Iowa Writes

LISA GRAY GIURATO
excerpt from "A Fairy Tale"


        "She says she thinks she could get well again, if children believe in fairies. Do you believe? Say quick that you believe!" The mom on the screen reads to her daughter from Peter Pan.
        "I do, I do, I do." I whisper with Gertie while watching E.T. at our small town's movie theatre. My hands are clasped around my legs with my knees up to my chin and my feet rest on the edge of the burgundy seat. I begged my older brother to take me back to watch it again and we saved the quarters our dad would leave us on the dining room table every Sunday until we had enough money to go. Drew Barrymore, the little girl playing Gertie on the screen is my favorite in the movie. I like her blonde pigtails. I envy the long ribbons in her hair and wish she were my best friend. Her older brother Elliot reminds me of my own brother. It's not just because they both ride their bikes everywhere or believe in aliens, but because he can be kind even when he's annoyed with big brother duty.
        The next morning, we get ready for school. I follow my brother down the orange shag carpeted stairs, being careful to step gently on the squeaky steps so we don't wake up our mother. I'm hungry this morning and watch as Sam gets out the bread from the cabinet. He smoothes out a dollop of mayo onto the bread. Squirts the mustard on next into squiggly lines and tops it off with a red blot of ketchup that he spreads with a butter knife. He adds another slice and begins to eat his condiment sandwich, rinsing off the butter knife and putting it away as he eats.
        "Want some?" he asks while carefully brushing crumbs off the counter into his hand, knowing I'll say no.
        "No," I say as he dumps the crumbs into the sink's drain and I start to tear up as my stomach growls.
        "Jesus, don't cry. You want me to make you some toast?"
        "Yes," I sniff in my whiniest voice but inside I'm grateful. Although I can't always trust Sam, like the time he told me a dog biscuit was a cookie and I believed him until I bit down into it, most of the time, he looks out for me.

