The Sleeping Child (excerpt)
A Children’s Story By Kathy Briant
The Sleeping Child
It was a real bad day for Mom. Kept late at work, the babysitter gave her one week’s notice about not babysitting Carrie any more (who could blame her) and she was trying to get supper going.
Melissa sat at the kitchen table, while Mom worked. She was drawing and Carrie was making some sort of trouble near the pantry. She could see Mom, trying to get the pork chops on while talking on the phone, potatoes boiling in the pot. She had a plate over the potatoes. They hadn’t found the lid yet in their unpacking. Mom hadn’t been herself since the move and actually they were all a little disoriented – not used to things yet.
The old neighborhood in Hillhurst they had just moved into a few weeks ago was real nice though, Melissa thought. Older, quiet, settled feeling. And not a soul knew her nickname was Messy. She got that name from Carrie. She got most of her hard times from Carrie. Carrie had had a hard time with her name when she was a baby just learning to talk, and so had started to call her Messy. The habit had caught on until everyone was calling her Messy. It sort of suited her room, she guessed, but really, that was no name for someone with the dignity of a 10 year old. Little pipsqueak Carrie at three and a half could get away with it, but she didn’t want anyone here to ever call her that now that they were in new territory. She was working on Carrie getting her to stop. So far, so good!
Carrie was a little turd of a thing. Even looked like it with those dark brown corduroy pants, a jumper, her favorite. Her hair was brown too, though it was light brown like Melissa’s but curly and she had blue eyes. The eyes of a devil. She was a short, squat, sturdy thing yet, with a baby belly sticking out and she was into everything. Curious little brat.
She thought she had the “Messy” thing covered. She’d promised to take Carrie to the store. Carrie loved the store, all that candy. The local grocery store had clear bins full of lots of different candy, sours, licorice, straws of powder, cinnamon hearts and squares, Carrie’s favorites. She was funny about money though so they always had an argument when they were there. Each of them had a piggy bank, with money from doing chores, or even paper money from birthdays/Christmas or from special things, like cashing in pop bottles. Mom always let them keep the money.
Carrie didn’t like pennies, they were brown and ugly she thought, so she always gave them to Melissa. She was ok with Loonies though, because of the bird on them. She was sure nickels were worth more than dimes, because they were bigger. And Toonies? Well, she thought they were like the poker chips from Gran’s set that she used when she had her card club each month. She didn’t get that the poker chips were not money and sometimes you’d find a few in her piggy bank and have to talk her out of taking them to the store. So she promised the store if Carrie would never call her Messy again. Carrie told her, “Tweep your promise.” and would shake her little pointer finger at Melissa. “Tweep your promise.” That was really funny. She had funny names for things, because she was only three and new to the language. She said “Medicine cabbity”, for medicine cabinet,” soup soon” for perfume, the chesterfield was called a “feeder feeder” – most people called it a couch, but grandma stuck to the old fashioned Canadian “chesterfield” so Carrie stuck to that too. The neighbor’s dog was a Herman shepherd, not a German shepherd. Small children were downright weird if you thought about it. Carrie also had a sort of Boston accent too, when you listened to her.
“Messy!” Carrie called from inside the kitchen closet. A pantry was a real treat to a kid who liked small dark places to hide in and pounce out of.
Oh, no, she didn’t! “I told you to call me Lissa, you little brat you. You promised!”
No good if the little poop wouldn’t cooperate. It would be all over the neighborhood and she’d be back to Messy again!
“Messy, Messy, Messy.” Carrie said, taunting her from the closet. Angry, Melissa leapt for the closet. “No store for you, brat!” she shouted. Carrie just pouted and blew raspberries at Lissa.
“Girls, girls, cut it out would you!” From the tone of voice and the pained expression on her face, Lissa could tell Mom was on the verge of a very strong mad. She backed off and sat down at the kitchen table to finish her drawing. She was drawing the furnace downstairs.
It was an old, old variety; an old octopus furnace Mom had called it. A gravity furnace, no blowing air, but a slow rising of the heat with a little clanging, a softer, gentler type of heating. It was very large, taking up most of the basement, but so fascinating with miles of large, bulky, wrapped beige-brown pipes wandering through the basement and disappearing suddenly up the basement ceiling to the rooms above. Lissa had been quite impressed with it when she first saw it and lately she and Carrie had used the basement as a quiet, friendly sort of place to hide out when they didn’t want to be seen. Cooler there in the summer, too.
