Anne-Marie loves to draw. After her mother left, her father would draw for hours in front of her. But that was before.
Now, Anne-Marie draws every day. She’ll use anything--charcoal, pencil, ink, chalk. But charcoal is her favorite and her body is her canvas.
Starting every morning, she draws directly on her skin; and before sunset, she passes out with a pencil in her hand. When she draws, she’s transported into another dimension that deadens her worries in a way that her doctor’s prescriptions cannot. Anne-Marie can’t afford to see the doctor anymore, anyway. But it doesn’t matter. As long as she can draw, she knows she’ll be all right. Almost happy.
On Tuesday, Anne-Marie travels to the local market to buy more charcoal. The stall is tucked away at the end of the street. Most people would miss it but Anne-Marie knows exactly where it is. Stopping by every couple of days, she’s a frequent customer. Exchanges are quick. She’s anxious to get home and draw.
She rushes up the cracked, concrete stairs of her building to her room. Stepping over the broken glass and crevices in the ground, she arrives at her door. There’s a wrinkled note posted on it. “EVICTION NOTICE,” it reads. Anne-Marie stares at it, tilts her head to the left, purses her chapped lips and tears it down to bring into her room to draw with.
After wiggling the door open and stepping into the dreary space, she immediately sinks down onto her tattered mattress and begins to draw. The voices join her, as they always do, and Anne-Marie begins to see vibrant colors wisp through the air in flashes. Bursts of light erupt with pings and crackles. A feeling of relaxation envelops her toes and travels up her legs, past her sides and her arms and up, up, up, until she feels her eyes begin to flutter close.
“Stop banging and scratching on the walls or I’ll call the police! I’m not joking this time!” she hears in the distance.
The world starts to fade and blur, beginning around the edges, until Anne-Marie falls into a deep sleep with an untroubled expression on her face.
Rifling through her room another day, Anne-Marie notices that her supply of charcoal is beginning to dwindle. She quickly tucks the remnants back into the burrowed-out hiding spot in the wall underneath the window, grabs all the crumpled bills from her kitchen drawer, and heads down to the market.
They don’t have charcoal that day. All the vendor offers her is pastels. It isn’t ideal but it will get her through the night. She buys everything he has. She will be fine.
Rushing back to her apartment, Anne-Marie takes the stairs up two at a time and fumbles with her keys for a minute before swinging the door open. She doesn’t even bother to take down the notice posted on her door. It has been there for over a week.
She hastily plops down on the hardwood floor and begins to draw. Once again, the sensations take over and she lays there with a twinkle in her eye until she passes out. She had sold her mattress days ago to pay for drawing materials, but it was a small thing to her.
A sense of dread wafts through Anne-Marie when the sun’s rays pry her eyes open the next morning. She knows she only has enough money for one more market run. This would be it. It would be over soon. No more drawing. She doesn’t know what will come next, and she forces those thoughts out of her head.
Stumbling onto the cracked pavement, Anne-Marie searches frantically for the familiar man she relies on to numb her suffering. He is nowhere to be found. Panic begins to submerge her.
She staggers aimlessly around the city looking for the man. Time passes quickly until the sky is dark and stars peek out of the gloom. The voices that follow her get louder and make her head pound. She has picked the skin off her fingers until blood covers the tips. Anne-Marie hobbles around for hours until her head aches and her frail body is quivering. Even though it is the middle of summer, the breeze is icy as it nips at her red nose and peeling lips. She feels as though someone is banging on a large drum next to her ears and she winces as the piercing wail of sirens passes by. She is cold, so very cold. At yet another street corner, somewhere, she finds him, at last.
When he sees the desperation and weariness in her eyes, he smirks, baring his yellow, chipped teeth at her. “I knew you crazies would find me eventually,” he rasps.
Anne-Marie purchases her drawing materials eagerly. Relief floods her body, but at the same time, her pain increases tenfold. The urge to draw intensifies until her vision is swimming and her hands shake uncontrollably.
The journey back to her room passes in a blur. Night has fallen and the fluorescent street lights flicker on. She doesn’t know how she managed to find her way back so quickly but thinks little of it. There are more pressing issues at hand. She kneels on the floor and begins doing her favorite thing--the only thing she knows how to do without messing up. This night, Anne-Marie draws longer than she has ever done before, longer than she knew she could. She just keeps going, and going, and going until the room spins around her and the stench of her own clothes goes away. Her aching body refuses to hold her up anymore and she leans against the wall for support until it all hits.
Anne-Marie breathes shakily in and out and groans aloud as pleasure invades her body.
Then, the chaos of nightlife in the city fades away into nothingness. The world goes blank.
She doesn’t wake up the next morning. Anne-Marie never wakes up again.
Her body is found a month later.
“Approximate time of death: 3:00 a.m., August 19th. Cause of death: drug overdose.” The medical examiner droned on like in any other report. “Anne-Marie Winters, one MIA mother and a deceased father who also died from an overdose--practically an orphan.”
The cleaners moved swiftly to rid the apartment of needles and rolled-up flyers scattered all over the floor. They finished after 10 minutes. After all, there wasn’t really much to clean up. The room was ready to be rented out again later that same day. It was just another overdose case in the part of town where people had multiple sets of locks on their doors and slept with one eye open at night. It was far too common.
The vendor didn’t even notice Anne-Marie’s absence. Why would he? He has plenty of other junkies to sell to and an endless stream of new customers. She means nothing to him.
The neighbors did notice the psychotic girl’s absence. They notice that the clanging and clawing and screaming has stopped, but they assume that she has either been arrested or finally kicked out onto the streets. They will use Anne-Marie as a cautionary example for their own daughter, but she won’t listen to them. Her life will end the same way as Anne-Marie’s did. Other than that, Anne-Marie means nothing to them.
As for her mother, the day Anne-Marie met her end will simply be another Tuesday. Anne-Marie is merely another reckless teenager to her. Anne-Marie means nothing to her.
Anne-Marie’s spirit is finally free. Though her exit was quiet, the outcome is exuberant. She’s refreshed like a phoenix reborn from its ashes. She forgives her parents. She forgives all the people who did her wrong. But most of all, she’s learning to forgive herself. For the first time in her life, Anne-Marie is happy. Radiant. Carefree.
Victoria Tan is a 17-year-old from Minnesota.