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I stare hard through the window, shifting my shoulders in an attempt to make the cage in my chest more comfortable. The one that was closing my heart to prevent any further damage. It still felt like cold steel bars, after all these years. I should be used to it by now.
The metal in my chest hurts.
It had almost closed out my father, angry again, yelling at my brother and I, along with anyone who could hear through the windows of the big black truck.
"You both need to grow up,"
he had shouted.
It had almost closed out my mother, giving us an encore about every sin and all the wrongs we had committed in our fifteen and nine years.
"You need to appreciate what we do for you,"
she had screeched.
It had almost closed out my little brother, who was sobbing in the seat beside me.
"I hate you,"
he had whispered.
It had almost closed them out.
I feel the cage in my chest rattle as the truck hit a bump, and the shadowy shapes in the void outside my window jolt a bit. I open an unnoticeable slit in the window. The wind throws my imperfect, unmanageable hair into my face. I inhale. The night smells like fear.
"What are you going to wear tomorrow?"
My mother's sharp voice slices into my moment of relief like a razor. She is using her easy-bake-fake happy voice. I put the window back up before she can tell me to do it.
"Jeans and a sweatshirt," I manage. "No need to dress up on a Monday." I easy-bake a fake happy response for her. She looks back at me, and I flinch; an involuntary reaction to feeling her icy gaze on my shoulders.
"No," she says sharply. "I mean for the banquet."
I avoid her look the best I can, looking at little dead animals on the side of the road.
The 'look good and be smart at the same time' banquet. The one that I would kill to get out of. The one where they shove down your throat how genius-like you are, then make you regurgitate that you're still not smart enough to do anything well/right. The one that I really don’t want to go to.
I pray to the little angels of the little dead animals that I can answer this life-or-death question correctly.
My mind spirals through the decent things in my closet.
"Maybe... My white V-neck?" I squeak. "With my red cami underneath?"
My heart trembles in its cage, and I hold my breath so that no one can hear it.
My mother nods in a way that was almost approving. My courage presses me forward. I feel the iron bars in my chest shrivel a bit at the edges.
"And...and my plaid scarf?” I say. "And my skinny jeans?"
My heart races. It starts punching at the cage. I'm on a roll! What else, what else?
"Oh, and my new heels!" I cry. "With some pretty bangles!"
She nods, and gives me an attempt at a smile.
"Absolutely," she says.
I feel my heart start kicking down the walls of the cage, jumping around and rejoicing. My grin is sparkling.
"That will be nice to wear to school."
My heart stops.
My grin vanishes. I give her a confused look, feeling my heart settle back down onto the floor of its cell.
"But- wait. Weren't we talking about my outfit for the banquet?" I ask.
She gives my the 'Are you really and truly the stupidest child on the planet?' look that she's crushingly good at. I cower back into the seat.
"You're not wearing that to banquet," she tells me. "Absolutely not."
Out of nowhere, my heart starts kicking around again.
"Why not?" I ask rebelliously/stubbornly/angrily. "It's a nice outfit."
She glares at me from the passenger's seat. Hopelessly, my heart starts pulling the walls back up.
"Because I said so."
*Clink.* There's one wall.
"Well...what about a skirt then?" I attempt.
Her glare softens.
"Um... The pretty denim-"
"No," my father snaps from the driver's seat. "No denim."
*Clink.* There's wall two.
“Oh.” I turn back to the window. "Okay. Well, what about-"
"Would you just be quiet?!" my mother shouts at me. I flinch again. "You're giving me a headache," she snarls.
I watch the dark shapes fly by in the darkness. There is a little dead raccoon on the side of the road.
I almost wish it was me.
*Clink.* There goes three.
My little brother has finally stopped sobbing, and is sitting soundlessly in his seat. My father yells at a semi that comes close to hitting us, and my mother gives him an encore.
I watch the shadows and the dead animals.
I almost wish that semi would have hit us.
The metal in my chest still hurts.
I wish my heart would pull up the last wall so that it didn't have to listen to the angry/sad/frustrated/hopeless silence.
I shift my shoulders again, willing the iron bars to settle.
I almost wish that the cage would close it out.