You Have to Wake up at Four AM

So you want to go to bed early, for once. You send the cat to bed, and close the door to the bakery you have in the back of the house (the one that opens at 6 am) and tell your father that you’re not cooking a second dinner. No, there’s no way. He gets what he gets and that’s that because you only have one life and you’re young–you’re only twenty-two, although he seems to forget that most days–and you can’t spend your life cookin’. 

Oh, but you feel bad. Your dad fell asleep on his favorite chair again. As always, too close to the fire. Remove his reading glasses, the book from his belly, and softly tell him that if he goes to bed now you’ll reheat him a plate of soup. It’s 9 pm already and you’ve been working all day, but you can do this thing. Just this one thing before you finally, finally go to bed. The cat appears after he hears there’s talk in the kitchen about food. He starts running around in circles around the couch, around you, around your dad. Why can’t he have a snack too? You tell the cat no at first. But then you realize you never give the cat night snacks any more. “I guess I can give you something,” you say, “but just this once.” 

Now, it’s 10 pm and your dad felt energized and awake after the bowl of soup and ended up inviting the neighbor over so you have a packed kitchen. “My daughter makes the best mushroom soup.” He says as he points to the red velvet water: your dad likes when you put beets in his soup and extra cabbages. Things your mother hated. Bless her for having good taste in food, if not in men. The soup smells like onions although it doesn’t have any but is creamy and salty and comforting. The bread that you baked the day before is still soft and buttery and chewy. You all sit by the fire and you hear the neighbor gossiping about the other neighbors that can’t keep their weeds in check. You realize that she brought wine. “Oh boy, Miss Torres, I’m trying to go to bed.”

The clock says it’s 10:30 pm as you wrestle in bed, and cover your face with the pillow and curl with the aging cat that is currently warm as a radiator. Finally stand up, put your hands in a fist, and get ready to walk to the living room and tell everyone to go to bed. You need to sleep. You have work, a demanding cat, school, lunches and dinners to make. Responsibilities, you know? Has anyone heard about those in this house? But when you finally get there no one is home. The half drunken glasses of wine are by the fire and a half eaten plate of soup is on the wooden table without anything under it. Great, another stain on mom’s wooden table. Wonderful. You go outside, and face the crickets, the chill in the wind and the foggy night but you don’t see them by the porch. 

When you get outside you realize that the grass is growing again. Your dad forgot to mow the lawn. Father forgot to tend to the sunflowers and the roses, and everyone’s thirsty and everyone wants plant food and everyone wants something something something. Always something. You tell the plants you’re coming. You tell the cat that’s meowing to shut up. Mom’s wristwatch says it’s 11 pm and you look around and realize it’s going to take you more than an hour to feed the plants. You sit down, tell them you’re coming with a bucket and extra fertilizer. You look across the street and you see your father dancing under the moonlight with the neighbor, stepping on the other neighbor’s weeds. You smile and contemplate telling him that he’ll catch a chill. Wasn’t that what mom always used to say? A chill? You hear the block’s imaginary music, the cat comes and you let him curl up next to you. Under the stars, and with a ratty blanket the cat brought you gripping it between his teeth, you watch your dad teach Miss Torres how to spin.

María Alejandra Barrios

María is a Pushcart-nominated writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has an MA in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester and currently lives in Brooklyn. Her stories have been published in places such as Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Shenandoah Literary, Vol.1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante, Moon City, Fractured Lit, and SmokeLong Quarterly. She was the 2020 SmokeLong FlashFiction Fellow and her work has been supported by organizations such as Vermont Studio Center, Caldera Arts Center, and the New Orleans Writing Residency. She’s currently at work revising her debut novel.