“You look nice.” She said, as If forced to do so.
I remember her pale skin so dull and plain. She had one of those faces, like the one of the kid from the Skittles commercials. It was just skin, a nose, a pair of dark brown eyes, small lips, and eyebrows so light you could barely see them. There was just nothing to it- her face was boring.
I looked away after what seemed like minutes of starring at her through the mirror and choked up a thank you, as dull as her face. Thank god we’re not identical.
She was such a buzzkill, but the only way I was allowed out was with her. Our mother was too strict to ever let us leave the house on our own.
We didn’t like each other too much but we still went out to the mall every weekend. Saturdays were our “supermarket days” where we did the shopping for the week. But each Saturday we’d leave an hour earlier and go into the mall which was on the way. It was our way of getting out and feeling like normal teenagers.
We’d try on clothes we knew we couldn’t buy and have a small snack from the food court, so it wouldn’t be too obvious we’d taken from the grocery shopping money. It had been a routine for the past two years and for some reason, it still didn’t make us closer. Likely because regardless of sharing in the same experiences we were very different. For one, I always tried to stand up to our mom but her? She’d never back me up. She was complacent with our lives and I couldn’t be. It just wasn’t okay.
Our parents had us when they were young, both eighteen. At twenty-six, when Alyssa and I were eight, our dad decided to leave us. Quite frankly, I was surprised he stayed around that long. He was rarely around even when he lived with us so it was as if nothing had changed. Except for our mom’s attitude. She’d since become aggressive and for the last six years we had endured absurd physical punishments.
“Alyssa, I told you to chop the onions smaller. Do you really think I want to bite into chunks of onions? You can’t do anything right can you?” mom screamed,
as she grabbed her plate of hot chicken soup and dumped it all over the freshly cleaned floor. Alyssa looked down at her hands, in complete silence. The only thing that bothered our mother more than us answering back was us being quiet. You couldn’t win with her.
She got up, fiercely throwing the chair where she once sat, aiming at Alyssa. She mostly missed. The leg of her chair only hit Alyssa’s shoulder. I was livid.
“What is wrong with you?” I screamed as I walked closer to my sister, my bare feet slightly slipping on the chicken soup that laid all over the kitchen floor.
Alyssa was crying now, sobbing loudly as she tried not to let out a scream. I was by her side now, rubbing her shoulder. I didn’t know what else to do, I was in awe at what had just happened. In the midst of everything, our mom went into her bedroom screaming,
“You both better clean all this shit up by the time I come back in here or y’all are gonna see what pain really is.”
“And you, the next time you scream at me that way, I’m going to knock all them teeth out of your mouth.” She screamed as she slammed her bedroom door behind her.
From her bedroom, I could hear her stereo playing, “My savior loves, my savior lives, my savior’s always there for me.”
Hypocrisy was her specialty.
One day, after our secret mall trip, my sister ate two tubs of ice cream all by herself. She was in the tub of all places with two gigantic sized Napolitano ice creams, the pink and brown from the sides were all gone but the vanilla in the middle remained. She hated vanilla ice cream.
“Alyssa? What is wrong with you? Are you crazy or something? Mom is going to kill you!”
“I hope so.”
I felt my heart sink. I went into the bedroom, grabbed her a clean shirt and made her change.
“Go outside, get rid of the evidence and come back. It’s your turn to clean the kitchen.” I instructed and she obeyed as it was the only thing she knew how to do.
She didn’t clean the kitchen. The ice cream had made her sick and she was on the verge of what I thought was death. Her normally pale skin was now almost clear; I could see her veins all through her body. We weren’t allowed to have cell phone’s so I couldn’t call 911. I was scared; more for the upcoming beating than I was about her dying. See, if she died then she wouldn’t suffer by my mother’s hands but me, I’d get it twice as bad. So, I prayed to the god I was forced to believe in and I asked him to please keep my sister alive so we could both share the wrath of our mother.
That night, my mother got home as normal, at 6:30 on the dot. I heard each step she took, each movement she’d make and I just sat there next to my sister in agony.
She was laying there, almost unconscious. Our room was dark and stuffy. We had piles of books we never had the time to read, a few drawers filled with skirts and pantyhose which we are to share and two beds, one on either side of the room. No decorations, no pretty bed sets, everything was dull.
