I flip through the cookbook, a palette of colors flashing uncoordinatedly before my eyes. It reminds me of our clumsy relationship. With you, things are far from simple, good one moment and downhill the next, especially when it comes to food.
I put the hardcover on the counter. (When did everything get so heavy?) The pages mock me as I flip past them. Tortilla muffins and sardine pasta smirk. Pancakes laugh at the loser who can’t cook to save her life.
It was not always this way. I used to be a fine cook. But then you came along and shattered my amour propre like Lady Tremaine does Cinderella’s glass slipper. Good thing Cinderella has a spare shoe. At least one of us gets a happy ending.
Every once in a while—when you like my cooking—you give me a new pair of glass slippers. I always take them, eager as I was in my blue gown on my first trip to Disneyland, even though I know it is just a matter of time before the footwear is flying across the kitchen again.
I try not to think too much. Either you will love it, or you will spit it out to my face. There is no in-between. I wish you would talk to me instead of knocking your bowl off the table, screeching incoherent words every time I don’t please you. But you never say what you want, and I keep guessing. Ironically, that's somehow the thrill in our slipper-shattering game.
I heat olive oil before putting chopped onions in the saucepan. After so many failed attempts, I have become a skillful onion chopper. They no longer make me cry, and I dice through all the layers like a pro. I smile, knowing that even things with layers can be understood and softened.
I take the onions out—replacing them with skinless, boneless chicken thighs, which I cut into teeny tiny bite-sized pieces. (I can't let you choke like last time.) The chicken slices drift impassively in the saucepan, looking just as lost as we do.
I watch the olive oil drip back into the pan as I take the batch out with the slotted spoon. I think of my best friend. When we were in first grade, she told me that the Romans and Greeks used olive oil for a variety of things: sustenance, fuel, and cosmetics. I was so impressed and thought she was so smart. (I wonder if you will think better of my cooking if I tell you the same thing.)
After setting aside the chicken next to the cooked onions, I take some brown rice along with some chopped garlic—and stir them together in the pan.
Garlic mixes with rice. White cloves spread around brown seeds as if they were comforting their frightened companions. (Everyone knows garlic cloves scare dark forces away.) I hope this magical plant wards off all your ghosts, or whatever it is that haunts you in the dark. You never tell me what they look like. You just cry and whimper at my side. On nights like these, there is only so much I can do to help.
I put the cooked chicken and onions back in the pan, stir some more, and pour in chicken stock. Eventually, I have a weird mixture that reminds me of chicken porridge. Badly cooked chicken porridge. But I refuse to take it as a bad sign.
I close the lid, glancing at the clock. The book says to wait for twenty-five minutes. I wonder what you're doing. You've been quiet for the past hour, which is unusual. There is no TV playing in the background, no cries, no calls, just an eerie silence bouncing around the walls.
I start boiling leeks and peas to purée them with mint. I always like to cook leeks. (Legend has it that the Welsh soldiers won the battle against the pagan because they wore leeks on their helmets.) Maybe if I serve you extra leeks for good luck, my slipper will survive the crash this time.
Forgetting to taste first, I pour the green purée into the saucepan. Your dinner turns green like trees coming back in spring. I start to fret, not at all sure that it should look this grassy. But it can’t be that bad.
I add butter to my almost finished masterpiece (I hope it turns out a masterpiece anyway.) and stir for a while, the silence of the house wrecking my nerves.
How can you be so quiet?
Deciding to go check, I close the lid and leave the kitchen. The living room is a hot mess, your things scattered all over the floor. I shake my head and pick up your books, putting them back on the shelves. I stack your cards back in their boxes and return the pillows to the sofa. Promising myself to deal with the rest later, I shuffle to find you.
The walls of our bedroom shine marigold yellow—my favorite color. I always think you like yellow too, but I can’t be sure because you never say. You don’t talk much. Mostly, you just listen to me recount my favorite tales, your eyes wide with wonder in the night light.
It’s always so nice to see you so, so happy.
I rouse from my train of thought as I spot the two figures lying on my bed: Sleeping Beauty and a teeny tiny elf. The little creature snuggles in the princess’ arm, golden hair wrapping them both in peaceful bliss.
My breath hitches as I take in the sight of my best friend holding you. Tears swell, stinging my eyes. I quickly blink them away before I creep closer to the bed—my bed. I feel confused and relieved all at once, seeing two people I love safe and sound in my very own flannel sheets.
It feels almost wrong to break the little moment. But I crouch down at my best friend's side and whisper: "Whittany, wake up. I made dinner.”
The princess wakes up and turns; her blue eyes find mine for a second but quickly shift to the tiny elf at her side. The little one stirs at the slight movement and nestles his head closer to the princess’ warmth. Whittany turns to look at me once more, her eyes asking me whether or not to wake the small thing. We both know that it is almost a miracle that you’re sleeping so soundly at this time of day. I can see us bragging about it for the rest of our lives.
