Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Cereal

     It wasn’t the flashlight.
     It wasn’t the sticky, coral lipstick.
     It wasn’t even this journal.
     It was that rotten cereal.

               “Have you ever wondered what it’s like to kiss a boy?” I stare at her, my eyes scanning her face from her deep brown eyes to her full amber lips.
               “Well, of course I’ve thought about it. I know a girl who has, you know,” she smirks as she lifts her elbow to turn the page of the magazine.
               I adjust the flashlight to the next page, and we stare at a long, lean body with a black and white hat flowing on her head.
               “You’re lying,” I say, “I bet it was just an orange. And I tried that once, it’s gross. Probably nothing like the real thing, you know.”
               “Oh, I know she did. She told me, Rosie.”
               “Just because she told you doesn’t mean she did it, stupid.”
               “Nuh-uh,” I start to drone.
               The door kicks open and we flick our heads around, the flashlight reflecting our faces.
               “If you girls can’t keep it down, then Scarlet, you’re going back to your room.”
               “But, mom!” we cry out in unison.
               She holds one hand on her hip, one hand on the door.
               “Fine,” we agree, our soft voices turning with us as we look back at the magazine.
               “You’re gonna get us in trouble,” I say.
               “No, you are,” Scarlet says.
               Glaring at her with piercing eyes, I turn off the flashlight and put up the magazine, standing up.
               “I’m going to bed.”
               Scarlet stares up at me from the floor, “How old are you, Rosie? Five?”
               My mouth frowns and she’s really starting to get on my nerves.
               “No! I’m six,” I say as I purse my lips in frustration, “And I’m tired,” I say as my eyelids lay heavy on my eyes.
               “I’m going back to my room,” she says.
               My stomach sinks and I become depressed. I don’t want her to leave, but I don’t want her to stay. I climb into my bed as my eyelids shut and I can’t force them open again.
               And I let her leave me.

               “Almost done…” Scarlet says.
               “Can I see yet?”
               “I said almost!”
               “Hurry up!”
               “If you don’t hold still—“
               “Scarlet! I wanna see it!”
               She spins me around and I stare at my reflection. Blue pastel eyelids, screaming pink cheeks, and sticky, coral lipstick that glues my lips together. I smile, and my two front teeth have coral colored smears.
               “I love it!” I say jittering in excitement, “Let me do you now!” I stand up and grab the makeup bag.
               “Rosie, no. I can do my own,” Scarlet raises her eyebrows as her mouth puckers up.
               “But you did mine,” I start.
               “I’m pretty sure I’m old enough to be able to do my own makeup.”
               “Well, I could’ve done mine by myself!”
               “Oh, yeah? I’d love to see you do your own makeup.”
               My mouth shivers and a lump of chalk starts swiveling through my stomach and up to my throat. My mouth dries and my lips frown uncontrollably.
               “You’re really going to cry because you can’t do your own makeup?”
               “I can!” I scream.
               “No you can’t!” she screams back.
               “Yes… I… can!” I scream as I push forward and grab a handful of her hair, whipping her head back around and throwing her at the bed.
               She screams a piercing, girlish scream, and regains her balance, tottering on the edge of the bed.
               “No you can’t!” she digs her fingernails into my back and drags them up to my shoulder. The stinging pain takes a few seconds to register and my back starts to spark a fire in me.
               “I bet you can’t do your own either!” I yell.
               I lunge at her, and the door slams open.
               “Rose! Get off of her!” my father screams.
               He pulls me off my sister and grabs my wrist, firm and tight.
               His thick eyebrows furrow in frustration and he says through clenched teeth, “You have some explaining to do.”
               “But she fingernailed me!” I whine.
               “I don’t care,” he says.
               I look behind my shoulder as he leads me out of her room, and she sits on the edge of the bed, grinning from cheek to cheek.
               This time we were pulled apart.
               I didn’t care.

