Stars On Their Own

It was quiet. I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep. The room smelled of crisp air. The stars flickered from my window. It felt as if they were so close to each other, but in reality they had so much distance between them. My whole life I have been fascinated by the stars, these bright, shining giants, beautiful even from millions of miles away. There was something about space that made me feel big even though I was a little speck in space.
The quiet was disrupted by shouts coming from my parent’s bedroom. Loud, angry, hate filled shouts. My head wasn’t asking what was going on, I knew. I wish I didn’t know. I wish this wasn’t routine. The yelling had stopped. Silence filled the room. It wasn’t a good silence. It was a tormenting silence. It was a silence that made everything seem dim. The stars, the moon, the sounds of the crickets, everything peaceful. The silence defined the flaws of the room. Each crack that ran down the wall, the pockets of air folded into the ceiling. The silence stood along, mocking me with it’s lack of response.
I heard feet shuffling down the hall. Mom stood in the doorway with a sleeping bag in her hand. She grabbed the extra blanket and pillow from my bed. She laid out the sleeping bag and stuffed herself inside. There was a sense of sadness coming from her. Her face was tense. Not a single word came out of her mouth. I asked what happened. No response. I asked again.
“Your dad and I got into a fight.”
That was all she said, nothing more. I slipped out of bed and gave mom a hug. I tried to comfort her, make her feel okay, but I wasn’t sure if it was doing anything.
“Where is dad? Why did you guys fight?” I needed more detail to help, but she said nothing more than we got into a fight. It was usual for this happen. Every little thing they do leads to a fight. The T.V. was too loud or one was simply being annoying. I hated it though. It scared me.
The night wasn’t nice anymore. The stars weren’t as bright. There was even more distance between them now. The little speck became smaller and smaller.
I didn’t know how to help my mom. I didn’t know if I could.
“Don’t worry too much. Go to sleep.” said mom.
How could I not worry? I care too much to not worry. I lay back down and tried to sleep. I was on the verge of falling asleep, but I was disturbed once more. This time it was a forceful knock. Mom pulled herself out of the sleeping bag and rushed to the door. I peeked out to see who it was. The police. They weren’t supposed to be here.
I was spying on them through the little crack in the hallway door. One of the policemen yelled for my dad, while the other three were talking to my mom, flustering her with questions. I didn’t know what to do. I heard bits and pieces. Mom said dad was upsetting her and dad said the same about mom. They sounded like children arguing over crayons.
The sound of crying was coming from the living room. I knew mom was hurt. I wanted to make her feel okay, like she wasn’t the only soul on Earth. I wanted to make sure she knew she had me. I heard the cracks in dad’s voice. It occurred to me that mom wasn’t the only one hurt and in need of comfort.
I shot up fast and started to walk towards the living room but mom was blocking the way. I could see all the policemen gathered around my dad lecturing him. I assumed mom’s lecture was over. She took a step in front of me then walked towards my room expecting me to follow. She sat down next to me causing the bed to sink.
“What’s going on? Why are they here?” I asked.
“The neighbors called. They said we were too loud. Dad told them why we were being loud. Now they are asking questions, figuring out what to do.”
She began talking about the imperfections of our family. She grabbed me, hugged me tight and didn’t let go. I knew what she said was true. I saw the imperfections everyday. I felt tears come out of my eyes, then more. The taste of the salty water brought back memories from when I was younger. There were even more fights. I was locked in my room just like I am now, only because they were afraid of too much exposure as a young child. Exposure is to experience something and experience uses not only sight but your hearing. The noise was more than enough for me.
Mom slowly started to let go of me. She somehow made me feel like nothing bad was happening, like my family wasn’t being torn apart. I felt that everything was going to be okay. Not back to normal, because nothing was ever normal.
There was no longer any yelling. The only noise was the booming voices of the policemen. One of the officers was standing in between my parents pushing both of his hands away from himself. It meant they had to stay away from each other. My parents were like stars. They were the stars Sirius and Rigel, 8.674 light years apart. They could seem so close to each other, but they weren’t nearly as close as they looked. They were both bright and fascinating, but in their own ways. They shined on their own. There was no need for the other.
The police were gone. Mom looked heartbroken. Dad did too. They knew that this family was no longer a family. I knew. It was being broken apart. We were stars in its final stage. How could I live with their distance?

Unfinished Business

Stephanie
I open my front door and carefully step inside, trying not to wake anyone. But the floorboards betray me, creaking under my weight. I set my cleaning supplies down, take off my purse, lean my shoulder against the wall, taking off my flats. I lift my head and there stands Robin. I freeze, shoe in hand, leaning against the wall like an injured flamingo. How does he know every time I arrive? I sigh as he shuffles into the kitchen. At least I can buy him anything his heart desires. That was the best part of my childhood. I would give anything to make his childhood as good as mine. Always keeping up with trends, never eating alone, ah, the good old days.

Marcus
I’m lying awake in bed, lost in thought, when a whine from the front door snaps me out of it. She’s back. I would greet her but Robin is probably there, greeting her or getting her food from the fridge. He’s becoming a much better chef, but we should be taking care of him. Instead, Steph tries to do her part and mine, while Robin picks up the rest of my slack. Robin has never had a home cooked meal he didn’t cook, never had friends over, he’s never even slept well since I was paralyzed. I rarely get to talk to them anymore, they’re so busy doing my work. Out the window, my eyes glaze over my incomplete masterpiece. Supposed to be a place for making good memories, now it’ll just sit there insufficient, a constant reminder that I can’t do anything correctly.

