FLICKER | Teen Ink

FLICKER

January 10, 2011
By Anonymous

…1… Breathe…breathe. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale…Hold on, keep holding on. Not until I glanced down did I notice I was white-knuckling a handful of my dress. It felt like I was huffing paint--a raging side-effect to the nausea building in my gut. Was I dreaming just now or had I seriously fainted? Wait, I remembered that part now. Fainting. It’s like--each time I inhaled, the chill of the air seemed to sting like lemon juice on a wound. Little by little as I loosened my grip on the lacy hem then peeled myself from the bedroom floor, I crawled over to the nearest window and yanked back the shades. One quick push and the window flung open as I doubled over the sill and let loose this morning’s breakfast all over my mother’s flowerbed. She’d probably kill me for that later. She loved those exotic tulips, had even devoted four years of her life to growing them. With the back of my hand, I dabbed the remaining dribble from on my lips and propped myself back up. Barely even noon and I was already falling apart. I was usually so good at handling these attacks but for some reason, today, I was clearly off my game. A spot of blood blistered in my nose then trickled down one drop at a time. The red looked horrible on white and Daddy had paid more than enough for this frilly ensemble despite my protests. I hadn’t hoped for a big fuss to be made anyway. Mom was ecstatic though, despite her pointless efforts. Her second born was “woman” enough to marry: her words not mine. See my philosophy was why waste time sifting through hordes and hordes of bridal shops in search of the perfect dress when the bride hadn’t even agreed to the damn wedding? In the distance, the noon siren bellowed from the firehouse, the shrill sound delivering an ugly reality check and souring my mood even more. In ten minutes, they’d be calling me down. They’ll be expecting me to come running with a smile on my face like a tail-wagging dog and for them, I’ll fake it. For them, I’ll even sit up and beg maybe even roll over but mostly I’ll just beg and hope for some cosmic catastrophe to end it all. A pale, blue sky cradled the sun at high noon, casting rays over the palms. It was a Floridian fall and the air was a cool seventy-five degree breeze. That was good for Florida. It was never less than ninety here and I loved the occasional cold front. The usual smells of sunscreen and dried seaweed swirled in the air. Pelicans rode the currents overhead and searched the busy beach with keen eyes. Broken seashells and cigarette butts, drift wood and beer cans littered the sand. I took in every detail through a mask of melting mascara while scrubbing the moisture from my eyes. Spells like this are reminiscent of a hangover. All the usual symptoms are there. My head felt ten pounds heavier than before and there was a sour aftertaste in the back of my throat. I spun away and an edge of the nightstand caught me when I stumbled. For the first time, I spotted myself in the mirror and lifted my chin, garbling the metallic tang on my tongue. I needed to pull myself together before my mother could see. She’d freak over a paper cut. To see this now would probably send her into a maternal frenzy. A handful of Q-tips plugged the dripping red mess as I held my head back and tried breathing through my mouth. I inhaled again and held the gasp. Sucking in my gut was all this corset needed to keep everything in place. I could feel my ribs cracking under the pressure. Mom always preached posture and taught me well. If I could straighten my spine, I’d be able to pull this off effortlessly, nevermind the constipated smile. Despite all of this, I needed to maintain a clear head today. I’d need to prepare my theatrical smile for the spectators, nothing short of an Oscar Winning Performance. Tears welled in my eyes, disguising my façade. I blinked them back, refusing to cry but slowly, my willpower was bending, threatening to break. After wasting an hour and fifteen minutes in the shower, trying to regain my composure, I stood behind a mirrored dressing screen. The angled reflections showed every fold and movement of the dress as I twirled. The soft white silk draped off my shoulders in lacy sleeves, dipping at the neckline, sweeping my thighs. I looked like one of those twig models sashaying around an Abercrombie & Finch ad, the kind that carried the little poodles in their purses and bought hundred dollar aviator sunglasses. My friends and I used to make fun of them, filling in our own dialogue. They would probably mock me now, that is, if they could even recognize me behind the swinging veil. I palmed a diamond necklace encrusted with only the most expensive carats. As I pulled it around my neck, I played with the tiny clasp. The serrated crystal looked opaque against my skin. I pinched the pendant in my fingers, stepping back to twirl. The silk dress lifted with momentum, settling around my petite frame with a weightless effect. I almost looked the part of a trophy daughter, but something in my eyes betrayed that role. I glared at the girl in the mirror, sifting my fingers through my ruffled red