Lose the Battle

Fiction Short Story 

“I want a baby brother,” Alex said.  His round face beamed up at my mom as he clutched her leg.  This was all anyone wanted to talk about since Mom and Dad told us that we were going to have a baby in the family.

Mom laughed.  “We’ll see.”  I hadn’t noticed it before, but her face was softer and she wore new pants.  She smiled at my brother and fondled his hair.  “Do you guys want tofu dogs and milk shakes for dinner?”

“Yeah!” we both said and Alex danced around.

My little brother’s fingers wiggled while he squirmed.  His face was so happy I nearly rolled my eyes, frowning and crossing my arms instead.  I stepped off to the side and stood still.  “With popcorn too?” he said with an exaggerated grin.

“Yup,” Mom said watching his theatrics.  Dad was at work late, and when Mom made dinner we got to eat things like cereal and doughnuts and Instant Breakfast.

Mom asked us what movie we wanted to watch and Alex said Alice in Wonderland.

“I don’t want to watch Alice in Wonderland, I hate that movie,” I said, stomping my foot.

My mom shot me a look.  “Act your age and let your brother pick.”

“But I don’t get it, everyone is mean and it’s just a stupid dream!” I said.

“Sara, knock it off,” my mom said in a forced voice.

I looked down and pulled at my shirt.  Alex got to sit in the front seat of the car all the time, and he had a TV in his room.  Mom was going to have a boy, I knew it.

Alex and I watched the movie on the floor, while Mom sat on the sofa.  My brother and I dunked popcorn in ketchup and mustard and ate it.  We said we liked it and just to prove it we had more.  The slippery dogs flopped in our hands, and tasted like salt and garlic.  The milkshakes were always chocolate, and Mom always said that she made the best milkshakes because Grandpa taught her how.  Vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate syrup and just a little milk, and you are supposed to mix it with a fork, but we used a blender.

Bedtime was at eight, but sometimes I could stay up until nine and watch Star Trek.  That night, Mom seemed upset with me and told me to go to bed when Alex did.  I wandered my way through the Barbie’s and stuffed animals in my room.  I crawled into bed, careful of my flannel nightgown getting caught or twisted.  The sheets were cool except where my cat had warmed them.

My room was pink with unicorn wallpaper and it had a huge window with flowing curtains.  The amazing part was that we bought it like this, and even though Mom and Dad had said I got first pick in our new house, I knew I got the bigger of the two bedrooms because it was pink.  If Alex had really wanted this room, they would have let him have it, but his room had dinosaurs on the walls.

Mom came in and kissed me on the forehead, her hair pulled back.  She smelled like that cream she always wore at night.  I kissed her on the cheek, my lips coming back greasy and bitter, and she turned out the lights and shut the door.

I never needed my door open at night.  In school we talked about how fires spread, and that closing your doors will help keep fires contained.  My brother needed his open.  He got scared of the dark and wet the bed too.  I watched the blackness come alive with colors and shapes, but I knew they weren’t real because when I turned on my lamp they disappeared.  I stuck a toe out and felt my cat sleeping, and she purred when I poked her.  I went to sleep, pressed up against the wall.

The next day wasn’t a school day, which meant Mom had to work.  She left in the afternoons and didn’t get home until late, and Dad would have to leave to pick her up.  Before she went to work they asked to speak to me, and they told Alex to wait downstairs and watch TV.  Alex tried to creep up the steps to listen, but Mom and Dad heard and told him to go back down.  I searched their faces and tried to sit still.  My heart beat faster as they looked at me and my legs danced, crossing and uncrossing.  I rolled my ankles, listening to them pop.

“Sara,” Mom said.  She usually did the talking.  “We wanted to ask you something.”

My feet paused.

“We have to make room for the baby upstairs, because babies need a lot of attention, so either you or Alex has to move your bedroom to the spare room,” Mom said.  Dad massaged her knee and smiled at me warmly, and I breathed again.

“But that’s Dad’s office,” I said.  My voice took on a whine almost without my control.

“Dad is going to move his office,” Mom said, her shoulders back and tense.

“Where?” I said.

I frowned when he said, “Oh, I was thinking of moving it to where the TV is now or maybe against the other wall.”

I looked at my rainbow socks.  I was hoping it was somehow necessary for Dad to have his office in the spare room, because he had to do important work things or something.

The only furniture in the spare room was dad’s desk and a cabinet where we keep all of the games.  Alex and I would rock, paper, scissors for who would have to go down there, and I usually lost.  Cold flooded out when the door opened.  It was dim, there was only what Mom called a “daylight window” for light, but really it was just a window that looked out onto gravel and wood and spiders.

My jaw flexed.  Alex wouldn’t last an hour down in the spare room by himself, because he was a big cry baby.  There would be drama every night if he were to move down there, and I’d have to listen to it.  I was the only one who could do it and I suddenly knew that they knew that.  Something stirred in my chest and before I knew what I was saying, I blurted, “Okay, I’ll go.”

We all looked at each other for a moment, like neither of us understood what had just happened.  They figured it out first and smiled and told me how much of a big girl I was and thanked and hugged me.  I barely felt my face pressed into their shirts and their hands rubbing my back.  They said I could use the bathroom downstairs as my own, even though Dad spent a lot of time in there every day and stunk it up.  I could decorate it as I wanted to, but it had to be with wallpaper and paint that I could “grow up” with.  They would buy nice blinds for the window, but not in pink, it wasn’t a grown up color and I wouldn’t like it forever.

After our talk, Alex was called up, and they told him that he could move into the bigger bedroom because I was moving downstairs.  They promised that he could repaint so it wouldn’t be pink anymore, and he could have new curtains.  Alex talked loud, with his mouth open and tongue wagging, and when he asked where I was going to sleep, they told him that I had agreed to move into the room downstairs.

Alex whipped his head to me with his lips in an “o” of surprise.  His eyes glittered mischievously and the corners of his mouth tugged up.  “Don’t worry, Sara, I’m sure it won’t be so bad.”  Mom and Dad laughed and thought that he was being sweet.

I looked at my rainbow socks and sat on my hands.

Mom went to work later and Dad made us dinner.  He fixed hamburgers and vegetables and fruit, cutting our burgers in half and arranging them nicely on the plate.  He let me watch Star Trek before I went to bed, and we watched it together on the sofa.  During the commercials he would smile at me and mess up my hair.  I still got to sleep upstairs for a while, because the spare room wouldn’t be cleared out and ready for me to move into for a couple of weeks.

The next week, Mom and Dad sat both Alex and I down, but this time I knew I wasn’t in trouble.  Talking about the baby made them act serious, but everyone was really happy on the inside.

“We are having a girl,” they said.  Dad smiled big and touched us all on our heads and legs.

I matched my dad’s smile, but then Alex pouted and whined, his voice was high and plaintive, and my mom’s face fell while she talked to him quietly.  His legs kicked out and he said it wasn’t fair.  He wanted a brother; sisters were boring.

“Alex,” Dad said.  “You’re going to be a big brother now, so you need to start acting like one.  She’s going to need you.”  Alex screamed.

I trained my gaze straight ahead while he pitched a fit and I tried not to smile wider.

Brock, Beth. (2014).  Lose the battle.  Alembic, volume 9 (1), 2-3.

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