The Cassette Tape

By: Thee Sim Ling

“Mum! Lizzy took my homework again!” Ruth failed to understand what made Lizzy think it was fun to hide her schoolwork around the house. What was her deal? She could do all of Ruth’s homework if she wanted to; if so, Ruth could enjoy the next episode of her favorite TV show.
“Go find it then!” Lizzy’s head popped out of the attic as she stuck out her tongue. “Come on!” That pesky midget, Ruth thought. She ran to the attic, thinking that her
younger sister probably hid her homework here. She may think she’s smart, but I’ll get back at her, I swear.
“Ahhh! What is that thing?” Ruth screamed.
“Hmm?” Lizzy emerged with a confused look. “Hey, I didn’t set any booby traps here.
That, whatever it is, is not my fault. Now why are you screaming?”
“Be...because of that.” Ruth pointed a trembling finger at the strange object on the ground.
“Don’t worry, Ruth.” Lizzy waved dismissively. “It’s probably just an old box of Hi-Five CDs. You know, those five Aussie adults that sing...”
“Okay, okay, I get it.” Ruth wouldn’t fall for Lizzy’s trap again. “Now, if you’re so brave, why don’t you go wrestle with the monster.”
“Pff! Watch me, scaredy-- Eeek!” Lizzy jumped back and shook her leg violently. “Get this thing off me!”
Ruth gasped when she saw a strange thick string wrapped around her sister’s leg. “What was that?”
“Anything wrong, girls?” Fortunately, her sharp-eared father raced up the steps to the attic and arrived in the nick of time.
“Something got entangled with my leg!” Lizzy wailed.
Surprised, Father took a closer look at the sinister serpent-like object. Then he let out a loud guffaw.
“What’s so funny?” Lizzy looked less than amused. “Hello, there’s an emergency situation here!”
“I see you don’t know what a cassette tape is.” Father wiped away his tears of laughter. “Don’t worry, it won’t bite. It’s not even alive.”
The two sisters shared a glance. “What’s a cassette tape?” Ruth asked, confused, as her father helped to untangle Lizzy. Father showed us the sealed plastic unit.
“A cassette contains something like a length of audio tape, videotape, or film wound on a pair of spools, for insertion into a recorder, playback device, or other machine.”
“Singlish?” Lizzy, a true Singaporean girl by heart, needed a translation in the local slang.
Father sighed. “Like, you know, black-black thing with black-black tape. Like correction tape for listening to music.”
“Ohhh…” Lizzy nodded her head. “Your generation’s version of the iPod.”
Father nodded. “At least all you Gen Z kids can understand it that way. Better than not getting to know about cassettes at all.”
“Was this yours?” Ruth noticed a piece of masking tape stuck at the back with Father’s name on it.
“Yeah.” He nodded. “I still remember the day I got this. I was ecstatic. I could now have the freedom to listen to Cantonese songs. Also, we listened to Teresa Teng, Andy Lau, Jackie Cheung…”
“All old Chinese singers,” Ruth noted.
“Yep. We also liked to listen to the Beatles.” Father smiled as he started to hum Hey
Jude.
“Wow. That’s so cool. Your own portable MP3,” marveled Ruth.
“Yep. But with current technology being much more advanced, treasures like these get
sold in junk sales or left forgotten in attics. Of course,” he chuckled, “there is the occasional prank.”
“You didn’t need to remind us,” the two sisters muttered ominously.
Lizzy pointed to the cassette. “Hey, do you think it will still work after all these years?”
“Maybe,” Father said. “Let’s try to play it. Does anyone have a pencil?”
“Why do you need a pencil?” Ruth was bewildered.
“Hang on, I’ll show you. I’ll be right back.” Father went down the attic steps.
When he came up, he used the pencil to rewind the cassette tape. He also remembered to get some new batteries. (The old ones in it were so filthy with dust that everybody immediately started sneezing.) With bated breath, he pressed the ‘play’ button. Silence. Everyone sighed, resigned to the fact that some old things would never work again. But then they gasped and cheered. The familiar tune of ‘Hey Jude’ resounded in the attic.
Ruth swayed to the music. Staring at the now-prehistoric invention, she wondered what other fabulous treasures were lost in the relentless flow of time.

