The Taste of All You Eat and Drink


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.

“Ma’am?” 

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 sweeping.

“You already swept that corner, Cecilia.”

Cecilia turned back.  “Well, I guess I did.”

“Cecilia.  Has Mr. Tristan ever…?”

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 broom. 

“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.”

“And there,” 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.”

“Jesus, Mom…”

“Hush.  Your 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 perfect.”

“Even you.”

“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 mother.”

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 perfect daughter-in-law.”

Kiwi nodded.  “I learned to play the game.  For you.  And now you have the whole world ahead of you.”  

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 peaches.”

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: ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: The Taste of All You Eat and Drink

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Taste of All You Eat and Drink


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.

“Ma’am?” 

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 sweeping.

“You already swept that corner, Cecilia.”

Cecilia turned back.  “Well, I guess I did.”

“Cecilia.  Has Mr. Tristan ever…?”

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 broom. 

“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.”

“And there,” 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.”

“Jesus, Mom…”

“Hush.  Your 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 perfect.”

“Even you.”

“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 mother.”

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 perfect daughter-in-law.”

Kiwi nodded.  “I learned to play the game.  For you.  And now you have the whole world ahead of you.”  

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 peaches.”

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: ,

4 Comments:

At July 31, 2012 at 7:50 PM , Anonymous Lynn A. Davidson said...

Oh my gracious! This is such a teaser, I want the whole story now. :)

 
At August 1, 2012 at 12:16 PM , Anonymous jaum said...

Very interesting, esp the way it turned out. You almost need a sequal to let us know what happened to the girl.

 
At August 2, 2012 at 5:52 PM , Anonymous November Rain said...

This was an engaging write, with dilemmas and dialect in abundance. I enjoyed each simmered bit, but this was my favorite part:

“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.”

 
At August 2, 2012 at 6:47 PM , Anonymous Cameron (CDG) said...

So many layers at work here. I think my favorite is prickly Sophie: so piercingly alive. Clever and vibrant and nasty. She has real depth, and a wonderful likability for all that.

 

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