It was January. The thin cold air roared through the house, it crept under the cracks and danced towards the upstairs’ bedroom. Inside laid a woman, Sara, her short black hair matted against a small colorful pillow. Her body was far too large for the bed, she looked like a giant hiding beneath the quilt. Her slender feet shot out and hung from the bed’s edge. The cold air reached her toes and sent a chill over her body.
Sara tried vainly to tuck her feet beneath the quilt but each tug led to a “counter tug” as she tried to cover her face as well. She was forced to realize that a thirty year-old woman could never acquire rest in a four year-old’s bed; no matter how comfortable the characters decorating the sheets made it seem.
Sara stumbled from her daughter’s room looking like a caterpillar draped in the quilt; her poor tiny feet still exposed to the cold air racing through the home. It was a new home, a place full of fresh adventures and excitement. She failed to realize that such a place had its own history and mysteries; all long since discovered by previous families. Was it not typical of them to leave no clues, to allow Sara the fun of uncovering those mysteries? Was it not typical of them to forget to mention the leaky roof, the ancient Mayan ritual (as Sara called it) it took to start the furnace, or the near infinite cracks and holes that littered the siding. Perhaps it was a warning when Sara and her husband overheard the previous owners’ children refer to the house as “Swiss cheese.”
Continuing down the stairs her body wobbled back and forth. Even with all its problems it was her home now. The old scent of lavender had finally faded as their “musk,” as her husband called it, took over. That ugly color masquerading as green in the kitchen was replaced with a bright red. Picked of course from the constant insistence of their daughter.
“Blood!” The little girl shouted from the kitchen. She raced back and forth across the room in a morbid trance. Sara entered and quietly surveyed the scene. Joyce, her daughter, was pressing her face against the wall. One might have suggested this was due to her unusual obsession with the color red, however, it had more to do with poor vision. A farsightedness both her and Sara shared yet neither did little to properly correct.
Her husband, Leon, was quiet as he sulked over a cup of coffee as usual. Both him and Joyce were oblivious of the cloaked figured standing in the kitchen. Sara enjoyed this ignorance of her presence. She felt like a distant traveler wrapped tightly in what she then called her, Magic Space Quilt. In her mind she landed on a bright new red planet. Inside her Magic Space Quilt she was safe as he observed the native species.
The man was dressed in uneven layers. His sense of fashion showed that creatures of this planet did not take the fashion advice of their wives seriously. Perhaps he was not an organic creature at all. He seemed almost mechanical as he lifted and sipped from his weird steamy space drink. Such motions, and the secret ability he had to ignore the noise of the other little space creature beside him, proved his mechanical origins to Sara.
That mechanical man quickly became an after-thought as Sara eyes caught the other little space creature racing to her. It was too late, her Magic Space Quilt was of little use as the speedy creature raced towards her. Sara opened her arms and allowed her Magic Space Quilt to fall aside, along with the fantasy of her space odyssey.
“Mommy!” Joyce yelled as she shifted her hands around to grab whatever she could of Sara.
“You’re so loud!” Sara said with a cringe in her face.
“No I’m not!” That protest did little to help Joyce’s case.
“Calm down Joyce or you won’t get to go out today,” Leon chimed in, his eyes still fixed on the coffee cup. Those words were like magic as Joyce went quiet.
“Out? Where are you guys going?” Sara felt jealous of Leon’s power over Joyce.
“We’re–” Leon stopped as he took his eyes off the coffee cup and lifted them towards Joyce. His timing was perfect as he saw Joyce jittery and shaking in place. “Go ahead Joyce.”
“We’re going sledding!” Joyce shouted in her usual high tone.
“It snowed that much last night?” Sara eyes shifted around the kitchen for a window.
“It’s mostly fluff but–”
“But Daddy said it’s more than enough to go!”
“Sorry.” Joyce went quiet again.
Leon was a mystery to the women of this house. He barely spoke but they always listened. Even though he was out-numbered the two girls always seemed to trust his insight. He was actually younger than Sara but her childish heart always put him as the elder. She resented him for his brevity which was often so cruel. But she loved him. She loved the way he took her wild ideas far too seriously. She loved the way she always caught him staring at her.
Leon’s face had became like a sculpture to her over the years. The fresh smooth skin of his youth had kneaded into a more refined form. His cheeks seemed higher, his brow more defined, and his smooth lips stiff. He was bronze in her mind. Still, his face always cracked with a silent grief. How many times had she put him back together over the years?
“Do you want to go?” Leon’s words brought Sara’s attention back.
“It’s so cold.”
“You can bring your quilt. We’ll have Joyce ride down on your back.”
“Yeah!” Joyce interjected again. She turned towards her father watching for disapproval. There was none. “You should come Mommy! Me and Daddy can ride on your back together!”
“You’re suppose to be on my side. You’re a girl,” Sara said picking up the quilt. Joyce looked at her father and walked up to his lap to sit. She stuck her tongue out at Sara boldly declaring her allegiance.
“You’re a monster, you know that, right?”
“No I’m not!”
“I was talking to your father.”
