I will be giving these next two chapters a recap each. BIG! DAMN! STUFF! happens in these chapters, so I want to be fair. This first one, for example, introduces Sylvia. I will tell you right now that Sylvia is going to be a hard character to write about, mostly because, dang it, I can’t really snark her. It’s not her fault! The snark will be contained to peoples’ reactions to and actions around Sylvia, I just don’t feel right snarking her. This will all be clearer shortly, I promise.
Audrina is now eleven years and eight months old. She’s had this confirmed by Aunt Elly, who also confirms that Vera is three years and ten months older than Audrina. Lil A is keeping a daily journal so that she can read over her memories and hold on to them. She’s also started growing up in other ways, which she tries to hide in big loose sweaters, in direct contrast to her cousin Vera, who wears the tightest sweaters she can find (surprise surprise). Vera spends all of her time with her school friends and participating in after-school activities (Translation: whoring it up with piano players), while Audrina isn’t allowed to go to sleepovers and has to beg and argue in order to spend time with Arden. Audrina is finding her piano lessons to be more and more awkward–although she doesn’t entirely believe Vera’s stories, she can’t help but be uncomfortable around Lamar, and on one occasion he wears his shirt slightly unbuttoned, revealing the chest hair that Vera so lovingly described.
One day after Audrina has given up on asking her father if she can go out with Arden, Damian tells her that while she can’t have that, she is getting something else she’s always wanted: he’s going to the next morning to pick up Sylvia and bring her home. Audrina is overcome with excitement and can’t understand why Damian looks so strangely about the whole thing. The morning that Damian is set to go and pick up Sylvia, Audrina runs over to Arden’s house to tell him the good news. In her excitement, she runs inside without knocking and subsequently is treated to her first-ever view of Billie without a long skirt on. Billie is pretty awesome here: she’s wearing short-shorts over the stumps of her legs, and when Audrina can’t figure out what to say or where to look, Billie tells her to stare away, it doesn’t bother Billie. Billie reminds Audrina that once she had a pair of the best, most beautiful, and talented legs that any woman could ask for. I am so conflicted about Billie. She’s going to have to be the next Character Spotlight, because she’s so awesome in a lot of ways (Audrina needs more independent women in her life), but in others (it’s coming), she falls faaaaar short. Anyhow, Audrina tells Billie her news, and Billie tells Audrina that, even if she doesn’t always know it, she’s proud of her father, and should keep loving him even if he is “straight from a cake”. Is that a real saying? Or a VCA-ism like “Golly lolly day” and “We from de bayou, dis is how we talk, cherie.”?
Audrina goes home, and she, Vera, and Aunt Elly wait on the porch for Damian to bring Sylvia home. Vera is taunting Audrina, as is her wont, telling A that she’ll be sorry once Sylvia is home, and that she (Vera) disowns Sylvia Adare–to Vera, she just doesn’t exist. Elly is concerned at how happy Audrina is about the whole thing, and then Damian arrives home. First of all, Damian has Sylvia (who is about 2 and a half at this point) sitting in the passenger seat, apparently without any sort of safety seat at all, which…I’m not sure exactly when this book is set, so child safety seats might not have been the norm, but it really doesn’t seem like a smart idea, especially with Sylvia. As he gets Sylvia out of the car, Audrina is immediately taken with how beautiful her little sister is. Sylvia, we’re told, has shiny chestnut curls that catch the sunlight, and sweet dimpled hands, and (we’ll learn shortly) aquamarine eyes, and she’s just the cutest little button of a Renesmee Carlie Cullen, and then…Audrina realizes that something isn’t right.
See, there’s something off about the way that Sylvia holds her head, and about how her eyes look, and how she walks. She can barely do the latter, her bones seem to be “made of rubber”. Damian, because he is an awful person, calls to Audrina to come and meet her sister, to see how pretty Sylvia is and to forget everything else. As poor Audrina is frozen, Damian drags Sylvia up to the porch to meet her. Sylvia has a case of “Tragic and Unspecific Mentally Challenged Syndrome”: her eyes never focus, her mouth never closes and she drools; the result, Audrina realizes, of Damian’s habit of beating and mentally abusing his pregnant wife, and that wife’s habit of drinking bourbon laced with tea whilst pregnant. Sylvia is absolutely gorgeous, but also, her sister thinks, “looks absolutely moronic”. Damian drags Sylvia up to the porch and, holding her up to Audrina’s eye level, gives us another of his patented “Father of the Year” speeches:
“Look, Audrina, see Sylvia. Don’t turn your head aside. Don’t close your eyes. See how Sylvia drools and can’t focus her eyes or even make her feet move correctly. She’ll reach for what she wants a dozen or more times before she can figure out how to grasp it. She’ll try to shove food into her mouth and miss, though eventually she’ll find a way to eat. She’s like an animal, a wild thing–but isn’t she beautiful, charming and terrible too? Now that you see, perhaps you’ll understand why I kept her away for so long. I was giving you your freedom and not once did you thank me. Not once.”