Robin

The floorboards creak. I stir in my bed; she’s not fooling anyone. After 5 years you’d think she’d be stealthier. I check the time. 3:56. I roll out of bed, slide into my slippers and shuffle down the hallway. When I reach the living room, Mother freezes, slipping off her shoes. She looks at me, face full of shame and defeat. This no longer fazes me, I wished for her support but it never showed. She sighs as I shuffle into the kitchen to heat up the remnants of dinner.

Stephanie
A snapping noise suddenly rips me from my dreams. I look at Marcus lying to my right, still sleeping. I slide from under the blankets and stand up. I step around the bed dragging my feet, head hanging, rubbing my eyes as I open the door. Robin is in the living room, staring out the sliding glass door.

Maybe if I talk he’ll snap out of it, “What was that noise?”. In a few steps I’m standing next to him, he points to the backyard. I turn to see a power line hanging in the tree. I straighten up. We’re both focused. I hope it won’t hit the tree- but that bit of hope is crushed.

Robin
I accidentally drop the measuring cup. A cracking noise shudders through my bones. Why did the lights go out? I look around in the gloom, and out of the corner of my eye, I see something move in the backyard. I cautiously walk around the sofa, towards the sliding glass doors. A black rope hangs from one of the branches of the tree. It’s flailing around like a fish out of water. I see the end and understand why- it’s a power line.

Mother comes out of the bedroom, rubbing her eyes and dragging her feet “What was that noise?” I don’t know what to say so I just keep staring. When she reaches me I point. She becomes focused on the power line. It doesn’t take long for the inevitable to occur. The tree catches on fire. Mother goes into full panic mode, while trying to hide it.

Neither of us moves. “We have to go get Father, get everyone out, and call someone,” I say, voice trembling. We rush to the bedroom to see if we can perform the nearly impossible task of waking him up.

Marcus
I wake to screams beside me. The warmth of the sun glows through my eyelids. I slowly lift them, careful to let my eyes adjust to the sunlight. Something starts tugging on my right side below the waist, they’re probably moving my leg. It’s been a while since they’ve moved me – usually I slide out of bed myself. Regardless, I don’t want to get up, not after I finally fell asleep. Steph pulls my right arm around her shoulders and wraps her left around my back, so her hand lies on my ribs. I sit up completely, giving up on sleep.

Expecting to be disappointed by the sight of the unfinished tree-house, I look through the window. Instead, the tree is ablaze.

Now, I pay attention to the screams. “Hurry!” the voice comes from Steph, but it doesn’t sound like my wife. She’s never yelled like that.

She and Robin carefully place me in my wheelchair. Why? We’re in a hurry, we don’t have time to be gentle. I lift my legs, placing my feet on the footrests, and before I know it, Robin is pushing me through the darkness while Steph leads the way. Without me they could’ve escaped already.

Robin
Once outside, Mother calls 911. I turn to Father who is staring at the house, devoid of emotion. “Sorry we never finished the tree-house,” I say, staring at the house, trying to see what he sees.

I don’t see anything. “It was supposed to be a place to make memories.” He states flatly, “I’ll never forget this.” He hasn’t broken his gaze from the house, even the wind doesn’t dare touch him. I stare into the empty shell of a home, the fire burning bright behind it. It’s probably experiencing the warmest atmosphere it has felt in 5 years. I close my eyes, feel its heat, smell the smoke, hear the crackling of the wire as it flails.

Our household is going down in flames and I’m powerless against it.

