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I Am the Narrator
I forgot there was a test today…
Mr. Hermes hates me. Why did I have to do all of those problems three times?
More homework? Because we didn’t already have enough…
Does this skirt make my butt look fat?
I shook my head rapidly, feeling the pain of cold metal slamming into my back before I hit the locker.
When I finally got back up again, hauling myself up by the air-hole ridges along the sides, no one was nearby. No one was smirking at me, taunting me, screaming “She’s a miiiiiind reader, oooooo, she’s a miiiiind reader, she knows everything!”
It was just me, the gray-plastered halls, and the dull metal lockers.
Maybe it was just me. Another burst of clumsiness. Ever since I’d been privy to every thought within a mile’s radius, clumsiness had become a great problem for me.
I wasn’t some superhero. I didn’t have a magic ring, or a bow and arrow to fight crime. I wasn’t quite sure what I was, but a hero wasn’t it. I was just an unfortunate accident. A slip on the ice, head gashed open by a pole, a hospital and an IV. Then I woke up, and there was my mother, smiling at me. She said something, but to this day I still didn’t know what. Because all I heard was My G-d that scar looks ugly.
Thanks for caring, Mom.
It had never shut off since. Sometimes if I curled in a ball and stuffed in earphones as far as they would go, blasting music so loud I’d lose my hearing before fifty, they would quiet down. They never went away, but they quieted down. I would huddle beneath my blankets and sing at the top of my voice, hoping, praying, it would all shut up.
I never sang loud enough.
Rubbing my head tenderly, I shuffled to my third class of the day—English.
Ms. Leryn smiled politely as I came in. I knew beneath the stiff mask, all she could think was Why is Ariann never on time? It was what she thought almost every time. Occasionally I would get a verbal ‘Hello’, a few snickers from students, but my constant greeting to English class was always Why is she never on time?
If it was one of those days, one of those days where the voices were as loud as ever, I’d feel like responding. I’d feel like screaming in their faces ‘Do you want to know why I’m late?’ But it wasn’t one of those days, and my head hurt, so I kept my lips zipped and let the fire sink down my throat and settle in the stomach.
“We’ll be going back to Animal Farm,” she announced. “Chapter 6.”
I sorted through my backpack hurriedly, afraid I’d left it at home. As I shoved things in and out of the weathered back, my chair leg screeched forward and caught a strap. My bag teetered to the floor.
Several kids muffled giggles. I heard more than one whisper of ‘miiiiind reader, miiiiind reader’. I never should have told them that in ninth grade.
Luckily, one of the things to spill out of my upturned back was Animal Farm. I scooped it up, cheeks flaming, and flipped to the page we were starting on.
What I would never tell anyone was that I related to Animal Farm better than almost any other book. Not because of the plot, or the specific characters. Because of the narrator. I felt like the narrator. I didn’t feel like Boxer, or Jesse, or—heaven forbid—Napoleon. Since the story was told in third person omniscient, a rare style, the narrator knew the thoughts of every creature in the story. They were every creature, but not every creature was them.
In my life, I was the narrator.
I’d just pressed my finger into the page crease when a sour twang in my mind came to attention. I was humming quietly through my teeth, as loudly as possible in my head, trying futilely to drown out the ever-present whispers. It was a partial success—all I heard was a low buzzing, rising and falling like real speech.
But this was different. It wasn’t a specific thought so much as an overall heaviness, a sadness that cloaked my mind. My head wasn’t buzzing anymore—it was ringing. Fiery blooms of pain sprouted at my temples, and I scanned the room with my eyes, hoping to make out who the cause of this depression was. Most of the kids seemed happy enough—as happy as they’d be in English class. A few sported pinched faces as they flipped through the assigned book, but they weren’t feeling anything like this.
Then my eyes fell on Leah Aldunati.
She wasn’t looking at me; she was turned away, scowling at a pencil. Her expression was so fierce that if I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought it poked her of its own free will. But beneath the anger was a dull gray pallor, no flush in her cheeks or brightness in her eyes. Simply sitting there, making faces at the inanimate object.
I remembered when that very glare had been turned to me—when we played princess and ogre and I wanted to be the princess; when we baked cookies and I ate more than I was supposed to; the time I fell off my bike and gashed my forehead on the pavement. She’d scowled at me and yelled “Why couldn’t you be more careful?! If you die, who am I supposed to play with?”
Those times back before Leah started bruising with no apparent cause, when she stopped talking to me. Before I became the narrator to a book I didn’t know.
Back then, Leah Aldunati and I were friends.
The other kids were flipping through the pages, but my eyes remained fixed on her face. Despite the headache, despite the pain, I tried to focus. Maybe make out some words. Why was she so angry?
