"Untitled"

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I inhale the pancake aroma that is Sunday, dashing to the kitchen where I know Mom will be cooking in her pink floral robe. Her hair has been hastily put up and every once in awhile a thin blond strand falls out of the messy bun. As I walk into the room, she dumps the last pancake onto the tall stack and sets three plates, silverware, syrup, and butter out.

“Morning, Mom,” I say, grabbing some pancakes and drowning them in syrup and butter. James comes in and does the same. I smile as the fluffy flapjack gives itself up to my tongue, the maple syrup piercing my taste buds. This is what Sunday feels like, and at this moment I know I never want it to feel any different.

“Have you checked the mail?” Mom asks. I know the question is directed at James, but she looks at me when she says it.

“No,” James grins, “It’s Sunday.”

Mom laughs. Of course, there’s no mail on Sundays. She sighs and sits beside me, “I just want to know if you’re in!” she suddenly exclaims, “All this waiting is driving me crazy.”

“I am sure the University of Kansas would love to have James Lynn, star athlete and scholar, at their school,” I say.
James smiles at me and I nudge his shoulder.
“Is Dad at the office?” he asks.

“He had a last minute meeting with a client; they have trial tomorrow,” Mom nods. We do the same. Dad’s absence completes the feeling of Sunday. I check my watch and put my plate in the dishwasher.

“I’m going to work,” I say.

James tosses me his car keys.

“Have fun,” he says with a wink.



Customers pour into Sally’s Coffee House, wearing their church clothes and ordering egg sandwiches. They are boisterous and are only informed about sports, politics, and the latest celebrity scandal, it seems. I smile and laugh at their jokes, earning myself some generous tips here and there. If I expect to go to KU just as I know James will, I need to start earning cash now.
When the clock hits twelve, I lean against the wall. Breakfast rush hour is over. Megan, the only other waitress here today, goes out back to smoke a cigarette. She’s about thirty five and, as far as I know, has worked here since she was my age. I can’t help but pity her, but mostly I just hope I never become her. She nods as she walks past me; no words are exchanged.

Suddenly, the small chime on the door rings and three perfect girls seemingly glide inside. They smile with their perfect, white teeth and flip their perfect, smooth hair. I hate myself for wishing to look like them, because I know them all too well: Jessica, Rebecca, and Molly, the three girls that took my life into their hands and morphed it into a small black cave that no one dares enter since. Spreading rumors, thoughtful enough to accuse me of their own crimes, they made me an outsider in my home town.

I inhale sharply and decide that I will not risk losing my job over them. Though at the moment life is not very exciting, I know that after I graduate I will get accepted into KU, and make friends there. For that, I need the money I make here, and I will not let them ruin that, too.

They go to the register and look at the chalkboard menu; I take their order and begin to prepare it. The Coffee House is empty and silent. I feel their perfect eyes on me, daring me to spit in their food. I feel their hot breath on my neck, from ten feet away.

I finally serve their pretentious vegetarian breakfast and breathe a sigh of relief when they start to gossip about the girl that just walked down the street wearing a skirt that is so last year. I know I won’t be getting a tip, but that is worth not getting criticized for existing.
__

It is Monday, and I have the day off work. As I wait for James to pick me up from school, I struggle to think of something to occupy my time with. Perhaps I’ll paint today. Mom has some left over canvases, and I know I have paint somewhere. I daydream about smooth brush strokes and perfectly blended acrylics. My head snaps up to the familiar horn and I run to the car.
“How was Hell?” James asks. I laugh.
“Bearable.”
“I wanted to go catch a movie, but Dad just texted me: ‘I expect you and Marley to arrive home’”, he pauses and purses his lips, giving me the intense look we have both come to love over the years, “‘this instant!’”
We laugh and James steps on the gas.
__


“So, you got another promotion,” I say, confused, “What’s the big deal?”

My parents glance at each other. James and I do the same.

“Well?” James says.

“It’s in California.”


There is a pause.


