For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Diane challenged me with "I'm the lie living for you so you can hide" and I challenged Kurt with "If you love someone, set them free".
The house was too warm- the combination of the oven and the bodily warmth making the house a steamy mess. The kids, fueled by appetizers and sugared drinks, still buzzed around with boundless energy, occasionally checked on by half drunk parents and uncles and grandparents. The meal had been prepared and dishes washed, and we were in the uncertain part of the afternoon where those with long drives thought about sucking down some coffee and finding their coats.
My niece Emily appeared at my knee, tugging at my pant leg. She looked at me, eyes wide. Her voice had the edge of a whine in it- all the younger kids were whipping past the point of no return, where every thwarted wish and denied treat results in tears and recriminations. .
"Auntie Lauren? Color with me?"
How could I say no?
"Of course, sweetheart."
She had a box of fat Crayolas and a store brand sketchpad in her tiny fists. We found adjoining seats at the table opposite her mother, who was pecking away on an IPhone.
"Mommy, Auntie Lauren gonna draw with me."
"That's great, honey," my sister said, in a distracted tone that told me she wasn't listening.
Emily unfolded the book, a great expanse of blank, off white paper.
"Draw a horse," she commanded, and I did. It was one thing I really could do well.
"That's a really good horse," she said, and began intensely coloring one of the legs in blue. "Now draw a yellow one." I did as she said.
"Mommy never draws with me," she said, face scrunched in concentration as she intensely worked on the horse's leg..
"Your mommy used to draw all the time," I said, distractedly. "When she was younger."
"Now a purple one," Emily commanded. I complied.
"But Mommy had to grow up," my sister said under her breath. I caught the dig. Years of training meant I didn't miss the flash of a switchblade when it was meant for me.
"Auntie Lauren's a grownup," Emily protested.
"Yes, she is," her mother said, and then stood up, putting the phone to her ear. She was overdressed, like she always was, slacks that probably cost more than my car payment over her long legs. She always had to be the best dressed, best equipped, best everything.
"Yes, Carl, I know it's Thanksgiving, but listen," she said, stepping through the sliding door onto the porch and closing it behind her, giving us a rush of chilly air.
"Mommy's always working," Emily said sadly.
"I know honey," I said, trying to sound cheerful. "Mommy works hard so you can have nice things."
"Color in the yellow one," Emily ordered. I picked up the yellow crayon and began to fill it in. I thought about my big sister, ordering me sternly to never compromise, never give in as I watched her leave for college. She went as an artsy rebel and returned a buttoned up, Ann Taylor clad zombie, talking about gross profit margins and ROI. I was stunned by the change, but all she would say for explanation is that "someone has to be the adult around here."
"Why did Mommy stop drawing?," Emily asked as her mother reentered the dining room, the blast of wind ruffling her silk blouse.
"Mommy had to get a real job," my sister said. "Someone has to watch out for Grandma. You can't spend your whole life drawing ponies."
I let that go, picturing a softball skidding into the dirt, low and outside.
"Your Mom made different choices," I said to Emily, trying to paper over the crack. "People do different things, that's all."
"I like ponies," Emily said.