Mindy watched with deadpan silence as Mom piled a tray with salisbury steak carefully heated in the microwave and pr-emade mashed potatoes before her.
Mindy shook her head. “The slink said if I eat the steak, he’ll tip me over and if I don’t get up fast enough, he’ll eat me.”
“Tell your friend to help you then, missy. I won’t have waste in this house.”
I paused with the potatoes half-way to my mouth, a cold feeling in my stomach.
Mindy pushed the tray away. “The slink’s going to tip you.”
“The what?” I asked, as the potatoes slid through my fork and dropped.
“The slink!” Mindy repeated like she was the one talking to a child.
“I don’t care what the slink told you, eat your food!” Mom snapped, but Mindy resolutely kept her mouth shut. A miracle, if you asked me.
But it made it harder to enjoy my food, too. I listlessly stirred the potatoes and corn together, my own steak half eaten.
“Oh, not you, too,” Dad admonished me, and I took a bite. I didn’t want to hurt Dad’s feelings by making him think I didn’t want the food he and Mom worked so hard to get for us. Mindy grimaced at me as I ate. She gave her head a quick little shake like she was trying to tell me not to eat it without Mom and Dad seeing. And they were right here, on each side of us. Maybe I would leave just a little bit. Placate both of them.
“Well, you’re both of you going to sit here at this table until you finish your meals,” Mom announced and stood, taking her tray and her glass of diet cola with her. “C’mon, we’ll just have to watch our movie on the bedroom TV.”
After Mom and Dad cleared their table settings, they retreated upstairs. I was infuriated. They were watching TV without us, and I didn’t even do anything wrong. I stared at Mindy. She stared back, then slid out of her chair.
“Where are you going? You can’t leave, Mom said!” I hissed. “You have to eat the steak, Mindy!”
“No, I don’t,” Mindy reached for her tray to take it with her. “I’m going to feed it to the slink, and then tip him over.”
“Shut up about the slink, will you?”
“You’re stupid and the slink’s going to eat you!” Mindy raised her voice like she was about to instigate another wailing fit. My butt hurt enough from one belting today. I wasn’t going for two in one day when I hadn’t had one in five years.
“Shhh! I believe you, OK? The shink or slink or whatever will come and eat our food or whatever! Just don’t freaking cry!”
Mindy gave me a big, moon-eyed stare, and started to sniffle. I had to think fast. Mom wouldn’t tolerate it, and I’d get the blame.
“Hey, hey, maybe you could show me the slink. That’d be, uh, cool,” I said, walking around the table to Mindy’s side.
Mindy wrapped her arms around my waist, like hugging was a reflex. Her arms didn’t go all the way around me anymore, and probably never would again.
“Come on,” she said, abandoning the tray and dragging me by hand to the hallway.
“Just, one second,” I said, eying her tray. I picked up the steak and took a bite of the already cold meat. I added the Mindy’s leftover to my tray, squishing the pieces together as I chewed. Maybe this way one of us wouldn’t get the belt.
I followed Mindy upstairs to our room.
Mindy sorted through my old dolls until she pulled up an old raggy redheaded off-brand Barbie. I think the doll was called Cassie or something, procured from the Dollar Tree on a Friday I’d scored a hundred and three on a spelling test. The bonus word was “procure,” in fact.
“This is it! This is the slink!” Mindy presented the doll proudly to me.
“Mindy, that’s my doll.”
“No it’s not, it’s the slink, it’s the slink, it’s the slink!” she started yelling.
“Shhh! OK, it’s the stupid ass slink!” I snapped and gasped as Mindy’s eyes went wide.
“You said a curse,” she said mildly. “I’m telling!” She sprang to her feet but as she ran toward the door, me on her heels, I heard something skitter down the stairs, followed by a large thump and a “Humph, Mindy!”
I grabbed Mindy and backed up as Mom tromped around downstairs with her angry steps. From the living room, where our dinner table was, I heard her muffled voice, “That’s what I thought.” And the footsteps got louder.
Mom, livid, pushed into our room. “Amanda Sloggins! I’m not going to tolerate this behavior, and you better learn it! You cannot go around pushing people over! I saw you do it, now come here!”
Mom stood, hands on rounded hips, and she struck me very much like one of the Tweedle Twins from Alice in Wonderland.