“You’re not going to take it,” I say, “We’ve lived here our whole lives. I can’t just leave, I only have one more year of school left! And James has to go to college!”

Dad nods.

I can’t help but think of growing up in this house. Of measuring my height and scratching it into the kitchen doorway twice a year, of sneaking downstairs with James to watch cartoons late at night. I live here, in these walls, in these worn floorboards. I count the pictures lining the fireplace. onetwothreefourfivesixseven. onetwothreefourfivesixseven. onetwothreefourfive sixseven. It becomes difficult to breath; a lump forms in my throat and I gasp for air.

“Marley, honey, we are keeping the house,” Dad says soothingly, “James can stay here in order to attend school, but you must come with us.”

“No! This is all I know! Why would you do this?” I yell. My parents are shocked by this; I have never raised my voice, and I am already ashamed of it, “Mom! You can’t agree with him!”

“Baby,” she says, speaking for the first time, “It’s a big raise. It will be good for us.”

I am silent. Before James knows it, I have his keys and am out the door.


I drive.


I pull into the highway before I realize I don’t have a plan. I don’t know where I’m going or what I will do when I get there. The sun is setting, and I become aware of the fact that I have been driving for over an hour without stopping. The gas tank is purging, I notice, and will soon be as bare as the walls of my empty stomach.

I pull into the first gas station I see. As I hold the pump, I look around and try to figure out where I am. I have been driving West, so I am definitely still in Kansas. I become painfully aware of the fact that I haven’t eaten since lunch, and regret only eating a yogurt. My stomach growls at me, demanding it be fed. I jump when the meter beeps to warn me it has finished its task and put the pump back before going inside to find something to eat. As I open the door, several cheap, greasy scents welcome me in; I browse the snack aisle.

“Daddy,” a little girl whines in the next aisle, “I want a pretzel!”

“No, honey, have a chocolate bar. They’re better for you.”

I scoff as I get in line; this man’s ignorance as to what is good for his daughter astonishes me. I look at them out of the corner of my eye. He is wearing a suit and mumbling into his bluetooth earpiece while she continuously tugs at his jacket, making more petty demands. He dumps a chocolate bar and a pack of gum on the counter and hands the cashier a fifty dollar bill. I scoff again. No wonder.

“Next.”
I hand the cashier my bag of chips and look around. Brightly colored lighters and bumper stickers catch my eye, a last attempt at inciting impulse buys. As the cashier hands me my change, I notice a green bumper sticker on the first row. The classic There’s no place like home Kansan quote screams at me.

I grab my chips and run back to the car, trying to stop the yelling in my head.

There’s no place like home, Marley! There’s no place like home!

I count the cars around me, then how many tires they have. onetwothreefour. onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteenfifteensixteen.onetwothreefour. onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteenfifteensixteen.

I scowl, panting and rubbing the steering wheel with both hands, debating what to do next. What does that mean, anyway? Home. Is it a big house with strategically placed photographs that display your life in chronological order? Is it that feeling you get on a Friday night, curled up in an armchair with a mug of hot chocolate? Or is it the familiar, on cue chirping of the birds in the tree by your bedroom window every morning?

I can’t recall the moment I turned the key or stepped on the gas, but I am on the highway once more.

It is dark. No moon. The sky is muddled by clouds that hide the stars from view. The only beacons of light are the headlights, intensifying as I speed towards them, and fading away in the distance of my rearview mirror.


I think.


What if I stayed with James? No... He’ll be starting college next year. He won’t want to have to look after his little sister. He’ll want to have girls over and throw parties. I need a different plan. How much money do I have? Home could be the next exit. I could start a new life and find my own definition of home and make it like no other place. I could become a new person, someone that perfect girls won’t trample on and manipulate no matter where she is. I try to imagine who I will be. Someone with an identity, a purpose, a goal.

Before I know it, I have already taken the next exit. I drive past restaurants, a hotel, a movie theatre. Wait, I think, Why is this so familiar? That’s when I realize that from the moment I left the gas station I knew I wasn’t going to an unfamiliar town to start fresh, but home. Home to my family. It’s all too familiar. I can’t get lost here.



