My body lays awake
My mind shut down
Where am I?
Cloudy like a rainy day
I can't think
I can’t FEEL
I can't see
Is this death?
Has it finally come
To fulfil my wishes?
The enhanced but diluted
Feeling in my fingers
My tense but relaxed
I don't understand
What is this?
What is this?
I’ve never FELT this
I don’t know if
I like it
Minutes have already passed
Sunlight starts shining
Through my window
I have to get up
The day is starting
As my thoughts start
My senses awake with a jolt
I can FEEL my bed
I can FEEL my skin and clothes
It FEELS normal again
The word to describe my experience
“I didn’t like the movie that much.” Amy said, brushing the hair out of her eyes.
“What? Why not?!” Adam turned around and stopped walking, which then caused Amy to stop walking. The people around them hastily made way for their sudden stop.
Amy shrugged, “’Dunno, it just-it didn’t make me feel anything.”
She continued walking, thinking Adam would let it go.
“Didn’t make you feel anything?!” Adam jogged to catch up with her. “How about when the mother died? How ‘bout then?” Adam once again stopped walking.
“Nothing. She wasn’t believable at all, Adam.”
He looked at her incredulously. “I don’t know why I expected anything from you; you never feel anything, do you?” And then under his breath, “Especially for me.”
Now Amy stopped. Her eyes widened, her mouth dropped open, and she crossed her arms.
“I don’t think this about the movie anymore.”
“Your damn right it isn’t.”
They stood there in the freezing cold in front of a closed down bakery.
“I didn’t like the movie Adam, at all, and I don’t like you.” Amy whispered.
She uncrossed her arms, took the ring off her finger, and held it out for Adam to take.
Waving Memories of Singapore
To all of you, who spent such great time with me and left so many unimaginable memories
I sit down as my mind tell me that I shall start writing the novella of our trip to Singapore. As I breath and click the “Word” button on my laptop screen, memories of this journey pounce over me. Two days ago, with the roaring-like sound of the airplane, our amazing trip ended. I feel a drift of grief flowing through me; I miss our trip so much, I miss the persons we travelled together so much.
I was super pleased when Rainbow decided to go and lead our group. I was very confident then, daydreaming about wining the First Price in the semifinal, and again in the final. I kept beaming when I was lost in my ridiculous fantasy, but now, when I recall them, they are broken like shattered shadows and burst everywhere.
Even though, this trip is still unbelievable fun, especially when you’re with your schoolmates and familiar teachers.
After we waved goodbye to our parents in excitement and nervousness, there was a long time during baggage checking and boarding. I didn’t find anyone in the fifteen persons to play or chat with. I only know two in all of them, but they all got their friends.
I felt very lonely.
I spent the first two days and a half with these emotions sticking me like shadows. I really wished that I could stick with my schoolmates or teachers like my roommate did, but I never could in those days. Even Rainbow, I felt awkward and distance then. I thought they might think I was aloof, but I wasn’t! I was truly furious with my personality. Why can’t I be like them? Why I have to be so shy and no-fun? Finally, I mingled with most of my groupmates.
In this journey, one thing changed my point of view completely. After all the seven days, I think not bringing a phone is the wisest decision of this trip. Without playing games on the internet or whatever you want to do on your phone, we got time to chat and play and get known with each other. I feel so stupid when I remember I was very angry that our teachers were preventing us from carrying an electronic thing before we went to Singapore.
My favorite day is Day 4, when we visited Sentosa. Whether or not it’s full of joy, awkwardness, excitement, or boring, it’s always the best day. I truly mingled with my groupmates that day, and I didn’t care much about anything.
S.E.A Aquarium is a mystery azure blue world with swirling sea creatures. We stayed there for an hour, before we went to Universal Studio Singapore, which is opposite the aquarium.
The fairground looked incredibly fun like Universal Studio Japan I went last summer. I enjoyed staying in a music-filled wonderland, with marvelous buildings and amusement establishment; I’m sure everyone in our group enjoyed that.
I was very glad and elated that I always sat beside Rainbow when we were on a roller coaster or something. The first project we had was TRANSFORMERS The Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle. We were almost mad when the radio played “delay from technical problems” time and time again. Finally, after hours of waiting, we got to go inside. I was proud of my discoveries of the ride, which was covered with the sounds of punches and squealing voices.
