Little Miss Chloe

by Comateta M. Clifton © 2001

Chloe stared out the window above the kitchen sink, barely hearing her mother's words as she spoke. The sight of the huge oak tree settled between the dingy sunflower curtains hanging at the kitchen window reminded her of her old crayon drawings; the ones her mother used to hang on the refrigator door. The pictures brought smiles to her mother's face, once, but now, they did little more than annoy her mother. Or so it seemed. Her drawings weren't praised and hung with pride anymore. Instead, they were glanced at, lightly handled, and then laid around, most times to be scooped up with the stack of newspaper meant for the large, blue recycle bin that sat curveside, along with the garbage can, every Monday and Thursday night. Happier days meant kisses and hugs for the drawings, but now the days were different.

Chloe longed for the happier days to return.

"Fill your tummy, honey, it's a bit nippy out today. Good eats ward off nasty colds and such." Her mother dragged a hand through her bang, and brushed the skin beneath the hair with her lips.

Chloe was getting used to the forced touches and feather kisses. Even her mother's words sounded different now--flat and missing something that Chloe used to easily hear. But she guessed it was all her mother had left to give her since her father was gone now.

Chloe laid awake, some nights, staring at the ceiling above her pink canopy bed, trying to force the memories of when the three of them were together to materialize right up there onto the cotton candy pink painting above her. She wished they could be a family again. She wished she could feel the tickle in her tummy again. She missed the funny quiver she used to get in her stomach when they were all together and happy.

The telephone rang and Chloe's stomach tightened. It was all she felt inside of herself since her father had left. Her mother's arms used to hold her tight and make her feel loose and giddy inside. She'd never known the grip of her stomach muscles then. But now, her mother's arms were loose and a knot grew inside of her.

She clutched her ears, flattening a palm against each ear, as her mother shouted into the telephone. The angry voice slipped past her hands, and Chloe pressed harder, mashing her earlobes against the sides of her head. Still, she heard the anger, her mother's voice seeming to echo within her head. Chloe squeezed her eyes shut, opened them, and found the oak tree again.

Her mother's voice seemed to fade as she stood, staring out the window once more. She dropped her hands, thinking of what else had happened during one of her nights of lying awake, trying to force images up on the ceiling.

She'd begun to cry until the tears rushing from the corners of her eyes had wet her pillow, making little puddles beside her ears. She cried until she felt like screaming. She opened her mouth to let out a silent scream and before she could ward it off, or swat it away, a tiny spider had fallen from its web and into her mouth. The foreign food made her cough and choke, and she tried spitting out the spider. But as she sat up in bed, her tears wet her lips and flowed into her mouth, making her bite into the miniature, eight leg creature, instead. Her salty tears helped ease it down her throat as she swallowed. She sat up, blinking at the fact that she'd eaten a spider . . . and enjoyed it. The tickle in her stomach afterwards brought a slight lift to her lips. And soon, she had fallen asleep.

Chloe blinked, now, her eyes still pasted on the oak tree. Her mother's side of the argument with her father filled her head, again, and she grabbed her bowl and spoon from the table. She shook cereal flakes from the cereal box, poured a dash of milk over the flakes, and then headed for the oak tree.

The cool breeze iced her cheeks as it blew against the tears on her face. Her bunny slippers slid across the low grass with ease. She sat on the thick root of the tree that had broken through the ground, and waited. All she needed was one good, strong breeze. One stronger than what was blowing now.

She stuffed spoonfuls of flakes and milk into her mouth with little regard, her shoulders shaking as she cried in between swallows.

Chloe glanced up. The intricate web glinted in the daylight although the sky was a dull gray. She lowered her head to her cereal bowl, shut her eyes, and wished for a stronger breeze.

Then, as if she'd put a spell on Mother Nature, Herself, a harsh wind blew, lifting the hair of her bang, and seeping past the thin cotton of her moon and stars pajamas.

Chloe smiled, knowing exactly what she was going to find when she opened her eyes. Her lips widened when she glanced down at her bowl.

There they were. Small and medium-sized. So small, some of them seemed transparent. The larger ones were mostly brown and black. They squirmed in the milk, most of them drowning quicker than others. She stirred the bowl, mixing the spiders with the soggy cereal, and then lifted a spoonful to her lips.

She stuffed spoonfuls into her mouth, hearing her mother's angry voice but paying little attention to the coarse tone. The tickles were beginning in her stomach.

x x x

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