My sister is a pain in the butt.
She’s a pain in the butt for a lot of reasons, but what I really hate is when she takes the last of something and leaves the empty box in the pantry instead of throwing it away.
How hard is it? You eat the last…Devil Dog, Little Debbie cake, whatever, you take the box, and throw it out. That way, when Mom goes to the store, she knows to get more because we’re out. That way, when I go to get a damn Twinkie out of the pantry, I don’t get all worked up, pick up the box, find it empty, and want to smash her with it.
We’ve had this discussion. I thought maybe she was feeling guilty for taking the last one, or maybe being a snot and trying to let me know I shouldn’t be eating so many snacks to begin with. One time I gave up chocolate for Lent, and made sure Mom got cupcakes for her, and Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream cakes for me, and doesn’t she leave the cupcakes and eat all the Little Debbies! It wasn’t pretty. Confession was extra good for me that week.
So now, I come home from school, bad day, and all I want is a Twinkie. I open the pantry and…you guessed it, the box was empty. I blinked a couple of times, looked at the box, even shook it. She must have done this yesterday, because I knew there was still at least one Twinkie in the box when I went to bed. I could feel my nostrils flaring, my breath revving up like a bull about to charge…
Mom was folding clothes on the kitchen table, humming to herself.
“What’s wrong, Carlene?”
I rankled. I seethed.
“Katie ate the Twinkies and left the box again.”
Annnd…nothing. I don’t really see how she could have ignored me so easily. I was practically breathing fire and smoke, right there in the kitchen. But she was cool as a cucumber.
“There are other things in that pantry, Carlene. You shouldn’t be eating snacks right before dinner, anyway.” She carefully folded the long sleeves on a pink cardigan. “Besides, there are more Twinkies in the world, and you only have one sister.”
I tapped the box on my leg.
“That’s not the point. The point is, she left the empty box in the pantry AGAIN.” I waved it for emphasis, in spite of the fact that she had her back to me.
“So, throw the box away and write it on the grocery list. That’s what it’s on the fridge for.”
In an act of rebellion, I put the box back on the pantry shelf, and closed the door.
Where was Katie? The TV wasn’t on; she must’ve been in her room pretending to do her homework. Now, I knew she did the Little Miss Perfect act for everyone else, but I also knew the Twinkie thing was probably just the tip of the iceberg. I stood at her door for a moment. It was painted white, with a handmade sign “KATIE’S ROOM” hanging front and center, purple and decorated with little gold stars. The fuzzy remains of pony stickers surrounded it on the door itself; at some point, she had decided they were too babyish, and picked them off.
I gave the door a push. If I knocked, Mom would hear and know I was up to make trouble. It eased open and there was Katie, on her bed, playing on her DS. She had her hair pulled back into a tight blond ponytail, wearing a t-shirt that shouted “Girls Rule, Boys Drool” and looking very intently at whatever she was playing.
“You do your homework first?” I accused, arms crossed tight like armor across my chest.
“Did it in class.”
She didn’t even give me the courtesy of a look. I think she was playing Animal Crossing, from the music.
I glared at her, willing her to explode into a million pieces.
“What you got yourself in a twist about now, Carlene?”
My guard hands moved to my hips.
“You went and ate the last Twinkie and left the damn box again.”
“Watch your mouth, Carlene.”
Was she kidding me?
“Don’t you tell me to watch my mouth, Miss Holy. What would Jesus do? Jesus would throw that damn box away, that’s what Jesus would do!”
In theory, Jesus could have made more Twinkies, but I wasn’t going there, not now.
“Car, it’s a Twinkie.” The machine continued to drone its happy song, punctuated by Katie’s finger clicks.
She suddenly paused, placed the DS on the bed, and turned her crosslegged body to face me.
“Heard you had a fight with Mary Susan.” She didn’t crack a smile, or blink, or anything. She just stared at me. “Heard it was your fault, too.”
I gave her a groan and a full head eye roll.
“From who? Lynneanne? Krista? What would they know, it’s not their business.”
She shrugged, maddening.
