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Don’t Be an Idiot

Ksenia Martynova

Oliver doesn’t know anything.

We’re standing between the kitchen island and fridge, hands coated in flour as we roll out the dough our mothers prepared together this morning alongside olive oil–covered coffee mugs. A mixture of shredded potato, onions, and carrots tossed in black pepper and salt sit in one of my mother’s favorite bowls—a gift from my grandmother with flowers painted on the bottom.

Now, the parents are mingling in the living room, drinking wine and eating cheese like you would do at a reception filled with tens of people, not in a half-empty living room occupied by two women—one single mother and another whose husband is passed out on the torn couch. I tried to convince Oliver to sneak behind the couch and steal the remains of wine, but he correctly, as usual, pointed out that we’d be caught in an instant. A result of having moms that guzzle wine like full-time students chug coffee and being closely watched only children.

“We’re not going to have enough filling,” I tell Oliver. Half the counter is covered with dough and we’re not even done flattening it out.

He lifts his elbow to push away the curls of brown hair that have escaped into his vision. His eyes skim the food-covered counter, the bowl of filling, until they land on me. Piercing me with a shade of brown so dark that his pupils nearly disappear. Sometimes I wonder if he can tell how much my eyes urge me to stay looking into his eyes when we’re this close. But I find the answer quickly when a smile takes over his face and he stands up straighter to ruffle my bangs. “We can make some more. The recipe is easy.”

Those last four words sound sad—softer than the usual deep grumble of a boy turning seventeen. There’s no one I know that loves cooking as much as Oliver. His room is full of carefully organized binders of recipes and his dad even bought him a World’s Best Chef apron for his birthday. Samantha has never been a fan of her son’s love for cooking. She knows he’s good, but she doesn’t hesitate to express her doubt that he’s good enough. “Dreams aren’t jobs,” she said to him one night, washing the dishes from the dinner he prepared for his family and my mother and me. He nodded then, but when I found him sitting at the desk in the corner of his room, his eyes were glassy.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He nodded again because the day Oliver was anything but fine was the day the world got dizzy from spinning so much. “The large majority of the world cannot afford to be economically burdened by their dreams.” A beat. “And it’s sad because you’d think chasing them would be the most important thing in your life.”

I agreed with him then, but I think that was only true when you have dreams. My mother calls me passionless. Oliver says I’m careful. Both sound like fancy words for failure.

Sometimes I think Oliver is the wisest boy I’ve ever met. But then I remember the way he spins me around by the waist without feeling the flush of my skin. Or how the brush of our hands results in him linking his fingers with mine, only for them to disconnect the second I tighten my grip. And, all of a sudden, I think Oliver is an idiot.

At ten years old, we were running through a field of daisies down the road from where our mothers were having tea and scones. The white flowers blended into his button-down shirt, and his gummy smile was so large it took up half his face. He looked perfect while my hair was getting stuck in my lip balm and my skirt was stained with mud.

He laid down in the daisies. I stood above him so as to keep bugs from crawling out of the flowers and into my hair. I was staring down at his contentment when my mouth betrayed me and uttered, “You’re the prettiest boy I’ve ever seen.”

He didn’t even blush, merely laughed and replied, “Since when are boys pretty?”

I wanted to say, Since always. Since I met you.

I stayed silent. Oliver may not have known anything, but I never wanted him to question whether he knew me.

In the kitchen, my shoulders are no longer hunched over the pile of carrots Oliver has peeled for me. I watch the birds sitting on the sill beyond the cracked window. There’s two of them—black with brown stomachs and white spots. They sit with two feet of space between them, until the bird on the left sings a single note, and suddenly the other bird is taking off right behind it. They don’t fly off into the sky, merely loop around the large—failed—apple tree in my neighbor’s backyard. They don’t stray apart anymore. The two feet of space is forever gone.

I’ve moved closer to Oliver. I don’t notice it until his arm is brushing mine and the scent of pine trees overtakes the smell of raw onion. I dream of what it’d be like to glide my arms higher and higher until my hands meet behind his neck. He’d have to crane his head down a bit, but not enough for it to be uncomfortable. The flour speckling his blue sweatshirt would transfer to my black tank top, but we wouldn’t care because one rock forward and our hungry mouths would meet.

The day my father got remarried, I was eight years old and confused. Naive—thinking marriage was guaranteed forever. You’d never have to worry about losing love because there it was signed to you. On dotted lines. Encased by gold. My mother didn’t look upset when she watched the blushing bride fall into the suit-clad arms of my father. Samantha cursed him out in whispers by the mini bar, but my mother said not one bad word.

In the car on the way back home was when I saw her smudged make up. “It’s just from sweat. The venue was really hot.”

She was a horrible liar. “You can be sad, Mom. I’m sad. Now there’s only one person left to love me.”

I think my words just made her want to cry all over again. She didn’t swipe at her eyes. She kept them firmly planted on the steering wheel. “It’s not one person, honey. I love you. Samantha loves you. Oliver loves you. There are so many people that want nothing but happiness for you.” She didn’t say my father. “Horrible liar” meant she didn’t do it often. And she knew I wasn’t going to see my father again until he was attacked by doves.

“The carrots are too thick like that, Shelly,” Oliver says, his hand molded on top of mine, slowly guiding my knife until the carrots look like they’ve been grated.

“Your dough is too thick,” I retort—even if I’ve succumbed to his not-so-silent request to have better knife skills.

“Your mom likes it this way,” he replies. And of course he’s right.

I could’ve grown up worrying that my mother would abandon me for a talented, respectable son like Oliver. But that was never the case. He was always my Oliver. And my mother was just happy that he was around. Which was all the time.

Samantha had a temper that occurred so suddenly that she was constantly surrounded by eggshells when we approached her. Oliver got yelled at every time the dishwasher wasn’t emptied or the carpet wasn’t properly vacuumed. Samantha had this raspy sort of voice that made everything she said sound more serious. I always wondered why my mom liked her so much. They weren’t really similar. Soft and hard. Warm and cold.

Oliver never cried, but his mouth would thin out into a line and his throat would bob. Once. Twice. Three times. I watched it when he sat on my bedroom floor, head released from between his knees. I would ask him what was wrong, even if I already knew. He would just whisper, “She’s a little mad.”

A little mad. I think Oliver wanted to shrink his mother with that word. But she would always be bigger than him. And he wouldn’t know how to grow a little taller.

I push the carrots off my cutting board and into the bowl of seasoned vegetables. I look at Oliver with his scabbed fingers and crooked smile. Oliver who’s never left my side. Oliver who’s forever.

My throat is lodged with flour. My eyes are stinging from onions. And my heart is wrapped in carrot peels.

“I really love having you here. With me. I want you here all the time,” I whisper. The untold truth doesn’t taste sweet like honey. My mouth is full of peppercorns. And, still, I don’t take it back.

But he just raises an eyebrow. Grins. And replies, “With how much time we spend together, I’d hope you do.”

And he returns to shaping the dough in his hands. Because Oliver doesn’t know anything.

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