tresses. My attention broke to the windows. A series of headlights shone through the sheer curtains, announcing the arrival of guests. I could hear several voices overlapping with squeaks and squeals while flooding the halls of the mansion. To me, this place was a mausoleum. My father had bought it “wholesale” as a foreclosure five years back after fleeing Romania. That’s just one of the stories I’d heard about him, though the rumors around town were different. I could believe most of them though. My father’s business dealings were anything but secret. There was no doubting how many kneecaps had been broken to get him where he was and how we were always forced to tag along after he’d f-ed with the wrong people. I cursed under my breath, stealing a glance at the stilettos beneath me. They scared me a bit. I felt like a zombie in a bad horror movie, stumbling around and bumping into furniture. They brought out too much softness in me. I’d much rather be sporting my Chuck Taylors today. I’d much rather be clad in my best cargos with my hair twisted back into a ponytail, rollerblading down the boardwalk, waving sparklers by nightfall… There were so many what-ifs, so many other things I could be doing right now. On the bright side, stilettos could actually be a good thing for once. A broken ankle might actually excuse me from this. Right now, I’d gladly welcome the pain if only to escape the unnecessary pomp and circumstance waiting for me downstairs. I tried to push the ugly thoughts aside and began to tug at the dress. I never signed up for this. I had the right mind to climb out the window. If I hurried back to the limo, no one would ever be able to catch me. I could just ride off into the sunset and never have to look back. I could abandon this whole charade, dress and all. My father would never even see it coming. Seriously…in other cultures arranged marriages were expected, tolerable even. Not here in the 21st century, not when you’re barely even eighteen and your parents are practically thrusting you down the aisle at breakneck speed to marry a guy you’ve only known for four months. Someone squawked my name from the living room, at the bottom of the stairs. From the shrill cadence and the subtle squeak of the voice, I could tell it was Mom. She was growing impatient with me now. I had been up here for more than an hour, hoping that they would forget about me and just leave for the church. Clicking heels stomped their way up the hardwood steps. In another five seconds, there would be banging on my bedroom door and screaming from the other side. Or maybe the doorframe would just burst open with so much maternal adrenaline that it’ll tear right off the hinges and go flying, perhaps knocking someone out in the process. I was hoping for the second. I was praying for some kind of injury, hoping for the nearest chance to throw myself from the third story window. Even slit wrists almost sounded appealing now. Though red didn’t mix quite well with a white wedding dress, I was seriously contemplating some kind of self-inflicted warfare to get out of this. The angry clicking of stiletto heels made their way down the hall. I could almost feel the vibrations, beating through the floor. My bedroom walls shook. I was tempted to take cover, reciting the countdown through my thoughts. …five…four…three…two… “What’s taking you so long, Cassidy?!” My mother screamed through the door and wiggled the knob, maybe even pissed to find that it was locked and barricaded. I smiled to myself and crossed my arms over my chest, staring at the shaking doorframe. IFacing that old wooden door, I turned away, choosing to strategize. If I stood there long enough ignoring her, she’d probably break her hand trying to get inside and I wasn’t sure how well that would go over. My mother usually freaked at the sight of blood. Interestingly enough, I couldn’t help thinking how perfect a diversion like that would work for me. With her screaming at the sight of her mangled fingers, it’d be too easy for me to shuffle out through the door behind her. “Cassidy!” She pounded again. “Open the door now!” Mom yelled, then banged, until I couldn’t stand it anymore. My mother’s voice was unlike anyone else’s. Imagine the shrill shriek of talons sliding down a chalkboard. That would be the only way to explain the effect her voice had over me. “Alright Mother, jeez, I hear you.” I hauled off to the door. Anxiety seeped through my nerves. The sensation prickled through my fingers as they curled around the metal doorknob. Mom’s hand was still in a fist when I opened the door and an apple sized diamond gleamed on her ring finger. She looked at me and quickly dropped it as though the diamond weighed too much for her bony wrist to handle. The sight of her was blinding, so much so that I had to force myself to look at her. The bile from my churning stomach rose into my gut, and the acid burned my throat. She wore an ivory dress with an embroidered V-shaped front that showed off way too much cleavage for a woman her age. But it suited her, I guessed. Mom had never looked her age for some reason. In high school, most of my friends had mistaken her for my sister. Nothing sucks