The furnace had changed somehow lately. Maybe it was just that you noticed more things about something as you got to know it and it looked different because you were noticing more? No, that wasn’t it. Something was different. Lissa was trying to draw it, sort of to clarify in her mind what was happening. Not much success so far.
Mom was hauling Carrie out of the pantry backwards by her pants.
“Stay out of there!” she shrieked, with the lifter from the frying pan still in her hand. Lissa wished Mom would give her just a little whack with the lifter.
Yes, Mom had finally lost it and she was hollering. Best to be quiet and keep drawing. Light brown hair like the two of them, curly like Carrie, same blue eyes, blazing now. Getting into full mad, a sight to behold. It was going to be a great evening. Carrie was trying to bite her and wiggle away as Mom extracted her from the pantry. The pork chops were merrily burning on the stove. Lissa got up and turned them over with a fork and turned down the heat. Mom was lecturing Carrie and didn’t even notice. No point in triggering her more. She sat down again to her drawing, trying to ignore the kafuffle going on around her.
Boom! A loud sound resounded and the house shook. It was like something hitting the house. Maybe something had hit the house!
“Good Lord, what was that?” Mom said stopped dead in mid-lecture to Carrie. Lissa looked down and saw that her drawing had developed a squiggle that looked like a crooked door on the right front side of the furnace she was drawing – ruined the picture. She crumpled it up and threw it in the garbage as Lissa stood up and with her mom headed for the back kitchen door to see what had happened.
Whatever it was seemed to have hit the back of the house. Melissa and her mother ran to the back of the house to see. Out of the corner of her eye, Lissa saw Carrie headed for the pantry again. No dummy that girl; she took advantage of situations as they occurred.
They looked at the sky and could see forks of lightening and then hear the boom of the thunder.
“I think it was lightening striking the house.” Mom looked heavenwards and then her glance descended to the house. “Look at that!”
“The one that’s gone.” said Mom sarcastically.
“Oh!” said Lissa surprised. She jumped as another flash of lightening darted across the sky and jumped again at the thunder that soon followed.
“That one was close, too.” said Mom. “But they say lightening doesn’t strike twice in the same place. As I remember, now that I think about it, the only new thing in this house when we first looked at it was the chimney. Do you think it had been replaced because of…” and she looked to the lightening in the sky. “That sneaky landlord!”
Seeing Mom standing there, lifter in her hand still, scowl of anger on her face, curls in her eyes, looked so ridiculous, Lissa started to laugh. Then mom looked down at the lifter and remembered.
“The pork chops!”
They both ran back into the house to find Carrie on the floor smiling from a pile of cereal she had emptied onto the floor. She was pretending to be a dog and eating it by stuffing her face in the pile, barking and then looking up, face plastered with little brown pieces. She was sent to her room and Lissa cleaned up the cereal while Mom finished making supper.
They got lawn chairs, Carrie was released from her timeout and they sat outside eating slightly scorched chops, watching the lightening. Carrie was quite impressed and yelled “hooway!” in her little pipsqueak voice each time she saw a flash or heard the thunder, and when it wasn’t flashing and booming, Lissa saw her eating grass along with her supper as she sat on a blanket with her plate. Lissa didn’t say anything though. The kid was weird.
After supper and the dishes, Lissa and Carrie went down to the basement. Outside was a little scary as the lightning and thunder continued. The basement would be safer. Carrie was looking all over for her stuffed toy, the white rabbit. You couldn’t really call it white anymore, but it had been. Carrie called it Baby.
“Here, Baby, Baby.” she called, like it was a real rabbit that would come hopping when she called it.
“Come and see Carrie. I’ve got a nice carrot for you.” Carrie held the picture of a carrot that she had crudely drawn. It looked more like an orange potato, but a stuffed rabbit probably wouldn’t care.
After a while she gave up and started playing dolls on the blankets they had spread out on the floor.
“You won’t find it where I put it.” thought Lissa, finishing yet another drawing of the furnace, feeling triumph in getting vengeance on the little sister who had done just one thing too many to her lately. She was supposed to look after her all the time, as though anyone in their right mind would want to watch a brat like that. “Go play in traffic, I say!” she thought.
They had settled on blankets on the side of the furnace near the overhead naked light bulb. Lissa pulled out her book. It was best for reading, and while Lissa read, Carrie played talking to herself and her dolls. Lissa looked up at the furnace now and then. There was something?