Thee Sim Ling is 12 years old and lives in Singapore. She enjoys doing HTML (HyperText markup Language) which can be used to create websites. When she grows up she wants to be a writer. 



The Heart of a Soldier

By: Sam Schmidt

There’s a saying we use for a time like this: “War turns the heart to stone.”

Let’s say you are just a young eighteen-year-old kid off the streets who claims he joined the war to get away from his old man.  Then you experience combat and just freeze; incapable of doing anything -- move, aim, shoot and even speak.  All you can manage to do is cover your ears to prevent the horrifying screams of your comrades getting plowed by Fritz’s MG-42 machine gun.  When that happens, you’re considered a coward - a bad soldier.

Or, you can be a good soldier.  You can aim down sight, despite the zipping sound of bullets flying through the air, and fire upon the enemy, take their life, and not feel a thing.  My best friend, whose name happened to be Jerry, told me a good soldier doesn’t see the enemy as another human being.  He sees himself as a good soldier.  I could sit here and tell you…I was a good soldier.  But I was somewhere in between. 

I knew what I had signed up for.  I knew that I was gonna take down Germans.  If they are willing to kill me, I must be prepared to kill them.  I knew it was my duty to fight, and not back down.  I knew my job was to kill the enemy; but I also knew my job was to see the enemy as human.  I’ve killed before.  Plenty of times. Too much, as a matter of fact, and I remember the faces of every single enemy soldier.  When the combat settles, I always remember where I dropped them. The least I could do is get an idea of who each of them were.

I’ve killed many Nazis, and unfortunately, a lot of them were just kids not even old enough to buy themselves a beer.  At the moment you have to pull the trigger, you will freeze, I don’t care what kind of soldier you are.  Instead of being at home, at school with friends, you are forced to fight the horrors of war - and die.  Just think about that - I have to live with that.  For the rest of my life, I have to cope with the fact that I have killed boys - kids! 

To a good soldier, “this is war,” is an excuse to get away with killing.  To me, it’s just a freaking phrase.  Before they send you off to your death, you’ll be telling yourself “this is war,” and you will have to kill.  When you finally take someone’s life, it feels as if the devil took a shot at you, and he’ll take another shot after every kill.

Things change once you serve for Uncle Sam.  You can be known as the local paperboy; friendly to everyone.  Then you come home, and you’re a new person - someone who has probably seen things that they regret seeing in the first place.  You can go from this kind-hearted person to a stone-cold war hero.  Everyone will see you differently when you return, everyone will know your new character.  But in the end, what I - we - can’t change, is that it is just the heart of a soldier.

 

Sam Schmidt is 18 years old; he lives in Bozeman, Montana. Sam is pursuing a career in piloting and he spends summers playing American Legion baseball.

 

image: SatikevaElenaS @ Pixabay



On the Edge

By: Colm Hull

I sigh as my little brother Troy tries his latest ploy to annoy me.

“Just because you don’t want to go doesn’t mean you need to make this car ride horrible for both of us,” I say.

“It’s your dumb fault we had to go here and not someplace cool,” Troy retaliated.

“How do you not find this cool?”

“It’s a bunch of old dusty ruins and rocks.”

“Well, do you think I appreciated going to Santa’s Village?” I ask angrily.

Why had my parents decided to bring Troy—a boy with more energy than an ill-trained puppy--on a tour that went on a narrow path next to a sheer cliff? I had been looking forward to this visit to Mesa Verde National Park since before Troy was born. So, I just sighed and turned up the volume of my headphones.  As I was just getting engrossed in an audiobook I yelped and yanked my brother’s arm back inside the car as a low hanging tree branch whizzed by where Troy’s arm had been just moments before.

After about three hours we arrived at our destination and got out of the car.  Immediately, Troy began wandering off and Mom had to pull him back from going over the edge of the cliff.  We were at the side of a massive cliff but that wasn’t even the main draw.

