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Holiday Inspirational

It's sleeting outside. Alan shuts his eyes and spends the next forty-five minutes tossing this way and turning the other. But it's a lost cause. He was hoping to get a full twelve hours in. School's out; why not? Instead, as dreams of flying dragons in a faraway fantasy land dissolve leaving reality, two things demand his undivided attention: The sharp taps on the windows and the unmistakable scent of game.


He sits up, eyes drawn to the fuzzy shadow of early morning on the wall. Such a contrast. Sleet. Cornish game hen. Icy, drafty, and dreary. Cozy, aromatic, and inviting. It's then that he thinks: "Wait a minute! This early?"


Or is it already getting dark? Wouldn't surprise him, really. He's been known to sleep all day on weekends. But this is his favorite Thursday of the year. It's his custom to spend the entirety of the morning and early afternoon hovering around the kitchen like a vulture, ready, willing, and able to be the first of the family to swoop in and devour this heavenly carcass. He turns back to the alarm clock for a second opinion on the time. Still 7:00 AM.


Curiosity wins as usual. There's no rhyme or reason why mom would be up cooking this early in the morning, even on this day. Like a reptile, he slithers across the carpet. The mouth-watering fumes grow warmer with every slinking step toward that oven. And when he peeks around the corner at the end of the hallway, he assumes he's dreaming again.


***


The dining table manages to look fancy for such a low-income family. Candle flames illuminate three faces. Normally, Alan's would be the most well-lit; but today, it's his mother's. He plunges a fork into the depths of his own personal game hen, grinning with a set of glistening, braced teeth. The meat falls off the bones as a steaming pile of what's guaranteed to be the best bird he's ever tasted. Midway between plate and mouth, though, the silver-pronged utensil stops.


"Oops, sorry mom!" he says, jumbling the words together in haste so he can dive back into eating. "Thanks for the..."


She reaches over the table and offers a handshake. "No, young man! Thank you!"


Alan parks a fist-size lump of dark meat behind his left cheek to free up some vocal air. Wrinkles form above the same eyebrow. "Thank me? For what?"


"Oh, don't even bother trying to be modest! Not only was this the nicest thing you've ever done for us, this is the most perfectly-cooked hen in all human history! Restaurant-quality, I'm telling you! Guess all those years of watching the Master at work must've taught you everything, huh?" she laughs pointing a thumb back at herself.


"But I did..."


The "'nt" is missing from that word. Like most thirteen-year olds, he has lots of things on his mind. And one of those things is that skateboard. The purple one with the dual, candy-apple green dragons breathing fluorescent flames. The highest-priced skateboard in his favorite athletics store. The one he's been nagging mom to get him all year.

He turns his attention to Sydney, his nine-year old sister. She's still chewing on the same bite of hen she was ten minutes ago. Nothing unusual there; Sydney always eats like a bird. Unlike a bird, however, she makes the least amount of noise of anyone in the house. A fact mom and Alan have grown used to, but never understood. Mom sets her sight on the girl's pale, freckle-covered face and draws in a seethe.


"Sydney?" she asks, the corners of her eyes pinching the bridge of her nose. "When do you plan on taking out the trash?"


The girl stops chewing and sits silent staring into her plate, guilty as charged. Mom hurls a cutting hiss across the table. 


"It's one simple thing! One! Simple! Thing! You tie the strings, lift it out of the can, open the door, and go throw it in the poly-cart!"


Sydney begins to shiver and cry.


Mom continues, un-phased. She flicks her finger to the right while blazing straight ahead into the child's glossy pupils. "Your brother has done all the work today! Do you realize that? Do you even care? He slaved half the night over that stove so I wouldn't have to! The least you could do is thank him and take out the...damn trash!" She doesn't notice the gaping look on her son's face.


"Mom, it's OK! I'll get the trash; no big deal."


"Absolutely not!" her voice rebounds off the kitchen walls. "She's going to learn responsibility if I have to ground her until retirement age to get there!"


***


Candy-apple green. Envy of the neighborhood. Mine all mine. Alan's stomach has never been happier. This was the best-tasting Thanksgiving dinner ever. But he didn't make it. He sits sunken in his desk chair with visions of Christmas. Only one month away. Keep his mouth shut, the skateboard could easily be his. He already knows he can count on Sydney never saying a word. This should be a piece of cake.


The main thing pumping through his mind is the Tony Hawke video he's got playing on his tiny TV. He studies every move as the pro demonstrates a half-pipe trick with speed, dexterity, and grace. That's gonna be me a year from now.


