Monthly Archives: September 2012

Untitled – Part 1: A Short Story

This is a story I wrote that had a terrible ending, so I just deleted it! Here is the first half. Hopefully the second half won’t take me too long to come up with, (but knowing me it probably will.) The second half was also where my original title came from, so for now it is Untitled (a cop out I know). When it’s finished, I’m sure a beautifully appropriate title will come to me in a dream or something…

 

Untitled (for now)

This wasn’t something I planned. It wasn’t something I expected. Sure, I’ve always wanted this to happen, but not now, not here. It was more something to look forward to, something to hope for. But it happened, and for some reason I let it happen. I still ask myself, what made me finally say yes? I’d been asked many times, and every time I would stop breathing and my ears would fill with blood. I’d hear that pounding pounding sound. It’d be so loud I’d know everyone around can hear it, wondering if someone was using a hammer in the next room over. But I would shake it off, and remember my situation. And I would say no. I’d be more depressed than ever before, but I would know I did the right thing.

But that’s in the past. And the present is far more wonderful and terrible than I ever thought. Even now I’m looking at him, and I don’t know what to feel. He’s on the couch, sleeping on a pillow, and it feels like it’s always been like this, that he’s always been here. He makes me so happy, and yet, I’m scared. I’m scared because I know he shouldn’t be here, he doesn’t belong. I’ve forced him to belong, to fit into my life, into my tiny world. He yawns and I can see his teeth. They’re perfect and sharp, but they’re not what I’m scared of. How could I be? I could never be scared of him. I might not know where he came from, how he spent his time before now, but he’s gentle, and loving, and always affectionate. How could it be wrong that he’s here? That pillow is his now, and even after he’s gone, in however many years that is, it will always be his. I will always remember how he looked stretched across it, and how he slept for hours, a paw over his eyes.

I love having a cat again.

It’s the middle of the day and I’m taping blankets to my windows. I rip the duct tape with my teeth and slap it to the wall, the blue cloth secure beneath it. Rip, slap, rip, slap, rip, slap, over and over. With every slap, the sunlight on the carpet dims, until it’s gone, and I can let out a long breath. The window is covered.

It’s the window that faces the street of the apartment complex. Now no one driving by or walking with their kids can see into my living room, but that’s not why I did it. Across the street is a building. It’s the first building I entered in the complex when I came here two years ago. It’s the building with the golf cart parked outside by the grass, hogging most of the street. It’s the building with the community room, where old people huddle together and watch even older movies, and where the garden club sits in a circle on metal chairs, discussing petunias as they shift and twist, their butts slowing falling asleep and entering numbness. It’s the building where I signed my lease and got my mail key. It’s the office, and I cannot let them see inside.

If I had known what I know now, I would have never moved here. As I pat down the blanket and check for any air bubbles under the tape, I can’t help but think about the day I wrote my initials in all the little boxes. I signed things like Satellite Dish Agreement, Lead-Based Paint Disclosure, and Crime-Free/Drug-Free Multihousing. I had no problems with these; in fact, I barely read them. They were just common sense rules to follow, and I had no problem doing just that. I remember reaching the last page, and that’s when I woke up.

No Pets Allowed Agreement.

My heart sank a little, but that was it. After all, I’d had no pets since my last cat, Maurice, had passed on. Besides, this meant I wouldn’t have to worry about stepping in dog shit on the way to my car. So I wrote LMS in that box like the others and capped my pen. A lingering thought had tried to make its way up my brain stem, but shaking my head forced it to shoot back down into nothingness. I could survive without a pet to live in one of the only apartments that had grass and palm trees. Right?

The top corner of the blanket hangs down, the duct tape flapping in the air, desperately trying to stick to something soft. I scowl and tear the tape off the wall, ready to replace it. I glance out the glass and see Ronald entering the front door of the office. Ronald. That first day is also when I met Ronald in person. He should have been my first clue to put the pen down and run.

