“She wants the key,” my step-sister said.
We were both now in the 6th grade. It was a weekend and I’d come to spend the night. This time, when my step-mother left, she kept N. in school, and so I learned where they were if not why they were there. N. wanted to stay friends and invited me to spend the night. We never got along so well.
Now she stood in front of me and told me her mother wanted my house key.
“Why?” I asked, looking up from where I sat on the pavement.
N. shrugged. “She wants you to give her your key.”
I tensed. J. had worked most of the weekend and I hadn’t had to see her much. N. and I stayed outside when she was in. In when she was out. “I’m not giving her my key.”
N. raised an eyebrow, but went back inside. She returned quickly. “She wants to clean.”
“She doesn’t need to clean. I can clean,” I said.
“Just give her the key. You know how she gets.”
While I waited for her to deliver this message and I fidgeted. I’d only said no to her once before–when she tried to change my name. N. let the door slam behind her. “She’s really mad. She’s says she’ll take you home if you don’t give her the key.”
“Fine.” I felt flushed and shaky. I wished I could walk home, and thought about doing it anyway.
A few minutes later we were in the car. I sat in the backseat alone. N. must’ve decided it was in her best interest to pretend I wasn’t there. My step-mother, however, couldn’t let me forget. “You’re father works so hard for you and all I want is to help him out and clean the house. But no. You are too selfish to help. All you do is think about yourself. I can clean that house for you.”
“I can clean it,” I whisper.
“I can’t believe you said no to me! How is your dad going to feel when I call him and tell him you won’t help me. I’m doing something nice but no, you can’t help. You’ve always been ungrateful and selfish. You don’t care what you put your dad through at all. All I want to do is help.”
“I can clean it.”
“Don’t be stupid. You don’t know how to clean a house. Your not grown. Besides, your dad will give me the key. You can’t stop me.”
I cried because she was right.
She pulled into the driveway. “I don’t know why you hate me,” she said. “All I do is try my best.” She says many things. “You’re dad thinks your so good all the time, but I know you’re a spoiled little brat.”
I got out of the car without saying goodbye to N. and I walked to the kitchen door, afraid to get out the key while she’s there. “You so stupid. You know, I’ll get that key,” she shouted out her car window and threw the car into reverse.
I cleaned the house like crazy. I washed the curtains and the inside of the microwave. I walked through the empty house shouting, “I’m not giving her the key!” I was cleaning the baseboards when Dad got home.
“Why didn’t you give her the key?” he asked. He sat on the sofa and I stood in front of him. I couldn’t speak.
“You’re a good girl. I don’t understand,” he said.
The words stuck. It hurt to talk. “I,” was all I said.
“She’s only trying to help,” he said.
“I don’t,” I said. My chest hurt. “Want.” My dad talked about being a family. “Her,” I said interrupting. “In this house.” My dad looked as if he’d never seen me before. I was not the good girl he thought.
“I’m going to give her the key,” he said.
I nodded. About a week later J. moved back in. He was shocked five months later when I left and didn’t come home.
Symbolism. From apples (forbidden or poisoned) to rings (hidden from view or thrown into fire), from winters of discontent to summers of love, from this color to that number, and from what this professor said a symbol meant to what it meant to you, stories have symbols. Intended and otherwise. Meaningful and missed. Silly.
I don’t try to put symbols in my stories. I use a color or a number or a name because of the sound. My first novel (though I’m still reluctant to confess such a thing) I called The Blue Jar and a friend and I joked how it wouldn’t work to call it The Yellow Jar or The Pink Jar or The Plaid Jar. That blue is associated with the spirit, water, and sky is just nice. But the sound of things comes first.
In school I hated it when I missed a symbol in a story and a teacher would look at me like–what? Didn’t you get that? What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong? Where do I begin?
Well, when you read do you look for symbols or ignore them? Think they’re important to spot or fine to take them as you see fit? Or do you see them in a way I haven’t thought of yet?