We went to the Revenge of the Mummy next, an indoor highspeed roller coaster. The oldest boy in our group is always scaring us, and with the horrible mummy sounds and carvings, even I was feeling a bit fear. I screamed very awkwardly on the ride, though I closed my eyes in the main part.
We ate lunch in Malaysia Food Street when we had the first two rides, my roommate commented that it looked like a parking there. I shared mine with her, and she shared hers with me, either. We ate a meal of Bak Kut Teh, fried chicken wings and icy coke. I enjoyed that meal, with her and Rainbow beside me.
Our group played three more amusing rides after lunch. The show, Wings of Time, started when we finished dinner and rested for a while. It’s nearly the best light show ever- so majestic and mysterious.
On the schedule, the results of semifinal are listed to be announced on the evening of Day 4, so we kept asking Rainbow and Alice again and again very patiently “are the results out yet”, but they shook their heads every time we asked.
I started daydreaming again on the way back to our hotel. I dreamed how happy Rainbow would be when she saw that I could attend the final contest, and how she announced it. I would never think of the terrible truth, that-
When we asked Alice excitedly that dawn after Day 4, she shook her head very mysteriously and whispered, “Only one person has been promoted. The main results will come out in this afternoon.”
I kind of believed that I was the only person. I raised my head and gazed at Rainbow as she padded towards us with a strange smile on her face. I narrowed my eyes when I saw her giggle with that familiar expression.
“Who gets in?” the Second Graders gathered around Rainbow, blinking their eyes naively.
How can Rainbow know? I thought wearily with a silent sigh. To my surprise, Rainbow announced the name with a crazy-like laugh.
She announced the name of the other Six Grader, not me. I’m the friend and school-bus-mate of that person. I never doubt him; he is more energetic and more outgoing than me. I always know that if I get in, he’ll, either.
The promoted boy cheered with delight and started to run over and over very funnily. The girls beside me were laughing at him. I didn’t know how they could laugh out when they weren’t promoted. But I copied them. I laughed, too- and it was the most upset and most disappointed and most awkward laugh.
I didn’t believe the truth then, I thought Rainbow was guessing. It all changed when I saw Rainbow walked towards me with a regretful smile and called my name. “If I haven’t forgot, you get the Most Potential Award.” She murmured to me.
I knew she wasn’t guessing then. I realized something in a sudden, that most of our vows we wished on the Singapore Flyer didn’t come true.
Rainbow stopped when she got quite close to me. I pressed my cap brim down, so that no one would see my tears. I stared at my sneakers and the shimmering floor.
I didn’t know how I cried then, I never cried in front of familiar peoples. I whimpered. I didn’t make any voice, and no one- I think no one, had ever noticed.
I felt Rainbow’s dress touched my shirt. I spun around and looked into her gaze. So many emotions almost bumped me onto the floor at that moment.
How couldn’t I get in? I invested so much! Perhaps the interviewers didn’t like my characters…. But I got First Price in the City Trial of GoodTalk! I rocked the whole speech lesson of Group E in Day 2 even I’m nearly the youngest! I was the first and only person who finished the speech draft in time! Why?!
And I felt… sorry for Rainbow.
I felt so sorry for her. I know how much she expected hope in me.
Then, just then, I did something I would never ever do.
I hugged Rainbow, I was stupefied.
I knew how awkward that is for a Six Grader, and it was even for me, a so reserved person in the others’ eye. I didn’t care anything then. I just hugged her. She comforted me by the soothing words my mom would say, too, when I met frustrations. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t argue, I didn’t comment, I didn’t complain. I noticed the friendly laughs from my Fifth Grade friends. I ignored them. Rainbow smiled and told them gently, “Elsa stuck me yesterday, she’s sticking me today!”
I hugged Rainbow until the bus came.
I planned to stick Rainbow with my roommate Elsa side by side. It was comforting me. I told myself to be strong, but my world was filled with the scent of upset and grief that morning and noon. I fell into silence then, I didn’t know how I would spend my time at the part of ice breaking and the final.
I soothed myself that the Most Potential Award was pretty good either, but I couldn’t stop retorting and willing silently about everything I could think of that time.
I was deeply moved and sadder when I saw the text of Rainbow and a teacher of GoodTalk. She should be very, very disappointed with me. My roommate probably wouldn’t feel that…．
I realized that looking fragile wasn’t good, so I pretended I was nothing to the persons who looked nothing too after a few hours of bad-looking.
I went to the Conference Hall the next dawn with the promoted boy, when our group was going to the plant park.
