Monday, May 22, 2017

Amelia in Waiting by Leila Allison

Sixteen year old Amy reflects bitterly on the passing of her childhood in Leila Allison's thoughtful flash.

Amy imagines the sky as a swirl of cremated bones. Somewhere in the ashes, the cataract sun hovers low in the west. Harsh and ugly, nothing goes well with the sky and the blind sun other than the desire to stop looking at them.

Amy stands very close to the living room window; a cometary shape of condensation forms on the glass below her nose. In her mind, Amy is certain that only the double paned window lies between her lungs and the poisons of an alien atmosphere.

The cul-de-sac that has always been Amy's home lies beneath the depthless sky like a beloved pet lying dead in the street. All around the remnants of happier times rot softly like the crabapples that not even the crows will eat: Cheerful summer barbecue grills are tucked under blue tarps held in place by cinder blocks; formerly lush and profuse gardens have become fallow mudholes, and what has gone unraked of the fiercely luminescent October leaves lies bunched like milk-sodden cornflakes in the gutters and storm drains.

Even at just sixteen, Amy knows this time of year well. It's the annual "Pause" that comes over the well-fed cul-de-sac between the termination of Halloween festivities and the agreed upon going up of the Christmas lights on the Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend. There is something affected and childish and selfish about this collective mood; something that Amy and her like-minded friends cleverly disparage. With enough education in their heads to be annoying, the kids routinely wonk-up alliterative titles for the event: The Morbid Malaise and the Enormous Ennui had been Amy's contributions to that year's gathering at the Round Table - but, alas, the others had favored the lowest common denominator, Poopy Pout.

The grandfather clock spits out four tones. This startles Amy out of her thoughts. Each chime has landed like a viper's strike. Until this moment the grandfather clock has always been a benign friend. There's something about the clock's attitude similiar to that of the annihilating sky. Something that makes Amy feel like an outsider.

Amy purposely left the house still upon her arrival. Under normal circumstances she feels ill at ease in places where darkness, silence and contemplation are the chief components. She's even gone to the extreme of turning off her cell - which, for Amy, is tantamount to plucking out an eye.

With a reluctant sigh, Amy performs her one and only chore; an action that she can be relied on doing three times in five: she turns on the porch light for her parents, who'll be home from work within the hour.

Amy's bedroom lies adjacent to the living room and faces the cul-de-sac. Unlike the rest of the tidily kept house, her room is a disorganized mess that resembles an open archaeological dig over-topped by a pop culture village. It's a mixture of the distant past and the oh-so-now. Here and there are fissures in the debris field that allow forgotten toys and games from Amy's deeper childhood to emerge like trilobites for the picking. Items such as realistically dead virtual pets and dogeared Pokemon cards are intermingled with current issues of celebrity scandal sheets and the spent husks of no less than six cellular - Oh, and there's a weird, fruity smell in the room; Amy theorizes that the odor is caused by a known perfume spill interacting with the upending of an older fragrance. Theorizing on the subject is as close to doing something about it as she gets.

The splay of the room is simple enough: bed, desk and stuff. The first two are constants, the third is ever-changing. Atop the various variables that are important to a young lady of Amy's social status and economic circumstances, lie a smattering of pamphlets, which made their unwanted debut in her life two hours ago. She had hurled the pamphlets at her room when she got home in vain hope that the accumulated ghosts of her childhood might do something about them. No such luck. In the feeble light cast by the perpetual gloaming, Folic Acid And You (a way too happy-clappy missive that extolls the virtues of the gross bean family) stands out like a missionary who has entered the jungle with a cross in one hand and a rifle in the other.

"No, no, no," Amy hisses as she performs a backwards dive onto her bed. This is an ancient action of hers that often topples perfume bottles, and had recently earned her three stitches in her left elbow because Amy had forgotten about the (alleged) coffin nails Ty had given her on their first date. Amy had heard that some guys bring flowers and/or candy along for that sort of thing; but, alas, Amy is attracted to guys who see the upside in gifting (alleged) coffin nails.

There's a row of school photographs of Amy affixed to the wall above her bedroom door. The queue of ten pictures runs left to right, and they begin at the first grade and end with her high school sophmore term portrait, which was taken just last year.

Lying in the gloom, she sizes up the row of her past selves. Outside business transacted with the Tooth Fairy, Amys One through Three are basically the same person. Slightly round in the cheek and grinning shyly, each of her earliest incarnations has bobbed bone-blond hair and is installed in a jumper that is clearly designed to be girly and rugged at the same time. Four has a touch less fat in her cheeks and her hair has begun the long process of extracting what's right about red from the sun. These trends progress further in the faces of Five and Six.

