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2012 (3rd Prize - 13-15 years)

March, 2013
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2012

It was all Josie’s fault. She made me flinch.

I had long mastered the art of hiding a visible secret. Especially easy considering the combination of the weather and my un-athletic nature.

Then Josie slapped my arm on Tuesday at dinnertime and I let out an involuntary ‘ow’, almost simultaneously cursing myself for doing so. 

The yelp aroused my little sister’s curiosity. She hit me again. I tried to pull my arm away but I slammed it against the mahogany dining table and let out another ‘ow’. 

Josie narrowed her devious little eyes and in one swift movement yanked up the sleeve of my cardigan to expose my bare arm, just as my father sat down and my mother bustled in with the mashed potatoes. 

Silence instilled itself in the dining room.

"Jesus Christ," said my father.

"Annie?" My mother said.

I stared hard at my plate. I couldn’t bear the thought of making eye contact with them.

"Annie, what happened? Did someone do this to you?"

I didn’t say anything. I could hear my sister scratching her arm.

"Oh my god, was it that boy?"

I put all my effort into it but I couldn’t help a fat tear from escaping my eye. I sat motionless as it rolled down my cheek. I was angry at myself for letting a little bit of the pain inside me squeeze itself out for everyone to see.

My father slammed his fist into the table, disrupting the neatly set cutlery. He shouted “no” as if he had the power to stop me from acquiring the mosaic of blue and purple and yellow and green that adorned my body. Not just my arms. My arms were what they could see. 

“Stop jumping to conclusions,” I mumbled. My words were inaudible to my mother; the sound of her own shrieking was overpowering. She didn’t sound like a person. She sounded like a dying cat. I was embarrassed, even though there was no one around but family. “What?” My father barked. 

His eyes snapped to mine and I started to cry. My mother shifted one seat over and hugged me and said ‘oh honey, oh Annie baby’, her shrieking having subsided. I found it odd that I was sobbing into her shoulder because on the inside I felt calm and emotionless. Mostly I was thinking about how uncomfortable it was to have my head pressed into her blouse. It was hard to breathe and cry at the same time.

"Oh baby what happened to you? Please tell me?" My mother whispered into my hair. "Was it him?"

Slowly, imperceptibly to everyone besides my mother, I shook my head. "I did it to myself." I whispered.

Josie started to cry. "For God’s sake," my father said. He was looking at me. His eyes were filled with thinly veiled disgust.

*** 

"They found out." 

"Found out about what?" He said, tracing circles into my knees. His touch was light.

"About…these." I bared my arms.

"What?" he said. He pushed my legs off his lap and stood up. "You told them? You stupid-"

"No! I didn’t! It was an accident. I’m so sorry I’m sorry I-"

He sat down again. "Annie, why would you do this to me? Do you really hate me that much?"

"No! No, I don’t hate you, I love you!"

"If you wanted to break up with me, you could have just told me yourself, you know, instead of going to your parents and-"

"I told them I did it to myself." I could feel tears forming. I pushed them away quickly. "I don’t want to break up."

"Really?" he smiled a little bit.

"Really." 

"Then why did you risk our relationship like that?" he said.

"I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry, baby. It was Josie, she-"

"You know what, it’s fine. Seriously."

He got up. "You wan’t anything from the kitchen?"

I shook my head. He picked our empty glasses from the floor. I ran my fingers down my sides. I could feel the outline of each rib and the tender parts that mapped out constellations of fragile discolored skin.

I thought about my parents. My mother wanted me to go to therapy but my father didn’t.  I felt uncomfortable falsely adopting the stigmatized behavior of self-harm as my own, but as long as they didn’t know the truth, I didn’t care. I would rather lie down in front of the train tracks behind our house than have them know. It was too private. It would be agonizing to be exposed.

I reached into my bag and my fingers instinctively curled around the small kitchen knife I kept there. I always went home from his house after dark and I always used the subway and I read stories about things happening to girls at night on subways. 

He came back in and sat down and flipped through his physics book. 

"Are you mad at me?" I asked.

"No. I’m just reading." he said.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." he patted my arm and that’s when I knew he was mad at me because it was a hard pat and he knew where all the bruises were.

***

My sister knocked softly on my bedroom door and opened it at the same time. I put down the book I was reading.

"What is it, Josie?"