I learned many things that full and meaningful morning which will benefit me for a whole lifetime. I got very bored when the meeting was over. I wandered around in the whole building, waiting for our group to attend the final.
They finally came. And the final started. Well, I already watched the dress rehearsal of it many times before they came. I was kind of sleepy then.
I became soppy again at the award ceremony. I was careless then, waving my citation as it was a sheet of normal paper or something. When it ended and it was the time to eat supper, I chatted deeply with Ginny, we recited many poems to express our feelings.
I hoped my band-aids in my bag could use to recover my bleeding heart. Well, time is the best cure for emotion injuries, I knew it.
I love this trip for many reasons. Sometimes, I feel like not been promoted is a reason, either. When I recall my marvelous journey, every part of it seems to be perfect. This is the best trip for me so far.
At last, I’d love to remind you that I love you all!
Plastic Paper feeds us
Plastic Paper clothes us
But Plastic Paper leaves me empty
What more do you want, Plastic Paper?
I gave you my belongings
I gave you my time
Yet you consumed my mind
My friends agree with you, Plastic Paper
How prestigious you are
We save save save and hoard what we cannot afford
Yet I do not see how it is possible to glorify you, Plastic Paper
When all you did was make me blind
The weight of your last pressure stabilizes my soul
Makes me understand the danger of not contributing to the billion dollar war
You owe us your tastebuds
A hot mess of ice cream drips from an unfinished cone, giving me the simplicity of having something to own
I stare at the drain where my Plastic Paper has gone
I understand now that Plastic Paper was Paper Devil's spawn
Your wit is a smirk behind the curtain of drawn eyes and smiling faces
The seamstress can mend my soul but she will fail to mend what has been sewn into my eyes
I am bleeding
I can no longer keep up with everything I owe
But they still won't let me go.
You still owe us one more thing, Adrenaline Junky
I owe them my life
I’d sing to you if I knew the words to my own tunes
Yet now I am nothing more than a croaking voice to put in earbuds too
I wish they would tell me what I did wrong
Provoking me is silence and alienation for not keeping Devils in my pockets
I speak in hoping the world will understand
Only it fails too
Just like I do
We can choose how to use you, Paper Devil
We are not your control
No longer persuaded to keep up with a society that does not feel good enough in their own souls.
Plastic Paper may feed us
Plastic Paper may clothe us
But Plastic Paper is not our pass time
I ask of you not to place me into a coma made for Adrenaline Junkies.
And you Paper Devil, will not own mine.
To conceal our errors, our scars-
We keep to ourselves and pretend-
Our closest friend
We do something
We shouldn’t be doing
To conceal our shame
And convey goodness
Errant we remain and
To reveal our errors
And ask for assistance
We stay undercover
Like an earthquake
A constant inner war
That we long to
Be freed from.
All we need to do-
Express ourselves, then
Errors unfold into
Intimations of need
Where peers along
With the One above
Can lift us
To the honest place
We yearn to remain
“A train in London ran off of trail and crashed last night. The investigators are still trying to find what caused this accident to happen. Two people were found dead and one was missing.” The TV reporter said woodenly.
“No, Mom, no you’re not dead!” I opened the phone rashly and called her. “Bi, bi, bi, bi. Please leave a voice mail message for Honey Mommy.”
“I should have known, I should have told her not to go onto that train!” I yelled, tears running down my face as if it would never stop. The only light of my world turned off forever.
One year later. “Is this just an accident?” I kept on questioning myself while I was scanning through the piles and piles of photo copy of the pictures taken right after the accident for the twentieth. “Ah, still nothing” Just as I was about to scan them through one more time. A picture at the bottom of the pile caught my eyes. It was a picture taken in the cockpit of the broken train. Everything was burnt into a brownish black color. But there was something shiny. There was a purple necklace hanging in the middle of the picture. It almost looks like it was floating in air. “Isn’t that my necklace?” I yell out. I touched my neck immediately. I felt the rough texture of the lace. The coldness of the gem. It is still there. This is the only one in the world. I remember my mom designed this necklace just for me. Then how come the same necklace appear in the cockpit of the train right after the accident. I stayed home all night that day. I was packed with confuse.