The Creaks Above

I sat with my eyes closed in the stillness of my quiet room, with the occasional creak from the shaky moldy pipes above. The creaks were my reminder. A cruel reminder to come back to reality. I’ve tried to ignore the creaks but it seems they only get louder as I try to block them out and pretend that everything is okay. I try to sit and let the bad thoughts sink in as much as they can until they fade away, but those pipes always bring me back, like I’m trapped with no escape. The loud creaks make it almost impossible to drift from reality.
I opened my eyes as I returned from my desperate attempt to escape from my world of pain. I look up at the familiar ceiling, riddled with tape marks of failed attempts to stop the leaks from the pipes, which could still be heard humming and creaking ever so slightly above. The pipes were the only consistent thing about my life. I can’t remember a time where they haven’t been there, always creaking. I’ve lived in the same crappy apartment with the same crappy landlord since I was born. With each day the apartment was falling apart, whether it was the leaky and creaky pipes or the broken water heater. It’s just mom and I now. Ever since her and dad split, I’ve been reminded of the empty promises like repairing the apartment and lost hope, them splitting standing as another example of that. When dad left, mom promised me it was for the best, and things would only get better. I was promised, only to be let down by none other than the person who made the promise. Mom spiraled out of control when dad left. She fell into an endless void of drinking. I thought of it as her way to escape the pain she felt. Like me, she wanted to drift away from reality. Drift away from all the pain inside her.
I heard a loud crash from the other room. Probably from the kitchen, the crash being a bottle or wine glass. I was used to the noise of glass breaking and crashing as I did not flinch or quickly investigate, I felt numb. I lifted myself off of the single, lopsided mattress on the floor. The springs creaked loudly almost drowning out a second shattering of glass from the other room. I walked into the kitchen, looking down at the floor.
Two wine bottles broken in what seemed like a million pieces were spilled all over the floor with my mom in the middle of all the chaos. Mom was knelt on the counter anxiously reaching for the half empty vodka bottle on the counter from nights prior. Her hair was matted and frizzy. She was still dressed in the same faded sweatpants and red Disneyland shirt for the last four days, you could smell the alcohol and sweat off her.
“Hi, honey! Mind giving me a hand?” She said it as if she didn’t just break 2 wine bottles, as if she wasn’t going on yet another drinking spree, as if everything was okay. I looked at the Disneyland shirt dad had gotten her three years ago when we went to Disneyland for my birthday. It was stained all over and the logo was faded. It was another reminder of better times, ruined. It reminded me of her, worn out and dilapidated. It seemed the shirt, my mom, and the apartment shared a common theme. I stood there for a second just looking at her. Looking at that look on her face, that fake smile, hiding the pain.
I snapped out of my trance and grabbed the broom stuffed on the side of the fridge. I pushed the glass aside into the other side of the kitchen. I tried to make a clear walkway. With each movement of the broom, I tried coming up with ideas how drinking helped. It numbs the pain right? It makes her feel better, doesn’t it? I slowly realized as my last strokes were made with the broom to brush the glass away that it wasn’t helping, the shards were too small. They started to bury themselves into the brittle wooden floor. Things were only getting worse just as drinking made things worse for my mom. I so badly wanted things to go back to how they used to be, I didn’t care how my mom got better, I wanted to feel happy, I wanted my mom back. I carefully stepped over the wine stained floor riddled with glass shards buried in the wood flooring, to my mom still stretched out on the counter reaching for the vodka bottle.
“Hey baby, do your mom a favor a grab that bottle right there,” she breathed into my face.
Her breath was dense. I couldn’t let this continue to happen, I couldn’t let her continue to suffer. I acted without thinking, I jumped up, grabbing the bottle from the nearby cabinet and held it close to my chest. I backed up shaking my head, unable to say anything yet. Each step I made sure not to step on the glass. She looked at me strangely and hopped down off the counter. She walked closer to me ignoring the glass shards scattered below her feet. “What are you gonna do with that, Alex?” I almost didn’t react to Alex, she hadn’t called me by my name since dad left, only baby and honey. She had this look of desperation in her eyes.

It scared me.
It was as if she was a lioness, closing in on her prey. “C’mon and give it to mom now,” she said with a subtle edge to her voice. The crunching of glass shards on her feet made it all the more scarier. As I backed up more and more I tripped over the broom I had left lying on the ground. I fell back, the vodka bottle falling with me.

The Dress

I found your dress today. Your favorite dress. The baby blue one with big white polka dots. The scent of your floral perfume still lingers. I don’t understand why you liked it so much, there’s nothing special or unique about it. I personally never liked it that much, but I was never going to say that to you because your love for that dress was unbreakable. I still don’t like that dress, but that’s mostly because that dress has one horrible memory that still haunts me, and will always haunt me. You came home in a panic looking for that dress. You looked through your closet, my closet, the laundry room, the garage, pretty much every inch of the house. Our loud bickering filled the house as you repeatedly accused me of stealing it. I tried to convince you that I didn’t have it but you didn’t believe me. I kept on saying that you must’ve left it somewhere, but that just made you more furious. All of the unnecessary topics that we both brought up caused tears to emerge from both of us and even more yelling and accusations. This back and forth yelling continued for thirty minutes until you gave up looking for it. You stomped out of your room and down the stairs as you made your way to the door. The front door was slammed shut on your way out. I peeked out of the window to see where you were going and I saw you angrily walking towards your car. You slammed your car door shut, quickly started the engine, and sped away.
I regret not going after you right when you left the house. Maybe then I could’ve talked to you and calm you down. We could always easily calm each other down no matter how mad we were, but another thing we easily did was get into small, unnecessary fights. We would get into fights about who gets to ride in the front seat or about which one of us gets to open the first gift on Christmas. I have a vivid memory of one of the fights we had when I was little. It is almost exactly like the fight about your dress. I had lost my teddy bear that I loved so much. I never went anywhere without it. I couldn’t sleep without it and I would even take baths with it next to me. I was home one day playing with my dolls in my room when I realized that the teddy bear had gone missing. I immediately burst into a fit. I was screaming and crying asking mom where it was, as she calmly held me in her arms trying to put my mind at ease. Then I remember the idea of you stealing it coming to my mind. I cried my way to your room and opened your door without hesitation, and there you were peacefully lying on your bed listening to music. I was yelling at you asking you over and over where you put my bear, and you simply answered with “I don’t know” and attitude every time. The attitude only made my tantrum even worse so I ran to my room and cried. That whole month was miserable for me but after that I basically forgot all about my lost teddy bear. And I still haven’t found that bear to this day.
Your room is still filled with all of your things. Nothing there has changed. The bed is in the same place, the duvet is the same, the shelves haven’t been touched, and the closet still has your clothes. But in every other room of the house it feels like a different place. The kitchen has been remodeled and now the fridge, what used to be the best part of the kitchen with all of our magnets and pictures filling the surface, is plain, boring stainless steel. The living room has different furniture and the rug is now dull and boring with different shades of grey instead of the rug that used to be there with the beautiful mosaic of all the astonishing colors. All of the bathrooms have also been remodeled and have been changed from being bright and cheery to dull and depressing. It’s like when you left everything changed. Not only did the house change, but the whole town changed. People around town are like the house. They have changed from joyful and lively people to colorless and boring people. It’s almost like they have become soulless. Their daily agendas have become repetitive and lifeless. Every one of them used to say how they never wanted their lives to end up like that, but here they are today. They get up, eat, work, and then sleep in a never ending cycle.
Without you here the way people act around me has dramatically changed. People at my school who treated me horribly before now treat me like I’m some fragile child who will break from one small insult. Most of my friends changed and they treat me the same way the others do, like a child. They are always asking how I am and telling me to talk to them, but I always answer with a no. I don’t need to talk, and especially not with them. I thought I could trust them, I thought they were real friends, but it turns out I only have one real friend. My real, trustworthy, and amazing friend, Delaney, is the only person I have since you’re gone. She was part of the group with my other friends, but I always had a strong and real connection with her. She has supported me in unimaginable ways and I am eternally grateful.
I miss you. I miss seeing your big blue eyes. I miss hearing your soft, angelic voice. I miss the smell of your cooking every night. Somehow most of all I miss seeing you in that baby blue dress with big white polka dots.