Ronald works in the office as a leasing agent. Not only does he work there, but he lives there, too. He rents the studio that shares a wall with the office. Talk about dedication to your work. But he’s too dedicated. Not only did he reply to my “request more information” email, but he responded every day. Twice a day. For a week. Sure, I thought something was weird with him. Most of the time you’re lucky if apartments acknowledge you contacted them. But I was desperate. The rent was good, and there was grass, green grass. Not that straw shit that seems to sprout up amongst rocks and sand. But beautiful, shining, dewy grass. The kind that makes you smile as you walk by, and that you don’t mind getting mud on your feet as long as you can squish the green between your toes.

When I walked through the door, leaving a car bursting with boxes and trash cans filled with lamps and plastic cups, I looked for the desk with his name plate. Behind it was a thin man with red hair. He looked up and I saw his nose was covered in pimples, and when he smiled his teeth were crooked. Not a good start.

From that day on, he has trouble leaving me alone. He likes to lay in wait for me to get my mail or take out my trash. He likes to help me carry things form my car. He even helped jump my car when the battery sputtered out. None of these things would be all that bad, but he’s always sweating, and staring at me, and he never blinks. He stares at me and licks his lips and “accidently” brushes my hand, leaving a grease stain on my palm. I’ve been putting up with it, mostly because he lets me turn my rent in late.

But I barely think of him anymore. Now my time is spent taking care of someone. Wilson. He depends on me now, so I can’t let Ronald distract me anymore. I have to be vigilant. I stand back with my hands on my hips. The light is snuffed out completely, the windows are covered. I feel something soft graze my leg. It’s Wilson, sniffing the duct tape. I bend down, and my heart softens when I look in his green yellow eyes, and when I scratch under his chin, but my brain reminds me No Pets Allowed, No Pets Allowed, NO PETS ALLOWED! He has to be a secret. I can’t let anyone see him. When I leave for work, I lock him in my windowless bedroom, and I pray he stays quiet. When I’m sleeping, I hope to God he doesn’t chew off the tape, wanting a peek outside. I wish I could make him understand how important it is he is always quiet. I tell him to stay away from the windows, and I pull him back. I feel like it’s the cold war, and the windows are blacked out and we could be bombed at any moment. I laugh. If only things were that serious. But then I straighten my face. Things are that serious. If I lose Wilson, I lose everything.

I close the car door slowly, careful not to make a sound. I can’t help the rustle of the plastic bags I’m carrying, but I do my best to hold my arm stiff. The “Petsmart” logo is strategically facing my leg, but the red and blue are so bright against the clear plastic. I’m shaking as I start the walk to my front door, and my eyes are glued wide open. The world is silent except for the slight thump of my toes hitting the pavement and the exhale of breath through my nose. I can see the mailboxes now, I’m close. I just have to turn the corner, the corner across from the office, and I’ll be in the home stretch. I see the stairs leading up to my door, and thank God, the outside light is still broken. Just a bit closer…

“Lily! I’m glad I caught you!”

I wince when I hear the crack of his voice. I hear footsteps getting progressively louder. I plaster a smile on my face and spin around, holding my arms, and the bags, behind my back.

“Ronald, hey. What a surprise.” I back up slowly, hitting the mailboxes. My heart stops when I hear the bags crackle.

“Yeah, I was just finishing up some paperwork when I saw your car drive by.” He flattens his tie with his hands over and over, successful only in wrinkling it more. He cranes his neck from left to right. He looks like a confused giraffe. “Doing some late night shopping?”

I squeeze my hands tighter, the plastic digging in painfully. “Yes, I was. Stores are just so crowded during the day.” I grimace at my pathetic explanation. No way he’s believing that.

“Sure, sure, that’s so true. Need any help?”

“No!” I say, maybe a little too fast. “I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, no problem.” He holds his tie with both hands and just looks at me, his eye’s getting fuzzy.

I start to turn around.  “Well, I better get going-“

“Wait! I wanted to ask if you were coming to the community barbeque.”

I blink. “The what?”

“You know, it was in the newsletter. I put it on your door myself…” He trails off. His eyebrows form a triangle above his eyes.

