Sarah Jick

Hope Lauder

Suddenly there’s an enormous crash from the kitchen, and the entire room goes silent. It’s the type of silence that’s so intense, so full, that you can hear it ringing in your ears. Everyone in the room thinks the same thing, but Mom is the only one who dares to breathe the word aloud. “Ben.”

Mom starts to run to the kitchen and her light blue special Christmas dress that she only wears once a year shimmers with unintended movement. Her face emanates utter terror. There is no trace of the shame that usually accompanies one of us messing up. It is the most intense fear I’ve ever seen and just looking at her makes me afraid too.

I brush the cookie crumbs off my lap and try to slip away so that no one will notice my negligence. I wish that they would blame me for whatever happened, since it was, after all, my fault that he was alone. But I know that I won’t receive that blow.

I make my way through the press of relatives in the living room discreetly until I get to Auntie Leena. My mother’s sister, she looms tall above me, her stern brown hair in a tight bun as she grabs my arm. “Why don’t you stay out here, with us?” she says, and it is not a question, but I leave anyway, scurrying down the hall to the kitchen.

As I approach the doorway I hear only a small, muffled silence, and I don’t go in just yet. Instead I wait with my back pressed against the wall next to the door, and take a deep breath. Fingering the skirt of my best dress, I listen to the undecipherable hush of Mom’s whispering and tell myself to ignore the murmur of everyone else in the other room. I know what they will be saying, anyway, so it doesn’t matter. They will be whispering to each other about how Mom can’t handle Ben and me by herself, about how this is just another example of the incompetence of Lilly Lauder. But it was my fault, not hers. Hope, not Lilly.

I stare at the blank white wall in front of me but don’t see it. I know I shouldn’t have left him, and I knew it then, but Auntie Leena only makes butterscotch cookies like that once a year. Ben can handle himself for two minutes, I had told myself. Nothing will go wrong.

All of a sudden I feel the hot burn of oncoming tears. No, I can’t cry. Nothing’s the matter, He’s just knocked something over. I tell myself this, I have to tell myself this. Nothing’s wrong. They’re all wrong. We won’t mess up. We can’t mess up.

And yet my only nice dress crumples as I slide down the wall, hug my knees to my chest, and let the tears leak over the smudged chocolate on my lips into my new white tights.


Copyright 2002-2007 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2007 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.