I Hate (Love) You
I hate this uncomfortable, lumpy bed with the broken springs. I hate the lulling late afternoon when boredom is more contagious than neopox. And I especially hate that awful blue shag carpet that reminds of my own dull blue fur.
"Lindy, dinner's ready," my sister Claire calls from the kitchen. She says it in such a pleasant way that I can't help but be annoyed. Even so, I'm hungry. I leap from my bed and feel the individual fibers of the carpet parting between my paws.
Jaxter, the youngest and the only Lupe in our family of Acaras, races past me to the table on all fours. He leaps into his chair excitedly, his tongue hanging from his mouth and his paws on the table.
Next is my little sister Rose, another blue Acara like me. She seems a bit happier today than usual. She's watching Claire move around the kitchen instead of staring vacantly at the table, like a zombie. I can't help but feel a twinge of guilt, a passing nausea in my stomach. I wait for the feeling to fade, and when it doesn't, I decide to take my time, knowing that it will bother Claire.
I can see the others from the hallway where I'm dragging my feet. She looks backwards at the table, counts two, bites her lip, and sets out four plates. When I still haven't arrived after she's laid out the silverware, she counts to ten in her head. I've memorized this face. Her expression says she's trying to be patient even though she's boiling underneath. I count with her, silently.
When I reach nine, she shouts.
"Lindy, hurry up, we're all waiting!"
Gleefully, I scurry into the kitchen with a grin on my face.
"You only gave me nine seconds that time," I say.
"You're so impossible," she snarls through gritted teeth.
"What's for dinner," I ask completely innocently.
Instead of answering, Claire pulls a frying pan off of the stove and serves each of us one third of an omelet. I can tell by the texture that this omelet has been sitting in our safety deposit box for a long time. Claire has tried to reheat it in an effort to create the illusion of a home cooked meal.
For herself she pulls a can of beans out of the cabinet. She's making a sacrifice for us, and I can't stand it.
"Saving the best for yourself?" I say wryly.
"Is that what you want to hear?" she snaps.
Jaxter, oblivious to the tension, eats his meal in a few bits, his tail wagging the whole time.
"Thanks, Claire," he says happily.
She smiles, and before touching her own food, she takes his plate to the sink to wash.
We are truly nothing alike. Claire is the oldest and perhaps the most beautiful of us pets. Her fur is a lavish sea foam green, and her lashes are long and full. Even owners with painted pets have admired her for her natural beauty. Her charming, thoughtful demeanor has always accompanied her appearance so well.
There was a time, though, when Rose was admired and beautiful. And happy. Now, she nibbles tenderly on the edge of her omelet, watching Claire just as I am.
Claire dries the plate and takes her seat with us again.
"You should eat that before it gets cold," she says, gesturing to the omelet that I've left untouched on my plate.
"Because it will taste sooo much better," I say.
Claire rolls her eyes and doesn't respond. She eats her beans. I can't remember, but I think she hates them.
I angrily stuff my mouth with huge bites. It tastes stale and sad like Claire's useless attempts to keep us together as a normal family.
"Eat up, Rose," Claire says tenderly. Rose takes a few half-hearted bites.
"I'm not hungry," Rose says, "Can I go play?"
Claire puts her forehead in her palm as if she has a headache.
"Sure," she says. She leaves the plate and the wasted food out on the table. Rose scurries from her seat.
"You know if you're going to act like an owner you could at least force her to eat," I say.
"At least she wants to play," Claire shouts, "and what other choice do we have? Are you going to feed them? I won't let us starve!"
Furiously, she grabs Rose's plate. In her anger, she drops the plate and it shatters on the kitchen tile.
Claire, usually so collected, slams her fist on the counter.
"Mother of Fyora!!" she yells.
I see her seething beneath her cracked exterior. Her eyes are angry and sad and helpless. I realize, in an instant, that Claire is still as clueless as she was on day one.
"You're still our sister, not our mother," I mumble. She pays no attention to me and pulls the broom out of the closet. When she sweeps her motions are stiff and robotic.
I remember when our owner first left. We were, in some ways, in denial. I had always been sarcastic, unbothered, and dry. I rarely showed emotion or affection, and I kept to myself. At first, it was easy to pretend like I didn't care.
I knew that Claire was upset, but I had no way of comforting her. Jaxter was too young; he doesn't remember. And Rose was just old enough to feel the sting of abandonment while being too young to understand. I think she suffered the most.
We ate whatever food was left. We ignored the emptying cabinets, the quiet. When we finally faced the truth, it was too late. Rose was created as a red Acara. Her fur was luscious and suited to her name. But one day it changed: blue like her sadness. It was a random event that we never expected.
I saw her then as myself. That dull blue fur, my dull blue self. I wondered if I, in my coldness, had driven our owner away. Or if I had even changed Rose into a carbon copy of me. If I had somehow replaced her hope and cheer with cynicism.
That's when Claire became our mother, and I became bitter. I've known this for a long time. I know that I resent Claire for taking care of us because I'm not loving enough to do it on my own. I resent her for providing what I couldn't. We all feel guilty about what happened to Rose. We all blame ourselves. But no one will understand why it's my fault.
Things are better now than they were, and though I know the source of our tension, I am in too far to back out. I won't apologize and hug her and rekindle our lost relationship. No, I will be the thorn in her side, the edge, the slight tugging at the back of her heels.
When Claire finally cleans up the mess and returns to the table, her beans are cold. She chews them anyway, knowing that she'll need the strength to take care of us. I take the last bite of omelet, and Claire holds out her paws to take my plate from me.
"Don't treat me like a baby," I snarl. I wash the plate myself, thoroughly. I scrub until it shines, and I place it in the drying rack. She couldn't find a flaw if she tried.
When I leave the kitchen, I know she's tired. But maybe she'll be a little less tired now that she has one less dish to do. And maybe tomorrow, when I complain about her cooking, she'll realize that it's because of her that I can afford to be even slightly picky. She'll know that she's the reason we aren't starving, that she's the reason I can be sarcastic instead of sad. She has to know. Maybe.