Three Jars of Kimchi

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

This almost took me a week to finish. It was almost too personal to me, to the point where I couldn’t tell which parts were fiction and which were not anymore. This story remains very close to my heart as I wished it would raise awareness for the complicated relationships between abusive parents and their children.

The kitchen almost buzzed with tension as sisters Sadie and Shawn seated themselves across the dining table where their mother was stacking kimchi on top of each other. Sadie tried shooting frantic glances at her sister, but Shawn paid her no attention, her eyes fixed on the plate.

Their mother closed the lid over the rest of the kimchi. Clack. The sound rang across the room. As she sat down, Sadie squirmed in her seat, and Sadie took a sharp breath, both of them bracing themselves for what was about to come.

“I did this just yesterday,” she said, beaming at her kids, who did not return her smile. “It’s more than usual, obviously because it’s Sadie’s big day tomorrow.” Sadie averted her gaze. “Right, Sadie? How does it feel to finally become an elite?”

Sadie fought to fill in the silence that soon followed. “I’ve actually been thinking about it, and…”

“And?”

The smile disappeared from her mother’s face as Sadie continued. “Since last year, I haven’t really been feeling it. About gymnastics, you know. I train for so many hours just for one goal, and… and I just don’t know if I want that anymore. I know I’m letting you down and all, but…”

“Stop talking.”

Her mother dropped her chopsticks, which clanged loudly against the glass surface. Sadie closed her mouth. Shawn looked up from her bowl of rice.

“How dare you?”

The first words out of their mother’s mouth were a scream, reduced to almost a whisper. “I gave up so much for you, ever since your dad —“ She hesitated, then swatted at the air like she would at a mosquito. Both sisters flinched. “If you’re willing to act like this, then you deserve what’s going to happen to you. Your albums — Busted, were they?” Sadie looked down at her single slice of kimchi. “I bought each and every one of them. I give you what you want. I feed you. I pay for your education. But now you have the nerve to sit here and tell me that you’re not going to do one thing for me? I’m going to break your albums with a fucking hammer if you don’t go back to gymnastics.”

“But that’s not fair,” Sadie blurted out.

“Well, it’s not my fault you decided to be a lazy bitch.”

“That’s enough.”

Shawn rose from the table. Sadie looked at her, then hesitantly copied her sister. With Shawn in the lead, the sisters pushed past their mother while she stood still, her back to them, arms crossed and a smirk on her face as if to say, Neither of you is going to win this fight.

Shawn slammed the door in her face.

“What are we going to do now?” Sadie said, panic evident in her voice.

“We’re going to leave this sorry excuse of a house.”

Now? But what is she going to do to us?”

”I’m not going to let anything happen to you. We’re going to crash at a friend’s place. I know someone who could help us. Maya, a few stops away from here. Do you know her?”

Sadie shook her head.

“She’ll take us in. She knows what our mom is like.”

For the next several minutes, the two packed their bags in silence.

“You don’t think she’s waiting outside the door?” Sadie said after a while.

Shawn shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think I give much of a fuck.”

But she opened the door anyway, and checking that their mother wasn’t there, she gestured at Sadie. While Shawn slung her backpack over her shoulder, Sadie looked around for the last time. Then they sneaked out to the front door. Shawn stopped to listen. The house was silent, more than it should have been. As soon as she opened the door, it beeped away to an automated tune. The sisters let it continue as they ran down the stairs.

Neither of them said a word to each other as they left the apartment building and walked down the street. The red and grey bricks glowed under the orange light. A dog barked in the distance, and was soon joined by another. Sadie looked up. There wasn’t much to see. The buildings towered over each other, effectively blocking the night sky. They were the exact same height and width, all of them, twelve floors and seven windows apart. Sadie lost count of them after passing a dozen or so. A light turned off on the fifth floor across the street. Sleeping With the Light On mindlessly played in her head, over and over again.

She stopped in her tracks. Sleeping With the Light On was the eighth track on Busted. And that exact album happened to be on top of the CD player in the corner of her room.

