I like the feel of grass, little paint brushes up my arms and legs and the back of my neck. I giggle like hehehe and mama says my nose crinkles like the red wrapping paper she rolls out, shiny and glamorous and not meant for little hands. Mama turns off the lights and shuts my door because it’s time to sleep. I lay on my belly in the living room. Mama likes quiet. Mama likes to hold her finger over the flame of a candle, likes to let it lick her skin. The sun plays games on my floor, elongating and stretching and spreading like juice stains, shadows dark as the sharpie I use to draw all over the fancy dinner table. I am a problem. I am Not the daughter we wanted. Mama wants to paint the walls pink so I dip my hands into the container, Apple Blossom under my fingernails, oozing down to my elbows as I hold my hands up high, hairs submerged like the flies that dive into my lemonade and die, I am the color Apple Blossom and the walls and I place my palms on my face, run them down to my neck, horrible and sticky and wonderful. Mama doesn’t think it’s wonderful. Mama says nothing but grabs my arm and shoves soap between my armpits and turns on the shower head. A girl moves into the house behind us. She has blue streaks in her hair and I feel that blue in my fingertips and dream about mama’s mad eyes and how it feels easier to be horrible than it is to be myself. I prop my feet up on my clean sheets and put black polish on my nails. I think in neon signs. I take black nail polish to my door, drawing runny roses, curving monsters, moving back and forth on the balls of my feet and laughing like HAHAHA. Mom wants me to practice Swan Lake, practice being skinny so my violet leotard looks like skin. I pull the laces from my pointe shoes, cut them up, falling peach satin, spread them like snow on the carpet. Mom yells. Mom doesn’t like how my eyeliner cuts. The girl in the house behind us pierces my nose, kisses my collarbone, leaves the light on in her room when she says she wants me. Mom closes the curtains. Mom wants quiet, she wants pastels and three forks for one meal and bubbly bleach and a Good Daughter. I say Fuck and I hate you and steal green grapes from the bags in the stores, biting into sour, biting at anyone who looks at me too long. I snap my car into reverse and slam into a stop sign and open my door and run and feel my lungs rip like the notes the teacher catches me passing in class--confessions, yearnings, hot red, fast food passion--and I fall on the sidewalk, roll onto grass, and throw up all over the blackberry ants. I cry. I perform Swan Lake. I sit at the bottom of the pool. I put on my leotard and Mom whispers iloveyou into my perfect hair. I wake up and don’t say goodbye. I cry. I clean floors. I move into an apartment with five locks on the door, with the girl from the house behind us and her orange hair. I buy a mattress, a canvas, acrylic paint. I fill up all the white space. Mom calls and I ignore it. Mom visits and pounds her fist on the door. I open the door. She looks at the orange hair, she looks at my paintings, she looks at me--my sleeves rolled up, my arms covered in paint, horrible, bad, a problem. She says Are you happy with yourself and Are you proud of what you’ve become and doesn’t say You are not the daughter I wanted but I hear it. I say Yes and my voice cracks. I slam the door closed. I sleep with the lights on, with the window open, ugly leftover street lights sneaking into my room, warming my skin yellow. I lick strawberry juice from my fingers. I pay rent and fix the dent in my car and lay in the grass outside my window and close my eyes and practice being vivid, over and over and over.
Katie Grierson is a creative writing student. Her work has been recognized by the YoungArts Foundation and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and has been named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts Semifinalist. She’s a prose editor for Lumiere Review and Bitter Fruit Review. When she’s not writing her novel it’s probably because her cat is sleeping on her keyboard.