My sister was my baby sitter. She tucked me into bed, in a halfhearted way. I turned on my side, turned on my light and picked up my book.
“Turn that off.” her “I-must-be-obeyed” voice barked. All the friendly little crickets, chirping outside my bedroom window stopped in mid chirp. “It’s too late to read. You need to go to sleep.” Her voice could have cut stale bread.
“I’m only going to read one chapter.”
“No you are not!" Her eyes narrowed to slits. "You are going to turn that light off and go to sleep.”
If the crickets could have seen the face that went with my barking sister's voice they would have migrated to a different country.
My tiny fluttering heart nearly stopped. I always read before going to bed. It was tradition. Mom said tradition was all we have after our belief in God and our commitment to family.
I tried to plead but my mouth had been open in disbelief and my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth.
She walked to my nightstand and turned the lamp off with a click. “And don’t you even think of turning it back on,” she said. “I'm going to check on you!”
My tongue came unstuck with a tisking noise. “Buthh…,” I said with a thick tongue.
“No but’s. I mean it.”
I started to cry. My heartless sister raised one eyebrow. This was a skill I practiced in front of the bathroom mirror but could not master; both of my eyebrows went up together. She left the room and just before she closed the door she pointed a nail bitten finger at me and gave me “the look,” just like Mom when Mom meant business. I wondered if she had practiced “the look” in front of the same bathroom mirror or if it was a talent that was handed down through the generations.
I cried longer than the time it would take to read five chapters. I listened for a repentant sister to come and say she was sorry and that she was wrong, as wrong as wearing her shoes backwards. I didn’t hear anything so I cried some more.
I cried until I got a headache. Still no sorry sister showed up with loves and kisses.
I cried until my eyes hurt. I wanted to cry until Mother got home so she could see that she hadn’t left her child with a babysitting sister, but a troll.
I had to turn my wet pillow over. I finally cried myself to sleep. My heartless sister did not come to say she was sorry. She was probably gloating and eating chocolates she had stolen from the cabinet over the bar in the kitchen. I would get blamed for her gluttony. She was a chocolate eating gloater who had broken the heart of a little person who now had a headache and a wet pillow.
Sometime in the night the crickets got over their fright and started chirping again, the world continued to turn and mother woke me up in the morning with a cheery voice and breakfast of a fried egg, toast and a big glass of raw milk we bought from Uncle Tom. I hated that milk. I hated my sister and since my mother usually salted my egg too much I was pretty sure I hated it too. When Mom’s back was turned my heartless sister looked across the table at me with “the look,” and she raised both eyebrows and narrowed her eyes in warning. I wouldn’t be telling about her despicable behavior or I’d pay. I’d pay for sure. She might even call me a Pooka.
I slunk down in my chair until just my eyeballs showed above the table. It was going to be another day when I had no power. I sighed and folded my arms in front of my face for the blessing on the food. Mom prayed.
She was halfway through when she said something that made me sit up straight. “…and bless us that we will be able to get everything ready for our trip to California without any squabbling…” That sentence wasn’t so much for Heavenly Father’s benefit as it was as a warning to us.
I opened my eyes wide and saw my sister smiling at me and nodding her head. She closed her eyes again and I did too but forgot to listen to the rest of the prayer.
Going to California meant getting up early and eating squashed tuna fish sandwiches as soon as Mom could be persuaded that we were starving, which would be five miles down the road.
It meant staying in motels with swimming pools where we could swim in the dark and then roll our wet swimsuits in towels to get the water out so the swimsuits could be packed in the suitcase the next morning. Then we would call the motel office for more dry towels for our showers and baths, just as if we were rich and important.
It meant eating breakfast in restaurants and I could eat pigs in a blanket if I wanted to and I was going to want to eat pigs in a blanket every single morning, for sure. There would be no salty fried eggs for two weeks.
Going to California was good enough to forget my sister was a troll. At least until the next time that she was going to stop her helpless little sister from doing something reasonable, like letting her read a chapter in a book at bedtime.
All these thoughts went through my head before Mom said Amen and when I looked up everyone was smiling. It was a going to be a good day for sure.