Short Story Contest entry: Unsung Ballad

Today I am sixteen, and a murderer.

“Name?” Bored, relaxed eyelids turn up to see me. The lady in her mid-fifties gently runs a fingernail along her scalp, tucking a tendril of hair back into place.

“Ivy,” I whisper.

She just stares at me, expectantly.

“Oh, ah, Ivy Killian.”

Her hands hover over the keyboard, dropping fingers like bombs to make each key clack, clack, clack.

“Have a seat.” She points to a chair. “Next?”

I sit in the closest chair to the door. The fabric is woven in shades of aqua and brown. It makes me think of the ocean. I wish I was at the ocean. Under the water, where my ears are filled with roughly salted water, the shoosh of waves deafening me to the orca’s song miles away.

The lady next to me picks up a magazine from the seat between us and it crinkles. Who wants to read Fisherman’s Life here? I try not to move my head, only my eyes, to see the full waiting room around me. The back of my knees sweat. Even though it’s pleasant in here, it’s like my body has a faulty thermostat. The air in here is nothing like it is on the other side of the tinted windows.

“Ivy?” She smiles. A young brunette with a file crooked in her elbow gestures for me to follow her. I do.

I can’t tell if the corridors are narrow or I am getting more claustrophobic by the second. My vision fades in and out. I do not want to be here. I have no choice. I almost giggle to myself. Having all the choices I want still makes me feel like I have none.

I walk into the tiny room, my sneakers squeak as I round the corner. The young woman slides the door closed with a click.

“You understand what I’ve told you, right?”

Oh crap. Was she speaking to me all this time?

“Sure,” I answer. I don’t. I don’t understand any of this. I don’t want to be here, but I don’t want to be at home, either. Nowhere is safe for me now. Hopelessness feels like a burlap sack being shoved over my head and tied around the neck. Tighter… tighter…

“Put this on, and I’ll be right back.” She smiles genuinely as she hands me a light blue folded paper square the size of my math binder. She turns to leave, and stops, like she has something to say, shakes her head and leaves.

I wait for the click of the door before taking off my soft purple shirt with the fabric ruffle at my shoulders. I toe off one shoe at a time, and then stack them in the chair with my shirt and underwear, and jeans. I shake out the square until it resembles a paper gown and imagine myself as Cinderella in her light blue dress as I put it on. Where is my fairy godmother when I need her? I’ve never done this before. My mother is a natural at it.

I sit on the paper covered table. Crunch, crunch, I wrinkle the paper. Two women come into my tiny room at the same time as they knock. I don’t even have time to say, “Come in.” Or stay out. I smile to myself. Nothing to be nervous about my mother told me at breakfast this morning. My father doesn’t speak. I don’t want him to. I kind of hate him right now.

The ladies chatter on to each other, it’s like they know I have no desire to talk to them. One pushes my chest backward until I am laying down. While she puts a hairnet on me, the other one holds my hand.

“Ouch,” I say.

“Oh sorry. I’m new at this.” She pushes the needle into my hand and threads the plastic into my vein, then tapes it up like a pretty birthday package. She’s done. She starts to look at me with sympathy, but I glare at her. It’s the same look I gave my mother right after she dropped me off.

“I’m going to the department store, Ivy. I’ll be back in an hour to pick you up. You’ll be fine, right?” She had leaned over to see me through the window of the door I slammed.

“Sure.” I surprised myself by answering at all.

The strange woman turns away from my stare and looks at the syringes lined up on the table. She chooses one with the kind of care you take when opening a box of Russel Stover’s at Christmas. She plugs it into the tube that is an extension of my vein, and squeezes.
The liquid is cold. The air is cold, and sharp. I am cold under this light blue paper grocery sack. I hope they let me keep on my unicorn socks. I want to leave on my socks. I try to tell this to the women, but my tongue won’t move. It lies in my mouth like a dead, dry fish. No flopping. I swallow just to make sure I can.

I am rolling now. The lights pass overhead shining on my feet and traveling up my body as we go down the hall. One light, two lights, three lights, four lights, double doors. No windows.

This room is frigid. I tremble, but I don’t know if it’s from the cold, or how I feel as the darkness begins to overtake me. I am in space, cold space, flying past big bright lights that play outside my closed eyelids. A muffled voice greets me. I can’t hear it. It speaks again. Male. Soft and gentle, but male. I feel a twinge of panic, but it flows away as cold ocean waves wash over me.

They move my body. I am still conscious. Why am I awake? I don’t want to be awake for this. I don’t want to be here. I try to tell them that it isn’t working, but my face won’t move, my eyes won’t open, my mouth is taped shut. I feel the tube in my throat. I want to gag, but I don’t. A cold tear streaks down my cheek and into my ear. I pretend I am flying. I don’t care where I go, anywhere but here. I fly someplace warm. A sunny afternoon, a safe place, fire crackles, I can hear silverware tinkle as knives clink together being set for dinner, a warm blanket. I am enveloped in a warm bed. Hot tea with honey that lingers on my tongue, burns my lips. My book is cast aside, I smell burning. Must be the candles. Warm hands on my body, caressing, turn suddenly cold.

I am brought back to this nightmare by the scraping. I feel it, hear it. Soft tissue, never marred, is mercilessly cut and scraped until the blood runs hot from my body. It hurts. It hurts like swallowing a ball of barbed wire the size of my volleyball. From my throat, through my stomach, all through me, like I sat on an ice pick, the pain cycles through me. The cycle runs until I can take no more and then I let the blackness of space, and the atmosphere, void of air, take over me.

I wake in warm, downy blankets. Everyone is smiling. Men and women come to my bedside and check the machines that beep around me. I feel sick. They take the tubes out.

“Are you okay?” The kindness of a grandmother lights this woman’s face. Though I can’t speak, I smile at her. I clear my throat.

“That soreness will go away in time,” she says. I don’t think it will. Actually, I’m sure it won’t.

“Thank you,” my gravelly voice rasps.

“Of course, sweetheart.” She pats my hand and it feels warm and soft. I want to stay here with her.

They dress me in my clothes and I wonder what is happening. A wheel chair big enough for two of me is pushed up against my bed. There are tiny pebbles stuck in the grooves of its wheels. I’m not ready to go yet. It’s too soon. I didn’t want to be here, but I still don’t want to go home. I want to flip the silver lever that brakes the wheels, but I don’t.

I am wheeled to the door opening to the frigid air outside. I see my mother’s car, I see my breath billow clouds of steam, I see the dull sun shining in the winter sky. I’m not ready.

A man comes to my side, his voice vaguely familiar. “Are you ready?”


I nod.

“Congratulations,” he says. I can’t stop looking at the small spot of blood on his white coat. Is it mine?

He clears his throat and says words I never want to hear again.

“You are no longer pregnant, Ivy.”

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