Married with Children

Daily Prompt: Obvious

twin babies

Albert Demarco, who was the uncle of Deborah’s late husband, had taken to Lizzie and Deborah, and seemed to be around the house a lot, Leep thought.

He and Vince’s Uncle Al still hadn’t had their little chat, or interrogation, about Vincent’s murder, even after a week and a half, because sometimes Leep found he simply wasn’t available when Uncle Al was. But as Leep had become kind of a regular around Deb and Lizzie’s house (“Lizzie” only to Leep, in his mind; her name to everyone was “Beth”), he couldn’t help but notice that Uncle Al was hanging around a fair bit, too.

He knew Uncle Al was married, because he overheard this kitchen conversation:

“Beth, you look the same as you did when I first met you, at Vince and Debbie’s wedding.”

“I seriously think there is something wrong with your eyesight, then, Albert.”

An agreeable, and to Leep’s ears, a patently false chuckle from Uncle Al.

“You are just as beautiful, Beth.”

“How is Tabby, Albert?”

An almost imperceptible pause. “Just fine, Beth, at home with the twins, as always. A very competent homemaker.”

“You should bring her next time.”

“She doesn’t much like to travel. She knows I need to travel a lot, and that I meet lots of people, and she is good with it.”

“Is she really?”

“Some women are happy like that. You aren’t though. You look like you could use a night out, somewhere special, whatever you would like.”

“I could use a night alone, somewhere completely quiet, and sleep until— oh hello Leep! Thanks for bringing in the plates.”

“Thanks very much for dinner, Mrs Hernandez.”

“Please call me Beth.”

Uncle Albert drilled several holes through Leep’s head and into his brain, with the dirty look he got.

But all Leep could think about was this: I can call her Beth.

Roman Summer

Prompt: Tourist
This is another excerpt from my Nanowrimo novel about twin sisters Isabella and Catrina.

sidewalk-cafe-piazza-navona-rome3

It was as if a spotlight suddenly shone on Bella. She brightened, straightened up in her chair and I knew Santino was approaching. I put my cigarette out in the ashtray on the table and brushed damp hair away from my forehead. This was the first time I was meeting him outside the environs of his workplace, the hotel bar. I was cool. I would be cool.

“Bella,” he said, in a fine deep voice, just like a man. He seemed a man to me, though he was not any taller than Bella, rather thin, and was so close-shaven that he looked like he was too young to have started a beard. He wore his dark, not entirely clean hair in a pony tail tied at the base of his neck. He leaned over and brushed her cheeks with his lips, European style, then turned to me.

I stood up and he took my shoulders, and we exchanged air kisses on each cheek. He smelled strongly of cologne, something very citrus, very forest, and made a tiny grunting sound when he kissed. I wondered if I had tobacco breath.

He sat in the wrought iron chair next to Bella, and I saw her seek out his hand. That was bold of her I, thought. I think she did it for my benefit, to prove she was brave and their relationship was powerful. He grinned at me. He had perfect, perfectly white teeth.

I had only seen him in the muted light of the mirrored bar, when Mama and Bella and I had our pre- or after-dinner glass of wine. I saw that Santino had downy hair on his arms that caught the light. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt, like the one he wore while bartending, minus the black vest, and a pair of rather tight jeans.

Bella had burgundy-coloured fingernails; we both did, having painted them that morning. We tended, naturally, to embrace the fact that we looked alike. We harboured the idea that we could substitute each other out, at any time (this was called The Game), and no one would necessarily be the wiser. I had a sudden longing to swap with Bella right now, to be the one sitting close to a man, holding hands in a cafe in Rome, his thumb rubbing my palm, his knee nudging mine. I longed for this even though I found him rather repulsive and fearsome… all the hair, the pores, what lay between his legs, so foreign.