It was Mesa Verde!  I had been in awe of the place ever since reading about it years ago.  The half-ruined sandstone buildings perched on ledges on the sides of massive cliffs had always amazed me.  The houses varied from small one-room family homes to larger buildings used for storage or religious purposes.  And along the edge of the small city ran a low stone wall to stop small children from toppling over.  There were open spaces for trading, parties, or other events. I found the lifestyle, architecture, and history of the Pueblo fascinating.

We waited for a little while until a huge bus pulled up and people started piling off. The last person to come off was the tour guide.

“OK, everyone here for the tour please group up over here,” he said. “On this tour we will be walking through the ruins of the great lost city Mesa Verde. All right let’s get moving and remember not to touch anything!”

“Like what the rocks, rocks, and more rocks?” Troy muttered.

As I walked around, I saw my parents looking at an archway, and Troy was wandering off.  I went back to examining some carvings in the wall.  I suddenly glanced over at Troy and panic built up in my chest like a coiled spring about to explode.  I saw the world in slow motion as my thoughts raced trying to come up with a way to stop Troy from falling off the edge he had perched himself on.

I ran to the edge of the cliff where my pint-sized sibling was toppling off the edge.  As I looked down I saw that my brother’s hand was slipping off the small cranny in the rock he was clutching, and before I could think, my brain pushed my body into action.

I vaulted over the edge—my left hand grasping at the ledge above and my right closing on Troy’s shirt.  Then pain exploded between my shoulder blades and suddenly, I felt a strong force pulling me and my brother up and to the safety of the cliff.  My parents pulled us up and started patting us down, asking if we were OK.  Immediately the tour guide ran over and started thoroughly examining both of us for any physical injuries.  Other than a bloody scrape on Troy’s knee, and a large bruise on my chest, we were both fine.

“Well?” I said standing up and peering down at Troy.

“Well, what? “Troy replied sounding shaken.

“I just literally jumped off a cliff for you and you aren’t even going to thank me?” I asked.

“Well, thanks,” Troy muttered.

I rolled my eyes and started walking back up the path, thinking that being a big brother is the most irritating job ever.  After all, it’s not like I was going to let Troy die, even though he is the most annoying human on earth.  Troy is my brother and I love him.
 

Colm Hull is 13 years old;  he lives in Springvale, Maine.  Fun facts about Colm are that he plays the trombone and is a part of the Maine Youth Orchestra.

 

image by Kristy Lee, Pixabay



Intelligence

By: Spade Forest

Ms. Roger walked into her first period class.  It was a beautiful morning outside. The first day of school again, the day when she would have new seventh graders to teach, and watch them either succeed in her class, or fail. It didn’t matter, regardless.  Ms. Roger was the superior one her classroom.  She was teaching her students what she already knew; they could not compete with that.

Ms. Roger’s grading system was key to showing dominance over her students. Five percent of their grade was for completing the homework, regardless if they understood it or not. Twenty-five percent of the grade was based on quizzes. The other seventy percent of their grade was based on their tests scores. Her favorite strategy was to give her students lots of homework, to see who would be the most dedicated. Ms. Roger gave four quizzes every quarter to see if they understood or not. She gave two tests every quarter, including many topics on each one, leaving even the best students with a B.

Ms. Roger was the superior one. No one could succeed. No one could be perfect. Not against her.

As she graded tests, Ms. Roger would always smile. Never a perfect score. Never even close. She smirked when someone got one point away from an “A”.

One day there was one test at the bottom of her stack. Her smile sank. A perfect score.
She checked it twice, three times, but there was no mistake. Not even a missing name to deduct one point. Everything was there. The name read Brian. “Brian…” she thought.
He was sitting in the back of the class, waiting for the bell to ring.

“Brian,” She called. “Could you please stay a few minutes after school?”

“Sure, Ms. Roger,” Brian replied.

The bell rang a few minutes after, everyone filed out and the hall was filled with kids laughing and lockers opening and slamming shut.

“What did you need me for Ms. Roger?” Brian asked, looking eager to leave.

“I need to discuss something with you,” Ms. Roger replied. “It’s about your test.”

I will always be superior, always.

 

Spade Forest is 13 years old; he lives in Denver, Colorado. Fun facts about Spade -- he likes crafting and being a teacher's aide.

