Preheat the oven
The girl slides her backpack onto the kitchen counter. She crosses her arms and stares at the old woman, wondering if she’ll make another excuse for the happenings at the family home.
“You weren’t there,” the girl says. “How do you know?”
“You’re right,” the woman says. “It doesn’t sound fun.”
Surprised by the sudden turn-around, the girl relaxes and smiles. She leans against the counter, scanning the room from top to bottom.
“Why do you stay here?” she says.
“Because it’s quiet,” the woman says.
“Quiet? There’s a bunch of cars going by and they’re building a house across the street.”
“I like it because I don’t have to answer any questions,” the woman says, smiling.
Break the bread into bits
The girl opens a drawer.
“What’s this?” she says.
“An onion chopper.”
“Do you cry when you use it?”
“No,” the woman says.
The girl opens another drawer.
“What’s this?” she says, grabbing an oven mitt.
“You know what that is,” the woman says.
“I mean, what happened to it?” the girl says, turning it over in her hands.
“It got a little burned.”
“What were you making?” the girl says.
“I don’t remember.”
The girl rubs the singed fabric and returns the mitt to the drawer.
“Mom says you remember everything. You just pretend you don’t,” the girl says. The woman crosses her arms and stares at the girl’s forehead. “At least there’s no fights over here,” the girl says.
“That’s right,” the woman says. “Now, put your bag away.”
“I don’t want to,” the girl says, walking into the den.
Bake for 15 minutes
““Why is everything covered up?” the girl says.
“You asked me that last time.” the woman says.
“But, you didn’t say anything.”
“To keep things clean, remember?”
“Yeah, but it makes noise when you sit down,” the girl says, sinking into the couch. She pokes the plastic covering and continues. “I hate cleaning. It takes forever and, when you’re done, you have to do it all over again.”
“Where’s your brother?” the woman says.
“At his friend’s. He doesn’t come home for dinner, anymore,” the girl says.
“Maybe, one of these times, he can come over here,” the woman says.
“He’ll just get bored,” the girl says, running her hand over the coffee table and looking at her fingers.
The woman clears her throat.
“Let’s put your bag away,” she says.
“Yes. Or I might get cranky,” the woman says. The girl laughs.
“Mom said you would say that, too,” she says. The woman perches on the plastic couch.
“What else does your mom say?”
“She tells me I better get all A’s or I’ll end up with someone as stupid as dad. He’s not stupid. He’s funny—and he never makes me do homework.”
The girl leans back, her head cradled in plastic.
“What else does your mother say?”
“She said you didn’t want to come back from… wherever you were before.”
“Do you know where I was before?”
“No,” the girl says. “But Mom wishes you would stay there.”
“I see,” the woman says. The girl sits up straight.
“When do we eat? I’m starving.”
“Put your bag away and we’ll work on it,” the woman says.
Let the bread cool
The woman disappears into the kitchen and comes back with a bowl of animal crackers. She places it on the table. The girl wrinkles her nose.
“I’m not in kindergarten,” she says.
“I’m not, either,” the woman says, popping a sheep into her mouth. She returns to her perch and waits. The girl leans forward and selects a tiger. She sniffs it and takes a bite.
“You’re a talker,” the woman says. “Keep it up and you might be able to talk your way out of anything. Even a bad situation. Have you ever been in a bad situation?”
The girl dumps the crackers onto the table and pairs up the animals.
“I have,” the woman says. “But I knew what to say and how to say it. I even convinced your mom and dad.” The girl stops sorting the animals. She clasps her hands in her lap. The woman picks stray cracker crumbs from the floor. “So… were you ever in a bad situation?”
“I want to go home,” the girl says.
“Yes,” the girl says.
“All right,” the woman says, standing to her full height. “We’ll do this another time.” The girl stands with her arms against her sides. The woman smiles. “Don’t worry. I’m sure it will be fine over there. I’ll get your bag.”
“No, I’ll get it,” the girl says.
Season the breadcrumbs
The girl grabs her backpack and heads for the door. She grasps the doorknob, then stops. Her shoulders drop. The woman drifts into the kitchen and leans against the counter.
“What’s the matter?” she says.
“I don’t want to go home,” the girl says.
“I just don’t.” The girl lets her backpack slide to the floor. The woman inches towards her, arms outstretched. She crouches at eye level and places her hands on the girl’s shoulders.
“I don’t blame you, it’s awful over there,” she says. The girl’s eyes well up.
“But I don’t want to stay here, either,” she says.
“That’s what I like about you,” the woman says. “You’re honest. You just have to learn when to keep it to yourself.”
“I don’t know what to do,” the girl says.
“Well… you can’t go back home. At least, not tonight,” the woman says. “Stay here and I’ll help you.”
She guides the girl into a dark hallway, then releases her grip.
“Now, go get settled and I’ll tell you what to do next.” The girl clutches her backpack and continues down the corridor. The woman’s voice follows her. “After we eat, I’ll tell you everything… where I was, how long I was there, and what your mom and dad had to say about it.”
The girl pauses and looks back.
“Grandma?” she says.
“How long do I have to stay here?”
“As long as you want, sweetie-pie. As long as you want.”
© Darlene Eliot