“I just know what I heard. You’ve got worse problems than a Twinkie.” She nonchalantly turned away to her former position, and picked up her DS.
“And honestly, Car,” she looked me pointedly up and down, “you don’t need that Twinkie.”
I was this close to telling her what she could do with the Twinkie when Mom called us down to set the table.
“Girls! Come set! Daddy’ll be home soon!”
She glowered. I shot daggers. I thought about tripping her on her way down the stairs, but that’d be too obvious. Our bare feet clambered down into the kitchen in anti-rhythm; mine pounding out my feelings, hers one graceful step after another. She reached up for plates while I dug angrily through the drawer for knives, forks and spoons.
“Cut that noise Carlene.” Mom was stirring something in a saucepan. I could tell by the way she was stirring that it was mushroom soup, which meant she was making pork chops, my least favorite, apart from liver.
Great. No Twinkie and now mushroom soup pork chops. I slammed the drawer shut with my hip and went around placing forks, knives, then spoons, each in their separate turn.
Katie set the last plate, watching me work in silence.
“Why don’t you just put the knife, fork and spoon by each plate as you go instead of going around for each thing?”
“Leave me alone, Katie.” She wasn’t going to tell me how to do my job.
“Hush, girls.” Mom pulled out a cookie sheet. “Katie, grab the salt and pepper and put them on the table please.”
More eye rolling from me, with that “ma’am”. Maybe I should just puke.
The door squeaked open and in came Daddy with a rush of the evening air, his arms full of papers and his briefcase, his tie half undone. He kissed Mom on the cheek on the way in and made his way through, tossing his work things on a nearby counter.
He opened his arms wide for us to hug him, which, of course, we did.
“Daddy!” Katie hugged his left. I hugged his right as tightly as I could, and he rubbed my head.
I looked up.
“Katie ate the last Twinkie and left the box again.”
He tilted his head toward her, looking down.
“D’you do that, Katie?”
She shrugged, looking up at him with her pale, blue, Twinkie thief eyes.
I could tell she didn’t mean it at all. Not one bit.
He smiled and patted her head too, smoothing her hair with a tweak of her ponytail.
“Go sit.” He motioned toward the table with his chin. “Looks like dinner is up.” He finished undoing his tie, grabbed a glass, and shoved it up against the fridge icemaker for ice, making a tinkling sound. “Can I give you a hand with anything, Linda?” He switched the icemaker to water and filled the glass.
“I think I’m good for now, Bobby, you can have a seat and chat with your girls.”
She’d put rolls on the cookie sheet. It was looking like rice to go with the pork chops. Praise Jesus Daddy liked bread with dinner no matter what or I’d starve, between Katie and Mom.
“How was your day, Daddy?” I figured I’d start the conversation before it started itself. He picked up his knife and flipped the blade side in. I guess I’d forgotten to do that.
“I had a good day, thank you, Carlene.” He pulled his chair in tighter to the table with a squeak.
Mom set the pork chops down, already on the rice with the mushroom soup poured over.
We all stared at the dish. Anyone who didn’t know what Mom’s pork chops were like might have thought we were waiting for someone else to serve themselves first, or even waiting on Mom. But nope, none of us were jumping on those pork chops.
The rolls arrived. Daddy passed me one. I was about to take a bite when he cleared his throat.
“Grace first, Carlene.”
I didn’t bother to look for Katie’s smirk. I knew it was there. Her and her “I had the last Twinkie” smirk. I, on the other hand, was starving, and had nothing to look forward to but rolls.
We all bowed our heads.
“Bless us o Lord for these thy gifts that we are about to receive through thy bounty and through Christ our Lord amen.”
Pause. Still no one went for the pork chops.
Mom scanned the table and decided she’d serve us.
“I hope you girls have made your peace.”
Carefully she got out the utensils and dug them into the casserole dish. Daddy got two scoops of rice, two pork chops, and a healthy dollop of mushroom soup. I glared across the table at Katie.
“We will if she’ll throw the box away next time.” I stared at her and took a vicious bite out of my roll, like I was biting off her head, not even blinking as Mom plopped a whole mess of rice and pork chop in front of me, with extra mushrooms. Katie pursed her lips and stared a hole in me as she, too, got extra mushrooms.
