a strong belief that girls have to endure much grief and pain throughout their lives starting with the miracle of birth. Of course there were male-doctors and nuns ready to assist in the delivery of a baby, but neither the doctors nor the nuns had first hand experience of what the pain was like. Epidural anesthesia was unheard of then as it was understood that the price of the miracle was the pain.

“Our main job as women is to carry a heavy banner and to make it look easy. No matter what, you cannot give any hints of how heavy or painful it all is. You do that, and all the other women will continue supporting you. Fail, and you stand alone.” That’s the mantra my friends and I heard repeated often growing up. Thus, when in the throngs of the delivery, wet towels would be shoved into the mouth of the mothers to prevent any sound of agony from escaping into the waiting room.

If a boy popped out, the doctor himself would shout it out in siren fashion:  “…itsa booooooooooooy!!” And this would ring through the town by word of mouth. A celebration, tailored for the father, would then begin and it would continue until the mandatory 5 days of rest for the mother was over. Acquaintances and family alike would drop in on the father to offer a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. A small present that almost always consisted of clothes for the baby — blue, would accompany the well wisher.

On the other hand, if a girl popped out, there would be no such announcement. The doctor would exit the room, seek out the father’s eyes, and just nod a sympathetic nod. At this, the father would lower his head in an apologetic gesture and his buddies, standing at sporadic locations, would read into the father’s demeanor, wave and walk away saying “better luck next time buddy,” under their breaths. The new mother would still qualify for the mandatory 5 days of rest and one day, during that short rest-period, the baby would get her ears unceremoniously pierced to comply with their antiquated belief concerning girls and pain.

Everyone knows that babies cannot fend for themselves. They need feeding, bathing, cleaning up after and more. But unlike other countries where independence is encouraged in boys and girls, here in Macondo the practice of doing everything for the boy would continue. Never allowed into a kitchen, sisters would turn into maids for their brothers. And brothers would take their sisters for granted never really conceding to the idea that what they were doing was unfair.

There I sit out on the bench, thinking all these things in no particular order. I am tired and sleepy but forcing alertness. The tropical breeze on my face, arms and toes titillate my senses. I slip off my sandals, crack my toes, open them wide then rotate my ankles. The girls and their mother are still there. I stand next to the bench, leaving my sandals where I sat, clutch my hands and stretch my arms long causing my back to curve. I proceed to stimulate my body into alertness with my various stretch poses and then as I am in limp-pose with my head touching my knees, I hear the mother speak for the first time.

“Come on girls get your things, dad and grandma are here.”   I straighten up and remain standing. I glance over at the girls as they scurry around trying to fit little feet into their rubber polka-dot boots. Then holding their iPads by the small handle they stand shoulder to shoulder by the edge of the sidewalk giggling softly. Dad gets out of the car and kneels down on bare knees to embrace his girls.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy,” they repeat over and over. They each kiss daddy on his cheek and the next moment one of them is on daddy’s shoulder and the other one is hanging on to one of his arms. With the girls stuck to his body this way, he stands and kisses his wife on the forehead and pats the sleeping baby on its hooded head once. I don’t mean to intrude, but my eyes get fixed on his ears. Dad is wearing earrings. On both ears!

“He couldn’t stay awake for daddy huh?” he says, rubbing the baby’s head again but looking into his wife’s face. “That’s okay,” then he discreetly pinches her on her hip. “I have missed you terribly honey,” he whispers close to her ear. Then sliding the door of the minivan open he places his giggly-bundle inside and directs them to the back seat.

Grandma sits in the middle of the seat so the girls position themselves on each side of her. They strap themselves in, kick off their boots again, raise their legs and the next moment they are staring into their screens again while grandma strokes their hair one at a time. The baby in his Pikachu romper, a boy I come to understand, is strapped into his purple car-seat and off they go back to their lives.

My ride into town doesn’t arrive for another hour. I expected them to be late as usual; only people in Asia are punctual, but they just wouldn’t let me plan on a bus-ride. Too dangerous they said. So I wait. Out here I see people come and go. Teeth flashing in open laughter on the faces of some, mostly the newly arrived passengers and restrained smiles on the others.

“Those girls are studying medicine, and those will become pilots and engineers,” a voice says to me from inside my head.