She, usually so boisterous, was quiet. I smiled to seem a little less mad at her. 

"Can I stay in your room tonight?" 

I started to frown, then I realized I could hear the muffled sounds of my parents’ shouts from across the landing. I’d grown so used to it I hadn’t even noticed it. Josie’s room was much closer to theirs. White noise to me was confusing fear to her. 

I shut the door and climbed into bed with my little sister. She picked up the book that I’d left open. "Is this good?" she asked. I said yes.

"What does this mean?" she asked, pointing at a line that I’d circled multiple times. 

"It’s nothing." I said. "It’s just about how people don’t think they’re good enough for stuff." 

"What stuff?" 

"For having a better life than they have. For having better people in their lives than they do." 

"’We accept the love we think we deserve.’" she read slowly. "Is this about Mom and Dad?" 

"It could be." 

"It is also about you?" 

I leaned over and switched off the bedside lamp. "Go to sleep, Josie." 

"Goodnight, Annie." 

"Yeah." 

Her breathing gradually slowed down and I knew she was asleep. I stayed awake for a long time, staring at the ceiling and listening to cadence of my parents’ yells. Then it abruptly stopped and I closed my eyes and I knew what my father had done to my mother to make it stop and I remembered why I couldn’t tell them the truth about what he was doing to me. 

*** 

The wind was especially biting at night. We walked along the path to the waterfall. My left hand was holding his and my right hand was jammed into my coat pocket. My neck was clenching from the cold. He led me past the sign that said NO HIKERS PAST THIS POINT. I knew that he was taking me to one of the outcrops of rock that we’d been before when he wanted to kiss or when he was angry. It was New Year’s Eve.

We stopped. I could hear the sound of the water rushing, rushing, rushing below us.

"So at school today, who was your partner in Chemistry?" 

"Rob." I said.

"Oh yeah? Did you guys have fun?" 

"I don’t know, it was just class. We were just working."

"I saw you two when I was walking past." 

"Why were you walking past?" 

"I was going to the toilet. You looked like you were enjoying yourself." 

"We were just partners that once because Karen was sick. That’s all." 

"Oh yeah? Then how come you were talking to him after school?" 

"I wasn’t doing anything wrong." 

"What were you talking about, then?" 

"I don’t remember, just-" 

"Oh, you don’t remember? Were you talking about me? Were you trying to make me jealous?"

I pulled my hand out of his grasp. He grabbed it back but this time he was holding my wrist. He was holding on very tightly. It started to become uncomfortable. 

"Why won’t you answer, Annie?" 

"Just leave me alone." I tried to pull away but his grip was too tight. I struggled. I felt weak and powerless. "Let go, let-" 

"Fine." He shoved me away and I stumbled backwards and hit the icy ground, landing on my left elbow. The pain made me cry out. 

"Shut up." He said. I looked up at him. 

He looked down at me and then he kicked my bag. Its contents spilled out across the ground. I watched my phone skid over the edge of the rock face. I didn’t hear it land in the water. I started to cry. My tears were hot and burned against my wind-bitten cheeks.

"I wish you didn’t lie to me all the time, Josie. You just take me for granted and think you can go off flirting with-" 

I lost focus on his words. The pain in my elbow was overwhelming. It was at an unnatural angle. I felt dizzy. He crouched down next to me. "Are you even listening to me? Are you?" he slapped me across the face. "Stop crying." he said. His face was close to mine. I looked at him. 

"Please don’t." I said. 

"Don’t what?" He asked. "Don’t do this?" He slapped me again. I kept crying. 

"Please don’t hurt me." I begged.

He frowned and I saw his hand stretch out again and I screamed and kicked up. My foot landed in his stomach. He doubled over in pain. I scrambled to my feet.  "I’ll kill you," he screamed. "I’ll kill you." He lunged towards me and his hands were clenched into fists and I was crying and he was shouting at me and then he stopped and I didn’t understand why he was making gurgling noises and then I looked down and my hand was wrapped around the kitchen knife and the kitchen knife was lodged in the center of his chest and there was blood, too much blood. I stared in horror at his fluttering eyelashes. Then he was stumbling backwards and he grabbed my hair and I screamed and pushed him off me and he fell backwards into the open air and plummeted.

I didn’t hear him land. 

 

By Naomi Elegant

Harrow International School Beijing

 

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