Tiffany Higgins vs. Kemal Onor
She shuffles into the kitchen wearing fuzzy blue slippers, a fuzzy taupe robe, an oversized –stretched out is more like it—t-shirt with a logo that has long since faded beyond recognition, and a pair of threadbare pajama pants that once bore ice cream cones or lollipops. The table is laden with familial mess. Bills and schoolwork mixed with clean laundry and dirty dishes. She really should clean it. She shoves the mess aside, making just enough room to fit her laptop and a cup of coffee.
“Honey!” she hears from their bedroom.
She pretends not to hear him as she heads for the coffee pot. She pulls a mug from the dishwasher and a spoon from the drawer. Three heaping spoons of sugar and a generous splash of creamer make her coffee sweet perfection. She carries it to the table where she left her laptop.
“Didn’t you hear me yelling for you?” her husband bursts into the room.
“What? Oh. I don’t know. Maybe. When?”
“I was getting coffee. Did you want some?”
She asks but makes no effort to stand. She opens her laptop and barely pays any attention to him.
“What? No, I didn’t want coffee. I wanted your help.”
She grits her teeth as she pushes the power button on her laptop.
“What did you want then, dear.”
She opens a word document. The cursor begins blinking at her.
“I wanted your help.”
Couldn’t anyone around here do anything without her? She sips her coffee as she looks at her husband over the mug.
“Help with what?” she asks, not even bothering to fake interest in the answer.
The cursor continues to blink on her screen. It’s taunting her. Teasing her. She could swear she hears it laughing.
“Picking a tie.” He says this as if it is the most obvious thing and shouldn’t require explanation.
“Why?” her annoyance apparent, “you always wear the blue one anyways.”
Blink. Blink. Blink. The cursor just blinks on the blank page. She sips her coffee and watches it blink while her husband drones on about ties. She hears the kids waking upstairs. Soon everyone will pile into the kitchen seeking sustenance.
She takes her empty cup to the pot and fills it again. Before long, there won’t be any coffee left. The vultures will have drunk it all before abandoning her with the empty pot to carry on with their day.
As if on cue she hears them scrambling down the stairs, shoving each other and arguing just like they do every day. With a shake of her head, she picks up her mug and returns to her seat at the table.
The cursor is still blinking on that same empty page. Three of her kids –the boys—come shoving and shouting into the kitchen. Their sister is nowhere to be seen.
They shove and shout all the way to the coffee pot. The cacophony of voices echoes off the walls and reverberates through the room.
“No way. I’m the oldest. I should get the coffee before you do.”
“Whatever. You’re older by like three minutes, man. I got here first. It’s my coffee.”
“Too late,” laughs the youngest of the three. “While you argued about who should drink it, I already did.” He took a long drink. “Perfect,” he declared.
“Then it’s your turn to make a new pot,” the oldest declares as he snags the mug from his brother’s hands.
“Give that back,” he whines like he is five instead of nineteen.
He drains the mug and hands it back. “Better make more.”
She’s becoming more and more frustrated as the cursor continues to blink on an empty page. Her daughter saunters into the room. She may be a singleton, but she’s got as much attitude as a set of triplets.
“I can’t believe nobody saved me any coffee. Like how hard is it to be like ‘I think our baby sister might like a cup of this delicious coffee we should leave her a cup’ and then like leave me a cup.”
Unplanned and unexpected, she’d surprised them with a positive pregnancy test on the triplets’ second birthday. She’d arrived in a bustle of lace and pink satin eight months later. The boys had simply doted on her.
“She’s my baby, get your own,” they’d each declared, shoving the others away.
Gone are those days. They don’t treat her like she is special anymore.
“Mom…” she opens her mouth to complain but stops at the frustration evident on her mother’s face.
“What did you guys do?” she asks, dropping to a conspiratorial whisper.
“Yeah, why you always gotta blame us?”
“What did we do?”
“That’s what I asked, you nit wit.”
“Maybe it was Dad. He was in here before us.”
“Woah. Don’t look at me.”
The cursor blinks on the blank page. Her family continues to argue and make noise in the kitchen. She stands up from the table. She drains her coffee and slams the cup down beside her computer. The cursor continues to blink.
She walks into the kitchen and opens the drawer beside the stove. The selection of knives catches the sunlight from the window and bounces bright rays into the kitchen. She chooses two –the chef’s knife and a paring knife.
She holds the chef’s knife in her right hand. Gripping the handle tightly, she holds the blade parallel to her forearm. In her left, she holds the paring knife in her fist with the blade pointing from between her thumb and forefinger.
She slices open her husband’s throat and stabs her eldest in the eye.
“Mom!” shouts her daughter. “What are you…” her question becomes garbled in her throat when her it’s slit open wide.
Unable to remove the paring knife from her son’s eye, she abandons it and leaves him spasming wildly on the floor. She stabs the middle triplet in the hollow space of his collar bone. She turns to her last remaining child.
