You can taste the
ocean before you see it. Three miles out, the salt settles on your tongue,
coating it with a thin sheen, forever altering the taste of all that you eat
and drink. Altering, too, the words
coming from your mouth. Some words stick
in your throat, refusing to pass the salted chamber. Other words, lies generally, go better with
seasoning. They seem to slide out more
easily, tripping across the tongue and falling into hot and humid air; hanging
there like invisible raindrops refusing to shatter.
Kiwi Tristan balled up the paper she’d been writing on and
jumped up. “Cecilia! You surprised me.”
“You were talking yourself again.”
Kiwi nodded and tucked the paper in her pocket. “I’m fine.”
“I brought you a lemonade.
I’ll just set it on your correspondence table.” She crossed the room. “It’s warm today”
Kiwi smiled and fingered the edge of her gold letter opener,
a gift from her mother-in-law. “Nothing
I can’t tolerate.”
Cecilia took up her broom and began to sweep Kiwi’s study. “Seems like ever since Miss Sophie got home,
there’s sand everywhere.”
Kiwi laughed and sank back into her chair. “Sophia hasn’t yet learned how to mind her
manners. I’m sorry, Cecilia.”
“Oh no, Ma’am.”
Cecilia chuckled. “I enjoy Miss Sophie. She’s like a breath of fresh air round here.”
“Mr. Tristan has been busy lately. I apologize for his temper.”
“He works too hard.”
Cecilia shook her head.
Kiwi studied her, considering. “Do you find him to be attractive?”
Cecilia giggled. “Mr.
Tristan? He’s easy enough on the eyes, I
suppose.” She turned away and continued
“You already swept that corner, Cecilia.”
Cecilia turned back. “Well,
I guess I did.”
“Cecilia. Has Mr.
Cecilia pressed a hand to her chest. “Mr. Tristan, Ma’am. Oh, no!
No, Ma’am. And I never…I got me
my own man, Mrs. Tristan. I don’t….Mrs.
Tristan, I need…”
“What do you need, Cecilia?”
Kiwi’s daughter Sophie entered the room.
“Cecilia was just saying she needed a glass of lemonade,”
Kiwi said. “Would you like one, Sophia?”
“No, thanks.” She
flopped on the settee.
Cecilia leaned her broom on the wall and headed out the door.
Kiwi frowned. “Don’t lie
that way, Sophie. It’s unbecoming.”
“Who cares, Mother?”
“It was expensive.”
“Your husband will just buy you another one. And you’ll hate that one, too.”
“My husband is your father.
He would be hurt, hearing you talk that way.”
“He’s a stick in the mud.”
Sophia rolled onto her back and tucked an arm behind her head. “Why aren’t there any cracks in the ceiling?”
“I beg your pardon, dear?”
“Cracks, Mother. Imperfections.” Sophia enunciated every syllable slowly.
Kiwi felt stupid.
Thick. Dull. Sophie had inherited her father’s ability to
make others feel inferior.
Sophie leapt from the settee and grabbed Cecilia’s
“Leave that, Sophie.
Cecilia will tend to the sand.”
“Cracks in a ceiling make for an interesting childhood. You can fall asleep making up stories about
the cracks in the ceiling.” Sophie
jammed the broom against the ceiling. “There…” She pointed at the damage wrought by the broom. “That’s an elephant crossing India.” Again she hit the ceiling. “There’s a snake in the grass.”
“Stop that, Sophie.
That ceiling was just painted.”
Sophie hit the ceiling a third time. “There’s
the coward who hid the truth from her daughter.”
“Those don’t sound like very good stories to me.”
grandmother will hear.”
Sophie rolled her eyes.
“Miss Manners herself.
Grandmother Tristan’s Cradle of
Civilization on beautiful Martha’s Vineyard.” Once more, Sophie jammed the broom against
the ceiling. “Why must everything be so
perfect in this damn house?”
“Your grandmother worked very hard to make everything
“What do you mean?”
“I found them.”
“Who?” But even as
she asked, Kiwi knew the answer in her heart.
“How long did you think you could keep them from me?”
“I had to.”
“You told me they died.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I understand that you got pregnant.” Sophie set the broom back in the corner. “I hear what Grandmother Tristan calls me: your little love child. I understand that I wasn’t wanted.”
“You were wanted, Sophie.
You were unexpected.”
“I was conceived in anger and disdain. My father sought you out just to spite his
Kiwi nodded. “Your
grandmother fired me immediately, of course.”
She closed her eyes. “It was your
grandfather who convinced her to let me stay; your grandfather who told your
father he should do right by me.”
“I can’t see you dusting, Mother. Can’t see you changing the sheets and
cleaning up after people the way Cecilia does.”
Kiwi raised her eyebrows.
“Your grandmother taught me well.”
“So the perfect maid became the perfect wife and mother. The
Kiwi nodded. “I
learned to play the game. For you. And now you have the whole world ahead of
Kiwi felt oddly jealous of her
daughter. “A whole life of adventure.”
“As a condition of your marriage to my father you had to
give up your own family.”
Yes,” Kiwi whispered
“Because your own family, peach farmers from Georgia, would not
do. And so you killed them.”
“I did nothing.”
“In a car accident.
Neat. All at once. Perfect way for everyone to go.”
“I did it for you, Sophie.”
“You’re living a lie.”
“Mind your voice, Sophie.”
“What are you afraid of?
Afraid Grandmother will hear?
Afraid you’ll lose all that money you’ve grown accustomed to?”
“It took your grandmother years to accept me.” Only when Kiwi had lost the accent, lost the
religion, only when she had utterly and completely lost herself in their world
did they accept her.
“Those perfect manners are just a veneer, to cover Grandmother’s
lack of confidence. To cover your own. You’ve been tiptoeing lightly your entire
life; testing the waters with every step to see if you will drown.”
“I was afraid I would lose you.”
Sophie shook her head.
“You have lost me, Mother.”
“Where are you going?”
Her daughter settled disdainful eyes upon her. “I’m going home. To my family.”
Kiwi watched her daughter
leave. She sat in silence a few moments
before pulling the paper from her pocket.
She returned to her desk and smoothed the paper. In the quiet of the morning, she read while
the ice in her lemonade melted and clicked.
“Ma’am? Telephone for
you.” Cecilia hovered at the door, the
portable telephone in hand.
Kiwi turned. “Could
you take a message?”
“There’s been an accident, Ma’am.” Cecilia’s eyes were wide and frightened.
* * *
Two months later, Kiwi picked up the telephone; dialed from memory. “Mom?”
She felt the old accent neatly curl around her tongue and it felt as comfortable
and as sweet as a sun-ripened peach. “Can
I come home?”
Her mother laughed loud and long. “Baby, I been waiting for twenty-two years
for you to ask me that.”
Kiwi put the car in gear.
She glanced at Sophie, strapped in the passenger seat. Kiwi grinned and spit out the window. “I’m shaking the sand from my shoes for the
last time, Sophie. We’re heading home to
Her daughter stared
dully ahead. The doctor said she might
recover, with sufficient stimulation. Her husband and mother-in-law didn’t want to
wait to find out.
As Kiwi started south, and headed towards the cradle of her
soul she began telling the hundreds of stories that she’d saved in her
memories. And as she told these stories,
she hoped that Sophie’s mind would latch on to something familiar. “Come back to me, Sophie,” Kiwi pleaded.
And Kiwi wondered how many times her mother had uttered
those very same words.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Maya Bahl gave me this prompt: Cradle of Civilization. I gave November Rain (k~) this prompt: Some things, like dark chocolate, can't wait.
Labels: Fiction, scriptic.org