Daryn Houston hopes you enjoy her stories and feels bad if you didn't. She lives and writes in Los Angeles with her cat even though she's allergic...read more to Los Angeles and cats. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside's low-residency program.
I PUSH HER INTO THE BASEMENT. Slow and steady, her weight shifts, dramatically folding and unfolding herself with each smack of the cement stairs. An occasional limb strikes the moldy wooden wall to the left; falls into black nothing on the right. They pull away with a drop of blood or patch of red along the skin, contorting once again to fall ahead of the next appendage. She wears a horrified expression, grunts escaping her mouth, her energy too busy concentrating on where the force will land next, a gymnast's last practice fading to black.
I'm about to close the door when I catch a glimpse of her frilly slip - my frilly white slip - now gray from collected dust and dirt.
She tore her slip two nights ago. She escaped from her bedroom window, probably ripped it on the nasty spines of the bougainvilleas. She went to meet Jimmy down the street, see a movie, so she said. I might have believed her if I didn't find a suggestive love note from Jimmy forgotten in one of her pockets in the laundry basket.
Mother found the slip and scolded her. She pointed towards me, said it was mine. I tried to look for my slip, but couldn’t find it. It was when she flashed a wicked grin and a cute little curtsy did I notice she was wearing it. Hers was a bright white; mine a muted beige. She left the house to attend a piano lesson. Mother proceeded to scold me.
Mother found her cigarettes. I opened the sock drawer for her to see. I cleaned the shredded slip to show its brilliance after a good cleansing. I pointed out the absence of the lace edges I loved so dearly on my own I didn't care about its matronly appeal. I escorted Mother to the treaded trellis, branches bent and folded into a clear path from the roofing underneath the bedroom window. I gave her Jimmy's lovely note, watching her eyes bulge the further they read down the page.
I was in the garden when my sister returned. I heard nothing but the slam of the back door, her figure stomping down the porch steps screaming, damning me to hell as she got closer. Now she'll never see Jimmy. Go out with friends. Participate in her recital.
My eyes and hands reverted to patting the dirt around my chrysthanthemums. I waited for her to finish.
"Maybe you shouldn't have taken my slip," I said over my shoulder.
I felt the hard, firm plant of her shoe on the left side of my waist. I fell back, noticing the brown footprint on my new white shirt. Then a pair of knuckles knocked against my collarbone. Next my arm, then chest and breast. She kept going, her knees digging into my stomach. The hedge shears were a few inches from my hand. I twisted my body making her knees slip beside me, taking pressure off my stomach. I felt her grab my arm and throw me back. I watch her fist come down on the jaw. Sounds of cicadas and crickets vibrate in my ear. She clocked me again on the side of my face while I was busy staring at the tools. I taste blood in my mouth. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
My hand grabbed the shears and with all my energy struck the side of her head. She fell down, rolled completely off my body, gripping the side of her face. I got up, a bit unsteady as my knees were made of silt. I ended up falling over again, one fist still holding the shears. I crawled towards the rest of the tools, grabbing each one and throwing them into the box, shears first. The ringing noise in my head started to dissipate as I heard the lock click on the tool kit.
She's sobbing loudly, but Mother wasn't home. The neighbors kept to themselves.
I thought I had enough time to put the box back in the basement. I got up and steadied myself against the wall. My legs were sluggish but withstanding. Several paces away, the door was wide open. I grabbed the box and made my way.
A thump stopped me, made me turn my attention back to her. She'd gotten herself off the ground and was heading towards me fast. It wasn't the most successful run; the term galloping came to mind. I noticed she's still wearing my petticoat, now taupe and missing some lace trim.
She seemed to gather more energy as she got closer, the side of her face red with scrapes of blood.
I froze. She hurls her body at me. I saw the hidden gopher hole before her foot did. It caught and she lost her footing. Her body was coming closer. Behind me was an open door and trouble. This bothered me. It wasn't until I stepped aside that my brain flicked away from flight mode.
Her head turned to face me, but her body was still flying towards the basement. I took one more look at my trashed slip. I stepped forward, placed both of my hands firmly beneath her shoulder blades and pushed.
The door is locked now. If I stand still and wait for the breeze to subside, I can hear muffled yelps and soft sobs. I look down at the gardening kit. I pick it up and head towards the shed. It'll look better next to Father's old tools. My chin is up; the buzzing is gone.
I put them in the shed and head back to the house. I walk up the porch; stamp the dirt off my shoes. I get a broom and sweep it off. I hear muffled versions of my name. I pause, frown a bit, and watch a breeze dance across the grass. A section of smashed grass lies untouched. I put the broom back and walk into the house.
I strip down and load the wash with my clothes.
I draw a bath and think of her facial expressions: dishonesty, anger, fear.
What will Mother think of me after this? Nothing good, I know.
I wash my hair in the sink, watching blades of grass and dirt circle down the drain and quickly disappear through its small holes. For some reason, I begin to smile. It dawns on me my chrysthanthemums are okay.