22 October, 2014
A Moment of Hissing
A long, winding train puffed out smoke as it ran along the train tracks, tainting the air. It was quiet, for the night was past its busiest hours. The train rounded the corner, casting a silhouette against the setting sun. Light poured from the windows lining the train with drops of yellow seeping through the edges and dripping onto the ground. In each puddle of light, a passenger or two cast their shadows down, drowning out the light. But at the end of the trip, as the locomotive came to a screeching halt, the shadows stood up and exited the pools of light. Upon doing so, these shadows became a part of the real world that existed around them, and captured the shape of perhaps ten, maybe fifteen, figures of human stature. Although it was easy to distinguish each individual shape, it was just as easy to distinguish the details, such as their clothing, once they reached the glowing light of the train station.
A day’s work was done, and rightfully so, because the conductor had just brought to town a girl aged sixteen from out of town who would brand the hearts and souls of many before her. Upon her dark brown rug of hair sat a black flower of simple sorts that matched her white undershirt and brown vest dotted with a black tabby-tiger print. Her obsidian dress pants became still in the humid, mid-summer’s air, and her white gloves on her hands were just about the only sign of fashion included in her display of clothing. But nothing compared to her attitude, which she carried highly, and often sought out what would do the greatest amount for her, without considering the effect it would have on others. An extremely territorial trait countered her first impression of a kind, golden-hearted follower, and most often outweighed it. Of course, none of these facts were known to the shadow that blended in beneath the overhang, allowing the salty sea breeze to raise her from the ground and force her to approach the new arrival. But she would not accept this fact. For she too had a mind of her own and would only enter if a sign of submission was shown.
Deciding it was best to wait for the crowds to clear before encountering her supposed ally, the local fourteen year-old girl leaned against a column, watching the feet of her fellow community members tire from a long day at work. Finally, no one was left on the station platform, save for herself and the mysterious girl. She leaned forward, took one step, and allowed for the rest to take place naturally, however reluctant she was. She exited the shadows and entered the light, conjuring her best smile, though she had to admit it was particularly shaky this one time. Being of the sort, she simply blamed it on her head that was slightly out of proportion. Part of her was even scared to greet this new stranger who would be entering her world for as long as it would take for their parents to become acquainted, so she had been informed. Politely, in a soft voice, she managed to squeeze out, “Hi,” along with another of her best smiles. The arriving girl stood up quickly, shocked by the suddenness of this girl’s appearance.
“Um, hi…” She spoke with a slight hint of disdain, which was hastily covered by a gentle smile. “It’s very nice to meet you.” She tried to hold her smile, but it only tightened up and became curt, as if it was not genuine. The local girl thought of this to be odd, but nothing more, and simply ignored it for time’s sake. She nodded shyly, then spoke up once more.
“It would seem as if you’re who I am looking for, to escort you to one-hundred ninety Columbus Lane? Henrietta, is it? If so, please, follow me.” And without another word, she turned around, quickened her pace, and led the stranger to her home. The stranger, Henrietta, knew that this must be her soon to be step-sister, Cleo, according to her father’s knowledge. So, without hesitation, the new girl followed her guide into the depths of the shadows of night, blindly trusting her to safely escort both of them to her home.
Upon arriving at the younger child’s home, the doorbell rang loudly from repetitive pressing. Her mother’s footsteps were loudly approaching. Then the door opened, and an array of shoes was displayed for all to see. Ms. Caulfield was dressed in her plain nightgown and her eyes had overcast shadows drooping down to her cheek. From this moment on, the new girl knew that this would be no pleasured stay. But she had to do what she must do in order to allow for her father’s, Mr. Leman’s, content. At least, that’s what he always told her. Then, and only then, was she allowed to complain. This posed a problem for her; she had to stay dominant, and she had to get what she wanted when she wanted it. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she spied what she was supposed to call her sister, crawling up the stairs in a boring fashion. The stranger only snorted, for this was not the life she had hoped for. She wanted freedom, but what did she get? A confinement in such a small area with plain white walls and cracked surfaces. Never would she be able to feel the soothing touch of tall grass brushing against her legs and tickling her bare feet. Never would she be able to take her father’s rifle and join him in his hunting expeditions. Things were certainly about to change.
