Steam filled my area of the kitchen, and my red hands should have indicated to me that the water was probably too hot, but I was so happy to have at least one part of my body not be ice cold that I didn't care. Julissa, my younger sister was dancing around pretending her nightgown was a ball gown, obviously not bothered by how cold the apartment was again. Mama would sometimes bang on the pipes, morse code in Brooklyn to raise the heat. I never really noticed an improvement when she did it, so I wasn't going to bother to try. I was just content to spend forever washing the dishes in water just barely below scalding.
Julissa was singing her own made up song on how she was Cinderella about to go to the ball and I was still myself, Elissa, doomed to spend the evening washing dishes all night. It was a sick game, kind of torturous, and a clear sign that Julissa completely misunderstood the whole premise of Cinderella. The only reason why I went along with it was because it made babysitting her while Mama was working late so much easier. I had chores to do, and I had to keep Julissa occupied and out of trouble. During this game, all I had to do was finish the chores and pretend I was miserable, and Julissa was content and avoiding danger.
"Ah sister," she sang to me, "it is so sad. I will dance the night away and you will still be here, washing dishes."
"Oh yes sister," I lamented, "if only I could go to the ball too. Woe is me."
I wonder if I should worry about her having this mean streak at only ten years old. Although, we're talking like cartoons from fifty years ago so maybe she's not as mean as she seems.
"Sister! I insist you do my hair as well, make it beautiful," she ordered.
Yeah, she might actually be mean and a bit weird for how easily she talks like this when she's Cinderella.
"Okay," I announced, "if I'm going to do your hair then I need a brush, clips, and some hair ties."
Her shocked reaction was adorable. Midterms were over and there was nothing I had to do tonight except watch her. Styling her hair just meant another half hour of her not complaining. This might be the easiest babysitting night of our lives.
"Yep, go get the stuff."
She came back with her hair bag and one of the giant photo albums. "I thought we could go over the royal history as well," she declared as she sat on the couch, the album took up her entire lap.
"Nope," I answered.
"Why?" Julissa whined, "It'll be fun."
"It wasn't fun the last time you went through the photo albums. Remember this?" I lifted her left hand to show the scar that was left when she used the sharp scissors to cut up some of the pictures, "If it's so much fun then why did you try to cut up the photos?"
"I just wanted to fix some things. I like the mom you got. I wanted to put me in those pictures," Julissa explained.
"What are you talking about? We have the same mom."
"No, your mom was happy," Julissa started opening the album and flipped to photos close to the beginning, "Look."
She opened to the photos of Mama and I at the park when we were discovering bubbles. I must have been three years old. Then she pointed to the next page, and I was still three, covered in paint while Mama and I were painting a giant mural, even my knees had paint on them. I had a lightness to my smile. I remember being a little child with no worries and Mama was so young and bright. It seemed like the whole world was ours to discover back then.
She was right, Mama wasn't this joyful anymore. She had so many worries when it came to Papa's gambling and making sure we had enough money to survive. I'm not sure Julissa knew Mama when she was like this.
"But you get to be ten years old with no responsibilities and no worries," I tried to reason with her, "Isn't that great?"
"You mean better than having a mom who is excited to see you?" Julissa asked which felt like a pile of bricks just landed on my soul.
"Mama loves you. She's just so tired right now," I pointed out.
"I know, but I want this," Julissa ran her fingers along the photos like they were works of art.
"Okay, I see what you are saying," I countered, "but I still have the same mom you have. I had fun when I was three, but now I have keep the house running and try to keep my grades up so I can find a way to go to college. I'm working constantly right now."
"Yeah," Julissa agreed, "but you have these memories," she emphasized by raising the album, "I want memories."
I cuddled her. I wished there was a way to give her what she wanted. Maybe I should let her alter the pictures.
What could I say? I thought life was so easy for her since I did almost everything when Mama and Papa were working late. The thing was though, they were always working late and seventeen year old me was a sad substitute for two parents. I've been spending all of my time working hard so I can get done with school, get a decent job and maybe finally have a life with friends.
I thought Julissa had it easy because she doesn't have to work as hard, but basically, she gets very little time from any of us and has very few "wow" moments of being a kid.
How do I help her be a kid?
I looked at the photo album while she leaned on my shoulder. "I know I was three when this picture was taken and you're ten now," I mentioned, "but do you think you'd be interested in discovering bubbles with me?"
"Can we do that?"
"I just bought some dish soap. If you get the towels to put down on the carpet, I can make the solution. We might even be able to get them to bounce."