After just a few seconds our mom walked in the room, turning on the light as she opened the door. I remember looking at her and thinking she looked so pretty. She always wore beautiful clothes and got her hair straightened every week at the salon; except her hair was already straight to begin with.
That day she wore a plum tight dress and black leather heels, with a black duster coat. Her lips plumped and painted carefully with gloss, her eyes big and brown surrounded by long bits of eyelash hairs which could almost double as a fan. Outside of our walls, she lived a different life. I could tell by the way she’d talk on the phone to her real estate clients. She used words like “exquisite” and “charming” and when asked about us, she’d almost sound like a loving mother. She’d say we did amazing and brag about how much of a big help we were. Except we weren’t helping, we were obeying her harsh rules.
Every day, we’d clean the house from top to bottom, we’d do laundry and each take turns with dinner and dishes. We were only fifteen at the time but our hands looked like they’d been through years of hard labor.
What my mom’s work clients didn’t know was the life she lived inside the house. Every day she’d come home and nag on and on about things my sister and I hadn’t done to her taste. Then, she’d change into long skirts or dresses and read out of a Bible, pointing out passages she thought we needed to read to become “better daughters.” She never explained to us who this “god” person was but she’d force us to say prayers and read out of the same Bible she did. She said it was the right thing to do. I guess it was part of her weird double life.
I always imagined that she was having some kind of affair with one of her clients who she calls darling. But that’s just optimistic me hoping she was and would one day decided to leave us behind.
“What the fuck is going on in here?” she said.
She stepped in front of me and shoved me off the bed. For the first time, I say nothing. I stand to the side, frozen.
I knew what was coming.
“Alyssa, what the fuck?” she says, shaking my sister over and over.
Alyssa sits up as much as she can, her veiny skin sweating, and looks up at mom with eyes of agony. Her lips move as if to speak, but they stop when mom starts again,
“Alyssa, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
She fixes her lips again,
“I ate ice cream mom, that’s what happened. I. ATE. ICE. CREAM” Alyssa tries to scream.
My mouth opens wide. I had never seen Alyssa open her mouth to our mom let alone scream at her. To my surprise, she continued,
“I’ve been trying for too long to be the perfect daughter only to turn around and be belittled by you every time.”
I don’t know that I had ever heard Alyssa put together so many words into a sentence, let alone stand up for herself. Neither had my mom, and you could see it in her face. You could tell she had been caught off –guard. Again, she continued:
“And mom, if you can’t and won’t change the way you treat us, I’m speaking up. To more than just you.”
I stood by the door, frozen. I had no idea what to do. Should I back her up? Should I join in and say something? But I couldn’t open my mouth, I couldn’t speak.
Mom was now standing over her, arms crossed over her shoulders. I could tell she wasn’t going to say anything but that she’d gotten up only because she wanted to try and show she was still tough and that Alyssa’s words hadn’t faced her. But they had, I could see it in her face.
Mom shakes her again as if to get her to respond and instead, my sister’s mouth opens wide and out of it gushes out stream after stream of pink barf all unto my mother’s plum dress. Dumbfounded me and my mother just watch.
That was the first time I had seen my mother looking this way. She was expressionless, motionless even.
“You better not do anything to her,” I screamed, surprising myself as the words slipped my lips.
She had had enough. For the first time, she was being attacked the way she consistently attacked us. She had lost her power and that angered her.
She got up and raised her hand as if to hit me, but I dodged it.
It was at that moment that I knew I needed to run. So, I did. I ran as fast as my long skirt and bare feet would let me. My breath grew short as the cold air entered my lungs but my feet wouldn’t stop. The cold pavement hurt, but it hurt so good.
I stopped when my sister crossed my mind. Though I didn’t like her face or her inability to stand up for herself, she was the only person I had. She was the only one who understood what I went through. The words she’d murmured in the bathroom suddenly felt real. She wasn’t scared to die but I needed her.
I stopped and contemplated; my breath short and painful. My side hurting as if someone had punched me multiple times.
I went back. I had to. I said another prayer to the man named god and asked him to please just be with my sister.
When I got to the house, the doors were wide open, just as I had left them. I quietly walked in as if trying not to disturb anyone. I made my way through the hallway, it was quiet. I walked into our dimly lit room and there she was. My sister was tucked into bed, clean sheets covering her body.
That was the last time we saw our mother. She didn’t leave a note, she didn’t call, she left no sign. I asked my sister a while after, what my mom had done to her that day and she said “nothing.”