Mockingbird

Prompt: Flavor

baby doll

“Look at his tiny toes,” said Mama.

I looked at its toes, they were tiny; it was tiny, smaller than my baby doll, and just as bald. its face was tiny and wrinkled, its eyes were tightly shut as if it was in pain.

When I poked it in the tummy (when Mama wasn’t looking) it didn’t cry. I could wrap my whole hand around its foot or its hand and it would disappear in my fist.

“He is so tiny and beautiful,” said Mama, not to me, but to someone else. Jesus? She held it up against her face, breathing it in.

I wasn’t tiny, not any more, not yet. Mama didn’t notice when I stopped eating. She put my cheese sandwich and fruit salad on the table. She fed it milk from her breast. She put Kentucky Fried Chicken and coleslaw in cardboard tubs on the table. She took it to the changing table and wiped its bum with a soft white cloth. She gave me a dixiecup full of vanilla ice cream and a small wooden paddle to eat with. She rocked it in her arms, walking round and round, singing “Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird”.

When I fell asleep at school, Mama said, “I’m sorry, kitty, baby kept you awake.” I didn’t hear it cry at night. It slept in Mama’s bed.

Gramma came to stay. She held it, saying, “He is so tiny!” And then she saw me watching, and took me out to the front porch, where there was a bench, and we sat down, and she took me into her lap.

“You are thin,” Gramma said. I squirmed. “What’s wrong with your eyes, kitty?” She put her face close to mine. My eyes had fallen inside my head so I could hardly see out.

Gramma wrapped me up in her arms and I disappeared, just like its tiny foot disappeared in my fist.

Gramma brought me something that moved. It was covered in soft grey fur, striped, with ears too big for its head and a tiny nose and tiny paws. It was warm and purred when I held it to my chest.

“What will you call him?” Gramma asked me.

“Moon,” I said.

“What shall we call the baby?” Mama asked me.

He wrapped a tiny hand around my finger. “Can we call him Joe, same as daddy?”

“We can,” said Mama.

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The Chicken Coop History

Prompt: Border

Hen

Sophie’s mother was the one who called Andrew. He was at his grandfather Bernard’s house, helping him put in a new screen door at the back. Bernard’s place was closer to Sophie’s house than Andrew’s, and the bus ride only took fifteen minutes. Andrew fidgeted and looked out the window, wondering if it would rain.

She was sitting at an old picnic table in the back yard, near the chicken coop. The chickens were fussing and scrubbing around in the dirt and yellow grass, possibly sensing a storm ahead. Andrew brought out a worn leather jacket that her mother had handed him. The heavy, grey clouds cast the day in deep shadow, and a chill wind was gusting. He approached Sophie and put the jacket around her shoulders. He felt her shiver.

Sophie was watching the chickens. “They were free range at first,” Sophie said to him as he sat beside her. “They roamed all over the yard, because that’s the way my grandparents raised chickens in the old country, on the farm.” Her mother found it unsanitary, and there were complaints from the neighbours, and from the Chevron station that it bordered, so Sophie’s father and grandfather built a wire enclosure.

The enclosure wasn’t really sufficient to contain them, as it turned out. Because Sophie was such a devoted chicken caretaker (it was her daily chore to feed them and sometimes to collect eggs) and spent so much time with them, a couple of the chickens would flutter out of the coop and follow her to the house. She had to take them back again and again. And chickens were disappearing.

“They said it was foxes, or coyotes, or something,” Sophie said. “But I think I finally clued in to what the source for grandma’s braised chicken stew was.” Andrew listened.

Sophie went on a hunger strike, which everyone seemed to laugh at, but she was a stubborn child, and her grandmother eventually took her side. She said they didn’t need the chicken meat, there was lots of chicken at the Safeway, it was good chicken. But there was nothing like fresh eggs, so Sophie’s chickens got a reprieve.