               A knock brushes my door open, and I glance up.
               “Hey Rosie,” Scarlet says.
               “What’s up?”
               “Nothing. I didn’t know if you wanted to come with me to the football game tonight. It’s one of the last games of the season. School spirit,” she lifts up her jazz hands, trying her hardest to persuade me.
               “I’m good,” I look back down at my journal.
               “Come on,” she shifts, “for me?”
               “Why would I go for you?”
               “Rosie! Just come. I’ll buy you some cotton candy and maybe we’ll find you a hot date to sit next to.”
               “They don’t even have cotton candy for one, and for two, I don’t want a hot date.”
               “I’ll be waiting for you in the car,” she smiles, her thumbs up as she backtracks out of my doorway. She stops and turns back around. “And what is that god-awful smell?”
               I reach over to my bedside table as I grab a scrap piece of paper, marking my place in my journal. “It’s that rotten cereal,” I say, pointing to the congealed milk on the bedside table.
               “Good God, Rosie. Take that to the kitchen. That’s gonna be the death of me, I swear. Yuck,” she goes on and on, pinching her nose and heads for the stairs.
               Grabbing my jacket, and leaving the cereal, I catch up with her at the bottom of the stairs.
               “What were you reading, anyways?” she asks me.
               “Just memories. I used to write in my journal all the time. You… you were mean. You were a real—“
               “Yeah, yeah, I know. I wasn’t always mean though, Rosie,” Scarlet says, walking us to the car.
               “Uhhh, yeah, from what I can gather, you really were.”
               “Look! I’m taking you in my car to a football game,” she says.
               “That I don’t want to go to,” I finish, opening the car door.
               “Well, I love you, my little Rosie,” she turns her head and smiles.
               “Love you, too…” I moan.
               My phone buzzes in my pocket as Scarlet revs up the car.
               “Hello, Mrs. Yung,” I say.
               “Ah, yes. Rose, can you come watch children for me? I have date tonight with Jo.”
               “Yes!” I practically yell into the phone, opening the car door and hopping out.
               “Okay, thank you, be here ‘round seven?”
               “Yes, Mrs. Yung, I’ll be there.”
               I hang up the phone and look back at Scarlet, a frown making her eyes appear cold and dark.
               “I have to babysit. Have fun at your game!”
               I run back into the house as she slowly drives away.
               And I let her leave me.

               I take off my jacket and lay down, savoring my hour or so before I have to walk over to babysit Mrs. Yung’s kids. I look at the bowl of rotten cereal, the milk stale and thick, and I can’t get the smell out of my nose.  I open my journal back up, too lazy to move, ready to silently battle the sour smell.
               Memories cascade over me as I flip page after page. It seems like I only wrote about when we fought. Every entry makes me miss her and hate her at the same time.
               I finally start to near the end of the journal when the pages turn white. I stopped writing about six years ago.
               I hear shuffling in the house and a soft whimper. I sit up and the house is completely silent. Then out of the nowhere the whimper doubles over and cries out in agonizing pain. Break-backing, gut-twisting, vomit-inducing pain-of-all-pains. My heart beats hard below my chest, and I jump out of bed, my journal falling on the floor. I run for my mother.
               I reach the edge of my room as my father runs up the stairs, dry tears filling his eyes and pouring down his cheeks. Enough to fill buckets.
               “Something terrible has happened,” he manages to say.
               “What?” I feel my chest moving up and down, my toes curl into the ground and I dig my fingers into my thighs, “Is it Scarlet?”
               His eyes pour out harder. Enough to fill oceans.
               “Car accident,” is all he can say.
               “Is she okay?” I ask as hard as I can.
               His eyes pour out harder. Enough to fill my heart.
               My knees collapse underneath me and I fall to the ground, eyes empty, heart empty, veins empty, everything.
               This was the last time we were pulled apart.

               I stared at my white ceiling day after day. I stared at the vent above my head. I stared at the rounded light. I stared at the shadows that appeared at night as cars drove by. Day after day my mother would come in and shake her head and she walked on to her bedroom. No, she isn’t awake. No, she isn’t awake. No she isn’t awake. Yet.
               Three days passed by slowly, and I swear I could tell you the exact pattern of squiggles in my ceiling. At the end of the third day, my father paced outside my door. His eyes danced with glory and he looked alive, the bags under his eyes starting to lighten. There was a phone against his cheek, and he shouted, “She’s awake! They said she’s awake!”
               I jump out of bed, my muscles unhappy with me, and run after him. Not worried about my hair, my makeup, my clothes, nothing.
               We run to the car, speed to the hospital, and find her there, my mother standing next to her, holding her hand. Her white hospital gown is bright and she is slowly breathing, eyes barely creaked open. Her hands rest palm up on each armrest. Peaceful.
               “I’m alive,” she breathes, and we all laugh nervously.
               And I never let anyone pull us apart again.
               I lay in my bed, Scarlet by my side. She licks a purple Popsicle, looking down at me and my journal. I flip open to the white page, and I write:
      We were pulled apart all the time, but I never thought it’d be for good.
      Something caused it.
                              It wasn’t the flashlight.
                              It wasn’t the sticky, coral lipstick.
                              It wasn’t even this journal.
                              It was that rotten cereal.
                              But that rotten cereal brought us back together again.


  1. This is such a sweet story. I cried!!

  2. AnonymousMay 28, 2013

    This is really touching

    1. Especially if you have a close sibling! Or one that's far away... you never know!