Big Girls Know the Difference Between Fantasy and Reality

by | Stop Making Sense 2 - Day 1

Big Girls Know the Difference Between Fantasy and Reality

My sister is at a sleepover, so Mom makes me banana pancakes with real maple syrup as a treat. The syrup tastes like it poured right out of a tree spout and onto my pancakes. Mom starts speculating about when Kait will call for a ride home and whether she’ll be back in time for lunch. I see Kait and her friends in unicorn pajamas eating chocolate chip pancakes and chasing each other around pine trees. Through a full mouth, I say, “She won’t be back for hours.”
The air stills as Mom’s face swings toward me. No outside noises make it through the open window in the kitchen. It’s like right before a storm. I scramble to discover what’s wrong.
“Stop it,” Mom demands.
I stop chewing and statuefy, mirroring her. “Stop what?”
“You know what,” Mom says. “You don’t know that’s going to happen.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t,” Mom says. “You have no evidence. Do you know what evidence is?” I shake my head. “Evidence is also called proof. It means a reason to believe what you think.”
I swallow the pancake chunks stalled in my mouth. “I saw a picture in my head.”
Mom plants her palms on the counter as if she’s trying to collapse it into the floor. “That’s not evidence, Lizzy. That’s a picture in your head. Don’t you see those when I read you fairytales?”
Grammy always says to be gentle with her. That she can’t fly as fast as I can and there are times where I have to let her be right, even when she’s not. “I guess.”
“Dragons aren’t real. Girls can’t let down their hair for someone to climb. No fairy godmother is coming to save you. It’s important to know the difference between fantasy and reality. I know you’re still little, but you need to know the difference. How else can I trust you? How can anyone else?” She pushes hair away from my eyes to burrow further inside.
Her need overloads my senses. Her voice is all I can hear, her eyes all I can focus on. And I know that what she really needs is for me to lie to her. To pretend that the reality she sees is all there is.
“Can I trust you?” Mom asks softly.
The tickle inside becomes a tear, ripping me in half. Standing next to me is an identical but smiling version of myself. She seems lighter, untroubled, ready to say and do what’s necessary for her to make everyone else happy and ensure her survival.
“Who are you? What’s going on?” I ask. But no sound comes out. I clutch my throat. It feels the same. I speak, I scream, I sing but nothing comes out. An eternity passes as I become marginally smaller under Mom’s watchful eye.
My happy twin elbows me out of the way and takes my seat. To answer Mom, she chirps, “Yes.”
Mom gives her a tearful smile and goes downstairs. With her out of hearing, my twin sews herself back into me with electricity. The residual zap jingles my fingers and toes. My appetite is gone.

8 Comments

  1. David O'Connor

    Chelsea, I really like how the daily, the normal, turns surreal without realizing it (although I might think about not giving it away in the title. I love the image… like it was poured out of a tree… and the idea… she really needs is for me to lie to her. I think there is a little more to flush out here with the mother, maybe a hint of why, the trust/not trust question could be ratcheted up a touch, not given away but more hints, what if the sister came home early, or never? Great work, thanks for sharing!

  2. Roberta Beary

    So many feelings came through when I read this story.

    I love the idea of a ‘happy twin’ that is compliant where the actual daughter is not. The disassociation as the other daughter watches her ‘twin’ comes through loud and clear.

    “An eternity passes as I become marginally smaller under Mom’s watchful eye.” Most of my friends felt this at one time, although we didn’t know how to articulate it!

    There’s a hint of something sinister here but not sure I get it: “Grammy always says to be gentle with her. That she can’t fly as fast as I can and there are times where I have to let her be right, even when she’s not.” And the mother’s repeated use of the word, ‘Evidence’ adds to the weirdness (inappropriate language for the daughter’s age) of the conversation.

    Thanks for this one, Chelsea!

  3. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Chelsea, thanks for your patience with getting you onto the site last night. Wow, this is such an interesting psychological drama unfolding with mother-daughter-sister here. Love the thread-through of how, even as kids, we “get” the damage that is happening with parents, and when the mirror imagery comes into play, it becomes even more complex. This is a great start to something very deep, and complex. Truly layered. “How can I trust you? How can anyone else?” WOW. These unanswerable questions are potent and so creepy! I love that you are toying with the dynamics within families and mothers/ daughters.

  4. Koss Just Koss

    Hey Chelsea,
    Really enjoyed this, and there’s much to conjure in the missing bits. It really resonates.

  5. Benjamin Niespodziany

    “Her need overloads my senses.” This one seems to be the heart of the piece. It’s a heartbreaking story that slowly slips away from reality in such a seamless/lucid way. Sorrowful read, but really well written and well paced. I’d love to see more of the happy twin at the end, and the line “With her out of hearing, my twin sews herself back into me with electricity” I pictured the two being sewn together, but the electricity threw me off a little. Maybe “sews herself back with needle and thread” – or if you want to keep electricity – “zaps herself back into me with electricity”

  6. Meg Tuite

    Hi Chelsea,
    The menace of the mother and her secrets comes out like the slow snake of a horror film: “The air stills as Mom’s face swings toward me. No outside noises make it through the open window in the kitchen. It’s like right before a storm. I scramble to discover what’s wrong.”
    using:air stills, face swings, storm, scramble… gorgeous
    “Her need overloads my senses.”
    My suggestion: amp up the dialogue, maybe let go of that title because it’s all muddled no matter what mom says.
    “An eternity passes as I become marginally smaller under Mom’s watchful eye.”
    And because you have this line that says it all, ” To pretend that the reality she sees is all there is.” Delete: ” And I know that what she really needs is for me to lie to her.”
    Great piece. LOVE!

  7. Len Kuntz

    Hi Chelsea,

    There are so many dynamics at work here, plus you’ve packed in a ton of tension. I loved this bit bounces up the themes of trust and faith–“Evidence is also called proof. It means a reason to believe what you think.” And that ending, the last five paragraphs, really ratchets things up and left me sort of breathless. Terrific work.

  8. Lisa Alletson

    Chelsea, I love this story and how you express that relatable mother-daughter dynamic.

    This part about the shared knowledge, and perhaps genetic trait, between grandmother/granddaughter is simply wonderful. I’d love to see this concept expanded in a longer story, “Grammy always says to be gentle with her. That she can’t fly as fast as I can and there are times where I have to let her be right, even when she’s not. “I guess.”

    The second half feels like it’s covering a lot, and could be expanded.

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