When I am frightened, I go to the corner of the room by the floor lamp and chew my thumbnail. The movement of my teeth eases the danger; I know that no one will dare to hurt me when they see how fierce I am. Some of my teeth are missing, though. My brother Roger says they’ll grow back, but Uncle says he’s full of lies, so I’ve learned to chew on the left side. At least the tooth fairy brings me money. Maybe when I’m older I can buy fake teeth like Granny Alma has.
When I eat chocolate on the way up the chairlift, the taste of wet mitten floods my mouth. It’s sour and a little bit tangy, like when I get sick to my stomach. My feet dangle in the empty air, the skis tugging at them, and sometimes I feel like they’ll grow heavier and heavier until their weight pulls me down. I wonder if the fall would hurt. From so high up, I can never tell whether the snow is fluffy or covered in a sheet of ice.
When Grandpa calls on the phone late at night, my daddy answers first. They talk about boring things like taxes, and sometimes Daddy uses words that Mommy tells Roger not to say or he’ll get his mouth washed out with soap. I hope he doesn’t say them. Soap stays slimy on my teeth for a long time and I always swallow some bubbles even though I try my best to spit it out.
When I wake up in the middle of the night and hear shouting downstairs, I wait for Roger to come into my room. I count while I wait, and usually make it to one hundred. A few minutes later, our big sister, Noelle, always comes and knocks on the door. She tells us to lock it tight and scream if anyone tries to open it before morning. Roger and I snuggle under the covers and tell each other stories about princesses and knights in shining armor. I like listening best, but Roger says I talk real pretty for a girl.
When the bell rings for lunchtime at school, I don’t sit with the other girls. Instead, I go find Noelle in her classroom. She’s lots older, and goes to the big school next to mine – the one that’s filled with loud boys and girls in the kind of skirts that Mommy won’t let us wear. Noelle’s teacher never minds that I sit on the floor, and her friends always pretend I’m not there. Noelle says they don’t understand because their families aren’t like ours. I don’t think Noelle likes our family much, but I think it’s better than theirs must be. Their mommies let them wear those silly skirts to school.
When I don’t know the right answer in school, someone usually calls me a mean name. I ask for a bathroom pass, and then I go to Roger’s classroom, where Ms. Henderson tells me I’m in trouble for leaving my class without permission. Roger will say politely that I’m little and get scared in school, making his brown eyes go wide like a puppy’s. The first time he said that, I tried to tell him that it wasn’t true, but he looked at me with a face that told me to be quiet. Ms. Henderson always lets him hug me quickly before sending me back to class. I don’t know how he does it, but when he lets go, there’s always a new lollipop in my pocket. I suck on it on the way back to Miss Delaney’s room, and when I get there, she tells me to throw it away.
When Mommy cuts my nails, sometimes she cuts my fingers by accident. Then Noelle comes into the bathroom and makes her leave, saying that there’s coffee on the stove and that next time she’ll do a better job hiding the nail clippers. She finishes cutting my nails, puts Band-Aids on my fingertips, and tells me to say that I bit my nails too close if anybody asks. She says that they might take Mommy away if I tell the truth, and I don’t understand why. I do a lot of things by accident, but Noelle says that grownups can’t make mistakes like that. I hope somebody teaches me how to not hurt somebody’s fingers. Whoever taught Mommy must not have taught her very good.
When I break something like a plate or a lamp, Roger always hides the pieces and doesn’t tell me where they are. After that, he goes around the house and cleans it top to bottom. He’s very quiet when Daddy comes home, and then when Daddy notices that something’s missing, Roger says he broke it. He always sits funny the next day, making faces like I do when I scrape my knee, and he won’t tell me why he said it was his fault. I guess Uncle is right that he lies.
When I wake up in the morning I’m supposed to dress myself, but sometimes I can’t remember which way to put on my shirt, so I go to Noelle’s room, where Mommy says I shouldn’t go. Noelle puts on my shirt for me and lets me watch while she puts colored powder on her eyelids. Sometimes there are funny dark splotches on her face from where she hurt herself falling down the stairs, and she spends a long time putting powder on those, too. When she’s done, I can’t see the splotches anymore. I ask her why she falls so much, and she tells me that it happens sometimes when you’re older and lose your balance more easily. She says that Roger and I have good balance, and that’s why we don’t fall. Roger says that he wants to lose his – that it seems like a rite of a passage – but I hope I don’t lose mine because then I’d have to put powder on my face in the mornings, and I don’t have a little sister to come and watch me.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.