Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Cooking or Baking (01/04/07)
- TITLE: Sherlene's Plan
By Janice Cartwright
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“How was your day, Daddy?” Sherlene aimed at a cheery tone she had memorized; she even tried on Mama’s smile. But Paul didn’t respond or shift his eyes upward.
Sherlene bounded part way down, then paused sucking in air, then continued, choosing her steps more precisely. Paul disappeared into the den where he flopped down and began flipping channels. Tammy, now in the foyer, stood picking at her sweater.
“Hsst!” Sherlene motioned at her sister. “Come in here where we can talk,” she drew Tammy by the hand and pulled her through the dining area into the kitchen. She pushed her into a chair.
“What’s the matter with you, girl? Tammy struggled back up and leaning into Sherlene palpated her younger sibling’s forehead for indisposition. She drew apart. “Hey, why are you all gussied up like that – where did that dress come from – isn’t that. . . that looks like. . . is that Mama’s dress? How did you. . . ?”
“I hemmed it,” Sherlene giggled, turning a quick pirouette.
“And look! All Daddy’s favorites.” Swirling toward the stove, she threw out one arm to gesture at lumpish hillocks created by tea towels blanketing platters of something or other. “I cooked them just ‘zactly like Mama! “See! Chicken!” she lifted a napkin edge, revealing a blackened wing; “biscuits,” at some rock-hewn, brown diskettes; “Cream Potatoes; no that’s the gravy, this is potatoes. And Corn on the Cob,” she re-tucked the napkin quick to hide shriveled saffron kernels.
Tammy sat back down, this time of her own accord. “It’s not gonna’ work, Sherlene. He’ll just be mad. You know he won’t talk about Mama and he doesn’t want to be reminded, either.”
‘But it WILL work! I think it will work!”
“You’re nothing but a big baby, Sherlene, and this proves it. You can’t cook like Mama and you don’t look anything like her in that old dress. And she’s gone and Daddy won’t ever be his own self again until kingdom come!” Tammy put her head down on her arms and gave over to a torrent of tears.
“It’s okay, Tammy!” Sherlene rushed to her sister and burrowed close, smoothing the rounded ridge of the poor bowed spine. She placed the palms of her hands, one to each side of Tammy’s face, lifted and squeezed hard, looking her squarely in the eye, “I been praying for Daddy. Lots. That we could be a real family again. And I just know he’s going to get better. Maybe not today, but soon.”
“C’mon let’s make the table real pretty. You go pick some flowers for that blue vase of Mama’s and I’ll get out the Wedding Dishes.”
“Oh alright!” Tammy sighed, stifling a final blubber. “I’ll see what’s in the garden. Where are the scissors? Bet you didn’t put them back in the drawer last time you used them. Nothing’s ever where it’s supposed to be in this house anymore.”
Tammy banged out and Sherlene flung herself at the swinging door leading into the dining room. But it wouldn’t budge. She glanced down; brown toes of shoes showed beneath. How long had Daddy been standing there? Sherlene felt her abdomen constrict; she couldn’t breathe very well; moisture pooled at her lower lids.
“What in the world, why won’t the door open?” Paul faked a growl. A tiny mustard seed of hope billeted in his girl.
“What is that, I say? Is that a ‘Sherlene’? Why, no! It’s some beautiful lady! “Mm-mm-mm! Fe-fi-fo-fum! I smell something good for the tum! What is that over there on the stove?”
In one instant, Sherlene’s world turned right side up. “Now Daddy, you know you’re not allowed in the kitchen when the women are fixin’ dinner. You go read your paper and when it’s all ready we’ll call you.”
“How about just a wee sample? May not be any good!” Paul reached out a tentative hand toward one of the mounds. Sherlene slapped it and pushed at her father until she had him back through the door. She turned and sashayed to the stove, investigating each platter for warmth.
“Ta-a-m-m-y. . . ! Foods gonna’ be colder as a well-digger!”
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