worse than playing second fiddle to a woman who’s in her forties, especially if that woman’s your mother. “Oh Cassidy…” her voice cracked and trailed off, and I could see her dark eyes, in obvious contrast to mine, welling up with tears. My tears were for other reasons. Mom lifted her hands, reaching her bony fingers for mine. My insides churned. As soon as I felt the heat of her skin so close to mine, my hand snatched away as if on instinct. “Please, don’t shut me down.” Her tone was unrelenting. With arms folded, I took my stand, fixing her with a defiant glare. “I can’t go down there.” My voice sounded much weaker aloud than it had in my head. I wanted to play the brat in this instance. Sadly, I’d never been any good at getting my way no matter how much I pouted. “Cassidy--” “Don’t start, Mom, please…I’m already attempting to make it through this day with a smile. Don’t tempt me to do the opposite.” “I know you’re upset.” “You don’t know anything,” I retorted. “If you did, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” “Baby…” The second I wasn’t looking, she took me off guard, cupping my face in her fingers, coddling me with a smile. “Come on. Listen to me,” she whispered. “Listen to me good. None of this was concocted to ruin your life. You know it’s not often that Garrett and I agree but in this case, I can’t help but be on his side.” “You and Daddy picked a really bad time to make nice,” I laughed, though I was far from a humorous mood. “I thought divorce was supposed to make you two bitter enemies.” As I slumped into the dresser stool, I picked at the hem of my lace veil, straightening the knots, plucking loose threads, then throwing Mom a scolding stare over my shoulder. “You don’t have much time now, Cassie. I had to do what’s best for you.” Those words--though vague--quickly made sense. “Oh, so that’s what this is about.” “Well, yes,” she hedged. “I’m worried about you.” “I get him being superstitious,” I scolded. “But since when are you so gullible? Dad has been telling those stupid stories for years. When we were kids, you used to tell us that they were just scary stories. Now suddenly they make sense? What’d I miss while you two were negotiating behind my back?” “I told you those lies to protect you,” she retorted, strengthening the conviction in her wan voice. “No eight year old needed to be listening to those stories. I was hoping that I had more time with you. You think I wanted to push you into this wedding?” I whirled, tucking loose hair behind my ears. “I don’t know--did you?” “Of course not, Cassidy. I wanted more for you than a forced marriage. I wanted a normal life for you. I wanted you to go off to college and meet and marry a boy you actually do love. I wanted grandkids and birthdays, dance recitals and little league games. I wanted the world for you, baby,” She blubbered. “You have to believe that. When Garrett first brought of the mention of marrying you off to the Thornton boy, I knew you wouldn’t have agreed. But he was so adamant that this was the only way to protect you. You have no idea how hard I tried to convince him to change his mind.” “Since when don’t my feelings matter?” I exploded without even considering my words. “This wedding is a joke and you know it.” My voice cracked a little, chilled by the mention of my father and this wedding. “Has anyone even bothered to ask why he’s so hell-bent on marrying me off all of a sudden? If it’s another gambling debt, I’m sure he can pay it off. Why use me as bait?” “Cassie--” “Who did Daddy piss off this time?!” Mom’s face went blank. I tried to infiltrate her mind. She shut me out before I’d even had the chance. I sensed it as intentional and quickly withdrew the wasted effort. “So it’s gonna be like that, huh?” I gathered the loose fabric of my dress into my arms and stalked back over to the mirror. Mom was alert, parking herself behind me with her bony fingers locked round my shoulders. “I’m so sorry, baby.” Regardless of my tormented hormones, I knew that I couldn’t blame my mother. She’d tried. She moved me and my sisters halfway across the country to protect us, to keep us safe from the “sickness.” My father had a lot of nerve smacking me with this ultimatum and then expecting me to bow at his will like one of his hired goons. I was his daughter. Did he really have any right to trade me off like some used car? Of course, my father always got what he wanted and mom knew that. Otherwise, she would’ve put up much more of a fight when he first proposed the idea of this marriage. For the good of the family…his words replayed through my thoughts, reverberating like the tolls of a church bell. His voice was all I ever heard these days. It was always one threat after another with him. Guess he never learned how to shut up. We should’ve moved to another country altogether, maybe to some desolate little island to escape his reach, to protect me from this, to protect me from it all. This wedding has to happen for all of us. Mom’s words tore through my skull, anchoring me back into reality with a crashing thud. Our brainwaves collided. I shut my eyes, trying to block the siege. She was in my thoughts again, rummaging around without