I quietly shut the car door and creep up to the porch. I peek through the window and see my parents eating dinner. No, not eating. They are just staring at each other, letting their untouched food sit before them. I can’t tell whether the sound is in my mind or real, but I hear a clock ticking. Slowly. As if it yells with every click Home! - Home! - Home! I know I never had the intention - or the courage - to leave them. They don’t speak. My heart pounds against my light skin and I swallow hard.


I go inside.


I dare not say anything, afraid it will trigger something furious in them I have never seen before, a rage so loud and strong it will forever stay within me. I don’t close the door. I don’t take my shoes off. I don’t put the keys away. I simply wait in the entrance. A soft breeze tickles my neck, gliding into the house, through the curtains. I watch it’s invisible journey until it reaches my mother’s hair, and my eyes instantly drop to the hardwood floor, furiously ashamed.

It is so quiet. I listen to my heavy breath, the crackling sound in my ears when I swallow. I notice the dryness of my tongue in my mouth, and the loose string hanging off the end of my sleeve.

After exactly sixty four breaths and nine swallows, I shut the door, take my shoes off, and put James’s keys with the rest.

“Let me know when I need to be packed,” is all I say before running up the stairs and into another sleepless night.
__


My parents and I heave our luggage out of the car and onto the green grass of our new lawn. After a two hour flight, something I know none of us are accustomed to, we are exhausted. I am grateful for the weekend ahead of me. I am the last to get my belongings and as my mother unlocks our new front door she calls back to me.

“Check the mail, maybe there’s something in there for Ja-,” she stops herself. My father and I both stare at her; James received his acceptance letter two weeks ago. My mother recomposes herself and smiles, “Maybe there’s some mail we need to forward.”

They both go inside and I open the blue mailbox. Someone painted a beach on it long ago, but some of it is scratched off; memories soon to be forgotten. I pull out three envelopes.

Want skinny fast?!

“No. Learn some grammar.”

Here at Veggies R Us, we-

“That’s not even original.”

The last one is a bill from some local bank I’ve never heard of. I stare at the name it’s addressed to, and it glares right back at me.

“India Lynn.”

It tastes strange, but rolls nicely off my tongue. I imagine a distant cousin, a long lost sister. This is the person I wanted to become. Someone with an identity.

“Hi, my name is India. I just moved here,” I practice.
I was wrong. I never was going home to my family. I was, infact, going to an unfamiliar town to start fresh. It was inevitable.

“We don’t need to forward any mail!” I call out when I go inside.


I go up to my new room, ready to become India.
__


It is Monday, and I am somebody else. I have gone shopping and thrown out all of my old clothes to celebrate my rebirth. I am still debating whether or not I should get my haircut, but for now, this is a big enough change. During the weekend, I spent my time deciding who exactly India is, for this would determine who I will be.
India is in her twenties, and goes to college here at the Memphis College of Art, which is why she left California. She is majoring in Painting and minoring in Film Making; she wants to make animated movies for a living. She listens to obscure folk bands from Seattle and never wears makeup, giving her natural beauty the power to attract anyone and everyone. She has many friends, and they are all very different. Some are for when she is feeling sad and lonely, while others are for when she wants to party. India is, most of all, an individual, and stands out in any crowd.
At school, I am told to introduce myself in all of my classes. I do my best to seem nonchalant as I say, “I’m Marley, but I wasn’t named after Bob Marley. I used to live in Kansas, but I don’t have a dog named Toto, or a farm, or an Auntie named Em. And I’ve never seen a tornado. I’m blonde, but I’m not dumb. Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you.”
I feel cheesy, but everyone welcomes me and introduces themselves. By the end of the day, I have made plans to go see the newest romantic comedy with three girls in my math class.

When I go home, I cry into my pillow, mourning who I once was, and will never be again. I regret becoming India, and miss thinking for myself. But now there is no going back. It is too late, and I will have to think twice before saying anything, making sure I remember to be someone else.





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