Nature Short Fiction #2 – Shiny

The medallion was gone.

Fourteen year-old Carlie’s heart  pounded.

“So where is it? You took it, didn’t you. It’s MINE!” Her older brother Anthony bellowed.

She tried unsuccessfully to keep the muscles in her face from lifting the ends of her mouth into a smile.

She looked around his bedroom. He’d thrown the windows open so that the thin brown curtains billowed in the strange warm January breeze.  The room was neat, everything in its place, no discarded clothing lying on the floor, not even any socks turned inside out on the floor.

“Don’t know. When did you last see it?”

“This morning! Like every morning! Where is it?”

As crazy as he was acting, she figured that the silver piece and its ribbon had become part of her brother’s morning ritual. Like doing ten pushups, shadow-boxing for five minutes, and taking a three-minute shower. At some point, he probably paused in front of the bureau, lifted the silver medallion up and congratulated himself for being ‘king’ of their parentless family. Then he went on with his day – to work, to the gym, then home for dinner. He – like his father before him — was a creature of habit.

She shrugged. ” Maybe you misplaced it.” But she knew he hadn’t. That was not like him. He knew where everything was – or – correction, he knew where everything SHOULD be. Didn’t she spend every evening making sure that everything she and her three brothers  had used during the course of the day was returned to its designated place, just like her mother always had?

Her brother’s anger raged. He pitched the bed pillows onto the floor, jerked off the bedspread, tore the sheets off the mattress. “Find it! I’m going to work!” He stormed from the room.

He expected her to make the bed, to clean up after him and their other two brothers like she had ever since their mother passed away.

Maybe, she thought,  if the silver medallion is gone, he’ll stop thinking all I am is the maid. She didn’t ponder where the medallion was, or who had taken it. She was just glad that the medallion and all it seemed to symbolize to Anthony was gone.

Downstairs the front door slammed. With a quick glance at the havoc Anthony had wreaked, she left the room. She wouldn’t lift a finger to clean it up.

Carlie ate lunch outside on the patio. She could feel the rays from the low winter sun warm her face. Birds twittered and a pair of crows flapped overhead, cawing.  They landed on the branches of a tree and perched side by side.  She’d seen birds like these several times this week as she went to school with her younger brothers, and again as she came home. The birds often perched outside near the patio as she worked in the kitchen to fix dinner for  the four of them. 

The crows’ black feathers glistened like obsidian, and their bright eyes shone. They tilted their heads, as if they were trying to read her mind.

“It’s gone,” she said, outloud, to the birds. “And Anthony’s mad. Maybe one of YOU knows where it is. If you do, don’t bring it back. Maybe without it he won’t feel he has to be such a dictator.”

She pictured the medallion in her mind. It was originally a coin, part of her mother’s dowry from the Old Country. Her father thought that made him the master of their house.

“This,” Father would say to Mother, holding up the medallion that he most often wore around his neck. “This is the symbol of a husband. You, and all that comes from you, is mine. It is my right! I do as I wish, and you obey me!”

Carlie’s heart pounded with the memory. She saw again how her mother’s face drooped, the way her shoulders sagged under the weight of the medallion. And she saw the fear in her brothers’ faces. They had all tried to obey. But Anthony, more often than not, saw their father raise his voice and his hand in anger.

Father had not been willing to let go of the old customs. Her mother had been more like a slave, as if they were still living in the old country and not the United States of America.

When he died three years ago, the medallion had passed to Anthony. In the years since, it seemed that Father had also passed his cultural beliefs to his oldest son.

Anthony slid into his new role as master of the house easily. Mother continued to obey, cooking and cleaning the days away, asking for nothing.

When Mother passed away last year, Anthony seemed to believe that the role of slave maid passed to his younger sister until she had a husband/master of her own. Carlie had felt she had no choice but to stay. She wanted to finish school, and she loved her brothers. But, four more years of servitude seemed like an eternity. 

Slavery was illegal, wasn’t it?

“I hate those birds,” Anthony growled as he stalked onto the patio.  He threw a rock at the tree, and the two crows cawed and flapped upward to land on another branch. “Go on! Get out of here!” He scoured the ground for another rock, and threw it at them, hard. They fluttered up into the sky, then landed in the tree next door. He scowled at her. “Been sitting out here all day? No dinner ready? You haven’t swept the kitchen or dusted the living room. The house is filthy.”

She swallowed. “The house isn’t filthy, and we’re having leftovers tonight. It won’t take ten minutes to warm things up.”

He glared at her. She challenged him with her eyes.

The crows flitted back. One of them landed on the back of a lawn chair, only a few feet away. He held something in this mouth, something that glinted like silver in the sun.

Anthony leaned closer to the bird. “Grab it!” he yelled as he lunged for the bird.

The crow flapped up into the air. Anthony crashed into the lawn chair and tumbled to the cement.

Carlie watched the bird until it was a mere speck in the darkening sky. She smiled.
 The medallion was gone. And a weight was lifted from her shoulders.

Anthony stared after the bird, too. Gradually, his clenched fists relaxed and his eyes closed.

The medallion was gone for good.

Off in the distance, the crow cawed.

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