Clara was talking to herself again. Denise knew that everyone did it, hell, she did it herself, but it was so often lately. She often worried about Clara. Denise sighed, shook her muted red hair and walked toward the kitchen. It was Sunday, and she was cooking for the week. It was a frustrating task, to say the least, and the lack of help didn’t make it any better, but what could she do? Clara despised everything having to do with cooking except the eating part. It was all she could do to get the kid to do the dishes.
Walking into the kitchen, Denise started her Sunday ritual. She picked up the butcher knife and started chopping away. Carrots, potatoes, leeks, kale, green beans, every manner of veggies, even the dreaded onion she thought with a chuckle. Then there were the meats to do. She never did like this part. She sliced, diced, and shredded the chicken, pork, beef, and even some elk she had gotten from her sister.
Finally, after an inexplicably long feeling yet short amount of time, everything was prepped and ready for the next six hours of cooking. Enchiladas, Shepard’s pie, spaghetti, shrimp scampi, beef stew and a new pineapple curry they had never tried before. The smell would be heavenly. That was probably the best part of doing all this. It was hard not to devour it before getting it put away, but somehow, someway Denise always persevered. Though she couldn’t tell you how, other than sheer will power.
Once she got started, Denise didn’t worry too much about how long it would take, she would get lost in the art. She started humming to herself and walking towards the pan cupboard.
“… are you cooking?” Clara’s voice came floating in, drawing Denise back into reality.
“What?” Denise asked.
“I said, what are you cooking?” Clara repeated, walking into the kitchen.
“The list is right there honey.” Denise said, pointing over to the island.
“There’s only six meals on here mom, are we going to eat out this week?”
“No, we’re going to have your favorite!” Denise smiled, she was never good at keeping a straight face.
Looking up at her, and raising her right eyebrow in a perfect imitation of her mother, Clara asked “What favorite?”
“Oh, you know, some perfect, juicy, well cut, pink in the middle, savory, delicious steaks.” Denise laughed and Clara made horrible wretching sounds.
“Yeah mom, my favorite.” She said, rolling her bright green eyes and drawing out the last word.
“Clara! Don’t be so mean, you’ll hurt the cows feelings.” she said as she finished pulling pots out of their snug and cozy sleeping places.
“Mom. The cows are dead, they don’t give a shit.”
“Clara, come on now, don’t be so grumpy.”
“You’re so completely ridiculous. I don’t know what to do with you.”
“Hey! That’s my line, don’t go stealing it.”
They both started laughing.
“Can you please help me get all this together this week?” Denise asked, trying to hide her exasperation.
“I…” Clara paused, her foot shifting uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, but I, uh, I kind of made plans with Dean and Annabelle the other day, I really don’t want to blow them off.”
“Clara! You promised you would help this week. You said you would make no plans for today.” Denise sighed and poured the potatoes into a pot of water as it started boiling. “Fine. Go out with them. Tell them hi for me okay? And Dean better have started doing better with his grades.” Denise gave “the look” with the raised eyebrow.
“Mom. You’re not Dean’s mom.” Clara shook her head, her fiery red hair flying about as she did. “But I will tell them hi and give him the warning. I love you.” She slipped on her jacket and headed for the front door.
“I love you too.” Denise said, the door clicking shut just after.
Denise was certain she heard something up in Clara’s room. The potatoes had just started, so she had a bit of time. She really wanted to get some of the other things started as well, but curiosity took over, as it had a tendancy of doing with everyone in this family. She didn’t like feeling like she was going to snoop around Clara’s room. She was a good kid, and there was no reason to, but that’s where the sound had been, so that’s where Denise was going.
She opened up the door to the Chapel of Space, as Clara liked to call it. She loved everything about space. There was a picture of every planet in the solar system on the walls. A model solar system sat on a small nightstand in the far corner of the room by the bed. There was a computer desk on the side of the wall that the door was on. It was painted mostly black with a myriad of stars dancing amongst the darkness. On the top of the desk was painted a beautiful rendition of Jupiter, Clara’s favorite home planet. The desk was nearly empty aside from a laptop computer, a writing pad with a purple pen, and a drawing pad with colored pencils, regular pencils and charcoals next to it.
Clara was one hell of an artist, and Denise was proud of her. She really wanted to look through Clara’s art book, but she wouldn’t, she knew Clara would be upset. She never showed anyone her art unless it was completely done, and even then, it was rare she would show off her work.
Straight ahead, on the sidewall facing the bed, was Clara’s closet, a big closet with double doors that folded out. They had mirrors on them, and currently the doors were closed, so they reflected the immaculate floor and bed across the room from them.
Denise saw a flicker of movement under the bed. The bedskirt fluttered back into place as something, she didn’t see what, flew under the bed.
“Jamie Marie!” Denise said, belting out her best mom voice. “If you’ve snuck in again to kiss on Clara, I’m going to kick both your asses. Do you hear me?”
There was no respone. She figured she would try, it wouldn’t have been the first time she caught Clara’s girlfriend here without them letting her know. Denise couldn’t understand for the life of her why she snuck in like that. They both knew she didn’t care.
“If you too want to have sex, that’s fine.” She had told them. “but you still need to be safe. Now, I know you’re not going to have to worry about making me a grandma too young, but you still have to worry about safe sex, got it?” They had both agreed, red faced and giggly, and she had told them several other times just to be safe, so what the sneaking was about, who knows. The oddity of this moment in time though was the question of why would she have just left her here?
Denise marched over to Clara’s bed and got down on her knees. She grabbed the bed skirt, lifted it up and fell over backwards as she started screaming.
Finally, heart racing and breathing shallow, she said “Hello?” Though, she didn’t lift the bed skirt again. “Hello?!” She said again, failing to sound calm. “Look. I don’t know who you are, but if you aren’t coming out, then I’m lifting the bed skirt again so we can talk face to face. If you make a move toward me, so help me, my foot moves a lot faster, and hurts a lot more than you would think.” She gave the person under the bed some more time to come out.
Finally, after what felt like a century long stand off, Denise moved back toward the bed.
“I’m lifting the bed skirt now.” She waited a couple more seconds and grabbed the bed skirt. She made sure to stick her fingers under the bed. If the person under there wanted to cause harm, Denise would rather chance a few fingers than her whole person. When nothing happened, she lifted the bed skirt slowly.
“Oh my god…” she said in a whisper.
There lay Clara, but not Clara. This Clara’s messy, matted hair was blindingly white, even in the shadows. Her frightened eyes were a dull metallic grey. She was naked, skin grey and drawn tight against her emaciated body.
“Help me.” This Clara said, voice barely audible and thick with tears. “Help me mom, I’m scared. She’s not me. Please. Mommy. She’s not me.”
A Real Quick Note: I encourage feedback and constructive criticism. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and have a beautiful day sunshine.