Little Olivia woke up in her bed. She was a little confused because the last thing she remembered was laying on the couch watching TV downstairs with her sister. Olivia was cold. She could see her breath every time she exhaled. She pulled the blankets up over her head. Just as she was starting to warm up again, the blankets were yanked away. Olivia tried to hold onto them, but her little hands weren’t strong enough so she kicked out instead catching her sister in the butt with her foot. The blankets came flying back at her. Olivia reached out to catch them and saw a hand coming at her from the side, but she was too slow to avoid it.
“Ow!” screamed Olivia.
“Well, don’t kick me then, ” her sister Izzy screamed back.
“You pulled the blankets off me,” Olivia retorted.
“You pulled them off of me first!”
“Oh,” said Olivia, “Sorry.”
They both lay in silence until Olivia’s stomach made a sound.
“You hungry?” Izzy asked.
Olivia didn’t want to admit it, but her stomach had already given her away.
“Yeah, my tummy hurts.”
“C’mon, then…let’s go find something to eat.” Izzy slipped out of bed and moved the footstool closer to the bed, held Olivia’s hands, and helped her down onto the stool. Olivia was only 3 and needed help sometimes, but Izzy didn’t mind lending a hand. They often fought, as sisters do, but they also knew they were a team. Their Grandma had told them so one afternoon while baking cookies for the girls.
She’d said, “Girls, your parents work hard and aren’t always there, so you need to be a team. You need to work together and help each other. Take care of one another. Especially you Izzy. Help Olivia and teach her the things you know.” She looked like she was going to cry then and that made the girls worry, so they listened. Once their Grandma got her emotions under control, she continued, “Be helpful to your parents when you can. Clean up after yourselves. You’re a team and together you are unstoppable.” She’d hugged them then and they had squeezed her back. They loved their Grandma. They loved visiting her because she made them feel safe.
Izzy held Olivia’s hand as they made their way quietly downstairs. They didn’t want to wake their Mom. She worked the overnight shift as a nurse at the local psychiatric hospital, or “Loony Bin” as their Dad liked to call it. Speaking of their Dad, they heard noises in the kitchen. They stopped the at the bottom of the stairs. Izzy sat down on the second to the bottom step and Olivia held onto the banister while she climbed up onto Izzy’s shoulders to peek over and look into the kitchen. Sometimes their Dad was in a good mood and sometimes it was better to just avoid him. Olivia had to push up onto her tip toes to see into the kitchen. Their Dad was moving about quickly. He seemed to be cleaning up while the coffee dripped into the pot. Olivia tried to see his face, but he kept moving out of her view.
“I can’t see him good, but he doesn’t look mad,” Olivia whispered down to Izzy. Izzy listened and didn’t hear anything worrisome. Izzy held on to Olivia and she climbed down off of Izzy’s shoulders. They were about to leave the stairs when they heard their Dad coming out of the kitchen. They quickly sat down on the stairs moving as close to the wall as they could and listened. They heard him put on his jacket, grab is briefcase, and head toward the door. He didn’t notice them. He walked out the front door and locked it behind him. The girls crept over to the front window. They saw him get into his car and start the engine. He sat there for a while letting the engine warm up. Finally, he drove away and the girls let out a breath.
They turned around and headed for the kitchen both of them dreaming of something yummy to eat. They started looking around in the pantry since they knew there was nothing left in fridge. They found some saltines. They each had a few while they continued to look around. They were lots of canned foods, but they couldn’t get the can opener to work. Izzy had tried a couple of times, but she wasn’t strong enough to get the blade point through the top of the can. There were a couple of boxes of macaroni and cheese, but they weren’t allowed to turn on the burners on the stove top. Way up high they saw boxes of cereal and a package of cookies. If only they could reach the cereal. Izzy tried to climb the shelves, but as always, when she stepped on the third shelf, it made a scary creaking sound and Izzy quickly stepped back down nearly missing the bottom shelf and falling, but she recovered at the last second and made it back down. Both girls stood there staring at the cereal willing it to fall from the shelf. Olivia’s stomach gurgled again. Izzy had to find something they could eat.