There are no words for how terrible that is. I mean, come on. Granted, yes, Audrina did bug Damian for years to bring Sylvia home, but never once in all those years did Damian indicate that there was anything wrong with Sylvia other than being small and sickly. To now bring her back and imply that she would have improved with more hospital care, but oh well, you asked me to bring her home, so no more professional medical care for her! this is your fault and responsibility now! To an, again, ELEVEN YEAR OLD GIRL, is just one of the worst things I’ve ever heard of.
Vera interrupts this scene with, naturally, chanty sing-song taunting, namely of the “Sylvia is a crazy, a crazy, a crazy!” variety. Damian yells at her to get in the house, and Vera freaks out. She accuses Damian of preferring Sylvia, no matter what her problems, to Vera herself, and warns Damian that there will come a time when he will need Vera, and she won’t be there. Damian tells her that he won’t ever need her–he has Audrina. Vera tells him that Audrina hates him too, she just doesn’t know it yet. Still holding Sylvia with one arm, Damian slaps Vera so hard that she falls to the porch floor, where she proceeds to lay there and scream. Spurred on by this, Sylvia also starts screaming. God, this is all so healthy. Elly joins in, yelling at Damian that all Vera’s ever wanted was some of his attention, and he’s done nothing but deny her, even though he knows who she is. Damian’s response is that he doesn’t know anything. Vera crawls into the house, where they can hear her screaming for the rest of the chapter. Audrina finally manages to ask Damian what’s wrong with Sylvia, and Damian orders Elly to leave, as he doesn’t want anyone’s influence coming between Audrina and her sister. Elly goes inside. Damian explains that Sylvia can see and can hear, but doesn’t react properly; she’ll bump into chairs or knock things over as she walks, but she won’t fall down the stairs; she wears diapers and probably always will; she’ll need care for the rest of her life. Audrina’s not sure what to do with all of this information, she wants her little sister, but doesn’t; she feels sorry for her, but already resents the time and attention that she’ll need. Damian starts telling Audrina all about how she can do anything she puts her mind to, so she’ll have Sylvia walking and talking and potty-trained in no time, love will do what professional care couldn’t, and ELEVEN YEARS OLD. SHE IS A LITTLE GIRL. And as he goes and on and on, Audrina stops Sylvia from trying to eat some flowers, and decides as she holds her that she’ll do it. She’ll take care of Sylvia and ignore what the doctors said, because she will love her and make her better.
Auuuuuugh. There is this running theme in most VCA works where a teenage girl has to become a mother-figure to a younger sibling. Cathy does it to Cory and Carrie in Flowers in the Attic, Heaven does it for Keith and Our Jane in Heaven, Dawn, well, Dawn becomes a teenage mother in Secrets of the Morning, and so does Ruby in Pearl in the Mist. It’s this romantic notion of the beautiful young girl clutching a child against her as she faces down her deepest fears, and it’s weird. I mean, circumstances make these relationships necessary, but the choices are never shown to have been either guided by these circumstances or really by the feelings that the girl in question has for the child; it’s just this sweet saint-like image that has to be developed so that we the readers will admire the heroine all the more. I’m a big sister, I know all about the over-protectiveness, the loyalty, but something about making this a trope really bothers me. Relationships in these books are never clear or simple. Audrina can’t just love Sylvia because she’s her baby sister, she has to become her caretaker and second mother; Cathy has to become her siblings’ mother because their mother is an expletive, not just because she’s their big sister (and we’re not touching her relationship with Chris yet); Ruby and Dawn make their respective daughters into their worlds; it’s just all so…intense. Beyond the whole idea that these female characters are just waiting around for their princes to come, they’re also just longing for a chance to be somebody’s mother, because what else is there?
Bah. That doesn’t make a ton of sense, and I’m getting super-serious, so let’s wrap it up! Up next: Vera breaks my heart, but still manages to squick me out, and creepy MSA covers from around the world.