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A House Is Not A Home
The girl’s pounding footsteps rang throughout the quiet streets, her breaths becoming quicker and faster as she ran. Her two braids flew out behind her, one of the pink ribbons securing them threatening to come undone. The lace on her left shoe had unraveled, and a small hole in the knee of her polka-dotted tights had slowly developed to the size of a gumball. But the girl paid these things no notice as she turned the next corner and peered ahead, squinting against the whirling wind at the building before her. As she blinked several times, the familiar metal-plated words over the entrance came into view: Franklin County Library. Relieved, she jogged forward and pulled as hard as she could on the door handle, her dress billowing as a gust of warm air blew out from the open door.
Instantly, as her feet crossed the threshold, the girl exhaled a contented sigh and let the toasty air envelop her. Glancing up, she spotted the usual librarian behind the front desk, smiling knowingly down at her, and she returned the smile shyly. Without hesitation, she headed over to her favorite spot: the corner by the window, with all her favorite books and squashy beanbag chairs to curl up on while she read them. She ran her fingertips lightly across the spines of the books as she scanned the shelves, searching for one she hadn’t read before. Finally she pulled a picture book out and settled down on one of the beanbag chairs, getting comfortable before she carefully opened to the first page.
In the first page, she was introduced to the main character, Maizy Wilson, and her family. Maizy, her mother, her father, and her brother (in stick figure form) all smiled brightly up at her from the page. As the girl read on, she learned about how Maizy’s parents never fought, how Maizy and her brother got along and loved each other more than anything, how Maizy was always in the company of her plethora of friends. The girl’s eyebrows drew together, and her eyes wandered off the page as she gazed out the window, lost in thought. As she watched the leaves flutter down from trees and the cars roll by, she wondered.
Wondered what happened when Maizy’s mother and father yelled at each other behind closed doors when they thought Maizy was asleep. Wondered how Maizy reacted when her older brother kicked her on his way out the door to hang out with his third-grader friends. Wondered why it never mentioned Maizy sitting alone on the playground while the other girls stood a safe distance away, laughing at her and moving away every time she came close. What, exactly, was hiding behind those empty, crayoned-in smiles of the Wilsons? What happened in picture-book land when the crudely drawn sun wasn’t shining?
Closing her eyes tightly, the girl took a shuddering breath, trying to escape, if only for a little while. After a moment, though, she opened them reluctantly, unable to shut out the inevitable sight of the wall clock, its hands nearing four o’clock. Biting her tongue, she stood and began the long walk to the front door. It was agonizing for every footstep to take her closer to the last place she wanted to go.
Pushing against the door until it opened, she cringed at the sudden breeze and drew her sweater tighter around her goosebump-ridden limbs. Before long, she could glimpse the dreaded outline of the red, one-story house down the road, and she felt a heavy weight somewhere inside her as she imagined what she might have to face inside. Although technically it was the house she lived in, it was the farthest place from a home as could be.
As quietly as she possibly could, the girl snuck inside the front door, which was already slightly ajar. She slipped off her shoes and placed them gently beside the ragged WELCOME mat. She’d come to think of that mat as something of a cruel joke, as nothing about her house was welcoming, and never would be.
Turning around, the girl realized with sudden unease that her mother was in the room, slouching on the couch with her eyes unwavering from the TV screen. The light from the staticky television cast flickering shadows on the darkened walls. The girl’s hopes of creeping upstairs unnoticed were dashed as she let out a small hiccup and her mother shifted on the sofa, blinking from the sudden absence of light. “Oh..it’s you,” she said dismissively, focusing her attention back on MTV. “If you see your dad, tell him he needs to check the phone messages. There’s some utility bill warning or something.”
Without reply, the girl made for the stairs and headed for her room. As she flipped the light switch, she noticed with annoyance that the overhead bulb was flickering, and she realized the reason for this and the overly staticky television screen was likely a warning from the power company. With a sigh, she closed the bedroom door and dragged her backpack out of the corner and dug around for her math homework. As she pulled out the folder, a crumpled piece of paper tumbled onto the hardwood floor. Carefully, she smoothed out the creases and studied her drawing, remembering the confusion it had caused earlier that day.
Ms. Jacobson, the girl’s first grade teacher, had passed out crayons and paper for their daily art project. “Today,” she began cheerfully as she stood in front of the class, “I want you to draw what your home looks like. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And just remember,” she added, with a pointed look at a boy named Robbie, “crayons are NOT for eating. All right? OK, go ahead!”
The girl, like the rest of her classmates, began scribbling away without hesitation. It was only when Ms. Jacobson came around to admire their artwork that the girl realized her drawing was not like the others. “Let’s see your drawing, sweetie,” the teacher said warmly, picking up the girl’s paper. Taking a second glance, she frowned at it, biting her lip. For a moment, she looked as though she was about to say something, but instead she closed her mouth, gave the drawing back, and moved onto the next student.
The girl, noticing this, studied the paper and tried to see what was wrong with it. Other than the R at the top of the page being backwards and the lines slightly crooked, she could see no obvious flaws. Then, looking around the table at the others’ drawings, she realized where hers differed from the rest. The majority of the class had drawn neat, box-shaped houses with thin blue skies at the top and flowers crowding the lawn. She, on the other hand, had sketched herself smiling, surrounded by shelves and piles of books, the words “Franklin County Library” written across the top.
And along the bottom she’d scrawled the words: MY HOME.