But in his peripherals, he detects the clanking sound of cans and bottles just beyond the wall of his room. Mom must've finally talked Sydney into taking out that garbage. He pries two eye-level sections of a mini blind open with his fingers. Yep, there she goes with her head still down, at a snail's pace. Maybe mom will leave her alone for a while now.


He takes a stance in front of the TV trying to mimic Hawke, imagination going wild. At that instant, he thinks he hears laughter coming from outside the window.


"Who's peeking in on me?" he grumbles, stomping back to the gap in the blinds. The facial redness deepens. Flexing what muscle he has, he breaks into a sprint for the front yard.


"Well, look who just came out from under their rock! It's Pepper Face!" a gang of three jeers. The tallest boy of the bunch yanks the sack open and dumps the contents onto the street. Sydney drops to the ground, curling into a ball with her hands over her face.


"Lookie what we got here, guys: Pepper Face wants to play 'Ball'. Alrighty then, let's see how far we can kick her!" The boy sounds off a yelp of agony before the swift kick from behind can register as having come from a young man a little older than he.


"Don't feel so good, does it?" Alan roars with a tone of maniacal puberty. Words better reserved for grownups ring through the crisp and otherwise stale atmosphere of the neighborhood as the trembling, bug-eyed trio disperse for their respective homes.


***


"Good lord! What happened?"


"Mom, obviously you didn't see it; but I think I know why Sydney doesn't like taking out the trash."


"Oh? Do tell! This should be interesting," she invites with crossed arms while brother and sister refill the ravaged sack with the scattered remnants of the afternoon.


After Alan finishes that part of the story, mom's arms fall limp at her sides. The melting sleet crystals glow with the colors of a setting sun. Three plumes of late-Autumn breath rise toward the sky along with those of the village's many chimneys as they hug.


"Hey, what are we torturing ourselves out here for? I say it's high time for pie time!"


"Mom?"


She gives him a glance prominent with bewilderment. Alan is always the first to attack dessert too.


"There's more," he declares with an awkward grin.


"Yes?"


He pats the top of Sydney's head, and she cracks the first smile in ages. "I didn't do all that cooking," he informs. A lump tries to rise in his throat. "She did."


"What?"


"Just what I said. The thanks to be given on this day all goes to Sydney. I thought I was dreaming when I saw her in the kitchen last night, but I wasn't. I guess this was her way of making it up to you for not taking out the garbage."


A dropped jaw kaleidoscopes into a half-moon smile. As far as mom is concerned, the Christmas season has already begun. They head back into the house. And from that point on, mom is Sydney's official kitchen assistant.




November 24, 2021 22:12

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26 comments

John K Adams
19:44 Feb 03, 2022

I liked how you made us conscious of what was happening as Alan is figuring things out. Lots of great imagery. Glad Sydney finally got recognized (and protected).

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Gip Roberts
19:53 Feb 03, 2022

Thank you, John. I found the holiday spirit stirring within me as I wrote this one, and as the title implies, I wanted it to have a "Norman Rockwell" ending, especially for Sydney.

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Amy Jayne Conley
19:11 Jan 11, 2022

Ohhhh how sweet this is!! :D I absolutely adore it, Gip! You are a stellar writer. I was hooked! The character arc of Alan finally swallowing his pride and realising that it's better to be honest, and doing the right thing, warmed my heart so much! This is such a whole and sweet tale. Well done!

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Gip Roberts
21:41 Jan 11, 2022

Thanks, Amy :) No one has ever commented on one of my stories in terms of "character arc" before, so that made my day right there. I've been wanting to say for a long time now: Your name immediately makes me think of a writer or actress or maybe even a musician. "Amy Jayne" has a real rhythmic, cheerful sound to it.

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Amy Jayne Conley
10:02 Jan 12, 2022

Honestly it's one of the things I love about your stories (aside from your eloquent style) - it's your character arcs! You manage to fit even a very small one into such a tiny word count! =D I'm really glad to see another story from you! It's so freaky you say that (in a good way) - I'm trying to make writing my full-time job! I just finished the first draft of a screenplay!! And I've two more in the pipeline... so maybe you'll see Amy Jayne on screen a lot more! Thank you so much, you sweet friend!!

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Gip Roberts
23:27 Jan 12, 2022

Congratulations on the screenplay draft. Does a screenplay read sort of like a traditional play, with the names of each actor and their lines, and their actions and reactions below in italics? I'm about to read your latest story here, but I would also like to read one of your screenplays some time.