“Oh, yes, of course. I’ll be there.” I force a smile. “I’ll see you there, I guess.” I turn around, but too fast. One of the bags catches on the end of the metal jutting out from the mailboxes. I see it happen in slow motion. The flimsy plastic handles tear in half, as if they were cut with scissors. The bag is airborne, and then crashes on the sidewalk, its contents spilling out. The small cans of Friskies roll down the incline and out on the dark street. Most of them stop in a pothole, but one hits Ronald’s dusty old shoe. It sways from side to side endlessly, like when you drop a coin. I can hear the wind swoosh past it as it rocks back and forth. Finally, it comes to rest with a booming echo, facing up.

“Oh, here, let me help you.” Ronald starts bending down.

“No!” I sound high and squeaky. Ronald looks at me half bent over, his fingertips almost touching the can. “I mean no thank you. I can get it.” I dive to the ground and gather up the small cans, my hands trying in vain to completely cover the label. I shove them all into my purse and stretch up almost too quickly. I have to blink my eyes to get rid of the dizziness. I dust off my jeans, thanking God over and over that I was successful.

I let a gasping laugh escape. “Well, thanks Ronald. I’ll see you later!” I’m halfway to the steps when I hear my name. I turn around, and Ronald is somehow closer than before. I’m annoyed until I see what he’s holding.

I’d missed one of the cans.

“Here…” He pushes his arm out, the label as bright and clear as the sun on a hot summer day. I stare at his hand longer than I should. His fingers are long and thin, almost skeletal. The hair on his knuckles is unnaturally black compared to the whiteness of his skin. His nails are yellow and far too long. His hands churn my stomach.

I rescue the can from his grasp, and thrust it in my purse with the rest. It’s safe now. But I can’t think of a thing to say. The look in Ronald’s eyes confuses me. What is he thinking about? Is he considering telling his boss, or is he daydreaming about my chest? Why isn’t he saying anything? Why is he so quiet! All I keep thinking, over and over again in my head, the phrase that echoes with my heartbeat: he knows, he knows, he knows.

“Well, have a good night, Lily.” He smiles showing his uneven teeth. He turns around and walks back toward the office. I’m left standing there in the darkness of the broken light, and I’m frozen.

Contentment: Flash Fiction

This is one of the first things I ever wrote, and I still think it’s awesome. It began as a “show vs. tell” exercise, so it’s filled with similes, metaphors, senses, all that descriptive-y junk. Sometimes that stuff can get convoluted, but I tried to evoke a different sense with each description so as not to overwhelm. Either way, it being pretty much the first thing I wrote is a little sentimental, so I could just be biased. One day I might attempt to rework it.

 

Contentment

The rush of air slapped him in the face as Stan exited the complex. Gravel crunched under his tattered brown boots as he stepped forward, his eyes wide, his arms encircling himself in comfort. Men in uniform marched in front and behind, chins pointed upward. Their expressions were hidden by wide-rimmed tinted sunglasses, and with the sun’s glare at full strength, Stan wouldn’t have been able to see their faces anyway. He slowly tilted his head at an attempt to peer around the front guard, and he managed to view the bus. So this was the vehicle that would transport him into his new life? Even after fifteen years he wasn’t sure he was ready. The vehicle itself didn’t seem up to the task of introducing him back to society. Its pale paint was having trouble remaining in place, giving way to spots of rust, and the widows had all but disappeared under a myriad of dirt and grime. Flies speckled the windshield like a child’s prize finger-painting. The shrill squeak from the door opening was audible even to him, sixty yards in the distance. Clearly, the bus had seen better days. It reminded him much of himself. We’re kindred spirits you and I, Stan thought, and a small smile tugged at his mouth.

The interior of the bus mirrored the outside, and the effect was enhanced with the perfume of mold protruding from the fraying seat cushions. When he slowly eased into one at the front, Stan’s nostrils flared as the scent floated upwards, encasing him in its putrid embrace. The portly driver didn’t seem to even notice the smell, probably because his own odor rivals this one, he thought dryly. With a now familiar whine, the driver pulled the lever that shut the door, and they lurched forward. Stan laid his head back against the seat, folded his hands graciously in his lap, closed his eyes, and became lost in an antiquated world.

 

“Stanley darling, would you make sure there’s enough Champagne out there? I would hate to read in the newspaper how our party could have been smashing if only there had been more Champagne! That’s just what happened to the Jones’, remember? Now no one calls on them! A fate worsethan death if you ask me!”

