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Just Another Day
In the seventh house on the first row of identical houses in the scrub-filled desert sits a woman-girl. Not quite old enough to be woman, not quite young enough to still be girl. The house around her is cold, empty, quiet. The rooms are bright; the curtains to the large, glass sliding door are pulled back. It is not the light that bothers the woman-girl, however. It is the sounds. Trying not to listen, she curls up in her favorite tattered armchair, a notebook and pen in her hands. She adjusts her glasses, and starts to write. Skritch, skritch, goes the pen on the paper as she begins.
The clock. Oh, that stupid clock!
In the near-silence of the house, the ticking clock is almost overwhelming to her sensitive ears. Tock-tick, tock-tick, tock-tick, goes the clock, with its slow, deep tock and its sharp, staccato tick. The woman-girl sighs, and attempts not to destroy the annoyance. Someone would be angry at her for it later.
The loud, insistent flapping sound of the dog door makes her look up. A small dog trots up, the scratchy-soft pads of its feet making small hissing noises against the tile floor. It appears to be a mixture of young and old; not quite puppy, not quite dog. Sandy-golden in color, fluffy in patches where it hasn’t shed the last vestiges of youth, but the girl doesn’t find this adorable as others would. It sits at her feet, panting, tongue lolling from spending too long outside. She can see almost all the way down the dog’s throat, and there are drops of saliva hanging from the beast’s tongue. It looks up at her expectantly. Huff, huff, goes the air in and out of its mouth.
Go away, the girl says to the dog. Get out of here.
The dog curls up at her feet, and falls asleep. She sighs, and goes back to her writing.
Skritch, skritch. Tock-tick. Huff, huff. Skritch. Tock. Huff. Tick.
The front door of the house opens, closes, bringing noise to the quiet house. The woman-girl is startled by the sudden, loud sound. I’m home, the woman-girl’s mother calls as she kicks off her shoes. Come say hello.
Hello. She doesn’t get up from the couch, doesn’t look up from what she’s writing. The woman at the door sighs, comes over and kisses her daughter’s hair anyway. She looks down, searching perhaps for an excuse to strike up conversation, and sees the dog.
Oh, look. She’s asleep. Isn’t that cute, darling?
Sure, I guess.
The mother kneels down next to the dog, pets it vigorously, and wakes it up. It opens its eyes blearily, looks at the mother, and goes back to sleep. The woman chuckles. The woman-girl wants to chuckle as well, but for a different reason. The dog had looked almost human then, and its brief expression—annoyance—makes the young girl part of her want to laugh.
But the adult in her is annoyed as well.
She’s tired, Mom. Let her sleep. The woman-girl doesn’t look up as she says it.
All right. I was just saying hi. The mother stands, and ruffles her daughter’s hair before moving into the sanctity of her bedroom, where her daughter hears her turn on the television and shut her door. Mutter, mutter, goes the television through the thin plaster walls.
Skritch, skritch. Tock-tick. Huff, huff. Mutter, mutter. Skritch, tock, huff, mutter. Mutter, huff, tick, skritch.
The front door opens again, and the woman-girl’s stepfather steps in, a trio of screaming little boys at his feet, racing past his legs and up the stairs. The house is filled with laughter now, and arguing and screaming, too. The noise grates against the woman-girl’s ears. She wants to stand and scream for it all to stop, but knows that she will just get a worse headache for her trouble. Besides, the man and the woman and the three children would have reason to call her crazy, and she didn’t want that. The man walks over to the girl, squats next to the dog. He pats its head, waking it up.
Hey, kiddo, he says to the woman-girl. The dog licks his hand.
Hey. She looks up at him, smiles a little. He smiles back.
Where’s your mother? He stands, and the dog looks up at him with that sorrowful look all dogs share before going back to sleep.
Bedroom. She turns her attention back to the notebook with a sigh.
‘Kay. He ruffles her hair, not as her mother did, but softly, and walks into his bedroom, after her mother.
The three boys upstairs, two cousins and a brother to the woman-girl, begin to argue.
It’s my turn!
No it’s not! You just had a turn. I want to play.
Let me play too!
The woman-girl begins to get even more irritated, and the dog stirs in her sleep. She shuts her book with an audible snap, and walks up the stairs to her room, her soft bed and warm blankets the only thing on her mind right now. Her head hurts, and the boys are not doing much to help with that.
Tell them it’s my turn! One of the boys yells to her as she passes.
It’s not your turn, it’s mine!
Share, she says dully, rubbing her head.
The boys look at each other, somewhat mollified, and put down the controllers to their latest video game. Where are you going? her brother asks.
To sleep, she says. I’m tired. Leave me alone. She goes into her room and shuts the door.
So strange, the boys whisper to one another. She’s always tired. She always has a headache. I wonder what’s wrong with her.
I heard that, she calls through her door, but she decides not to get up and punish them for it. Too many sounds today, the clicking of controllers and simulated gunfire, the shrill barking of dogs and tick-tocking of clocks. She wants it all to stop again, to hear the sound of silence for once. She plucks off her glasses, folds them, and puts them on the little table at her bedside. She puts her large earphones over her ears, and the sound is muffled. It will have to be good enough. She’s already taken too much medicine today; any more will give her a stomach ache. So she decides the best cure is an attempt at sleep.
Hello? she hears dully through the head phones. Are you awake?
She sighs, considering pretending to be asleep, but thinks better of it and rolls over to face the door. Her sister is standing in the doorway, half inside the room and half out of it. She looks almost uncertain. Yes, I’m still up. What do you want?
The older girl motions to her head, and the younger sister obliges, taking off her earphones. The world is bright and sharp and harsh again, but she does what her sister asks. For now.
Can you help me with my homework? The older girl looks sheepish now. You’re in the same class, and you get this stuff anyway…
The woman-girl sighs again. Now?
A pause. Fine.
The older girl almost squeals, and rushes over to hug her sister. Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you!
Her younger sister breathes a sigh through her lips. She wishes, not for the first time, that she wasn’t the only person her sister would turn to. I’m just going to help you. I’m not going to do it for you.
That’s fine! The older girl dashes out of the room for a moment and comes back with her school bag in hand. She is clumsy—her school bag bangs wildly against the walls and door as she swings in several directions at once to grab supplies from her sister’s desk. The woman-girl winces, holding her head. Let’s get started!
The other girl sighs one last time, though it comes out more like a groan. She deigns to sit up fully, brushing her hair back. She notices the dog walk into her sister’s room and squat daintily on the carpet, but doesn’t say anything as she puts her glasses back on.