Laundry, Birds, and Lightning Cake

November 3, 2010
When I woke this morning, I was tired and sore and the world outside of my bed was so cold and in my bed, I was so warm, but it was sunny and a bird sang. The sky was blue. Blue sky comes here the way rain comes most other places. I don’t mind rain so much though, it’s good for stories and dancing in. I get dressed quickly and lethargically all at the same time. My bed still looks as warm as it had felt as it sits in an unmade state. I glance at it longingly as I slip my jeans on and decide that if I attempt to make it, I will end up back in it eyes closed and dreams open, wrapped in my red blanket. So, I walk away instead and carefully climb down a ladder out of the attic. I learned quickly that I can’t climb either up or down this ladder without being careful. I don’t worry about falling, it’s not very high from the ceiling to the floor, but I don’t want to make a noise and wake anyone else. I’ve worked very hard to gain my attic. It’s small according to some, but I find room enough to dream and think.
The halls carry wooden floors well loved by bare feet. My feet are just that as I pad gently and cleanly to the stairs. Once I’ve reached the top, I look down them. Sunlight hit them softly as if they were angry with them, but had no intention of truly hurting them. I smiled at the sunlight and even without touching it, I felt its warmth in turn. The yellow glow of the sun had turned slightly brown because of dirty windows that hung onto dirty walls for dear life. I frowned knowing that someone would have to clean those windows at some point with a toothbrush because of a slip of words or a bad cover-up. I frowned again figuring it would probably be me.
Quickly though, I brushed the frown off of my lips and placed it far from my mind because there was no room for frowns with all the work I had to do before the sun hit hard, like a two-year-old on a piano. I was aware of every sound other than my own as I leapt on cat feet from rug to rug, careful not to touch any of the creaking spots, all of which I had discovered with consequences. No one was in the kitchen, so I quietly made coffee and whipped up some Lightening Cake. My mama had always loved Lightening Cake. Once the cake was in the oven and the coffee was brewing, I slipped out the back door, knowing that someone would smell the coffee and wake up for it. I also knew that if I happened to be late to the breakfast table, I would be forgiven because of the cake and coffee waiting hot for whoever got there first.
Outside, there was nothing but dew on my feet and I liked it that way. Sun played in the trees and laughed on the creek beside which we hung our clothes. I walked to the line strung tightly and watched white sheets wave softly to say ‘good morning.’ I touched one and found it to be as dry as dust. Then I took each one from the line and folded it with practiced speed before placing it in a basket. This too was precaution against my possible lateness. I ran through high grasses back to the house, and set the basket on the back steps, being sure to place something over it so that our cats would not find it a suitable bed. I turned to run again through grasses kissed with dew, and as I left a hum lingered on my ears as if coming from a dream. It was a happy hum, so I knew it wasn’t real.
~ ~ ~
I looked up and only up, taking in the blue sky that wished to swallow me whole. I would’ve let it, but I had far too little time. There was stale bread in my pocket that I had saved from yesterday’s dinner. The outside of it is hard against my dry skin. I keep running and I keep looking up. I know the way well enough not to worry about tripping, but I look down every once in a while just because. After a few minutes branches block my view of the sky and I slow down and began looking in front of me as opposed to above me. I clutch the bread in my pocket tighter and ignore my stomach’s evident emptiness. My pockets are wearing thin; I’ll have to have someone replace them soon. I make a mental note to find fabric – the good kind that takes no time at all to be comfortable, but that holds up for months. The bread seems to be getting heavier in my hands. I take it out and smash it between my first and the dirt then toss it all around and wait patiently, stilly, and quietly for something to come.
The thought of leaving crosses my mind after a bit, but a bird came. It’s small and plain. It pecks at the crumbs, moving closer to me with each one. It doesn’t seem afraid at all and I find myself moving closer. I get close enough to touch it before the creature sees me. It doesn’t fly away like most birds do; it simply cocks its head to the side and stares for a moment before continuing to peck at the crumbs. A bell is ringing somewhere in the distance and it occurs to me that I should return to the house, but I don’t move. The bird let out a small noise and begins to hop away. Again, I think of leaving, but decide to stay. The bird keeps hopping. I began to wonder why it won’t fly.
I decide to chase it. I don’t want to scare it or hurt it, I just want to see it fly. It did fly and I smiled from the inside to see it happen. I start running to the house hoping that the cake, coffee, and folded sheets will be enough to cover a few minutes lateness.