“Yes of course, I’ll uncork another bottle right now, dear.”

“Oh thank you. Now I really must get back. That silly Morgan von Hyde is out there parading her new ring around. I just can’t stand it! And it’s just terrible looking, but of course no one says anything about it but me! You think it’s just hideous too, don’t you darling?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Well then, don’t forget the Champagne!” And with that Catherine rushed off in a swirl of gossamer fabric. Stan had trouble understanding why Miss von Hyde’s ring was of such great importance, but then again, he was used to not understanding his wife. Henry theorized he had trouble understanding all women, and maybe his best friend and business partner was right. Take this party for instance; Catherine had felt the need to throw a lavish party the second after hearing the gossip going around town about the speculative engagement. Women will do anything to upstage each other, Stan supposed as he struggled to uncork the coveted bottle of Champagne. With a pop, the cork was free and the sweet drink bubbled in thanks as Stan poured it into the stylish glass flutes Catherine had just had to have for the event. He always did have trouble saying no to her.

When the glasses were safely on a table in the main room, Stan had to admit, his wife had outdone herself this time. His usually modestly decorated living room had been transformed into a poet’s wet dream. Candles adorned nearly every surface, the orange glow of their flames basking the walls in pale luminescence. The scent of vanilla and lavender radiated out of the candles, giving the impression of being in a distant memory of a picturesque spring afternoon. Where there weren’t candles, there were vases of every design filled to the brim with flowers straight from a Monet painting. Soft jazz rose from his surround-sound speakers and showered Stan in kisses as he moseyed around the room.  As silly as he knew the party was, he couldn’t imagine a time in his life where he had been more content as he was at the second.

As if on cue, fate hurled a rock at the precious mirror that was Stan’s life. He didn’t even notice the absence of music until  hands were seizing his arms and roughly wrenching them behind his back. Cold, hard steel dug into his writs like a desperate lover. He heard words like “silent” and “court,” but it meant nothing to him. He was lost in a whirlwind of confusion. The last thing he saw until his head was pressed against a foreign car’s leather seat was Catherine’s unsurprised eyes as her lithe lips slowly formed a familiar smirk.

 

Stan was jerked awake by the screech of the bus door, and still a little groggy from his repressed memories, he gazed out the window. A dilapidated old building stood on the corner of an unkempt street, and he soon realized that this was his new home. This was where he would spend his time making new memories. He couldn’t say he was altogether thrilled with the idea, but anywhere was better than where he had been, right? He had better make the best of it, as he had done before, as he always did. He waved farewell to the indifferent driver, and moved into his future.

After a few weeks, Stan had neatly settled into his new life. He had made friends with his elderly neighbors, and had recently been given the honor of attending their weekly Bridge game. He had even procured a job at a local convenience store working the dreaded graveyard shift. He didn’t mind; he had trouble sleeping. When his shift was over, he usually would meander over to the small park across from his building. He would sit on his usual corroding bench, and if he was lucky, he would catch the first rays of the sun. He lived to see the violet and crimson hues that painted the sky, casting the ramshackle park in a new light. The brown dying grass became alive with freshness, the drab blossoms bloomed anew with promise, and the air imbued Stan with the memory of his perfect spring afternoon, with vanilla and lavender anything but an afterthought. The soft calling of birds awakening and the delicate laughter of children as they made their way to school would drown out all thoughts of doubt. He would smile then, his eyes closed in bliss. This is life, he would think.

He was at last content once more.

Home: A Short Story

This was the last thing I wrote in college, and it was in response to a professor I didn’t like. All semester, he seemed to only respond well to super serious/sad pieces, and I had been writing light-hearted/comical stuff. So this was my attempt to be sad and serious, and I like how it turned out.

Home

This wasn’t her bed. The last one hadn’t been either. But it was the same moon. It was always the same bright white against the same dark sky, stars sprinkled across forming random patterns and shapes. The beds she slept in might always be different, but the sheets remained identical. Rough and coarse, like bales of straw, or an old burlap sack, like the one she used to wear for clothes, before this bed. Her skin grew red when she moved, searching for a position possible for sleep, possible to forget where she was, and to forget about the beds. The beds were always different, but her tears were always the same.