Shawn was still walking, now way ahead. Sadie ran to catch up with her.

“My album. I forgot my album.”

Shawn sighed. “Which one?”

Busted. It came out last year.”

“You know what will happen if you go back.”

“I’ll… fight my way out,” Sadie said.

“Like that’s going to happen. You know she’s like a fucking gorilla.”

“I’ll be quick.”

Shawn narrowed her eyes. “Seriously? We’re runaways, and that’s what’s on your mind right now?”

Sadie ignored her, running back the way she came. She counted properly this time. Her apartment building was the fifteenth. She frantically pressed each number of the password and yanked the door open.

She could hear loud music coming from her mother’s room. She sighed in relief. She tiptoed across the house nevertheless, opening her door ever so slightly so as to not catch attention.

There it was. She snatched it and stuffed it inside her bag with immense effort. She struggled with the zipper for a bit, then managed to get it all the way across. Her stomach hurt. She was hungry. Maybe she could get a Mars bar or two from the kitchen. She made a detour back to the refrigerator. Her hands ran over a photo of her family, taken over a year ago. A complete family that included the man that had it all. May 3rd, 2002. Back when she loved gymnastics. Back when things were too positive. It was the kind of dream that you wake up from and immediately regret doing so.

She opened both doors. On the bottom lay a single Mars bar. On top of it sat three jars of kimchi. Sadie remembered her mother smiling today, boasting about how much kimchi she made for her. For Sadie. She rarely smiled these days. Maybe she should’ve smiled back. Just for the sake of it. Just to pretend that everything was just like it was before. Back then, Sadie couldn’t wait for dinner, because the kimchi was that good. Now, the kimchi was the only thing preventing her and Shawn from leaving the dining table each time.

Sadie hated her mother. She was afraid of her. So she couldn’t understand why she was reaching for the kimchi and taking one jar, then two, then three. She just needed them. All three of them. She could not, and would not leave a single one behind. A handful of Kleenex would have been useful as she wiped the tears that streamed down her face with her sleeve.

The jars were too big to fit inside her bag. She hugged them close to her chest and walked back to the front door, the jars threatening to slip off once or twice. Then she heard footsteps behind her. She turned around. The jars swayed in her hands.

It was her mother. But then who else could it have been? She cracked a smile, and Sadie managed to smile back this time. Then her mother started to laugh, the kind of laughter that was not normal, the kind that you would only hear from someone drunk. She just didn’t stop laughing, and Sadie started to feel scared — not only of but for her mother, and she pushed the door open and ran outside as fast as she could.

She didn’t stop.

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Witchcraft

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Cassandra was more than ten minutes late for her debate club. Not that she really cared. She was sure no one would even notice. She buttoned the last of her shirt and was about to place her hand on the handle of her door when a loud thump interrupted her. She spun around. On her previously spotless bedroom floor lay the almanac that she forgot to put in her bag. She glanced at the open window and back at the book. Just a freak coincidence, she firmly told herself. 

“Are you going anywhere today, Cass?” her dad asked from the kitchen. He was busy rummaging through the kitchen cabinets, opening them one by one. His back wasn’t even turned. 

“Yeah, I’m attending a meeting, nothing too serious, and then I’m meeting a friend.”

“Alisha?” he asked, referring to the girl she brought home often when they were in sixth grade. He did not approve of Alisha’s electric blue hair then, and he probably still did not, because he remembered her and her only. 

She laughed. “Alisha’s not my only friend, Dad.” 

She glanced at her mom’s unfinished work still standing on the kitchen counter. Her creations were often so intricate, so delicate that they took Cassandra’s breath away, and this one was no different. Eleanor King was quite the mechanic. A witch, as she called herself. “I can make anything for you and your dad,” she used to say. That sentence modified itself as she started arguing with her husband on a daily basis. Cassandra thought she even heard screams of pain sometimes coming from her parents’ room. Her dad was too nice to fight back, she guessed. When her mom left three days ago, along with half of the family’s income, it was probably a relief for her dad, but she could have at least left an explanation or a warning so he could have prepared himself. Well, she didn’t. 