 

Image by Florian Doppler from Pexels



Last Seen in Bangor Maine

By: Morgan-Carter Moulton

Bangor, Maine: the oh-so exciting place where a statue of Paul Bunyan and waterfront concerts have become the city’s most cherished possessions. In this city of ubiquitous L.L. Bean boots, nobody is flabbergasted when the occasional girl walks by wearing Birkenstocks carrying an iced coffee from Starbucks...in December...complaining about how her hands feel frozen. In Bangor, we do not experience autumn, spring, summer, and winter; we experience cold, really cold, somewhat cold, and hypothermia. Here, everyone knows where Stephen King resides, and most of us have already taken a Halloween picture with his haunting home in the background. But, most importantly, in this city, where everyone’s hair freezes on winter mornings and the wind seems more powerful than Hercules, is a girl yearning to experience life like a wildfire. Here lives a girl longing to explore new territories far beyond mere pine trees and blueberry bushes. That girl is me. I crave an experience that “ extinguishes the small, inflames the great,” as Roger de Bussy-Rabutin says. And maybe once I experience a new life, I can figure out where I belong.

It will be hard to forget the smell of wintergreen and summer rain that comforted me when my world spiraled downward. Or, the numerous times I caught my nana picking up the fallen pears from a random pear tree that grew in stark contrast to the drug debris littering our 0.08 acre yard, the numerous sneakers thrown upon the telephone wires fifty feet high. I am mostly incapable of forgetting the time I bumped into a guy who became the combustible elements that brightened my ink-welled galaxy. Only his firecracker heart could blow me away, as if I were a mere, insignificant, autumn leaf. Blown away, discovered that just talking on the hood of his parked, white, chevy impala eating Oreo McFlurries was the definition of peace. The absence and total acceptance of humiliation between the two of us created a safe, warm haven that the frigid chill of Maine’s hypothermia could not penetrate. It gave me a sense of protection from my hometown. A warmth, almost like that first sip of hot, Treworgy’s apple cider on November first, enfolded me like a mother’s hug. But lately, that mother’s hug hasn’t been there, and lacking that overwhelming sense of home has led me to believe that leaving Bangor may be the only way to find it once again.

I have come to the decision that I have outgrown Bangor, Maine, and the way daily life is played out by adults here. So, goodbye, Bangor. I would prefer to make something out of myself and fall in love with yet another combustible element---with other flavors, other scents, other seasons and reignite the home fires that seem to have burned down to their embers---than to take one more trip to the pear tree at the end of my street. Maybe once I experience a new life, I can figure out where I belong.

 

Morgan-Carter Moulton is 17 years old; she lives in Bangor, Maine. As a writer, she is in love with the power of words and languages.

 

Image by Hamann La from Pexels



The Future of Our World

By: Soren Skarsgard

He writes down the different names of the people he knew, Sam, Silas, Samantha, hearing the pen light up across the page like a swirling light bulb.  He imagined he was around buzzing bees and the trees growing on the peaks in Canada, without a care in this world. Then he looks around the scenery, finding a bench of wood.  He tried to sit down but when he did, he fell into a painstaking reality.  The bench was a fantasy in the harsh world of 2050 where there are no trees or wooden benches because the only things left are plastic.

 

Soren Skarsgard is 12 years old; he lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Soren plays basketball when he isn't trying to spread the word of saving our planet.

 

image by Egor Kamelow from Pexels



A Bad, Bad Day

By: Luke Turner

A Bad, Bad Day

 

 

“It’s time to get up, Tim!" yelled Tim’s mother from the downstairs level of their two-story house in Raleigh, North Carolina. “You’re going to be late for school!”

 

“Fine,” Tim groaned as he rolled over.  Klonk! Tim didn’t realize he had been on the edge of his bed when he rolled over, making him fall to the floor, hitting his head hard on his nightstand.

“Ahhh!” Tim moaned as he rubbed his head, which he could feel was swelling into a goose egg.

 

He stood up wearily and hobbled to his bathroom.  He tried to lay down his hair but it would not lie down and on top of that, it was pushed to the wrong side.  It stayed like this no matter how much water he put on it, and his goose egg was just making it look worse.

