Not too long ago I submitted a story for consideration to CBC Writes Lit prize. They were asking for a short story 1200-1500 words, I didn’t make the long list so thought I would publish it here. Thanks to Jodi, my sister Crystal, brother-in-law John, and my good friend Crystal for all your help!
“Hey Mom, they are announcing the dates for this year’s trip to Camp on Wednesday, can I go?” I am sitting at the dining room table, Mom is in the kitchen cooking dinner. There is a long silence and I almost ask again because I know with the overhead fan turned on and a wall in our way, she may not have heard me.
“No, you will not be going” she replied. I hear something hit the floor, followed by a muttered curse word. From the sharp metallic pang off of ceramic I heard a moment before it leads me to think it was metal lid from the saucepan or the metal spoon she was using that made the noise.
As I look around this grand dinning room with its arched entryway to the living room, I can’t help but imagine what it will be like when I don’t have to ask permission to do what I want. I don’t reply to her answer, there really is no point. It is the exact same response I got last year when I asked to go to Quebec. I never get to go to the same places that my sister got to when she was in my grade. Quebec, nope, Canada’s Wonderland, nope, camp, nope again.
My sister is 2 years older but having failed grade 3 she is only 1 grade ahead of me. This has worked out perfectly for me and I find myself wondering if her teachers held her back on purpose for my benefit. This is doubtful since I wasn’t yet in traditional school when she was, but I like to believe my version sometimes. My sister is the only real friend I have at school since the other kids just stay away from me and generally don’t say much to me unless it’s required as part of the class. I don’t mind so much most of the time, I enjoy playing marbles with my sister anyways her friends aren’t so bad, at least they talk to me. Even if they refer to me as the annoying little sister!
I get up from the table and head through the long narrow kitchen to my room choosing not to speak to my Mom. It is my silent yet powerful protest about how unfair I feel it is that she will not let me go to camp. I know that my protests will go unnoticed, they always do; my Mom just doesn’t get it. She doesn’t see that it doesn’t matter to me that I have no friends at school, I love camp! I love sitting around the fire and singing silly camp songs. I have such great memories from going to camp when I was younger with my sister that I was hoping I could go again! Making crafts is still one of my favourite activities.
I lay down on my bed and stare up at the popcorn celling, trying not to think about anything. I focus on the smell coming from the kitchen. The onions and peppers mixing with the ever present smell of cigarette smoke. You would think it would be an unpleasant odor, but does give me an odd feeling of safety, of home.
I know I won’t be able to stay angry at my Mom for too long, it’s not like I was expecting her to say yes. I was just holding on to that little glimmer of hope, I don’t even bother asking “why?” anymore. I sit up and let my legs dangle off the side of my bed before touching my bare feet on the chilly old dark hardwood floors. I hear the floor squeak as I turn left down the dark hallway to my sister’s room. Her bedroom is a makeshift room that for the longest time didn’t have a door. She now has a untreated yellowish wooden barn style door with black iron hinges that if you are not careful will give you splinters. I open the door and find her playing a video game, “Bonk’s Adventure”. She is so good at this game! I just sit down beside her and watch, we don’t need to say anything to each other we are happy just to be in the same room together.
“Girls! Dinner” We hear Mom calling from the kitchen. My sister pauses the game, gets up and turns the dial to turn the TV off. I’m feeling lazy so I hold my hand out and wait until she grabs hold, her fingers tightly wrapped around my wrist as she pulls me up with a grin.
We head straight past the big wooden front door into the spacious living room with its plain multi textured/coloured walls, the ugly wallpaper long since removed. With no actual colour on the walls or wallpaper left hanging, all you see are bits of what the wallpaper used to look like. Big areas of beige where the glue just refused to relinquish hold of the wall and stayed firmly in place. It gives the room an unfinished look but it I don’t mind it, besides my bedroom it’s my favourite area of the house. I only wish instead of a computer desk setup under the big bay window, we had a window seat where I could curl up and watch the world go by on the other side of the glass.
After dinner, and dessert has been served my sister and I clear the dishes. This is the only chore we have and even then, most nights my mom ends up doing it. I consider myself lucky after hearing that my sister’s best friend has to spend every Saturday cleaning her entire house: clean her room, clean the bathroom, do all the laundry, dust the living room, and clean all the glass. I’ve been to her house with my sister shortly after the weekly cleaning has been completed, and the whole house has the faint smell of vinegar in the air. Her dad doesn’t buy regular cleaners, she just mixes vinegar and water in a spray bottle to get everything done.
My sister and I head back to her bedroom where she puts on some music and we sing the songs together while I watch her resume her game. Hours pass and I decide it’s time to go to bed. I head to my room put my pajama’s on and walk the short distance across the hall to the bathroom.
Standing at the off white pedestal sink, I begin to study my reflection in the mirror. I’m turning 13 soon and I feel so lucky that my skin is still flawless, no breakouts or pimples to be seen and my skin is still baby soft. Looking at myself, I wish that I looked like my sister and my mom, instead what I see is a freak of nature, or a bad Picasso painting. I know my reflection, my face, is the real reason why I will never go to camp. It is the reason why my sister is my only friend, and why none of the other kids will talk to me at school. To the outside world I’m deformed…broken…ugly. These are the words that come into my head when I see myself, these are the words I hear when other kids around me even bother speaking to me, they are the whispers of strangers that sink through my pores and get etched in my memory.
I wash my face, brush my teeth the best I can and head back to my room to wait for my mom. She comes in, smelling like tobacco from the smoke she must have just finished. She tucks the covers tight and gives me a good night kiss, as light goes out, and as I fall asleep I hope to dream of a campfire, and of being different.