Blackberries

December 1st was a cold day, full of blackberry thorns. The kind in the summertime. The ones that pierce your purple stained fingertips causing your scarlet blood to race along the small valleys of your fingerprint.
She smiled. A smile that suppressed the fact of grief. The fact of loss that flowed along her eyeliner filled waterline, occasionally breaching out onto her puffy under eyes. Another fact that was freshly cut into her clouded mind. That day, she desperately clutched one item that once might have given her comfort, her cell phone. She hoped to see the only thing that could comfort her now, a simple text to brighten the screen, to brighten her year. It would say that it was all a joke, a sick really joke.
School was bad, really bad. Her Mom told her it would be okay to stay home. Another fact that now looped in her mind. She went anyways. Maybe to distract herself, maybe to collect others pity. She greatly regretted it now.
She walked the first December day, a day heavily burdened with frost. Her heavy head was draped down into the safety and warmth of her sweatshirt’s hood like some sick animal. But not even the type you would take to a vet.
An average person could have never read her tired eyes of continuous sorrow. Another fact, maybe even a good one if you could call it that. A fact that gave her a sliver of safety. To any average passerby she was just like any other teenager, sulking on their way home from a tough, work filled day at school.
She remembered this time last year when she decorated the fresh Christmas tree with her family. Sitting in their front room curled under thick fuzzy blankets. Their neighbors green and red lights shining through the frosted windows. Their chilled hands grasping to the warmth of their steaming hot chocolate filled mugs. Little soft marshmallow islands peeking over the rim. The smell of fresh cut pine in the air. Laughing as they pulled out the individual newspaper wrapped ornaments out of the musty cardboard boxes. Reflecting on their distance memories.
They didn’t get a Christmas tree this year. They didn’t even put up the lights.
She passed the neighborhood park. It was empty now, but she could still hear the hushed laughs and whispers of her brother, Nickoli and her hiding under the steep red double slide they used to race down. She could still see her Dad pushing them simultaneously on the now abandoned dew kissed swings. Her dark brunette hair trying to escape from her braids that trailed behind her. Their big blue green eyes clenched shut. She could still hear them pleading for him to push higher, faster. She could still see her Mom smiling, sitting at a nearby bench. Her bright peach pink dress hit her right at her knees. Her hair was neatly tucked behind her ears and pulled into a short ponytail decorated with tan bark that Nickoli had snuck into it.
She noticed the faded hand prints that decorated the damp sidewalk. She picked out their four matching bright yellow prints in the sea of rainbow splotches.
She contemplated what had gone wrong. Why the worst things always seem to happen to the least deserving of people.
She started walking faster. Her hands strained as they clenched the thin straps of her heavy backpack. She almost found herself getting comfortable with the rhythm of her shoe’s scraping against the icy street.
She rounded the corner. The air smelled of change. An unwelcome change. Their house stood lifeless and almost completely unfamiliar. She paused in front of it. Tilting her head trying to find an angle of comfort. Trying to find an angel that blocked the view of the dying grass. Not able to find a single one she moved on.
The key turned with ease, causing a subtle clicking noise as the lock gave way. She cursed that this was the one thing that went okay today.
The house was cold. Nobody came to greet her. Overflowing stacks of junk mail and piles of dirty dishes cluttered the kitchen and living room. She wrestled with the fact that her family had gone careless.
She walked down the hallway towards her room but instead she found herself planted in front of his. The old hardwood creaked as she shifted her weight. Bright yellow bubble letters letters that were unevenly nailed to his door, spelled out his name. She quietly knocked even though she knew nobody would be there to answer.
Pictures decorated the room, memories attached to each of them riddled her mind. She didn’t let herself think of each of them for too long. Somehow the room even smelled like him before then, she didn’t even realize each person had a particular scent.
She sat down on his bed and smoothed out soft ripples that were created around her. She thought about how much he would hate this. He always liked order. Always liked everything to be tied in a neat little bow. This was not anything close to order this was not tied in a little neat bow.
A picture displayed on a shelf above his desk, nestled behind one of his many model cars. She had never noticed it before. It pictures of one of the many annual summertime trips up to Oregon to visit their grandparents. In this one they were picking berries. A purple stained smile stretched ear to ear on her face while his cheeks were stuffed. Blackberries had always been Nickoli’s favorite. Somehow that almost brought him back to life. Somehow that had almost made him feel real not just a picture of a little boy that decorated their mantel. After a long year of searching through the thorn filled bushes, she might have actually stumbled upon a single blackberry. Somehow, she had found a single hint of happiness surrounded by what she once thought was perpetual pain.

