My laugh sounds like an out-of-tune violin

When I was seven I backhanded a porcelain doll straight off our fireplace. After it shattered I wanted to say I was sorry, but instead it sounded like a laugh. My brother used to say I laughed during inappropriate times. Like when our mother’s casket was being lowered into the ground, I cackled the entire time. Everyone was acting like she was really in that wooden box, but I knew better, if she was, she would’ve woken up by then. 

I have a father who says he loves me very much. But only on Wednesday’s, Thursday’s, pay day’s, or days when his favorite baseball team wins. Every other night I’ve got a brother who says I shouldn’t listen to anything anyone else says, but if that’s so, then why do I bother going to school? All the teachers ever tell me is how much I should listen to my parents. Each time I cut off the extra ‘s’ and drown it in alcohol, just like my father does every other day of the week.

I’ve tried to tell my teacher a lot of things before, but she doesn’t have a habit of listening. She just stands a little taller as if to prove she’s closer to God or whatever’s really on top of the clouds. That is, if there’s anything that lives in the sky. I guess I wouldn’t know because when we used to go to Church I just sat in the back pew and picked at the laces on my pink frilly dress. I would look at the pictures the older kids doodled in the margins of King Henry’s Bible and sometimes, I’d even laugh. Of course my brother would make a point of coughing twice as loud so I wouldn’t get my fingers slapped with a ruler. I’m sure the entire town thought he had chronic bronchitis. 
    
Despite all the talking and laughing, I really did like Church. After the man on the stage stopped talking, they would pass around a plate full of free money and I’d grab a handful of coins to buy a soda for my brother. 


Glass almost rhymes with cello

We haven’t been to Church since I laughed at the graveyard and all the old ladies in big sun hats stared at me like I had a third arm. Honestly I wish I did because maybe then I could’ve stopped all the bruises from appearing on my momma’s face. When those old ladies found out that’s why she died, they refused to see our family anymore. I didn’t mind, they always pretended like all business was their business and gossip leaked from the wrinkles around their mouths even when they weren’t talking. This way, I didn’t have to listen to how awful my family was. 

Instead, I spend every Sunday watching cartoons in the living room and getting up every ten minutes to shake the set when the screen turns to static. I’d say that’s a fair amount of exercise. Combined with the fact our fridge doesn’t work anymore so I can’t recall what milk tastes like and whether or not I’ve ever had cereal. I’m not what the commercials call “fat” or “lazy”.

Sometimes I have to go walk outside and pick grass because there are other people passed out on the couch. My brother used to kick them out, except then he got in the habit of living at other people’s houses too. But no matter how many times he left, he always picked up the phone when I called so I guess that has to count for something. 
    
When we were little we liked to pretend we were dragons. We would take turns breathing fire on the pile of logs in our living room, wondering why our powers didn’t work. We were too young to realize that the mail wasn’t really the government sending us scratch paper. 

Soon, our roaring became too loud and father would start breaking glasses to prove he could make more noise. He would growl back at us whenever we tried to show our teeth. One day, a glass shard ripped a hole in my wing, so we stopped playing the game. What’s the point of being a dragon if you can’t fly. 


Looking for treble in the basement 

The first time I brought a girl home, I pretended we were best friends so my father wouldn’t be mad that the number of women equaled the number of men sleeping in the house. I’d sneak her in through broken windows and the back door when he was passed out drunk. We would tip toe to the basement (because half the time my family forgot we had a basement, I think it’s because there are no windows and you can’t see in the dark down there). We would curl up against a cement wall and make shadow puppets with our imagination. 

I told her a lot of things about dragons and how much I hated the way my house smelled in the morning. She told me about her dog named ‘Kitty’ and other paradoxes she deemed useless. She came from a house that tasted a lot like mine: burnt toast, vodka, and cigarettes. I often wondered why she’d want to take a bite of a meal she could make herself, but I guess we were the only people willing to cook for one another. 

She had a voice deeper than most other girls in my class and sometimes the way she’d say my name would make me giggle. But this wasn’t a good thing, because my uncontrollable laughter would vibrate through all levels of the house and shake my father awake. He’d stumble around upstairs, looking for who dared to disturb him. All the while, my friend would hold her hand over my mouth in attempt to catch all the leftover smiles in her palm and feed them back to me.

Her hand tasted nothing like mine and I think that’s why I fell in love. 

People have a funny way of asking questions they already know the answer to, but she never did. We never asked each other about the people who lived in our house and claimed they had the same blood as us. We never talked about the things we saw or the things we did. Which is why we never talked about the way we felt. 

Sometimes, it’s better to feel things instead of trying to describe them. 


Even a broken bow can’t play a broken girl 

I’m not very good with words. At least that’s what my teacher said when she handed back the only homework assignment I ever turned in. I tried to explain to her that I can’t do ‘homework’ because I don’t have a ‘home’, only four walls, a roof, and a lot of strangers that sleep on the floor. But she didn’t believe me.

Once, she tried scheduling a parent teacher conference to talk about my ‘situation.’ I tried to explain to her that I didn’t have a parent, only an old man with a bushy beard, glass fingernails, dirty boots, bad smelling breath, and narcoleptic tendencies.  

Naturally, she didn’t believe me, so my brother had to go in and talk to her about my ‘situation.’ He’s had to pretend to be a lot of different people: our father, our mother, our grandparents, and once even me when I was feeling particularly tired.

I don’t know what I’d ever do without him. 

Which is why, even though his body’s been with momma’s for a year now, I still talk to him like he’s right next to me. He sings me to sleep every night and sometimes, if I squeeze my eyes tight enough, I can pretend I have a home, a family, a bed, and all those other things I see on TV. 

If I stop now, but I was never really ahead, what place will I be in? 

Ariel Zedric is a young writer whose work appears and is forthcoming at TheMighty, TeenInk, Women's Republic, and The Odyssey. She is also a writer for Affinity Magazine and has won two Illinois Public School Outstanding Young Author Awards. You can find her wandering around on Twitter or Instagram @arielzedric. 

                        Finalist

(The 2017 Alice Sullivan Prize for Fiction)

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