Grade: 7th

The Milk Has Gone Sour

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7th Grade
Middle School Grand Prize
Isabel W.

The milk has gone sour.

I stumble into the kitchen, my eyes held half-shut by sleep crust, thinking I might go and make some cereal. Cereal is an easy thing to do, after all. Assemble components. Unwashed bowl, expired Fruity Pebbles. Shake said expired Fruity Pebbles into the unwashed bowl. Go grab the milk.

The milk has gone sour.

The smell slams me, burrowing into my nostrils, a putrid, pungent odor, reeking of garbage. Gagging, I shove the cap back onto the jug. It’s just a smell. Just a smell.

But it’s already too late.
Another wave crashes in, a wave of horrible sadness and fear and anger and nausea, like every little thing I’ve ever felt is a string, and someone has knotted them recklessly together. I can’t think, I can’t breathe through the sour-milk smell, still strong in my nose. My head feels like it’s going to split open, my chest burns like someone has shot it through. I’m shot, I’m down, I’m sour.

The milk has gone sour.

And also, my father is slowly rotting four feet underground, into the dirt.


It sucks that the memories that you want to remember the most are the memories that are the easiest to lose.

Already I can see them fading—morning walks in the park, Sunday errands, cold mornings on the trampoline—like photographs, yellowed at the edges, slowly destroying themselves from the outside in. Like they were never there.
Every once in awhile, I have to see a picture to remind myself of the prickle of his beard scruff when he kissed me goodnight, the softness of his chest when he hugged me good morning. But the photographs are two dimensions, and my father was many, many dimensions, too many to count, too many to recognize. Just enough to adore.

And now they’re flying away from me. A thousand dimensions, flying away.


It’s time to go to school. I haven’t had any breakfast, or done any homework. In truth, I haven’t done anything to prepare myself for the battlefield. Except, of course, cry enough to make myself look like a puffy-eyed idiot to the other kids.
Yet I don’t argue when my mom, still in her sleepwear, red eyes down, hands me my backpack and kisses me good luck. I don’t have enough energy. I don’t have enough fight in me to refuse today.

So I go.


There are people staring at me, too young, too bored to know to look away when I pass. I wish they would, and the few people who do turn their heads when I come by, I wish they wouldn’t.

I take a seat at a deserted lunch table. And then I take out my book. Not reading. Just drowning in all the eyes, glancing back and back again, turning their heads and then not turning their heads, neither one the right answer.

And so it begins.


And so it goes.


It’s lunchtime now. Nobody’s turning their heads anymore. Somehow, in the span of three hours, I’ve become old news.

I don’t eat. I don’t even try to seem preoccupied.

I just stare down at the metal latticework of the table.

No crying.


Thirty-eight minutes have passed.

A boy sits down at my table.

We don’t talk.

Forty-two minutes.

He says hello, and by the way, his name is Theodore.

I tell him my name is Lily.

Just Lily?

Yes. Lily.

That’s cool. Lily’s a nice name. I have a cousin named Lily.



He turns away, and I’m left wishing he hadn’t.


Forty-seven minutes.

He turns back around. I inhale sharply, knowing I’m not going to be able to talk to him, knowing he’s just going to turn around again. But he doesn’t. He sits there silently, studying me with a careful gaze, a knowing gaze.

“I know,” he says finally.

This is when I look up.

In his glorious green eyes, his faceted, diamond-rich eyes, I see a reflection of myself. The pain. The sadness. The confusion. The heart-stopping, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking moment when everything fell away and life ended.

He knows.

“I lost my mother when I was ten. I needed supplies for a poster I was making for the science fair, and I whined and complained enough that she got tired of it and went out to the Office Depot. She was hit by a truck on the way back. Still with the green glitter and the poster board and the Elmer’s Glue on the seat. I saw it. My dad and I passed the wreck on the highway, and we didn’t know what had happened. We didn’t know who they were lifting into the ambulance. I didn’t know.”

I didn’t know.

In all my pain and sadness and confusion, I’ve never known. I’ve never thought to know. To learn.

I face the boy, Theodore, green-eyed, motherless, beautiful Theodore, and I don’t turn away.

“My father.”

He nods.

“It was a heart attack.”

He nods again.

“He was in the office, and I was downstairs. And I heard him shout, right before. And I. . . I thought it was a spider. Or he’d stubbed his toe. I came in twenty minutes too late.”

He shakes his head.

“It’s not twenty minutes too late. It’s twenty minutes into his new life, his new world, somewhere, someplace close to you, somewhere he can love you just as much as he did when he was your father. Twenty minutes somewhere new.”

Twenty minutes somewhere new.


Twenty minutes somewhere new.

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