A Letter to My Little Sister (short fiction)
I want to wrap you in bubble wrap.
You’re laughing at me now. I can see it. Your eyes rolling, head shaking, newly dyed black hair swaying. You’re saying I’m being ridiculous, I’m overreacting. That you’re sixteen and you can make your own choices.
I don’t care. We’ve done it before, do you remember?
You were ten, maybe. We were going to have dinner with your friend, Kate R. (and isn’t that funny, how some people’s names are superglued together in our minds?). That was a summer of hurt for you–you broke your toe at her house, twisted your arm when she came over, sprained your ankle running with her around the pool while the lifeguards shouted tiredly. We decided Kate was the common denominator, that your hurt was all tied to her. We thought we should show up with you completely protected. It was supposed to be a joke.
Remember how we parked two blocks away so they couldn’t see us wrap you up if they happened to look out their window? Mama was laughing, wasn’t she? But I was so nervous, sealing you in bubble wrap with a careful piece of packaging tape. I was terrified to pop one of those little bubbles.
When we were done, you couldn’t walk.
You leaned on me, I think, and I took the firm press of your arm around my shoulder so seriously. What a sight we made, stumbling down that smooth suburban sidewalk, passing the rows of identical white houses and careful trees like it was a three-legged race. It took ten minutes to walk those two short blocks. When we could see their house, though, you pushed away from me, determined to be seen standing on your own. You waddled through their front door laughing, wrapped in clear plastic with a bright red bike helmet on. When the joke landed and the laughter died away, the first thing you did was to ask for a pair of scissors to cut away the makeshift life jacket we’d made you. What was the point of the bubble wrap, then, if you immediately reached for scissors?
When you were seven, you jumped off the top of a ladder on a dare and broke three bones in your foot. I know you know this. It’s probably not even a real memory anymore, just a story told so many times we’ve blurred the edges to fit it securely in the family lore. “Remember when…?”
Willow told you if you jumped and didn’t get hurt, he’d do it too. I can imagine it so easily, have seen it so many times by now: the way you grinned, revealing your missing teeth, shook your hair back, and started to climb. You thought you would be fine because you put three fluffy white pillows on the ground under the ladder. You thought they’d break your fall.
I don’t remember if you cried. You probably did: you were seven and had just broken your foot. But I remember your pride. When you got home from the emergency room, clunky with your boot, you took a piece of paper and carefully, in big, sprawling, slightly shaky letters, wrote out I’ve Never Said No To A Dare. You taped it up onto your wall with blue tape, so everyone who knew you would know how brave (read: careless, stupid) you’d been.
Brody and I manipulated it, remember? Giggling, “Hey, I dare you to get me a glass of water.” Two days later, the sign had an edit in the middle. I’ve Never Said No To A Stupid Dare. We knew it was aimed at us, the siblings taking advantage of the shiny new badge you’d pinned to your chest.
The sign was gone in three months, after Mama started to think that kind of attitude would get you hurt. “Sierra, imagine what people could convince her to do. I mean, she’s jumped off a ladder already.”
That’s the part of the story you don’t remember, I don’t think. The worry. You remember the pride, the way we laugh now when we remember your wild, flailing, ten foot flight. You relish the way it’s cemented you so firmly in our mythology, the way you’ve become this wild child in our stories.
But I was scared that day. I’m scared now. I’m scared because you cut away the bubble wrap. I’m scared because you didn’t say no, ever, to any kind of dare, even the ones that sit beneath the surface, the ones that are barely unsaid. I’m scared I’ll see you jumping (falling) again, and this time you won’t even think to layer any pillows on the ground. I’m scared I won’t see you land.
The Cookbook (short fiction)
I don’t know my extended family well. But I know their food.
My mom collects recipes with so much care. She’s scribbled them into a brown flowered cookbook, one tucked away in the cupboard. I think it’s older than I am.
The book hums with names: not just the names of food, but of their creators as well. Auntie Jan’s Millionaire’s Shortbread. Bob Tesler’s yummy fresh pea soup. Meridi’s Banana Bread. Half of these people only live in the stories my mom tells me, in their names printed across the top of pages stained with flour and drops of oil.
I don’t have anything to say about these people, about the great-aunts, the old friends, even the grandparents. I’ve never met many of them.
But I know their food. I know the stories that go with them.
The very first recipe says “Scallops.” That’s it. No hint that it’s from my dad’s dad, the one who I can’t remember at all. I’ve never eaten the scallops, either, but my mom says they’re good.
“Eleanor’s Apple Pie” comes later in the book. My grandma’s secret ingredient to a pie crust is a tablespoon of vodka. I was twelve when I made it for the first time, and I made my mom measure out the vodka because I was so scared. I thought it could burn me.
“Val” is attached to so much in the book. My nana’s scones, pancakes, carrot cake, cheese sauce pepper the pages. It’s funny, because my mom always remembers her mother hating cooking, remembers the stress and anger my nana cooked with. But my mom makes Nana’s food sing love to me.
My mom’s dad is conspicuous in his absence. He barely set foot in the kitchen when she was growing up, I think, even though he loves cooking now. So he’s missing from this history of my family. I don’t know him or his food at all.
I was nine I think when I wrote myself in. I scrawled “SIERRA’S SUGAR COOKIES” across the top of the page in big looping letters. I gave up after writing “2 Cups of Flour. 1 Egg.” I wandered away, bored, and that page is still unfinished.
I’m in the book, now, in more places. I’ve added a pie, some cookies, a bread recipe. I wonder where the book is going to end up, who’s going to see my name across the top. I wonder if they’ll know me.