No words are spoken as I push open our screen door. Each head lifts toward me then drops back down to continue eating. I’m not greeted with smiles. I’m not greeted with punishment either. This is normal. .I take my place at the table and begin to eat. The cake’s gone, but there’s still coffee on the stove. The sheets are still just beside the back step untouched. The cake and coffee were enough and I can now use the sheets as leverage with something else. I start to plan right away. It was Jenny’s chore to fold them. I begin to go over her possessions in my head. It doesn’t take long – none of us have much of anything; of course that makes what we do have all the more important.
Jenny has nothing of interest so I begin to plot a way to get her to trade chores with someone who does have something of interest. This plan has to be made and carried through quickly – before Jenny sees that her chore is already finished.
No one has favorite chores, but everyone has a least disliked chore. Jenny’s is washing dishes. She says she likes being alone in the kitchen for so long. She says it gives her space. I think washing dishes is horrible, it dries out my hands even further and the sink is in front of a window which means that I have to see outside without being there and that’s close to torture. I think hard about who has washing dishes today. This will take effort. I begin by remembering the last time that I was supposed to have washed dishes. I can’t remember the last time I actually washed dishes; I always seem to find a way to get out of it.
It was last Tuesday. I begin to think: Six days have passed since my last turn and the chores are on a rotation according to age. There are two separate sets of chores, one for children ages 5 – 9 and one for the rest of us. The chores are split up by the ones that younger children could do well and the ones that they couldn’t. Washing dishes is on both sets which makes things hard. And on the younger children’s set, it’s assigned to three children at a time, which makes it harder. I’m the fifth oldest, so I’m five places before last on the dish washing rotation. The rotation starts over today….. Annie, Lucy, and Jade. The three are inseparable, so they’d all have to be doing the same chore. What’s today? The third. No. The seventh! Lucy’s birthday was yesterday!
I stop thinking for a moment look up to find Jade glaring at Lucy and Annie sitting three chairs down silently shoving watery grits around her plate with a fork. Lucy’s birthday is never a good thing. It gave Lucy bragging rights of being older than her two friends and that somehow made her think it was okay to be horrible. It never lasts long though because Jade’s birthday is only three days later and Annie’s is a week after that. Once the three are the same age again, they stop being silly and are friends again. They wouldn’t want to work together anyway. This means three of Jenny’s chores are taken care of and she gets to wash the dishes in return. Jenny will owe me something for thinking about it. The Jade, Annie, and Lucy will owe me something for helping them avoid each other and one of them will owe me something for doing their chore.
I finish my food quickly, stand up, and clear my plate. I can’t talk at the table – no one can – so, I tap Jenny twice on the shoulder. She knows what it means – everyone does. Jenny begins to eat faster and I walk through the back door and wait beside the steps. I’d run ahead, but I can’t risk Jenny going the wrong way and seeing the empty clothes line. A few seconds later Jenny opens the door and walks slowly down the stairs. Knowing Jenny, she would’ve rather jumped. I motion for her to follow me, but she just stands there looking at something on the ground and cocking her head to the side. It reminds me of that bird. We are still too close to the kitchen to talk. I motion for her to follow me again. She points. Horror and disappointment flood me. The basket of folded sheets sits in the direct line of Jenny’s finger. My plans fly from my mind. I sigh, nod, and motion for a third time for her to follow me. She does.
“You don’t think one of the boys did it, do you? You know, to get my attention. Or to make me think they’re sweet or thoughtful. What if it was Peter? Oh! I’d die!” Jenny asks with great excitement as soon as we’re far enough away.
“No Jen. It was me.” Her face drops. “I did it this morning just in case I was late and the coffee and cake wasn’t enough.”
“That was kind of a dumb plan. They would’ve just thought that I did it, or something. Also, they don’t care who does the chores or how early they are done, so long as they get done,” Jenny says matter-of-factly and almost bitingly so.
“Yeah. I guess.” My mood suddenly plummets. I feel stupid for thinking that folding the sheets this morning would’ve been any help at all.
“I’ll do one of your chores though if you want. What do you have?” She talks to me like I’m younger than I am. It bothers me.
“Dusting, weeding… and dishes.” I almost chock on the word dishes. I’m not sure how I’ll trade with the girls, but I still think I can get something out of this – time to myself if anything.
“I’ll weed for you.”
I’m angry for a moment, but the I realize I haven’t lost anything. Now I don’t have to worry about trading with the girls and dusting won’t take long.

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