I decide to go to my Mom’s bedroom to try to find an explanation of the necklace. I ran upstairs and took out the key for my om’s bedroom door and opened it. The room still looks as if someone was still living in there, but she was gone I looked around and suddenly I saw a dark shadow flashed though just outside the door. No, it’s just my imagination, I said to myself. I walked near the closet and saw the coat my mom loved. She wore it almost every day. Let me touch it one more time, I thought. When I took it out a folded paper fell onto the ground. I kneed down, picked it up and slowly unfolded it.
“Ah!” I covered my mouth with both of my hands and shivered in fear. it was an old picture. In the picture, there’s my mom wearing a doctor’s white coat. Besides her, there’s a little girl about five. She stared blankly into the space and her whole body was stiff and frozen. It felt as though someone had sucked her soul out of her body. Then I saw it. The purple necklace on the girl’s neck. Ok, you got to be kidding me. I don’t have the memory of taking this picture ever. There are only two explanation for this. One this is me, but I just forgot. Two, this is someone else that stole my necklace, or … my mom maked two necklace, one for me and one for some stranger. Then I shifted my eyes onto my mom.
“Wait, what? My mom’s a doctor?” There was no place in my memories that my mom’s a doctor. But clearly, she is, she was wearing a white doctor’s robe and she was standing in front of a hospital. I was confused, then I flipped the paper around to check if there were other hints. There was a small line of words written in the bottom right corner of the photo. “Go to the locked room at the end of the hall.”
Ok, I think this is for me. I walked out of the room towards the hallway. There stood the white door that was always locked in my memory. I tiptoed to the front of the door and twisted the handle. Nothing happened. I reached in my pocket for the chain of keys. I tried each and every one of them. Until, finally “click” the door opened. I stuck my head in and tried to figure out what’s in there. But, I couldn’t, all I can see is darkness and I smelled a hint of rubbing alcohol. I ran to my room and took out a flashlight, walked to that door again and took a deep breath.
“Ok, Sirah, there’s nothing bad in there. What could be in the house you lived for your whole life?” I told myself.
I opened my flashlight and pushed open the door. Now, a strong smell of alcohol hit me. It was the one you can smell in the emergency room. The cold breeze attacked my body, every goose bomb on my skin appeared. It’s an abandoned laboratory. There was an empty surgery bed in the middle of the room, around it there were about a dozen of huge unnamed specimens. Every one of them was floating in a huge cylindrical tank filled with preservative water. Fear started to rise in my body. All the specimens are human! I tried to calm myself down and not look at them again. I wondered, “why there were human preservatives in my house. did my mom know about them?” I walked around the room. There are old and new pictures pined into the wall all around the laboratory. There is caption written in the same font and thickness of the small not on the photo on every one of the pictures.
I read from the captions, “October 1st1988, Sirah and Sabella’s memories are all been banned and erased. October 4th1988, starting to plant memories into Sabella’s brain. October 5th1998, starting to plant memories into Sirah’s brain.”
I was in complete shock; my mind backed out. She’s not my mom. I squad down onto my feet with my hand covering my face. Who is she? Who am I? Where did I come from? I looked at the picture above the caption. There were two girls that looked completely the same. The lay unconsciously on the surgery bed in the middle of a huge room. Who was the other one?
“Do I have a twin sister called Sabella? How come I never seen or heard of her?”
I stood up and moved on scanning the wall, there were dozens of cases of memory planting. And then I found it. It was a picture of me or Sabella. The caption said, “October 4th1998, the surgery went wrong and failed, what result in Sabella’s brain was unknown.”
“Unknown?” I read in wonder.
“October 11th2000, Sabella escaped, trying to capture her but failed.” I continue to read
That was a day before my mom died. I looked down on the desk and I picked up a notebook. This notebook was completely new with a huge lock drawn on the front cover. I quickly flipped through the pages. There was nothing on it. I flipped again, and I stopped at the last page. This font and this size look familiar. I moved my face closer to the book. The words were written in dark red inks. I read it out.
The next thing I knew was the smog trembling into the laboratory. This house is on fire! I ran out and saw the fire almost covered all of the first floor and was still spreading tremendously fast.
“What should I do!” I yelled desperately.
I ran to the bathroom and got a basket of water. I knew it is no use, but I can’t give up my last hope. I ran down stairs and poured the water with all my strength. it was no use. I know the next thing I could do is escape. I carefully walked through the fire and all the woods fallen on the floor. The smog was sneaking into my nose and went down to my lung. I kicked the door, but it didn’t open. I hit it as hard as I could. It was no use. I knew everything was too late now. I’m going to die. I ran upstairs and just stared at my ‘be loving’ house, the place I called home. Now, it was all gone under the fire. Suddenly, I heard a footstep coming up the stairs.