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Amy Jayne Conley
10:10 Jan 13, 2022

Thank you!!! So it's kind of similar - it's a movie script, really, so it's the name of character in the middle of the page, and dialogue beneath. The direction/scene setting/other info is paragraphed! It's so cool to read a script alongside a movie because you get to see how the actors influence the shooting script. It's super interesting and definitely a cool way to tell stories!! I'd be honoured for you to read it!! :D

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Nainika Gupta
18:48 Jan 09, 2022

Hey Gip! I know this is late, but I just wanted to stop by and say: Holy smokes, that line "A dropped jaw kaleidoscopes into a half-moon smile." was absolutely perfect. Awesome story!

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Gip Roberts
21:12 Jan 11, 2022

Thanks, Nainika :) Late is not a problem for me as I don't actually enter the contests anymore, I just write to be writing on here now. You and lots of other awesome writers inspire me to push myself to come up with better ways of describing things in my sentences. Thank you for checking out Touch of Rockwell.

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Nainika Gupta
21:00 Jan 12, 2022

:) Glad that's the case! Aw shucks. Well, I'm glad I did a good deed! Of course!

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Dhwani Jain
08:14 Dec 28, 2021

Whoa! This was awesome! It took the 'Thankgsgiving' spirit to level 1000!! I liked this one too, but yes, there is something that I wanted to say. This story was a good one, but the main thing is that the 'conflict' in the story wasn't too 'big'. Yes, Alan had an internal conflict to tell his mom or not, but apart from that, the plot was a little bland. EDIT : I didn't understand the title of the story too Sorry if any of my comment was hurtful to you, we're all here to improve.

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Gip Roberts
20:54 Dec 28, 2021

Thanks for the critique. The title refers to Norman Rockwell, the painter. He was famous for painting pictures of happy families during the holidays, but I think most of them were done in the 1930s and 40s, so I can see where not everyone would get that. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Most of my stories are within the 1000-1500 word range because I always run out of time if I try to write one any longer. It also makes it harder to fit any complex plot into anything, so I really don't know what I could do.

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Dhwani Jain
05:19 Dec 29, 2021

Welcome! Okay, thanks for the knowledge! =D Nice nice, me too! Could you please read and review some of my stories too? I'd love a review on 'Prologue'.

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Gip Roberts
22:18 Dec 29, 2021

My weekend starts tomorrow afternoon, so "Prologue" will be on my to-read list for sure.

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Dhwani Jain
05:35 Dec 30, 2021

Ok! Thanks so much!

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James Grasham
22:08 Dec 25, 2021

Hi Gip, to echo the thoughts on the other comments I was definitely anti mom and pro Sydney on this!! Very enjoyable read!

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Gip Roberts
20:29 Dec 27, 2021

Thanks, James. Sydney was the hero of the story for sure. She taught both her mom and her brother a thing or two without ever having to say a word.

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Palak Shah
17:20 Dec 11, 2021

Nice title, I love the story overall and it was wonderfully written. It is quite relatable to me and I loved the ending. Could you please read my latest story if possible? :)) Thanks :))

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Gip Roberts
19:53 Dec 11, 2021

Thanks for reading it. I'm about to read your latest now.

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Palak Shah
21:15 Dec 11, 2021

Thanks :))

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Kathy Roberts
00:14 Dec 06, 2021

I liked this story. At first I was a little confused.But I always thought it must have been Sydney who cooked the dinner. A lot of times parents don't understand why children do or don't do certain things and blame it on laziness or rebellion. I'm glad the mother found out the real reason and changed her attitude about her daughter.I liked that the brother stood up for his sister and found out the truth.

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Gip Roberts
21:06 Dec 06, 2021

Thank you for the comment. I think Alan will get his skateboard after all, proving the idea of karma true.

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Rachel Smith
13:43 Nov 29, 2021

Hi Gip! I felt so sorry for Sydney and really disliked the Mum in this. I hope she apologised to Sydney or at least had to scrub the oven clean! I particularly liked the opening imagery, it was a good set up for the end. Hope you are well 🙂

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Gip Roberts
21:00 Nov 29, 2021

Thank you, Rachel. I didn't care for the mother either. If this were the type of story that called for a sequel, she would definitely be scrubbing that oven clean. Seems like the quietest ones always get treated the worst and are always the most misunderstood. Which is probably why some of them snap later in life. I'm doing well at the moment. I got a brand new car out of that wreck, so it turned out all right. It's great to hear from you.

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Akshara .
12:42 Nov 25, 2021

This was a nice read, interesting and inspirational. Do you think you can give my new story a read? Thanks.

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Gip Roberts
18:19 Nov 25, 2021

Thanks, Akshara. Yes, I'll be reading your story today.

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