The Night I Grew Up

“Stanley, get your butt back inside right now,” Ma laughs.
I squirm out of her arms. “You can’t catch me!” I yell. I run down the block through giggles and sweat. The Tennessee heat in summer is like no other. It suffocates you in its sticky arms until you crave winter.
“Stanley Elton Jones. Dinner’s gettin’ cold on the table.” Her words turn from playful to stern, forcing me to obey. I slowly walk back with my head down, trying to hide my smile.
The mouthwatering aroma of cornbread fills my nose. Jeanie and Pauline, the twins, set the table with silverware and white, paper napkins. Rita brings out the baked potatoes while Anne sets the sweet tea down, giggling with Rita. Ma barks at us to wash up, so the routine line behind the bathroom sink is formed. When I finish, I dart to my spot at the table, practically drooling at the feast of potatoes, beans and bread in front of me.
Pauline takes a big bite of bread. “I heard from Dorothy that Ruth said that Eliza told her that John’s dad got fired from Brentland High,” spitting crumbs everywhere. I look at Pauline, then look at Ma, then back at Pauline, and then Ma again, just waiting for a reaction. We sit in silence with our heads down for an awkward eternity, just waiting for someone to say something. Anything. Ma scrunches her face, leans back with her arms crossed and clears her throat.
In all my 11 years, I’ve never seen a school’s interior. Never written with a pencil, never seen a teacher write on a chalkboard, and never even learned how to read or write. Ma always says that there aren’t any schools around for me, but I’ve seen the school the kids on my block go to on the corner a million times. Everytime I ride past the school on my paper route to ole Miss Edmonson’s, I wonder what I’m missing inside.
I’ve also never seen Ma cry. She’s the strongest girl in the whole world. Her pockets might never be full, and she may make her dresses stitch by stitch, but she raised all 6 of us kids alone. Mary Lou, the oldest, moved out the second she could to live with her white boyfriend in his fancy mansion filled of butlers and servants. Her pale powdered face was a disappointment to Ma, a woman who wore her hair natural and always let the beautiful coffee color of her skin show. Even when I’ve heard the stories about Papa packing up his bags and leaving, no one’s ever mentioned Ma shedding any tears.
But we’ve learned better than to talk about that in the Jones house.
Anne breaks the awkward silence by offering around the beans. I accept, piling a mountain of beans onto my plate until Ma smacks my arm, and laughs “Enough, Stanley! My Lord. ” The silence has officially broken, and it’s a normal Jones dinner again, filled with laughter and gossip heard around the neighborhood.
After I take my bath, I unwillingly trudge to bed. The clock beside our bed only reads 8:00. I hesitate to ask Ma to read me a book, nervous she’ll get annoyed. Instead, I lay in bed next to Ma, counting sheep as I slowly begin to drift off, despite the feeling of being wide awake.
Next thing I know, I hear the sound of shattering glass and shrieks coming from outside. I sit up abruptly, frantically looking around in the dark. Ma sits up, her messy afro blocking her hazel eyes from viewing the room. She pushes her hair out of her face, jumping out of bed and immediately running to the other five in their room. The covers conceal my trembling body. Ma runs back with my sisters trailing closely behind like ducklings. We sit on Ma’s bed, huddling together like a pack of sardines. Gunshots echo outside, making us jump with each one. Jeanie and Pauline shake. Rita and Anne ineffectively try to contain their sobs. My eyelids act as a dam in an attempt to withhold my tears. Ma grabs the shotgun from the wall, and as hot tears slowly roll down my cheeks, I pray to God it won’t be used tonight.
I crawl to the window, peering outside, unknowing of who – or what – I might find. The only thing I saw was a torch, slightly illuminating what looked like a ghost in all white with a pointy head, eyes and a big smile. A giant, 10 foot cross is lit on fire. The flames spread to the house a few doors down from mine. I feel the warmth, just laying in front of the window. The screams pierce my ears.
“Stanley! Get back to this bed right now!” Ma whisper-screams. I stay at the window, barely hearing her. I’m stuck with my jaw to the ground, the fire reflecting onto my eyes. I rub my eyes as I drag myself to the bed, wishing I’ll just wake up, and this will all have been a nightmare. Sadly, this nightmare is a reality. I lay my head on Ma’s lap and weep until the sun rises.
I wake up with a headache, my memory hazier than a foggy day of what happened the previous night. I walk out, rubbing my eyes and yawning. The girls sit silently in the kitchen, gathering around Ma at the table, listening intently to the radio.
“Eye witness reports indicated that a group of 50 white-robed individuals were seen marching last night in southern Tennessee. A gruesome attack of white supremacists in Baileyton, Tennessee, occurred last night from 2 to 5 in the morning. The attack on the negro community burned down 12 houses, leaving 23 dead and 13 injured. Authorities reported that the fire began with a 10 foot cross which was set on fire in the middle of Elm Street. The group calls themselves the Ku Klux Klan.”.

