Cilantro and Coloured Lights
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Anything you recognise, not mine.
The late Mrs Nichol loved cilantro. Used to colour the food that lay before her husband and her two beautiful daughters with it. Used to look up at Caleb with that bright, infectious smile. The very same one he sees Kirsten direct at Sandy, when she thinks no one's looking.
He remembers coming home everyday from work at 6, or thereabouts, because once, long ago, he had everything he wanted waiting for him, right there. He used to open the door, and just bask in the scene that lay before him. Kiki, with her hair tied up with a pink ribbon she saw in a market in Covent Garden once and fell in love with, running around laying the table. Then, with a small hand on her hips, demanding that Hailey, a blonde blur of never ending energy, needed to come and help her before Daddy came home. It was always that same scene, with variations of the girls either arguing at a frequency and pitch that only bats could hear, running around the table giggling so hard they could barely move playing tag, or a more orderly walking with drinks that made worrying sloshing motions, but never spilled. But the ending was always the same. One of the girls, usually Kiki ("ears like an African elephant" his mother used to say, so sensitive to sound was his little girl) would spot him and run and jump into his army shrieking "Daddy's home!" His wife, his darling wife, would stand at the other end of the room, arms crossed, with a smile that lit up the room, as she surveyed the scene before lifting Hailey up and half-walking half-running to join them.
They'd sit down around a cosy table for four and eat the meal sauced with cilantro that was as usual so delicious. To Caleb cilantro equalled his wife. The taste of paradise.
"Oh, Kiki? Make sure they don't put cilantro on anything. I hate the stuff."
Kirsten looked at Caleb and smiled, a sad smile that was at once annoyed and understanding. "I will".
Caleb looked at the kitchen. And he remembered.
Caleb remembers coming home one time, early (yes, he declared, it had happened), during the holidays to find his wife and Kirsten, who must have been about nine, in the kitchen together. Making cakes and cheese wheels (a strange combination, but apparently his little girl was adamant). Kiki had somehow managed to get more of the flour on her than in the bowl but she was meticulous in her arrangements on the baking tray. When she saw him she did not yell out a delighted cry that he was home, to his disappointment, but gasped, then lowered her eyebrows and ordered him to get out of the kitchen.
"Mommy's giving me cooking lessons and she says if I do it real good she'll show me how to make that meal with the cimantro!"
"Cilantro" he had corrected her.
"That's what I said silly, look I need to concentrate and if you're here I won't and then I'll mess up and Mommy will never teach me again and it will all be your fault so you need to go!" she babbled determinedly.
Caleb had looked bewildered but grudgingly agreed to leave them to it "as long as you save some cheese wheels for me!"
"Ok Daddy bye!" beamed Kiki and pulled Caleb down to her level to give him a peck on the check, leaving dusty white handprints on his 1000 Armani suit.
He remembered smiling, kissing his wife for a moment too long for Kiki's liking ("Ewww!") and leaving. He wore the handprints on him like a badge of honour (well for a few minutes anyway). His wife was an excellent cook and Kiki's cheese wheels were a raving success in their family. He never found out what happened to the cake.
One hot summers evening at the end of August, he remembers walking through the door, smelling the cilantro wafting through the house and a proud Kiki serving up her meal. Hailey had made strawberry smoothies.
When Kiki was thirteen, Mrs. Nichol became ill.Too ill to cook. They hired a chef, along with two nurses and a maid. She never cooked again after that.
Neither has Kirsten.
She tries, for her family, to be the kind of mother that her mother was, but every time she tries, her mind goes back to that spacious kitchen of her childhood home, and when she looks up all that is left is smoke and burning.
Sandy always laughed at the fact that Caleb hated coloured lights. Thought him strange that he hated carnies. But Kirsten knew. She never corrected her husband, those memories she had were far too sacred even in the sanctity of their marriage. Always tried to dissuade this rivalry between the two, but never told him outright. She wasn't sure why.
She knew her father had once been so loving, so kind, and that he still was. Her mother's death had shrouded Caleb with so many layers that he was presented like a brick wall, unbreakable, infallible, but she knew that underneath he was the same man that rushed home from work to spend time with his girls, cancel meetings to take them around the world. Kirsten had basked in his affection when she younger. Now she holds every solitary moment of affection she gets with him with a determination to keep breaking his walls down.
When Kirsten was three, barely old enough to keep a fragile memory inside her head, and before Hailey was born, her and Cal decided to make this year's Mothers Day really special for Mrs. Nichol. They decorated the house to within an inch of their lives, all by themselves (well Kirsten doing it then Caleb rearranging most of it behind her).
When her mother walked in later that night, she gasped quietly. Coloured lights were strewn everywhere, giving it the appearance of Santa's grotto, her favourite flowers arranged neatly and placed in plastic jars Kirsten had painted in kindergarten, and her favourite music softly playing in the background. They had ordered take-out which was neatly presented on the table, next to the bottles of cilantro and wine.
"Oh, this is beautiful!" she had exclaimed. Even Caleb couldn't keep from smiling, Kirsten remembered wryly.
Every holiday since then the Nichol family strung coloured lights around their home, each more extravagant than the last and set the tone for the whole of Newport on the correct way to celebrate the holidays: with plenty of tasteful decorations, great music, and most importantly, with family.
The Nichols loved their holidays and each one was marked with coloured lights. Coloured lights at Christmas, coloured lights for birthday parties, Newpsie events. The year their mother got sick Kirsten and Hailey made an extra special effort and the effect was so wondrous it lit up their mothers face for the first time since she had gotten the news.
After the funeral the remainder of the Nichol family served cilantro and hung up the coloured lights for the last time, as a tribute to a great woman. And then never used them again.
Coloured lights are a usual at most parties. Kirsten used to wonder why Hailey still liked the parties so until one day after a few too many, her baby sister told her: To remind me of her. To remind me to drink so much that I won't remember. To remember to live.
Sandy doesn't get why she tries so hard. Knows about her mother's death being hard on Cal, but doesn't accept his treatment of Kirsten. At some level she knows it's not right, but inside she's still daddy's little girl who wants to do something he will be proud of.
Sometime even Caleb wonders at how far he's come from the man he used to be. He is more proud of Kirsten than she could ever know, but he could never tell her. Hailey may look like the late Mrs. Nichol but Kirsten has turned out to be her mother personified, and he looks at her and wonders if this is what his wife would have turned out like had she lived this long.
He looks around at the preparations for his Riviera "Man of the Year" party, looks at Ryan, carrying some food for Kirsten. Wonders at how he looks like he could be Kirsten's son, his flesh and blood, at how he acts like one of the family. At how he resembles himself at seventeen, dragging himself up from his own humble beginnings. Caleb can't like Ryan. Caleb doesn't like himself. Not anymore. Not after she died. After she died, Cal died too, where it counts.
Please RnR! Tell me what you think, it's my first story so be kind people!