My parents really aren't that “imaginative”. My name is proof: Amelia Robin Hart. I suppose I could have guessed this from my specific name choice alone but no, they've proven it to me in so many other circumstances. Take for instance the time my dad tried to patch the hole in our roof with a handful of thumb tacks and a piece of Mylar. Or the time my mother attempted to home-perm my twin sisters' hair. Or better yet, the fact that their idea of saving living expenses was by selling our comfortable home and buying a stinky, moldy RV for us to live in instead. Evidently, when fate handed out common sense, she either forgot to hand it to my parents or they missed the memo.
I really should have known better then when my parents asked me to babysit Alexis, my youngest sister, that I was in for a doozy of a day.
“We'll only be gone an hour.” My mom said adjusting the huge hat on her graying head. “Hopefully your dad will get this promotion.”
She winked at me and posed in the full-length mirror attached to their bedroom door. “You ready, hun?”
My dad exited the bathroom, buttoning the cuffs of his white dress shirt. “Nearly.”
My mom has a very nice face. Old movie-style quality. I'd like to think that she looks like Audrey Hepburn sometimes but when she piles on so much make up – she looks more like a drag queen instead.
My dad is sharp looking too. He has a strong jaw, hazel-colored eyes, and a thick set of manly eyebrows that could be more mistaken for fuzzy caterpillars. He's a Gene Wilder basically: composed but insane at times. He unfortunately is nearly blind as a bat now and can't see the get-up my mother is wearing. She's wearing a hot pink, one-size-too-big pant suit and is carrying a faded Coach bag.
God, she looked like a train wreck.
“You look just lovely today, honey.” My dad said planting a wet kiss on her neck.
If he could only see now.
I'd like to think that my parents were once half-way decent. All the old photographs I look at from time to time give me a glimpse into their lives when I was younger and the economy was better. The lines that now adorn the spaces beneath their eyes aren't visible. My dad is wearing contacts, we can't afford them now, and my mom's sense of fashion isn't the latest thrift-store trend. We were once well together.
My dad slipped into his suit jacket then, completing a now faded black suit he had worn to a family wedding five years ago. He nodded and took a second glance in the mirror.
“Not bad. At least I can still squeeze into it.”
I shook my head as I stood from my spot on the end of their bed. The things I could do if we had money for once. Our family would be the old/new kids on the block and not the schleps the cat had just dragged in.
“I left out a box of macaroni and cheese in the kitchen for you and Alexis in case you guys get hungry.” My mom said, hurrying towards the door. She smiled at me then, bent down from her platform heels, and gave me a hug. “Just cook on the back burner. The front one isn't working again.”
I nodded, waved the two of them out the trailer door, and watched as they piled into the old Volvo with its duct-taped rear bumper and missing back windshield. That's a whole other story I won't get into at this time.
Once they had left, I turned on our little transistor radio to 105.7, Beatles Central, and sat down on the floor next to Alexis. The poor kid is nearly three years old and still hasn't started talking yet. Mom and dad aren't too worried about her. Alexis can communicate with people just fine by using sign language. But I'm worried. She'll be starting pre-school next fall. How is she going to talk with the other kids then?
“Hey, Lexi girl.” I said smiling down at the pair of brown eyes looking up at me. “Wanna play tea party?”
She nodded and pulled out the thumb that stayed in her mouth 24/7.
After laying down a red bandanna, I arranged my tea set neatly on the floor and poured some cool-aid into the tiny cups.
“Madam,” I said in a stuffy accent, “would you care for one lump or two?”
I indented one finger then two to get my message across to Alexis. In return, she stuck her left thumb back in her mouth and held up two fingers with her other hand.
“As you wish.” I said with a courteous nod.
The two of us continued to play tea party until I started getting hungry. It was well past noon by then and mom and dad had been gone nearly two hours. If I knew the two of them well enough, they wouldn't be back for at least another hour.
Alexis followed me into the kitchen, her security blanket dragging behind her, and watched as I set a full pot of water on the stove.
Then I remembered that the front burner wasn't working.
Alexis smiled at me with her thumb in her mouth. Even she knew a cuss word when she heard it. Poor kid. There was a whole world right before her yet she couldn't be a part of it.
I looked down at her and chuckled. “Don't ever sat that word, okay? Only mommy and daddy are allowed to.”
She nodded, then pushed a stool up to the stove and stood on top to get a better view.
I slid the pot to the back burner and switched the dial. Nothing. No heat. No spark. Had the back burner stopped working too?
“Now what are gonna do?” I muttered, half to myself but also loud enough for Alexis to hear. She started whining and sat down on the stool in her dirty, pink sleepy sack; resting her back against the oven door.
The microwave was out of the question. You just couldn't cook mac and cheese in there properly unless you bought those microwaveable cups at the grocery store. And no, we weren't eating plain hot dogs again for lunch with no buns. That was a definite no.
So what was I going to do?
Then I had an idea. An uncomfortable idea. I could use my "abnormality" to boil the water.
I'd never ever tried my trick at home. I was always superstitious about getting caught; you know how you get so paranoid about doing something wrong that you usually get caught? But mom and dad wouldn't be home for at least another hour or so and they'd left me no emergency money in dad's Star Trek collector's tin that he usually left in his bathroom cabinet. I check daily for maybe fifty cents to get a Kit Kat at the corner drugstore two minutes down the street. This was the only way the two of us were going to eat that afternoon. I didn't feel like waiting either.
I started snapping my fingers to get the heat going. Little sparks appeared and quickly dissipated. The smell of sulfur came to my nose, strong and pungent. It didn't matter. I'd have the water boiling in five minutes flat. We'd be eating in ten.
Alexis popped up beside me and widened her eyes. Amazingly, she didn't seem the least bit scared; more mesmerized than petrified.
I picked up the pot of water with my right hand then position my left one beneath it. I flicked my wrist and a steady column of fire appeared, licking from the center of my palm.
This was going to work!
I smiled down at Alexis, then turned my eyes back to the flame, concentrating on making it hotter. The heat began to kiss my face and tears began welling up in my eyes. Four more minutes and the water would be boiling. I could already see small bubbles collecting at the bottom and sides of the pan, jumping to the surface of the water. My tongue began to water with the taste of the salty, cream cheese.
Then the curtains above the stove caught fire.