“Now why,” Daddy picked up his knife and fork and started sawing away at the pork chop, “are we talking about Twinkies, when we have all this good food right here in front of us?”
Mom sat down and served herself last. I started to scrape the mushrooms and the soup off the pork chop as best I could, hoping I wasn’t being too obvious. Katie cut herself a small piece of chop, slid it into her mouth and chewed. And chewed. Daddy was much better at it, took his down with a big swallow of water and a bit of roll.
Even with all this chewing, I guess he still expected an answer.
I shook my head, sorrowfully.
“I just think it shows a lack of moral character.”
Daddy choked. I couldn’t tell if he thought it was funny, or he just couldn’t get that pork chop down.
“How do you figure, Carlene?” He put his napkin over his mouth, and coughed a couple of times.
“It’s kind of like lying.” I played with a mushroom. “If she leaves the box in there, it’s like lying that there are Twinkies in there when there aren’t any.”
He kept coughing, and took a swallow of water.
Mom frowned, stood up and started to slap Daddy on the back, between the shoulder blades. It didn’t seem to help much.
“Now see, look what you’ve gone and done.” Katie glared, sawing another small piece of her pork chop off the bone, “you’re choking daddy to death over a Twinkie.”
Daddy did seem to be turning red, then blue. Mom, edging over to panic, started slapping him harder.
“Lying is a sin, Katie.” I pulled my eyes sideways. “Maybe he’s choking because you didn’t throw the box away and that makes you a liar.”
She kicked my ankle under the table, her face screwed up.
I kicked back at her but got the table leg, making the plates and silverware clatter.
“Girls!” Mom was flushed, her hair in her face. Daddy had stopped coughing, cleared his throat, took a longer drink of water. She studied him hard before brushing back her hair and returning quietly to her seat, cutting her pork chop into small bits.
“No more nonsense about Twinkies.” She pointed from one to the other of us with her fork. “Now eat your pork chops and both of you hush. One more word out of either of you, and you’re both upstairs, without your dinner.”
Let me tell you, I was sorely tempted.
So I admit, I was tossing and turning in bed a long time over that Twinkie, even though I’d managed to fill myself up on rolls and some rice that hadn’t been contaminated by mushroom soup. I honestly tried with the pork chop, but I couldn’t chew it, and somehow mom didn’t notice I’d kind of scooted the pieces around my plate to make it seem like I’d eaten. Or maybe she did, but she didn’t want to say anything. All I could think about was that Katie had taken the last Twinkie and left the box in the pantry. It kept pulsing through my brain, like a laser, even though I was beat and had to go to school the next day…another thought I wasn’t liking, because everyone was siding with Mary Susan over the project that we’d done together. She’d said she’d done most of it, and I hadn’t helped but a little, but Mary Susan was a control freak and everything had to be her way, and…
I heard something go thump, downstairs. It made me take pause, but was probably Mom or Daddy, or something rooting around in the yard. I shifted. Since I was awake anyway, and yeah, there were cupcakes and other things in the cabinet, maybe if I had a snack, it might help me sleep, even if it wasn’t a Twinkie. I very carefully opened my door and moved down the stairs-stepping on the outside of the treads, less creaky-and into the living room. It was pitch dark, except for the moonlight falling on the kitchen tile, and the single orange light over the stove. It still smelled like stale pork fat and mushroom soup from dinner. I undid the latch on the cabinet. It swung open with a tiny squeak. On tiptoe, I could see the Little Debbies on the topmost shelf, and reached up with my fingertips to jiggle the box loose to a point where I could grab it. It was a tough reach; I stepped up onto the lower lip of the pantry cabinet…
I felt something cold and hard poke me in the back.
I squealed and fell backward onto a protesting pile of Katie-all bone and gristle, she was the skinny one- and we both landed hard on the kitchen floor.
“Get off me!” She hissed.
“What are you doing up? You just about scared the hell out of me!” I hissed back.
“What are YOU doing up?”