Today was Tuesday. But, of course, she didn’t know that. She didn’t keep track of the days. She only kept track of how hungry she was, how many holes were in her shoes, or how long her fingernails were, endlessly encased with dirt. To her, it was the day that grown-ups came. They looked at all of them, lined up like cattle in the front room. They walked slowly by, their expensive jackets and scarves fluttering with every motion. The women always had their arms through the men’s, and sometimes they would rest their heads against their strong shoulders, and they would sigh while looking into sad, empty eyes. It was never clear exactly what they were looking for, but most of the time they seemed to find it. They would talk to the Miss Hardey or Mrs. Tonle or Miss Smith, whoever it was this time, at the end of the row, and then exit into a small side room. The woman would walk back down the line, eventually reaching one of them, and she would grab the small, grimy hand, and they would leave, exiting into the side room, into a new life.

She had yet to be chosen. She always shook the dirt out of her moth-ridden clothes, and made sure to scrub her hands raw, but she was always left behind. And she would retreat to the bed she had been sleeping in, and stare at her hands, wondering what was so wrong with them. She would put up with this for a while, until she couldn’t take it anymore. There would come a point when she couldn’t take the shiny buttons and the red, glossy lips and warm smiles and the searching eyes and the slow, careful footsteps and the comforting arms anymore. She would become tired of being taunted with everything she wanted. And that’s when she would leave one bed to find another.

So when this Tuesday came around, she didn’t expect much. She didn’t dust off her clothes, and she didn’t wash. In fact she hadn’t for days. What did it matter? Her clothes didn’t complain of the filth, so she didn’t either. In fact, she rather liked the way the grime coated her skin. It felt comforting and warm, and was always with her. It was something she could rely on, and she liked having that something.

She was sitting on the bed that wasn’t hers but was. It was the last in the row, the one against the far wall, haphazardly wedged into the corner. She was tying her shoes as slowly as she could, dreading what was to come. The chaos in the room helped. Most of the children where red in the face, bouncing on their beds, throwing pillows into the air and at each other. Laughing and high squeaks filled the big room, making it feel cramped and closed-in. These were the new kids, the kids who didn’t know what it was like. They were hopeful. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know any better. All they knew was that after today, they might get to go somewhere where they would be fed and clothed and played with and hugged and smiled at and loved. But a few of them were like her. They sat on beds, most staring at their hands that rested in their laps. A few cried, a few scowled. But they were like her, and they did know better.

It wasn’t hard for her to tie her shoes slowly. The noises of the foolish children were distracting, but she also just wasn’t very good at it. She didn’t have shoe laces very often. Most of the time she would steal tape from the Misses office, or sometimes she would find gum on the street, and that worked even better. But sometimes, like this time, she was lucky enough to find 2 pairs of laces, or at least string, usually in a trash can or dumpster, and her shoes could become real shoes again.

First, the bunny crawls under the log. She bit her lip and squinted her eyes as she tried to remember what she had been taught. Next the bunny hops around a tree. She didn’t know when she had learned it, but she did remember who. Miss Clary. She was different from all the other Misses she had had. Where they were distant, Miss Clary was warm. Where they were disciplining, Miss Clary was understanding. Where they were harsh, Miss Clary was gentle. Now the bunny ties his ears tight so they won’t fall off. Miss Clary had treated her like a person, not like garbage, not like a mistake, but a real live person. A person who lived and breathed and needed food and love, and of course, who needed her shoes to stay on. At last, the bunny is home.

She wished the other kids would be quiet. It was hard to remember Miss Clary’s face with so much noise. She closed her eyes and tried to picture her. Her eyes had been green. They were the color of the park where she would sometimes sleep in. She had a certain bench she preferred, and she would wait and wait if it was occupied. She would look into Miss Clary’s eyes and remember this, and she would feel safe. Miss Clary’s hands had been soft, her fingers long and slender, and her nails clean. She remembered how they felt when she helped to tie her shoes. They seemed so delicate, as if the wind could break them into a million pieces and carry them away. But they were strong when bunny crept under the log and when bunny tied his ears tight. They were hands you could trust to know what they were doing.