They put a wire “roof” over the chicken yard, to prevent the chickens following Sophie, and protect them from alleged foxes and coyotes. The whole thing looked ticky-tack, Andrew thought, with different gauges of wire fencing used, sometimes held together with twist ties, and an unpainted, two story coop that leaned sharply to the south. But Sophie gazed on it with great fondness, as if it was a glimmering fish pond surrounded by flowers and waterfalls, instead of a rather chaotic, dusty compound that smelled strongly of barnyard.

“That one there,” said Sophie, pointing to one white chicken who looked exactly like the others, “That one is called Creamy. Not the greatest name, right? My grandma named her, when I begged. She had never named an animal before. She had no idea, and her English was never any good anyway.”

She leaned into Andrew’s shoulder. She became silent, and Andrew put his arm around her. He didn’t look at her face, because he was afraid it would make him cry. He didn’t want to cry just now.

“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” he said. He felt Sophie nod her head, still silent, and he started to cry anyway.

Naming Names

Prompt: Together

two-ducks

Sophie got a fitness wristband for an early graduation present, and promptly forced Andrew to take a walk along the seawall with her. At least, that’s how he felt. He had no objections to walking the seawall; it was scenic and fresh and good exercise, but having to do it because of a plastic wristband was agitating.

“Why are you so grumpy?” Sophie asked, as they dodged a pair of cyclists who passed them too closely without a warning. When Sophie called after them, one raised a finger. That agitated Andrew, too.

Andrew picked up the pace. “I’m not grumpy,” he lied.

“Is it because I am graduating ahead of you?” asked Sophie.

“Of course not,” said Andrew. But he supposed it was. As irrational and maybe sexist as it was, it bothered him that Sophie was graduating a year ahead of him. She had skipped a grade, she was entitled to graduate. She was prepared for college or university. Andrew was just ordinary, graduating at the same time as everybody else, and had no real plans. Boring. “How far have we gone?”

“1,312 steps, about a kilometre,” said Sophie.

“Feels farther,” said Andrew.

At one kilometre they stopped for a hot dog. They bought all-beef dogs from a vendor and sat on a slatted wooden bench, watching the cargo ships crawl into the harbour.

“I need your help,” Sophie said. She tossed the un-eaten half of her hot dog into a garbage bin. Then someone walked by with their dog, and tossed in a plastic bag of poo. Andrew said, “Let’s keep walking. What’s up?”

“Well,” said Sophie.

It probably had something to do with university, Andrew thought. Maybe they couldn’t afford it. Or maybe she had been awarded three or four scholarships, which was more likely, and didn’t know which one to accept. Or maybe her final term paper for Advanced Poli-Sci had hit a rough patch. He could help with none of these things. He sighed; a careful, silent sigh.

“I need to change my name,” Sophie said. “They announce your full name from the stage during graduation ceremonies. First, middles, last.”

“What is your full name?” Andrew asked. He was grinning at her. Sophie was not smiling at all.

“Since I’m changing it anyway, I guess I can choose any name I want,” she said. “Like, Gwyneth, or Alexandria, or Lee, or Parker, or Audrey.”

“Is it like, Sophia Gnarlissa Poopsack?”

“Will you help me or not?” She stopped walking, looked at her fit band, and turned and started marching back the way they’d come.

Andrew had to hurry to catch up with her. He noticed the back of her calves were getting sunburnt, but instead of pointing it out to her, he said, “Sophia Chocosquirt Thighburn?”

Sophie stopped. They were in the middle of the walkway. Andrew realized they were going to be one of those street-drama couples at any second, arguing right there in public, not caring who heard them.

“I am graduating ahead of you,” Sophie said. She hadn’t raised her voice, yet. People walked and rode past on their bicycles and with their dogs and paid them no mind. “I’m sorry that makes you unhappy. Really sorry, because I thought you were a friend.”

“Listen, Sophie… If that is your real name…”

“Funny. My grandparents named me. I am officially Lucretia Sofia Cosmina Handler. OK? You are officially an asshole.”

