Gilded Cage

BY Shawna Tan

 

         The key to making my family work is to keep my sister far, far away from my mom. For sixteen years, this was relatively easy to do, but as the days of quarantine progressed, home started to feel less like a home, and more like a pressure cooker. The thing about pressure cookers is that the longer you keep something in, the more it wants to escape.

         And eventually, the pot’s going to explode.

         The thing is, I had expected an explosion. The same way I know my sister likes her eggs runny. How she can’t fall asleep unless the temperature’s at twenty-three. How she hates Coke but loves Coke flavored lollipops. I know all these things. And I know her breaking points too. 

         There was a timer in my head just for her. The type of timer you don’t really check. The type of timer you leave on the counter so you don’t burn the house down with the pressure cooker. I had left this timer ticking for so long that I forgot about it. I forgot about it until it went off. 

         When it did, the ringing shook the floor, the ceilings, the paintings on the wall. My ears leaked rivulets of blood, dripping onto the carpet, staining it scarlet. The critters in the wall cowered. The neighbours ceased talking. The birds stopped flying. I had been here before.

         I didn’t realize she was in front of me until I heard the sobs, a painful throb in my brain. I had been here before.  

         “God, I am so goddamn sick of living here,” Her eyes were wild and frantic, and somehow she was looking at me, but not really.

         I looked at her. “Why are you always fighting mom?” 

         She ignored me. “God,” she paused, like she was trying to catch her breath. Like she was trying to ration up all the words that had been building up for months. Up and up and up. It was a never ending well of hate and sadness and the things she had kept locked inside for so long, waiting to spill out of her throat; she didn’t even choke on them. 

         “This place is a cage and she won’t stop suffocating me,” her words were ugly and monstrous but fitting, coming from her. I had heard these words for so long, they had ceased to mean anything.

         My eyes flicked towards the door and came back to rest on her. I had been here before. “We’re all stuck here,” I looked back at her. “Stop acting like it’s jail,” 

         “God, you wouldn’t know,” she smiled mirthlessly, her eyes glowing with something I couldn’t place. “You wouldn’t even understand the pressure,” she raged, simultaneously, slamming down her phone. Hard enough that I flinched. Hard enough that I clenched my fists. She continued on, every word a jackhammer in my skull. “Mom lets you do whatever the hell you want. She hates me but loves you,”

         Ugly words. Words that scratched. Words that drew a line.

         “That’s not true,” I whispered weakly. 

         “Look at me,” 

         I lifted my eyes to hers and realized why they were glowing; she was crying, the unshed tears building beneath her dark eyes, a silvery, shimmery lining. My fists clenched and unclenched, nails digging half moon crescents onto my palms. I had been here before.

         “I wish I could fly away,”

         I watched her.

         “I’d never come back,” her voice cracked. “I can’t even breathe here,” she whispered. 

         And I realized she didn’t even see me. She wasn’t even talking to me. 

         “Don’t you understand?”

         I nodded and held out my arms. I’d always be here. 

         Outside, the birds had resumed their flying, I watched them, their wings catching the fading evening light. Free