Nothing’s Wrong [Short Story]

The fragrance of fresh bread woke Thomas up one morning. He leaped out of bed excitedly, knowing what the smell signified. It meant that Uncle had come for a visit.

Thomas was six years old, and he could tell, with the instinct that all young children share, that his father liked Uncle a lot, but that his mother didn’t, even though Uncle was her brother. Thomas didn’t know why his mother didn’t like Uncle, but he sensed that it had to do with Uncle being a baker. He thought that maybe bakers weren’t as good as bankers, which is what his mother was. Thomas thought that being a baker was much nicer; Uncle wore comfy clothes and always smelled good, whereas Thomas’s mother always complained about her pantyhose and put too much perfume on.

Uncle was tall and skinny, but this morning, when Thomas went downstairs, he thought that Uncle had become like Flat Stanley, the flat boy that they were reading about in school. The illusion passed, and Thomas realized that it was only that Uncle looked even thinner than usual. He looked gaunt, although Thomas didn’t know that word, and he looked worn out and weary, more words that Thomas didn’t really understand.

“Morning, Tom-Tom.”

“Hi! What’s wrong, Uncle?”

“Drink your milk. Eat. We don’t want you to be late for school.” Thomas’s mother pushed a plate of eggs and a glass of milk at him without looking at Uncle at all. Then she swept right out of the room again, and Thomas and Uncle looked at each other as they hear Thomas’s parents yelling at each other upstairs. Uncle got up and checked on the bread in the oven. Whenever he came to visit, he’d let himself in very early and would bake fresh bread that would be ready for the family’s breakfast when they awoke.

“Here you go,” Uncle said, pulling the bread-pan out of the oven. He cut a thick, still steaming slice, and put it on Thomas’s plate. “Eat up.”

Thomas wasn’t going to give up on his question, though. “What’s wrong, Uncle?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Uncle smiled.

In the car on the way to school, Thomas asked his mother the same question. “Nothing,” she said. “Why? Has Uncle said anything?”

That evening, Thomas tried again. He went into the bathroom where his father was drying off after a shower and began to swing from side to side while holding the doorknob.

“Stop that, you’ll break it,” his father said, without much conviction. Thomas kept swinging.

“Daddy, what’s wrong?”

“Well. What did Mommy tell you?”

“Nothing.”

“And Uncle?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh dear. That must mean that whatever’s wrong, it’s a big deal. Listen, bub, you and I – we shouldn’t get involved, okay?”

“Okay,” Thomas said. But when he went to bed that night, he couldn’t help feeling scared by what his father had said. It sounded like his father didn’t know what was wrong either. If nobody knew what was wrong, then what would happen now? For the first time in months, Thomas had nightmares and wet the bed.

Dear Santa

August 27, 2010

Dear Santa Clause,

Mommy and Daddy say you don’t exist because we’re Jewish. But my best friend Wanda says that you do and she’s my best friend so I’m going to listen to her.

I’m 8 and I’m starting 3d grade tomorrow. I don’t want to go back to school. But Wanda says that Christmas will be here very soon (in 4 months) and that then I can get presents from you if I ask for them nicely.

Wanda got a lot of nice presents last year. She got another pony doll for her collection and a bathing suit for the summer (she says that was a funny present to get in the winter but I said it was a good idea and that you’re smart for thinking ahead) and a computer game about ponies (how do you know that she likes ponies? Does she tell you?) and also a book that’s about a horse (she likes ponies better than horses but she still liked the book. It was about a ghost horse! It was a good book. We read it together.)

I have been very good this year Santa. I wrote in my diary every day like the reading and writing teacher said I should last year because I wasn’t so good at it. Mommy helped me with spelling all the time but then she also showed me how to find the right spelling on Google. Do you know about Google Santa? I bet you do. Maybe you started it. I asked Wanda why I couldn’t email you and she said that you didn’t have internet in the North Pole (or South Pole? I can’t remember but I’ll ask Wanda before I send the letter).

I have also been helping Mommy do shopping for food every week and I take my dog Pesky for a walk every day (Mommy and Daddy take him for walks too) but only around the park because Mommy doesn’t want me to cross the street alone yet. I crossed the street alone once because Wanda dared me to but except for that I have been very good!

I know it is early to write to you, but I wanted to tell you that even though I’m Jewish and we have Hanukah I still want to have Christmas too. It’s not just for the presents. I’m not greedy! It’s just that Wanda has a fireplace and we don’t so I think you’ll have to come in through the window in my room (it’s biggest) and then I’ll get to see you. I want to meet your raindeer. Why are they called that Santa? Do they like the rain?