Upstairs, the smaller child was experiencing a call of distraught. Cleo didn’t want to spend the rest of her childhood with a sister who only looked down on her. In fact, she believed it was inhumanly possible to call. She was boiling with embarrassment, even though she barely knew who or what this “Henrietta” was. It was through a matter of instinct that she knew that this girl who had been let into her home would interfere with everything. It was only a matter of time before she could prove herself right. For the moment, she snatched her white and black stress ball from under her bed and flopped down on top of her plain, black comforter, creating a ripple of fabric waves. She tossed the ball close to the ceiling, then attempted to catch it. Sometimes, it would be manageable. Other times, she would miss, and it would land on the bed next to her. Seeing a failure only made the girl try harder to catch it the next time. But when she did so, her accuracy only lessened further and further. Things were certainly about to change.
Henrietta splayed herself across the flower-printed couch in the living room, feeling herself grow tired. Just as she was about to seal her eyes shut, the miserable whelp tapped her shoulder, whispering, “Hello? Hello, are you awake?” The sleeping child took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself down, then slowly rolled over and sweetly glanced at the inquisitive girl, who gave a tight smile in return.
“Well,” she began, “I was for the past hour or so, but then it was near darkness entering my mind… I was being devoured by the sweet pleasure of flowing black waves of sleep,” she paused, “Until you washed the waves away.” Frightened that she had just damaged her relationship with this supposed sister forever, Cleo retreated upstairs into her bleak, white bedroom, where she remained for the rest of the night. Frustrated that her encounter had gone terribly wrong, she repetitively threw her ball at the ceiling, and almost every time, she failed to catch it in her tiny hands. Finally, as the clock neared one in the morning, she decided it would be best to put the ball away and rest. Thankfully, she usually slept in for long periods of time, her record being two in the afternoon. It only got better, for regardless of the time Cleo awakened, Ms. Caulfield was always prepared with her breakfast. She recalled her to always be adorned in her simple apron carrying the sweet smell of blueberry pancakes, or citrus orange slices, or anything that would please her. It was with these thoughts that she drifted into sleep, prepared for another peaceful morning relating to the one occurring the most recent morning.
A bright splash of sunshine awoke Henrietta in the morning. Her surroundings were different, for now she was in an empty room, save for the bed supporting her exhausted mind and the black comforter which had given her a safe place to rest. She knew her father must have carried her upstairs, like he used to do when she was merely a puny child. Her foul mood from last night had been lifted over the course of her sound sleeping. It was replaced by a sense of curiosity that she had never experienced before. Drowsily, she arose and stretched, expanding her body like a cat by pushing her arms out before her. She surveyed the room, and found a plain, circular light hanging from the ceiling. It sparkled and glistened in the early morning light. But Henrietta found that it obtained a long crack down its center. Despite the light’s flaws, the shadows it created fascinated her. The design was so boring, yet the small shadows cast by the light intrigued her. The light just barely brightened the room, but it cast so many shades of shadows onto every wall, painting a picture requiring little care, but offering enormous pleasure. Such beauty was not to be ignored, for it was rare when flaws created beauty like so, at least it was in her mind.
Upon contemplating the light, two urgent growls protruded from the stomach of Henrietta. These growls were signs that she must absolutely go downstairs and politely munch upon whatever Ms. Caulfield was willing to feed her. The smell of sausage and eggs drifted into the openings of the sleeping child’s nose. The power was so strong and so delightful, awakening the girl. Cleo yawned with ease, and arose in a similar way as Henrietta did. But instead of leaving the inflictions of the previous day behind, the events were bound to her memory. Persisting a more desirable mood, she quietly rushed down the stairs, sending off tiny sounds of thumping across the house. It seemed quiet enough for her rival to be sound asleep in her bed, unaware of the spontaneous meal that she would be missing. Cleo thought to herself that it would all be hers; it felt as though she could not wait a second more. What smacked her in the face was another story. One more step into the kitchen sent shivers running down Cleo’s spine. In her chair sat Henrietta. In front of her sat a meal of five sizzling sausages and two wonderfully fried eggs. It was her favorite meal, and it seemed entirely unfair that a stranger should receive her favorite meal.
