Saturday, March 19, 2011

Yum-Yum (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by the lovely and talented Joanne "JJ" Sher over @ her blog,  An Open Book. Click here to read and share more great fiction! 

Author's Ramblings: Um...this didn't quite turn out the way I wanted it to. I was aiming for something more fluffy, but somehow it all went downhill. I can't imagine why. LOL. Anyway, I've started it about three times and have finally settled on this version because it's the only one that seems to make some sense. Plot-wise, it's a bit flat, but I hope the theme of friendship/sistership makes up for it. It's been a long school week and my brain just needed a break from the serious stuff. This is following an idea given to me by a dear friend on the subject of Oven Mitts. ^_^ Enjoy the read and happy weekend! 

I didn’t expect to see Aunt Lou at the front door. I didn’t expect to see Dad’s tear-stained face. I thought I was prepared for many things. 

I wasn’t.

“Aunt Lou?”

“Katia.” She hugged me, her arms limp. “Did you have a good flight.”

“Forget the flight.” I hugged her tight and then held her at arm’s length. She was thinner than I remembered and maybe a bit paler. I couldn’t tell for sure. It had been two years after all. “Talk to me.”

“And say what?” Her lower lip trembled and she hugged her arms back to herself, pulling away from me. “It’s all mixed up.”

“Papa?” I waved my arms at her, ushering her towards the kitchen and the man that sat, brooding in the chair at the head of the table. “Papa, I’m home.”

The glare that he sent in my direction was enough to stop Aunt Lou in her tracks right behind me. I felt her stop and stand, just peering over the edge of my shoulder. A wave of annoyance bubbled up and I tempered my own look as I frowned.

“Where’s Alice?”

He continued to glare.

I sighed and turned to Aunt Lou. “Alice?”

It was the only name that would have me leaving a perfectly decent life in the lovely lands of Italy to return to the brokenness of endless fields in Virginia. A house with more haunt than hope and a family with less love than a king cobra.

She shrugged. “She’s locked herself in her room and stayed there since we told her.”

“Who told her?” I began steering her towards the stairs leading up to the second story. It was probably a good thing to leave my trouble father to his own musings in the kitchen and handle things one at a time. It was always a very strange sort of chain reaction—a reaction where I didn’t fit into the equation at all.

Aunt Lou swallowed.

I mentally counted from one to twenty. “Aunty Lou?”

She gave a slight squeak.

“Gracie?” I stared at her in disbelief. “You let Gracie tell Alice?”

A furious fiery blush painted across the older woman’s cheeks. “We didn’t have the…it happened so fast, there was nothing that we could do and I can’t…there wasn’t-”

“Fine. I get it.” I held up a hand to stop her, climbing the stairs. That meant there was a bigger mess to deal with. A bigger mess than I was used to fixing.

“H-how long are you staying?”

“This time?” I shrugged, unable to keep the edge from my voice this time. “I don’t know. I could go back this afternoon, save everyone the trouble?”

The rosy red settled into a pale pink. “T-that’s not quite the-”

I reached the top of the stairs and cast a cursory glance down the hallway. Nearly everything was as I remembered it. Doors in a row on both sides and pale, fine carpet the color of eggshell innards. There were no decorations on the walls and no definitions for which door led to what, except for a pink sign hanging on the front of one two doors down.

Gracie stood in front of the door with the pink sign, a door that could only lead to Alice’s bedroom. Her straight, short black hair was hiding her face, but her black eyes sparkled dangerously. She glared at me as I approached. “What are you doing here?”

I ignored her, turning to Aunt Lou. “Is she in there?”

“I think so.”

“No she isn’t!” Gracie interrupted. “and we’re fine. Go away. Stay in your stupid little-”

“Has she eaten anything?”

“I don’t know. I bring food for her but I can’t…it’s been…you see how it is.” She wrung her hands helplessly.

I pinched the bridge of my nose. I did know how it was. That was why I was there. “Mmm, yes.  Fine. Go get something that’s light to eat…some uh, canned soup and crackers. Crackers are good. Maybe a can of soda. Something with fizz?”

“Ginger ale?”

“Yes, that’s perfect.”

“It’ll be a minute.”

I nodded. “Gracie, go help her.”

Aunt Lou made another muffled sound, casting wary eyes towards the tween girl glaring at both of them. “I can manage and-”

“Gracie.” I turned to face her directly, pouring every ounce of authority into the look that was punctuated by a single eyebrow arching for emphasis. “Now!”

Gracie jumped. I let my eyes follow her until she was down the stairs and out of sight. Resisting the urge to sigh, I knocked on the door twice. Once hard and once soft, repeating the pattern three times.

There was no answer from within.

“Alice? Alice, it’s Katia. Can you open the door, sweetie? I just want to talk to you.”

Still no answer.

I looked down at the balled up wad of fabric in my hand. I didn’t really want to do what I was about to. I didn’t want to be what it meant. I wanted to be me. I wanted to be real, not a visiting figment of Alice’s imagination.

