Rivalry

So, I wrote this short story for a writing workshop class I took last term. I don’t really like it. Hmm. Maybe not the way to begin this, but whatever! Check it out if you want. (It’s about family and love and competition!)


A sharp scream pierced through my sleep and left me sitting up, staring through the black of night at the looming silhouette of a man. My stomach lurched while the dark figure remained still and ominous in front of me. As my mind shook off the haze of sleep, the visages of nightmares faded into my bedroom walls and within my closet, leaving nothing but a winter coat in place of the man. I’ve been watching way too many horror movies recently, I thought to myself as I placed my hand on my chest, feeling my startled heart slow.

“2:47 AM,” I read the illuminated numbers on my clock out loud, as though this might make them false. Exasperated, I fell back into my bed, my long brown hair restlessly knotting behind my ears while I prayed for sleep.

As the memories of my dreams faded, I began to relax, and my eyelids grew heavy once more. However, this first night at my parents’ house for the holidays was unfamiliar, so, when a mouse scratched the inside of the walls, I was once again fully alert, aware of the absence of trains and cars and meandering drunken college students. Those familiar city noises had been replaced with stirring trees in the wind, inexplicable creaks throughout the old farm-house, an occasional coyote’s howl, and that damn scampering rodent in the wall: which was there once more, no doubt rectifying his little home within my own.

“I just want to get back to sleep!” I hissed as my fist hit the wall where I could hear the mouse. Something jumped off the wall in response to the impact and landed with a muffled thud upon scattered clothes. What was that? I turned on my lamp with the pull of a beaded, metallic string. Stammering out of bed, I found my footing somewhere between dirty clothes, used dishes, books, and collected dirt. I smiled as I looked at my family picture that rested atop my nightstand: my father with his arm around my mother, me giving my younger sister, Stephanie, bunny ears, and our older brother fidgeting as he tried to appear as tall as my dad. We were all dressed in blue and yellow, standing in front of the Michigan stadium after one of the many football games my diehard University of Michigan fans and alumni parents had taken us to.

Circling around my bed, I found the culprit of the thud: another picture. This one was just of Steph and me; we were dressed in orange and black swimsuits: our high school’s colors. I was smiling enthusiastically and bouncing on the balls of my feet. She was timidly holding her own hands, an unsure smile and glance my way that looked like embarrassment. A wave of memories came over me: our early morning swim team meetings, our parents cheering us on at local and state events, our arms being too sore to brush the knots out of our hair after practice, and dreading meets at Jackson High, the pool that was always well below the standard 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The water felt like icicles on that first dive, but we were swimming in a steam room by the time practice was over.

The picture was our last swim meet together before I graduated high school and Steph became a junior. I had just beaten our school’s record for the 100 meter butterfly; my ecstasy was clear in that picture. Steph was always in my brother’s and mine shadow throughout high school, working incredibly hard to be seen as someone other than “Angela’s younger sister” or “one of Brad’s sisters.” We were always competitive as we grew up, and over the past two years Steph went on to beat all my swim records except that 100 meter butterfly. She was never as good at that stroke as me, but her breaststroke and art skills would beat mine any day.

Another mouse distracted me from my recollections as it scurried through the walls. I smiled as I carefully replaced the photo back on the wall. Then I grimaced when I noticed the old socks with dried mud that the picture had landed on. Yuck, I’ll do laundry tomorrow… for now, I thought as I filled my arms with two bowls, a few plates, and some silverware that would soon rust if I did not clean it.

“Someday I’ll be a clean person… Someday I’ll be clean person…” I promised myself as I pulled open my door. The creak of the rusting hinges permeated through to my hand and left an anxiety in my spine akin to someone’s subtle breath in my ear. Creeeepppyyy, I only dared to think. I reached around the corner to flick the stairway’s light switch on as quickly as possible, dishes balancing on my left arm for a moment. Each old wooden stair bent beneath my feet, announcing my presence to anything in the adjoining rooms. As I made my way to the living room, the filtered and muffled voices of actors could be heard seeping under the door.

Expecting to see my mother asleep on the couch, I opened the door to find nothing but unoccupied furniture and a DVD’s menu unabashedly looping itself on the television. I stepped in front of the television and noted the lack of voices I had heard from the stairway.

“Strange… I thought I heard…”

“Angela! Oh!”

A spoon clattered against my dishes as my arms and heart jerked from my surprise. I spun around on the cold wood floor to see my mother turn on the dining room light, illuminating her and sending rays of light through the glass table top.

“Goodness, Mom, you scared the crap out of me,” I said as I stabilized the dishes in my hands and relaxed my muscles.

“You startled me too! I wasn’t expecting you to be up.”

“Well, I think we have a similar sleeping schedule with our insomnia and all… but goodness don’t sneak up on me like that! Seriously…” I shook my head as I began my way towards her and the kitchen.

“Oh, let me get those for you,” she said as she grabbed my dishes from my hand without waiting for a response.