“I was getting a Little Debbie!” I pushed myself to my feet, brushing off Katie cooties. “Not that it’s your business.” My hands went to my hips. “And you, nosy?”
“I heard a noise. Figured it was you.”
“I heard a noise, too.” Forgot about that. Too busy thinking about Twinkies. “Like a thump.”
“Yeah.” She stood up, inspected herself for damage. Then she looked up, frowned, leaned over behind me.
“Porch door’s open.” She motioned with her chin.
I turned around.
“Weird. Mom must’ve forgotten to latch it when she went out for a smoke.”
As we watched, the door, moved gently by the wind, made a small thump as it met the jamb. I started to go out to close it, when Katie grabbed my arm, dug around in her bathrobe pocket, and brought out something half smushed and crinkling.
“Here. Since it means so damn much to you.” She thrust it at me.
I felt my jaw drop. She had it hidden away all this time? After the fuss I’d made? I stared at it as if I was Superman and it was kryptonite. Did she deliberately take it just to get at me? I backed away from her, staring, tongue tied and numb all over, apart from being tired.
“And Mary Susan?” She crossed her arms. “She’s pushy. Nobody listens to her anyway.”
I moved out onto the screened porch, and closed the inside door behind me, feeling the night air on my face…I couldn’t believe she’d kept it hidden! Why hadn’t she eaten it? Why hadn’t she…
Something shifted, a large dark shape on the porch. I froze for a moment, then flipped on the light. It was a good sized raccoon, hissing at me, nasty little teeth bared, glittering mirrors in its eyes, like a mini hairy demon straight from Hell. At that very moment Miss Priss flung open the door in her dudgeon…
“Don’t you run away from me when I..omigod, what the…” She stood, frozen in the doorway, door to the kitchen wide open, like her mouth.
“Close the door, Katie! It’ll get into the house!”
She slammed it shut behind her, and we were stuck on the screened porch, with the outside door swinging in the wind, and one very unhappy looking raccoon.
“Why don’t we just go back inside?” Her hand hadn’t left the door handle.
Maybe she was right. It’d find its way out at a point. I moved a little and it hissed at me, puffing itself up huge against the wall and edging a bit toward the outside corner. I grabbed a lawn chair and shoved it up against the outside door, holding it open.
“Well, that’s not gonna work.”
She’d found her voice, and of course, was full of judgment where I was concerned.
“It’ll bring more of them in here if you do that.”
“So should we leave it in here all night to destroy the place, smartypants?”
She looked around, eyes wide in the dim light of the porch, the bulb now alive with moths from the outside. There was a stiff broom next to the door that dad used to clear the walk, and she picked it up with both hands, moving it gingerly toward the raccoon. He or she wasn’t having it, and hissed again, looking somehow even more menacing than before.
“Don’t push the broom at it, dummy! Get behind it and shove it toward the outside!” I was guessing we were too close to the exit, and that was the only reason I could see for it not having taken off like a shot the moment the door stayed open.
I looked down at my hot, sweaty left hand.
I was still holding the half smashed, much desired, once stolen, and now hard won, Twinkie.
The last Twinkie.
With a rumbling stomach and deep sigh, I opened the plastic, tore off a piece, and threw it on the floor of the screened in porch. It took a minute, but the raccoon eased its way closer and closer and scooped up that bit of Twinkie, watching us warily as he ate.
I threw another piece toward the door.
He waddled over, greedy thing that he was, and took that too, licking cream off his paws.
Like a football player, I took a deep breath and heaved the last bit of that Twinkie out the door. I watched his big old butt scramble outside, and I slammed and latched the door behind him. He grabbed the Twinkie in both paws and gobbled it down in the light of the sinking moon. The last Twinkie. My Twinkie. The Twinkie Katie had actually wanted so badly she’d saved it, and had given it to me. I almost felt guilty for the fuss I’d made. I watched with a heavy heart as the raccoon gobbled it down with relish, frosting on his whiskers in the moonlight.
“I think he pooped in here somewhere,” Katie whispered, scrunching her face.
OK, so I didn’t feel THAT bad.