My brother and I sat in the back seat of my mother's van. My mother looked ahead, clenching the steering wheel. Each knuckle was a perfect, bony snow-cap. She set her mouth into a determined frown.
Tommy and I sat side by side. He breathed heavily out of his mouth, stopping only to periodically snort a loose booger back into its rightful home, next to its other crusty friends.
Snort. Breathe. Snort. Breathe.
He was doing all this breathing for one reason and one reason alone: to toy with me. As he sat there, so rudely existing, my eyes focused on his flea collar. I narrowed my eyes, and remembered.
I was finishing my bowl of Rice Krispies, sitting on a yellow-backed kitchen stool. My brother bounded inside, wearing a flea collar. He had found it on the street. "I'm in the doggy club," he proclaimed, "But I don't want fleas!"
My mother, instead of doing the right and proper thing---throwing that nasty, used dog collar into the trash---kissed him and told him that she loved his imagination. "You can be a doggy if you like," she said, and returned to her morning cup of coffee.
I watched this exchange, wide eyed. Her betrayal sat right behind my eyes. Pushing. Pressing. "But, Mom!" I pleaded, "That's disgusting! Get it away from me! Gross!"
Mom sighed, drank another sip, and said, "If you don't like it, you don't have to be near it."
"But--" I said, "You always take his side!"
She gave me the look. "Go away from him. Now."
I retreated to my room, and plotted.
About twenty minutes later, as I heard Mom turning on the shower, and Tommy playing with his Lincoln Logs, I launched my plan. I slapped myself on the arm. I slapped and slapped until my arm was red, tattooed with my angry hand prints.
It didn't feel good, but I knew it would soon.
I stood by the door, willing up the proper face. Once prepared, I ran into Mom's bathroom, crying and screaming. "Moooooom, Tommy hit me FOR NO REASON!"
She replied, from behind the steamy glass, "Unless you are bleeding or on fire, you need to leave me alone."
I considered my options. After mulling over her choices, I selected my own: deceit. "I am bleeding!"
With an audible groan, Mom turned off the water, and stepped out, dripping. I thrust out my wounded arm, "See?"
She frowned. "You're not bleeding," she said, "But this is not acceptable." Still wearing her towel, she stomped towards Tommy's room.
Each step sounded like a perfect, clear bell.
She opened the door to his room, where he knelt over his Lincoln Logs. He was still wearing the accursed collar, but had added his Superman cape for extra flair. "Tommy," she said, "What happened to your sister?"
"HE HIT ME!" I cried, jumping in from behind her. "HE NEEDS TO BE IN TROUBLE!"
Tom gasped, outraged. "I didn't hit her! She's lying!"
"Oh yeah?" I retorted, "Then who did this?" I flashed my now-fading-pink arm his way.
"I didn't!" he yelled. Then, he sat in silence, thinking over his next words. He nodded his head to himself, and squeaked, as only a five-year-old could, "Go. To. Hell, Nancy."
A silence loomed over the room. He swallowed the air, attempting to gulp the words back up. The words coated the room like dark, miserable oil--seeping, sinking.
I laughed to myself. He was so dead.
My mother walked away, each step echoing in the hallway. Soundlessly, we followed her.
She walked into the kitchen, shaking her head slowly. She picked up a wooden spoon. She considered it, feeling its fibrous weight. A slow, secret smile spread over her face.
She placed it in her purse. She turned to us, and said, "I will use this. I. Am. Done."
She never did.
Nor did she remove the spoon from her purse. Which is why, as I sat next to my snotty brother in that van, two weeks later, I knew to remain quiet. Even though he was totally breathing on purpose.
I knew that even the most patient of people had a limit. If we pushed that limit one time too many, she would be prepared. She had the Wooden Spoon of Last Resort, her very own nuclear football.
It was a new world order.
I thought of this story as I cleaned out my purse the other day. Amongst the detritus, I found this:
I know that I was carrying a sharp, pointy kitchen knife around for good reason (it cut a cake at a party). Yet, it still makes me wonder: What else I am carrying around with me? How will I be remembered?
This is based on the red writing hood challenge for the week: to dump out a bag (either in a fiction or non-fiction piece) to see what it reveals. Come check out the great writers---they are so inspiring and true!