Right, now it was drama level. A few people smirked as they walked by. The sky was cloudless. He had been wondering what to get her for a graduation present. He was thinking about a necklace. Her face was flushed with anger.

“That is pretty terrible,” said Andrew. “But I guess they are family names?”

“Yes, they are. My mother will probably give me permission for the name change, but my grandmother would be devastated.”

“Don’t change it. Who cares what anyone thinks?”

Sophie then amazed Andrew by starting to cry. Now people frowned at him as they walked by. He tried to lead her to the side of the walkway where they could sit on the curb, but she resisted him. “I care!” she said.

Sophie was right. He really was an asshole. A selfish asshole. He put his arms around her.

“Do I get to go to your graduation and hear the new name?” he asked. “And I’m sorry I’ve been an asshole. I promise, um, I promise you won’t have to call me that again.”

Three weeks later, Sophie and her mother went to the government offices, where she had her name changed officially to Sophia Star Lucille Handler. It cost $140. The change gave Sophie great comfort, and she was happy to concentrate on her grad dress, which was white with sequins, and her hair for the ceremony, which was fixed in place by a fresh orchid, and her date for the after-grad, who was Andrew, and whose graduation present was a sterling silver chain with a star pendant.

Survivor

Prompt: Layers

chocolate-cake

Sophie and her family lived on an odd-shaped property behind the Chevron station, two buses away from Andrew’s house but less than a kilometre from Bernard’s grandfather. The plot was long and narrow, ending in a V at the gas station, with the house very close to the road at the other end. It was a vintage, wooden, two storey farm-style house, painted grey.

The inside smelled a bit of cabbage, Andrew thought, and he didn’t like it much. It was decorated mostly with old stuff, like you would find at a junk shop. It was clean though, he supposed. Sophie’s mother and grandmother were always cleaning or cooking. Her father worked two jobs, one at the railyard and three evenings a week as a bingo-caller. Yes, Sophie assured him, they actually did pay for that.

They had chickens in the back yard. Andrew didn’t know anyone else who raised chickens in the city. There was a very tidy coop housing about two dozen birds, and they had most of the garden to roam about in. A wire fence protected the neighbours, including the Chevron station, from wandering chickens.

Sophie collected eggs each morning before school, and had to continue the ritual even during the summer holidays, which she hated. Andrew was sympathetic. When he had no school the next day, he liked to sleep until one or two in the afternoon, when his mother, who swore she would let him sleep his life away if he wanted, relented and nagged him out of bed.

Sophie’s grandmother had a tenuous grasp of English, and Andrew only understood her by the grandness of her gestures. Get out of here and into the kitchen, waving her hands, when she’d cut two slabs of chocolate cake for him and Sophie. Nodding and petting Sophie when they sat at the dining room table doing homework or researching something on their laptops.

“Grandma thinks I’m smart,” Sophie said. “She wants me to be a doctor or president of something.”

“You would make a fierce president of something,” Andrew said. “Is your grandfather, um…”

“He’s dead,” Sophie said. “He was a holocaust survivor. He had a tattoo.”

“A holocaust survivor, huh,” said Andrew.

“He was just a boy when the camp was liberated,” Sophie said.

“Was he, like…”

“Jewish?”

“No, um, tortured and all that?”

“He didn’t talk about it much,” Sophie said. “I remember he had a temper sometimes, mostly if I didn’t eat all my dinner, or threw scraps away down the sink. He would go nuts. Mom says because they starved at the camp. She told me to do what he said, to save everything, to put leftovers in containers, whatever calmed him. I could toss them later.”

“Wow,” said Andrew.

“I was afraid of him for a lot of years, until my mother explained things,” said Sophie. “Can you finish that cake, or should I take it away?”

“What do you think?” Andrew said. He picked up his fork. The chocolate cake was bitter, but he ate it, every crumb.