Like the Prose: Challenge #29 – Revisit one of your previous challenge pieces and rewrite it from a different POV. (I chose Carob Drops.)
“I will check on her,” I say, “Stay by the fire. Enjoy your wine.” I leave my wife on the couch and move into the kitchen. Calling up the stairs, I assure our young houseguest, “Sophie, it is just a power outage from the storm. You are safe.”
A tremulous voice responds, “Okay.”
I’ve already got the kettle on – fortunately our stove is a gas one – and a mug ready with a bag of fragrant peppermint tea. Peppermint was my favorite, as a boy, and I suspect the child in our loft will appreciate it also. If you stir in just the right amount of turbinado sugar or organic honey it is as if you are drinking a candy-cane.
The kettle whistles. I pour the water over the bag, agitate it with a spoon, and gather the rest of my supplies: a storm lantern, a battered paperback novel, a zip-lock bag of tiny brown candies. Separately these things seem ordinary. Together, they are an arsenal meant to battle a small girl’s fear of (I chuckle to myself as the clichéd phrase comes to mind unbidden) a dark and stormy night.
The tea is ready. I remove the bag after pressing out the water, and decide honey is better than sugar on this night, though I’m generous with the sticky sweetener. In doing so, I become the little girl’s co-conspirator, and perhaps, one day, a friend, rather than the strange brown man who married her mother’s college roommate.
I light the lantern, and place it, and everything else on a bed tray – the kind the with the fold-down legs. So armed, I leave the candle-lit glow of the kitchen and climb the stairs to the loft where our bedrooms are. Sophie is in the smallest one. It’s not more than a nook, really: a small space for a small child. Perhaps, one day, the child will be his child. (I spend a moment imagining a daughter with Emily’s bright blue eyes set into tawny skin slightly lighter than my own, but with my jet-black hair. Or a son, with my dark eyes, but his mother’s soft features. It doesn’t matter… but I hope… oh, I hope….)
“Sophie?” I balance the tray on one arm and knock on the open door. “May I enter?”
“Hi, Rajesh.” Her dark eyes seem huge in the flickering lantern light. They’re not as dark as mine, and yet, I feel a kinship with this child. “Is Mom okay?”
“She is fine. She called earlier. Her conference is going well, and she said to tell you she loves you and to be good. Your Aunt Emily is so cozy on the couch that when you called out, I asked her if she would let me come keep you company for a few moments. Do you mind?”
She shakes her head, and I see her golden braids bob back and forth. “No. I don’t mind. What’s on the tray?”
“Supplies,” I say, making my voice mysterious. “The storm is loud, but you know it cannot get in, yes?”
“Yes,” she agrees. “I know.”
“Still, it makes it difficult to sleep. When I cannot sleep, I like to read, and your mother has mentioned that you, too, like stories, so I have brought you one of my favorites.” I place the lantern on the desk near the bed while I talk to her, just far enough away so that an errant hand cannot knock it over, and then I show her the cover of the book. “A Wrinkle in Time,” I intone. “Have you read it? It’s about a very brave girl, a little older than you are.”
“Is there magic in it?”
“Not precisely. There’s science in it. And sometimes science can seem like magic. Would you like to try it?”
But she’s already taken it from me and is reading the blurb on the back. “I think I’ll like it.”
“I think so, too. I first read it when I was nine.”
“I’m only eight.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Oh. Okay.” She sniffs the air. “I smell peppermint.”
“Ah, yes. More supplies.” I take the mug of tea from the tray. “Peppermint tea with honey in it. It’s still quite hot, so sip it carefully.”
“And one more thing.” I dangle the bag of candies in front of her.
I smile at her. “It’s a sort of bean from my country. It comes from a kind of evergreen tree, but not the kind we have here. It tastes a lot like chocolate, but it has its own flavor, too. Try one?”
Her small hand reaches into the bag and pulls out a carob drop. She pops it into her mouth, and I watch as her face first grows serious – she is analyzing the flavor – and then lights up: she approves!
“It’s a little… earthier? Is that the word?” I nod and she continues. “It’s a little earthier than chocolate. And there’s something else in the flavor. But I like it. Thank you, Rajesh.”
“You are welcome, Sophie. Now, cuddle up with your book and your tea, and let the storm become a friend instead of a foe. When you’re ready to sleep again, the carob drops will bring sweet dreams, and in the morning your mother will be back.”
She nods at all of that, her eyes wide like saucers and her face so serious. But before I can leave, she puts her hand on my arm. “Rajesh, wait.”
“Is something wrong, Sophie.”
“No. Only… Emily is Aunt Emily.”
“So, aren’t you Uncle Rajesh?”
“If you wish it, Sophie.”
“I do, please.” And she stretches up and presses her little-girl lips to my cheek.
One day, I think, my own child will give me goodnight kisses like this. Sticky with honey or carob. And I will do to my child what I do with Sophie: I reach out and tug gently on her nearest braid. “You are very welcome, Sophie.”
And I leave her there, wrapped in quilts, in the tiny loft bedroom that is her nest for the night. The little girl with book and peppermint tea.
And carob drops.
* * *
Dark-eyed little girl
Golden braids, serious face
May I be your friend?