Blackbird Wine was bursting Tuesday night with holiday parties and devoted writers! Thanks to everyone who came out, and congratulations to Sarah Farnham for winning on her second try. She says she’s “100% hooked.”
The prompts were:
Action: Breaking and entering
Setting: A fireplace
Phrase: “Not as bad as last Christmas.”
by Sarah Farnham
the girl dangled her legs over the bed. her little brother sat in front of her.
‘whaddya think this christmas will be like?’ she asked.
‘worse than last.’
she chewed on the blanket and sighed. she knew he was right.
‘what’s for dinner?’
‘dunno.’ he slumped as he sat there, back caving over as he pulled out strings from the carpet.
their mother, dressed in skirts and elegant cardigans, started when they were three. ‘your only task in life is to give back,’ she would say, smiling. ‘it’s better to give than to receive.’ the only holidays they remember were spent volunteering at the shelter, passing out food for the homeless or the domestic victims of the gritty streets of philadelphia. their father, while still in the picture–he stayed home and watched football. he preferred not to listen to their mother.
they didn’t have any extended family. no cousins to play barbies with, no aunts to lecture them, no uncles to tease them. they were no good at making friends, either. two years apart, they much preferred the company of each other. teachers marvelled at it, but the other kids sneered. they teased her for hanging with her baby brother, and they tortured him for wanting to hang out with a girl.
but they were the coolest people they knew. everyone else was kinda dumb, and definitely didn’t understand the intricacies of their daily life.
they were not cinderella children–it wasn’t as if they counted lentils in the fireplace or peeled potatoes for days on end. they did, however, make their beds and wash the dishes. their mother asked them to, and they obliged, gratefully. if a grownup in their life, say at an uncommon party, would ever laugh at them, wondering how children were so well-behaved, they would stare blankly, uncaring, until that grownup wandered off. their eyes frequently glazed off in conversations with teachers–they always had the right answers, but there was more than one educator who thought ‘there was something wrong with those two.’
if they knew about it, they had shrugged it off long ago.
because they knew something no ordinary adult knew.
their mother, a kind and benevolent force, had taught them the secret to life.
she taught them to volunteer first. being small children, they thought of nothing but pleasing their mother. they went about, merry, caroling and passing out food and smiling at strangers, a tiny movement unto themselves. after school, they collected bottles for the men who would ride by and collect them late at night. they had an allowance, and it was spent on other people. coats for cold bridge people, hats for the dirty children who roamed the streets. a can of beans for the woman who always walked by at noon on Tuesday.
the girl asked first.
‘other children sometimes–‘
‘what have i told you about other children?’
‘that they don’t know what i know.’
‘that the world is operating on a different level entirely, and that they are wasting their time and money and energy.’
‘correct. you were saying?’
the girl sat on her bed at night, thinking. she knew some things, that was sure. she knew that the world was keeping score, she knew that someone was always watching, she knew that she needed to always do more.
she also knew she was not happy, because it was never enough.
he felt the same. they sat on the swings, bundled up in the cold. december was windy, but bearable. they allowed themselves a small break in collecting cans twice a week. he decided to ask her instead of Mother. ‘sis–why don’t other children do what we do? don’t they know better?’
she shook her head. ‘no, because they are silly. they might have a chance to change, but they’re starting so late…’
‘what’s going to happen to them?’
‘i’m not sure; Mother never told us that part.’
he chewed on his lip. he whispered, ‘do you ever think we should be doing more?’
she turned to him and looked visibly relieved. ‘all the time. i just don’t think it’s enough.’
he sat forward, excited. ‘i’ve been thinking about something.’ she nodded. ‘what if we–what if we did what He did?’
she frowned. ‘that’s blasphemy.’ she started to swing again.
he scooted forward again, irritated. ‘it’s not. He wants us to.’
‘why do you think that?’
he started to breathe faster. she looked over at him sharply. ‘don’t trigger an attack.’
he shook his head. ‘i won’t. just listen.’ he got off the swing and stood in front of her.
‘He started poor, right?’ she nodded. ‘He started with nothing, just by giving everything He could. and eventually He built a factory, and an empire, and He was able to really give everything.’ she nodded again. he folded his arms. ‘i think the only way we’ll ever truly escape death is if we do the same. He’s still alive, right?’
she stopped swinging. ‘we could live forever, just like Him. His power is what keeps Him alive, after all. the Giving.’
‘exactly. it’s just common sense.’
she frowned slightly. ‘i know we can always do more. i know we always have more to give. so what are you thinking? what’s the big thing?’
he leaned in, his eyes glittering. ‘we can do what He did.’
she gasped. ‘we–we could–‘
he nodded. ‘it’s not enough that we give what we can. we need to be invisible, like Him. we need to build His empire.’
‘what if he sees us?’
‘are you serious?’ he asked. ‘even better.’
‘what if we go to the same houses?’
he whispered. ‘then we would see him. maybe compare notes, see what we could do better. sis–we could see Him.’
she stood up suddenly. ‘i’m in,’ she said.
they began preparing that night. they had exactly one month to train. he had started collecting supplies (ropes, backpacks, climbing gear from his dad’s abandoned hobby) before he even had told her, but she added the fine details he knew he had needed her for. the small headlamps were her idea.
as smaller than average children go, they were pretty quiet already. but they practiced themselves to be downright silent. their mother beamed as they walked around the house, doing their chores and storing items like squirrels.
‘children,’ she said one day. ‘i just want to congratulate you. you’ve been working so hard, and giving so much–but i also want to encourage you to work just a little harder.’ she pinched their cheeks, frowning as she noticed the smudges of coal. using a thumb and her tongue, she rubbed at their faces. ‘death won’t escape itself.’ she twirled around the corner in a swirl of skirts and Chanel.
the night came. they were ready, and executed their task with skill and ease.
and as the police prepared to cart them off, they could hear the buzz of the radio.
’10-4, on your way?’
the window was open.
one policeman, standing outside of the car, turned to the other. ‘what happened tonight?’
‘coupla kids, breaking and entering. left a bunch of useless shit in the living room. fifth house this week.’
‘santa nuts. at least it’s not as bad as last year.’
the children smiled at each other in the back seat.
© 2015 Sarah Farnham
Sarah Farnham is a bi-coastal wanderer. She loves writing, coffee, and sunshine. Poetry was her main squeeze until she accidentally started writing fiction. You can contact her at email@example.com.