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  • Writer's pictureBonnie Randall

Serving Up Mashed Potatoes For ChristmasA Shadow Valley Short Story


When Rob had designed Sabrina’s house, it was in accordance to her strict specifications—which in no way resembled the designer suits and sleek haircut his sister favored. She had wanted in-town farmhouse; all white board and batten with warm wooden accents. The classic wraparound porch where, as a surprise, he’d had swings installed before unveiling the place to her for the first time.

She had burst into tears, threw her arms around him. “Robert, it’s perfect! You’re perfect! You made my house perfect.”

He had never—and would never—admit it out loud, but he loved being her hero.

Even though it could be a lot of work. Especially lately. “But we’re going to change that, aren’t we?” he asked, looking down into the picnic basket Jessie did not know he’d plucked from their pantry.

A tiny teacup Maltese blinked up at him, bright black eyes in a snowy face.

“You’re going to be my proxy,” he told it. “Now just lay down a few minutes.” He flipped the lid shut, and when it bopped the puppy’s head, the Maltese squeaked, a sound more like a mew than a bark. Then it began wiggling, making the basket hop and swing as he sprinted up Sabrina’s front porch—his bad leg still twinging despite the last few months of healing.

He clamped a hand on the basket lest the little dog hop out, escape, then let himself in without knocking.

His sister, in the foyer, looked as startled as he felt, not expecting her to be standing right there. “Oh,” he said. “Hey.” He kept his free hand cinched on the basket.

“Polite of you to ring the bell,” she told him, with a long, sullen look he’d become accustomed to lately.

Stifling a sigh, he considered her where she stood—in a plethora of red and green glitter. Small, fabric bows heaped around her feet. “Gift wrapping?” he asked, dubious.

She huffed, impatient. “Because I’d wrap presents in my doorway? They’re bowties. I dropped them when you barged in here without knocking. You’d think you built the place or something.” Huffing, and squatting, she began to collect the small bowties.

Rob tilted his head. “Okay. I’ll bite. Who are the bowties for? You hire yourself a gaggle of strippers to grasp their grinches for you this Christmas?”

She tsked. “Must you be crass?”

This, from the Queen of Crass. He folded back a smile.

“They’re for the Kindergarten kids, Robert,” she snapped. “For their Christmas concert—which you’d better have remembered is today.”

Because he’d forget Robyn’s debut in a Christmas concert? His niece had started Kindergarten this fall. He’d been front and centre for every first. “I’ve got an alarm set.” He showed her his watch. “Just wanted to bring you something first. A Christmas gift.”

“It’s not Christmas for three days.” She narrowed cold eyes. “What’s the catch?”

“Since when do I have an angle with you?” He peered at her.

She looked down at the floor. “I dunno.” She toed the rustic hardwood there. “Haven’t seen you much lately.”

Yes, and it smarted. He knew her. Still—“I’ve been crippled,” he said.

“Crippled?” Her eyes popped up. “Oh, please. You only had a broken leg.”

Right. Just a busted femur. No biggie. He blinked at her, all theatrics.

She had the good grace to grin a little. “You’re the most resilient person I know, Robert. As if a broken leg would be anything major for you.”

He wished he had the confidence in himself that she had always had in him. “It hurt like a bitch,” he said. “Still does some days.” It was true.

“Meh. You’re invincible.”

No, he wasn’t. She just wanted him to be. Had always needed him to be.

“You…you’re my rock,” she whispered then, and as her chin wobbled a fat tear escaped first from one eye, then the other.

And he had not missed the subtle emphasis she’d placed on ‘my’. My rock.  Yet now he’d received a role with another sister. A new sister. “Mouth,” he began, but the basket began to rock and sway on his arm. Grasping it, he held it still. “Mouth,” he repeated. “Why are you crying?”

She twitched a shoulder. “Dunno,” she said again.

“Sabrina…”

“I just miss you,” she said, so quick it came out ‘jusmissyou.’

Rob’s heart listed. Sabrina, for all her bombast and bravado, for all her outrageousness which, on occasion, had even made their forbidding father laugh, had always been every bit as insecure as he (by her far-too generous estimation) was ‘resilient.’

He wondered what she’d say if she knew he didn’t feel too damn resilient lately.

On his arm, the basket rocked back and forth.

Sniffling, she peered—"What’s in there?”—and pointed at it. “Did you go catch a collection of bats from our childhood Hall-hole?”

The quip made him smile. “There’re no bats in The Hell.” Ghosts, yes. Bats? Nah.

“Then what is the clearly living creature you’ve brought into my house uninvited?” She took a step back from the basket.

“Only this.” He flipped the lid open.

The puppy leapt up on the lip of the basket. Caught sight of Sabrina and barked.

“Oh, my…Mashed Potato!” she burst.