“Uh… thanks. Oh, I didn’t notice when you got home; I was upstairs reading. Have a good day? And how was counseling with Steph?” I questioned apprehensively, curious about my sister’s future.

“Good, good, everything’s…,” she trailed off as I heard the clink of dishes in the sink from the unlit kitchen. I began walking towards the kitchen, but she quickly exited, baring the path from the dining room.

“Everything’s what?” I asked as I folded my arms and leaned my weight onto my right leg.

“Everything’s… umm… no, it’s nothing. I’ll tell you later.”

“Umm…” I hesitated as I wondered whether or not I should press her further. I looked over her shoulder into the darkened kitchen and noticed her shift in the peripheral of my vision. “Okay… well… I’ll just go back upstairs then…” I stepped back and felt the cold wooden planks groan beneath me and rekindle the anxious whisper along my spine. I made my way back upstairs, two steps at a time, without looking back. I turned off the stairway light and entered my room. Door closed, I placed my back against it and felt my hands shaking.

“Why… what was that tension?” I faintly said as I firmly gripped my hands until they stilled. Then I remembered.

“Dang it. I still have to pee.”

Back downstairs, I could hear bristles against dishes as water cascaded over the sound of my footsteps. Finding the opposite side of the living room from the sound, I carefully opened and closed the bathroom door next to my parents’ room.

Within seconds of sitting, I heard a sound tumble over the running water.

Thud.

Something had fallen in the bathtub to my left. I sharply breathed in and told myself of all the precariously placed shampoo bottles along the walls. I then heard a dripping.

Drip.

My gaze followed the sound along the shower curtain.

Drop.

Dark red was pooling on the white tiles.

Another red raindrop splashed, a small ripple coursing through the thick liquid as it stained the grout.

The air stopped. A crimson drop remained suspended from the shower curtain. I heard the faucet’s handle squeak until the water stopped flowing in the kitchen. I stood, held myself with one arm, and reached with the other towards the shower curtain. My mother’s footsteps came across the dining room towards me. I gripped onto the blue plastic and hesitated. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the locked bathroom door.

“Angela! What was that noise? Are you in the bathroom?” She sounded anxious.

With one jerk of my arm I uncovered the bathtub. The thick red drops traced their way up the edge of the curtain to their source on the bathtub’s ledge. I put my hands over my mouth in terror as the crimson stains scorched a place for themselves within my memory.

“I can explain! There is a good reason for this…” my mother said frantically as she pounded on the door.

Swiftly turning, I opened the door and looked my mother in the eyes.

“What is this? What is this abomination?!” I pointed towards the bathtub.

“Your sister… she… she’s going to OSU,” my mother said, defeated, as we looked towards the scarlet and gray paint cans.

“We’re going to paint her room tomorrow.”

“You mean MY old room? MY Michigan room?”

“Yes… I’m so sorry… I didn’t know how to break it to you.”

We both stood in silence for a moment, considering the scarlet paint and how it stained our family’s perfectly blue shower curtain.

“Well… I know who my number one rival in college will be now,” I smirked as I considered the new scale of our sisterly competition.

“Oh, don’t you even get started! Steph has always worked to get out of your shadow, and you insist with this endless competition. You might consider toning that down a little,” Mom suggested while picking up the fallen paint can.

“Hey, hey, Steph wouldn’t have a shadow to try to get out of if it wasn’t for my ‘endless competition,’” I ended mockingly, dabbing at the red paint on the tile with a wad of toilet paper.

“Whatever. Don’t come crying to me when she beats all your records again,” she said with a coy smile as I finished cleaning the paint stain and tossed the paper into the trash.

“What? I’ve never come crying to you!” I objected, placing my hands on my hips while I jutted my bottom lip out.

My Mom looked over at me. She rolled her eyes as I began to lose control of my lip and we burst into laughter.

We stopped when we heard the creak of a door and saw my Dad emerge from his bedroom.

“What the heck are you guys doing?” he asked with disheveled hair.

“Stuff,” I said, still struggling to control my fit of giggles.

“Hun, dontcha think this’ll be a lot of fun: trying to decide which daughter to cheer for? C’mon, Angela, we have cake in the kitchen,” my Mom gestured towards our snack. My dad simply shook his head.

“Is this your after midnight, midnight snack?” my Dad asked.

“Somethin’ like that.”

“Remember, if you don’t start staying in your bed throughout the whole night, Dark Blanket Man will get you,” he pointed my way with a warning.

“OH. MY. GOD. I’m not five anymore, Dad!” I stormed into the kitchen as he retreated to his bedroom.

A red sweater rested on our countertop, next to an already half-eaten cake bleeding scarlet and grey. I cut myself a large piece of cake and added one scoop of vanilla and one scoop of strawberry ice cream to my delicious snack. I smiled as I ate, thanking God for the wonderful family he blessed me with, down to every last unintentional nightmare, competition, and laugh.