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Shadows on the Wall This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

<i>"And I heard you get to the point where

you know where you're going

but I'm not there, I'm not there at all.

And I swear, I swear that they're moving

it looks like they're dancing

the shadows on my wall, shadows on my wall."</i>

2 AM and the homework still isn't done. It won't be finished tonight, she can tell, because she

keeps staring at the pages and the words are still out of focus. The playlist she began listening

to at midnight has run its course, and the silence frightens her. She lets her eyes flutter closed

(just for a second), but snaps back, hoping that she can force herself through 10 more pages. <i>Just

10 more pages.</i> The shadows from the lamp on her desk are black against her wall, but for a

moment they seem to shift.

<i>I'm too tired. I'm too tired. Tomorrow</i>, she tells herself, <i>tomorrow I will finish it.</i>

The next night comes, too late again, and she's trying desperately to finish the essay but she can't

even feel her fingers typing anymore. The shadows resolve themselves into the shapes of ivy,

and then all she can see is ivy growing across her room. It's creeping and clutching the pale blue

wall, and she just knows she has to get it off, before it takes over everything, before it suffocates

her. She scrapes and scratches at the plaster, desperate, but nothing is making a difference and

the ivy is still slipping between the cracks. Her nails are bloody, her knuckles bruised, and

there are tears in her eyes that she tries to blink away. Suddenly, the ivy is gone. She stumbles

backwards, staring at the smear of blood from her knuckles against the otherwise blank wall.

What has she done?

The ivy was never there, she knows. Ivy can't just appear inside.

Ivy dreams, Ivy Leagues, unreachable and yet inescapable, she can't touch either.

Another night, and her hands are bandaged, preventing her from painting for a few days. Today,

the shadows resolve themselves into the silhouette of a boy with messy hair, his hands in his

back pockets, a boy with a slightly lazy but entirely endearing slouch. She knew this boy, months

and lifetimes ago. He once told her that she smelled like roses, had hands like silk, had eyes like

stars. Nobody had ever described her that way before, like poetry, so she let him, even though

she had hated the smell of roses ever since her grandmother died while she was buying a yellow

bouquet of them in the hospital shop, even though her hands were always messy with paint, dry

from constant washing, her nails bitten to the quick, even though her eyes were brown and the

stars weren't brown. She watches the boy on her wall laugh, his shoulders shaking a little, and

she reaches a hand towards him. He twists away, and she jerks her hand back. <i>He never loved

you</i>, she tells herself. <i>He never wanted you.</i> He is dancing along her wall now, swirling across

the blue with another silhouette, a girl with a long dress and a perfect body (a girl that isn't her).

They waltz across her room, and she is helpless to do anything but watch.

<i>He never loved you. Why are you sitting here crying over a boy who never even knew you, who

never even cared? Stop crying, you idiot, just stop.</i>

But she cries anyway, and her stomach twists and she thinks she will be sick, and all she can feel

is the failure of those hunched shoulders walking away from her.

She could never hold onto a good thing, and it was always, always her fault.

She knows she needs to get some kind of help. She hasn't been eating properly, or sleeping, she

can't pay attention to conversations anymore. She jumps at little things and cries easily. But she

doesn't want to face her parents and tell them that she is too weak to hold herself together.

<i>Tomorrow</i>, she tells herself, <i>I will tell them tomorrow.</i>

But that still leaves tonight. At first, the shadow seems innocent enough. It is only her own

shadow. It waves when she waves and turns when she turns.

And yet...there's something wrong with it. It is lumpy. It sticks out in all the wrong places, and

she stares, transfixed, at the image of herself. She looks down. Her stomach was flat, she would

have sworn. But not anymore. She shuts her eyes against the image, but is seared behind her

eyelids. She stumbles to the bathroom, half in the light of the lamp she can't seem to shut off, and

retches, crouched over the toilet. If she could just get the food out of her, if she could only get

the hourglass shape. If she could get everything out, out, out. Maybe if she could open her skin,

it would all leave, all the shame and all the fat and all the pain.

She is too scared to touch the razor, though, so she just vomits, trying to rid herself of everything

inside of her that she hates.

But her shadow, upon her return, hasn't changed, still heavy and wrong and inadequate.

God, but she was inadequate.

Her mother knows. She makes promises.

<i>I'll take you to the doctor.</i>

<i>Until then, take one of these every night. I can see you haven't been sleeping</i>. It's true. She

accepts the sleeping pills and smiles wanly at her mother.

<i>Of course, mom. I will.</i>

The pills are possibility. The pills are power (the power of her life in her own hands).

She could be free (she could be just another girl in the newspaper, overdosing and gone). She

could escape from the nightly terrors and the pressure and the misery.

She doesn't know if it is brave or cowardly to reach for them.

<i>Tomorrow, maybe</i>, she tells herself.

<i>But not tonight.</i>



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