 

Tim hobbled downstairs and looked at the clock. It was already time to leave, and Tim hadn’t even had time to get ready.  He threw on his hoodie, got himself a bowl of cereal to go, and ran outside to the car where his mom was waiting. Off they went on the 10-minute drive to Tim’s local school. As they pulled up to the front of the school, Tim, while reaching to get his backpack, spilled the excess milk from his bowl of cereal all over himself.  “How could this day get any worse?" Tim thought to himself.

 

If only he knew how much worse it was going to get.

 

Tim, with a goose egg, sticking up hair, and milk all over him, walked into school to find his friends waiting for him.  They immediately started laughing. Tim tried to laugh it off with them, but inside he was crying.

 

Tim went to his first period class, math, his most dreaded class.  “What a coincidence that I have my worst class first on this already horrible day,” Tim thought.  Yesterday, the students had taken a big unit math test worth 200 points. The first thing on the to-do list for his teacher was to hand back the graded tests.  Tim got his back first. He psyched himself up and then flipped over the paper slowly. In big red marker, it said “F”. Tim slammed his head down on the desk, right where he had hit it on his nightstand.

 

Tim’s next few classes before lunch were not nearly as bad as he thought they would be.  Other than the fact that the teacher had to tell him to wake up and the fact that everyone kept smelling something like spoiled milk, they were actually okay.  At lunch, it was pizza. Tim hated pizza more than anything else at the school. How fitting for this day. Even though he didn’t want to, he got it on his plate. There was really nothing else to eat, so he had no choice. He sat down with his friends, who continued to make jokes about his hair and the milk that was all over him.  Tim took a few tiny bites of the crust on his pizza. As he got up to throw his tray away, someone bumped into him, causing red pizza sauce to get all over his already milk stained shirt. Tim just shook his head.

 

After science, which actually went okay for Tim, except for the fact that he had milk and pizza on his clothes, was his last class of the day, physical education.  Tim got dressed out in his uniform. They were playing the infamous game of dodgeball. Of course, in the first game they played, Tim was looking to peg someone when out of nowhere, he was pelted in the head, right on the same goose egg.  Tim was just done. He lay there until the bell rang and he got to go home.

 

As Tim lay in bed that night, he knew, or at least he hoped, that tomorrow would be better than today... And then his mom popped in and informed him that tomorrow morning, he was getting braces.  

Great.

 

Luke Turner, 13, Vestavia Hills, Alabama, USA

 

 


The Billy Goats

By: Kiana Mpala

 

Once upon a time, there were three greedy goats. One goat was strong and large, one weak and average, and the smallest, clever and tiny. The large goat was called Larger, the average goat was named Medusa, and the tiny goat was known as Timothy. Larger and Medusa were greedy and ate all the lush, sugary grass but they were still hungry. In the distance, they could see a field full of grass.

“Let’s go!” said Timothy happily. He knew there was a stupid troll living under the bridge leading to the field, and he was tired of his idiotic siblings. So they set off to see the field.

Timothy led the way. He was a leader in the making. Medusa and Larger were the noisy lot, they couldn’t keep quiet.

 

“I can’t wait to eat the delicious grass and sweet shrubs,” said Medusa greedily.

 

“You won’t eat anything!” exclaimed Larger, “Moi, will eat all the grass and shrubs!” The two argued the whole way to the bridge. Timothy was happy when they arrived at the bridge and was tired of the arguing pair. He wanted them to be gobbled up by the troll.

 

“We’re at the bridge!” whispered Timothy.

“Why are you whispering?” screamed Larger. Timothy was broken. Silly Larger had blown their cover! Well, his cover anyway.

“Who dares come on my bridge?” boomed a voice. This was the first time Timothy had ever seen Medusa and Larger so quiet and scared that you could even hear a pin drop.

Suddenly, a big, ugly troll emerged from the darkness. “You nice, juicy goats, that’s who!” The troll was green and had warts everywhere! Timothy took his chance and ran.

He managed to get past the troll and made it to the land of his dreams.