permission. I concentrated on shutting her out. Over the years, she’d gotten better at cracking my mental barricades. I could never keep my thoughts sheltered from her or from Dad. My sisters and brother were much better at numbing the connection. From the time we were children, Mom was always certain that she could hear us, even from the womb, she was convinced that we’d spoken to her and that she could speak back. No one ever questioned it. No one ever explained it. It’s just how it’d always been. Our own little family secret. That, amongst everything else our family hid from the world. My head swelled with unpleasant feelings. My body swayed a little, overcome with a tingling sensation. I gripped my forehead, whimpering in pain. This wedding has to happen for all of our sakes. “And if I refuse?” I replied, determined not to answer through telepathy. “What happens then? Are you gonna drag me to the church?” She retreated suddenly, pulling back into her own mind and leaving behind traces of her presence in mine. I took a deep breath, relieving the pressure, neglecting the remnants of her trilling voice as she leaned in, took my hands and brushed loose strands straying from my chignon into the comb of my veil. “Please, on today of all days, just promise me you’ll behave.” My glare softened; it was never easy to stay mad at her. “I guess I can’t really blame you for any of this, can I? Dad had been predicting it for years. Mostly he’s just been a lot of hot air. I guess…I wish that just for once, he could’ve been wrong.” I stepped away for a moment, reaching into the crack of my unzipped purse and pulling out a single envelope. “I got this in the mail three months ago.” Mom took the letter between her acrylic nails, examining the fine print and the official signet outlining the fancy font on the back. She seemed hesitant to proceed, as though going any further would trigger something unwanted. “It’s an acceptance letter,” I finally said. “To Cambridge University. Your alumni, remember? I was actually giving some second thought to joining that sorority you bragged about so much. Kappa Pi Theta, right?” “I had no idea you even applied,” she gasped. “I can’t believe you actually got accepted to a real college.” “Well don’t sound so surprised. Straight D’s in high school doesn’t necessarily disqualify me for a future. I dipped into my trust fund and paid the dormitory fee two months ago. Tuition’s been paid for the next semester. The only thing left to do is pack…with your blessing.” A touch of outrage deformed her features, twisting her mouth into an immediate frown. “You were just going to sneak off to college and not tell anyone?” “I wanted it to be a surprise. I was hoping to spring the news on all of you when the time was right. But since Daddy decided to steal the golden moment for himself with the announcement of this stupid wedding, I figured that me getting accepted to one of the best colleges in the Midwest would pale in comparison. And now instead of stressing over midterms and pulling all-nighters in the campus library like every other college freshman, I’ll be playing house wife to some guy I barely even know. Sounds like fun, huh?” “Cassidy--” I opened my mouth to interrupt but shutdown. A strange sickness rushed through my system in a flash, making me weak in the knees, sending vibes of electricity up and down my stomach in a gush of acid. Knots tangled in my throat, and I swallowed them with a gulp. Unraveling in my stomach, they settled then curdled, forcing a reaction from my aching limbs. I wrung my fingers together between my thighs, trying to conceal a tremble. “Cassidy?” Mom squeaked, concern rippling the gloom in her eyes. “Baby, are you okay?” I nodded, unable to permit a verbal reply. “Cassidy?” My bones cracked. I felt the painful snaps, one by one. Weakness shot through my frame, threatening my balance. For a moment, I expected my legs to give out and reached fervently for the edge of the nightstand, hoping to break my fall just in case I did finally collapse. “Cassidy? Cassidy! Talk to me!” She reached out. I snatched back, then away. “Don’t!” “Cassidy--” “Mom, don’t…touch me!” The sickness prickled through my hands and turned cold and uncomfortable. An ugly chill coursed through my frame, forcing a shiver down my spine. The fine hairs on my arm stood upright, anticipating a charge. My spinal cord cracked, the friction spreading and inspiring a spasm in my knuckles. Out from her bodice, dangled a silvery white crystal necklace between her fingers. She withdrew her hand quickly, clutching the chain in her fist. The tiny links looked fragile and worn as though it had existed for several hundred generations. A crystal orb dangled like a tear drop, appearing to glow beneath the bright lights between her fingers. “You’ll need to put this on.” I glimpsed the orb and let out a wheezed sigh. “What is it?” “A jewel,” she replied, “It’ll kill the pain.” She slipped the necklace around my neck and helped me to my feet. Almost instantly, the warmness died down. The burning in my joints tapered off and I felt much better. I let the ugly sensation pass, inhaling a deep breath just as I’d caught my footing and