By Harriet Parks
My big sister is fourteen, and she is terrifying. It is best to keep out of her way. We all try to avoid her, but sometimes she just explodes, screams, swears, blames.
There is no peace in our house.
Her bedroom is like a cave, and no one is allowed in, ever.
Mum calls out, “Supper time, table laying,” and she roars, “Fuck off!” so loudly it seems to shake the walls and rebound from the attic to the basement.
We all cower.
I try and help Mum, try to make suggestions. Dad is silent; my younger brothers shout back. I write “I hate you” hundreds of times, in small letters, covering pages and pages in my journal. Everyone hates her in our house, and she hates all of us.
Mealtimes are the worst; Dad sits oblivious, reading, and my sister attacks us,
“Shut up, stop being so disgusting, you are so ugly/stupid/pathetic—” When she kicks the legs of our chairs, my stomach aches. I hide behind the kitchen island until it calms down. No one notices.
One cold December morning, at six o’clock, I tiptoe down three flights of stairs to our kitchen in the basement. The white torch light from my phone hits random objects, and I shudder with delight. When I get to the kitchen, I get on with the job and start washing the pans from last night’s supper, tidying, putting away the soy sauce, the butter, piling up the books and toys, and wiping the table. I am making things better. I imagine Mum thinking that something magic has happened and asking, “Have the fairies been?”
The work is consuming, but I gradually become aware of a low, quiet hum. I turn and see a shadow, a shape beside the sofa. Or I think I do. I run as fast as I can halfway up the stairs then stop.
The hum turns into a low growl, “eeee” Or is it feed or please?
I freeze. Move my head slowly. What I see is unbelievable. It is not a person but a floating, open, fleshy mouth with knife-sharp teeth. Strange red wisps of mist seem to encircle and shift and reach. The smoke turns into claws and evaporates. This thing seems to exist and not exist; it fills the room, disappears then re-emerges. My heart pulses.The low growl intensifies into a primal, needy roar.
My mind tells me to run; my heart pulls me down the four stairs to the draining board and, as I pick it up a saucepan, the claws reach out. I duck down.
Why do I have a pan? Will I hit this thing? How do you hit mist?
The sound shifts now; the pitch is higher, painful, urgent. I am shivering, terrified.
Instantly, I know what to do. I turn the pan upright and pour air directly into the huge mouth. It drinks, it gulps. The translucent claws stretch up again for more, pleading. Each swallow is deep and audible. Green eyes float and shine. My arms ache trying to keep the pan tilted at the right angle. Finally, I take a step back and look. The mist disappears, and a furry body forms and starts to fill out, the mouth shrinks and softens.
The room begins to vibrate with a deep purr as the pans vibrate and the chairs gently tap. The noise loosens my body and I laugh. I look at the creature, standing on its hind legs; and we begin to sway, to dance. Everything in the room joins in. We pirouette, round and round. The glasses tinkle, the kettle rotates on and on until eventually we stop. I look into its agate eyes and we slide onto the sofa and drift into slumber. Silence.
When I wake up, the space beside me is empty, and Mum is standing next to me looking at the pristine kitchen. She has a heavy smile.
“I wanted to help you,” I say.
She gently touches my head.
In a second, the room seems full. The boys fight over the Rice Krispies, everyone is late, the noise is manic and sharp.
Jess roars in, snatches a bagel and snarls, “That was the last one, none left for you.”
I walk over to her, look into her green eyes, smile, and reach for the Cheerios.