When she was little, very small, right before she learned she was made of electrical impulses and sociopathic tendencies, she thought she like all other little girls was made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Sugar and allspice were easy to find in her grandmother’s richly scented kitchen but she couldn’t find anything labeled "everything nice" so she poured rivers of chocolate chips and maple syrup into the batter and hoped it would work.
There were raw eggs in the batter so she wouldn’t let herself stick her finger in her mouth and lick it to test for taste. Besides, she wasn’t making cookies she was making a sister. She molded long, stringy legs, short arms, and a round belly, then topped it with a head that she rolled three times before being satisfied with the shape and size. Eyes were a problem. She thought about raisins but then they’d be the wrong color, different from hers, and she wanted her sister to be the same.
Just that morning her grandmother had let her help in the kitchen, given her the fat blueberries to pour into the muffin batter while Grandma stirred--"gently, Elle Belle, we don’t want the berries to break"--then held her so she could watch wide eyed through the oven door as the muffins swelled and grew. They’d used all the blueberries in baking but a blue-eyed sister was important so digging two berries out of a muffin wouldn’t be naughty. And just to be sure she’d eat it for breakfast tomorrow so nobody but her had to go without the right amount of blueberries.
Grandma’s kitchen ran on gas and she wasn’t supposed to go anywhere near the blue flames but this was Important Business so everyone would forgive her when she showed them her new sister in the morning. If they didn’t, she’d cry, then Grandma would give her a second muffin with real butter and Daddy would smile at her and mess up her hair. She had to stand on a chair to reach the wall-mounted oven but even then she wasn’t tall enough to touch the knobs and buttons that would make it work.
She was stretching and stretching and wishing really hard that she could make the oven turn on when it happened. It was lightning or fire or she had superpowers like on TV and it didn’t matter because when the stuff shot out of her fingers and struck the oven everything caught on fire and she flew backward off the chair and across the room. She hit her head, and the way that hurt and all the flames coming at her were the last memories she had of her grandmother’s house.
Or of her grandmother.
1991, age 8
When she was little, not so small, after she’d forgotten everything she ever knew about baking and loving grandmothers she never wanted to go to sleep when she was told.
"Elle," her father warned. "It’s your bedtime. Do you want me to be angry with you?" She didn’t answer so he bent close to her avoiding her flailing fists. "Elle, I am speaking to you. Do you want me to be angry with you?"
"No, Daddy," she whispered.
"That’s right, you don’t. Because you remember what happens when I’m angry with you, don’t you?"
"Yes, Daddy," she said sullenly.
She stomped her feet and dragged her hands against the freshly painted walls but she went to bed because if Daddy was angry with her it meant he didn’t love her anymore, and the thing she wanted most in the world was for her Daddy to love her. Daddy’s love meant presents, toys and candy, and it meant that sometimes he sat her in the big chair across from his desk and talked just to her with nobody else around to take the attention that was all hers.
Elle didn’t dare slam her bedroom door or cry so Daddy might hear her but when she curled up in bed she couldn’t stay still and she definitely couldn’t sleep because she wasn’t a baby to be tired at seven o’clock.
"It isn’t fair," she whispered. "Not fair, not fair."
If only she could turn on the light she could read a book, but if she got out of bed Daddy would hear it and then she’d be in trouble. She fidgeted under the covers. Her door was closed and Daddy never came to check on her once she was in bed because he knew she’d never disobey so he’d never catch her reading. And if he did maybe she could say it was for school.
"But, Daddy," she could picture herself saying, "my teacher says I have to read to be smart. And I want to be smart. For you." Then he’d smile a lot, hug her, and maybe he’d let her sit in the big leather chair in his office and read while he did his work. She could ask him to help with the hard words, not that there were too many she couldn’t understand.
She rolled over and hung off the side of her bed, blankets tangling around her legs. Swinging her arm back and forth she could almost touch the Ramona Quimby book that she knew was lying on the floor. If she had a sister she’d be way nicer to her than that know-it-all Beezus was to Ramona.
All she needed was some light.
This time when her fingers almost brushed the book she saw blue sparks. "Cool."
She swung her hand faster and faster and the sparks blurred into a line, then, zap, stretched right from her hand and hit the socket. For a minute her whole room was lit up then all the lights--in her room, the hallway beyond her closed door, and outside her window--went out.
Stupid electricity. Now she’d never get to read her book.
1992, age 9
When she was still little, just as small as she was the year before, they put her in a room with glass walls and glass doors and white, white, white ceilings. She had a pillow, a blanket, and a sharp needle in her arm.
"Happy birthday," she whispered to herself. She counted on her fingers, wondered why her hands wouldn’t stop shaking, and realized she was nine.
From then on, she was no longer little, no longer small.