Like Mommy said to do I’m reading everything I wrote now to check for spelling and I fixed some stuff (ok a lot of stuff but I’m getting better!) and I know that I asked you a lot of questions. Will you write back to me Santa? I hope you will. I want a penpal.

I hope I see you in December!

Sincerely,

Me (Wanda says you know who we are and that we shouldn’t write our names in case someone else finds the letter and tries to find out where we live. But you know where we live already so that’s ok)

Five-Year Old Heart

Martha was hiding in her closet. It was past midnight, and she’d woken up to the sound of Doug smashing his beer bottle in the kitchen. She was only five years old, but she already knew that Doug drank too much beer, that it made him nasty, and that every few nights he felt the need to throw his last bottle down hard and hear it crash. The mornings after he did that, Martha’s mother would clean the shards up quickly, quietly, telling Martha to stay in the tiny hall so she wouldn’t get glass shards in her feet.

Martha knew why her mother cleaned up in the morning. It was because one time, when she hadn’t, Doug woke up and saw the glass all over the kitchen floor. That just put him into a new rage. Martha had hidden in the closet then, too. She’d heard her mother whimper, but just barely, because she herself had been crying so hard.

Tonight, though, she was hiding in the closet for a new reason. Her mother was safely in bed, and Doug never did anything to her at night. He used to come home and fall asleep on the couch, sometimes leaving puke on the floor next to him. But lately, Doug had been coming into Martha’s room. She was so scared of him that even though she tried to sound like she was still asleep, her breathing quickened involuntarily, and Doug would then laugh quietly and move closer.

He’d been coming into her room for a few months, but Martha never told her mother what he did. She didn’t really understand it herself, only that it made Doug happy that she was hurting and frightened. She was only five years old, but she knew that if she fought him, he’d turn dangerous. She’d tried fighting, but he’d smacked her. So she knew to stop. To preserve herself.

This was the first night that she’d awoken before Doug got home. She couldn’t tell time yet, but she knew it was late because her mother was asleep and all the lights were off. So she hid in the closet, waiting for Doug to get back. She thought that maybe, if he didn’t find her in bed, he’d just go away.

She wanted him to go away so badly.

She wanted to tell her mother, but she was scared to. She knew instinctively that there was something wrong about what Doug was doing, and felt it was her fault.

She wanted, with all of her five-year old heart and body, for something very bad to happen to Doug. And that want, that intense need for him to be hurt, frightened her almost as much as Doug himself did.

Warm Milk

When I was little, we always called it “warm milk,” even though it was really hot-chocolate. I don’t know why. Maybe “warm milk” sounds nicer, more wholesome somehow. To this day, though, I still think of it that way.

When I was little, in my grandparents’ home in Los Angeles, I had a cup with a screw-on top. It had handles, and the top was pink. I also had a yellow one, at some point, although I’m not sure which came first. The cup was clear plastic, with little drawing stenciled on it of butterflies and flowers. It was the kind of cup that adults love, because if it falls, very little can spill out of it in the time it takes for the fall to be noticed. It was the kind of cup I loved, too, because it was unique. I was the only one who drank out of it.

The taste of warm milk with chocolate Nesquick mixed into it brings me memories of that house where I used to drink out of that cup. The smell of the wooden floors in the kitchen seem to magically rise into my nostrils, as well as the smell of cleaning supplies that accompanied any late night in that kitchen, seeing as how my grandfather always cleaned the kitchen meticulously after dinner.

It is so strange, somehow, the way memories rise at such trivial moments, such as a regular Friday evening. The taste of warm milk is still in my mouth.

I Remember… (When I Was Really Little)

I remember the house we had in Los Angeles when I was really little.

I remember eating ice-cream in front of the television after nursery-school.

I remember begging my mom for cookies when she was on the phone, and bugging her until she’d give them to me just so I wouldn’t bother her.

I remember that I planned that strategy in order to get more cookies.

I remember my nursery-school teacher, Robin, and how I would get scared if I was parted with her.

I remember the red tricycle I had and the way I liked to stand on the back of it and move it forward with one leg, pretending it was a skateboard.

I remember my crib that I slept in until I was three years old.

I remember refusing to answer my father in Hebrew and only speaking to him in English until we moved to Israel and I had to speak Hebrew.

I remember rocking so hard on my little rocking chair that I unbalanced it and fell backwards, hitting my head hard.

I remember getting my first Barbie doll from my mother when she went on a vacation, and I remember that my brother got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action-figures.

I remember my friend, Ally, from nursery-school and my next-door neighbor, Gina, whose toys I was jealous of.

I remember a lot from before I turned three – I’m told it’s rather unusual. The memories are strange, though. They’re fuzzy and soft, all in pastel colors and moods and disconnected visions. Early memories are strange, but I’m glad I have them.

