Everything Kelly does is stupid. At least that’s what her brother David tells her. Lions and giraffes don’t play together, that’s stupid. Spiders don’t have 10 legs, that’s stupid. A volcano wouldn’t still have a point on the top, that’s stupid.
I pull David aside every time I hear it. I try to explain how unkind he’s being and how his little sister looks up to him. Or I yell at him and threaten to take his comics away. Whatever I do, I still hear him whisper it when he thinks I’m out of earshot. I don’t know what else to do. They’re just like any siblings. I can’t scream that out of them.
This morning Kelly said she wanted some me-time and asked for the scissors so she could make a safari. I didn’t know what that meant, but it wasn’t out of character. She’s always making exotic things – fish that live at the bottom of the Amazon where hooks can’t find them; houses on mountains in the middle of the forest; monkeys living in skyscrapers and swinging from porch railings. She’s too young to know for sure, but she seems to have some innate sense that Tyro is a small, flat place, barely worth the ink on a Kansas map. I don’t think she ever draws pictures of home.
She got the me-time thing from me. I got used to the kids being in school all year, having the mornings to myself, and I wasn’t too keen on losing that all summer. I taught the kids that after I get their dad off to work, after I cook their breakfast and wash the dishes, I get some me-time. I make a cup of Taster’s Choice, turn on the radio by the sink, and sit in the kitchen nook. The kids know, if the radio is on, I don’t want to be bothered, even if it looks like I’m not doing anything.
And usually, I’m not doing anything. I just like an hour or two to sit. I’ll worry about the bills if there’s some to worry about, wonder about the neighbors if they’ve done something to wonder about, or just listen to the songs and imagine what was going through the singer’s head when they wrote the song. I like the story songs. I like Dolly most of all. I read she grew up in a place like Tyro, except hers was out east, Tennessee maybe. I imagine her going from that tiny town to a big house and bigger hotels in even bigger cities. I’m not sure I even do a good job of imagining it. I see pictures of New York City and all its skyscrapers and I wonder if it’s always dark down on the street. How does the sun get down to the people?
I was thinking about that when I heard David come downstairs. He spends most of the mornings with his comics – Spiderman and Waterman and Superman – so I knew he wanted something particular, but he heard Randy Travis singing in the kitchen so he didn’t come in. I couldn’t see him, but I could sense him standing in the kitchen door, giving me a chance to turn around and ask what’s up. When I didn’t, he started back upstairs, stopping to ask Kelly what she was making. She said safari animals. David said they don’t even look like animals, they look stupid.
He bolted upstairs, knowing he’d done something he wasn’t supposed to do, and did it when he wasn’t supposed to do it. He thinks if he gets up there fast enough he can claim it wasn’t him. I clicked off the radio and went in to check on Kelly, just to make sure she wasn’t upset, even though she never gets upset. She was hard at work, the table dusted with paper snow that I’ll be finding on the floor for a week. I asked if I could see the animals. She nodded and slid some tiny little pieces of paper across the table, none bigger than dime, cut out it shapes that looked like the asteroids in the arcade game, jagged and random. My first thought was that David had a point, even if he was jerk about it.
“This one’s the tiger,” she said about one little asteroid. I leaned a little closer and saw that it she’d given it brown and orange stripes with her markers and little black eyes. The asteroid she calls the giraffe has the eyes out on the end of a little section that sticks out, the neck, I’m sure, and there are brown and yellow spots all over it. The rhino is all gray but for the two tiny, uneven eyes. One after another, each with their own tiny details, downright ridiculous in their cuteness. The brown monkey has a little paper tail, the tortoise just a circle with green and black spots.
“Honey, these are amazing.” I don’t know why I whispered it, because it should have been screamed. “You are so clever and creative. I love these!”
Kelly smiles and keeps cutting. “Leopards and cheetahs are hardest. Even in real life they look alike.”
I stare at the little tiger for a long time. “Honey, I want you to know something. You are not stupid.”
Kelly nodded. “Yes I am.”
She says it so much like it’s true that I want to wring her brother’s neck right then and there. It’s all I can do to keep from crying. “No, Kel, you’re not.”
“Sure I am.” She says, carefully cutting a tiny notch in her latest creation.
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t expect the girl to be proud of it. “Do you know what stupid means?”
Kelly nodded, still focused on her work.
“What does it mean?”
She still didn’t look up. “It means I’m not like dumb David.”
I should have told her not to call her brother dumb, but I didn’t.
© 2016 WPReagan. This is one story in the 2016 series, Everyday Stories: 30 Tales in 30 Days Inspired by 30 Stranger’s Photographs.