March 27, 2009

The Broccoli Incident
Rebecca Gaffron

It's not surprising that she paints her fingernails neon colors.

Colors. Plural. Each nail a different shade. It is absurdly flamboyant—almost gaudy. She carries it off with aplomb. My sister loves color, bright splashes everywhere. Her paintings are collages of abstract color. They pull at you.

We should have known she'd be like this. The broccoli incident gave it away.

I watch her now, no longer a child. You'd never know it from her impish grin. She sits drinking from a two-liter bottle of Mt. Dew, using a piece of licorice as a straw. She blows bubbles in the soda, raising an eyebrow at me. It's an unspoken challenge to the older, responsible sister. I laugh in spite of myself. She's old enough to know better but I don't make her stop. Truthfully I don't even want to—like the broccoli incident.

It happened when she was very young, maybe four.

An urchin-like child with wispy curls and huge dark eyes stood on a chair in a yellowing kitchen. She was helping. She watched as our mother dumped quart after quart of freshly steamed broccoli into the sink of chilly water. Her job was to help bag it, once the tender florets were cool enough to handle.

She waited. She said nothing. She didn't want to bother her busy mother or older sister. She waited. She wanted to be useful. The sparkles sat with the other art supplies on a shelf above the sink, beyond the reach of small hands, unless the child happened to be standing on a chair. She watched, fascinated by the mesmerizing emerald green bits floating in a stainless steel pond. She waited, the broccoli still too hot to handle.

Purple and silver sparkles caught her eye. Her small fingers reached for them, her big eyes gleamed. She shook the sparkles, tentatively at first, and watched as shimmering patterns formed, coating the bushy jade trees. She put the sparkles away, never uttering a word.

Mom gasped in disbelief when she saw it, quarts of broccoli ruined. Those sparkle things never come off.

"I made it beautiful, Mommy."

She still does.


Rebecca Gaffron is a mother, former teacher and writer who recently traded the lush valleys and rolling hills of her native central Pennsylvania for a wind-swept barn in Britain. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cynic, The Salt River Review, SNReview, Internet Review of Books, Literary Tonic, and Sniplits.

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