I answer Whittany by reaching over her, scooping you up. I hold you— dear baby brother— as I steady myself at the side of the bed. I chuckle as I realize how much I miss having your tiny head on my shoulder. (Be as hard to feed as you want; I would still cook for you any day.)
You wake and start babbling incoherent words to my neck. “Did you have a nice sleep, Remi?” I coo as Whittany gets up and shuffles to my side. She places a kiss on your cheek. “Of course he did,” Whittany says proudly. (See? Not even ten seconds, and she’s already bragging.) “I can get you to sleep so much quicker than your sister. Right, Remi? My stories are much, much better than Becka’s.”
Oh, how dare she?
I roll my eyes. (Whittany does have the best stories, but I'm so not adding fuel to her pride right now.) Holding a rather sleepy you, I make my way to the bathroom with Whittany trailing not far behind. She washes your face, still boasting about how well you slept. You giggle and try to hide your face in my neck as if you are shy of her words. Your eyelashes tickle my skin making me squirm.
The three of us traipse past the mountain of toys in the living room. I feel nervous as we enter the kitchen. With a pounding heart, I set you down on your seat. I hand you my old teddy before turning to put on your (my) favorite song.
I guess that’s the hard part of being you, huh, little brother? Always having to listen to Cinderella soundtracks over and over again. (Well, it's not my fault I’m eight years older and capable of voicing my thoughts.)
Who doesn’t love Cinderella anyway?
“Becka?” Whittany starts from the counter, “Why is it so… so green?” I assume she’s talking about your dinner, and I almost sprint to clasp a hand over her mouth.
"Don't say it like that!" I hiss, "Remi will think you're scared."
"Well, I am kind of scared… It's green rice, Becka!"
"It looks exactly like the picture in the cookbook." I point to the title of the page I had left open: Sunshine chicken with mushy minty peas.
"It says 'Sunshine', Whittany! There's nothing scary about that."
"You sure Remi's not gonna spit it out before you even put it in his mouth?"
We stop our bickering, heads snapping towards the sound.
Did you just?
For a long moment, we just stand there, gaping. I can’t believe it. My baby brother just said my best friend's name before mine. I hold my breath and wait for Whittany's triumphant squeal, but it doesn't come. Instead, I feel her arms wrapping around me.
"Becka, I'm sorry." Whittany says, "I'm sure Remi only wanted to copy you. He doesn't know that it's my name."
I nod, suddenly hating the green mushy substance steaming from the saucepan. It doesn't matter now. Either you will love it, or you will spit it out. I feel the glass slipper slipping out of my own hands before you even get the chance to smash it.
I scoop the green rice into your bowl and hand it to Whittany. "Can you feed him today? I might cry if he hates it." I tell my best friend truthfully. "Which, let's be honest, is usually what happens anyway." She mumbles something that sounds like 'I'm sorry' and takes the bowl from me.
So much luck from leeks and garlic cloves, huh?
I start to clean the stoves, trying to heed the singing in the air:
Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through
I wish I weren't such a baby about it. I'm nine and a half. A big girl. I should be happy for Whittany. She babysits you just as much as I do. In a way, she's is also your sister.
Well, I guess if you're going to call for someone other than mom and dad, I'm glad it's Whittany. (Oh, but how I wish you would call for me too.) I try to hold in my tears as I wipe the counter clean. The music isn't helping me one bit. The more it goes on, the more my throat tightens.
In dreams, you will lose your heartaches
Whatever you wish for, you keep
I want to cry.
"Becka!" Whittany's voice snaps me out of my daze. "He likes it! Remi actually likes the green stuff you made! Do you have more?!" She rushes to my side and shows me your empty yellow bowl.
You can't have eaten it all that quickly.
"Whittany, did you just eat Remi's dinner?" I fold my arms, raising my eyebrows.
She shakes her head quickly, but I don’t believe her for a second. Whittany seems to know. "Well, maybe a little bit," she smiles sheepishly. I open my mouth but she stops me before I can say anything. "It's good, Becka! You did an amazing job. And your parents will be so proud when they get home. Go feed your baby brother."
Whittany gives me a little push, and I stumble across the kitchen. You stare at me with big brown eyes. (Big brown eyes like mine.) I wonder if you know that I look so much like you, that we have the same eyes, same nose, same hair. All of a sudden, your little mouth falls open like flowers blooming in the spring. My heart clenches as you start babbling along with the words:
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
See? Told you everyone likes Cinderella.
I spoon the green sustenance and hold it to your mouth. It smells of sweet butter, chicken stock, a hint of mint, pungent garlic, and of course, fresh leeks blooming in the summer.
Extra leeks for good luck.
There's a small greenish stain on your left cheek, but I can't be sure. It is possible that Whittany ate your dinner and smudged some of it on you just to make me feel better. She’s that kind of friend.
Either you will love it or you will spit it out. There’s no in-between.
I take a deep breath and let you finish your little number, giggling as you finish the last words:
The dream that you wish will come true
I hand over my glass slipper.