Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SPE: "The Gentle Fog"

{For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, November Rain (k~) gave me this prompt: "Marshmallows in the snow". I gave Wendryn this prompt: ​"Whatever you want to do can be done before midnight...Nothing good happens after midnight." -Vanna White}

It was one of those days when the house was too small. Paranoid and claustrophobic, we all started snapping at one another, like wild animals packed too close together at the zoo. "She pushed me!" "She said something mean!" "She won't be quiet!", then my husband, hung over and irritated, rumbling too loudly, "Everyone be quiet!"

I tried to speak to him about it, but that just induced another battle, so I dropped it. Sulking in the kitchen, I listened to him speaking to them, attuned for the raised voice that would signal more discord. I felt wrung out, like a limp dishrag. Outside the kitchen window, it was snowing in a desultory way, like the sky couldn't make up its mind. I thought about drinking a glass of wine, ashamed of how appealing the idea sounded at 12:15 pm.

I was interrupted by our youngest, the bundle of love, noise, and exposed nerves called Angeline. "Daddy says....daddy says....," she began excitedly. When something wound her up, which was almost always, she stumbled over her words. "Daddy says he'll roast marshmallows if you go get the things!"

I focused on her eyes, cornsilk blue below her tangled brown hair. We were all in our Sunday best, which for us meant whatever we had slept in Saturday night.

"The things?," I asked.

"Yeah! The sticks! marshmallows."

"Daddy said that?"

"He DID," she said confidently.

I stepped past her, looking into the morass of half eaten breakfast dishes and sprawled family members that was surrounding the television, broadcasting a program about impossibly pretty teens and their madcap adventures that neither was watching.

"Is that true?"

"Yes," Harry said without opening his eyes. "I'll fire up the grill and we can have them after lunch. Angel wants to." If our younger daughter asked him for his right arm, Harry would start looking for the bandsaw.

"When is the last time we grilled?," I said. "Labor Day?" I hated to splash cold water on everything, but someone had to be the voice of reason.

"Trust me," he said, barely smiling. The last time I fell for that, I wound up pregnant.

"Alright," I said with as much authority as I could summon. "I want you two to clean up the breakfast dishes and brush your teeth and your hair. I'll come home with lunch and marshmallows. No treats unless you clean up first." My surly tween, Elizabeth, looked up at me from underneath her bangs. The older she got, the more I wanted to call her Violet, like Sarah Vowell's character in The Incredibles.  

"What if we don't want stupid marshmallows?," she said softly.

Angeline was underfoot, already reaching for a bowl with a few lonely Lucky Charms floating in it. "Marshmallows aren't stupid!," she objected immediately. That was the way they were. One would assert that water was wet, the other would immediately deny it. I saw the tension build on Harry's face. For some reason, he was absolutely intolerant of bickering.

"Easy," I said to them. "Be quiet, now. Less talking, more cleaning." I turned to leave, then stopped and turned back.

"You two will be good for your father?," I said.

"Yes, mommy," Angeline said in her singsong voice.
I pulled on some boots, pulled my hair into a ponytail, and drove to the store under scudding gray skies. I hoped they would stay calm for him. Leaving the three of them together always provoked a nervous prickle in my stomach. Harry was their father, but he had this inchoate rage, this uncontrollable fire. Suddenly, whether it was the drinking, or more stress at work, he overreacted to anything they did, screaming and cursing, a reaction way out of proportion to their actions. He promised he would try to control himself, but he never managed to.

When I got back home, the tires crunching over the hard packed snow, I was looking forward to finally eating something, and then gently, lovingly, falling into the arms of a first glass of wine. I could see it, the light reflecting off of the surface, the gentle swirls as I picked it up, the tart bite of it against my tongue and throat, and the gentle fog that followed, allowing me to drift into a slow nap to kill off the afternoon.

I had lunch and the marshmallows in one hand, with my other hand reaching for the knob, when I heard it. Elizabeth was screaming, her voice distorted and raw like on a bootleg concert recording. Her voice pierced me, my heart pounding, my muscles dissolving to jelly in seconds. She was saying something about how she hated him, and she would never ever do anything he said ever again. I heard his bass, rumbling with threat and menace, and along the edges, Angeline's high shriek of "Stop it! Stop yelling!"

I dropped the food and was through the door and moving towards the stairs, full of rage and guilt and the beginnings of a pounding headache. I separated the combatants, using all the strength I had not to scream back at both of them, then made my way back downstairs. Angeline had snuck past me somehow and was back downstairs, standing in front of the door, the cold outside air blowing through her still tangled mane. She was holding the bag from the grocery store, bits of snow melting off the bottom and falling on her tiny feet. She looked at me, her tiny face enormous and red and puffy now.

"Mommy?," she said before sniffling twice. "Mom-mommy?"

"Yes, baby," I said as sweetly as I could.

"You left the marsh-the-the-the marshmallows in the snow, Mommy."

"Yes I did, Angel. That was silly, wasn't it?"

"Yes, Mommy. That was silly," Angeline said.


  1. All the elements of great story telling are included in this read. I like what you did with the prompt. The littlest girl brings a bright spot to the rest of the family half-gloom. I enjoyed this visual exploration of a day in the life of... this family.

  2. Ahhh! So sad! I hope she got to roast marshmallows in the end.

  3. You built the tension and suspense perfectly. I could picture this story unfolding and wanted to help stop the inevitable blow-up.

  4. Have you been peeking in My windows? Wow, this really hit home.

  5. I found myself hoping that the littlest one would get what she wanted, but even more wishing that she'd get what she needed: a calm, loving home. I don't usually react that strongly. Well written, as always.

  6. *tears* This could have been my house growing up. It sucked terribly.


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