Short Story: The First War

2nd Place March 2017

Warning: Mentions of blood

My mom walks around the car to the backseat where I am sitting. As she opens the door, the warm, salty scent of fast-food French fries wafts in, and I start salivating over the prospect of a hamburger, French fries, and chocolate shake. Then I glance up. I see only a frown where there used to be a loving smile, wrinkles around eyes that used to glimmer with youthful energy. I struggle just to remember these couple missing details; there must be many more that I’m forgetting.

“Were you picking at your fingers again?” she asks in a voice that screams shame and disappointment.

I glance down at my hands, which are now resting in my lap after their busy car ride. “No, there was… a volcanic eruption on planet thumbkin,” I reply.

Some would say it’s really a shame that my first story was a lie, but I didn’t know any better. After all, I was only four years old.

***

“Are you sure that you’re well enough to go to school?” she asks, but there’s something wrong with her voice. It’s like half of it is missing, as if half of the meaning those few words are supposed to carry isn’t there.

“I’m fine.”

Later that day, I throw up. For the rest of my life, I hate gym class.

***

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. The words that never leave my mouth, even when they’re threatening to burst the bubble that separates my mind from reality. They twist my stomach, tense every muscle in my body until I have no control. Mom always says that I need to take control.

I don’t know what my teacher is saying. I don’t know how many kids are in my class. I don’t hear words, only voices. I do know what is written on the white board, while everyone else is struggling to grasp their meaning. The words dance around in my head. I can pull them apart into letters and rearrange them into new words. I reach out to one and pull, but I’m thrown off balance and everything turns red.

A single drop of blood has formed on my fingertip.

***

I’m sitting at the kitchen table doing homework when I hear a beep. My eyes dart up to meet my father’s.

“Do you know what this is?” he asks, holding up that glowing, beeping object that I’ve never seen him without. I shake my head, eager to learn.

What he sees is a needle, a drop of blood, a glowing screen with a number on it. What I see is my reflection—not in a mirror or window, but in his eyes.

***

Mom said that school wasn’t teaching me enough, so now we’re doing spelling words at home. They’re easy at first, but then they get harder, and I know that she’ll scold me if I take the words apart in front of her.

Her tone of voice as she tells me to “try again” and “no, don’t do that!” echoes through my body and mind, synonymous with my fear of failure.

***

“It’s time to practice spelling words,” my dad says, which is instantly met by my disapproval. I know I can take the quiz tomorrow and get all the words right—all I have to do is take them apart—but I can’t do that in front of him, because he’ll tell mom, and then she’ll be mad, and if she’s mad then she’ll scold me in that voice that makes my stomach churn and my pulse race.

It takes two more refusals to send me to my room, and now my palms are sweating and my mind is racing with only three words: I don’t know. I clutch my teddy bear to my chest and rock back and forth, back and forth on my bed, calming myself, quieting my sobs, until every part of my body can lie still.

I look like a normal eight-year-old. My mind is nothing but.

***

By eleven, I am well aware of two things: that my skin is scarred like no one else’s, and that my own mother had placed herself at the center of a scheme that I could not begin to fathom.

My sister’s first word is “Mama”, and with every word after that she echoes every sentiment, suggestion, and criticism of her mother.

I love her anyways. After all, she doesn’t know any better.

***

My first year of high school teaches me two things: everyone has scars, even if you can’t see them, and no one is invincible.

I stand by and watch, paralyzed just as much in reality as I am in nightmares, as all of my classmates that I had previously though of as strong broke down for one reason or another.

No one notices when I break down. I was never strong to begin with. I’m just a ghost in the hold of a slaver ship.

My quiet nature somehow convinces everyone that they should come to me, tell me of all their woes and fears, all the little thoughts and memories that they keep pushed deep down inside them, where they never feel the rush of air or the glare of the sun’s rays. Sometimes I feel like I know too much. Sometimes I wonder why they chose me, of all people. Sometimes I’m just glad for the distraction.

This is the year where I realize that everyone else is just as weak on the inside as I am. They just show it in different ways.

***

“Work is a change in energy. Work is force times distance. Force is mass times acceleration, so therefore work is mass times acceleration times distance, which is abbreviated m-a-d, which spells mad.”

I mutter everything I know under my breath in hopes of getting an A on this physics test. Not for my own benefit, but so I won’t be scolded and fail my mother once again. She’ll be mad, then I’ll have to work harder, then my own energy will take a downwards spiral.

I end up failing the test.

***

When I find out my grade, my mind grasps at every thread in a wild attempt to figure out what happened, what will happen, and for the rest of the day I’m holding my breath, waiting for the ball to drop.

I know I can’t concentrate on my homework in this state, so instead I listen to music, and just as I hear the knock of doom on my bedroom door, I hear the one line that puts everything together in my mind:

“I look back on where I failed, and in every place I checked, the only common thread has been your disrespect”

I know that words won’t be of any use in this battle, the limits of my mouth and tongue making them appear weaker than they look on paper, so I fight with silence.

Finally, she walks away, defeated, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth and nightmares in my sleep.

***

That was only the first war. The second was the undoing of the first. The one where I had to shed my carefully developed armor in order to reap the benefits of my patience.

She was beautiful, smart, kind, supportive, athletic, and everything I needed in my life that I couldn’t give to myself.

She spent all hours of the day and night trying to do everything, trying to be perfect. But I had seen her scars; seen behind the porcelain mask. I knew that I could easily break it, revealing the light inside her.

That was when I realized that love was looking beyond someone’s scars. My only hope is that she can see beyond mine.

Author’s Note: This story was written for the March 2017 edition of the Short Story Challenge on the Sims Forums. The theme for this month was “a tall tale”, and revolved around scars. The song lyric used in this story is from “Your Obedient Servant”, from the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I also threw in a few references to my all-time favorite duology, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. In case you’re wondering, yes, most of the above is true.

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5 thoughts on “Short Story: The First War

  1. Deepest respects. I struggled with the idea of writing something personal this month, and in the end, the memories felt too raw and exposing and I couldn’t do it, I backed away from writing it… It takes a lot of courage to put something so personal — and powerful! — out there! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That felt very personal. Like truth with a capital T shine from behind the words and the feelings. I loved how they grasped the truth although they weren’t always able to use it to their advantage.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so beautifully written . I respect the recognition you show of gifts and scars, and I hope that more and more people look past the scars to see the beauty . Love the way the narrator’s mind works , and especially her strength of spirit .

    Liked by 1 person

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