Leon chuckled as he lifted Joyce from his lap and set her on the floor. “I’m sorry kiddo but it looks like you’re in trouble.”
“Trouble?” Joyce’s eyes went wide as she worried of punishment.
“Yeah. You see, when Mommy doesn’t get her coffee she turns into a vampire!”
“Vampire!” Joyce’s face quickly turned to Sara. Sara raised the quilt over her head as she stretched it out with her arms.
“Blood!” Sara said mimicking Joyce’s favorite word. She chased Joyce around the kitchen continuing chanting, “Blood, blood, blood!”
“No!” Joyce shouted as Sara grabbed her and wrapped her in the quilt. Sara began kissing and tickling Joyce, “Daddy help! Give mommy her coffee!”
“I’m sorry honey. We’re all out.” Leon let out a small smile as he sipped from his cup.
After the morning’s space odyssey, Sara and Leon arrived at the park with Joyce. Joyce was a bundle of layers and bright colors, her coat and about two sweaters gave her a slow gait. Of course it was Leon who dressed her, Joyce would never allow her own mother to control her fashion. This was always a sticky issue between Leon and Sara. Leon was practicality over style and Sara was just the opposite.
“Our daughter looks and walks like a penguin on LSD.” Sara sighed as Leon helped Joyce exit the car.
“She’s fine. She’s too young to care about how she looks.”
“You say that because you’re the father. I’m the one that has to endure all the long stares from the other mothers.”
“Aren’t you too old to worry about what other people think?”
Sara pouted and slouched in the front seat. She dreaded the cold and embarrassment, “Can’t I just stay here?”
“Nope,” Leon opened the door. “C’mon, the cold is fine once you start moving.” He pulled Sara from the car.
“Leon!” Sara protested as she tried to run back to the seat. Leon was standing in front of the door.
“You didn’t have to come.”
“It’s too cold for guilt trips! Let me in Leon.”
“Mommy!” Joyce yelled. Sara turned and was greeted with a handful of snow from Joyce. Sara was quiet as Joyce was beside herself with laughter.
“Joyce honey,” Leon said coolly, “Run.”
Joyce’s eyes lit up as she turned and started to wobble away. Sara was ready to pounce and cover Joyce with snow. However, Joyce’s movements were far too comical to invoke anything beside laughter. Sara and Leon stood together laughing as Joyce made her slow getaway.
“Better?” Leon asked as he lifted the sled from the car.
“She looks so ridiculous. How do you live with yourself?” Sara was still laughing.
“I just tell everyone that she takes after you.” Leon smiled that usual confidant grin of his. He left Sara as he quickly caught up with Joyce who was still trying to runaway. He lifted her with his free hand and carried her. Sara smiled as she heard Joyce’s squeals of joy.
The top of the hill was crowded with children and their glaring mothers. The snow was pretty thin, grass was showing through the fresh tracks. Joyce’s eyes we’re filled with diamonds as she watched the other children wiz down the hill.
“There’s hardly any snow left, ” Sara said, walking beside Leon and Joyce.
“It’s enough to get a few runs,” Leon put Joyce down. “We have to find a good spot, okay? One with lots of snow.”
“Okay!” Joyce began to wobble ahead as Leon readied the sled.
“Ready?” Leon smiled at Sara.
“What are you talking about?”
“You should go down with her.”
“Aren’t you afraid I’ll purposely run her into a snowbank?”
“All part of my master plan, of course.”
“I wouldn’t doubt that.” Sara sighed as she watched her little LSD penguin stop and point at a spot. “No blondes.”
“If we die you can’t marry a blonde.”
“Dare I ask why?”
“Nope.” Sara took the sled from Leon and made her way to Joyce.
Joyce saw the sled in Sara’s hand and came to the obvious conclusion, “I want daddy.”
“Daddy wants us to ride down together.” Joyce looked behind Sara to confirm it with Leon. He just smiled and waved.
“I don’t want to.”
“No!” Joyce’s shout brought upon even more distasteful stares from the other mothers.
“You know what? No to you! Stop being such a little brat. It’s too cold to deal with your attitude. I’m only here to make your father happy.” Sara finished those words with a sour taste in her mouth. She realized three things at that point. One: She was yelling at a little girl dressed like a gay pride float, Two: She was being even more immature than her daughter and Three: They were both fighting over Leon’s affection.
Joyce was quiet as she stood defiant before her mother’s words. “We’re too much alike,” Sara said.
“So are you.”
“I’m telling daddy,” Joyce began to wobble off towards Leon.
“Joyce!” Sara yelled but Joyce ignored her. Sara paused for a bit, “Vampire!”
Joyce froze in place as she looked around in fear. Sara rushed over and lifted her into the sled. In a flash they began dashing down the hill, Joyce screaming the entire time.
As predicted, the two came crashing into a small bank of snow. Contrary to Leon’s plan, the light snow was more a cushion than a wall. Joyce’s face was a single giant frown as they stopped. Sara was in a fit of laughter over the ride and Joyce’s face.
“You’re not funny!” Joyce declared.
“No!” Joyce had no idea what she was suppose to say. She however, had no desire to say whatever it was.