I wanted to be the one to stand up with him, blow a kiss to my sister still in her wrought iron chair, with her coffee on the yellow tablecloth, and steal away with Santino to his parents’ house, where he lived, and where he brought Bella after his parents returned to their jobs after the long break for lunch. I would be there instead of Bella, lying on the couch with him watching Italian television, lazily wrapped around each other. I would hear him whisper in my ear about how beautiful I was, how much he wanted me, how I made him crazy. I would feel all the flushes, all the tingles, my flesh would move by itself when he touched it. I would feel his fingers on my scalp, as he buried his face in my hair, whispering now, and his had running down my shoulder, down my arm, and around my waist.

He often whispered in Italian, and Bella had no idea what he said. “He could be saying, oh, you are such a boiled egg,” Bella said. “I’ll secretly learn Italian and see what he is really saying.”

“How could you love someone that calls you an egg?”

“He has other good qualities,” Bella told me.

We were about to turn sixteen, and I had only been kissed in the basement of Jimmy Russell’s basement, when I was eleven , and there was no love. Jimmy was fifteen and I suspect he wanted to practice his kissing skills for more worthy prey.

I didn’t know what it felt like to get down and dirty. I wanted to know. I hatched a tiny little plan.

First, I ran it by Bella, sort of.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” I said to her that night as we dipped kleenex into nail polish remover and made the burgundy polish disappear. “If we played The Game with Santino?”

Bella burst out laughing and, unfortunately, she didn’t take me seriously.

Round and Round

Prompt: Contrast

This is a first chapter of a Nanowrimo novel.

cat sprinkles

My father meant to kidnap my sister, not me. It was an honest mistake I suppose; we were identical twins, and even my mother had some difficulty telling us apart. Only our temperaments could give us away. Me, living up (or down) to my unruly mass of red hair, stubborn and angry, and Isabella, the “good” one, calmer and quieter.

He must have caught me in a rare moment of quiet and meditation. I call it meditation now, but as a child it was a kind of trance– seeing in my mind’s eye a pair of dancers spinning round and round, round and round.

On that morning, Mama was at her office and Lily was watching us. Lily probably loved us more than anyone, but was not equipped to actually care for us. She was kind but distracted. She loved television. In Lily’s care, we were raised on a diet of Guiding Light and As the World Turns. People lived in dimly lit but luxurious rooms, were never outside. They smoked. They cried and screamed at each other. They looked puzzled, confused, unhappy. They would stare at one another in fury, and the next moment be locked in a lustful kiss. It was not like that around our house, but our house was different. I already knew that.

Bella and I were restless that morning, and Lily marched us into the kitchen to make cupcakes. Which is to say, she got a packet of cupcake mix from the cupboard, and a measuring cup, and told us to mix three quarters of a cup of milk with the mix, in a big bowl with a big spoon to stir, until all the lumps were out. Then, she said, we needed to put butter on squares of wax paper and rub the butter all over the cupcake tin. She seemed to think we would remember all this accurately and not forget what came after the word “cupcake”, as any five year old would.

When I grabbed the packet from Lily’s hand, she scolded: “Catarina, for pete’s sake, let your sister play too.” Play? This was not play. This was some serious culinary action. Maybe those cupcakes put me on the path that ultimately led to the kitchen.

Lily retreated to the TV room.

Bella and I got the mix into a big ceramic bowl which was blue on the outside and glazed white on the inside. Then we tried to measure the milk in the measuring cup, but forgot the amount. I did that part, and erred on the side of caution, not putting enough milk in. I got a wooden spoon from the canister on the counter, and started mixing in earnest.

It was lumpy and powdery and I got bored quickly. I let Bella take a turn stirring. “Put some elbow grease into it,” I told her, using a phrase from Lily.

Our kitchen was all checkerboard. I still dream about it. Square yellow and white floor tiles, and a backsplash that was blue and white ceramic. My logo now, for my company, is a yellow and white checkerboard.