stood before the mirror. “Are you okay now?” She asked. I nodded. “What is this thing?” “It’s a Peridot.” She replied. “It’s been in our family since the eighteenth century. Back then, it was used to tame the mutation, to keep the sickness inside. Nana Carrington knew you’d need it. She had been keeping track of the spasms and the sicknesses for quite a while now. She knew this day would come and urged me to prepare the necklace.” “Hmm, I should’ve known that this was no ordinary wedding gift.” I scoffed. “So, Nana Carrington had another one of her crazy psychic visions and convinced you that I was on the brink of humanity, huh?” “Lose the sarcasm, Cassidy,” Mom scolded, “You know that none of that woman’s visions have ever been wrong.” Nana Carrington had been spouting chaos theories for years. I’m guessing that’s where my father inherited his own onset senility. My family was a clan of age old seers, senile witch doctors and arrogant telepathists. All-in-all, everyone was born with some mutation they didn’t want. “Which category does this one fall into, mom? Something old, something new, something borrowed, or something blue?” I snatched away the frail chain and shoved it back into her startled hands. “Thanks but no thanks. Just keep your tragic gems to yourself. I don’t want it no matter how many carats it is.” “Cassidy, you’re transitioning much faster than I expected. That rush of nausea was only the beginning. It’s a symptom. You should be paying more attention to it. You should be taking better care of yourself, especially now.” “It was just a stomachache, Mother.” She reproached my response, scolding me in thought. “You’re already showing early symptoms, Cassidy.” Her voice cracked with the words. “Please, take this seriously for once. Just wear the necklace. It’d make me feel so much better if you just do this much…for me?” She gazed at me, blinking back tears then triggering something I hadn’t expected to feel. It was the crushing fist of guilt seizing my conscience. Obviously, she was good at guilt trips and had won this battle without even trying. “Fine.” I gritted my teeth. “I’ll wear your stupid little necklace.” Reaching for the tiny amulet, I ran my fingers over the jewel’s smooth surface and slipped it on. For her, I’d wear this gaudy necklace. For her, I’d even pretend to be okay with this whole charade and smile big for the spectators. For my mother, I would’ve done almost anything. But accepting those perverse fairytales as true was the last thing I wanted to do. “Thank you.” “Can you just go now?” I whined, my eyes burning with the threat of tears. “I have to finish getting ready.” Her fingers pinched at the sun kissed skin of her neck then trailed down, entangling themselves around the white gold rope of her diamond necklace. “If it’s any consolation, you look very beautiful,” she whispered with a smile, the syllables broken against a breath of tears. She glanced at me and I saw the tears begin to glisten in her eyes. My mother never cried. At least not in front of me, she didn’t. Her marriage to my father caused her to grow hardened over the years. She’d been so close to all of his morbid antics for so long that eventually, nothing he did surprised her anymore. Hearing me scold her like this for something that wasn’t even her fault…hurt. My heart shattered fully, then. I’d hurt her, not my father, not my brother, but me. Her irresponsible, screw-up of a daughter. Me. Despite that, none of it gave license to this wedding. Even if not at her, I was still pretty pissed off. I still had a few more mean words to scrape off my conscience. I refused to let her see the crack in my armor. My shield had to remain impenetrable if I was going to get through this. …Careful Mom, you wouldn’t want to ruin your make-up… I wondered if she’d heard that and peeked over my shoulder to see if she’d turn around to scold me for the snotty remark. But instead, she kept walking, wringing her hands into little fists, clacking the heels of her pumps across the marble floor and out of the room. I felt as though I’d just been punched in the gut. My heart broke a little bit more. That woman did everything in her power to protect me, to steal me away and show me a little taste of normalcy. And now for the first time, she was being forced to let go. Her little girl had grown up. I traded my curly blonde Q’s for henna braids. I traded my frilly little dresses, my dusted glitter sandals and my plastic barrettes for the La Bella Vita tattoo printed on my pelvis. I even traded my bubble-gum lip gloss for strawberry lip balm. I outgrew all those silly little things that eight-year-olds do. This wedding definitely wasn’t the coming-of-age kick in the ass that I needed. My eighteenth birthday was only a day away, following this extravagant charade of pomp and circumstance. Before I was even nineteen, I’d be married. Before twenty, I pictured a divorce. Before thirty, I expected to be dead.



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tanaya BRONZE said...
on Feb. 10 2011 at 6:07 pm
tanaya BRONZE, Edison, New Jersey
4 articles 0 photos 21 comments
This is really good!


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