She remembered Miss Clary’s voice the best. She had almost sounded like she was singing when she was only talking. She would sometimes get in trouble for not paying attention, but it wasn’t on purpose. She liked to close her eyes when Miss Clary talked, and let her body sway and let her mind empty, so that there was only the song of Miss Clary’s voice. But she tried to pay attention to her shoe directions and not hum along. That was the only way she could remember the words, because mostly she only remembered the feelings.

 

Sitting there on the bed, getting ready to be judged yet again, reminded her of a time long in the past when she was doing the same thing, only this time, Miss Clary had been there, and that had changed everything.

She stares out the window, watching the couples file in, two by two. It’s a cold day, windy and icy, so they all huddle together, covered in furs and scarves and each other. She can’t help but try to imagine what it might feel like to be wrapped up by arms covered in that soft fur. She thinks it might feel as nice as a hug by Miss Clary, but only a little.

The room is empty save her. The rest have gone to meet the fur-laden grown-ups, but she is uncertain. She is sitting on her bed next to the window, her shoes freshly tied, trying to find the energy, or the desire, to get up and join the others. For now, she is content to sit here and only imagine what it would be like to have a real home. This particular bed in this particular building is more home to her than anything else has ever been.

She hears footsteps behind her. She doesn’t need to turn to know who they belong to.

“Sophie, there you are! Everyone else is in the sitting room. I knew someone was missing. It was quieter than usual.”

Sophie turns around and Miss Clary is already sitting next to her, putting her hands on her shoulders.

“Now, come on. Aren’t you ready?”

“Miss Clary?”

“Yes, Sophie?” She smiles at her the way she always does, and Sophie can’t help but smile back, delighting in the music.

“Why can’t I just go home with you?”

“Oh, Sophie, you know that can’t happen. If I could, I would take you and all the others home with me every night.”

“But Miss Clary, that sounds perfect!” She bounces in her seat, biting her lip and pleading with her eyes. “Why can’t we?”

“Because of them, Sophie.” She points out the window. The last couple disappears from view. “It would be very selfish of me to take all of you home when those people want a child more than anything.”

“I guess you’re right.” Sophie looks in her lap and sniffles. Miss Clary puts her finger under her chin and raises her eyes to her own.

“Perk up, Soph! Just think about. One of those nice couples downstairs is waiting for you. They’ll take you home with them, and feed you more than you could eat in a week! None of that cold soup you eat here, right?” Miss Clary gets up, grabbing Sophie’s hand, which is freshly cleaned.

“You’re right, Miss Clary! I’m going to have a new mommy and daddy!” Sophie dives into Miss Clary, squeezing as hard as she dares. Miss Clary laughs, and squeezes right back.

 

She shook her head, ridding herself of the memory of that day. That was then and this is now. Miss Clary was gone, and she was alone, alone with her dirty hands, just the way she liked them.

The other children began to file out of the room, and she knew it was time. She walked in the back of the line, her laces flapping on the wood floor, having quickly untied themselves. Her fists clenched when she reached the top of the staircase, and she descended into darkness.

Miss Clary may have been everything to her, but she was a liar. She had been different then, and she had believed her without any doubt. She had trusted Miss Clary with everything she had. It was as if she had bottled up all her hope and gave it to Miss Clary for safe keeping, and then she threw the bottle on a dirty street, the hope gliding into the air and dissipating with the wind. Miss Clary had promised her a home, and that promise proved false.

 

Sophie grips Miss Clary’s hand as she is led to the sitting room. A few children are seated, staring into their laps, their cheeks covered in dirt, but the other children are milling about, endlessly chattering and twirling in circles, their eyes bright and their smiles spreading. Sophie moves to join them, and Miss Clary lets go of her hand. Sophie freezes and looks up.

“Don’t worry, Sophie. I have to go for now, but stay with everyone. It won’t be long now, sweet.” Miss Clary smiles showing teeth, and disappears out the door.

Sophie is left staring at the doorframe, momentarily transfixed. A tall child jostles her, waking her up form her imaginings. She bounds off to join the others.