“Someone is here to save me.” I screamed as I waved at her.
I spring towards the stair case. Then, I stumble onto the floor. I can’t believe this. There was a girl who looks exactly like me. I closed my eyes and said “sister…” The last thing I saw was the match on her hand and the big bloody smile on her face.
In the Dark
It was a mistake. It was all a mishap. An error that cost a life. That cost a soul.
You were never good enough. Always second best. Always hiding in the shadows.
Only now it is apparent that staring at the dark is all you’ll ever do now. You’re stuck in hiding now and forever.
You always had potential. You always had some heart. But never enough.
When they teased you, you would shrink into the inky dark, always avoiding the light. Now, it is too late to feel the warmth of the sun, vital and sublime.
Red. Crimson red, that’s all you’ll ever remember, that flash of red. Your own blood on your own hands. Watching it wend its way through the corrugated grooves on your fingers, through the searing scars on your palms. But by then, it is too late to turn back.
Forever may you live in black. Forever may you live in misery. Forever may you be lost without sight. Forever may you dwell on your own blood in the dark.
By: Winter Chiu
I always had a voice. I was just too afraid to sing.
My feet always knew the rhythm of ballet. I was just too afraid to dance.
The music was always in me. I was just too afraid to let it out.
Don’t ask why my parents named me Calypso. I’m not a nymph from the island of Ogygia. I’m a regular twelve-year old girl with a secret. And don’t ask why I just didn’t die the night my parents did. In short, it makes my name ironic. But also tragic. Actually, don’t ask me anything at all. Just know this. I’m a cursed girl. A cursed girl without a voice.
When I was five, my parents took me to watch a ballet. The Nutcracker, specifically. That’s when I knew all I would ever want to do was dance. But I was a different girl then. A girl with both parents instead of none.
I still remember the night vividly. Strolling along the gum-encrusted pavement, I tried to copy the dance steps I had seen on the way to ice cream. As my parents held hands and watched me dance along ahead, it made me feel giddy with joy, hyper in an odd way. To me, it was a dream I didn’t want to leave. A dream that turned into a nightmare.
“The piano’s alright… I think I like the viola better,” I decided in front of my judicial parents and music instructor. Boldly I snatched up the smooth wooden instrument, running my fingers over the length of the bow.
“Very well, my little seven-year old” my mother sighed and patted my shoulder affectionately.
“A fine choice, I suppose,” drawled my piano teacher in his dull voice. “I shall arrange for you to meet an acquaintance of mine. He of whom plays the violin and viola equally skillfully.”
Not waiting for sanction, I set the viola on my shoulder, lifted the bow to the string and began to play.
Then, to match the intense piece I coaxed from the viola, the ground began to shake.
Although I was only three, I still could remember being curled up on my mother’s lap, sobbing helplessly into her blouse, scented with the sharp tang of alcohol. I had beat my fists against her chest, begging her to stop. She would just shush me and refill her wine glass. My father sat next to her, smothering her with kisses. Or bruises. I wasn’t sure.
They didn’t care that it was past midnight and I, their lowly child, was still awake. No, not at all.
They didn’t mind that they were alcohol addicts. My father offered me a sip of beer.
Eventually I slipped away and leaned against the door of my bedroom, listening to my mother and my father crank up the radio and invite their friends over. They partied till dawn. When the first rays of the lustrous sun breached the horizon, my parents were both dead.
As for me?
I was dying on the inside. Shattered in the soul. I could still hear the sound of Calypso music playing from the downstairs radio, accompanied by the bitter incense of alcohol.
Lazily a car cruised along, a black sports car with tinted windows. Then, that tinted window rolled down and a gun locked on my head.
“Help!” I shrieked as my father locked his arms protectively around me, shielding me from the shot.
Two bloodstained hands.
Six things that should have not happened.
I should have gotten shot.
Those were my two parents.
My two bloodstained hands from clawing helplessly at my parents cooling bodies as the black car shot away.
My name means pure, unadulterated.
My soul is tainted. Tainted by a cloud of guilt that should have been my parents’ and with blood that should have been mine.
As screams, raw and agonized echoed around me, I only concentrated on my own buffeted breathing. I dived under a table and curled up around my viola, enervated and petrified. The shaking filled my mind and rattled my heart. I waited for death.
