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Nikita looked up from the kitchen counter. The ceiling fan greeted her with a roar as it gyrated at full speed. Her hands slowly made their way to the corners of her five-finger forehead and felt cold beads of sweat everywhere. She let her hands sweep through her relatively dry, frizzy brown hair and winced as they glided over the hard, sharp stalks. Whoosh. A cold draft consumed her surroundings as she let out an exasperated sigh.
What a day today had been. Her mind promptly produced a fresh memory of the chirping of the birds that she could or would never identify, and she found her image sitting blankly on the sidewalk with the big brown grocery bags almost imitating her inert posture. Above her, the sun desperately jabbed through the heavy, grey clouds and an eerie mist of pale pinkish green blanketed the sky. She knew it was silly, but she couldn’t help comparing the sun’s plight to hers. For her, everyday was a struggle. Every waking moment was etched with pain. She hated her life and it hated her back. Hated her enough to give her those cold grey eyes and that ridiculous bumpy nose and those thin lined lips. And that dead, lifeless personality. How she wished she could be more forthcoming, more vocal and even a bit outspoken like all those other girls at her college. They seemed so perfect and flawless, both in action and looks. While she heaved through the days, seeing yet another cute guy pass her by, yet another exam come and go as the numbers on the calendar flew by. Quite presumably, she felt entrapped. Like all she wanted was to burst out of this bubble and step into the real, the meaningful universe. The place where we all go to after death. There has to be a place. Otherwise, what is the purpose of all this suffering? Nikita pined to shine as bright as she could, just like the sun which now rather wearily poked through the clouds. Should she give up? Should she take those magic pills waiting for her in her bathroom’s dirty white cabinet or should she simply wear her mother’s old fur coat, start the car engine and lie down beneath it?
“Those would be slow deaths,” she argued aloud, “slow and painful deaths.”
“Did you say something?” A clear-cut male voice that seemed as sharp as shards of diamonds resounded in her mind. She whirled around and noticed a pair of boot-clad legs facing her. “Hey! Up here, Niki!” The voice beckoned. Nikita made her way up those tan leather pants, a broad ebony belt and checkered shirt peeping through a half-zipped windcheater and stopped when she reached the thick Greek neck. She was sure that she couldn’t meet Richard’s gaze. He was always so cool and handy and…she was madly in love with him. And the fact that he was dating a girl who was exactly her opposite didn’t seem to give her the nerve to ask him out too. “Hey Rich,” Nikita smiled weakly, eyes darting to the ground. To her surprise, the straight tan legs seemed to snap and folded next to her. “Grocery shopping, huh? Do you have something to eat? I’m kinda starving,” Richard said and in her mind, Nikita pictured him smiling broadly.
“All I’ve got are a couple of organic apples, a soymilk carton and lots of vegetables,” she said blandly. “Vegan, huh?” Richard guessed. This made a smile curve Nikita’s lined lips. “No. I just happen to be having those things with me right now.” “I’d dare not touch those expensive organic apples…,” Richard started. Just then his stomach gave a low rumble. He laughed. Nikita fetched an apple from the nearby grocery bag and handed it to Richard. “Please,” she said, “I don’t want to starve a needy kid. Treat yourself, but remember, you owe me four bucks.” Richard murmured a thanks and greedily bit off a chunk off the juicy fruit. “Organic stuff is always so great in taste,” he mulled. “But the price just ain’t fair.” He shrugged, and Nikita immediately felt very cold. “So why are you here?” she managed. This seemed to jerk Richard. “Oh, oh yes, Mr. Stine had handed out the grades for the poetry assignments yesterday, and since you hadn’t turned up I thought I’d get yours for you. You’ve done great. An A+. And the poem’s just awesome! I like the title, ‘I accept my madness’. Spooky but amazing!” All the while Nikita had clenched her fists. Numerous thoughts crowded her mind, each projecting its superiority at her. First of all, she’d forgotten that college lectures were held on Fridays. Second, Richard was kind enough to actually bring something to her. And third, that something certainly didn’t deserve an A+.