“Aaaaaaaagh!” He could hear the screaming of his siblings being eaten. He felt bad, but was happy that he had finally gotten rid of them. So, he lived happily ever after.

 

Kiana is 10 years old, attending St. Benedict Catholic School in Chatham, United Kingdom.

 

 



In My Head

By: Keya Shah

I drive my bruised fingers and short clipped nails deep into my palm, slowly drawing in big gulps of the musty summer air. I’m counting to ten, grinding my teeth together, and fighting the rising urge to scream. My eyes snap up to the passage in front of me, and I watch the inked black notes reform themselves into a colossal, looming mountain of horror. Fear squeezes at my chest and threatens to take control of my arms to tear the music into pieces. Release. My hands drop loosely to my side and I lean over and pick it up, setting the polished, worn wood under my chin for the millionth time. The passage lies, unassumingly innocent, before my glazed eyes.

Just before I begin, voices start to bounce around in my head; arguing back and forth. Anxiety is dressed in a simple summer dress, the picture of innocence. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that she has been following me around for days and days, whispering unkind words into my ears. When I finally turn around to face her, her eyes are ugly black pits, sharp knives that stab me in the stomach and twist back and forth, causing me to crumple at the knees and succumb.

Confidence is harder to grasp. I think I am holding onto her, but she’s dressed in a slippery silver cloth. For some, she is simply a part of them, integrated into their person. But for others, oftentimes their hands will slide straight through her, only to find her dissipated into mist and replaced by two ugly black pits staring right back at them

The two turn to face one another and Confidence speaks, loudly and firmly, “How could you have let this happen? They’re just blots of ink on a page.”

Anxiety replies, lazily filing her jet black nails into razor sharp points, “She should have realized that she’ll never get there. It’s better she quit now rather than later.”

“You know,” Confidence counters, “one day she’ll pick up her instrument, glance around her in search of your foolish mountain, and she’ll realize that the mountain is finally under her very own two feet.”

Anxiety simply glances away.

I press my fingers firmly to my temple, commanding the voices to cease. Taking yet another deep breath, I smile to myself. Within seconds, brilliantly pure sound floats into the air. It dances around the room like millions of sparkling fairies with colorful ribbons twirling in their wake. It wraps around the bookcases, under the bed, and bounces off the freshly painted walls. The musty breeze in the room slips out from underneath the door, replaced by the magnificent sound of music. Before I know it, I find myself among these fairies and their ribbons, with my own music as a warm blanket wrapped around me, filling me with an incomparable euphoria.

Keya Shah is 15 years old; she lives in Allen, Texas.



