Joy and Dismay

Prompt: Partake

manet picnic

Shhhhhh! —The leaves of the lime and birch shuddered and bobbed in the wind, blinking green and dun yellow, green and dun yellow. Five six seven fat quail scudded across the grass. An animal pounced; they flew up into the air like ashes from a fire.

Molly tried to keep her knickers hidden, but the hem of her dress was not weighted like her sister’s, and so flapped and fussed and threatened to reveal not just her boot-covered ankles but her stockinged calves, her frilly pantaloons, proof a woman was hidden somewhere beneath the billows of robin’s egg blue fabric.

She didn’t partake of the claret as it took her shyness away, and sister had told her that her shyness made her prettier. So she blushed and stammered in full sobriety, while her sister sipped and laughed and flirted with Donald Heath, the man Molly wanted to wed.

Egg sandwiches were passed around, which Molly denied herself too, as they made her flatulent. Sister took two small wedges, and fed one of them to Donald Heath.

James Fenwick and his cousin Halifax attended to Molly, embarrassed as they were by the intimacy on display between sister and Donald Heath, and Halifax braided tall grasses, adorned the halo with violets, and crowned Molly, much to her joy and dismay.

Sister caught Molly’s eye and winked under long lashes, and held out her glass without looking at Donald Heath and he filled it with wine. Her dress was cranberry red with pink ribbon trim and if she spilled a drop of claret on the bodice of the dress, which she did, no one would notice.

When they all rose to make their way to the carriages, sister stumbled and this time James Fenwick took her elbow on one side and Halifax on the other. The three walked ahead on the path as Donald Heath caught up with Molly and she could smell him— tobacco, horses, and mint.

“You must be very hungry and thirsty,” said Donald Heath.

“No, not at all,” said Molly as her stomach growled audibly. She half crouched as they walked, as the wind had not subsided and pulled recklessly at the hem of her skirt.

“I don’t usually eat egg sandwiches,” he said. “They make me fart, so please forgive me if we share a carriage.”

Molly let out a rather ungodly snort, before blushing from head to toe. Donald Heath, victorious, grinned broadly, took her elbow and whispered in her ear, “One day you’ll be my wife, and we’ll drink claret, spill it on our clothes, and—“

“—eat egg sandwiches all day long and fart as much as we choose,” said Molly. The wind calmed and they were suddenly children again, chasing each other through the tall grasses until they tumbled onto the ground, exhausted and unafraid.

Sister could go to hell.

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The Adventures of Chai: The Handcuffs

Prompt: Incubate

audrey in sunglasses

“Let’s not tell mom about the handcuffs, ok?” said Chai.

Flax responded with a deeply blank stare, an odd countenance for such a young child. Perhaps, Chai thought, he was “processing” and had no energy left for facial expression. Flax was more about doing than thinking, but maybe there was a speck of growing up incubating in that tiny, terrifying boy bundle.

But would he tell mom about the handcuffs?

Her mother had been furious about the leash. No matter how much Chai explained that it had saved her brother from being hit by a car, her mother was adamant that it was unholy to put a young human being on a leash, just because he was active.

“—and unpredictable and strong and it was a harness not a leash,” Chai said.

“No,” said her mother. “Get a good grip on his hand, like a normal person.”

His sticky, gooey, gobby little hand, which slid out of hers whenever he saw something distracting, the same way a dog darted for a squirrel. Sometimes he yanked his hand away just so he could run two blocks ahead of her. She had books to carry, homework and all kinds of shit; how was she supposed to run after an almost four-year old future gold medal sprinter?

No leash, and Flax would surely end up flattened by a bus.

So Chai toured the Dollar Store, which had jumbles of unrelated merchandise on every shelf and in every corner, for ideas. By the time she reached the toy handcuffs, she had a fabric sunflower, a bottle of blue nail polish, a starfish-emblazoned mug, and a mammoth bag of caramel corn in her basket.

The handcuffs were plastic and not strong enough to contain the likes of Flax, as she found out when she flexed them and they came apart. She buried the broken pair under a stack of water pistols. Should stores even sell toy handcuffs and guns?

An hour later Chai was hovering outside the Sexxe Shoppe, wearing a scarf and a pair of her mother’s sunglasses, hoping to pass for eighteen.

The handcuffs were on a display shelf, covered in a hard plastic shell mounted on cardboard, but they looked like they were made of metal, and strong. The key had a heart-shaped handle, lest the set be mistaken for something other than intimate pleasure.

The following afternoon, she picked up Flax as usual at the daycare, and as soon as they were out the door she snapped on the polished silver handcuffs, making the two of them temporarily inseparable. Conveniently, the cuff size was completely adjustable, and the little terror was unable to slip out of them.

He was not happy, but he was never happy to be held back, even by Chai’s innocent hand.

The handcuffs were not as convenient as the leash, because she only had one hand free, but somehow she managed to get them both home safely and without incident.

The key. She’d put it in her jacket pocket. Hadn’t she?

“Just a minute, Flax!” He stopped the pulling and yanking for the duration of the blink of an eye, then leaned, suspended and squirming, away from her. With difficulty she patted down her jacket pockets, then rummaged through her bag and then scrunched up the lining of her jacket in case the key had fallen through, but there was no joyfully wanton, heart-shaped silver key to be found.

She pulled Flax back to her and checked his pockets and clothing carefully.

Fuck!

Her mother would be back briefly after work, then would dash out for her evening accounting course (hoping to get a federal job, and all that) but how could Chai manage to conceal the handcuffs from her until she could find the key?

Neither she nor Flax could get their jackets off, so Chai scribbled a note and left it on the counter: Gone to Jude’s, took Flax, see you tonite.