Passed On

I slump down in Dad’s beat up, dark green Chevy, and draw my knees to my chest. The sun has begun to set. I wrap my sweater tighter around me and sink further into my seat. The weather is in that strange place somewhere between summer and fall, with warm, sweet air and cool breezes. I gaze out the cracked windshield as Grandpa and my brother, Jack, walk through the rows of trees, picking ripe, red apples. Grandpa holds a woven basket, so full of apples that his hands shake under the weight of it. He hands the basket to Jack, who takes it inside to Mom and Grandma, who are peeling apples for Grandma’s famous apple pie. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
Grandpa rests against a tree and wipes sweat from his forehead. His eyes settle on me, and he walks over, his gait deliberate and even. The passenger door creaks as he pulls it open, and the truck sinks a little under his weight. He gives me a crooked smile that looks like Dad’s, his eyes wrinkling at the corners.
“Hey you,” Grandpa says, wiping his hands on his jeans. He smells familiar, like apples and soil. “I see you found your dad’s truck.” I nod and tuck my hair behind my ears. Grandpa reaches under the dash and pulls out a key, worn from years of use.
“Wanna take it for a spin?” He asks, holding the key in his calloused palm. I reach over and hesitantly curl my fingers around it. His skin is warm and leathery, like the seats in the truck.
“Sure,” I say. I slide the key into the ignition and turn it, only for the truck to cough, then shake itself into silence.
Grandpa chuckles, his laugh deep and melodic. “It’s been sitting here for years. It may take a few tries to get it started.” I turn the key again, and this time the truck sputters to life. Grandpa smiles at the hum of the engine and turns on the radio as I pull out of the driveway. Twangy country fills the air, and it reminds me of the music that Dad used to play.
“You know,” Grandpa begins as we roll over the uneven road, “Your dad loved this truck.” I can’t help but look at the worn leather seats and the cracked dashboard. Grandpa notices my disparaging glance and laughs.
“I know, I know,” he says. “It doesn’t look like much. When we got it, it was pretty well worn, but you should’ve seen the look on his face when we gave it to him.”
“Really? This old thing?” I ask, running a finger over the dust covering the dashboard. Grandpa leans over to turn the radio down. The country music fades into the background, and he shifts to face me.
“For weeks before his eighteenth birthday, your dad kept hinting at how much he wanted a truck.” I nod and ease off the gas. I don’t want to miss a word of what he has to say.
Grandpa rarely talks about Dad.
“Oh? What do you mean?” I ask, hoping he’ll continue.
Grandpa laughs, remembering. “For one thing, he would slip pictures of trucks he had cut out of magazines underneath our pillows so that when we woke up and went to make our bed, that was the first thing we saw.”
I laugh. “That was pretty smart of him.”
“Yes. He was like a dog with a bone when he wanted something.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, your dad had just gotten his first job and was heading off to college that fall, so we thought, why not?” I lower the radio a little more. I love hearing what Dad was like when he was my age.
Grandpa’s eyes are lost in memories. “We didn’t have nearly enough money, even for a used truck, so your grandma and I picked up extra shifts at work. Some nights we came home way past dinnertime, but it was worth it to see your dad’s face that morning. The night before, we slipped the keys under his pillow and parked the truck in the driveway. Your grandma used some of her fancy red ribbon to tie a bow around the hood.”
Grandpa sighs. “He took this truck everywhere. It went to college with him; it took him on road trips with his friends. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even drive. He’d just sit inside, with the windows down, and turn the volume all the way up so that country music would blare across the neighborhood.”
Grandpa strokes the seat, tracing patterns into the soft leather. “Sometimes, I do the same whenever I’m missing him. I don’t know; I guess his truck brings me closer to his memory.”
Tears blur my vision as I look at him. The truck has slowed to a complete stop. “Why don’t we do that then? For old times sake.” Grandpa smiles and nods, a tear tracing its way down his wrinkled face. I lean over and turn the volume up and roll the windows down. Our voices pour into the night along with that old, twangy country music. I imagine Dad sitting here now, his fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel, and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. I hear his voice, deep and filled with emotion as our words join together.
When the music fades, I sigh, out of breath, and peer down the road towards Grandma and Grandpa’s house, the lights inside spilling out onto the lawn and the orchards. Grandpa turns and faces me.
“You know,” he begins, his eyes shining, “I hate seeing this truck go to waste. Would you want to take it?” And despite the rough interior and the weak engine, I know that this truck will bring me as close to Dad’s memory as I can get. And knowing that, I respond with no hesitation.
“Yes,” I say, grinning from ear to ear, “I would love that.”

