23 Slips of Paper

August 23, 2011

Write on Edge‘s writer’s workshop, RememberRed, gave the following prompt for this week. Write about a really bad memory. For more great writing, pop on over there and say Hi!

***

I didn’t mean to find the stash, but I did.

“I don’t feel like cleaning my room,” she says sullenly, eyeing the piles of dirty Levis, underwear and Izod shirts on the floor.

I look up from her Seventeen magazine, which I’m devouring. Apparently, the “it” cologne for fall has hints of green apple and peony.  How does Seventeen magazine know this stuff?

“It’s chores,” I say. “You have to. You’ll get in trouble.”

“You’ll get in troub-le,” she mimics, pulling a prissy face. “Goody-Goody.”

“Well you will,” I say, embarrassment rising, a fat disc in my throat.

“Chores are stupid. It’s my room anyways–why should Mom even care what it looks like? You know what? I’m not doing it.”

“No, really. You’ll get in trouble.”  Just the thought of disobeying Mama makes my nerves all jangly.

“What are you gonna do about it, Squeaky Clean?  Tidy up for me?”  Suddenly, her green eyes become greener, cat-like. I know I’m in for it. Her eyes always turn feline when she gets a good idea.

She turns and moves the needle on the record player back, re-starting Billy Squier.

“Clean it for me?”  She smiles. “I’ll pay you a buck.” She cocks her head toward the spinning disc on the turntable. “Bet you can do it before he gets to ‘Rock Me Tonight.'”

She’s already paying me a quarter a day to make her bed in the morning, so I shrug and say, “okay.”  She’s right–it will take me 15 minutes tops to clean it, if I really hustle. Plus, for some reason that’s deep and inexplicable, I don’t want her to get into trouble.

“Excellent,” she says, grabbing the Seventeen out of my hands and heading for the living room. “Enjoy!”

I scoop up the dirty clothes first and scan the room as I walk to the laundry hamper. Her desk is a mess, which doesn’t make sense; the girl rarely does homework.

Returning from the hamper, I pick up dirty tissues, half-eaten Tangy Taffy’s and, using my thumbnail, attempt to scrape plum-colored nail polish off the white surface of the desk. It doesn’t go well. Mama is going to have a fit.

I pick up a treasure–a watermelon Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker–and open the desk drawer to put it in a safe haven. It’s then that I see it. The stash.

A stack of crisp–impossibly crisp–green bills. Twenties, all of them. It’s a big stack. I don’t even have to pick it up to see that there’s a lot of money there.

The room’s suddenly stifling and I think I’m going to throw up. I know what I’m looking at. I want to shut the desk drawer but I can’t quit staring at the green stack.

What I’m looking at is dishonesty.  I don’t have concrete proof but I know it, sure as I’m standing. There’s no way my sister has that kind of money.

But Daddy does. His gas station does. The gas station she resentfully works at on summer days, cursing the red polyester  smock she has to wear.

She hates everything about working at Daddy’s station, except for the free nachos and the paycheck, which comes every second Friday.  The paycheck she immediately blows on concert tickets at Red Rocks, 15 minutes from our house. Two, three times a week, she’s sneaking schnapps into a flask, grabbing her Ray-Bans, spending hours with  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jimmy Buffet, Loverboy.

She lives for nights on The Rocks.  So much so that I know she hasn’t saved a dime this summer.

Billy’s already on “Rock me Tonight.”  I shut the drawer quickly and look over my shoulder, feeling tarnished. Nobody’s there.

Hurriedly, I tidy up the rest of her room and retreat to mine, shutting the door behind me. I pick up Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, attempt to get lost in the world of vampires, but my mind won’t stop running.

Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit. Stupid idiot, opening drawers. Now you’ve done it. What the Hell are you going to do now? What are you going to do?

***

I last two days. That’s all I can bear. My constitution is weak. I have no endurance for this stuff and I can’t sleep. I tangle and churn in the sheets, weighing which is stronger: sense of justice or fear of my sister’s wrath?

I get out of bed before dawn and sneak into Mama’s room. I crawl in next to her, hummingbird-hearted, and whisper suspicions in her ear.

By the time the sky turns pink, Mama’s taken this out of my hands, and I’m limp with relief. She’ll tell Daddy. They’ll look. They’ll decide what to do. Mama will take the blame for finding the goods. My sister never has to know it was me, that I’m a rat and a tattletale and a snake. A snake who tells on her sister.

“You did the right thing,” Mama whispers, brushing hair off my face, but I’m not so sure.  I’ve broken the most sacred rule of sisterhood: Don’t Tell Your Sister’s Secrets.  Even if Mama’s right, even if it’s the honest thing to do, there’s a sourness in my gut that tells me–“you’ll pay for this.”

***

I try to be out of the house the next few days, avoiding the fallout.  If I’m not in my room, I can’t hear my sister’s indignant denials, the slamming of her bedroom door, the low conversation between my parents. Out of the house is good.

***

I come in from outside and the house is quiet.  I creep upstairs and shut my bedroom door, hand on the doorjamb to muffle the sound.  I slide off my sandals, get on my bed and open Salem’s Lot. When I open to my dog-eared place, there’s a strip of yellow paper in there. In my sister’s loopy script reads: I Hate You.

SheknowsSheknowsSheknowsohshitI’mdeadSheknows.

With a shaking hand, I lift the scrap of paper. I Hate You. Of course she does. I kind of hate me, too. Of course she knows. I’m weak. She can sniff out my guilt like those truffle-hunting pigs. Of course. What on Earth made me think that she would never know?

I spend the next few days hiding from her. And discovering. I open my jewelry box to put on my favorite Swatch watch and am greeted with a yellow slice of paper. I Hate You.

I reach in a drawer for a pair of socks and see yellow. I Hate You.

Nestled in the bristles of my hairbrush: I Hate You.

I don’t throw out the slips of yellow, and I don’t know why.  I keep them in my underwear drawer, and as days go by, the pile gets higher.  My room is a garden of unhappy discoveries, little daggers that remind me I’m a snake.  I’ll think I’ve found them all and then one sneaks up on me, sucker-punch.

Even a month later, I’m still finding the occasional yellow slip.  One month, 23 slips of paper. I keep the yellow shards of paper in my underwear drawer for two more months, unsure that I’ve found them all.

A few days before Halloween, I stuff the notes in a King Soopers grocery bag and sneak them into the garbage can.

I don’t tell anyone, not even Mama.

It’s a secret between sisters.

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