The shocks died down, and I left my viola, abandoned, on the ground.
“Albert!” rasped my mother, choking and coughing blood.
“Momma! Momma!” I croaked, dust coated in my throat.
Aftershocks. They arrived suddenly, I couldn’t react.
But, my mother did. She lunged, shoving me out of the way and taking the falling debris herself.
My father? Impaled on a bass endpin a floor down. Both dead.
As if my limbs decided to do something else, I found myself sobbing over the viola, underneath the mahogany table again. When I grabbed the bow, I found only one more thing to do, I began to play for the second and the last time as melancholy as I could.
It was enough to make the sky lament. Enough to make it cry.
Don’t you dare tell me you’re sorry. My parents made that choice. In fact, just leave me alone. I’m cursed. I can curse you too.
There’s a reason for everything. Even if that reason is nothing. There’s a reason for when I run away from every foster home, every orphanage. Simply because it makes everything better.
At least for a little while.
Why I decided to find my way to Portland, Oregon? Luck perhaps, or maybe it was fate.
Though it was long ago, it still feels like yesterday.
The police arrived, and everything was a blur. The next thing? I was running. Sprinting like the wind. Away from everything.
Furiously scraping the wild tears from my eyes, I left my face raw and red, stinging from my parent’s blood, and from mine. It was as if my world was crumbling before my eyes.
Eventually everything changed again. But that was when I met my two friends.
While the chaos was still raging, and people’s screams were still tearing through the air, I fled. South, I think.
South to Portland. Where a lanyard flipped my life.
Meandering along the gum-encrusted streets, I felt entirely at home. I was fingering my pink lanyard with a name tag attached to it. It was one of those things that hurts, but you can never seem to let it slid from your fingers. In kindergarten, I received the lanyard and name tag. Calypso was still scrawled across the name tag in messy pink marker.
I was Cleo now though. Calypso was something I had long left behind.
I bumped into a girl with long, braided amber hair, and my first thought was- Why is she so beautiful?
I’m serious. She wasn’t just cute, she was beautiful, gorgeous, alluring. Cascading over her slim shoulders and gray tank in a loose, luscious braid, her caramel blonde hair matched her fair skin and delicate freckles perfectly. Strong and angelic, the girl, decked out in jean shorts and beat up sneakers frowned at me.
I’m not kidding. She wrinkled her nose in this disgusted way of hers and watched me clumsily stumble backward.
“I’m so sorry!” I yelped steadying myself against a grimy building.
Sniffing, she glared at me and then stormed off down the street.
“How polite,” I grumbled then realized she dropped something.
A pink lanyard. Suddenly, a calloused hand scooped it up.
Out of all the things I’ve ever done, picking up the lanyard was the worst and the best.
“Hey, that’s mine!” cried a girl.
Angular and lithe, the girl, who was in a peasant style top and paint-splattered capris, plucked it out of my hand.
“Wait a second!” I called after her. To be honest, I was very lost and hoping she was a local with directions.
Whirling on her beat up Converse, she glared at me in this cute, pouty way.
“What do you want?”
“Uh, I was wondering if you know where this place is,” I stammered like a complete idiot.
“Not now,” she snapped.
Now, I was genuinely confounded.
“She’s getting away!” Paint Girl took off running across the street, dogging by pedestrians and angry taxi drivers.
I took off after her.
After five minutes, I realized my lanyard was gone. (Also that my hair tie had fallen off, unraveling my braid.)
A few seconds later, this Asian girl, about my age bursts out between some people.
“You dropped this,” she huffed, breathless.
I had bumped into her earlier. It was surprising that she even bothered to return this to me. Nodding my thanks, I snatched it up and was about to turn away when I smacked right into a boy.
Glaring, I took in his haggard appearance. His curly hair was everywhere in an afro of black locks. In scuffed Birkenstocks, frayed jeans, and a threadbare t-shirt, he was probably a more disastrous mess than I was.
Then, I noticed the instrument case at his side.
That was when the gunshots started.
All I could think about was my parents.
The crimson spewing from their bodies.
The silver tears streaking down my face.
The guilt. The horror. The terrible beauty of it all.
The next thing I knew, I had the amber-haired girl hunching over me, behind her the idiot who had grabbed her lanyard.
“Do you… feel alright?” asked Idiot.
“Mostly, why did you save me?”
“Well, we obviously couldn’t leave you to die,” Idiot scowled as if it were, well, obvious.
