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Creative Nonfiction Coming of Age

If the wind would have whispered, ‘Give it to me’- and had whipped that page of my life from my hand and carried it to the clouds, I would not have chased after it. Invisible enmity, created by ill-spoken words, affixed themselves deep into my mind from that day forward. It become apparent that one, whose only sin was to be born beautiful, and the other, who would one day write about it, were loved differently by the world. The sharp tang of those blunt words, snapped against my skin. Its icy breeze bent me backward, and shackled who I was born to be.

I remember well that summer day, which was neither too warm nor too hot. We were outside set up for tea and iced coffee on the veranda. Dull, gray floorboards ran roughly under the picnic table. It had been painted green once, now the wood splintered under the paint, and there would be occasions where slivers would leave with my body, sometimes on my skin, sometimes under my skin. A low roof jutted off the side of the house covering us entirely, the post of which anchored a clothesline. Sheets, pillowcases, shirts, and towels were pulled across the yard swinging gently in the breeze.

I dipped my finger into the whipped cream that floated on the iced coffee. I savored the sweet richness of this indulgence, the cream, and the coffee. We were seldom allowed either.

Daisy moo'ed. Her soft, fawn fur contrasted with her face, which seemed to hang heavy with years. I often wondered why this beast stood so still to be milked and ascertained that it must have felt good for her to do so. 

The lady tapped her tiny teaspoon on the china. My mother sat beside her in worn clothing.

 We had so very little at this point in our lives. I knew this because I heard this every day. ‘There isn’t any money.’ ‘We can’t afford that.’ But I supposed at one time we must have had some money as we seemed to have very fine china rimmed in twenty-two-carat gold and very fine teaspoons. The silver was engraved with flowers and leaves and buds. The lady tapped a rose-budded spoon against the tea cup before setting it back down on the saucer. She held the cup by the delicate handle, pulled it to her thin lips, and sipped. Her husband sat beside her balding. He spoke like my father, low, deep, drawing accents from Czechoslovakia thousands of miles, to sit here, beside us, in our backyard, on our veranda, on this particular summer’s day. He lit a cigarette. He and my father swapped stories and laughed under clouds of blue smoke. 

My father’s front-eye teeth popped out first in his smile, not much, but enough to notice. They were dull in comparison to his smile, which was rich and genuine. It happened so rarely to see him like this, perhaps this is the reason I remember it so well. Life was hard; he wore that look on his face. But not today. Today, he smiled, he smoked, and he listened intently to the balding man across from him, speaking a language I had often heard but never understood. They were both immigrants. I didn’t know that then. 

 The balding man’s wife had jet black hair that laid harshly against her pale skin. She petted her dog, a poodle, whose hair matched hers, and she spoke to the poodle like it was her child. “Oh Peppe,” she cooed, and she placed a soft kiss on the dog's head, offering her teacup to its tongue for it to sip. I gaped, waiting for my mother and my father in unison to scold her for misusing the fine china. To allow a dog to eat off of it was a sin if ever a sin existed! But they remained silent. My father continued to smile. I wondered what they would say if I would have done that very same thing. My bottom burned at the thought. 

Fancy that! I couldn’t wait to become an adult if it meant you could feed your dog off fine china and not be spanked! As I turned this thought over in my mind, my sister appeared at the table, climbed up on the seat, and requested a cookie. She had finished playing. Wherever it was, whatever it was, it had ended now that she smelled treats.

I preferred to sit and listen to the adults speak of things I never understood. Their voices and hearty laughs bounced between light giggles and mixed with the softness of stories, which intrigued me, even when I couldn’t understand the depth of their meaning. My sister, on the other hand, preferred to be in other places, and it’s from those other places she appeared magically when my mother brought out the plate of sweets.

Her ringlets bounced. 

I didn’t know what beautiful was, but I knew my sister was beautiful because every person who ever saw her said so. They would gaze at her with soft eyes and would touch her hair gently, allowing the ringlets to wind themselves around their fingers. They would smile as if it was amazing that it should do so. She sat at the table and glowed under their sunshine nibbling on a cookie.

 I licked whipped cream off my finger. A breeze pulled my attention from the scene. Grass as tall as me grew in the field nearby clapped gently to the rhythm of the wind. Nature has a way of making music and at this moment it was in mid-summer symphony. A starling, the nuisance bird of my mother’s nightmares, spoke to her babies where they were nesting in our attic. Trixie, the goat, bleated in time with the piglets, who grunted bass notes under hay. The air breathed a blue soprano that lilted from cloud to cloud. And the sunshine, a soft warm tenor, held the throngs together in an operatic hum.