I was too scared to laugh, though. I held Mindy in the iron grip of a terrified older sibling, halting her from obeying Mom’s command.
“It wasn’t me, it was the slink!” Mindy protested from my arms.
“Mindy, your Dad is hurt!” Mom held up her sleeve and I saw a red staining on it.
I’d never really seen someone else’s blood before, aside from of the kids at school when he got caught on the swing set and it scraped off some of his leg skin.
But I’d never seen Dad’s blood before.
I stared, disbelieving Dad could bleed from something dumb like falling over. “She couldn’t have, Mom. She was here with me.”
Mom’s stared me down. “And you stop that lying! I saw her food on your plate! You cannot lie to me to protect her, that’s even worse!” Mom sighed, frustrated. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’m raising two wild heatherns. I don’t know what to do to make you not bad!” Mom’s voiced cracked and the unthinkable happened. She started to cry. That was two body fluids of my parents today that I’d never wanted to see.
“I’m sorry, Mom—” I started but she cut me off.
“I’ve got one child attacking people like a little psychopath and the other lying to cover it up! I knew yuns would turn out like Uncle Frankie Mo!”
I had no idea what Mom was talking about because I didn’t know Uncle Frankie Mo, and that made the prospect of being like him scarier.
“But Mom, it was the slink!” Mindy squeaked.
Mom stomped forward to rip Mindy from my grip, but I pushed Mindy back and rushed Mom, shoving my hands at her abdomen as hard as I could. She stumbled back and landed against my dresser. It tipped and banged against the wall, sending my jewelry and socks sliding onto the floor.
Mom and I stared at each other, both heaving with our respective efforts while Mindy cowered against her bed.
“I have to see if your father is OK, I can’t deal with you little hell cats right now!” Mom waved her arms and slammed the door behind her.
“I told you,” Mindy whispered meekly as Mom’s footsteps faded. “What the slink does can’t be undone.”
I turned back to Mindy. Those didn’t sound like words in her lexicon. “Just be quiet.”
Mindy jumped up and wrapped her arms around me again. “It’s going to eat you!”
I hugged her back, and in that moment I was afraid. Not of the belts, or Dad, or blood or Uncle Frankie Mo, no.
I was afraid because I was pretty sure I’d done something the slink would do.
Quiet minutes passed. No Mom returned. No pounding footsteps downstairs. I looked at Mindy. She shook her head, “Don’t go out there, the slink’s out there!”
A very bad feeling bubbled up in my stomach and I tasted salisbury and acid in the back of my throat. Must be that acid reflex Mom constantly said I was about to get. ‘Cause it’s genetic and all. I pushed the door open and felt my little sister press against the back of my legs.
“I can’t outrun the slink if you’re on my legs!” I hissed.
“You can’t outrun the slink,” she replied.
“That’s what you think,” I said, feeling pretty clever at my rhyme.
I stepped to the top of the stairs.
“Stop,” Mindy whispered as she grabbed my arm. “There’s something on the stairs.”
I peered into the darkness. Shadows rippled like waves from the TV in the living room. A particularly dark shadow moved out of time with the rest.
I froze, peering. A little black blob of darkness, and slid— no, it slinked— across the bottom step of the stairs. I blinked, and there was nothing. Did I see it? Or did I just convince myself I saw it?
“Gwen? You all right?” came Dad’s voice from the kitchen. “Hey, Gwen, did you buy these apples? Huh, must be gonna make a pie.”
Mindy sucked in her breath, and my own heart went into overtime.
Oh, no. Strudels, crispy chicken, snack cakes, pie. We get tipped while we’re eating.
We rushed down the steps and I skidded into the kitchen as Dad rummaged the cabinets.
“Dad, no!” I cried.
He held a box of yellow cream cakes in his hand. “What?”
“Don’t eat that,” I said, and for lack of anything better to add, “it’s bad for you.”
He chuckled. “Well, I guess if Gwen’s going to burden us with bananas we could make a fruit dish.”
He put the cakes away and I sighed with relief. Dad being eaten because of what he was eating, averted.
A loud pop emanated from the microwave, and my heart sank as I stared at the rotating death sentence within.
What are we allowed to eat, then?
“Dad, who put the popcorn in the microwave?”
Dad placed an apple on the cutting board by the sink, knife poised on the apple’s skin as he spoke.