Night Lessons [Flash Fiction]

Stephanie got to know her sister at night. The two shared a bedroom, for the apartment was small and there was no chance of their mother and father ever earning enough to allow them to move. Cordelia complained to anyone who would listen, listing the ways a room of her own would benefit her, explaining how the pipsqueak of a sister who shared what used to be her sanctuary was disruptive to her everyday life.

Cordelia was twelve when Stephanie was born. She knew it was an accident; everyone knew it was. There was a lot of speculation among the neighbors as to whether or not the girls even shared the same father. Stephanie never heard those rumors herself, because Cordelia never told her anything. That was why she could only learn about her sister through her dreams.

Communication didn’t play an important role in their family. It wasn’t a silent house by any means; there was a television, a radio, a computer and a stereo, and they often made sounds all at once, causing a confusing sort of ruckus. Even at night, the urban streets outside streamed with traffic and sirens were heard at least once between dusk and dawn. Stephanie didn’t learn about silence until much later, and by then she wasn’t able to abide it.

The first time it happened, Stephanie was three. She awoke in the middle of the night, during a heavy rainstorm, and saw Cordelia sitting up in her bed across the room. “Coria?” she whispered into the dark room. She’d always had trouble with her sister’s name, and this butchering of it stuck with her for the rest of her life, although she never dared use it in public when she grew up. That night, her sister didn’t answer her; instead, Cordelia spoke to the wall in front of her: “No fair. Fancy dress with crocodiles. Nu-uh.” Then she lay back down, still fast asleep.

Stephanie was puzzled, and in the morning, she asked her sister what she’d been talking about. Cordelia pushed her over irritably and told her that she was making things up. “I don’t talk in my sleep, ugly-butt,” she said. But Stephanie knew that she did.

It didn’t happen every night, but once or twice a week Stephanie would wake up, quite by accident, and hear her sister mumble about tornadoes, boys, Mom and Daddy, motorcycles, and other obscurities. The nonsensical sentences began to take shape in Stephanie’s mind over time, and she watched her sister closely, yearning to understand her, thinking that if she knew things about her life, Cordelia might like her. When she had an abusive boyfriend, Stephanie was the first to know, because she heard “Bobby, don’t!” and “Makeup won’t cover the clover, it won’t work. Daddy, you try,” and other bizarre fragments that she pieced together.

Not that Stephanie did anything with the knowledge – she was too afraid of her sister’s temper to tell her parents anything, and more often than not she didn’t understand the reality of the situation in quite the way Cordelia was living it. But she felt like she got to know her sister, and that was what mattered.

When, many years later, Cordelia lay in a hospital bed, Stephanie told her about the things that her big sister had never told her and Cordelia raised her eyebrows in surprise. Her voice was almost nonexistent by this point, and it was hard for her to breathe, but she managed to utter “Smart ugly-butt. Who knew?” before a fit of coughing overcame her. Stephanie handed her a glass of water from the bedside table and helped her drink it, before laying her back down against the pillows.

Flash Fiction Thursday: Lyara

Disclaimer: I’m tired, I’m pressured, I did my best. Sometimes it feels as if whatever I write becomes trite, boring, repetitive and unoriginal, like this piece probably is. Which is why I’m disclaiming: Tired, Pressured, with capital T and P.

Lyara was in the rose garden when it finally hit her. I’m to be married tomorrow. It didn’t seem real. How could it? She sat down heavily, not caring, for once, about the state her dress would be in once she got up from the damp earth. She could always make the stains go away, if she worked hard enough. Trying to breath slowly, she managed to sit up straight and arrange herself so that any observer who happened to be looking through the The’elem Manor’s windows would see a beautiful woman, sitting in the rose garden and taking in the glorious sunshine. Appearances were important, Lyara knew. Especially for her.

A black rose was just beginning to open at eye-level. She stretched out a hand to touch a soft black petal, stroking it softly until it opened completely, and wondered whether marriage would hold any tenderness. It wasn’t obvious. Not everyone managed to marry good men. Why, just a year ago, Moralla married a Viscount, a notable man of wealth and learning. But in her letters home, Lyara knew, she’d confessed to her sisters that the man was cruel to her, beat her, even did unspeakable things to her that she hadn’t dared to write down. Lyara had joined her friends, Moralla’s twin sisters, in reading over the letters and acting suitably horrified. But it didn’t strike her until just now that Moralla was actually suffering, all alone, with her husband.

But that won’t happen to me. Mama and Papa promised. He’s good-looking, kind and intelligent. They told me so. Tears rolled down her face as she contemplated the future. She understood her parents. She knew that she needed to marry fast, marry the first man who offered, marry before he found out… Her parents were incredibly ashamed, and Lyara couldn’t help but feel that they were right. Nobody wanted a sorceress in their household. She knew her talents were a disgrace. But now, when she contemplated needing to hide all her little quirks from an entirely new household staff as well as her new husband – what was his name? She couldn’t remember – it seemed overwhelming. Her parents didn’t notice anymore if a candle flickered into a full blown flame when Lyara entered a room, or when the dinner plates that had arrived cold from the kitchen became suddenly warm again.

She wasn’t sure she could do it. She wished, for the first time in her pampered, idle life, that she was poor as muck and common as weeds, because then her talents would be sought after, wanted, needed. She’d be revered, loved, looked-up to. She wouldn’t ever starve, for a sorceress never did, nor would she lack for firewood.

An idea was forming in Lyara’s mind. She was frightened of pursuing it, but tucked it into the corner of her worries, just in case the marriage business went horribly wrong.