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Shards of Glass

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I smiled tentatively as I walked through the door of our cruddy apartment. The door swung open to reveal the dim living room where my family and I had been living ever since I was born. Something sour filled the air and I guessed it was from one of the rooms beside us, separated only by a thin white wall. Sighing, I plopped my backpack on the stained carpet and plopped into a chair.

My head felt heavy and as usual, I looked at everything in the room with abhorrence, wishing for something better. The shabby couch we’d gotten at a secondhand shop, the rickety old chairs that looked as if they would collapse at any moment, the cheap plastic kitchenware that sprinkled the countertops of our tiny kitchen. I wanted something better, something beautiful. I plucked stray threads from the chair beneath me angrily as I held back tears of self hate. I hated my life, I hated my parents who worked at the drug store down the street, and I hated myself, who obviously didn’t deserve anything better.

I heard footsteps racing out of one of the rooms as I curled my feet under my legs. Quickly I wiped my face of all emotion and brought a convincing smile to my lips. Before I even saw, I knew who it was. I couldn’t let her see me like this.

“Happy birthday!” I heard as my little sister ran down the hallway and jumped onto the chair beside me. She quickly wrapped her arms around me and I couldn’t help but genuinely smile as her skinny arms gripped me tightly.

“Thanks,” I muttered into her sharp shoulder. She pulled away and looked at me. She scanned my face, trying to pick up my emotions and thoughts, which she was really good at. Although she was only eight, sometimes it felt like she was much older.

After a few seconds of observation, she had gathered enough information to make a conclusion. “What’s wrong?” Her tiny voice asked as her thin lips, just a second ago smiling ecstatically, fell into a worried frown.

I shook my head vigorously and forced my smile to be even wider, which hurt a little. “Nothing, I’m so excited!” I sighed inwardly as her face perked up a little.

“I hope so!” She leapt off the chair and ran back to her room. I chuckled as her little figure darted down the hallway, her messy black hair flying behind her. A few seconds later, she returned by my side, a small package in her hand. I looked at it and realized it was wrapped with notebook paper. A small tear cam to my eyes as I picked up the small details that were blind to her: the various holes in her dirty socks, the stains on her baggy shirt that would never come out, the cheap smell of her ninety-cent soap. How could she remain happy? Did she not see what was around her?

I hid my emotions once more, which was becoming harder with every second, and began to rip the package up excitedly.

“Thank you so much! I wonder what it is!” As I tore off the last piece of paper, I gasped. Lying modestly yet sparkling with the beauty of a thousand gems, lay a string of glass of all colors. The shards sparkled with brilliant blues, greens, browns, and yellow-golds, sparkling in the fluorescent light above. It was so beautiful but not in the usual sense. It was beautiful in its own way. Priceless.

I looked at her dark brown eyes and wondered is she would ever know how much this meant to me.

Thank you! I love it!” I whispered as I gave her a tight hug. Holding back tears, she walked down the hall with me, her hand in mine, and helped me hang the sparkling strand in front of my window. I stepped back and watched as the shards of glass transform the cheap plastic blinds. Finally, I had something beautiful, something of value.

I looked at my sister with her modest face and caring eyes and stopped in my tracks. I already had something of value.

Suddenly the front door opened and we both ran to greet our mother as she stumbled through the front door with a couple of grocery bags. She works long days at the drug store and usually she’s at work before I even wake up for school. She doesn’t get home until around eight every day. She’d probably work longer if it wasn’t for my dad who thinks it’s too dangerous for her to be working so late in our area of town.

She grinned tiredly and kissed me on the cheek on the way to the kitchen. Her dark brown shirt, stained with bright slush flavoring and cheap coffee splashes, still had her name tag on the top of her chest. Her sandy brown hair was pulled into a messy ponytail and her face was slightly sparkling with sweat; there’s no AC at the Corner Drug Store.

Usually, I greet her with a cold and distant nod, always angry at her for not providing, just not doing enough, for letting us live like this. But today, I looked at her exhausted face and my heart drops with guilt.

“Hey mom!” I whisper cheerfully as she plops her bags on the counter. “I love you.” She perks her head up, stray hairs flying around her head and catching the dim yellow light like wisps of gold. She looks at me confusedly for a few seconds before I run to her and wrap my arms around her. She stumbles back in surprise before she hugs me back tightly.

“I love you too.” I can tell she’s a little confused but I pick up hints of joy and relief in her voice. I nestle my head in her shirt that smells of the cheap cigarettes and alcohol for sale at her work. I hadn’t done this since I was really young and it felt so good to lean on her, even if I was too old. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done this.

We pulled apart and her dark eyes searched mine curiously. She smiled and reached into the bag.

“I brought you a little something.” She said cheerfully as she produced a small white cake with the words “happy birthday,” written in cheap green frosting on the top.

“Thanks Mom. It looks delicious.” She leans against the counter and folds her arms across her chest. My sister walks beside us and looks at the cake with longing.

“And I even bought candles.” My mother exclaimed as she produced a small cardboard package filled with brightly colored candles. I smiled as my sister jumped up and down excitedly.

“Thanks mom.” I whispered as she set up the cake and candles. Soon, everyone was seated around the table, happy smiles on their faces, as they sang the birthday song. I laugh as their faces glow in the candle light, their eyes shining and happy. Soon, their voices stop as I blow out the candles.

Later that night, after the tiny celebration, I tell my mother and sister goodnight and head towards my room. My feet padded softly on the dark hardwood floor. I flopped on my bed and stared at the empty white ceiling.

As I lay in the darkness, I remembered I had forgotten to make a wish as I blew out the candles. Every year, making a wish was one of my top priorities. I’d always hated been the one kid in my class on the free or reduced lunch, the one seen shopping at the secondhand stores, the one that had to go to school in the same outfit twice in a row because my mom couldn’t find enough change to put in the washer machines. These were the reasons why I liked to fantasize and ask in my head for something I knew I’d never get.

I’d always felt as if I was missing something, as if life wasn’t good enough. However, as I sat in the shadowy moonlight, I noticed a sparkling gleam from the corner of my eyes. I turned and saw the beautiful string of glass shards. The jagged pieces caught the gray moonlight and reflected it into a million beams of shiny silver light. From here, the pieces of junky glass might as wells have been diamonds and that’s when I realized I didn’t have anything to wish for.



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