        "She says she thinks she could get well again, if children believe in fairies. Do you believe? Say quick that you believe!" The mom on the screen reads to her daughter from Peter Pan.
        "I do, I do, I do." I whisper with Gertie while watching E.T. at our small town's movie theatre. My hands are clasped around my legs with my knees up to my chin and my feet rest on the edge of the burgundy seat. I begged my older brother to take me back to watch it again and we saved the quarters our dad would leave us on the dining room table every Sunday until we had enough money to go. Drew Barrymore, the little girl playing Gertie on the screen is my favorite in the movie. I like her blonde pigtails. I envy the long ribbons in her hair and wish she were my best friend. Her older brother Elliot reminds me of my own brother. It's not just because they both ride their bikes everywhere or believe in aliens, but because he can be kind even when he's annoyed with big brother duty.
        The next morning, we get ready for school. I follow my brother down the orange shag carpeted stairs, being careful to step gently on the squeaky steps so we don't wake up our mother. I'm hungry this morning and watch as Sam gets out the bread from the cabinet. He smoothes out a dollop of mayo onto the bread. Squirts the mustard on next into squiggly lines and tops it off with a red blot of ketchup that he spreads with a butter knife. He adds another slice and begins to eat his condiment sandwich, rinsing off the butter knife and putting it away as he eats.
        "Want some?" he asks while carefully brushing crumbs off the counter into his hand, knowing I'll say no.
        "No," I say as he dumps the crumbs into the sink's drain and I start to tear up as my stomach growls.
        "Jesus, don't cry. You want me to make you some toast?"
        "Yes," I sniff in my whiniest voice but inside I'm grateful. Although I can't always trust Sam, like the time he told me a dog biscuit was a cookie and I believed him until I bit down into it, most of the time, he looks out for me.
        I watch as my brother brings down from the highest cabinet, the toaster, the butter, sugar, and cinnamon. I cover my mouth in my excitement so I don't squeal out loud because I realize he's going to make me cinnamon toast, my favorite, and a definite contraband food item. I nervously glance at the kitchen door, making sure we are still being quiet enough not to wake up Mom. Four slices of bread between the two of us. We were breaking the rules, Mom's one slice of bread per sandwich rule. She worried she would have fat children. Neither my brother or I had an ounce of chubbiness on our bodies but we were strictly monitored for signs of fat. My mother was thin and petite at 5'2". She power-walked everywhere and when she was home, she would force us to do the same.
        I eat both slices of cinnamon toast and we leave for school. Both of us forget to put the toaster away before we leave. It is always the small careless mistakes that get us in trouble.
        At school I carry my lunch tray across the cafeteria and sit down at the assigned table when I see my mom, smiling pleasantly, her blue eyes sparkling, and her long brown hair pulled back in a tight braid. She's not wearing her work uniform, I think. Why isn't she going to work? I freeze and wait as she walks briskly over to my table, the sweat under my arms is already starting to pool uncomfortably. I know my face is red because I can feel the heat traveling up my neck and onto my cheeks. This can't be good, I think.
        "Hello, Lisa," she says as she pulls out of her denim bag a hair brush and I know then, why she is here. She does this sometimes. She comes to school and brushes my hair, which is messy because I don't bother to brush it. I have long blonde hair that extends to the middle of my back and I hate it. All of the girls have cute short haircuts that end either at their chin or brush the very tops of their shoulders. My mom has never allowed me to cut my hair. When she has a point to make, like today, she comes to school and brushes my hair while I sit frozen, unable to eat my lunch, because I know that later in the afternoon, the same kids that are whispering and pointing at me right now will ask me why my mom comes to brush my hair. They will ask while laughing behind their hands, nudging whoever is standing beside them. I will smile, pretending it is funny and look down at the tops of my too small, brown Mary Jane shoes to hide the tears forming in my eyes.
        As she pulls the brush forcefully down the back of my head, I wince as she rips through a knot in my hair. I hesitate to ask her a question because it is standard practice for my brother and I not to ask questions because they usually bring additional suffering upon our heads, but I can't help myself. I blurt it out before thinking.
        "Why aren't you wearing your uniform?"
        "I'm not working today."
        My heart pounds. I squeeze my eyes shut to keep from crying. I know Sam and I are in trouble when we get home. As the knots from my hair smooth out to shiny lines of cascading blonde locks, sharp painful knots form in my stomach. Ulcers. I was diagnosed with ulcers last year when my parents took me to the emergency room out of fear when I couldn't move off the floor from the pain. The ER physician was puzzled why a girl so young would have ulcers. My parents had no answers for him and I didn't provide him with any, instead I just stared at him, pleading with my eyes.
        There is no way for me to tell Sam before he sees Mom. If I'm lucky, I might be able to catch up with him on the walk home.
        I never see him although I run. On the steps to my house, I can hear her voice as I open the front door. Spittle flies from her mouth. Sam's backpack is in the doorway to the dining room. Her back is to me and I see his face. He doesn't cry like I would. The sun is shining brightly through the window turning the dust motes suspended in the sun's rays into floating sequins. I want to disappear.
        She notices me and I shrink back into the foyer but it is too late. She asks me to get the belt, which hangs on a hook in my parents' bedroom. I realize my brother has taken the full blame and I now have to walk through the dining room, passing her frame which radiates heat, propulsive waves that follow just behind me as I walk through the kitchen, passing through the short hall with doors to the basement and even though I know she is still in the dining room I feel her eyes staring into the back of my head. I pass the door to the bathroom and briefly consider going inside, locking the door behind me. Then, I enter the darkness of my parents' bedroom.
        The curtains are always closed. The belt hangs on the wall across from the doorway, on the other side of their bed. Their bedroom is cold. I never come in here unless I have to. My hands are shaking as I think about what is going to happen to Sam and what could be happening to me if I decide to tell her that it was both of us who ate the bread this morning. I begin to cry as I take the belt down from the wall, holding it out from me like a serpent I want to keep under control.
        I make eye contact again with my brother as I hand the belt to my mom without looking at her. He is not crying even though by this point, big wracking heaves are making it difficult for me to breathe. I run upstairs before I'm asked to do anything else. I wait at the top of the stairs for Sam. I hear words like toaster, crumbs, 4 slices of bread. I cry and I think one judge, no jury. Punishment determined to be the belt with the metal grommets perfectly placed along the leather, 3 across and 24 down the length. I count them in my head as I cry, like rosary beads every time I hear the sting of the belt on Sam. Each slap on skin punctuated by silence from Sam and another sob from me. 72 grommet circles in all. Would we get to the end before she is done? Count them, one for each stinging smack of leather and metal on skin. Like an engraving without meaning. Red circles pressed into flesh, a randomized pattern, a Cubist painting of anger. He never cries.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


LISA GRAY GIURATO

Lisa Gray Giurato lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with her two sons.  A graduate of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, she has taught writing at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.  She has been published in The Sun and co-edited an anthology published in 2014 called, We Might As Well Call It the Lyric Essay.  You can also find her tweeting about The Essay Review, a journal for which she is the managing editor.

"A Fairy Tale" is from an essay to be published in a forthcoming anthology called Fiction in Disguise.

This page was first displayed
on March 06, 2015

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