My little sister is usually the one that schemes the mischievous plans- always managing to drag me along for the ride. She is a redhead after all. That has always been my family’s excuse for her devious behavior. Like the time she locked our baby brother in a closet or how, without fail, she always managed to get our grandfather (Pop) to chase her all over the house with a wooden spoon whenever he babysat. Me on the other hand, I am the sensible sister, always sticking to the rules out of fear for the unknown. What might happen if the rules are broken? I have always been too scared to find out, scared to disappoint those I love. That was until the day of the peppers…
We pulled our puffy winter jackets tighter as the wind whirled around us, tossing the crunchy leaves like the kick balls and basketballs at recess. I was thankful Grandma had insisted that I put my hood on and even tie the strings tight to keep the wind off of my face. “Over here,” I called to my sister as I dashed across the backyard. Grandma stood at the sliding door, waving, happy to have us out of her hair as she prepared our lunch of spaghetti and meatballs.
As I stopped under the giant peach tree, the wind hit me across the tiny parts of my face that were exposed. I scanned the yard hoping to spot something to occupy enough time before we could go back inside the warm house. As I stood under the tree I thought about how Grandma’s yard always looks so different in the winter. In the summer the garden springs to life with every color you could ever imagine and an endless variety of bugs and insects buzzing around. Yet in the winter, the life seems to be sucked right out of the garden- draining it of all of its color. Leaving it gray and dreary. I knew that the vacant dirt patch left from the summer garden was off limits. That space was reserved for fiery red tomatoes, sprawling squash plants, and those sneaky beans that were always trying to find some way to escape the confines of the garden. At the opposite end of the yard was the staircase Pop had built, leading to the lower level of the garden. I noticed an upright log at the top of the steps, breaking the flat landscape of the yard. I wandered toward it and my sister followed like a puppy, neither of us saying a word.
As we got closer and closer to the log I noticed something small and red sitting on top, standing out against the bleak gray canvas. I began to rush closer to see what it might be. When I came to the log my sister sighed, “They’re just peppers. Let’s go dig in the dirt.”
I picked up one of the shriveled red peppers from the log. Staring at the pepper as if in a trance, I wondered, “Can they really burn your eyes or is that just something adults tell you, just because…”
“Let’s rub these peppers in our eyes and see what happens,” I blurted out, trying to convince myself as I easily persuaded my sister.
“OK,” she complied.
Pulling off my wooly pink mittens I handed a pepper to my sister. She smiled, always open to a little mischief.
“You go first,” I demanded as a gust of wind whipped wisps of my hair from underneath my hood.
“Let’s do it at the same time,” she retorted as she broke her pepper in half.
“On the count of three…one, two,” I hesitated just a moment before whispering the number three. Bringing the pepper slowly to my face, I gulped a mouthful of frigid air that caught in my throat. I stole a glimpse of my sister raising her pepper to her face, her eyes fixed on me for reassurance. I nodded slightly as I pressed the pepper to my left eye, unsure of what would happen next. As I exhaled I waited for something to happen, thinking for a split second that the part about peppers burning your eyes must be a hoax.
Time was suddenly frozen as I waited. It was like when someone calls you on the phone and they say something like, “I’m calling about the car.” In the time it takes you to respond, a thousand thoughts have already crossed your mind like What happened? Whose car? Is everyone ok?
In my mind I imagined my eyes catching fire and the entire Stratford Fire Department rushing to the house to rescue me, My rule abiding side kicked in and I wondered if there was any way I could be sent to prison for dragging my little sister through this pepper escapade.
And then it was like the stopped clock suddenly began ticking again. The thoughts that had been floating through my mind froze and the silence was broken by a scream like none I had ever heard before. It was like one hundred newborn infants receiving their vaccinations at exactly the same time. I tried to look at my sister, knowing that the horrific wail had come from her, but when I pulled own hand from my eye, I let out a cry matching my sisters. My eye felt as if there were hundreds of angry bees repeatedly stinging me. I tried to swat them away, frantically brushing my face with my hands-one gloved, one not. That only made things worse as the bee stinging traveled to my right eye as well.
I dropped to the ground and my sister followed. We lay there rolling around and wailing for what seemed like hours and the stinging grew more intense with each passing moment. Grandma’s garden was unrecognizable. The fruit trees blended in with the gray sky and the sky seemed to collide with the still gray grass. Tears rolled from my eyes but brought no relief to the fire I felt.
And suddenly Grandma was jetting across the yard crying out in her broken English that all blended together, “Whatsamatter! Whatahappen?” Pop was not far behind her. Both of them knelt next to our flailing bodies trying to make sense of what had gone wrong. They carried my sister and I inside, the whole time pleading and begging us to tell them, “Whatsamatter? Whatahappen?”
In between my horrifying howls and gasps for air I managed to wail, “Peppers.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon lying on Grandma’s bright red couch, our heads at opposite ends, looking like battered soldiers left to mend at the infirmary. As my eyes continued to burn far worse than any shampoo that ever snuck into my eyes while showering. I began to wonder what would happen to me now. What would my life be like as a blind child? Would my mom and dad hate me for causing my sister to lose her sight too?
After many hours with a cold wet washcloth over my face the fire in my eyes began to cease. I was finally able to accept Grandma’s relentless pleas to “Mangia! Mangia!” or “Eat! Eat!” This is Grandma’s remedy for any situation. After our delayed lunch of spaghetti and meatballs, Grandma and Pop tried once again to uncover the story of what had happened in the garden. My eyes met my sister’s across the couch. She immediately put her wet washcloth back over her eyes.
“So-a it-a was-a your-a idea?” Grandma accused my sister. Her little head and unruly red hair quickly popped up off of the couch, her lips pursed together, a sure sign of anger. I knew I could blame the whole thing on my sister, given her track record.. But I knew I had to save her from the blame, even though I was scared too. I had gotten us into this mess, it was up to me to fix it.
“It wasn’t her this time. It was me, “ I managed to mumble as I quickly covered my eyes with my own washcloth.
“What-a?” my Grandma and Pop exclaimed together.
My heart raced and my whole body began to tremble as I held back the tears. I took a deep breath and removed the washcloth from my face. I looked my Grandma and Pop in the eyes and I repeated, “It was me.”