“Uh, thanks, anyways, I’m Kaitlyn and you’re…”
“Albert, I’m Albert.”
Beauty Queen didn’t open her mouth, instead she merely glared at us. And sniffed. Again.
“She doesn’t talk,” Albert clarified uncomfortably. “But she does go by Cleo.”
“Oh,” I felt like an idiot as my cheeks burned.
“So, um,” Albert bit his lip.
“To be clear, I can talk if I want to, but I haven’t done so in ten years,” snapped a voice.
I knew exactly who it belonged too.
Gawking, I did a double take.
“Ten years,” Cleo did her sniff/wrinkle her nose/disapprove of me glare.
“Funny, I’ve stopped dancing for ten years, but that was when my parents died,” Kaitlyn interrupted.
“Whoa. Back up. My parents died ten years ago and that was when I stopped playing.”
“Violin?” queried Kaitlyn.
“Viola,” I corrected, feeling the familiar rush of annoyance when people made that mistake.
“Oh sorry!” Kaitlyn yelped, bowing her head in embarrassment.
“My parents died ten years ago too,” Cleo confessed softly. “They got drunk.”
“Mine died in a shooting. That’s why I blacked out back there.” Kaitlyn chimed in. Her voice was barely a whisper carried on the wind.
“Oh man, tough luck. Two shootings? My parents died in an earthquake,” I felt the familiar wave of rushing nausea.
“While we’re pouring our hearts out to each other, how old are you guys?” Cleo asked.
“I’m twelve too.”
I could not believe myself. I was talking- literally talking. Talking to complete strangers. It didn’t feel weird at all though. That was the worst.
Confessing your life’s greatest regrets to complete strangers of kids? Nope, not weird at all.
I was a lunatic.
Deciding that this was all a crazy dream, I did the only logical thing.
I opened my mouth and started to sing.
Sing a song of my life.
At this point I was thinking. Information overload. Of course, Cleo or Calypso was singing. It was so beautiful, artful, eerie, and soul shaking, I felt the tears roll down my face, hot and stinging before I realized that Cleo was crying too. Everything felt so utterly wrong. And so undeniably right.
Dance, my mind beckoned.
So I danced straight from my heart, my mind, and my tainted, black, soul.
I had no idea why I was crying at this point.
In a dark alley, with two sobbing, psychotic girls, one singing, one dancing, I should have lost my mind.
Instead, my limbs betrayed me.
Pulling out my viola, I began to play to Cleo’s tune, the rhythm flowing through me, breaching Kaitlyn whose dancing became more even. And wild. The music was coursing through my veins.
The song was in my blood.
I could feel the music. I could taste it. I was whole once again.
I never meant to kiss Emma. I never meant to, but I did. There are a lot of things I never meant to do, but did anyway. This was the only time I wanted to repeat one of them.
On the fateful day that I first kissed Emma, it started out as a normal day. Mr. Hood’s terrier barked at me. I barked back at it. I biked to school, arriving a minute after the first bell. I rushed to my classroom, stuffing my backpack in my locker hastily, though somehow arriving before half of my class. I sat in the third seat from the back, in the leftmost row.
The second bell rung as I arranged my pencils next to my ruler, lining them up along the one inch mark. Class had officially begun.
“Would anyone like to explain how we know that the square root of two is not rational? You’ve had all of winter break to work on it, so I expect a fully-fledged proof.” Mr. Lintax said.
I raised my hand confidently. I had gotten a reputation as a math geek, and as such most people, including the Mr. Lintax, were expecting something good.
“Yes, Mrs. Apson?” Mr. Lintax gestured for me to come up to the board. I did so, loosely holding my notes in my hand. He handed me a piece of chalk, and I accepted it.
“Why, Mrs. Apson, are you writing that?”asked Mr. Lintax.
“Erm, because, because it’s a proof by contradiction and we start by assuming the opposite of what we are trying to prove and show that it’s impossible?...” my voice wavered, and I trailed off.
“Why are you writing in simplified terms?”
“Because it helps me focus on the math?...”
The rest of math quickly passes in a blur, and I grabbed my stuff as it finished.
“Hey, Audrey, I really liked your proof. It was very comprehensive.”Emma said after we left the class, “Would you mind teaching me a bit about math at lunch?”she blushed, shaking her head, “Of course you wouldn’t want to.”
“Emma, I’d love to teach you about math.” I replied.