Their Mother hadn’t come out of her room to make dinner again yesterday. She stayed in there a lot. They often heard her crying and the one time they had gone in to see what was wrong, they had found their Mother sitting up in bed surrounded by opened letters scattered all over. She was holding one of the letters and just crying. When their Mother had noticed them, she cried more and shouted at them to leave her alone. So when they had heard her crying again last night as they quietly listened outside her door, they left her alone. There had been some left over fried chicken in the fridge and they had settled on that for dinner, but this morning their prospects of food seemed to be just more saltines.
As they sat on the floor of the pantry eating what was left of the crackers, Izzy looked up at the boxes of macaroni and cheese and decided she was going to break the rules. She reached up, grabbed a box and walk out of the pantry. Olivia followed her worriedly asking, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to make us breakfast.”
“But we can’t turn on the stove. We’ll get in trouble. Momma will come down with her brush again. Please Izzy, don’t get us in trouble.”
Izzy turned on her sister and said, “Don’t you wanna eat? I’ll be quiet. I’ve watched Momma make it before. Plus, if we get in trouble at least we’ll have eaten something.”
Olivia was worried, but her stomach gurgled again at the thought of getting to eat macaroni and cheese so she didn’t object further. Izzy told her to find the milk and butter in the fridge while she found a pot and a spoon. Izzy couldn’t read, but she knew she had to put water in the pot and put it on the stove. Izzy pulled a kitchen chair over to the sink and filled the pot with water. She filled it so full that she ended up spilling quite a bit of it on her way to the stove, but she got it there. Olivia pushed the chair behind her and after Izzy turned on the burner under the pot, they both climbed up onto the counter to watch the water get hot. Izzy knew you weren’t supposed to put the noodles in until the water got hot, but she wasn’t sure how long that took. Izzy decided to put the noodles in as soon as she started seeing little bubbles on the on the bottom of the pot. They took turns stirring the noodles. Izzy had seen their Mother throw noodles at the wall to see if they were done. Izzy carefully fished a noodle out of the pot and threw it at the wall. It didn’t stick, but some of the water had gotten on her hand. It was hot and she dropped the spoon so she could put her hand in her mouth.
“Are you ok Izzy?”
Izzy pulled her hand out of her mouth and looked at it. There was a little red mark, but the pain wasn’t so bad any more.
“Yeah, I’m alright.”
Izzy picked up the spoon again and started stirring the noodles, but she wouldn’t let Olivia stir anymore. Olivia was mad because she wanted to help too, but she saw the red mark on Izzy’s hand and let it go. They continued to watch the noodles in the pot and got a little worried when the water started boiling. Sometimes the water popped out onto the counter, so Izzy made Olivia get down so she could move away from the stove top a bit, but still see into the pot. Their stomachs started grumbling again so Izzy moved back over and fished out another noodle to throw at the wall. It didn’t stick, but they didn’t want to wait anymore. Izzy turned off the burner. Olivia found the strainer and threw it into the sink. Izzy carefully carried the pot to the sink and set it down before retrieving the chair and climbing up so she could pour the noodles out. She fixed the strainer in the sink first and then poured the noodles in. She was so scared, but she was determined to make them something to eat. Once the water had drained, Izzy put the noodles back in the pot and poured in a little bit of milk while Olivia opened the stick of butter and threw in in the pot. Izzy struggled to get the package of powdered cheese open, but eventually she did and she poured it in. They took turns stirring again. They were excited to see the ingredients mix together and savored the smell. It seemed to take forever for the butter to melt. They tried to wait, but they were too hungry. Olivia got the bowls and Izzy scooped the macaroni and cheese in. They sat on the floor and quickly stuffed the noodles into their mouths. It didn’t tasted the same as when their Mother cooked it, but it was still good. They continued stuffing their mouths afraid their Mother would come downstairs any minute and find out what they had done. She didn’t and eventually their stomachs felt full. They had done it. They had made themselves food. They looked at each other and smiled.