Cereal and Fire

By Holli Harms

“Cereal and Fire” placed first in Southern New Hampshire University’s 2020 Fall Fiction Contest.

My sister wakes up in a room. She wakes and finds that when she tries to move she can’t. Her arms and legs are held down. Strapped down. She is strapped to a bed. She fights, she drifts, she sleeps. She wakes up in a room. She tries to move. But yes that’s right, strapped. She’s strapped.

I am six, my sister is fourteen. She likes her cereal mushy. She fills the bowl with Rice Krispies and then pours the milk over it and waits for the pieces of Rice Krispies to fully absorb the milk. She waits for her bowl of crunchy to turn to a bowl of mushy. She holds her ear close to the bowl and says, “Sounds like the crackle of fire.” I don’t think it does. I think it sounds like Rice Krispies. She turns all of her cereal to mush. Rice Krispies, Captain Crunch, Frosted Flakes.

At night, at dinner we sit together. One night, some time in the winter, my sister stops eating, fork mid-air and looks at the spoon by her plate and quietly asks, “Pardon?”  Then she listens to the tale her spoon is spinning, nodding and laughing. A few minutes go by and she nods once more to the spoon then says,“Okay,” and back to her meal.  Apparently the spoon had nothing more to say.

She eats nothing but her cereal. Two bowls in the morning, one in the afternoon, and at night a ramekin full.

She has become the center of attention. Her every move watched by the parents. Even the dog stays close to her. She, my sister, drops so many things now and the dog is always there to sniff and taste. Hopeful that the droppings from the sister will be food. But the only food is the cereal and she never drops that. Not one mushy spoon full.

I have taken to my closet.  I have moved my shoes to one end and pillow, blanket, books and snacks to the other. That’s how I get the dog on my side. Snacks. Crackers with butter and cheese, and apples with honey. In my search for the snacks, I found a can of unopened almonds. I open the can. The almonds are solid, hard. 

I hide them now in my sister’s bowl of cereal. My sister is surprised by them and confused. She does not understand how these hard pebbles have made it to her mush. I add them only at every now and then intervals. Unexpected moments in unexpected moments. My sister does not speak to any of us so there is no one to accuse or complain to. She is alone in her confusion. Now we are both alone in the house.

I stand outside my sister’s bedroom. She is screaming. It sounds like plates and glass smashing. My parents are inside the room. They are quiet.

I stand outside my sister’s hospital room on tippy-toes. The long rectangular window close to the doorknob slightly higher than my 6 year old frame. I stand and watch as my sister wakes again and again. My parents sit in chairs by the door and listen to the doctor. I am focused on my sister. In the right-hand pocket of my red jacket is Spoon. Spoon, my sister’s only friend, was left behind when they rushed her here.

I stand on my tippy-toes. My sister does not see me. I think to tap on the window to get her attention, but there is a sign. It reads, “ No tapping on windows. It may disturb the patients.”  My sister is now a patient. I’m not sure why. She’s never coughed or even thrown up. When I’m sick, when I’m a patient, I cough. A lot. And throw up. Sometimes.

I have Spoon in my pocket. I put my hand in my pocket and feel Spoon. Maybe Spoon will have an answer for me? A way to help my sister? But Spoon is not talking. Does Spoon know about the almonds? That I’m the one?

I hold Spoon tight letting Spoon know if I wanted I could throw Spoon on the floor or in a trash can. I’m small, but not as small as Spoon, not as small as my sister strapped to a bed. I have Spoon in my pocket. I hold Spoon as I stand on tippy-toes and watch as my sister absorbs and turns to mush.

Category: Competition, Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU Student