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Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction

The following is a piece of writing submitted by Janee on April 23, 2008

Micah's Birthday Cake

"Toss me an egg, will you, Honeybun?"

Sue, perching precariously on a high stool and leaning against the counter top, giggled and said, "Do you really want me to toss it?" She picked up a brown egg and mimed throwing it underhand across the kitchen.

"No, silly," I said, "but you can roll it if you like."

I would not have said that, except that the counter top has a raised lip that would prevent an egg from rolling off. Sue set the egg down, and with a careful flick of her fingers she sent it teetering toward me. It banged gently against the back of my hand and wobbled to a halt.

She giggled again.

It amazes me how resilient she is, how quickly she bounced back from the awkward loneliness that plagued her when she first moved in. Her older brother Micah still sits in his room in a silent sulk most of the time, and barely talks at meal time. Sue is beginning to act like she has lived here her whole life, though it's only been two weeks since her parents sent her to me.

Sue watched closely as I cracked the egg over the edge of the bowl and spilled its contents into the bowl. "I think I could do that," she boasted.

"You don't think you'd make a mess of my kitchen?"

"No gram. I can be careful."

I believed that. I've watched her since she moved in two weeks ago, and I've seen the methodical way she makes her bed and the way she folds and sorts even her dirty clothes. Even the tying of shoes is a precisely orchestrated event that is accomplished with furrowed brow and intense concentration. I can't help but wonder if this careful attention to the tiny details of life is her way of avoiding the bigger picture of a home that is rapidly falling apart.

"Okay," I said, sliding the mixing bowl toward her. "But just one - otherwise you'll ruin Micah's birthday cake."

I watched while Sue, with childish concentration and tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth, cracked the egg and dumped it in the batter. When she was done, I showed her that two tiny pieces of egg shell had slipped in, and together we laughed at Sue's frustrated attempts to retrieve them. Sue is no quitter, though, and after a couple minutes of repeated attacks on the batter with tiny fingers, the egg shell fragments were removed.

I watched as Sue carefully mixed the batter by hand, and I resisted the temptation to talk to her; I knew that she couldn't converse with me without losing count of her strokes, and that would upset her. When she declared the batter ready, I poured it into the cake pan and opened the oven door so Sue could slide it in. Sue set the timer.

We sat at the kitchen table to play a game of "Go Fish" while we waited for the bell to ring. As we passed cards back and forth, I said, "How was kindergarten today?"

"Gerald gave me his brownie at lunchtime."

It was the kind of answer that frustrated her parents, because it was no answer at all. But I loved those answers; though they told me very little about kindergarten, they were a window into the heart of my grandchild.

"Gerald must be a nice boy," I said.

She giggled. "His hair sticks up on top because he never combs it, and he can burp louder than anyone." To listen to the delight in her voice, you might have supposed she was announcing that Gerald is the President of the United States.

I laughed aloud, and since she was already giggling, it didn't take much for her mirth to expand into full-blown guffaws, and soon we couldn't even hold our cards steady for all our laughing.

As the timer rang, and I removed the cake from the oven, it occurred to me that my grandchildren have become a window into the selfishness of my own heart. When we sing happy birthday to Micah tonight and he sits there like a sullen bump on a log, when we give him his presents and he opens them with careless and unappreciative indifference, I will think to myself: I hope their parents work out their differences and take them back home soon.

But for now, laughing with little Sue as we spread icing on a birthday cake, I find myself hoping that they will take all the time in the world.

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