Mira could not sleep. Her belly was aching. She would have liked to ask her mommy for a hot water bottle, but her mom was ill, and daddy was probably still up and working in the other room. That’s where he would always be, if they had argued over dinner. Usually, it was mom’s “inappropriate behavior” that would cause them both to yell at each other, but not this time. This time it was also Suzanne’s fault. It had been her sister’s “inappropriate behavior”, as dad had found out. His voice had become very quiet when the subject was brought up and Mira had deliberately focused very hard on her plate and those rather mushy carrots that Mrs. Dorkins had cooked. Whenever daddy’s voice got quiet and as low as that of a grumbling bear, one had to be careful.
Compared to her, it made no difference to Suzanne if their dad was angry. She had stared at him defiantly and asked why he even cared whether she saw Rick or not. Her mouth had twisted in a way Mira knew only too well. Whenever Suzanne’s mouth looked this menacing, like a thin line with those hard-pressed lips, it meant that she was harboring a secret. And more often than not, it would be one of those secrets that would make her father even angrier than just a date with her boyfriend.
Mom had intervened. “Just let her be, Jack”, she had said. Her mouth had also been somewhat small and tight, but it looked a little sadder. Her voice had sounded so tired, and just like Mira, she hadn’t looked at daddy, but had instead focused on her half empty wine glass. “We know Rick. We know his parents. He is a responsible young man. Just let her go to that party. It could be her last.”
Dad had looked at mommy very angrily. “And what will happen next?” His knuckles had become white, as he held his knife ever so tightly after cutting his meat. Mira dared to look up from her carrots, just in time to see gravy drip from the knife onto the table cloth. She had quickly averted her glance back to the orange vegetables and pushed some more of them onto her fork. Maybe everything would be alright if she ate everything on her plate tonight. Even though she really hated cooked carrots. “When she starts taking drugs and acting like a whore, will you then still tell me: Just let her?” His voice had been louder now. He hadn’t looked at Suzanne, who had leaned back in her chair and didn’t even attempt to look like she was eating. He had stared at mom again.
Mom had taken a sip of her wine. Her hand was shaking so much that the red fluid had spilled onto the tablecloth. Mira held her breath. Dad hated messiness. There were so many things her daddy hated. So many, that Mira often struggled not to do some of them by accident.
“You are such a damn hypocrite”, Mom had answered.
What did that mean?
She had set the glass back onto the table. “Jack, she is seventeen years old. I trust her. Compared to the others, she will not abuse my trust.”
Mira’s father had leaned back and now his eyes looked so furious that Mira seriously got scared. “Go to bed”, he had said. He hadn’t even cared that there was still food on the plates. Mira had jumped up immediately. For a split second she had stopped and contemplated whether she should give her parents a goodnight kiss or not, but the look on both of their faces had been enough to tell her that she should just leave. Her older sister had also taken this opportunity and left. They had closed the door to the dining room as quietly as possible and then run up the stairs to their rooms.
“Will you read me a bedtime story?” Mira had asked as she pulled on Suzanne’s sleeve.
“You can read it yourself”, Suzanne had said and tousled Mira’s short dark hair.
“But it is much nicer when someone else reads it to me”, Mira had insisted. Of course, she could read at eight years old – and very well, as her mom always pointed out – but her favorite story about Pilla Pimpinella was still a little too difficult for Mira. Pilla was a brave witch, whose self-invented magic spells were so long that only a grown up or an almost grown up could say them right. And obviously, they had to be said in the correct way if they were to work at all.
Suzanne, who had been standing at the door already, had sighed deeply. “Not tonight, sweetie”, she had said. “But tomorrow I will read you an extra-long story, okay? And you can choose which one. How does that sound?”
“Fine”, Mira had answered. “Will you wish me goodnight when you come back?”
Suzanne had closed her eyes so hard then. Just like she had done at the dinner table with her mouth. Before she could say anything, though, Mira had raised her small hand and pointed out her thumb, index, and middle fingers, as she had seen on TV. “I swear I won’t say anything.” She had been so happy that her sister wasn’t mad at her, and had instead come over and hugged her tightly.
“You are so very sweet”, Suzanne had said before turning to leave again. “But how do you even know… ah, it doesn’t matter.” She had glanced at her watch. “I need to get changed. Sweet dreams, sweetie. See you later.”
Suzanne had then left her room and Mira had to get ready for bed all by herself.
Mommy and daddy’s voices had become extremely loud and then they had turned very quiet again. At some point, Mira had heard her mom’s footsteps and then the clicking of her door closing. Mira usually left her door ajar in case of something bad happening. Suddenly, everything had become very quiet. So quiet in fact, that Mira could hear the door being locked with the key. This usually meant that mommy didn’t want to be disturbed anymore. Daddy’s office was downstairs, and he never cared whether he was noisy or not. His door had slammed shut very loudly and afterwards things finally seemed to calm down. Mira knew all the noises in this house and those her family made. Only then, once everyone had gone to their rooms and everything seemed normal, was Mira finally able to close her eyes. She had sat up once more to straighten out her blanket, but then turned to her right and buried her face into her Mister Knister’s soft fur. Ordinarily, she should be too old to sleep with a teddy bear, but Mira liked it when things were a certain way. The right way. Mister Knister was supposed to sleep with his back to the wall, her head would be exactly in the middle of her pillow, and her nose would touch the teddy bear’s neck, where he smelled the best. Somehow old, but still very sweet, and of mommy’s perfume.