“Children? Children! Please calm down!” Mrs. Harrow stands in sharp contrast to the group. Not only is she tall enough to touch the ceiling with the palm of her hands, but she has a stern countenance, quite out of place among the many romping children. Some of them run over and tug on her skirt, wrinkling the fabric. Mrs. Harrow shoos them away with a wave of her hand and a deep, throaty growl. The children scamper away laughing.

“Children, it’s time. Now everyone line up. I mean now. And be quiet!” Mrs. Harrow claps her hands. Children stop mid-giggle. “Line up and follow me.”

Sophie takes a place in the middle, in-between a red-haired girl with crooked teeth, and a blue-eyed boy whose sleeves and paint legs stop short of fitting him. They all march down the stairs and line up in the front room, waiting.

Soon enough, Miss Clary leads in four couples. Sophie thinks they all look wonderful, and she wonders which of them will be hers. The grown-ups take a minute to look over the children. A few of them have sadness in their eyes, but most are all smiles, and Sophie smiles back, trying to look as lovely as possible. She stands up straight, holds her hands in front her, and smiles as wide as her mouth will let.

All the couples slowly walk down the line and eventually come to Miss Clary, who then leads them into another room, away from the children. After some time passes, Mrs. Harrow exits the room and grabs a few of the children, bringing them back into the room. This seems to happen endlessly to Sophie, over and over again new sets of grown-ups are brought to the line, walk into the other room with Miss Clary, and over and over again children are led away by Mrs. Harrow. Sophie starts to get nervous when the red-haired girl and the blue-eyed boy are chosen before her. Surely her teeth are nicer than that girl, and her clothes fit her properly, unlike the boy. Did they not notice? Could they have missed how well-behaved she was? She doesn’t panic, as there is still time.

But time is running out. Less and less children are left, and Sophie still remains. While waiting for the last group to come in, she brushes off her clothes, her arms flying fast and faster, trying to rid herself of whatever it is that makes her unappealing. Then the door opens, and two couples emerge, and the cycle repeats itself. Sophie holds her breath when they walk by her.

When Mrs. Harrow comes out for the last time, Sophie readies herself to be led away. She makes sure her palm isn’t sweaty, and she tucks her hair behind her ears. She takes a deep breath. She can hear footsteps coming near her, and her heart races with every puncture of sound. It’s almost time. Sophie has trouble staying still, but she knows she must be proper and behave herself. Almost time. Almost time. Almost time. The footsteps are almost at her feet.

Sophie imagines the happy faces of her new parents. She’ll walk in the door and their eyes will light up and rush to her side. They’ll hug her and love her and never let go. They’ll take her home with them and be hers forever. She is so lost in her fantasy that she almost doesn’t notice that the footsteps have passed by her.

She looks down the line, and Mrs. Harrow has two children with her, one for each hand. They’re giggling and almost skip down the line to the room with the grown-ups.  The children on either side of Sophie are staring at their feet. Some of them hug themselves, and some of them let tears stain their faces. Sophie’s mouth is hanging open, and then her bottom lip starts to tremble. The door closes, the boom echoing in Sophie’s ears. Miss Clary comes out and leads the children back up the stairs, but Sophie stays where she is. She can’t leave, she hasn’t been chosen yet. She was supposed to have a home today. Her tears make puddles next to her feet.

She looks up the stairs, and Miss Clary is looking down at her from the top. The safe feeling Sophie feels when she looks into Miss Clary’s green eyes is gone, and instead she feels nothing. The music is absent from Miss Clary’s voice when she calls her name. She feels so alone. Sophie tears her gaze away, returning it to the floor beneath her. The puddles grow.

 

She stood in the line and tried not to think of the possibilities, the hope, anything. She didn’t try and look well-behaved; instead she did what she felt like. She picked her nose when it itched and slouched to be more comfortable. She didn’t even look up when the grown-ups walked by. She kept her eyes closed tight, picturing going home with Miss Clary and sitting by the fire with her and eating something warm and sleeping somewhere soft. Footsteps went past her repeatedly and the sound began to blur. They became the ticking clock in Miss Clary’s sitting room, where they had tea everyday at four, and the sun always shined through the window. They became the metronome perched atop Miss Clary’s old wooden piano, where they sat side by side, endlessly practicing scales.  They became the water dripping from the faucet in Miss Clary’s kitchen, the one that still hadn’t been repaired because she was too busy chasing her in circles around the table. They became anything but what they where, because nothing good would come out of them.

