You never got along with the kids on your block. You all lived in picture-perfect houses with brick-red chimneys the perfect size for Santa Claus, and your mothers cooked and your fathers worked and your bushes were perfectly trimmed all year round.
You sat on the fuzzy blue carpet of your room, made pristine from the slinky fingers of your aging mother. Across from you sat the most beautiful girl you’d ever seen. Her name was Lucy, and her hair looked like the remains of orange fireworks as the sparks rained down in the night sky. She wore pink lipstick, applied with the heavy, overeager hand of a six-year-old girl who idolized plastic barbie dolls. And there she was, in her flower-printed flannel dress, staring at you intently.
You stared back.
Your uneasiness collided with her silent confidence. Were you to say something? She’d laugh, flip her hair, walk out. What a stupid boy that is, she’d think. You just wanted her to stay. For you to be able to keep looking at her, and not let her escape into the ignorant world outside the window.
When Grace died, you realized what it meant to be a lost cause. Everyone set themselves an uncomfortable distance away from you, and when you walked in the room, everyone mutely shuffled about to give you space or to not overcrowd you. You felt so small, like an insignificant wad of paper thrown onto the floor of a classroom—trampled, tossed around and no longer legible. Death had become such a familiar subject, but everyone else seemed to think that little Sam didn’t understand—that there was no need to explain, because you didn’t need to know. And so, a thick and suffocating coat of sympathy smiles and cordial coaxing muffled you, wrapped you up, and made you invisible.
You sat facing her, unable to pull her closer, not willing to push her away. An inexplicable metallic string, taut with expectations, binds you to her. Your mouth fumbles over the words, struggling to form syllables, and yet you cannot dismiss her like all the rest. There were only a handful of people you couldn’t live without. Grace was one. And now, it seems that she is another.
You wanted to live somewhere else. Somewhere without the rotating cast of neighbors who filled up the house with their whining questions about your father’s promotion or your mother’s new hairdo. Someplace, where the nauseating silence that hung over the town the night Grace was driven away could be laughed off, or brushed away. Somewhere your mouth would start functioning again, and no one would look down at you like a trifling, pitiful thing. A place where they didn’t believe in poking and prodding the children. Maybe where the aliens lived. Maybe just as far away from here as you could get.
She was still looking at you, with a look that was either complete understanding or complete detachment. And then, she arose, smoothed out her dress, and tied up her hair, so that the ridges smoothed back into her ponytail looked like waves of bobbing sunlight being sucked into perpetual darkness.
“You have a lovely home, Sam, but it’s time for me to get going. I hope to see you in school some time. Thank you for having me.”
You sat alone, towards the imprint where she was just seconds ago. You sat facing her desertion, and the emptiness of your sister, who’d left you years ago. In her last days, she had sunken under a mess of get-well-cards and sickly flower bouquets, and faded into a whitewashed, muted version of herself. She no longer told you alien stories. And most importantly, she had forgotten to tell you where she was going, or how you could ever find her once again.
Angie Cui, Age 14, Grade 9, The Dalton School, Silver Key