If peace was this, I had discovered it.

I picked up my iced coffee, sipping the sweetness, and was amazed how it tasted so good.

The raven-haired lady caressed Peppe and smiled sweetly at my sister cooing over her beauty. “You are angelic,” she murmured and her balding husband with his big hands petted my sister like she was Peppe and suggested that she would break many hearts when she was older. ‘What beauty!” they both purred.

I gazed at them both curiously. 

I had never known there was a difference in beauty until that day. People admiring my sister was part of my life in the same way that eating eggs for breakfast, and doing chores were: something constant, something never considered, just expected.

The balding man took his hand off my sister’s head and brought it to my own patting it dutifully, “And you,” he smiled, exposing tar-stained teeth,  “you shall grow into yours.”

The raven-haired lady ran her eyes down my body, snickered, shrugged her shoulders, and charily replied, “Perhaps.”

March 07, 2024 15:01

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11 comments

Joe Smallwood
01:51 May 23, 2024

You have a delightful cadence to your writing that I have seen in my own. It is almost like rhyming, though not quite. I'll try to illustrate it: (If) the wind would have whispered, ‘Give it to me’- and had whipped that page of my life from my hand and carried it to the clouds, (I would not have chased) after it. Invisible enmity, created by ill-spoken words, affixed themselves deep into my mind from that day forward. It become apparent that one, whose only sin was to be born beautiful, and the other, who would one day write about it, (were ...

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Glenda Toews
02:10 May 23, 2024

Hahaha, I've never thought of purposely destroying work. Perhaps, though, I see some of me in your work which is what attracted me to it? I adore well placed words and it makes my blood crawl when then are over used, over spoken or laid flat. Is there a purpose to destroy a paragraph? I'm curious.

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Joe Smallwood
02:39 May 23, 2024

Just to see if it is possible? Oh one more thing. I asked AI (Chatgpt) to improve your first paragraph. It gave up the first time and the second try was worse than what you wrote! 🙀

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Helen A Smith
17:42 Mar 14, 2024

What a poignant story, Glenda. Adults say the stupidest things sometimes, especially when it comes to comparing siblings. Never a good thing to do. This is something I can strongly relate to. I second Stella’s words. People do grow into beauty as well as out of it. True beauty comes from inside and is felt by everyone around it. Beauty is in the in the eye of the beholder. Some lovely language here. If you get a chance, give my story “True Beauty” a read. You’ll see what I mean. Lovely flow here. I enjoyed reading.

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Glenda Toews
13:33 Mar 15, 2024

Thank you for taking the time to read the story Helen, I'm also sorry that you relate to it. But, perhaps those of us who know the story personally had a deeper character because of it.

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Helen A Smith
15:04 Mar 15, 2024

Hi Glenda, Yes, perhaps so. Maybe it’s what makes us want to write.

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Alexis Araneta
14:14 Mar 12, 2024

This story is as beautiful as you ! Stunning work! The details are phenomenal ! I love how you incorporated the sense of taste in this story. I'm afraid to say that I totally relate to your story as a former plump six year old. Great job evoking that feeling. *slow claps*

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Glenda Toews
19:10 Mar 12, 2024

Stella, unfortunately there are many of us this story will resonate with. Your words are super kind! Thank you so much for taking the time to read the story, and to leave your amazing comments!

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Mary Bendickson
16:12 Mar 07, 2024

You most certainly did grow into your beauty. Just look at you now! Adults really said such things about kids? How is your sister these days? And you write with beauty, too.

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Glenda Toews
17:55 Mar 07, 2024

Hi Mary, thank you for always taking the time to read my work, you're awesome. This particular sister and I still have ongoing issues, and it's kind of sad, She has a wicked sense of humor but seems quite angry a lot of the time. There perhaps, is another story in me about those who are born beautiful, and grow up expecting that it's normal for the world to buzz beauty around them only to have difficulty when it doesn't happen. The enmity has gone both ways, unfortunately. I do enjoy her a lot when she's just enjoying life and cracking jokes...

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Mary Bendickson
18:38 Mar 07, 2024

Get what you are saying.

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