“Yes,” I say to the voice absentmindedly. “Still in its nascent stage, but things are different now. I wonder if they can feel how much the winds have shifted. I get the impression that Macondo is ready to embrace the change that is being soldiered on by those kids returning with knowing-laughs on their faces.”

“They are the lucky ones,” I reassure my imaginary companion sitting on the bench now. I sigh long and feel a weight lift off my shoulders. My whole face breaks into a smile.

“I’m glad I made this trip. Ten years away is a long time.” I speak the words aloud to my companion again, “I’m one of the lucky ones too!”

I hear the buzz of dreamland calling me. I yawn such a great big yawn that tears spring from my eyes. I go over to the food-stall and get a coffee-smoothie and I plead with my mind to keep watch for just a little longer. I sip my smoothie and wiggle my toes.

“Change’s a-coming”, I inform my toes this time.

An off-duty taxi drives up to the curb; its radio blasting. I recognize the song playing and I smile from ear to ear.

“Oh Michael Buble,” I say out loud, “you and me both. I am feeling good!”

Thanks again. Selma

There is no Love in Violence

“Domestic violence rarely affects only those directly involved in the abusive relationship.” ― Asa Don Brown
Short of stepping on Curly’s tail, Becky stormed into the living room, slammed the screen-door shut and hurried to her room.
“What?” her mother asked from the kitchen, “back already? Did you forget to take something?” her mother continued.

Becky didn’t answer. Her footsteps were heavy as she went up the stairs. She closed the door to her room, pressed the play button of her CD player and turned the volume on high. She got inside her closet and sat on the floor on the corner closest to the window. The evening was pleasant and the sound of the birds on the tree outside the window was silenced by the sound coming from inside her room.

Her mother finished rinsing off the dinner dishes and wiping her wet hands on her apron, rushed upstairs to see what the matter was with her daughter. She knocked on the door with the secret code they had settled on for the month, but no tap-tap, the code of acknowledgement, came from inside the room. Mother knocked the same way again and again, but again Becky didn’t reciprocate. Mom turned the door knob and realized that the door was locked from the inside.

“Becky, open the door. Let me in. Becky, what happened? Did something happen with you and Margo?” Mom was getting worried. This was so out of character for her daughter.

She waited a few more minutes and knocked again. “Becky,” she said, a little more impatient this time, “talk to me. Open the door.” Becky got out of the closet, lowered the volume on her CD player and unlocked the door. Then she sat on the floor next to her bed. Mother knocked again and this time Becky reciprocated by tapping on the side of her bedroom table with their coded tap-tap. Mother turned the door knob and entered the room.

“Honey, did something happen to you over at Margo’s house?”
Becky hugged her knees and looked away from her mother. Mother followed Becky’s lead and sat on the floor next to her daughter.

In the short year that they have been neighbors, Becky and Margo have become best friends. They walk to and from school together, they spend endless hours playing outdoors and talking on the porch-swing, they walk up to receive holy communion together at Sunday Mass and apart from the fact that each girl has their own house chores to do, they are inseparable. Once or twice a month Margo’s mother has invited Becky to come along as Margo’s guest for a family dinner at a sort-of-nice restaurant in town. The dinners always left Becky a little perplexed but she dismissed the feelings Because she could not find the appropriate words to form the thoughts about the feelings, even in her own head. This being the case she never got around to saying anything about this to her mother. When mother would ask, Becky would talk about the food instead of the feelings she would bring back from the dinner experience with the Romanos.

“Yes, I decided to sneak in on Margo instead of calling out to her. When I looked in through the screen door I saw Margo kneeling on the floor. She had her hands stretched out infront of her and I saw her daddy loading her arms with heavy books.”

“You mean that it was like some kind of punishment?” her mother asked.

“Yes, exactly. It had to be. Margo looked sad and scared but she had her arms stretched out and her daddy kept putting book after book for her to hold in her outstretched arms. At one point, Margo got tired so she relaxed her buttom on the back of her legs and her daddy hit her on her back with a book,” replied Becky suppressing fresh tears that burned to come out.

“And you saw all that? ” her mother asked holding her daughter’s hand with one hand and wiping a tear off her own face with the other.