Lily had said something about smooshing butter all over a cupcake pan, and this sounded appealing. Wax paper? I forgot that part. The butter was hard from the fridge, so I ran it under some hot water. Bella was chanting as she stirred. She had a sweet voice, but since she was applying so much elbow grease to her task, her tone took on a note of stridency. Eeny meeny MINEY mo. Catch aniggle BY the toe. That was Lily’s verse too. Mama had already told us to stop singing it. She swatted our behind if she heard it, even though we had no inkling what the words meant. But the intensity of the moment made Bella forget.

The butter was warm and melty on my hands, and I started to coat the cupcake pan with it. I wondered why we had to do this. It made little sense, but Bella and I had learned that not much made sense, and forged ahead anyway. I smoothed the butter in the little cups, and around the cups, and on the back of the tin, too. It was well and truly coated with butter, as Lily instructed.

Bella then dropped the bowl on the floor and began to cry. The bowl was heavy and may even have dented the soft floor tiles. But it didn’t break, and she and I scooped up the batter that had escaped. We heard Lily call out, “I’ll be right there!” She was waiting for a commercial break. How she had faith that we hadn’t broken something important, like a spine, remains a mystery to me.

Lily finally arrived, corrected our mistakes, and searched the cupboards for something to use as icing once the cupcakes were baked. She added milk to the mix and stirred the lumps out, wiped off the excess butter from the tin and dusted the cups with flour. She poured some of the batter into the measuring cup and let us fill the tin cups halfway full. She forgot to preheat the oven, and so set it, and told us to call her when it beeped to indicate that the oven had reached temperature. Meanwhile, she said, we could draw pictures of cupcakes to show Mama. Ok?

And she sat us at the kitchen table. It had a smooth, cool formica surface, light blue with silver speckles. We each had a sheet of letter sized white paper, and shared a box of sixteen coloured pencils, which were our drawing tools of preference for the moment.

Bella had a talent for drawing, and she concentrated, her tongue tight against her lip as she drew what appeared to be a birthday cupcake, with green icing and some pink candles. Our birthday was coming up, we would be six, and would also start school. Some heavy life changes lay in our immediate future. Mama impressed that upon us. Turning six was important. School! We couldn’t wait to start. Mama was trepidatious, as if she feared we would fuck it up.

Bella was so lovingly drawing that cake that I deduced she was particularly fond of cupcakes. So my picture showed a Bella (Bella was differentiated from me, Cat, in my drawings, by a bow in her hair) who had a big fat belly full of cupcakes, demonstrated by her tummy kind of exploding and cupcakes and blood flying out of it. Not high art, but it told a story.

Well, Bella howled when she saw it. Lily was furious. “You expect me to show that to your Mama?” and she walloped my behind and sent my out to the back porch to repent. That’s exactly what she said. “You go out there and repent for awhile.”

I was unrepentant. Art, free expression, creative genius stifled because Bella cried! No doubt her cupcake drawing would adorn the fridge for Mama to see, while mine failed to pass the censors and would end up in the garbage pail under the sink. Life was unfair.

Anger tied my tummy in knots for awhile, then I stared at the sumac, which was starting to leaf out. And I saw the dancers, he holding her in a long silken gown, spinning round. Graceful, dipping to the unheard music, round and round. There was no anger, no anything, in that cloud ballroom.

Daddy drove a Buick. It was big and flashy, green in colour. We had a carport in the back, from the lane, but he didn’t pull in. His car was parked in the lane, the engine running.

We hadn’t seen him for almost two weeks. Mama said he was away but we knew better. It was hard to remember when they didn’t yell and scream at each other, like the characters did on Lily’s television programs. There was no accompanying puzzlement or confusion, though, no lustful kisses, only shouting. Daddy would say, “Just stop it, you’re upsetting the girls” and Mama would say, “They need to know what a giant asshole you are!” And so on. Mama was the fearful one. If we actually witnessed them fighting, instead of just hearing it while cowering in our bedroom, it was Mama we were afraid would strike out, would punch him or grab a ersatz weapon and crown Daddy the king of awful. I don’t know why my own temper annoyed her so, since it was obvious who I had inherited it from. “I won’t let you near them!” she screamed at him, and we guessed she meant us, his daughters.