Slipping my hand into the giraffe-shaped oven-mitt, I wiggled my fingers around, finding a comfortable spot before I knocked on the door again and tried the knob. It was locked.

“Alice.” I cleared my throat and squeezed my eyes shut as I focused on the necessary pitch and tone before speaking in character. “Alice, dahling it’s Yum-Yum. I’ve come all the way from Italy ta visit, wontcha let me in, love?”

The door was unlocked and Alice’s red face appeared around the corner. Skinny seven-year-old arms were flung around my arm, yanking me into her room and then down to the floor as she tried to hug the oven mitt. “Yum-Yum, oh, Yum-Yum.” Fat tears trickled down her face as she clutched it to her chest. “I missed you.”

I sat there, in a tangled heap on her bedroom floor, letting her hug the oven mitt on my left hand. There wasn’t a good time to interrupt, at least not until her tears were spent.

“You weren’t here, Yum-Yum.” She hiccupped. “Don’t you know what’s happened?” The tears bubbled freely down her cherubic cheeks. “Mama’s dead. She died. She’s not coming back, Yum-Yum.” She pushed the mitt away. “And you weren’t even here!”

My youngest step-sister took out her frustrations and tears on the oven mitt that my mother had always used to tell us bedtime stories. She’d gifted it to me when I had voiced my intentions of studying abroad. Gracie and Alice had both agreed at the time when Mama had given over three of her precious items. Her lacy white ‘good luck’ sweater, Yum-Yum the oven mitt and a silver charm anklet that I rarely took off, if at all.

Using my free hand, I tugged at the warm collar around my neck. I was wearing the pretty sweater over a little black dress. I hadn’t been able to get a flight any sooner. I was late. I’d missed everything. But I intended to pay my respects, just the same.

I didn’t think I’d stop to visit, until Aunt Lou called me. She was worried. Because she was worried, I worried. She was always Mama’s confidante. Now, as I sat in a darkened princess bedroom watching Alice bawling her eyes out, I realized there was more to worry about than there had been before.

Then I realized that Gracie and Aunt Lou were taking a while to return. I hoped another argument with Papa hadn’t started when I wasn’t there to referee. Sometimes I wished he was my real father, rather than my step-father, because then I could yell at him, just like everything else and then things would go back to normal.

Everything was falling apart and I didn’t know that I had the patience to put it back together. Rather, I didn’t know that I wanted to have the patience to put it back together. I just wanted them to all stop acting so ridiculous in a moment like this.

We all needed each other or rather, they needed each other. I was fine.

That’s when I couldn’t take it anymore.

I choose to snap my sanity in half.

I dropped the phony accent voice, unable to keep up the character of Yum-Yum for much longer. “Alice.” It was the tone of voice Mama had always used when I was about to be in trouble. “Stop that right now.”

Swollen, red eyes blinked feebly at me.

“This is ridiculous. All of this is ridiculous.” I yanked my hand away and tugged off Yum-Yum. “I didn’t just come back here to do this.” I shook the oven mitt. “I came because it was necessary. I’m standing right here in front of you and all you have to say is-”

Her face scrunched up the way it usually did before she threw a temper tantrum.

I rose to my feet in a swirl of black silken skirts and white lace. “On the other hand, if you don’t feel like listening right now, I’m going to go downstairs and finish-”

Her arms were around my waist and she was crying again.

I had to take a step backwards to absorb the impact. “Alice.”

“Katia. Katia. Katia.” She chanted my name over and over. “Papa said you wouldn’t come. Gracie said you hated us.”

I hugged her back. I didn’t say a word.

When she’d stopped crying, I handed her Yum-Yum. “Present for you.”

She looked from the giraffe-shaped oven mitt to me and then back. “I-I-” She stammered.

“You can keep it until I go back.”

Relief showed plainly in her face. She wouldn’t take what Mama had given me, no matter how badly she wanted. She had grown quite a bit in two years.

“Thank you, Sissy.” The endearment left her lips, muffled by more sobs.

It was easy to stay there and hold her. I whispered nonsensical things in her ears until the cries quieted. “Alice, love.” I kissed the top of your head. “When something hurts so bad you can’t stand it, don’t lock yourself in a room. That doesn’t fix anything.”

“Yes it does.” She squished me harder. “You came.”

“Did Gracie tell you that too?” I slipped the oven mitt back on and patted her shoulder.

She almost smiled.

“C’mon kiddo. It’s downstairs to say hi to Papa and to stop Gracie from terrorizing Aunt Lou.” I wrapped an arm around her and turned towards the door. That was one step-sister down, one more to go, plus one grumpy step-father. I probably wouldn't go anywhere else for today. Another sigh was stifled. I was already prepared for that. “Ready?”


Yum-Yum nibbled on her ear. “Good girl!”

Alice giggled.

A single tear pooled in the corner of my eye. Miss you, Mama.

© Sara Harricharan


Joanne Sher said...

Oh wow. Such depth, and a tender, sweet, and complicated sister relationship. Super stuff, SAWA!