“Woah, Mom. Come on. Can’t we talk about this?”
He’s warding her off with his hands as he backs up. She’s powered up by something she can’t begin to understand. She leaps on him with a raw and guttural growl. She swings her knife wildly, hacking and slashing at him.
She drops the knife in the sink and heads over to the coffee pot. She steps over her daughter, who crumbled in a heap not far from there, and sets up a new pot to brew. While she waits for the coffee she returns to the table.
The cursor is still blinking on that same blank page. She settles into the chair and positions her fingers on the home keys.
The Trial of Travis Kenoe
Travis Kenoe was angry. Angry as a rocket spitting fire in a dragon’s breath. Hurling sparks like machine gun bullets. His anger was red, hot rage. It burned in him like a great furnace. He ran. His whole body tensed, flared as if he was on fire. Fleeing like a convict. Racing like a loosed stallion. He stomped his feet, crashing like elephants' steps, like massive tree trunks falling on their sides. He grinded his teeth. The memory of what was said rang out in him, and it still echoed in the deep, dark places, of his heart. He ran until his blood pounded, until it boiled in his ears. He ran until it hurt. He slowed to a stomping march, and turned from the road into the trees.
He grunted, groaned and roared, like some enraged beast prowling, crying out in the night. He swung his arms, broke branches, trampled ferns. He kicked at roots and threw stones. Deeper and deeper he went into the trees. In time, his anger lessened. His body relaxed. He paused a moment to look back, but the memory rang out once more. He continued on, speaking to himself. Thinking of all the terrible things he could do, all the horrible things he should do. It wasn’t fair how they treated him. His anger simmered, and he felt the heat once more grow.
He swore and cursed, as the ground turned uneven. He followed the direction from the road, and he continued down into a valley. He heard the sound of water moving. Soon he came across a river. A misplaced bolder lay beside the bank. Travis sat down on top of the boulder and scowled at the surroundings. Seated on his rock, he thumped his heels, and rocked back and forth. He saw it then. A flash of white at his feet. Several white, fleshy mushrooms grew out near the base of the rock. He had almost trampled them. For a while he looked at these mushrooms. He felt the tinge of anger circulating through him. He felt the memory ring like a church bell in mid-October. The thought struck him too, and he smiled at the wicked thought that came to his mind. He could poison them.
He could only hope that these mushrooms were poisonous. Or at the very least cause some intense vomiting. Imagine, he thought to himself, the whole family vomiting their guts out. He let the scene play out in his mind. Then he carefully climbed to the ground, so as to not step on the tools of his revenge. He gathered the mushrooms, pulling handfuls of earth. The white caps came out easily, and Travis smelled the fresh, wet dirt beneath. He felt the weight of his haul. Both hands extended, as if offering a plate. Then he tucked them safely into his pockets.
Travis started the climb back to the main road, his secret cargo urging him home. He was careful to check his pockets constantly. He didn’t want to have any muscle their way free. He smiled at his plan. His stomping had left an easy path to follow through the woods, and he soon found the road. Stepping from the trees, he almost felt the need to look at the ghost white mushrooms. He decided to keep it hidden, he touched his pocket feeling bolder about his approaching revenge.
Travis had plenty of time to come up with an apology on his way back home. It was not something he would have done in any other circumstance, but he knew what he had in mind was too important to allow pride to get in the way.
“There he is,” said his father. “Did you have a good walk?” Travis felt his hands instinctively close, like they were reading for a punch. He forced his hands to stay open, looking his father in the face.
“I’m sorry, I acted the way I did. I won’t let it happen again,” said Travis. His eyes darted to the kitchen, and he found his mother inside starting on dinner.
“Mom,” said Travis, looking in on the kitchen. “Can I help make dinner? As a way to apologize.” He could hardly keep from smiling at the lie. It was not his fault. It was never his fault. But he always got blamed for it. No more, he felt the swift swing of the bell stirring in him. He wanted to get his mother out of the kitchen. But he wanted to make sure he didn’t push too much, leading to suspicion.
“That’s alright, I’m almost done here. If you could set the table.” He knew it couldn’t happen with his mother in there watching the food. He wondered if his momentary lapse gave away too much already. He went to the cupboards, and set the table for the four. Travis suffered through dinner. He pushed his food around his plate. His foot moving incessantly. He knew tonight would not be the night. He ate one plate, to let himself leave the table. Then he bolted to his room. He emptied his pockets, coveting the fresh, white fungi. He stored them in a small food container, and tucked them under his bed.
Travis had a difficult time finding sleep that night. Despite the fact that he was tired, his mind felt like it was hooked up to a car battery working overtime. Images of his sweet revenge played out one after the other. Some of the thoughts were grim, while others made him smile. He might have to wait, but in time, he would be able to use those wonderful little white mushrooms that were now tucked safely under his bed. He almost laughed out loud at the thought that he could have accidentally just poisoned the boogieman.
