At my dad’s new apartment I sleep on the brown plaid couch in the living room that faces the kitchen. Kelley is at the kitchen table stirring her coffee, the spoon clinking rhythmically against the mug. My dad is nowhere to be seen.
“How did you sleep?” Kelley asks me politely from the kitchen table. Clink-clink-clink.
“Okay,” I say, getting up off the couch.
“You hungry?” she asks.
“Can I have some cereal?”
“I don’t know, can you?” she says quickly. “Why don’t you try asking me that again the correct way.”
“Can I have some cereal please?”
“I don’t know, can you have some cereal?”
“Yes?” I say, trying to guess the right answer.
She looks at me and shakes her head. “Oh Geez. You can’t have any, but you may have some.”
Kelley is always talking to me like that. I never know what she’s saying.
My dad comes up behind me, giving me a quick hug.
“Hiya girls!” he says. He’s in a good mood this morning, so we’re all smiling now.
Kelley lights up when he looks at her. He goes to her and presses her against the sink. “Mmmm,” she says, smiling. “That’s nice.”
“You’re nice!” he says.
They have forgotten about me, so I sit down at the table. “Can I have some cereal?” I ask again after a few minutes of trying not to look at them.
“Sure! I’ll get it for you, hon,” Kelley says. “You just relax,” she tells my dad, and I see him stand up a little straighter, glowing, watching her take charge.
She shakes some unfamiliar cereal into a bowl and then pours watery looking milk on it.
“Here,” she says, setting the bowl down on the table.
“What cereal is this?” I ask.
“It’s cereal that’s good for you,” my dad says abruptly. “It’s healthy. Not like the garbage your mom buys.”
Kelley has a tight smile as she picks up the box to read from it. “It’s natural multi-grain organic cereal with bran and flax seed.”
I eye the cereal with distrust. This is cereal for grown-ups. I am frozen for a moment, overwhelmed with longing for my regular Saturday morning cereal. Sugar Pops, Honeycomb or Captain Crunch in my regular yellow cereal bowl. If I were at home, I’d be in front of the TV watching Saturday morning cartoons with the living room drapes closed. I’d be listening to my mom hum to the radio in the kitchen, the sunlight flooding in through the glass panes in the back door. It’s suddenly the only place I want to be.
“Eat your cereal,” my dad tells me sternly. “It’s getting soggy.”
“I don’t want to,” I say, filled with panic that I don’t understand. “I don’t like it!”
“It’s good for you,” Kelley says. “See?” She picks up my spoon, scoops up cereal from my bowl and pops it into her mouth. “Now you,” she says, handing the spoon back to me.
Mortified that she used my spoon, I frantically shake my head no.
“Geez, come on,” she says. “What’s with her?” she asks my dad.
Suddenly he slams his hand down on the table. “Dammit!” he says, gets up quickly and leaves the kitchen. The bedroom door slams behind him.
In the resounding silence that follows, Kelley turns toward me, “Great. Look what you did.” She grabs the bowl from the table and dumps the cereal in the sink. “You don’t want it, fine, don’t eat.” Brushing by me, she goes into the bedroom and closes the door with a definitive click.
After a few minutes I get up and go back to the brown plaid couch and sit next to my suitcase. The clock ticks and the refrigerator hums and I sit still, my heart racing. On the top shelf by the TV there are pictures of my dad and Kelley. They are standing next to his van, hugging in front of a tent, Kelley is in front of a giant tree with a tunnel cut through the middle of it. When my dad comes out alone, he closes the door, looks at me and takes a deep breath.
“Let’s go,” he says evenly. “I’m taking you home. You’re acting like a spoiled brat. You can act like that with your mom, but not with me.” He draws the line. “I won’t put up with this kind of behavior. If you can’t do what you’re told, we aren’t going to have you over.”
Ashamed, I follow him out to his van. He tosses my suitcase in the back and we get in. He’s driving fast, and that’s how I know he’s mad. He tells me that I hurt Kelley’s feeling because she always wanted to have a little girl. I am not sure why he is telling me that, but the amount of damage that I have caused feels insurmountable.
It’s a long, silent drive back to my house. When he pulls up in front, he honks the horn a few times. My mom opens the front door and is coming down the sidewalk fast.
“What’s wrong?” she calls, looking at me as I run past her to the front door.
He is out of the van and talking loudly to my mom from the curb. “Every little thing is an issue with her. I’m not putting up with it. What are you teaching her?”
I run into the house, straight to my bedroom and sit on my bed waiting. I don’t know if I’m in trouble. My mom finally comes into my room and carefully asks me to tell her what happened. All I can say is that I’m hungry and I didn’t like their cereal.
“Well, let’s take care of that right now,” she says with a sad smile.
We go to the kitchen where the sun is slanting in through the panes of glass in the back door. The radio is on, she hums a little, looking at me with an expression I can’t read, and pulls my yellow cereal bowl from the cupboard. She opens a box of Honeycomb. I am not sure why I’m suddenly crying.
Erin Parker started out as an English major, fell in love with Art History, and ended up in Art School studying commercial Interior Design. Erin is a 2014 Best of the Net Short Fiction Nominee. Her work has been published by Drunk Monkeys, The Altar Collective, Lost in Thought, Red Fez, several issues of Uno Kudo, and has work forthcoming in the Santa Fe Review and the Alice In Wonderland Anthology from Silver Birch Press.