Henrietta looked upon Cleo with a smirk. She had bits of egg dabbled around the corners of her mouth. The sausage juice was prominent, glistening on her lips, taunting Cleo to eat. But only Henrietta noticed the girl; Mr. Leman and Ms. Caulfield were sitting next to each other opposite from Henrietta. They were holding hands with excited chatter flitting about, their backs turned to the misunderstood child. Besides, they were oblivious to the bickering occurring between the children. Henrietta gave a hmph and continued to eat. Tears lined Cleo’s hazel eyes. But she had to be strong, and wouldn’t let them fall. Instead, she was faced with two choices.
The first was that of bravery. Cleo could choose to confront Henrietta and show that she had fierceness as well. To her, it seemed like the best option, because she would not be seen as a coward. She would stand up for herself, and show Henrietta who’s house it was.
Her other option was submission. To fall back, lower her head in defeat, show Henrietta that this was their house and belonged to them, and not to her by any means. This seemed like it would go through quickly, as did these thoughts through Cleo’s mind.
But, what would she be if she ceased her defense? A frail wall obliged to break at the sign of a single crack? She knew that she couldn’t be defeated so easily, so she would need to pursue her courage and confront Henrietta. Of course, some things were more easily thought than done. Cleo trembled at the thought of a confrontation. But she knew it had to be done, in time. Little by little she would show refusal to anything Henrietta told her. Henrietta knew better, though. In her mind, thoughts of how to state dominance coursed through her mind like wildfire. Sparks fluttered to the ground in frustrated defiance, and smoke billowed from her ears, winding through the air. The smoke, now one with the air, shifted into various shapes and figures. At one point, peace was demonstrated, but it was quickly whisked away. Resolution came into place. This one stayed for some time, but it too did not last long. Thousands of thoughts flickered to and fro, creating a chaotic environment within her mind. Instantaneously, everything halted. The smoke was rising into the air, setting a straight course for the mind of Cleo. It billowed into her head, shifting and squirming. Some of it could not find a place, so it rose out of her mind and traveled back to Henrietta. However, it did not go alone, for stuck and writhing inside of the smoke were fragments of Cleo’s thoughts. And pounding within the smoke of Cleo’s head were the fragments of the Henrietta’s thoughts.
Harmony, pranks, laughter, dichotomies, anger, resentment. Resentment. It was a powerful word that rose into the very center of the minds of both girls. It churned and settled, permanently, for never would it be recycled into something new, however hard they tried. A cloud of harmony rose into the skies of their minds, somehow finding its spot in the restlessness of resentment. Though it would usually be clouded out, a tiny, shimmering light would shine through, if only for a second, and produce a form of peace and calmness between the pair. Difference cried out for similarity, and the two collided into one massive, yellow and black cloud. The colors were continuously being mixed and swirled around. Often times, there would only be one color. Yet it was difficult to come up with a name of any sorts for this one, solid hue of color. It shone brightly, lighting the path for the mind to think clearly. But it also cast shadows throughout the entire mind, trapping dark thoughts and ideas inside with no escape.
The glorious array of colors and clouds of smoke built up in minds of the girls over the course of the next year. Various events between them took place, such as when Cleo took a stand for herself and woke up extremely early one morning. The sun was just rising, for it was six in the morning on a silent winter’s day. Ms. Caulfield always got up quite early every morning, no matter the season. When Cleo hopped out of bed, expecting to land perfectly on both feet, she crumpled to the ground, for her toes were numb to the bone. The stood up ever so carefully, then continued to approach the stairs. Then the living room. Then the kitchen. Ms. Caulfield had a magazine sprawled across her lap, reading the latest useless news. Cleo greeted her mother and took out butter, a frying pan, and the final four eggs. She wasn’t a great cook, but she was determined to use the remaining eggs to prevent Henrietta from having any eggs. Ms. Caulfield eyed her curiously. “You’re really going to have four eggs?” she inquired. The girl nodded silently and continued with her work. Cleo’s mother rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so greedy, dear. There are others who want eggs too.”
Cleo shrugged and cracked open the first egg. The yolk was perfect. The second egg cracked as planned, a golden orb amidst a gooey lining. But the third and fourth egg splattered everywhere. She cursed under her breath, then went to cleaning it up. The effort, though tedious as it may have seemed, was worthwhile, because twenty minutes later, when Henrietta came downstairs expecting excellent eggs, none remained. She stomped about, enraged, as a red cloud of resentment was added to the hurricane that had collected itself over time. The whelp had actually done something without her noticing. Henrietta could not pick on her, however, for Cleo had scurried off into her bedroom to play with her stress ball once more. A cloud of golden smoke rose from the plain grey smoke, tainting her mind with pride. For once, a victory.
