The heavenly fragrance of fresh baking wafted into the air, almost beckoning Oskar from his bedroom as it permeated his nostrils. Curiosity piqued, he made quick work of the short passageway from his bedroom to their apartments kitchen, clutching his dog-earred copy of The Adventures of Pinocchio to his chest as he entered the room. His mother was standing over the bench, oversized floral oven-mitts adorning her hands as she busied herself with cutlery and an assortment of ingredients.
Oskar bounced up to greet her, his long hair chaotically falling in the way of his eyes as he latched himself onto her side and gave her a strong hug, the sort that always surprised people who didnt know him well and couldnt tell how strong such a diminutive boy could be. His mother gasped in shock, but as she looked down and saw who it was gripping her waist, her surprised expression gave way to a rueful smile.
Oskar gave a toothy grin and released her, offering her the question thatd been on his mind ever since hed first caught a smell of that magical scent.
Whatcha makin, mummy?
Chocolate and boysenberry upside down cake, your fathers favourite.
Yummy! Oskar could almost feel the drool forming at his lips, dabbing at his mouth with the corner of his sleeve as he tried to catch a glimpse of his mothers handiwork. Shed always been so good at baking and cooking; whereas he could only really make toast (which was burnt, more often than not), despite his valiant efforts. He cupped his head in his palms as he gazed up at her, his wide blue eyes glassy under the kitchens lights as he continued. Can I help?
Its almost done, honey. But you could always help me with the frosting?
She paused for a moment to withdraw further ingredients from the pantry and place them on them bench, before adding Of course, I shouldve taught you how to make frosting awhile ago. Sometimes what the cake looks like is even more important than how it tastes. Theres a lot of things I shouldve taught you, really.
Like how to make brownies have an extra-crispy outside but an extra-gooey inside?
His mother smiled at that, but her eyes didnt.
Tabitha bit her lip and paused for a moment, as if deep in thought; though Oskar was clueless as to what she could possibly be thinking about. After a wavering exhale, she dusted her flour-stained palms against the cotton of her apron, before bending down beside the kitchen sink and opening the cupboard beneath to retrieve a half-full bottle of murky liquid and a small glass. Oskar tilted his head in curiosity, trying to make out what sort of soda or juice it could be. Briefly, the notion that it mightnt be either of those things but instead one of the adult drinks his parents warned him about entered his head, but he dismissed it right away. Why would his parents warn him about such things if they themselves partook in them?
A cavalcade of questions had collected in Oskars mind, ready to burst free at any moment as he watched his mother slowly pour her glass half full before returning the mysterious bottle to its hiding place. He held his tongue, though. He didnt want to risk earning his mothers ire the same way he did with his father whenever he couldnt help but express his curiosity.
His mother took a deep swig from her cup and grimaced as she swallowed. Oskars lips downturned at her pained expression, fearful that shed hurt herself somehow, and he almost rushed to help her; but his anxiety ebbed away quickly as her usual smiling visage returned, even mellower than before.
Oh honey, she said, voice slightly roughened by whatever liquid shed consumed. Come sit down.
But what about the cake-
Never mind about that for now, honey. Come sit down with your mama.
Oskar nodded obsequiously, padding along behind her as they made their way to the dining table a beaten-up piece of furniture his parents had cheaply purchased secondhand, and which was strewn with magazines, old paperwork, and an empty fruit bowl. Oskar couldnt remember the last time hed seen its dusty surface clear of all the various miscellanea; his parents only cleared it up when they had company over, and now that his grandma had relocated to Las Vegas, guests at the Pearce household were few and far between. When he was younger, the whole family would gather there together at 6.00pm, right on the dot, and have dinner together where theyd talk about their days and plans for the future. But as he grew up, those days had become more and more infrequent, before disappearing altogether. Oskar missed them he didnt like eating in the lounge while his father was fixated on the television and his mother busied herself with embroidery, nary a word exchanged between the trio. But he couldnt do much to change it, save for hoping and praying each night that one day theyd come together and be a proper family again.
He was pulled out of his reminiscence by his mother pulling out two chairs and sweeping aside a stack of papers, lightly gesturing for him to seat himself down as she did so herself.
Its time I taught you a little something, she said softly, placing her hands on his. When youre sad, what do you do, honey?
I... I get upset? I want to be by myself or around my friends. And sometimes I cry a little. But not all the time, I promise! He hastily added, not wanting his mother to think he was a crybaby.
I want you to be honest with me now. I promise I wont be upset or mad at you. But do you get sad often?
Sometimes, yeah. But always look on the bright side of life, right?
Of course, honey. But I want to teach you a little trick for what to do when you do get sad, okay?
Oskar nodded eagerly in response. It was almost like his mother had read his mind; whenever he got upset over something like when a kid at school called him a name or a character in one of his stories was in peril knowing he was in distress was just another addition to the bad mood hed found himself in, and in those times hed always pray for some instant fix.
Its nothing more than a simple smile. See? The weary, weathered expression that had marred her features instantly vanished, replaced by a vibrant smile that seemed to smooth out the lines in her face and bring a radiant sparkle to her eyes. Oskars eyebrows shot up his forehead and his already-large eyes widened even further, his awe at her transformation rendering him almost unaware of his mother draining the remainder of her glass.
It helps you cover your emotions. Its an important skill to learn. If nobody knows what youre really feeling, then they cant hurt you. For instance, if someone knows how much you love them, theyll take you for granted. Theyll hurt you constantly. Words are a crueler weapon than fists, but a shining smile is your greatest shield.
Oskar nodded. He thought he was understanding what his mama was saying, but it was a rare occasion that the two of them talked about something so serious. Her tone was ordinarily so perpetually upbeat and crisp, like the princesses in the Disney movies hed spent his childhood poring over. But what about the stories? Theyre still true, right? Doesnt love conquer everything in the end? Oskar cut himself short, remembering his vow not to assault her with a barrage of questions.
Tabitha hesitated for a moment before replying, her eyes taking on an ever-so-slight shin as her smile wavered for the briefest of seconds. Of course, honey. If you want the stories to come true, just keep on smiling, alright? And then I promise you they will. Hold on to that. And then, when times are tough, that shield will remain just as strong.
What tough times do you mean, mummy?
Like when you finally realise that your husband, the man you vowed to love unconditionally your entire life, is, despite all your hopes there was something deeper beneath the surface, nothing more than a self-centred pig.
Oskars brow creased at this. That was an awfully specific tough time. Was it the plot of one of his mothers books? There was the unthinkable alternative, of course, but that unspeakable notion proved to be not so unspeakable as it flew from his lips and into the air.
Are you angry at papa, mummy?
Yes, honey. But I cant let him know that. Because if he did, then hed leave us. And my shield... its taken such a beating over the years, had to stay up for so long... it doesnt work as well any more. Thats why- she gestured towards the half-finished cake still situated upon the kitchen bench - I have to distract him with other things. Like baking, and... She shook her head and glanced down at her glass, swirling around the lingering droplets still caught inside. Anyway, thats not important, honey. Why dont you practice using your shield now?
Oskar nodded, and offered her the brightest grin he could manage, exposing his pearly white teeth and crinkling the corners of his eyes. His mothers own smile seemed to widen ever further in response; it was the proudest of him hed ever seen her be.
Thats perfect, honey. Just keep doing it, just like that.
And then nobody will hurt me?
I hope so.
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Mother Knows Best
- Joined: November 18th, 2012, 7:49 pm