Julie pulled out a plastic cutting board from under the sink, considered for a moment, replaced it with a wooden one, then reconsidered and used the plastic board. She stood over the sink, her thick heels clicking on the floor. Her make-up was fresh, but her eyes tired.
Julie’s younger sister, Kristin, sat at the kitchen table holding a knit, winter hat in one hand. With the other, she was pushing around items in a small sewing box, its plastic exterior pasted with blue stars, plastic eyes, and fuzzy animal stickers.
“Be careful,” Julie said with a slight clip to her words, waving a knife. “Don’t mess my hat. What kind of sandwich you want?”
“I can’t mess it more than it is.” Kristin held up a thick stocking hat, pulling frayed yarn from its sides. She looked carefully at the top. Its purple pompom had fallen off. “So funny you still wear this, I remember Dad wearing it. Totally not you.”
“Keeps me warm. You. Sandwich, what kind?”
“Peanut butter. Apricot jam. I hate strawberry. No butts.”
“Chill. It’s the middle of the loaf. We don’t have apricot.”
“On the shelf. I got it last week.” Kristin crossed her eyes as she threaded a needle an inch from her nose, she held her breath so it wouldn’t move the thread.
“We’re not opening a new jar just for you. You can have strawberry. Or why don’t you have ham—we have to use it up, it’ll go bad.”
“Ham will never go bad. It has more salt than salt. Hey, what’s the only thing you cannot salt?” Kristin laughed.
“Salt. Yes, you’re a genius. Can’t you stop being difficult and just have ham?”
“I am a genius. No ham. If I wanted ham, I would have said ham. I want peanut butter. With apricot jam. Open a new jar, I’ll have it all week.”
“OK, fine. Mom won’t be happy, though. And the bread will get soggy by lunchtime.”
“My bread will taste better that way.” Kristin waved a needle at her sister. “I have lunch early today, eleven.”
“Whatever. I’m having ham,” said Julie. “We need to use it up.” She pulled apart a few pieces of ham and folded them gently on two slices of bread.
“Why stop with ham?” Kristin asked.” I’m sure there’s other stuff to finish while you’re at it. Mayonnaise. Carrots. There are some spotty olives in the door. Mom would really appreciate you cleaning out the fridge. Just what she needs right now.” Kristin pulled the knot she’d just made in the hat and cut the thread with her teeth.
“Kristin, dear,” said Julie, “You wouldn’t know what she needed if she told you—which she does, we both do, and you still don’t. I’ll make sure to give you a baggy of spotted olives for lunch. Are you almost finished?”
“She needs you to not be a total bitch. I know that. She needs me to fix this for you since you have no idea how to sew. You should get a new one anyway, you’ve had this since third grade when you stole it from Dad. Hasn’t your head grown more than that? Are you worried about the size of your brain?”
Julie lined up the carrots and cut off their ends with one swift chop, then said to her sister, “He gave it to me because he knew I loved purple. Don’t sew the thing back off-center. What else do you want? We don’t have any more popcorn… Candy? You only eat shit food. And at least my head isn’t too large for my body.”
“Shut up. I know what I’m doing. This color reminds me of that purple stuff Mom used to put in salads. What is that stuff? Onions? Beets?”
“Cabbage. Such a pretty color.”
“’Course it is. What about it?”
Julie held up the knife and shrugged, “Tastes like cabbage. You just don’t like cabbage.”
“Obviously not if I think it tastes horrible. That’s genetic, you know. Taste. I got that from Dad, he hated it too. Put some carrots in. I’ll finish the carrots. OK? Mom has to work tomorrow, too?”
“Dad didn’t hate anything. You’re remembering wrong. You’re just young. Children don’t like certain tastes. You’ll grow out of it. I did. Mom is working tomorrow, she told us. You weren’t listening.”
“I will never like cabbage. Dad never liked cabbage. You don’t remember. Clearly, because you are literally eighteen months older than me. At least my brain kept growing, unlike yours, which still fits into your childhood hat. How many days is she working this week?”
“You have a huge head.” Julie lifted her hands above her own head. “I just hope it stops growing before you have to wear a helmet. She said she’s working four, maybe three.”
“Four,” said the girls’ mother, who had just entered the kitchen. Her eyes were gray and heavy, but they opened slightly when she saw her daughters doing the tasks she had assigned. “Jules, you got the lunches? Thanks so much. Kris, you can’t just eat peanut butter all the time. You need something else.”
“Julie gave me carrots.”
“And spotty olives,” Julie added.
Kristin shook softly at the table, laughing. Then she stood and carried her hat to her sister. “Your hat.”
“Nice. Thanks. My hands are dirty washing your carrots. Put it down there.”
“Looks good. Good.” Their mother joined the conversation. “You use up that lunch meat? We have all that ham. Can we use the ham?”
“I used the ham, Mom.” Julie responded, “Kristin wouldn’t eat it.“
“Kristin, eat the ham, we have to use it up.”
Hey, Mom,” Kristin ignoring both of them, “Did you know other people don’t call it lunch meat? Some kid from. where’s he from… east coast somewhere. Calls it cold cuts.”
“No, they don’t,” Julie added..
“Uhhhh, they do. You’ll see. When you go to school, better stop calling it lunch meat or people will think you’re an idiot.”
“Shut up, Kristin. Mom, we need to talk about my application. My financial aid stuff is due.”
“I know, Dear. I’ll try to make it work, but we might have to make some changes… We’ll talk. I just can’t do it right now.”
“I’ve been asking you all last week. I have to send them in. Never mind, I’ll figure it out,” said Julie, turning to her sister, who was still holding the newly mended hat, “Thanks, Mom.”
“You’re welcome, Mom.” Kristin smiled and took her lunch from her sister.
“Oh, look at you both.” Their mother petted their shoulders quickly. “You don’t even need me now. You girls are so important to me. I need you to help each other. I need you to help me. Help us. Help this family. We’re still a family, still a family.” She kept petting her daughters, Julie moved away to put on her coat. “I want to keep being proud of you both, OK? So just help me out. I’ll be home tonight. Jules—we’ll go to practice tomorrow, I can drive. No, shoot, I have a late shift, I can’t get—can you get a ride?”
“I can get a ride,” Julia sighed
“Hey, Jules,” asked Kristin quietly, “Are you going near the playing fields?”
She poked the needles back into the cushion and slammed her sewing box shut.
“We have marching practice there. Can I get a ride?”
“It’ll probably be with Joshua. Won’t that be awkward for you? Since you are in love with him…”
“Maybe if you sew him a hat…”
“Maybe if you feed him some ham…”
“Come on, girls. Girls! Come on, I can’t be late… Let’s go. Get your things. OK, OK, let’s go.”
“We’re ready, settle down, Mom.” Kristin said.
Everyone moved towards the closet, pulled on coats and hats. Julie turned on her heel and faced her mother.
“Oh, Mom, one more thing. Stop putting that purple cabbage in our salads. We both hate it.”
“Dear, what are you talking about? I never know what you girls are talking about.”
“Yeah,” added Kristin, “Stop putting it in things. We hate it.”
“It’s good for you. Beautiful color. You’ll learn to like it when you get older. We’re going to be late. Come on, come on, come on.”
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