They Were Both Soldiers

By: Alexandra Adams

They Were Both Soldiers
by Alexandra Adams

They had decided on IHOP, hoping that a delightful breakfast for dinner would ease their stress, the sorrow and dread that had been produced after the realization that it was Sunday, a school night, and there were still piles of memorization and work ahead of them.
The car screeched to a stop, a thick smell of gas dissipating throughout the brutal air, as the roaring engine was silenced, and the only sounds penetrating the tranquility of the dusk were the faint conversations of families, ordinary customers, strolling down the parking lot towards their cars.
Food. Syrup. Greasy bacon. It clogged their heads, clear, poisonous images of irresistible, hot plates making them dizzy, as they unbuckled their seat belts and studied their destination outside the iced glass of their windows, their hunger urging their legs and wrists.
Agony coursed through her back as she pushed the door open, emerging from the cozy warmth of her family’s vehicle and took her first breath outside, wondering if her heart was trying to explode through her chest, with the desperation to escape the cold as well. The blinding light that shot out in tiny beams from the large windows of the friendly IHOP restaurant illuminated the parking lot, which eased her discomfort slightly, knowing that she could see the ground, the damp road, the slimy white lines and filthy blotches of gum, which lowered her chances of stumbling and tripping, blindly, like a fool.
Sharp, powerful blows of the untamed gust pinched her cheeks as she slammed the door of the bulky, ancient Escalade, her breath visible, as if she were smoking one of her father’s cigars, like little clouds of smoke, each time she exhaled, numbly. Unable to feel her fingers, she reached out for her opposite’s arm, her mother, who looked just as uncomfortable as she did, her eyes bulged as if someone were strangling her, her jet black curls whipping across her face, the moonlight shimmering above them creating thin streaks of blue...as if a chunk of the night sky had fallen and piled itself, like a ton of black sheep’s fur, onto her head.
The young, teenage girl, who felt as if she would pass out right in front of the Jeep she and her mother were approaching, rolled her eyes, unable to fathom why her ski jacket, and waterproof gloves were unable to give any sort of warmth within the cocoon of icy air crushing her chest.
“M...maybe if we run, it’ll...it’ll be easier?” she asked her mother, feeling as if her voice were crawling back down her throat, away from the daunting chatter of her teeth.
She waited for a response from the panting women beside her, who had wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulder, her oldest daughter, affectionately, but also with slight desperation, as she blew a coal-dark lock of hair away from her eyebrow. The young girl, dressed poorly for this brisk twilight, noticed the tiny glints of blue within her mother’s stormy hair, like simple rivers of starlight glimmering down to her forgotten split ends, then peered over her shoulder and studied the reflection of her own, unkempt mess, which she’d had no intention of combing that morning.
Total opposites.
She, with long, milky-oak strands of hair that waved down her back, like melted chocolate, the added bounce of curls at the end, usually speckled with gold when exposed to the morning-rays of light, tickling the small of her back.
Her mother, born with an endless, frizzy pound of oil-black hair, stubborn and dark, as if iron, or steel, rather than chocolate, were melting from the center of her scalp.
“I cannot,” she replied in her thick Greek accent, the freezing wind making her articulation poorer than usual.
“Okay,” The impatient girl breathed back,”Okay. Let’s just walk.” She studied the road, then the pavement of the sidewalk, the splatters of bird waste, and faded color drawn from what looked like chalk rock. Feeling herself form a painful smile, her cheeks stiff, she imagined the little toddlers, their cheeks and chins smeared with chocolate from the deserts, their careless hands snatching the rocks and destroying the spotless ground with their dreams.
Life had been so easy then, she had begun to forget. The life where the only things to worry about were the wind messing up her large bow, whether her tutu had enough glitter, the numbers of hours left for her to play with her stuffed animals before bedtime...and homework.
Now, dozens of things floated within the air, tons of stressful, heartbreaking, and exhausting troubles, swirling around in front of her and her mother’s squinted eyes, like a confusing curtain of restless leaves, blurring the image of their destination in front of them, stinging their eyes with their rough surfaces, slowing their footsteps. It was hard to ignore the stress, the anxiety, the trauma, and most important, most intoxicating...their dreams, which filled the atmosphere they breathed, made the wind colder, and the seconds crossing the parking lot even longer.
“Almost there,” she told her mother.
“Oh gosh,” her mother groaned. “Oh gosh, I’m working tomorrow….darn.”
“I know the feeling,” she chuckled back to her. “I’ve got a math test tomorrow afternoon. I barely know anything.” She wished she hadn’t said the last part, knowing how her mother would normally react...the woman who was one of the best students in her class, in medical school, and high school...a very accomplished pupil. She would say, or rather, she would scold that in order to achieve anything, you had to work, and this girl, with her shivering, small body, was in no mood for another lecture about work ethic. However, despite her worry, her mother didn’t seem to have heard most of her sentence...or even her voice. Were her ears numb? Or was she blinded, once again, by worry?