She felt something brush her hand. She shook it off, annoyed at being distracted from her life with Miss Clary. She felt the something again, this time harder and more firm. She tried to shake it off again, but it stuck to her like glue. She blinked a few times, clearing her head, and looked up. Mrs. Petry, or whatever her name was this time, was holding her hand and smiling down at her. She didn’t seem to mind the dirt that was slowing growing from the small hand to her own. Mrs. Petry tugged gently, and she stumbled forward.

She stood in the center of a small room. Mrs. Petry stood to the left of a man and woman, both trying to smile through nerves. She couldn’t grasp what was happening as she looked from Mrs. Petry to the couple, back and forth. This time? But her clothes were dirty, her hair was ragged, and her hands were the filthiest they’d ever been. She wasn’t anything that someone would want to take home with them and love. But she had been chosen?

“These are the Miller’s.” Mrs. Petry placed her hand on the woman’s shoulder, nodding to the couple. “And this is Sophie.”

“Sophie.” The woman smiled after saying her name, and she said it again, trying out how it felt. “I’m Donna, and this is Greg.” The man was tall, and his face had a warm glow. He had is arm around his wife, and she could see that his hand clutched her side, digging into her coat.

“We’d like to take you home with us, if that’s okay.” Mrs. Miller looked up at her husband, and they shared a secret glance.

She tried to speak, but nothing came out but air.  She coughed a little and tried again. “Okay.” She regretted it right after the word left her mouth. But wasn’t this what she had always wanted? Why didn’t she feel different?

“Great!” Mrs. Petry checked her watch. “We’ll set up a time for you to come by tomorrow. How does that sound?” The Miller’s agreed. As they all walked to the door, Mrs. Miller bent down on her knee and took Sophie’s face in her hands. She could see Mrs. Miller’s eyes were watery, and hers became watery, too.

“I’m so glad we found you, Sophie.” Mrs. Miller pulled her into a hug. She didn’t know where to put her arms. It had been a long time since someone had hugged her. She slowly put them around Mrs. Miller, and she closed her eyes and just focused on how it felt to be hugged by someone who wanted you.

After the Miller’s had left, Mrs. Petry ushered her back up the stairs.

“You’re very lucky you know. A lot of the others will never find such a nice couple as the Miller’s. You’re going to have a great, new life.” When they reached the bottom landing, Mrs. Petry narrowed her eyes, looking her up and down.

“And can you at least bathe before tomorrow? You don’t want to go to your new home looking like that do you? Now, scoot! To the bath!” Mrs. Petry pattered her on the back, and she slowly climbed the stairs, tracing the grain in the wood with her blank eyes.

Later, when it was dark and the moon was hidden behind gray clouds, she sat on the bed, the bed that was hers for one more night. She rubbed the sheet with her hand in circles. It felt rough like usual. She wondered what her new sheets would feel like. She wondered if there would be a window by her bed, just like this one. She wondered if she could love the Miller’s like she loved Miss Clary. No, she didn’t think that was possible. Miss Clary had been everything to her, but even then she had betrayed her. She had been ready for a family, ready for a home, but she had been left behind. Miss Clary hadn’t even wanted her, even after she was left standing in that line.

She hated this place. It reminded her of the good times with Miss Clary, but also the pain of her lies. She couldn’t take it anymore. She flung the scratchy fabric away from her and it hit the wall. The child sleeping in the next bed over grunted and rolled over, and then was still. She grabbed what was hers from under the bed, just a few extra laces and an old pillowcase she used as a scarf, and stuffed them in her coat pockets. She sat on the floor and began to tie her shoes. First, the bunny crawls under the log. Next the bunny hops around— She shook her head. She didn’t need that anymore. She could tie her shoes on her own, without Miss Clary. And she did.

It was cold outside, but she didn’t mind. It felt good against her cheeks, hot from running. She wondered where she would sleep tonight. She turned left down an alley. A park wasn’t too far away, and in the middle, amongst the green grass and the tall trees, there was a bench that was familiar, and that was safe.