As her mother smoothed the tendril back into her mass of black hair, Eris squeezed her eyes shut.
Please make my hair curly like momma’s, she wished. She wished so hard that she thought she would burst. She was sure it worked this time as she raised one tiny hand cautiously to touch her hair.
She scrunched up handfuls of her pin-straight hair, trying to force it to curl. She let go of it again and again. Each time it fell past her shoulders still straight she sobbed and sniffed a little louder.
Her mother glanced her way and sang softly, “Hush li’l baby, don’t say a word. Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.” as she poured boiling water from the kettle into two identical mugs waiting on the counter. “And if that mockingbird don’t sing, momma’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.” Her mother looked at Eris again and giggled.
Eris had not seen her mother in such a good mood for a long time as she watched her bob the tea bags up and down by their strings.
“Momma, tea too?” she asked, tucking her legs up on the booster seat to get a closer look at the forbidden drinks.
“No darlin’, this tea is just for grown-ups. Now, run along
and play. We’ll do something special, just the two of us, later on.” Her mother lifted her from the booster seat and set her feet on the floor. “Go play with your dolls,” she commanded as she pushed her toward the door turning her attention back to the tea mugs.
Eris was reluctant to leave. She watched her turn back toward the counter. When her mother turned around again, one hand held a spoon heaped with white powder and the other held the sugar bowl. Eris thought the powder looked softer than sugar, almost like the baby powder she used on her dolls for diaper changes. Her mother placed the bowl beside the mugs, dumped the powder from the spoon into one of the mugs, and stirred it into the hot liquid.
She looked at Eris and smiled. “Your daddy loves his tea sweet,” she said before adding a spoonful from the china bowl and stirring again. Then she added half a teaspoon of sugar to the other mug. “And your momma, she doesn’t need so much sweetness, ‘cause she’s sweet enough, just like you.” She smiled and pinched Eris’ nose, hard.
“Ooowww! Momma, ouchy!” Eris cried, clutching her nose.
“Oh, that didn’t hurt. Off with you! Go play and stop bothering me.” Her mother removed the tea bags and spoons from the mugs and turned away to place them in the sink.
Behind her, Eris smirked and switched the mugs around. Momma will make a face when she drinks so much sweetness, Eris thought. Then she will giggle and call me a mischievous daughter. She smiled up with anticipation.
Instead, her mother picked up the mugs and shooed Eris away with her leg. “Go on, girl. I’m taking this tea up to your father—alone.” Her voice stern.
Eris shivered and cowered when she saw her mother’s stone-faced glare, remembering what happens to little girls who don’t listen to their mommies. She turned and pushed her bottom lip out as she headed for the front living room.
Her dolls had been set up earlier at her small wooden table draped with a white linen cloth surrounded by four equally small chairs for their own tea party. She fussed with Miss Becky, Amberline, and Sara-Beth until they were seated properly, each with a tiny teacup before her. Eris, their momma, poured an imaginary liquid from her porcelain teapot.
“Miss Becky, remember it’s hot,” she scolded the doll with the abused mop of synthetic blond curls, “be careful, don’t burn yourself.”
Miss Becky stared blankly back at her.
Eris turned to another doll dressed in a stained ivory dress, “what do you think about this weather, Amberline?”
The doll slid sideways in the chair. Eris adjusted the antique doll, commenting in her best adult voice, “Yes, I do agree it has been quite mild and rainy lately.”
She turned and looked at her Sara-Beth doll. “Oh yes, I agree, it is good for the flowers.”
Suddenly, she turned, grabbed Miss Becky and launched her across the room yelling, “I told you the tea was hot!” The doll hit the wall and slid to the floor with a thud. Eris continued her berating, “now look what you’ve done. You’ve burnt yourself and made me punish you.” She moved across the room and retrieved the doll roughly putting her back in her chair, “no crying, you bad girl. That’s what happens when you don’t listen to your mommy.” She turned back to Sara- Beth changing her angry expression into a soft half smile with eyebrows raised, “what is that, Miss Becky? More tea? Of course you—”
BANG, BANG, BANG.
Eris jumped and stared at the front door.
“Paramedics!” a man’s deep voice yelled as the door burst open and two men spilled inside. “Paramedics!” one of them yelled again, “did someone call 911?”
Eris put her teapot down and stared at the strange men
in the dark blue uniforms. She picked up Miss Becky and clutched her to her chest.
From upstairs, her father shouted, “up here. Hurry!”
Following the sound of his voice, the two men ran through the room, each carrying a white case with a red cross on the side, ran up the stairs taking two at a time. Eris followed slowly bewildered taking each step cautiously as she approached her parent’s bedroom. She stopped just outside the door. It was open part way. Eris peered in to see the strange men hovering over her mother, who lay motionless on the floor. They had cut away her shirt. One man was pressing sticky pads attached to wires onto her chest while the other held a large needle in one hand. He tied a big elastic around her arm and was preparing to stick her mommy with the needle.
Eris gasped. She quickly stifled the sound with a hand over her mouth. If she were discovered spying her momma would be very angry. Eris winced as she thought of the punishment her mother would inflict for this kind of disobedience.
Her father sat on the bed, his face cupped in his hands. His shoulders shook. Eris realized immediately he was crying.
He mumbled, “she was perfectly fine,” sobbed, “we were sipping our tea and chatting about spring.”
Miss Becky slipped from Eris’ hands and dropped to the hardwood floor, her porcelain head shattering.
Her father looked up. “Oh, God!” he cried as he leaped up from the bed. He took two steps toward her. His face went pale and contorted as his body crumpled beneath him landing with a thump on the floor.
“We’ve got another down!” cried the paramedic who was bent over her mother.
The other man moved away from her mother to kneel beside her daddy. He rolled her father onto his back and put his ear near daddy’s mouth while pressing his fingers to his neck. “I’ve got respiration and a pulse,” the paramedic reported tersely. “Most likely just fainted. He’s probably in
“Uh, Ben?” The other paramedic nodded toward the nightstand, where over twenty prescription bottles lay clustered, “let’s not make any assumptions.”
He looked back down to Eris’ mother, “it isn’t good here. I’ve used the paddles at max voltage three times and we’ve injected her with an equivalent to an elephant’s dose of adrenalin. The EKG is still flat lining; get on the horn to the hospital, we’re going to need direction from the doc on call in emerg.”
Moments later, more uniformed people pounded up the stairs and pushed past Eris. The last one stopped and knelt beside her, turning her to face him. “Hi there, my name is Grant. What’s yours?”
“Eris,” she squeaked.
He took her hand and led her back down the stairs. “Let’s go somewhere else, where it’s not so busy. Do you have a favorite room downstairs where you like to play?”
She smiled. “In the tea room, with my dolls.” She led him into the front living room.
Grant sat with her and talked about her dolls, the weather, the garden, and Johnny the mean boy from down the street. He stopped and looked up when a uniformed woman entered the room. Grant walked over to her and they exchanged a few whispered words.
Grant turned toward her. “Eris, this is Karen. She’s with a special part of the police department. She’s going to stay with you until someone from your family can come and get you. Okay?”
Eris pouted and turned to play with her dolls. She didn’t want to go anywhere. She wanted to stay with Grant until momma and daddy came back downstairs.