“I don’t want to work,” she could feel her mother’s fear, not pain...fear. And suddenly, the wind hurt her more, made her arms ache, her exhales more frequent.
“Don’t worry”, she offered, trying to ignore the goosebumps prickling across her shoulders, legs...even wrists…. “I’ll be there, in the morning, ready to drink coffee with you. Then, you know what will happen?”
Her mother shook her head, a few of her twilight curls bouncing over the brim of her big, yet exotically beautiful, nose.
“I’ll give you a tight hug before you walk out the door.”
Her mother grinned, her face, pale, even though she was blessed with a deep, olive tan, brightened underneath the moonlight. “Thank you, honey.”
They continued to walk, and even though she told her mother that she would be there, at the crack of dawn, right beside her while she blotted lipstick and applied eyeliner, the girl still heard her moan, and complain.
It was unsettling, but even though her mother was human, the teenage girl always thought she was bulletproof...the woman with the bluish-black hair, the unique, beautiful facial features, the flawless body….the girl always saw her mother as an impenetrable soldier. Any sign of weakness from the woman who had raised her to be strong, to avoid shedding tears, to fight hard for anything worth fighting for, any sign of a breaking point, and she felt unsafe. As if something important, something she needed desperately, something more urgent than oxygen, was slipping away from her fingers.
Her strength.
Her mother hadn’t always been a woman who woke up early to beat traffic, coffee mug in one hand, big coat in the other….not long ago, she was just a mother. A mother of her, the typical, lazy, yet passionate teenager shivering in her arms as they approached the steps of the IHOP. One day, before she started junior high, the woman who had cooked the greatest meals, had taught her to work hard and strive to achieve the greatest and more, the woman who tucked her in each night and gave her the most beautiful adventure known as her childhood...decided to go back to work.
She would never forget the nights she’d come up and bring her mother Diet Coke, after Diet Coke, after Diet Coke, watching her study those books like she was studying the skin of one of her children whenever they had developed a strange rash. Her mother’s creased forehead as she pondered a question she had come across as impossible, challenging, irritating…
A mountain. That was what her mother had chosen as a challenge. A mountain that was even more unbearable, excruciating, and mentally difficult than the wind the girl faced tonight. A steep, endless mountain with a foggy destination and strategic obstacles, a path taken with a price, with moments when faith, and hope, dwindled unexpectedly. Her mother, the girl’s superhero, had climbed one of the hardest mountains. How could she be afraid of work?
“I have to work tomorrow.”
“It will be okay,” she assured her mother, “I promise.”
At last they reached the end of the parking lot and stepped up to the sidewalk. She peered down at the marks, the spots where the children had scribbled their imagination and dreams, and without hesitation, almost automatically, stretched her scrawny arm out, curled her aching fingers around the metal knob, and with an exasperated sigh, yanked the door open, the immediate wash of heat dumped onto her body snatching her breath away, burning a tender area deep within the center of her stomach.
Her mother smiled, closing her eyes, and exhaled, her fingers trembling with gratitude, as she scratched her daughter behind the head, then walked toward the hostess stand.
The teenage girl imagined that this was how it was for her mother when she passed her board exams and was officially licensed to carry a stethoscope and wear a lab coat. All those years of Diet Cokes and staying behind to study finally gave her a reward, something unforgettable and rare.
As the girl took off her jacket, she saw her mother’s cheeks burn red, as if the cold outside had slapped her while she was struggling to walk toward the rest of her family, toward IHOP, the oasis. The promise of warmth.
A breaking point.
Her mother had moments when things were too much. She, the teenage girl who despised studying, who wanted to enjoy life, and avoid any sort of responsibility, had a breaking point too, when things seemed overwhelming.
Then, like her older, wiser, and experienced Opposite, who had just sat down with her father and brother, laughing at something on Facebook, she had a breaking point. A point when giving up looks sweeter, and much more delicious, than your dreams. The brief moment when anything, anything, is better than what you are doing.
The girl sighed, took off her coat, smiled at the waitress who passed by, carrying a tray of room temperature cups of water, and winked at her; then walked over to the booth where her mother was sitting, scanning the menu eagerly. Slumping beside the inspirational woman that had raised her never to be afraid of her own potential, she looked at her mother and focused on her makeup, on her eyes, big, chocolate ones, and at her hair, which now looked standard black, shiny, with a thick scent of coconut.
They liked different things, and worked hard to achieve goals that weren’t even in the same category. But they did have one thing in common, one thing that didn’t involve character, hair, or passion.
They were both climbing the most impacting, dangerous mountains.
They both had brief moments of fear, a few seconds when they could barely swallow.
They both used each other to cross the parking lot, to break through the unfair, overpowering cold towards what they desired.
They were both soldiers.

Alexandra Adams is seventeen and lives in Garden City, New York.

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