She rolled her chair back and forth, barely even listening to the team captain’s lecture. She would’ve watched the ant on the wooden floor carry its single crumb all the way to the other side of the room if her phone hadn’t pulled her back with a ding. It was her dad. He wanted her to get peanut butter. She typed back, Sure. It wasn’t like her plans with Olivia were until thirty minutes later, anyway. So she didn’t mind. She felt like she couldn’t. Besides, this was a good excuse to leave the group. She stood up. 

“Guys, I’m sorry but I think I have to go and run some errands.” 

No one even looked up. Cassandra shrugged and pushed the glass doors open. 

She had never been here in the supermarket before. The place was huge and unusually empty for its size. She walked past at least ten aisles before she found the condiments section, or at least part of it. She decided to start from the left. 

Clonk. A plastic jar fell to the floor out of the corner of her eye. Not believing what just happened, she stood frozen to the ground, staring at the jar before she managed to move again. She slowly walked over and picked the jar up. It was Skippy. Her dad’s favorite brand of peanut butter. 

Her mind was completely blank. She clutched the jar tighter in her hand, then shook her head. She obviously missed someone standing next to her. They probably dropped the jar and didn’t put it back because they didn’t want to deal with it. It was the work of an irresponsible customer, not some Interstellar shit or whatever else came to her mind. If there was something that deserved her attention, it was not that peanut butter. She paid for it and hurriedly left the store before she let anything else happen to her. She walked faster than normal. And then she ran. 

Cassandra arrived at Burger King before five minutes even passed, too early to just sit and wait, especially considering how Olivia had a history of arriving late. She decided to get herself coke to pass time. The employee in red uniform came back in less than a minute to hand her the cup. With her purse, shopping bag and cup in both of her hands, she stared longingly at the straw dispenser to her right. 

“Can I help you with anything?”

“No, I—”

Her words were cut off when a single straw dropped down with a pop. 

“What the fuck?” she said out loud. The employee stared at her. 

“Sorry,” Cassandra muttered, barely grabbing the straw with two fingers. She returned to her seat, her eyes barely focused on the coke or anything else in particular. This was no coincidence. It just wasn’t. Someone was following her. Someone capable of tricking gravity. If a person told her yesterday that this was possible, she would have laughed in their face. But this was real. It was real, and it was happening to her. She frantically looked around her, looking for the safest possible space. The bathroom. Coke forgotten on the table, she headed towards the bathroom, trying her best to act casual, her hands in her pockets. 

When she opened the door and stepped inside, she knew she made a major mistake when a single sheet of tissue fell from its container, accompanied by a disturbing whir. She heard locks clicking. She had locked herself in. 

“Who the hell are you?” 

Silence. 

She turned to the stalls, one closed and the other open. Curiosity won over fear. She approached the left stall and yanked the door open. She screamed, hands over her mouth. Sitting on the toilet, legs apart, covered with streams of blood, eyes wide open, was the victim of a murder, stabbed multiple times in the chest. 

It was her dad. 

“Dad!” she wailed as she held his face in her hands, hoping that it would somehow wake him up, but those eyes did not blink once, and she knew it was too late to save him. 

“Who did this to you?” she whispered, her voice hoarse. 

A sick sense of recognition got hold of her as her suspicions pointed towards the only person that cared enough about her dad to kill him. But her speculations did not last long as a distant banging on the door intensified, and the door finally gave way with a loud creak as one of the local police officers kicked it open. 

“Turn around! Put your hands above your head! Now!” 

She obeyed, taking her hands off the lifeless body as tears streamed down her face, putting her hands above her head. 

“I had nothing to do with this!” she screamed, but the police officer ignored her as he practically dragged her out of the bathroom. Her kicking stopped, her mouth hanging open in shock when she saw her mom sitting on the nearest table, all alone. 

Eleanor smiled.