“Say, ‘I love mommy’.”
Sara smiled as she laid in the snow. Joyce tried lifting the sled as she wobbled up the hill. It was an impossible task and she soon realized it.
“Mommy,” Joyce dropped the sled and turned towards Sara, “can you carry me?”
“What do you say?” Sara was still in the snow, smiling unaffected;. Leon was right about the cold.
Joyce was quiet. Sara could see the flustered look on her face. “I love mommy,” Joyce quickly murmured.
“Excuse me. I must have snow in my ears because I couldn’t hear you.”
“Mommy!” Joyce shouted.
“‘Mommy’ what?” Perhaps it was wrong that Sara took so much pleasure in torturing her daughter.
“I love mom~my!” Joyce screamed.
Sara pulled herself up from the snow, “Just what I needed. I feel like I can carry ten Joyces up the hill now.” Sara lifted Joyce on her back and grabbed the sled.
“How much do you love mommy?”
“Not as much as daddy!” Sara smiled at Joyce’s predictable response.
“Not even a little bit?”
Two hours had passed and the sun was sitting low in the western sky. Leon was driving home as Joyce was strapped in the back. Her feet dangling above the floor as she slept. Sara watched her from the passenger’s seat; amazed at the peaceful slumber obtained from such an awkward position.
“Do you ever wonder what she dreams about? I mean, she’s like a little piece of both of us, I wonder what goes on in her head all day,” Sara said.
“Vampires,” Leon quickly responded.
Sara laughed, “Don’t forget ‘I love daddy’.”
“Does that mean she gets the vampire thing from me?”
“Apparently,” Sara turned to Leon, “Some childhood trauma you forgot to tell me about?”
“There was this one strange trip to Europe…” Leon left the sentence open with a smile.
Sara smiled back. Though part of her wondered if it was true. Leon always kept his secrets. She stared at him, he was always so disciplined when he drove. Hands at 10 and 2, eyes never leaving the road, always braking for the smallest thing. Sara was far from a bad driver, surprisingly, but Leon always drove.
Sara relaxed in her seat. It was getting dark quickly. Her eyes traced the horizon and watched the soft fading palettes in the sky. She would’ve joined Joyce in her nap if it was not for Leon’s obsession with talk radio.
It was always a crisis somewhere or some long overly analytical dive into a remotely relevant topic. It was always the same thing to Sara though, noise. Sara reached over and turned the radio down. There was a slight joy inside her as she watched Leon break focus. Sara was always a sadist towards the ones she loved.
“Did I tell you I got her to say it finally?”
“Yeah, about a million times already. And I don’t think it counts if you blackmailed her.”
“You know nothing of a mother’s love,” Sara laughed alongside Leon. She watched his face glow in the falling sun, “What about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you love mommy?” Sara was fighting back a smirk.
“When you put it like that…” Leon was quiet for a second. He broke his rule, he was always breaking rules for Sara, and turned his face from the road to her, “I love mommy.”
It was the honest and dead delivery that broke Sara and led her into a fit of laughter and snorts. She covered her mouth as she remembered Joyce in the back. She peeked over the seat and Joyce was still strung up asleep like a marionette.
“You have the weirdest sense of humor.” Leon smiled and returned his eyes to the road.
“It’s not my fault that you’re so serious all the time. You’re an old man Leon.”
“I’m not an old man.”
“Yes you are. Grow a beard and grab a cane already.”
“Doesn’t that make you a gold-digger or something?”
“Yeah, a really bad one,” they both laughed. Sara smiled and asked, “Do you really love me?”
“Why? Are you worried?”
“Don’t be,” Leon never had to say it. Never.
Sara turned in her seat, “You know, I think about you dying a lot lately.”
“You really are a gold-digger!”
“No. Seriously. I can’t help it. I keep thinking something terrible is going to happen to you.”
“You just don’t want to be left alone with Joyce.”
“There’s that but…” Sara bit her lower lip, “I don’t want you to go away.”
“I know. I’m just, going through a phase or something, I guess.” Sara rested her head on the seat as she heard Leon turn the radio back up.
The sky was a quiet purple as they finally arrived home. Leon untangled Joyce and helped her out of the car. She was uneasy on her feet from the long nap. Still dressed in her Magical Penguin suit, Joyce wobbled inside the house. Sara began clearing out the car when Leon pulled her aside and kissed her.
“What was that for?” Sara asked.
“You can’t solve everything with kisses, mister.”
“It’s a start,” Leon kissed Sara again. He left, following after Joyce into the house.
Sara returned to clearing out the car. She took out the sled and stopped as she caught sight of her wedding ring. She stared at it, it was so simple and mundane. Perhaps it was a warning of her future life of adulthood. Even after all these years she still felt like a seven year old playing house. She always felt trapped in something so much bigger than herself.
“Hey!” Leon popped his head out from the side door, “I just remembered. Red was my favorite color when I was a kid. That must be where she gets it from.”
Sara chuckled, “I thought it was your ‘trip to Europe’?”
“I wish,” Leon let out small laugh.
“I love you.”
Leon smiled, “I know.” He never had to say it. Never.