Of course, many feuds took place; too many to count. Every time they passed each other in the hallway or at the kitchen table or while watching their favorite television shows, Henrietta would growl a menacing threat to Cleo, who would back away without a fight. But over time, the Cleo grew stronger, and began to ignore these threats. By doing so, Henrietta lessened her threats, and eventually went down to, at most, one per week. Things were more peaceful for everyone in the household, even though the girls still rather hated each other. Still, something was churning chaotically.
Cleo awoke one summer Saturday at noon, a year after her meeting at the train station. She crept down the stairs, sticking to the wall as she normally did, not wanting to be caught by her nemesis. She approached her mother… except her mother wasn’t there. Nervous, she frantically raced around the house, only to find Ms. Caulfield outside with the breeze blowing in her face. With a sigh of relief, Cleo opened the back door and stepped outside into the small backyard. She quietly called to her.. She turned around, giving a weak smile. Her face was blotchy, coated in red spots from her eyes to her neck. Cleo asked worriedly, “Mother, what’s the matter?” With an exasperated sigh, she parted her lips to respond.
“Honey, Mr. Leman… He left. He left early this morning with Henrietta. They tried to say goodbye, but… You wouldn’t wake up. So… So they left without a goodbye.” Her words slipped through Cleo’s ears after the first sentence. Hurriedly, she raced inside, up the stairs, and into Henrietta’s room, tears streaming down her face. Her nightgown flapped in the cool breeze, and she closed her eyes. The room was completely empty. Inside her mind, the clouds were storming, enraged, no matter the color they had originally been. One by one, the clouds were released into the air, thunder striking onto the floor and turning it to ash. Colors streaked over the walls, over the floor, over the ceiling, over everything.
One of each color placed itself upon the broken light. What was once a plain and cracked light had turned into a beautiful array of colors. Reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, purples, pinks, blacks, greys, whites, browns, and so many more were delicately painted over every inch of the light. Further so, the shadows cast by the dim light were casted in all sorts of these colors. In the mind’s eye of Henrietta, the picture before Cleo was displayed. And it brought pure tears of happiness to her eyes to see how Cleo really felt about her. As much hatred as she had for her Cleo, there was plentiful love as well. She had never realized it until now. And if she had been at home, if she had been the one casting the colors across the room, she would have loved the light even more than she did at the moment of her trance a year before.
Later the next evening, Cleo sat on her bed, contemplating the past year. She squeezed her ball through frustration and hope; it relieved her of her strong emotions. Just when she was thinking of how cruel she was to have not woken up at the time of their leaving, Cleo hand squeezed the ball so hard and so tight that it completely slipped out of her hand. But she didn’t notice; she was deep in thought.
One knock. Two knocks. Three knocks. Sounding from downstairs. The girl sighed heavily, got up, and plundered towards the door with heavy feet. She plopped down the stairs clumsily and strayed away from the wall. The neighbors could have heard her footsteps if they were listening closely. She opened the door, expecting another salesperson, or perhaps her mother from the grocery store. It was indeed Ms. Caulfield. She smiled and waved hello, then piled her groceries on the floor. Cleo smiled and reached out for a hug. Ms. Caulfield hugged her swiftly, allowing her daughter to rest her head on her shoulder. She patted her head gently. And then came another rapping at the door. One knock. Two knocks. Three knocks. Four knocks. Her mother hurriedly let go of her and steadily walked to the door. Rather than hiding out from the view of the guest, she looked down and chewed on her nail. The very next thing that occurred would leave a lasting impact on Cleo for the remainder of her life. Mr. Leman swept her off her feet and lifted Cleo into the air. She looked at him in pure shock, as did Ms. Caulfield. He put Cleo back on the ground, where she eyed his daughter. She grinned and laughed, something she had never done in that household before.
Henrietta went to embrace Cleo, as the father wrapped his arms around the mother. In his deep, rumbling voice, Mr. Leman said, “What, you didn’t think we were going away forever, did you? I told you, dear, it was only for the weekend.” Ms. Caulfield’s eyes brimmed with joyful tears, and she wrapped her arms around Mr. Leman, who placed an arm on Henrietta while Ms. Caulfield placed an arm on Cleo. And for that one moment in time, they put aside their resentment towards each other and stood as one joy-filled family.