Rob squinted. “Huh?”

She ignored him. Wrestled the puppy out from the basket. “Look at you!” she crooned. “You look just like a scoop of yummy mashed potatoes!”

The puppy squeaked like it agreed.

Sabrina kissed it all over. “Why did this big meanie have you locked up in a basket? Did you poop or pee in there? In Jess’s special picnic basket?”

Crap. He hoped not. “I—uh—I know we haven’t spent that much time together lately,” he told her. “And I’ve missed you too. So I got this little girl.” He pointed at the Maltese, now licking Sabrina’s face. “I thought we could substitute her a bit for each other. Share her.”

“Share her?” She clutched the puppy even tighter.

It peeped.

“I’m not sharing this baby with you, Robert. I’m not sharing this baby with anyone.” She buried her nose in the little dog’s fur, then said, “I don’t share.”

Oh, he knew. He tucked a grin into his hand. “Then I guess she’ll keep you company when I hang out with our new sister, convince her that we’re a family who loves her—not a family who thinks she’s evil or broken or cursed.”

“Ugh. Her so-called Baba was way worse than Vince,” said Sabrina.

Rob choked. How was anyone worse than a murderer? A suspected human trafficker?

“Mashed Potato,” Sabrina said then, back to crooning and beaming at the little dog—who yipped.

Rob smiled.

“I’m going to need a new purse to carry her in,” she declared.

His brows bounced.

“Michael Kors?” she asked the dog. “Or Louis Vuitton?”

“Uh…” He grimaced. “You’re not really going to turn her into a girly purse dog, are you?”

“Robert, she is a girly purse dog.” She cradled the puppy (Mashed Potato. Jesus) to her chest. “She needs a bow in her hair.”

Rob caught the little dog’s eye. I’m sorry, he mouthed.

Sabrina did not notice. “Although…speaking of bows, you need to leave,” she said, and began shooing him.

He tripped as she manhandled him to the door.

Tsking, she vaulted on tiptoe, kissed his cheek smartly. “Bowties,” she said, and gave a little kick to the glitter of festive at their feet. “I have to get these to school, remember?”

Right.

“You’ll be there, right? At the concert?”

He’d already said so, and besides—like he’d miss it. His family…they were everything.

Sabrina, like she knew, beamed at him, then the dog. “And won’t all those babies just love my new baby?” She glowed.

“Careful when you show her to Robyn,” he said, rueful. “She’ll steal her from you.”

“Uh, no,” she said, and at once became serious. “I told you, Robert. I don’t share.”

He let that hang a moment, then tilted his head. “Mouth,” he said softly, “there’s more than enough of me for two of you.”

Her lip wobbled and for a second he was certain she’d start to cry again. But then she said, “I know.”

So sullen. Again he smiled. “Besides—you adore her.”

“Well, duh. Of course I adore her. She’s our baby sister, Robert. Not just yours.”

Ah. So she was jealous over both of them. He dragged a hand through his hair. Why did Mouth always have to be so much work? “And she thinks the absolute world of you too,” he added.

“Pfft,” said Sabrina, but smiled because she knew damn well it was true. “Although…” Her eyes gleamed then, and damned if it didn’t remind him of their father, on the fleeting times when he’d been fun. “She’d toss us both in the recycle bin for her sweetheart,” she said.

Owen. “Probably,” he agreed.

“Do you remember how she says ‘sweetheart’ in Czech?”

He did not have a clue.

“Milacek,” she said.

“You’re learning Czech?”

“I am.” She lifted her nose. (Also like their Dad). “God knows I can’t do her Ouija thing.”

“Or want to,” he added darkly.

“Right? But I want to be able to talk to her in her other language as well as English.”

He eyed her, shrewd. “Really?”

She scowled. “Yes, really. Why are you looking at me like Dad?”

“Because.” He ignored the dig. “I think you want to learn Czech because you want her to like you better than me.”

She raised her chin. Preened a little.

Mashed Potato, settled in the crook of her arm, appeared to match the expression.

“And you want me to like you better than her,” he tacked on.

“Now you’re getting it,” she said.

He laughed, couldn’t help it. “I don’t think you have to try so hard, Mouth,” he told her.

“Prove it,” she said. “If Haslom Hell was on fire, and we were all trapped inside, the first of us you’d save would be—”

“Mashed Potato,” he answered, then turned, clopped back down her front stairs. “See you at the concert, Mouth.”

“Oh, come all ye faithful,” she quipped back.


Bonnie Randall,

Christmas 2023

pssttt.... GET THE PREQUEL to this little story here: The Shadow Collector: Natalya & Owen



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1 Comment


Chris Grab
Chris Grab
Dec 22, 2023

Well done! Well done! Hall-hole...love it!

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