It’s human instinct to fear what we don’t know. The realms of an unstable child’s mind is classic territory for society to tip-toe around in. Sophia Burgess, debut writer to Words, Pauses, Noises dives right in with her piece, ‘Five Years Good Luck: The Confession’ with her account of a child’s reasoning from a gruelling perspective.
Five Years Good Luck:The Confession
Ten. Ten was the age where it was totally my fault it happened. ‘Cause when I was five it was the fire, but things went pretty downhill the next five years. My sister died in a house fire and my Dad drowned himself in booze every night to forget it happened. Maybe it was how little I was involved in that one, maybe if I’d done more than been in the same room with my sister when the smoke seeped in, then those years following wouldn’t have been so unlucky for me.
See, my Mom died giving birth to me, so it was totally my fault. I did my part, and from what I remember the first five years of my life were great. But by year five, when it wasn’t my fault really that my sister died, I didn’t get the bike I wanted for my birthday (for the three years in a row I asked for it), got on Dad’s nerves all the time, flunked Ms. Abbotsford’s class, and moved to the next city where I had no friends.
I was at a loss, you know, when you start asking, not to anyone in particular, to God maybe, you start saying ‘what did I do?’ I didn’t know yet. Didn’t know what I should have done differently when I was five, if I wanted my luck to continue.
When I was ten, that’s when God or whoever intervened. Samantha, who only liked to be called Sam, was to be my angel. She always wore fuzzy green and purple turtlenecks stretched to their limits over her stomach and arms. That had been my first clue, the tight, scratchy fabric she was always pulling at like wrenching fingers away from her throat. Later years I’d realise what that sign means – that uncomfortable fit was a sign she didn’t belong. And if I cleaned house, it ought to be worth a few years of better luck.
It’s when I first started seeing that it needed to happen every five years.
I was sitting at the top of the tallest slide when I glimpsed the turtleneck. I was carving a list of my favourite words in the warm yellow plastic with my Dad’s pocketknife. I sat up there alone, because this was a third and fourth grade recess day, where the kiddies played hide and seek. Not a fourth and fifth grade recess day, where I’d teach the fifth graders how four square was really done. Sam had led Julie, a shy girl who nobody could ever hear when Mr. Park called on her, into a little corner behind the bushes. It was a good hiding place, so long as I didn’t give them away, because my slide was really the only way you could see back there.
I wiped plastic shavings off my pants and stood. I would have yelled out where they were hiding, just to have a little fun. But Sam was pulling Julie’s face away from the game, towards her own. She was stepping close to the other girl and Julie’s jaw hung slack in confusion. Sam kissed Julie. Oh, this was my chance.
’Ew!’ I cried out, ‘Samantha’s kissing Julie on the mouth!’ The kids nearest to me stopped playing, but not everyone heard. I cleared my throat, ‘Sam and Julie sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-‘
’No!’ Julie squealed.
I looked over and she wasn’t yelling at Sam at all, though she’d jumped out of the hiding spot with her face all pink. Her eyes locked onto mine and she raised a finger as if she was going to lecture me. Then she spun on the spot and ran inside. Sam was still in the bushes, but I couldn’t see her face. A few kids joined me on the top of the slide to see her better, but all we could get was purple and green fuzz wrapped around quivering brown hair. I felt like the exact opposite of her, then. Like something had always been a quivering, crouching mass hiding itself away inside me, but was drawn out in the smirk forming on my lips.
Her parents didn’t like the fact that someone had figured out their daughter was a lesbian. I mean, we were only ten, who knows what she actually would have preferred, but I kept the lines of communication open with them, made sure they still carried that good ole’ fashion homophobic Christian rage. They didn’t disappoint.
Julie started taking time out of her day to give me dirty looks. ‘My fault,’ I would think with a bubble of excitement.
Though I was having the time of my life, my eleventh birthday was getting close. I knew I wouldn’t last another five years bad luck, so I had to complete my task. Renew the source. Sam had taken a few days off of school, and when she came back, she sat at the back of the class, by the door. Far away from Julie and even further away from me. I could hardly stay seated, and kept looking back at her. Each time she brought her face a fraction closer to the paper. She didn’t just look sad, she looked much more tan as well. This annoyed me a little because it might have meant she’d gone on an actual vacation. That it wasn’t just an excuse to get away from me.
I was bouncing my foot against my chair. I was peeling the edges of my paper and glancing at the clock. I’d realised she wouldn’t come out for recess, but I could get her before that. She’d stay in the indoor area, but I’d be able to get her in the hallway. You can imagine how slowly every one of those seconds went by.
Finally, the bell rang, and everyone bolted as normal, but nobody faster than Sam, Julie and me. They got out the door quicker than me just because of where they were in the room, but I felt like I’d been training my whole life for this. Or at least all these last five years.
’Sam!’ I called, ‘Wait!’ But that just spurred her on faster. Julie nearly grabbed her arm, but thought better of it, power walking next to her down the hall like a tiny bodyguard.
’Sam, I want to apologize!’
That stopped her. I tucked away my smile just in time for her to turn. I skidded to a halt in front of her, putting my hands on my knees and making a big deal about catching my breath. She waited.
Straightening again I brought myself up to about four inches taller than her. She straightened too, and Julie tried, laughably. I brought my eyebrows down as if I was about to go into a heartfelt speech, scrutinizing her tanned face. This couldn’t be any more of a sign. The waxy, bronzed layer smelled of a churchwoman.
The hall was filling with our classmates, all curious to see. I cocked my head to the side, ‘Did you try to give yourself a makeover? Is that your mom’s make-up?’ A few chuckles tinkled through the tense air. Julie muttered, ‘Come on, Sam.’
Sam’s eyes welled up. ‘Were you going to say you were sorry?’
’Yes,’ I said, fighting now to keep the grin at bay, ‘I’m so sorry… I outed you to your parents.’
Sam made a gasp that sounded almost like a question without any of the force behind it.
I raised my voice and cheated out for the crowd, ‘ I was talking to your mother and accidentally told her you’re gay. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, she seemed quite upset.’ Some would say I can be a bit of a ham, like that. My audience began to whisper.
Julie tried again to pull Sam away, but she shook her off. Then she spit in her hand and rubbed a particularly thick patch of concealer under her eye.
Beneath it was purple.
’This is your fault!’ She screamed at me, pointing to the bruise.
Closing the distance quickly, I used a deep, quiet voice I’d perfect over the later years, ‘Oh no, honey. That’s your punishment for kissing girls.’ She stepped back, but in sync I kept her close, ‘That’ll always be your punishment, long after I’m not the one telling on you.’
’Stop,’ she hiccupped.
’Makes you wonder,’ I breathed back, pulling the abrasive shirt collar away from her red throat, ‘Is it even worth it?’
I was a natural, you know, a born killer. At the funeral, my Dad put his arm around me, told me things were going to change. He blamed himself for what I’d done, but really, it was my own fault things had been the way they were, my unlucky years. I saw it then, that the next years would be looking up, a better school, watching late night TV with my Dad, my first beer, bottle rockets in my neighbours windows. It wasn’t perfect, no, after all, I’d only influenced Sam’s demise. I knew in five years I’d have to find someone I could really roll up my sleeves and explore.
This askew take on life not only unsettles our thoughts on young innocence and naivety, it makes us uncomfortably aware of negative elements that transcend into inhumane beings. The very elements that are harboured by society but shunned when they become embodied. Sophia strikes the balance with an inexplicit psychosis against a striking social background.
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