“Yes. But the worst part is that Margo saw me looking. I think that I will never be able to face her again. I am embarrassed to have seen what I saw. And I am sure that Margo is embarrassed for it as well.” Becky’s words punctuated the conversation and a long silence, thick as a morning mist, permeated the room. Her mother didn’t know what to make of the situation. And she didn’t want to say something out of place without thinking things over first, so mother and daughter just sat there on the floor.

In the year since they have been neighbors the mothers have not become close. They have exchanged pleasantries but unlike the girls, their relationship hasn’t advanced beyond that. For starters, Mrs. Romano, Margo’s mother is a career woman. She works from 9:00 – 5:00, sometimes later and like the rest of the neighborhood, Becky’s mother refrains from approaching Mrs. Romano to allow her the space she and the neighbors think she needs. Come to think of it, besides attending Mass with her family on Sundays and the occasional dinners out in town, Mrs. Romano seldom participates in anything in the community. Mr. Romano, on the other hand, works from home. According to Margo he is a translator of German Novels. He is at home all the time and it is he who attends to Margo and her younger sister when they return home from school. He is very polite yet reserved with the neighbors. He attends school meetings but doesn’t socialize with anyone at school. According to Becky, the Romanos move to a new town every two years or so and before coming to Macondo, they lived in Los Alamos. Apart from that, no one knows anything else about the family.

*****

“The abuser does not believe, however, that his level of authority over the children should be in any way connected to his actual level of effort or sacrifice on their behalf, or to how much knowledge he actually has about who they are or what is going on in their lives. He considers it his right to make the ultimate determination of what is good for them even if he doesn’t attend to their needs or even if he only contributes to those aspects of child care that he enjoys or that make him look like a great dad in public.” ― Lundy Bancroft Bancroft

Hearts

in English and in Japanese. A poem that awakens the child within.

 

HEARTS
Even though my mother
is big and grownup,
My mother’s heart
must be small.
‘Cause, my mother said,
It’s been all filled up with little me.
But, even though I am little
and just a child,
My heart must be big.
‘Cause my heart
can hold my big mother
And still have room for lots more.
                Misuzu Kaneko (real name Teru Kaneko)
こころ
お母さま は
大人で大きいけれど。
お母さまの
おこころはちいさい。
だって、お母さまはいいました、
ちいさい私でいっぱいだって。
私は子供で
ちいさいけれど、
ちいさい私の
こころは大きい。
だって、大きいお母さまで、
まだいっぱいにならないで、
いろんな事をおもうから。

This Old House

Aww what a mesmerizing sight, I heard myself saying in a voice that wasn’t my own. All the hues of red and brown and Crimson right before my eyes, again that was not my voice.
And this feeling, how can we be flying like this and not feel the autumn chill.  I remember thinking that.
We were gliding over a red barn surrounded by trees. I was not alone. I could feel my companion’s presence but couldn’t see her face. In a weird way, I knew I didn’t need to look. I already knew it was Valerie Moore.

I opened my eyes slightly and saw the silhouette figure of my mother in the dark.
“Risa, I told you that rain was predicted for tonight and asked you to lock the windows. For once I’d like to get a good night’s sleep without having to be bothered by things that I specifically ask you girls to do. One of these nights someone is going to come through that window and take you away quietly. Spare yourselves and me of such an awful ordeal or I’ll buy a lock and those windows will stay closed forever”.
Mom said all that in one go. That was just like her. Always saying things the grownup way. Only she would have the stamina for such a discourse in the middle of the night. Mom was talking to Risa but Risa didn’t budge.

Feeling exhilarated from the dream I was just dreaming I tried not to listen to her words for fear of losing the feeling I was trying to hold on to in my autumn dream.
Valerie Moore was my childhood penpal. We started corresponding before the end of the school year in Third Grade. This particular evening I had just received a letter from her. Valerie lived in Wisconsin. She had a cherry orchard and she had a pony she called Cubby. She and I were 8 years old and both of us had birthdays in September.
Every letter she wrote to me was riddled with eraser holes and consisted of ugly pages carelessly torn out from big writing pads. She told me about learning to milk their cows, and about driving a tractor and about picking cherries.
I have never been cherry-picking and much less never milked a cow in my life.
This time she told me about fall coming and described a foliage scene behind her farm that it stayed in my mind all evening only to resurface in my dream that damp rainy night. In fact, the words I had uttered in my dream had come directly from Valerie’s letter.