Lilies

January 12th was one of those gorgeous mornings. There was dew on the grass and the trees swayed in the light breeze. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and the air smelled of fresh rain. The lilies I grasped tightly smelled fresh with life, yet made me feel empty inside.
Lilies were your favorite. I remember you would always stop to smell them while walking me to school. It made me anxious when you did that, I always worried about being late. I would walk on without you and leave you alone with the lilies until you finally caught up with me. Now, I would do anything to smell lilies with you again.
I kept walking. The breeze became stronger as it started to sprinkle. Droplets of water lie on each petal of the lilies. Keeping them healthy, letting them grow and live longer. Bigger droplets fall with a rhythm. I put on my hood, keeping myself dry and hidden from the depressing nature of the rain. I remember we used to play in the rain together. You would watch me splash in puddles, the dirty water got all over me, but I didn’t care. I’d look up at you, your strawberry hair drenched and your baby blue eyes sparkling. Your big smile showing off your shiny white teeth.
Worms became golden on rainy days. I remember searching for them with you while walking up and down the street in the gutters. We would pretend to fight hard against the weak current in the narrow gutter stream. I always got too cold or wet and made you come back inside with me. I would sit by the fire while you made me a cup of hot chocolate. Now, I would give anything to be able to play in the rain with you again.
I finally reach my destination, the air is damp and cold. I bend down, getting my knees all muddy and grasp the cold stone, the marking where your lifeless body lays. My heart pounds faster and harder and my chest feels heavy. I look at the engraving, “ Abigail Joes, born December 4th 1973,” I’ve almost memorized it. I choke on the last part. “died January 12th 2015.” That was 4 years ago.
The night comes rushing back to me. “Mom! I need it, please!”
“Honey, calm down, you need to learn how to manage your time better. You should have been working on this all why are you just starting this now?”
“You don’t understand Mom! This project counts for most of my grade!”
“Why should your problem of poor planning become my problem? I am exhausted and I could have done this Monday, Tuesday, any other day, but not tonight. Maybe you’ll learn. Honey, I am sorry but no.”
I try and swallow all of this, I can’t go there. I fiddle with the old flowers surrounding the grave, I crumble a petal in my hand, the brown particles carried away in the wind. I keep the dead lilies there just as I keep my memories of you. I spread the flowers around the stone. I grab the freshest lily and hold it close to my heart. I close my eyes and I am brought back to the night that will always remain with me, the night that keeps me from ever wanting to be happy.
“Dad what’s wrong?Dad, Dad! Are you okay? You are scaring me.”
“This is all your fault! If you hadn’t made her go to the store for your stupid project, your mother would be alive right now! You are so selfish. Get out of my sight!”
The door slammed shut on me.
I remember crying that night, and all the nights after that. I would see Dad packing up your stuff and my heart would ache. I started walking a different way, avoiding the lilies, not wanting another reminder of the horrible thing I had done and what I had lost. I will never forgive myself.
Hot salty tears pour from my eyes, my stomach feels weak and I can hardly breathe. It’s all my fault, I am the reason pain and hurt lingers with me. I would do anything to change that night. As it starts to pour, I get up and whisper “Im sorry, Mom.” More tears fall with the fast rhythm of the rain. As I walk away with the lily in my hand, I take off my hood, letting the rain drench me. Each drop filled with guilt and pain, until my clothes are so full of water, it is almost too heavy to carry.
As I continue to trudge down the empty streets towards home, I try and clear my mind of you, but I can’t. I keep thinking of everything I miss about you, there is so much. I miss your smile when you tell me how beautiful I am, I miss hearing your laugh while we eat lunch together, I miss arguing with you about stupid things like having no food in the fridge, but most of all, I miss you telling me you love me, I don’t hear it enough anymore.
My head raises and my stride slows as I approach the lily plant. Its once vibrant orange and yellow flowers have faded, brown wilted lilies are left. I sit down on the wet sidewalk, and examine the fresh lily still kept tightly in my hands. I admire the unique pink shade with the white border tracing around the edge. There are darker pink spots, almost like freckles on every petal. I turn around and dig a small hole in the moist dirt. I then take the pink lily and carefully place it in the hole while patting down the dirt around it until the flower sits up right. I stand back and admire my work as I brush the mud off my hands and onto my still soaked jeans. I smile knowing this is something you would have loved.

A Whole New World

My old life was one where I knew everyone at my school, had friends, and wasn’t a stranger to everyone I walked past on the streets of my neighborhood. Before my family moved from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, that life was good. I remember biking down to the dirt field to play 4-on-4 football, coming home with scraped knees and dirt all over. My dad used to be home, not at work until the late hours of the night. Now, I only see my dad on the weekends, for a 14 year old child, that is not enough.

I walk into fourth period, my least favorite because the next one is lunch. I scratch the paint off my old wooden desk and place my books and binders underneath. School has never demanded much effort from me, but this year, nothing makes sense. The way these teachers teach is completely different from the teachers at my old school. The next 45 minutes go by in a blur, and lunch is up next. Most kids eat in the cafeteria with all of their friends, but I sit outside. I see all the groups of friends talking, some point and laugh. I have to just sit there and take the hits, knowing that if I stood up for myself, I’d be left with 2 black eyes and a broken arm. The bell finally rings and I saunter to fifth period.

“Hello, I’m home” the front door slams behind me. No response. Mom is probably at work and dad is going to be gone till who knows when. I scurry up the stairs, chuck my backpack next to my desk and dive onto my bed. The poster of Troy Polomalu hanging on the wall stares at me. The football signed by him sits in the glass case, not allowed to be touched by anyone. I got it 4 years ago when I was ten. Dad took me to a Steelers playoff game, I got to go on the field and pick one player to get an autograph from, I picked him. Ever since that day, I have always wanted to play football at the same position he did.