To be frank, Six is the final Amy to show her portrait taker a scintilla of respect. Six is the last Amy to have grinned shyly for the lens. Seven has concocted a goofy, off-kilter grin that suggests she might be high on something (which hadn't been the case). And Eight, well she just flat out sneers at the camera. Amy recalls the photographer asking Eight if she really wanted to come off that way, and she also remembers the Hey, kid, you've got to know that I don't give a shit kind of shrug he gave her when Eight had repiled "Oh, yes indeedy."

Nine is high on something. A member of the coven had relieved her mother's purse of excess Vicodin that morning. Glassy-eyed and neither grinning nor sneering, Nine is the Amy least there.

Something is wrong with Ten. Only Amy is aware of this. No one else looks beyond Ten's neon pink hair or the mascara and foundation that has been laid on with a trowel (now, no one is suggesting that girls who look this way aren't what they should be). No, what's wrong with Ten is scattered throughout her face like a sky composed of cremated bones.

Amy shuffles up onto her elbows to get a better look at Ten. Unlike Seven through Nine, the expression on Ten's face is honest (even snarly Eight shines a little light in her eyes that suggests she isn't as put out as she'd have it thought), yet there is a ruthlessness emanating from Ten that Amy doesn't understand; an incipient hardness that has no business being in the face of a cul-de-sac kid. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened that Picture Day, but for the life of her Amy doesn't remember that particular day in the least - which is odd, for Amy has had an eidetic memory for most of her childhood. She can conjure up moments from her brief past with stunning clarity; yet the taking of Ten's portrait is as dark to her as a land lighted by a cataract sun.

When Amy was four, she had stolen a cranberry off the table at the grocery store. She recalled expecting a flavor similar to the sugary concoction that came out of a can, and was unpleasantly surprised by a ferocious bitterness. This had happened on a Tuesday afternoon, right after preschool.

At seven, an ambulance came to take Amy's former next-door neighbor, Mrs. Carlyle, away from the cul-de-sac for good. Until that July 23rd, a Thursday, Mrs. Carlyle had been a friendly pest who punctuated her every observation with a tittering laugh. Though Mom had tried to keep Amy from gawking at Mrs. Carlyle as the old lady lay on a gurney, it had been too late: Amy had seen the feverish, insane mania in Mrs. Carlyle's face as well as getting a clear look at the horrible sores that covered her hellishly white fishbelly thighs. And there had been that wonderful, magical October Sunday morning, two years back, when a blanket of ground fog suddenly contained the head of a deer poking up like a periscope at the treeline behind the cul-de-sac.

A voice speaks up from the mists of Amy's mind as she lies in the increasing darkness. This voice was composed of the worst things in life. This voice had its own weird, fruity imagined smell; a breath which wasn't the mingling of divergent off-brand perfumes forming a third, uneasy scent, but was the decaying stench given off by a car-killed pet. The timbre of the voice matched the unholy moan caused by wind passing through the boughs of dead trees. And this voice resembled the disappointment she'd soon be putting on her parents' faces. Amy thought this the voice of Ten.

"You can always bring it to me; there's still plenty of time for you to remain a child," Ten says. "It can be like the Hemingway story you didn't get the first time in Lit class - the one about the hills and elephants: 'they let the air in.'"

There was something assuring about Ten's suggestion. Something practical. But the more Amy turned it over in her mind, the more she found herself thinking cold, reptilian thoughts; thoughts Amy equated with the suicide of the soul.

The grandfather clock spat out the half. A ghostly pattern cast by a set of headlights formed on the bedroom wall and slid away.

Amy rises and goes to the full length mirror that's attached to her bedroom door. She turns sideways and runs her hands from her shoulders to her hips. She pulls her sweat shirt up and lays her hands on her exposed flat belly. An expression of horror forms in her eyes; it stands out like a flame in the twilight.

"No," Amy says breathlessly, "the air, the air is poison."

2 comments:

  1. An entertaining study of teenage alienation with suitability freaky twists. Will we hear more about Amy in the future? Many thanks
    Ceinwen

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  2. thought provoking look into the life of an unhappy and confused teenage girl, but a rewarding read. i agree with Ceinwen it would be interesting to find out how Amy develops.
    Mike McC

    ReplyDelete