An Excerpt

I have a few different stories that I’m working on. I always seem to have a few stories that I’m working on, and I never seem to continue writing enough of them. This, however, is part of a story I began thinking of a few months ago. I have a general plot laid out and a beginning scene. This, though, is a scene that I thought of in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. It came vividly into my mind and I fell asleep thinking about it. When I woke up in the morning, I wrote it down.

____________________________________________

The first time my mother lied to me, I was sitting at the window-seat in our large sitting room. My governess had caught a bad cold, and she was confined to bed. I didn’t know this at the time, but her confinement was probably more to do with the risk of her infecting me than with any goodwill towards her. Nevertheless, I’m sure she was grateful for the rest, for I was quite a difficult child at the age of five.
I was sitting in the window seat that day while my mother sat by the fireside. She was doing some fine needlework, embroidering a kerchief of my father’s with her own special design; a rose, its petals not yet fully open. She’d given me a cotton kerchief of my own, and a needle and thread as well, and bade me sit by the window quietly and try to embroider something. I had stuck the needle in the cloth a few times, but seeing that I didn’t get any pretty designs, I had given up and started watching the dismal outdoors. It was raining heavily, and every few moments lightning would flash. I would count, then, along with my heartbeats, and see how long it took the thunder to clap loudly after the lightning. My count grew shorter and shorter as I stared, transfixed, at the raging torrent outside.
I knew I was safe on this side of the glass window. I wondered if anyone could be outside in a downpour like that and live.
“Mama,” I said once the count between the lightning and the thunder was only one heartbeat. “Is anyone outside now?”
“No, Miyara, no one is outside,” she said serenely.
“But Mama, what if Pirima wasn’t sick? We would’ve gone out to play in the garden. It was sunny this morning. We would’ve. We would’ve been out there now.”
“No, darling, I’m sure Pirima would have seen the clouds and wouldn’t have taken you outdoors. No one is out there in the rain. Who would be silly enough to wander outside in weather like this?” She didn’t even look up from her sewing as she spoke. Anger flared in my five-year old self. She didn’t understand! I could easily have been out there with my governess in that frightful rain! It would have hurt us!
“But what if I was outside?” I demanded fiercely. I stood up, letting the cloth, needle and thread fall off me and roll to the ground. My hands were balled up in fists, and I could feel my lip beginning to pout in that way that signaled I was going to start crying. My mother gave me a stern look and finally rose. She placed her sewing things on the dainty table beside her chair, and came to me.
“Firstly, Miyara, get off that window-seat this instant. You are a lady, not some bar-maid to go standing on chairs and making a fuss,” her voice was mild, but then, my mother was always at her most mild when she was angry with me. Later in life, I understood it like this – it was as if I were a simpleton and she thought that if she only spoke clearly enough and rationally enough, I would go along with what she said and stop angering her. Mostly it worked. “Second,” she continued once she’d sat me down and settled herself beside me. “You will never need to be outside in a time like this. You are, as I said, a lady. You will always be able to be safe inside, by the fireplace, as is proper. If you’re on a journey, you will be settled comfortably in an inn. I promise you, you will never need to find yourself out in the rain. There,” she patted my hand with satisfaction. “Does that make you feel better?”
It did. It did, then. But that was the first lie my mother told me, for ten years after or so, I found myself outside. In the rain. All alone.

Adult Fun!

Before you become alarmed – this is strictly PG-rated stuff, nothing beyond, despite what the title may bring forth in your imaginations.

As many of you know, I’m nineteen years old. Young by any standards. I’ll never claim to have more life experience than I have, but I also know that I’m relatively mature and that I’ve changed greatly over the last few years of puberty, just as any teenager does. One of the things that constantly strikes me these days is the difference between what I consider “fun” today and what I considered “fun” years ago.

There are, of course, the obvious things: when I was little, I’d enjoy mundane things like riding the bus or going up and down an escalator. Today the things that thrill me are expensive [like snowboarding] or things that I know won’t thrill me forever but that do now because they’re new to me [like driving].

But the thing that really makes me pause in amazement is the way I spend time with friends. While once upon a time we’d all enjoy just sitting around on a grassy knoll and exchanging jokes, now we like to actually do things together. Now we enjoy doing things that I considered to be “grown-up stuff” when I was little: we go to cafes, go out to dinner, go see movies often, go to museums, attend festivals. It’s astounding to me how different a simple thing like talking with a friend can be when one does it with a cheery cafe in the background or around a dinner table. There’s no real reason I can see for the change in pattern – it all boils down to the same thing, spending time with friends – but it’s a welcome and enjoyable change, nevertheless.