Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Family Consciousness

In a short piece of prose (800 words), dip into the consciousness of a family. Rather than one or two distinct points of view, this fiction should allow us into the minds of a marriage with children--adult children or young children. This will be different from limited omniscience because a family can reasonably know a great deal about the goings-on of its various parts.

Read my response:

stew fixings
"stew fixings" by Muffet

Eileen managed to make chopping vegetables appear as simple, or at least as instinctive, as opening her eyes. The knife seemed to be a part of her, a third hand. Like an assassin, her comfort with sharp blades intimidates outsiders. When her eldest, Michael, brought girls over to her house, Eileen would interrogate the poor young things with constant, mostly polite inquiries, chopping carrots or celery all the while without taking her eyes of the girl. Eileen had prepared dinner nearly every evening that she’d been married, and now the years she’d spent doing so were far more than the years she’d been independent. She liked to think she set the bar high for her children; she’d wanted to instill certain values in her offspring even before she had any. She woke up at the same time every day, like a farmer. She cherished routines, and their fancy cousin, traditions. While she chopped she surveyed her home, confirming that the windows were clean, the floor recently swept, the pantry full. Only her youngest, her daughter, was home. Today being Friday, Michael was probably out at a happy hour after getting out of his last class at the community college. He wouldn’t be home till late, she must remember to keep the porch light on, to pour a little more generously her husband’s wine at dinner. Jim made no effort to give his son a break, and in fact made great effort to do the opposite. Like many sons and fathers, Eileen understood. But no point in both of them losing sleep waiting for Michael to sneak in, and no point in the whole family having their Saturday breakfast marred by Jim’s passive aggressive questions about what time Michael got home. Better she dealt with a snoring Jim and then a hung-over Jim than having everyone sulking. Ginger was getting in the habit of defending her brother. Or she was just getting better at getting involved in fights. Eight years her brother’s junior, Ginger had some vague idea that being an adult meant yelling at her father. Ginger was probably laying about upstairs now, doing her best impression of Michael.

No matter how much her mother tried to enforce them, some priorities didn't stretch across generations. Ginger preferred sleeping in, naturally, but to her mother, it made no sense. It reeked of laziness. Ginger figured she probably was, in fact, lazy, but it didn’t bother her. She used to want to cook with her mom, she used to drag her little step-stool to the kitchen counter, clapping her hands and begging for some task. For her seventh birthday party, Ginger, per her mom’s suggestion, had a baking party. Instead of a cake, Ginger and her mother made four different kinds of dough for the second-graders to roll and shape. Eileen had outdone herself, providing homemade frostings, multi-colored sugar crystals, and all the candy ever sold that could conceivably go atop a baked good. Even Michael and Dad had helped, clearing out the kitchen and dining room to make room for the oversized craft table they had made for the day. Amy, Ginger’s best friend since second grade, had brought up that party again, just they other day, remembering it completely differently than Ginger. Amy made it sound like her mother was overbearing, bossing the girls around, encouraging the children to take greater pride in decorating and shaping cookies. Amy was probably right.

Once, when Michael first got his car, he took Ginger out for a drive. He told her she didn’t have to be like Mom. He told her, eight years old, a tiny thing with too big eyes and oddly pulled back hair, so she looked like she was all skull and eyes, that he’d love her no matter what. That no matter what Mom and Dad said or did, she could count on her big bro. Ginger hadn’t said anything at the time, she probably didn’t get it, she was so young. But despite the fairly wide gap between them, they were always close. Even when she tagged along, when she was four and still had a security blanket and seemed like such a baby, and his friends came over to play Nintendo and didn’t want a baby sister with her thumb in her mouth hanging around, even then Michael couldn’t bear to shoo her away. Most of the time, at least. Not because his dad told him to look out for his little sister, nothing to do with that, it wasn’t an obligation so much as a need. If his Dad wanted to think he had anything to do with Michael being a decent sibling, fine.

But Jim knew better. He knew that in his family, he was protected. His wife looked out for him more than she need to, his son avoided him more than he needed to, and his daughter was a fighter, despite Eileen’s claim that their youngest was passive. She was a rebel in the oldest sense, his Ginger. And in that way his two girls were alike. Give her a couple of years, and Ginger would be chopping apart whatever she wanted, be it vegetables or boys hearts. Jim knew that. He wondered about himself, worried about himself, more than about his surprisingly self-sufficient family. At any rate, dinner was ready. All he had to do was eat it.


  1. So… who’s the intimidating vegetable chopper based on in real life?

  2. i think this is a huge prompt. you did it well, and i think it was asking a lot. a very complicated subject, i meant to comment months ago. good job


Blog Widget by LinkWithin