Bella was the calmer one, it’s true. But all the same, it was strange that I was the one who cried, fearful, into my pillow during those fights, and Bella who crawled in beside me to offer comfort. Bella, dry-eyed, unafraid, warm arms wrapped around me as we spooned. I was the strong angry one, Bella the gentle, soft one. Shouldn’t she be the one who wept?

Daddy was standing outside the running car, and calling out in a low voice. “Bella, sweetheart, darling, come over here.” I looked up and stared. He gave an awkward wave, smiling. “It’s ok,” he said. So I stood up and went to him.

He scooped me up in his arms and I swear he sniffed me. “I miss you so much,” he said. “Where’s your sister?”

I didn’t answer, but he didn’t mind. We drove away in the Buick.

Snapdragons

Prompt: Unexpected Guests
You walk into your home to find a couple you don’t know sitting in your living room, eating a slice of cake. Tell us what happens next.

sad dog

After coming home from a visit to the doctor, I approached my front door, key in hand, and noticed that my neighbour’s dog was peeing on my rhododendrons. He stopped, lowered his leg, and gazed at me mournfully. He was always escaping from my neighbour’s yard, and always came to pee on my plants when he did.

I entered the house. It felt cold, and I heard voices. Who else had the key to the house? Only my son, who now lived in Hamburg. I had talked to him on Skype early this morning. I heard a woman’s laugh, and it gave me the courage to move from the hall to the living room, where I encountered a man and a woman.

They were sitting close together on the couch, giggling and nudging each other, as they ate hazelnut cake. They were rather sloppy eaters, and crumbs made a path down the front of their clothes, and littered the carpet. They looked up at me and smiled silently, their mouths full.

“What is going on?” I asked. I didn’t raise my voice, despite the fact that I felt I needed an answer to the question immediately.

“We heard about the bake sale,” the man said at last.

“We heard about your cake,” said the woman simultaneously.

“The bake sale is on Tuesday. In the church basement,” I said.

“It’s delicious,” said the man. “By the way, I’m Trevor, and this is my wife, Nancy.”

I took a few steps and glanced into the kitchen, where I noticed two things: the deadbolt on the door to the garden, which was the only other entrance to the house, was still turned and locked; and the counter beside the stove was clear.

I returned to my guests and said, “How did you get in?”

“Oh,” said Trevor, and a shadow of a frown crossed his face. “The laundry room window. The thing is, when we broke the handle, we must have left a sharp edge.” He set the napkin which held the remains of the hazelnut cake on the coffee table. He stretched his left leg out and pointed to a snag in his pants. “I seem to have damaged my trousers.” He and his wife bent over the small tear with great concern. Nancy rubbed his upper arm consolingly.

“I baked four hazelnut cakes,” I said. “Don’t tell me you ate all of them.”

Nancy laughed again. “Oh heavens no. You just missed Ruth and Paul. They were most impressed.”

Trevor took his wallet out of his pants’ pocket and took out a silver toothpick, with which he delicately sought the remains of the hazelnuts stuck in his teeth.

“So you each ate a whole cake?”

“My goodness, of course we did not!” Trevor said, putting the toothpick in his pocket. “That would be piggish. The twins ate most of it.”

“The twins.”

“Yes, they would still be here, they so wanted to meet you, but Eric had to catch a plane. And you know the twins, where one goes the other follows. They are inseparable.”

“Literally,” said Nancy.

I felt a headache coming on. I went to the cupboard and took out a book. I put it in my bag. Then I went to the front door, opened it, and went outside. I closed the door behind me.

My car was parked at the curb. I went to it and started the engine. As I did so, the dog, who had been rooting around among the snapdragons, galloped like a horse to the car. I leaned over and opened the passenger door, and he jumped in.

We drove away.