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Soap and Mirrors
Author's note: I've always loved historical fiction, and I wanted to write about a normal family life so people could relate.
"The stage, while elevated, is exactly the same height as the ground. How is this possible?"
It isn’t. If something is elevated, that means it’s higher than the ground. But if the stage is exactly the same height as the ground, it can’t be elevated!
Daisy, who is in my room for no good reason, climbs up on the bed and reads the riddle. “Maybe the ground goes down and then there’s a stage, so the stage is higher than that ground,” she says.
“And maybe that’s a stupid suggestion and you should go help Mama with setting the table like she told you to.”
“Just think about it,” she says over her shoulder as she skips downstairs.
I roll my eyes and shut the riddle book. It’s pretty old – it used to be Papa’s when he was my age. It smells like him, like tobacco and Old Spice, even though I doubt he chewed tobacco and wore Old Spice when he was my age.
I scoot towards the window on my belly and pull back the rag curtains. It’s snowing outside. It’s just a little snow – probably won’t even stick. Still, snow is snow.
It’s cold in my room. My room is always cold; it’s the coldest room in the house. It’s also the smallest because it’s in the attic; maybe that’s why it’s the coldest, seeing as it’s the farthest away from the wood furnace downstairs.
I lean down to pull open a drawer and take out my favorite cardigan. It’s light greyish-brown (Daisy says it’s oatmeal-coloured) and very soft. Mama knitted it for Christmas two years ago and since then I’ve worn the elbows down and the hems are fraying, but the sweater’s gotten softer. There is a small stain on the right sleeve near my wrist from last week’s meatloaf. I should probably wash the sweater, but that would mean having to go down and wash it and everything else that needs washing by hand since Mama refuses to buy one of those neat new electrical washers.
“Ellie! Dinner!” Mama calls from downstairs.
I drop the book on the bed and slide off, buttoning up my cardigan over my dress. I hope I get a new dress for Christmas, but the odds aren’t great, since my current dress still fits me. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is what Mama says my Grandpa Caldwell (her papa) used to tell her whenever she’d ask for new things. She says now she can see the sense in it. I don’t think I ever will. Plenty of things can be replaced even if they aren’t broke. Take, for instance, our washing machine, which currently consists of a gadget with a crank and my own two hands. The machine probably won’t break any time soon, seeing as it has already been around for a gatrillion years, and neither will my hands. Yet there is still something better that it could be replaced with. So why stick with old stuff when you can get new stuff that works better?
My mother does not see my point.
As I’m going down the stairs Scrappers meets me, rubbing against my stockings. He’s really a mangy old barn cat, but Mama sometimes lets him in during the winter when it’s really cold out. I give him a scratch behind his ears. Scrappers is real old – older than me – and dang ugly too. He’s always been around, catching the mice and spooking the horses. Papa hates him, but he can’t deny that Scrappers is the best mouser in Fairview, so he’s let him stay on all these years. Besides, there’s not a lot you can do about a barn cat. He goes where he likes.
When I go into the kitchen the scent of chicken and mashed potatoes fill my nose. Daisy is scooping potatoes onto plates, patting out little hollows and pouring gravy into them till it spills out. Daisy likes to make things fancy. Timmy is trying to make it look like he’s helping, but he’s spilling half the milk he’s pouring.
“Looks good, Mama,” I say, taking the bottle from Timmy and wiping up the milk off the counter.
“Let’s hope it tastes as good,” Mama replies, frowning at the chicken. “I think I may have burnt this bird on the bottom just a tad.”
“That’s mighty fine with me, Jane,” Papa says from the table where he’s reading the newspaper.
“Did you read the letter Cousin James sent?” Mama asks Papa, sliding a plate in front of him.
“No, I didn’t,” he says, putting down his newspaper and sampling a bite of chicken. “This bird’s perfect, Jane. What did he say?”
“Says Isaiah’s enlisting next week.” Mama puts a plate in front of Daisy, then one in front of me. Timmy insists on taking his own plate to the table.
“How old is that boy?” Papa says before stuffing half a chicken breast into his mouth. “Surely he can’t be old enough!”
“He turned eighteen at the end of September,” Mama replies. “That’s plenty old enough.”
“Still, the boy’s barely grown,” Papa says. “Such a shame. He’ll have to grow up so fast.”
“Yes, he will,” Mama replies.
I only remember meeting Isaiah twice, once when I was five and once two years ago, when I was eight. Mama says I met him before that, too, but I was too small to remember. He was great fun, always pulling pranks on the adults and doing magic tricks with cards and coins. I remember he could wiggle his ears and curl his tongue in a funny shape.
“Why’s he going to war, Mama? The war’s terrible,” Daisy asks, picking at her potatoes even though she made them all nice.
Mama sighs. “You’re right, Daisy dear. But someone’s gotta go fight. And young men like Isaiah who are strong and able-bodied are the best ones to do it.”
“I still wish he wasn’t going,” Daisy mumbles, staring at her food.
“Of course, honey, we all do,” Mama says, ending with a tone of finality. There will be no more discussion about Isaiah going to war, I can tell. The rest of the meal is quiet, save the sounds of chewing and forks scraping gravy off the plates.