Tactical Manouevres – A short story

Tactical Manouevres
By Susan Hocking
© 2012

Four year old Amber was sitting in her booster seat at the dining room table, her lunch set in front of her. Her mother was in the kitchen washing the dishes and humming quietly to herself. Amber sat there watching her mother, not eating. She wasn’t particularly interested in her lunch. She wasn’t a fan of tinned spaghettios. Especially not lukewarm tinned spaghettios. Her mother never heated the little mushy rings in sauce long enough. Amber thought she would have preferred them cold if she had to eat them at all. She slumped in her chair and stared at the offending excuse for food swilling around in her pink princess bowl. She knew that if she ate enough of the slush she would be able to see a picture of her favourite princess, Snow White, in the bottom of the bowl.

“Amber, eat up Sweetie. As soon as you’re done with your spaghettios it’s time for you nap,” her mother said, not even looking up from her dishes. The humming started up again and Amber was once again left to her lunch. She decided she didn’t want to take a nap. She thought she was too old for day sleeps now, but her mother always forced her to have them. She didn’t know why she decided to do it exactly, but the one day she had pretended to fall asleep. After a little while she had snuck out of her bedroom and found her mother snoring on the couch, the T.V. on in the background. She’d looked at what was on and decided that it wasn’t any wonder her mother had fallen asleep. Cartoons were far more interesting than that woman dressed in a black bathrobe, yelling at people and slamming a hammer on her desk.

She picked up her little spork (a spoon-shaped fork perfect for scooping and stabbing at the same time), complete with a Snow White handle that was ergonomically designed for little hands, and readied herself to spoon some of the slush into her mouth. She scooped, watching the red sauce dripping through the tines of the spork and splashing back into the bowl. How was she supposed to eat all of her lunch if the sauce didn’t stay on the spork? She let the utensil drop back into the bowl and it sploshed droplets of the sauce onto her mother’s white table cloth. Oops! She slid the bowl over the stain and peeked back at her mother to make sure she had not seen her little accident. Her mother was still humming, head down scrubbing a frying pan. Amber thought of another stall tactic that worked every time.

“Mama, I’m thirsty,” she whined. She didn’t get off her chair because she knew she would have to go straight to bed if she did so. “Mama, I neeeeeed a drink,” she tried again.

“What do you say Amber?” her mother scolded from the kitchen sink.

“I’m thirsty, I need a drink,” replied the little girl. She knew exactly what her mother wanted her to say, but she really didn’t feel like saying it. She was testing the boundaries today.

“I’m not getting you a drink until you say the magic word,” her mother prompted, giving Amber the sideways evil mother’s eye.

“Please?” Amber replied.

“Please what?” asked her mother. Oh, so she wanted more than just the magic word after-all.

“Please, Mama, can I have a drink? I’m thirsty,” said Amber with a little sigh. Her mother could be so tiresome sometimes, but she played along anyway. Anything to stall naptime.

“Please, Mama, may I have a drink,” corrected her mother. “Yes, you may have a drink Sweetie.” Her mother rummaged through the cupboard and pulled out a pink, plastic cup with Snow White on it, and filled it with water from the tap. She started to walk around the kitchen bench to give it to Amber when,

“No Mama! I don’t want water, I want juice!” demanded the little girl. She shook her head vigorously, which made her tight, blonde ringlets dance around her pretty little face. Well it would have been pretty of it wasn’t scrunched up in a frown.

“We don’t say want Sweetie, you know that. Ask nicely.” Her mother leaned up against the kitchen bench and waited. This was exactly what amber was hoping for. Although, she was getting legitimately thirsty now, and she hadn’t even started eating her spaghettios yet.

“Please Mama, may I have some juice? I don’t like water,” she said, adding a little extra sweetness to her already high-pitched voice. Her mother dumped the water down the drain and refilled the cup with juice.

“There you go, now eat and drink up, you need a nap.” Amber didn’t think she did, but obviously her mother did. She wondered what would happen if she refused to have one. She glared at her bowl. This just wasn’t going to do. She needed a new strategy.

“Feed me please Mama,” she said as she turned big, brown puppy-dog eyes on her mother. “The sauce won’t stay on my spork.” She dipped the spork back in and scooped up the sauce, which promptly ran back through the tines again. With a huff her mother plopped down in the chair next to her and started spooning the horrid stuff into Amber’s mouth. Amber grimaced. The lunch was now cold, and it was slimy. She decided she was wrong about preferring this stuff cold over lukewarm. She wondered if her mother would enjoy eating the stuff herself. She didn’t think so. Eventually Amber could see Snow White peeking back at her from the bottom of the bowl, though she was still half hidden behind globules of sauce. “I’m full Mama,” she said. She thought if she ate one more disgusting bite she would vomit the whole lot back up into the bowl. Wouldn’t her mother be pleased with her then?

“Alright then. Drink your juice quickly. You need to go to bed.” Her mother’s tone was slightly impatient and she was looking at the microwave clock in the kitchen anxiously. What was the rush? It’s not as if she had anything important to do. If Amber was asleep, well, what else was there for her mother to do? Amber slurped her juice down and watched her mother from the corner of her eye. Her mother was tapping her fingers on the table impatiently. Amber finished her drink and placed the cup carefully on the table top. “Finally,” her mother mumbled to herself. “Time for bed young lady.” She didn’t give Amber a chance to get up off the chair as she lifted the little girl into her arms.

“But Mama, I don’t want to go to bed. I’m not tired.” Amber wriggled. She knew if she wriggled enough her mother wouldn’t be able to hold her and would put her down, giving her the chance to stall further.

“Oh yes you are tired. It is naptime and there is no use arguing with me. You are going to bed.” Her mother held firm, no matter how much the little girl squirmed. Amber’s mother carried her all the way to her bedroom door.

“No Mama,” Amber started to whimper. “I don’t want to go to bed.” A small crocodile tear slid down her plump, pink cheek. Tears normally worked for just about everything.

“Oh Sweetie. Why not? It will be good to have a nap.” Her mother squeezed her close and wiped away the lone tear.

“Because…because…” Amber had to think quickly if she was going to get her way. She could feel the power she held over her mother slipping. She needed something good, something brilliant. She let another tear slip out. “Because I’m afraid of the…of the…zombies.”

“The zombies? Do you even know what a zombie is?” her mother was incredulous. Did Amber push it too far? She had no idea what a zombie was, but she had heard some of the older boys at her daycare centre talking about them yesterday. From the way they were acting she thought zombies must be awfully scary. So she gave her head a little nod, her ringlets bobbing up and down with it. She put on her saddest, most scared expression she could muster and hoped for the best. “Okay. Then you can come and nap on the couch next to me. I’ll keep the zombies away,” her mother said with a knowing smile. Her strategy had worked. Amber could hardly believe it. Zombies for the win!

As Amber lay on the couch with her head in her mother’s lap, her mother stroking her soft curls, she wondered if she could pull it off again tomorrow. She could barely believe that she had finally managed to pull one over on her mother. The gentle stroking felt so lovely that she decided to close her eyes, just for a minute.

“I’m not sleeping Mama, I’m just resting my eyes for a little bit,” she said through a yawn. Before long, Amber was fast asleep, her breathing evened out and her body grew heavy. Her mother looked down at her little face and smirked to herself.

“You tried so hard, little one. You really gave it a good go didn’t you?” she whispered, so as not to wake her peaceful daughter. “But you should always know; when it comes down to it, in the end, I always win,” and she picked up the T.V. remote, turned the box on and flicked over to her favourite daytime T.V. show; Judge Judy.

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