The girl leans against the kitchen counter, arms crossed over her chest. She stares at the woman and narrows her eyes.
“I don’t think you know,” the girl says.
“Maybe I don’t.”
“Then why should I listen to you?” the girl says.
“That’s up to you,” the woman says. “I don’t know everything and neither do they.”
The girl smiles, assured by her nine years of experience and the woman’s concession. She drops her backpack onto the counter.
“Why do you like it 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,” the woman says.
“Because I don’t have to answer any questions,” she says, smiling. The girl opens a drawer.
“An onion chopper.”
“Does it make you cry?”
“Only if I get close,” the woman says.
The girl opens another drawer.
“What’s this?” she says, grabbing an oven mitt.
“You know what that is.”
“I mean, what happened to it?” she says, turning it over in her hands.
“It got a little burned. I wasn’t paying attention.”
“What were you making?” the girl says.
“I don’t remember.”
The girl drops the mitt into the drawer.
“Mom says you eat too much and that’s why you’re big.”
“Hmm… well, I guess that means you’ll have a lot of good food while you’re here,” the woman says.
The girl scans the kitchen and picks at one of her fingernails.
“How come I only come here when they have a fight?”
“You’ll have to ask them,” the woman says.
“What’s in there?” the girl says, pointing to the cupboard above the oven.
“You’ll find out later. Put your bag away.”
“I don’t want to,” the girl says, flouncing into the living room. “Why is everything covered up?”
“You asked me that last time.” the woman says.
“But you didn’t tell me.”
“It keeps things clean, remember?”
“I hate cleaning,” the girl says. “It takes forever and, when you’re done, you have to do it all over again.” She sinks into a plastic-covered chair and wrinkles her nose.
“Where’s your brother?” the woman says.
“At his friend’s house. He doesn’t even come home for dinner,” the girl says, poking at the plastic.
“Maybe, one of these times, he can come over here.”
“He’ll just get bored,” the girl says.
The woman clears her throat.
“Why don’t you put your bag away?” she says.
“Do I have to?”
“Yes. Or I might get cranky,” the woman says. The girl laughs.
“Mom said you would say that.”
The girl runs her hand across the coffee table and looks at her fingers. The woman perches on the couch.
“What else does your Mom say?”
“She tells me to do my homework and tells me I better get all A’s or I’ll end up with someone stupid like my Dad. He’s not stupid. He’s funny—and he never makes me do my homework.”
The girl leans back, her head cradled in plastic.
“What else does your Mom say?”
“She said you didn’t want to come back from… wherever you were.”
“Do you know where I was?”
“No,” the girl says. “But she said she wished you were still there.”
“I see,” the woman says. The girl sits up in her chair.
“I’m starving. When do we eat?”
“When you decide to put your bag away,” the woman says. “Then, I’ll tell you everything.”
The woman disappears into the kitchen and comes back with a bowl of animal crackers. She places them on the table. The girl wrinkles her nose.
“I’m too old for those,” she says.
“Me, too,” the woman says, popping a handful into her mouth. She returns to her plastic perch and waits. The girl leans forward, sifting through the remaining animals and selecting a lion. She sniffs it and takes a bite.
“You like to talk,” the woman says. “Someday you’ll be able to talk your way out of anything. Even a bad situation. Have you ever been in a bad situation?”
The girl empties the bowl 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 sighs. The woman picks stray crumbs off the floor. “So… were you ever in a bad situation?”
“I want to go home,” the girl says.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” the girl says.
“Alright,” the woman says, standing to her full height. “We’ll talk another time.” The girl raises her eyebrows. “Don’t worry. I’m sure it will be fine over there. Let me get your bag.”
“No, I’ll get it,” the girl says, dumping the animals back into the bowl.
The girl retrieves her backpack and strides to the front door. She rests her hand on the doorknob. Her shoulders slump. 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 and turns around. 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.” The girl’s eyes well up.
“I don’t want to stay here, either,” she says.
“That’s what I like about you,” the woman says. “Always 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 through the living room and into a dim corridor, then releases her grip.
“Now, go get settled and I’ll tell you what to do next.” The girl clutches her backpack and stumbles down the passageway. The woman smiles. “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 stops in a doorway 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