“Do you really think you’re mad?” Richard went on, clearly besotted by her writings. “Thank you, Richard.” Nikita forced a smile. However hard she tried, she could never smile spontaneously. It always seemed broken. Then she answered his last question, “It’s an escape, a miserable escape. Um, I’m sorry, Rich; I wrote this poem a long time ago. The three lines per stanza style was what the assignment demanded, so I just copy-pasted this poem.” Richard asked the obvious: “When did you write it?” Nikita drew in a quick breath and replied, “I was 15 then.” She expected Richard’s attitude to change when he registered the fact that this wasn’t meant to be a thought provoking work, but just an aching rambling by a moody adolescent. Instead Richard’s voice was louder and excited as he exclaimed how brilliant she was back then. “…Even back then,” he chuckled as he corrected himself.
Nikita forced back the memory of the day she’d written the poem. “That’s just four years ago, Rich, but I can’t remember that bloody poem.” Although she couldn’t remember the poem, she recalled the stormy fight with her mother, who’d labeled her a sick person who couldn’t accept her insanity. And then Nikita had bolted her door, flipped open her laptop and furiously typed that poem. Richard decided to read the poem aloud. He cleared his throat although he didn’t need to, and she took in the glassy clear voice while squeezing her eyes tightly.
“I accept my madness,” he began and a strange rush of magic diffused into Nikita’s blood.
“I accept my madness,
Self created miserly bliss
I accept it.
I’m that raven swimming on the mountains
I’m that fish egg hatching like the fountains
I am me.”
“It’s an escape; Rich, we all live for these small, subtle escapes. At least I do. Even you; wasting your time enjoying this wasteful poem written by a spotty kid,” Nikita explained. And in a lower voice: “It’s the only way to fool yourself that you are free.”
“Yet in my stark madness am I still sane.
I forget and forgive every fresh strain of pain.
Like the insane.”
Nikita shook as she remembered the cigarette butt marks her drunken father had gifted her in moments of ‘generosity’, and she knew she would never be the same after Richard had finished the ‘sick’ little poem.
“I revolve around the world I know
As I see people pull their hair.
They are afraid.
Their minds are rigid and will not change
So they cannot accept anything so amazingly strange.
Thus rejecting acceptation.
I like my mind; it is both upstream and downstream
It twists and contorts and fits like a dream.
There’s no way out.
And I’m not complaining as I’m in my happy place
Here I’m madly sane with a cherubic face.
I love it.”
At this point the visions of a daydreaming Nikita consumed her mind and she recalled the numerous escapist stories she’d conjured up to prevent a breakdown. She’d always got the pretty dresses and Prince Charmings in that world.
“There’s no door or window, it’s my palatial prison
Where every night I bathe in the rays of the midnight sun,
Drinking in unreal magic.”
The paper fell out of Richard’s now weak grasp. And for the first time that evening, Nikita looked at his face. Coral blue eyes that seemed to lock onto hers and those disheveled, honey blonde hair sent an electric shock through her body. The poem had miraculously killed the ‘death’ in her and had infused an undiluted feeling of heady insanity in her veins. “I love you,” she said at last, madness sparking life in her dead grey eyes with the help of freshly pumped adrenaline. And she felt her hands take control as they cupped Richard’s stubble. She was free.
Instead, Richard retracted her hands with a jerk, and Nikita could only see confusion in his coral eyes. “I’m not single,” he rasped. An awkward grin spread across his flawless face as he explained that she was after all, his ‘pal’. But Nikita wasn’t hearing. She was lost in herself, visibly stung. After a gauche moment Richard stood up and said, “We’re all trapped in our promises, now aren’t we?” Nikita mentally nodded.
Something, possibly a plate, made a scraping sound as it was pushed toward her. “Dinner, Niki, yap it up!” Nikita glanced up to notice her roommate Emma smiling proudly. As Emma’s mouth opened to inform Nikita about the campus’ latest gossip, she drifted of to her comfort zone and thought about those pills in her bathroom cabinet. They seemed very apt, after what had just happened. She shrugged the thought away and looked to her right. Reading for the first time her assignment remarks’ section, she found the big A and a considerably smaller ‘+’ below the lines: ‘Great job. You have a big bright future ahead of you.’ Mr. Stine’s miniscule sign followed the comment.
‘Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t. Who’s he to predict the prospects of my entrapment?’
She took a fork and stuffed her mouth with what tasted like warm, gooey pasta.
“Ambrosia,” she muttered.