She somehow got Flax a snack and into the bathroom for an awkward pee, then she dragged the poor lad to the park around the corner, where they waited on a bench behind a tree until her mother’s car glided slowly by in the direction of the house, then, a few minutes later, slowly glided past again.

Chai (and Flax) retraced their steps all the way back to the daycare, then diligently searched the sidewalk and porch at the house, then every inch of the house. She found the earring she’d lost back when she had her ears pierced, and a dollar bill that was no longer in circulation, and a birthday card from last year that had fallen behind the sideboard, but she did not find a key.

It was about half past eight when Chai heard her mother slam the front door and throw her keys onto the hallway table.

“If you want to watch the end of this, don’t say a word,” she whispered sharply to Flax. They sat side by side on the couch in front of the TV, the lights dimmed, with a big bowl of caramel popcorn between them. Cars 2 was the feature film on Netflix, and held Flax’s full attention even though he’d seen it at least twice before.

Her mother paused in the doorway. “Hi chickens. What’s Flax doing up so late? Flax—“

“We’ll just watch the end of Cars, mom. It’s not a school night. I’ll get him to bed.” Chai knew her mother was dead tired. Her night classes were Thursday and Friday, along with full time teaching at Frontenac Elementary School, and she tended to sleep through most of the weekend.

Flax stuffed a handful of caramel corn into his little maw with his free hand. Their mother came up behind them, kissed the top of his head, and bid them good night.

Ok, it was a troublesome night. They slept in Chai’s bed because it was bigger, and while Flax slept soundly, he also thrashed around, farted, and hogged the covers.

And they had to get up well before their mother, whose alarm would go at ten a.m.

Chai was frantic. She thought of dragging her brother to the Sexxe Shoppe and begging for a second key, but she was pretty sure he wouldn’t be allowed onto the premises, and anyway some of the devices on display might confuse or even traumatize the little boy. She knew she’d been confused, and was a bit shaky on the traumatization. A little research would be in order when all this was sorted out, if it ever was.

Might the hardware store have a device wherewith they cut through metal as a service to their customers? How often would teenage girls come in needing liberation from handcuffs?

In desperation she called the Sexxe Shoppe on the phone, and spoke to a cheerful someone named Mandy, who sounded Chai’s age.

“Um,” said Chai.

“Honey, I’ve heard it all,” said Mandy. “What can I do ya for?”

“I lost the key to the Luxe Handkuffs. I can’t find it anywhere and I—“

“Honey, did you not press that little latch near the chain?”

“The what?”

“A safety feature, in case one or the other— well, never mind. Just find that little lever… do you see it, honey?”

“Who’re you talking to?” her mother asked as she wandered into the kitchen, clad in a purple kimono.

Flax, newly freed, bounded out of the kitchen and into the back yard, where he started digging a hole and filling it with rocks, fallen leaves, and litter.

“No one,” said Chai. “I made some tea.”

Casually, Chai pulled her jacket around her and joined Flax in the garden.

“Flax,” she said, “let’s not tell mom about the handcuffs, ok?”

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.

Daniel

Prompt: Disappointment

daughter and new brother

Probably my very earliest memory was around the time Daniel was born.

I was nearly two years old, and I remember lying in my bed— it must have been a crib— in the dark at night, staring at this little stranger who occupied another crib, a new one, just opposite me. I stared hard, and in my memory this stranger stared back. Two babies, staring it out. I remember hating this baby out of some kind of primeval fear and malice, and wishing it was gone. But no matter how much I stared malevolently at this lump of baby, he didn’t disappear.

He had brown eyes, like mine, but blond hair, which went every which way, no matter how Mama cut it. He had a head full of cowlicks. It was soft to the touch, like a kitten’s fur, but as soon as the water dried from combing it, the tufts of hair would stand up again, like vampires climbing out of coffins. So Mama kept it short, which didn’t really help, since he always looked like possums had chewed on his head while he slept.

Even as a baby he  was reckless. If he wanted to investigate a chicken or a tree or a blazing fire, he might cast my mother a cursory glance as if to say, “Here I go, are you paying attention?” and off he went on his uncanny fast crawl. I don’t know how many times I saw Mama swoop him up by his feet! —at the very last moment before the injury or explosion or fall into the abyss. Even thought I despised this baby and wished him harm, in my tiny calculating mind I thought that drawing my mother’s attention to his reckless and naughty baby behaviour might get him into serious trouble or maybe even cause my mother to realize her great error in bringing him home. So I alerted her when he strayed toward a bee’s nest or a sharp bit of glass or a growling dog. I would do nothing to intervene myself, but just alert Mama to his transgressions. In this way I inadvertently saved his hide countless times.

Mostly though, I watched him breastfeed, my eyes drilling into him with intense loathing, or watched my parents coo and giggle with him, this interloper, this boy! I was forced to conjure up bad dreams in the night, to get my parents’ attention, or by reacting theatrically  to a scrape or scratch— howling endless distressing shrieks at the sight of a drop of blood.

If he sensed my animosity, he did not show it. He always seemed quite pleased to see me. If he baulked while being fed, up in his special little chair that used to be mine— it was pink, in fact— if he baulked while Mama brought the spoon of goop to his mouth, all I had to do was make the slightest funny face, the most insignificant rise of an eyebrow or the start of a tongue poking out of my lips, and he would open his fool mouth and laugh with delight. That very soft laugh that he had, that sounded like a little fairy cough.

But he couldn’t fool me with that toothless grin and the cough of the elves. I wished him dead, even though I did not know what death was. I didn’t care. I wanted my world back.