He had half a mind to turn on the light in his room, and check to make sure there wasn’t already some shadowy monster sprawled, with one arm protruding from under his bed. Eventually, his breathing slowed, and Travis fell into a delicious, wonderful sleep. The next morning, the first thing Travis did was check under his bed that the mushrooms were still hidden. He found that they were still where he left them. Before leaving his room that morning, he popped open the lid to the container, and looked at each. He smiled at the purity of them. Almost a clear quartz-white with streaks of black. He wondered what the name of these mushrooms might be. He returned the mushrooms to their safe keeping place. As he left his room, he hoped he would be able to keep his plan secret. He did his best to keep it from his mind, as he readied himself for school.
If he could just make it through the morning, thought Travis. He haphazardly combed his hair and brushed his teeth. Making himself a bowl of cereal, he turned his attention to the game on the back of the box.
“Don’t, forget, you’re still in trouble for yesterday,” said Travis’s father over the paper. Travis kept his eyes on the box. “That means you come straight home after school, got it?”
Travis bit his tongue and clenched his teeth. Now was not the time for a poorly timed remark.
The school hours were tortuous. Travis found it even more difficult to listen to the teachers. His mind continued to return to what he had under his bed. His eye flashed back to the clock. The hands looked as though they were stuck. Every clock slowed. His hatred for his family festered in him. It consumed him, burning hotter, as time lurched forward.
At lunch period, Travis sat alone. He eyed his fellow classmates with a kind of disgust. None of them knew what secret he had in his heart. None of them knew how long he had hated them. And worst of all, none of them expected much of him. He felt something inside him slip, like two wires had become disconnected. Gears now spun freely, like overturned car tires seeking pavement. It pinched him, and his stomach flexed in a deliciously odd way that he had never known it to before. On the bus ride home, he scratched at the back of his left hand. The disconnected slippage in him left its mark. Like a thumbprint at a crime scene. He could not stop scratching the spot at the back of his hand. His nails dug into the skin, but the pain felt good. It allowed time to pass a little quicker. By the time the bus let him off at home, he had scraped the back of his hand raw. His finger nails had rolls of dead skin, and a faint line of blood could be seen here and there where it cut a little too deep. It didn’t matter. In Travis’s mind he walked down a dark tunnel with light at his back. He stood tall and moved with a commanding presence.
His plan, so far as he had thought it out, was to make a kind of soup for dinner. He would be able to mask the mushrooms between the other vegetables. He went straight to kitchen from the bus. He was the first one home, and he set his plan into motion. He fell to the floor beside his bed and reached in to grab his secret ingredient. His heart pounded against the floor. He ran downs stairs, clutching the container with both hands. The thing felt alive, like he was holding a deadly python in his hands.
He needed to be quick. But he also knew he needed to time everything just right. It would not do to have one of them get sick. He had to have all of them get sick. This was his revenge. The idea felt hot like metal taken from a furnace. It glowed brightly. He began to pull ingredients from the fridge, hiding his most coveted one in a nearby drawer. He started cutting and preparing the other vegetables and meat. He wondered if it was reluctance, a last ditch effort to stop himself from committing his act of revenge. It was too real, and he was too close to give up now. The idea of them all vomiting their guts out. It would show them. He would show them all that he was not someone to be ridiculed. He tossed the meats and vegetables into a pot. He was just about to reach for the drawer where he had tucked the final ingredient, when he caught the sound of truck tires coming up the road. He pulled the drawer open. Grabbed the mushrooms with both fistfuls. In a blur he chopped and cut them without thinking. Time had suddenly began sprinting forward. He dropped the mushrooms in and stirred the pot, so that they were mixed in and their ghostly white bodies not visible. He breathed easier once the last white streak was hidden.
“Travis?” called the voice of his father.
“I’m here,” said Travis after a moment. His throat felt sticky like he had just swallowed a container of honey mixed with slick blood. It felt sick in his stomach. His head spun. Travis managed to steady himself by grabbing the kitchen counter.
“I see you’re making dinner.”
Travis struggled to finish the deadly soup with his father sitting in the living room. Several times he almost dropped a pan or knocked a spoon to the floor. His hands had turned numb. He managed to get everything set and on a simmer. His stomach flexed in that deliciously odd way that it had earlier that day. It now made his heart pick up its cadence. He stood over the pot and stirred it now and then. It would be too much for him to take, if he stepped out of the kitchen. He had to ensure no one came and inspected his meal until they were all seated around the table. When the soup was nearing being finished, and his mother and sister were both home waiting around for dinner to be ready, Travis noticed his palms were sweaty. His insides felt like they were being stirred viciously. He did his best to stifle his feelings.
They sat down to the meal a little before seven. Travis served the soup into bowls and placed them at the table. He dropped one bowl, and it broke on the floor sending the hot liquid splashing across the floor like an open wound.
Travis fumbled to clean up the mess, and he managed not to cut himself while picking up the broken pieces. When he finished cleaning up, he looked to the table. His family had not waited for him.