My phone buzzes on my desk, a text from mom lights up the screen. Reading it would be a waste of time. I already know that it is going to say something like “I am going to be home late, so is your father, make dinner for yourself.” It happens every night, my parents show up at 10 o’clock and I am by myself. I pull out my binders and start to scribble down the answers to my math homework. Everyday, I go through the same routine, go to school, come home, start homework and then wait for my parents. All I want is to have a couple of friends like I did back in Pittsburgh, I want to feel like I am back there, with everyone, having my parents home and being with them. Hunger enters my thoughts so I jog downstairs to grab a bite to eat and suddenly hear a knock at the door. I glance through the front window and see two boys standing there. I slowly pull the door open and come face to face with two kids I’ve seen before.
“Hello, what are you doing at my house?” they are both standing there, hands at their sides, smiles on their faces. One of them is taller than me, only by about an inch though, the other one is about 3 inches shorter than me, but built like a linebacker.
Their body language seemed calm and inviting, “We wanted to know if you wanted to join us for a game of football, everyone here plays it.” said the shorter one. They are inviting me? Maybe they just want to do it to make fun of me or maybe they don’t actually want to be my friends and they just want to take advantage of me. As all these thoughts crossed my mind, they were quickly overruled with the fact that people who were my age wanted to be my friend and play football with me.
“Uhh, let me check with my mom first.” I quickly shoot a text to my mom and then lock the front door and leave. We hop down the steps leading up to my house and walk across the recently mowed lawn.
“So where do we go to play?” I ask, wondering why I got invited in the first place.
“Just down the street, we don’t have much grass in this town, but we always have the dirt field.” The taller one said, pointing down the street.
“We have played at the field since we were in grade school, we would come here after school, toss around the pigskin and then go home, all of it has changed though, high school means more homework and more homework means less time at the field.” the shorter one said.
“I probably should’ve asked you this when you came to the door, but what are your names?”
“I’m Logan” the shorter one said.
“I’m Cameron, your name is Vincent, right?”
“Yeah, nice to meet you guys, why did you guys come to my house to get me though?” I ask with complete perplexity in my mind.
“We saw you sitting by yourself so we wanted to invite you, plus, we need an extra person.” Logan said right as we arrived. We hopped the fence and landed in a rectangular shaped dirt field. I thought back to all the days, playing on a field exactly like this one, with all my old friends.
“Do we play tackle or flag?” I asked just to make sure all the same rules were in place.
“Is that even a question? Tackle.”
And then we were off, playing until the sun set over the horizon, walking home, comparing scrapes, cuts and bruises. Laughing all night long, this is exactly how I remember it, just being kids.

Circus Animal

A thin lining of water guards just my stomach from the room’s air. I push up against the glass of my lonely bowl. It feels cold against my scales. My head and tail slope down, making my body form a C shape. My stomach muscles stretch as my spine curves. My body is upside down, floating on the top of the water.
My eyes are plastered open, looking desperately at the activity around me. My body is lifeless, yet inside my heart beats fast with life. My owner walks by the bowl, not turning to look at me. They always waltz by me, doing whatever they desire while I lay upside down, paralyzed to any movement. They make me feel small, like I do not exist, like I’m not there. I wish they wondered why I’m upside down, wondered the slightest bit, but they do not care. They think it’s normal, usual, but I wish I could break free of my bodies trap.
They stop walking for a moment and turn to look at me, their blue eyes wide. I see nothing in their eyes. No emotions or feelings, just a plain look covered by their cerulean shade. Maybe they will try to help me this time, fix me and get me back to the way I used to be. But they do not touch my bowl they just watch me for a minute, as if studying me. They watch me like I’m circus animal, like I’m trained to be immobile, like I want to be there. I want to scream at them for help, but I can’t. I hate how they look at me without knowing whats wrong. I try to flip and turn and show them I’m struggling but I can’t break free from my paralysis. I can not move. As much as I hate their actions of staring and gaping at me, I need their help, the help they do not give me.
I used to never need assistance. I used to float through the water, my body moving smoothly, but now I can barely move an inch. Swimming made me forget the world around me, forget the tank that I was stuck in constantly, but now the tank is all I feel, all I touch. I cannot touch the rocks or the fake plastic plant placed in the middle of my bowl, I can only touch the cold glass and the water that doesn’t soothe me anymore.
I remember the days when my friends were around. We would fool around all day, letting the hours pass by us seamlessly. I remember when our owner used gift us with lovely gazes, and feed us our delicious flaky food. As the food would drop to the bottom of the tank, my friends and I would chase it down, trying to savor the last bits red and green flaky food. My friends left me years ago. An indigo net reached down into the water and pulled them up, one by one, and they never came back. It’s not fun to chase the food when my friends are gone. The food is flavorless now, not holding its original. Now when my owner drops it in, they act like it’s a chore, not an act of love and care they used to have. But I wish they would remember those days they used to love me.
I gaze out my bowl, my body still unmoving. They’re still looking at me, no emotion in their eyes that they used to have everyday. They lean towards my bowl, but I know they will never give me assistance. They rapidly tap on my bowl, causing the tacky plant and rocks to rattle with each blast of their finger. They know that’s the only way to get me to swim, to get me to show off for them, like a circus animal would show their tricks to the audience.
My body quickly snaps out of its paralysis, flipping me right side up. I suppose my body does it out of instinct, out of shock. I paddle in the water for a moment, using every fin on my body to keep me stable and upright. I point my head down to the rocks. My tail starts to whip back and forth as fast as I can. Perhaps I could reach the bottom, reach the rocks that hold my beloved memories and feelings. I paddle towards the tan colored rocks and fake orange plant that look so close I can almost touch them. They are no longer a blur out of my peripheral vision that I could barely make out. I push and push, I need to go deeper, I need to reach the plant and the rocks. I force my fins back as hard as I possibly can, but I do not touch the bottom. Not even the plant stacking up inches from the bottom. I float back up to the surface, my body looking lifeless and dead. I end upside down, in the corner of the tank, it’s edge squished against my face.
My mind wanted to reach the bottom, the bottom I used to love so much but my body couldn’t, my body gave up. All the feelings of energy and hope faded out of my muscles. All that was left was my beating heart. I was at the surface once again, but this time I had no feeling of courage in my bones.
The surface used to be unknown to me. I only touched it when food was spread across its top. Now the surface is all I know. I miss the comfort of the bottom. The feelings it casted inside of me. Now I’m only accompanied by the solitude of the surface. My friends are gone forever just as the rocks that lay beneath will forever be too far away to brush. I’m no longer a circus animal performing to an audience. I have been caged up, will I ever be released?