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stranger to the world

stranger to the world



There once lived a girl who no one listened to, and no one ever spoke to her, if they could help it.

From the time she was 10 years old, not a single human talked to her. Her mother sometimes opened her mouth, as though she was going to say something, but then she would shake her head a little, close her mouth, and glance away.
She was forgotten. Soon people stopped looking at her. And she was alone. She was a shadow, moving about with unprecedented ease. She could stay away from home all night, and her mother wouldn’t say a thing. And yet the girl loved. She loved so hard, and so deeply, that she gave everything inside her. If you watched her, you would be able to tell how much she loved, and how deeply it pained her to be forgotten.
She would raise her hand in class, and the teacher would ignore her. She tried talking without permission, but the teacher would just talk louder. She tried screaming, but the teacher merely told the class to go to lunch, leaving the girl mid scream while everyone filed out, not a single person looking her direction.
One day she skipped school, and nothing happened.
Eventually, she stopped going altogether. She would just wander the town, peruse the shore of the canal, watch the barges cruise along, pushed on their way by tugboats.
She picked up a stone. It was smooth, without a blemish. The round curve fit her hand perfectly, nicely weighted in her hand. She tossed the stone up, catching it in her left hand, then tossed it back to the other. Than she drew her hand back, and threw. Plop, plop, plop, sploosh. The rock skipped three times before it plunged beneath the surface, making ripples in the soft waves.
The canal shore was lined with large rocks, boulders, in some areas, but in others the sidewalk came right up to the edge, especially in the middle of town. The girl would walk along there, watching the water below, wondering what it would feel like to jump in. Would anyone miss her? No one ever talked to her. She wondered why.
That night she lay in bed, the salt of her tears on her lips, and she dreamed. She dreamed of a world where everything was right, and proper. She dreamed of voices laughing, hers among them. She dreamed of someone who listened, who really heard, and better yet, spoke back. Someone who truly believed her, every word she said. Would that person ever come?
The next morning she woke late, later than usual. The sun had already blown kisses to every window, and the wail of the steam-tugs’ horns streamed in with rays. She groaned a little, tiredness etched on her face, and stretched, her back muscles cramping. She winced with the pain, and then flopped over, burrowing her head in her pillow. What was the point of getting up? No one ever noticed anything she did. What was the use? But then her stomach growled, and so she shoved the covers off of her legs, and cracked the bones of her back back into place. Then she yawned, and murmured to herself. After all, the only person who listened was her. She stumbled down the stairs, the aroma of fresh pancakes filling her nose. She slipped into the kitchen, and watched for a minute while her mother flipped a pancake, then slid it onto a plate. Four pancakes. And no more batter.
Her mother scraped a dollop of butter onto the pancakes, then drizzled syrup over them, before she began to eat.
The girl touched her arm, but her mother ignored her. A bag of flour, empty, was in the trash can, along with an egg carton. The girl glanced into the fridge. No eggs. Into the cupboard. No flour. She looked through the kitchen, looking for cereal, bacon, granola, bread, milk, anything. But everything was gone, all used up. Even her box of pop tarts, of which there had been over half, was gone.
“Mom?” she asked, her eyes filled with the longing she felt. “Mom, what happened to all our food?”
Silence. Her mom took a bite, and turned the page of her magazine.
“Mom. Did you eat my pop tarts?” The girl waited for a response, but then went on. “Of course you didn’t. You hate pop tarts. They’re unhealthy and full of sugar and don’t give you a decent breakfast. Well, what about cold cereal? Where did that go? Did you just throw it all away?” She threw her hands up in the air, disgusted.
“Well? Mom? Did you? Did you forget that you have a daughter, who needs to eat?” Tears began to fill her eyes. “Did you forget you had a daughter?”



She stuffed her hands in her pockets, her boots stomping the wooden sidewalks. Thud. Thud. Thud. The only thing that mattered. Her breaths frosted, clinging to the lip of her coat, and icing the edge of the fabric. The only thing wrong. The weather had changed. Yesterday it had been warm, sunny. Today was overcast. It fit her mood.

“Oof!” She banged into a fellow coat, and the ground beneath her feet turned to Jello, and she landed on the ground, her hip bone smarting. She looked up, and saw, towering above her, a man. A young man. At first he just looked at her. Then his eyes widened, and knelt beside her.
“Are you…” He trailed off. She gasped, her eyebrows higher, her eyes wider.
His hands rested on his knees. His face looked familiar.
“You spoke to me…” she breathed.
He raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“You…spoke to me.”
“Didn’t you already say that?”
“It was worth repeating,” she said. Her mouth still hadn’t adjusted to the shock, and hung open slightly.
He smiled, a quirky smile that dipped half his face, and lifted the other.
“Here, let me help you up,” he said, giving her his hand, and hauling her to her feet.
“Thank you,” she said, biting her lip. This was the part where they went their separate ways, and she never saw him again.
“Here,” he said, brushing cold dust, snow, off her arm.
“Thanks,” she whispered. His hand stilled, then he gazed at her face, gazed deep into her eyes. What he saw in them chilled him to the bone, and sent shivers up his spine.
Never before had he seen such loneliness, such want-need- for human companionship. In those eyes he saw the wreckage of a thousand heart breakings. He saw the wonders that she saw in the world, and the horrors too. He saw the happiness that had haunted her life when she was young, 10 years ago when people talked to her. And he saw the torn parts of her that she had tried to stitch into a semblance of a life, but were really just torn scraps of wasted love, flapping in the breeze. She had loved deeply, and people had turned around and hurt her.
He saw a tear slip from beneath her eyelid, and felt something inside him.
“Hey,” he said, his voice thick. “It’s OK.”
“It is?”
“Yeah. It is.”
“You’re wrong,” she said, stepping away from his powerful eyes. “It’s not all right. It hasn’t been all right for ten years. You’re a dream. A person I made up just so I could think someone cared. You don’t care. No one cares.”

He wanted her to scream. Better screaming than this dead certainty. This hopeless statement spoken so calmly. He wanted her to fly out, to attack those who had hurt her, but she stayed so docile, like she had already given up.

“Please,” he said, reaching out again to touch her arm. She moved away, not looking at him.
“I just want to help you.”
“You’re not real.”
She nodded.
“Touch me,” he said. “touch my chest. Feel my heart beating. Look at me. Listen to me.”
She stopped. Her heart quickened. A tiny feeling, a seedling of hope, began budding in her chest. Her eyes flicked to his, and she read what he felt. He was honest. He was true. He was breaking, breaking for her. Her hero. Her person.
She ran to him, burrowing her head in his shoulder, her arms wrapped around his back. He held her close, his chin resting on her hair.
“Don’t break for me,” she whispered, her voice muffled in his shirt.

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