Fiction Friday: Splinters

February 25, 2011 – Several years ago, I began writing a collection of short stories about one character at various stages of her life. I call her Samantha. I know her well because we’ve had a lot of the same experiences.

The idea made me think of Carol King’s song Tapestry, so that became the working title in my mind. The stories were sorted by year and season, and this one introduces Samantha as a three-year-old child.

Splinters – Winter, 1963

“Hold still, Samantha,” Mom says as my little sister tries to squirm from her grasp.

“Ouch!” Samantha cries. “That hurts!”

I’m in the living room watching Captain Kangaroo, while Samantha is sitting on the dining room table so Mom can get a splinter out of her foot. She’s using tweezers now but sometimes she uses a sewing needle with a burnt tip.

I’d rather be watching The Rifleman but I’m not allowed to when Samantha is awake because she’s afraid. She was watching cartoons when the Walter Cronkite interrupted to say that a rifleman shot President Kennedy. After that, she screamed whenever The Rifleman came on because she thought the TV rifleman shot the president again.

I was at school when the president was shot, but they sent us home early because the teachers were crying. My teacher didn’t cry, but she asked us to say extra prayers for the president’s family.

When I got home, Mom and Samantha were crying, too. And Mom got mad because Dad went out to play cards that same night. It was his monthly poker game with the boys at the American Legion. He calls them boys even though they are men. I think Mom was afraid that the Russians were going take over our country because we didn’t have a president. Seems everybody is afraid of the Russians.

“Here it is,” Mom says as she pulls out the splinter. “That’s a big one.”

We moved into the house about six months ago, and ripped out the rugs because the family who lived here had cats. Samantha and Dad are allergic, so they would have been miserable if the rugs stayed. Now, Samantha is always getting splinters because the wood floors are pretty old.

“Go watch TV with Brian, but keep your slippers on,” Mom says as she helps Samantha down from the table. “They will protect you.”

“Are they magic?” she asks.

Mom smiles and nods her head. “I guess you can say that.”

Samantha runs into the living room, and kicks off her slippers as soon as she sits down. I just shake my head knowing she’ll be sorry that she didn’t listen.

A few minutes later, I hear Dad’s car pull into the driveway up. It’s a brand new blue Falcon and we bought it right after we moved into the house. I’m glad he’s home because I’m hungry and tonight is spaghetti and meatballs night. We never have dinner before Dad gets home. I think it’s a cardinal sin or something.

“Can you read to me, Daddy?” Samantha squeals as soon as he walks in.

Dad laughs. “I just got home, Sam,” he replies. “We’ll do that after dinner.”

Samantha loves books and always begs Mom and Dad to read to her. I’m four years older, so I can read by myself. Right now, I’m reading about Davy Crockett and the Alamo.

Once we finish dinner, it’s time for homework. Dad is in the living room watching the evening news, Mom is busy cleaning up, and Samantha is still begging Dad to read to her. But instead of paying attention to her or to Walter Cronkite, he’s looking for coins under the sofa cushions. It’s Thursday night, which means tomorrow is payday, but if he finds enough change tonight, he can buy a quart of beer at the grocery store.

“Can you read to me, Daddy?” she asks.

“Only if you wear your slippers,” he says after he finds two quarters. “Mom told me you got another splinter today.”

Samantha slips them on and hands Dad a book. “I want to read this first,” she says, but before he starts to read, Samantha begins to tell the story. Dad listens for a moment and then laughs.

“When did you learn to read, Samantha?” he asks. “You’re a three-year old genius.”

A few minutes later, Dad strolls into the kitchen where Mom is up to her elbows in soapsuds. “Samantha is reading a book all by herself,” I hear him say.

Mom laughs. “She’s memorized it,” she says. “We’ve read it to her a thousand times.”

Dad walks out of the kitchen while Mom is still laughing. When he passes by the dining room table, he rubs the top of my head and smiles.

“How’s the homework going, Champ?” he asks.

“Fine,” I say, and I watch as Dad walks back into the living room.

“How’s the little reader doing?” I hear him ask as Samantha giggles. Dad asks a lot of questions. “You can read me another one after I get back from the store.”

Samantha watches him walk out of the door, and then scuffles out to the dining room, still wearing her slippers.

“Did you hear me, Brian?” she asks. “I can read just like you.”

I want to tell her that she’s just memorized it like Mom said, but she’s just a kid.

“The slippers are magic,” she whispers. “They made me know how to read.”

I hear Mom snicker in the kitchen, and I start to snicker, too. When she comes out to the dining room and we look at each other and snicker more. It’s like we have our own secret joke. We smile as we watch Samantha run back into the living room to wait for Dad by the door.

“Looks like there won’t be anymore splinters,” Mom says with a grin. “I think she’ll wear her magic slippers from now on.”

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