The stairs leading up to the attic were dark and narrow and cold. They were enclosed in a small upward-going tunnel and they swerved round so that you couldn’t see if someone was coming down or going up until you were right smack in front of them. It was void of day light and lacked a light switch and even a light bulb for that matter.
Risa and I shared a room up there but I had had no say in the matter. My mother, suspecting my sister to be up to something, used me as a bargaining condition.

“…only if you agree to share the space with your sister,” mother bargained assured that Risa would soon give up the idea. And when Risa said ok without a moment’s hesitation, mother couldn’t go back on her word. And so it was that I ended up sleeping in the attic.

Risa chose the attic because of the way it felt so disconnected from the rest of the house. Perhaps it was because the stairs were completely encapsulated, but once upstairs one could not hear anything going on downstairs. And vice versa. I didn’t like being upstairs but once upstairs I dreaded going down those stairs. I always got the distinct feeling that I was about to bump into a ghost.

We had two beds. Mine was closest to the stairs and Risa’s was next to the windows. Mom let me have a small table next to my bed and on it I kept a small glow-in-the-dark lamp. But the lamp hardly got any real light from outside or from the one dim light bulb that illuminated the room. In order to get any use of the glow, I had to wait for Risa to be in the room for a few minutes before going upstairs. Once under my covers, Risa would turn off the light and then I would get my glow. Good thing was that I fell asleep right away even before the lamp lost its glow.

There were no partitions between our beds so Risa spent her allowance on thick silk ribbons that she thumbtacked to the ceiling boards; I mean lots and lots of ribbons. She made it so that from the top of the stairs, one couldn’t see her bed and also from my bed I couldn’t see her bed. The ribbons were of all different colors and they cascaded from the low ceiling all the way to the floor. During the day I loved looking at the ribbons swaying with the wind, but at night the ribbons grazing against my face or any part of my body, sent shivers down my spine. They scared me.

That night, the rains came strong. There was thunder and there was lightening.
The old house moaned, the old house groaned; the old window blinds rattled uncontrollably. Shrrrrrrooweeee shrrrrrooweeeee rushed in the wind through small openings on the window frame. Oh that howling; how angry that wind sounded. I needed my mother but I was afraid to descend the stairs.
I called out to Risa but she paid me no mind. Closer and closer to her bed I went until I was right above her. She laid on her side, still as a corpse. I could see the shape of her body and even her hair but her face lay hidden under the blanket.
“Can I sleep with you,” I whispered in a groggy voice.
“I’m sssc– scared, ” I moaned still trying to sound strong. I touched her shoulder to shake her but there was no shoulder where a shoulder was supposed to have been. I ran my hand over her body but there was no body there either. And scary as that was, I snatched off the light blanket only to find that two cushions laid where Risa was supposed to have laid.

At that revelation, my eyes got forced open. These didn’t feel like my eyes. The area around my eyes was being held wide open by cold fingers that even my eyeballs felt cold. I couldn’t manage a blink. My mouth flew open as if the ligaments in my neck had been wound too tightly. I screamed but the scream was only coming from inside my head. My voice had deserted me. Almost without thinking I scurried over to the stairs and stomped down the dark stairs as if the ON button had just been turned-on inside me. No time for knocking. I flung the door open. I got to mother’s side of the bed and yanked the covers off of her. I still couldn’t get my eyes to blink or my neck to release the pull it had on my open mouth. I started slapping mother. This woke my father too. He jumped out of bed and turned on the big light in the room. As if this was the cue that I had been waiting for, a loud insistent wailing bubbled from within me. I started to shake uncontrollably and burning tears splattered from my eyes all at once. My voice was incoherent and husky so with exaggerated hand gestures I tried telling them about Risa. But my parents couldn’t understand. I dragged them to the stairs and pushed them towards the attic. Mom got to the top first.
“Risa,” called my mother in that voice she used to let us know that we were in trouble.
“Risa get out here this minute. Risaaaaa! 

But there was no Risa…