Her head lifted; and as strange and impossible as it seemed, I could’ve sworn at that moment she had heard my thoughts. Her eyes trained on me, and for just a moment—so fast I wasn’t sure I’d seen it at all—a sad smile flitted across her face. Then she glanced down again, and I’d almost given up hope when one faint line played through my head.
I have to do it. I have to do it.
I have to do it.
It was the first time in three years that I was positive someone had been purposely thinking to me.
“Miiiiind reader….miiiind reader…..”
I rushed past the clumps of students gathered ‘round the tables, finally plunking my tray down on the last empty spot and letting my head sink into my hands.
My heart always wanted me to be mad at them. It always told me I should loathe each and every student here for jeering at me, taunting me, not realizing it was true. Not realizing what I went through every day, while they were just skipping through daisies, literally or figuratively.
But then my mind would come in. It always did. It always reminded me that Karla’s baby brother died, that Aaron had an alcoholic mother, that Alicia had an abusive boyfriend. It reminded me that Jeff thought he was stupid and Kelly had chronic insomnia. And whenever I tried to muster that anger, that hate, the thoughts would seep through my head and my heart would ice over. No matter what they did, I couldn’t be mad. I knew them. I was them. I was them, I was their friends, I knew their life.
I was their narrator.
The narrator knows all.
My head whipped around—I couldn’t identify that silent voice. I always knew who was ‘speaking’—everyone sounded just as they did in real life. I’d never heard this voice before, and yet it was strangely familiar.
I buried my head, covering my ears and humming as loud as I could.
Each repetition was more frantic than before, and I realized the voice in my head was my own.
Where was it? Where was that deep blanket of silent tears that had smothered my mind? I squeezed my eyes shut, and once again tried something I rarely ever did—I tried to find someone by their voice. Their mental voice. I panned through thousands upon thousands of thoughts, but none of them were Leah. Not a one of them was my Leah.
Heart pounding, I shoved away from the table and tripped up the stairs, out of the lunchroom, ignoring those who stared. I didn’t know why I was so nervous. My ability had never given me premonitions before. But I could feel this. In my gut, down to my toes, deep in my heart. Leah, my old Leah, was in trouble.
The only time I’d ever sought a voice, and it escaped me. My mind was oddly silent; muted, numb, waiting for one voice and one voice only.
I have to do this….
“Leah!” I shrieked. I didn’t know if I screamed with my mouth or my mind, and I didn’t care. All I cared was that I had heard her. I had heard her coming from the roof. The stairs shook beneath me as I sprinted turn after turn, heading for the highest point of the school.
I can’t deal with it anymore…
As I stumbled further, my steps began to slow. Faster, faster. Yet I couldn’t go faster. A thought niggled at my conscience; it scrolled through my mind, down and around, down and around.
I am the narrator.
Narrators don’t interfere with stories. Narrators don’t save their former friends. They sit back and tell the tale.
I had to help Leah. She was the only person I’d ever cared about.
But I’m the narrator.
Narrators don’t mess with the tale.
I gripped the railing so tightly my knuckles shone a pale white and forced myself higher, higher. Ignore your thoughts. Ignore them.
It should be easy. I’d been ignoring thoughts for the past three years.
I can’t look at him another day. I feel…..dirty. Unclean…
“Leah.” This time I knew it came from the mouth—I could feel it well up in my core and burst through my lips as a sob. “Leah, wait.”
Cold air slapped me in the face, and gravel met my toes. I’d made it to the roof. Hills and mountains fought for the ground miles away. Dusty streets lay, sad and alone, just a kilometer away. Yards away, Leah perched on the edge of the roof, toes greeting the air and the forty-foot drop.
“Leah.” It was my mantra now. Leah, Leah, Leah. Hear me. I’m speaking. Out loud. Hear me.
She didn’t hear me. Her arms fluttered by her sides, rocking back and forth. Boot-tipped toes slid further and further over the edge.
Do I mess with the tale?
Do I sit back and watch her fall?
In one instant, I made my decision. In one instant I launched myself across the yards between us and wrapped my arms around her waist. For a terrifying moment, both of us teetered over the edge. Then we both fell onto the gravel-capped steel, panting.
Coal-black eyes fixed on my face. I thought she was going to ask why. Why did you do it? We’ve hardly talked in years. What just happened? I didn’t know you could do that.
Why the heck did you save me?
I didn’t want saving.
All that slipped past her frozen lips was the question “How did you know?”
How did you know.
I knew because you were my friend. I knew because there’s still something between us. There has to be.
You’re my only friend, Leah. That’s how I knew.
No. That wasn’t true.
“I know many things,” I said quietly. “I know many things.”
Because I am the narrator.