Honeysuckle Love
Author:S. Walden

She went to the laundry room to investigate. She scanned the large cylindrical heater for any signs or stamped instructions that could help her. Only when she got on her knees to check a square cut-out towards the bottom of the heater did she notice the words, “Caution! Hot Flame.” She squinted, trying to see inside the square, but there was no flame. She surveyed the gray tube running from the square cut-out. It didn’t look like a tube that conducted electricity.


She felt stupid, like she should have known the water in the house was heated by gas. She asked Beatrice if she could handle cool baths for a few days until they worked out their new system. Beatrice was agreeable inventing a ridiculous reason for why the girls shouldn’t take hot showers during the summer months anyway. It was scientifically unhealthy, she explained.


Clara walked throughout the house, switching lights on for no reason except to see them glow one last time. She turned the fans on, felt the cool rush of breeze, watched it play with the ends of her hair and turn up the pages of her homework sitting on the coffee table. She heated lunch in the microwave—bowls of soup—and turned on the oven because she could. Every time she turned a light off, her heart gave out. She was convinced it would be the last time she saw it, but then she would flip the switch and the light would burn yellow all over again. Why were they torturing her?


She and Beatrice worked all night and into the morning to develop a No Electricity System. They called it NES for short. They had no idea how to work the wood stove, but they started practicing that morning, Clara forbidding Beatrice to put anything in it. If someone’s hands got burned, they would be her own. The girls determined that the “window” on the door could be opened to check that the fire never went out.


They knew they would need plenty of firewood and paper. The wood they could find in their back yard. It was littered with tree branches and tiny saplings that Clara thought she could cut down. Once the wood ran out, she would have to set aside money to buy it. The paper was easier. None of her neighbors recycled, but she knew that many did a few streets down. A few streets over was a different world—bigger houses, well maintained with conscientious residents who mowed their lawns and weeded their flowerbeds. Clara decided that late on the nights they set out their recycling bins, she would go down Oak Tower Trail and collect the old newspapers.


“Bea, I need to talk to you about something,” Clara said after a time. She followed Beatrice into her room. She followed her sister around much more often these days, mostly to tell her unfortunate things, but sometimes just to watch her. She liked watching Beatrice. She was such an odd child. Particular. Smart as hell. Funny and quirky in the way she organized her room.


Clara sat down on Beatrice’s bed. “I’ve sent in our application for free lunch. I’m waiting for approval, but I’m sure I’ll get it. We should get the cards in the mail sometime next week.”


Clara dug around the house several days ago until she finally discovered a shoebox stashed in the back of her mother’s closet filled with important documents. The Social Security card was there, and Clara thought that God, if he was out there, was a merciful God.


“Clara, can’t we just get to that when we get to that?” Beatrice asked.


“We’re already there, Bea,” Clara explained. “I can’t afford a grocery bill that includes lunch items.”


“I’m not carrying around that stupid card,” Beatrice said. She stood resolute, her face set and arms crossed over her chest decidedly.


“No one even notices them,” Clara replied. She waved her hand flippantly.


“Don’t do that, Clara,” Beatrice demanded. “Don’t sit there and lie. You’re not even good at it!” She thought for a moment. “Well, except at Open House. You were very good at it at Open House.”


“Bea, I can’t afford lunches. We have to eat the school food. It’s paid for, and I’m not going to forego that because you’re a snob,” Clara said.


“I’m not carrying around that card!” yelled Beatrice.


“Yes you are.”


“You can’t make me, Clara! You can’t! Everyone will know and they’ll make fun of me!”


“So you’d rather starve?” Clara asked.


“Yes!” Beatrice cried.


“Get real, Beatrice. You eat like a horse. You’d make it all of one day.”


“Don’t provoke me, Clara,” Beatrice warned.


“How do you even know the word ‘provoke’?” Clara asked.


“Why does everyone think I’m a moron?!”


Clara smiled and walked over to her sister. She put her arms around Beatrice who was resistant at first then relaxed as Clara stroked her back.


“I don’t want to carry that card anymore than you do, Bea,” Clara said. She cringed thinking of the girls she ran into in the bathroom at school the other day. One looked Clara over and said that she had pretty hair, but Clara was certain she wasn’t being nice about it. She waited for the girl to whip out a pair of shears from her purse and cut all of Clara’s hair off. It didn’t happen, but she was waiting for the day it would.


Beatrice burst into tears.


“I just . . . I can’t hold it together all the time, Clara!” she wailed.


Clara grinned. “Who’s asking you to hold it together?”