“What- what got you into math? You’ve just got a reputation as, well, a math person, so I wanted to know why.”
“I don’t know. I guess I just have always loved numbers.”
“Wow. I thought that only was said in, like, cheesy 80s movies or something.”she laughed.
“Maybe I’m just an 80s movies person.”I offered.
“Audrey and Emma, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Dennis Okalvan and his gang chanted, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage!”
“Oh, back off!” I yelled hotly, “Just because I’m helping her with math doesn’t mean we’re in love!”
Dennis Okalvan was the classical storybook example of a school bully. Stupid, big, athletic, rich, immature, got a gang of cronies. As the storybook bullies go, he also liked to mock those smaller than him, though not very adeptly.
“You just don’t want to kiss her, and get all of her ugly bookworm germs!”
“I wouldn’t mind kissing her, I just don’t love her!” I shouted back.
“Kiss her then, I dare you. ‘Less you’re scared!”
“Do it!” Dennis screamed back.
“Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss!”an army of kids picked up the cry.
I leaned toward her, gasping for breath. She caught my eye and nodded subtly. Everything seemed to speed up but me. She smelled faintly of books, and lemon. Her brown eyes sparkled dimly. It felt like I was underwater, crushed by pressure. All sound faded to a dull murmur. My lips suddenly felt dry, and I licked them. I suddenly could taste the strawberries I had for breakfast. A shiver ran down my spine. My eye twitched.
Her mouth meet mine, and I tasted her subtle lip gloss, a faint cinnamon. The smell was intensified, and I breathed it in deeply, relishing her scent. Her lips were smooth, unnaturally so. Sparks flew between us. I connected my mouth with hers. We were briefly connected, as though we were meant to be.
We pulled apart, and everything spun back to normal; back to plain, boring, normal.
“I don’t mind kissing you.” I whispered to her.
The crowd erupted into laughter, “Look, the two nerds kissed. I knew they were meant to be! A match made in heaven!”
I didn’t mind their mocking. I grabbed Emma’s hand, and we pivoted in tandem towards English class. We each went to our seats.
“Would anyone like to explain what the Oxford comma is?”Mr. Handers asked, “We’ve given you a lot of time over winter break to think about it.”
Emma raised her hand. Mr. Handers called on her.
Emma walked elegantly to the front of the room. “The Oxford comma originated in-” she began.
English class was a blur, as all I could think about was the wonderful kiss I had had.
“Emma, would you mind telling me more about the Oxford comma at lunch?”I asked Emma.
“Of course I’ll help you at lunch.”
We erupted into giggles.
“I know another thing we could learn about at lunch.” I suggested slyly.
“Why wait till lunch?”
“We have Physical Education.”
Nobody liked Physical Education. Physical Education’s budget was nonexistent, and, as such, we just ran laps around the soccer field. The coach was underpaid, grumpy, and spiteful, devoting their time to yelling at kids falling behind. It was a run-till-you-drop situation, with everyone leaving exhausted, and cursing the day someone first ran. It united everyone with the common goal of stopping the running, and many petitions had been started, but all failed for various reasons.
“We could start a new petition.”I remarked.
“We could. Maybe demonstrate alternate ways?”
“Tag. You can always play tag.”
We tossed ideas back and forth, but we weren’t really focused. Both of us were just counting the minutes to lunch, counting the minutes to another kiss.
I put my hand on my heart and face the American flag, crimson and blue and scattered with stars.
My uniform bunches under my arms. It’s too big, but whenever I tell Ma, she continues doing whatever she’s doing—usually making dinner, tossing the garlic and tofu in the wok—and says, it last longer. So we save money.
I keep rolling up my shirt, but even as I tuck it in, it flaps out.
“Stop moving,” a girl says to me. “It’s annoying.”
“I’m sorry,” I say.
Mrs. Roberts claps. “Time for the pledge of allegiance!”
The class begins reciting, “I pledge allegiance—” I try to make each word follow a honey-smooth rhythm, but they stumble out of my mouth, coming out in spurts like toothpaste.
So I speak quietly instead, feeling the ba-dum, ba-dum pulsing beneath my palm. I pretend I can feel the words sinking back into my throat and winding down all the layers of pipes into my heart, where they’ll be spread throughout my body like oxygen, like blood.
I say the words as if they’ll make me American.
But it’s hard when the girl whispers, “Why are you saying the pledge? You’re not even from here.”