This story is by Rizza Corella and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A car engine blares to life. It clicks and whines but the sounds are so soft and short-lived anyone would doubt whether they heard them. The woman on the wheel must have heard but she chooses to ignore them. It has never caused the car to break down before so she doesn’t bother herself with it. Worrying will only slow her down and she cannot afford a single unproductive moment. Time is money and money puts food on the table. It can get her daughter a diploma, a future with riches so great she would not seek the tough but gentle hands of a man. And so the woman steps on the gas pedal and the tin can of a car propels forward. Once again, the young girl peering through the window is left alone. She is used to it by now. She knows her mother is doing her best but somehow, she feels more alone than ever.
He usually comes when her mother is away. They talk for hours about all kinds of things, from their love of coffee to the use of water in Spirited Away, from the mages and heroes and monsters they used to draw as children to where they hope to be after high school. She wants to design houses, build a mansion with a serene little garden for her mother and he wants to be the family doctor.
Most of the time, they also do more than talk. But she doesn’t enjoy it as much as he does. She shuts her eyes tightly and clenches both fists when he comes inside her. She doesn’t tell him how dirty she feels after he is finished or how terrified she sometimes is by his intense hunger. She is desperate to keep him happy. She doesn’t want to be abandoned again. Her grandmother took half of her heart away when she died. And her father drilled an ugly hole into her chest when he angrily slammed the front door and never returned. The young girl needs the boy to stay.
But he didn’t despite everything she has done to satisfy him. Today, he will no longer knock on her door and the young girl must live on with a heart more cracked and deformed than ever before. Not this time. This time, she knows what to do. She doesn’t want to yearn for his sorry face, or hear her mother’s sobbing next door late at night once she discovers the fruits of their carelessness, that her perfect daughter is to become a mother at sixteen, just like herself.
The girl closes all the curtains and the living room turns a pale sky blue. She retrieves everything she needs: a kettle of hot water, a basin, a matchbox, and a box of old things and she opens the book her grandmother left her before she died to the right page. The fairy tales lied, she recalls her grandmother telling her. You do what you have to do to survive.
The instructions for the mixture are very different from those she has tried before. The ingredients are more vague. There are no chants or whispers. She only has to hum a tune she associates with him so closely that she sees his face when it plays. She hums a song he once wrote for her, a song whose words she desperately wishes to forget but can’t. Until now, they sting like tattooed promises. She wonders how some of the most used lines in the English language could toy with her heart so mercilessly.
I think you’re my happily ever after
The hand I can hold on to forever…
A pile of horseshit.
The girls’ eyes ignite as she lights a match and throws it into the hot water in the basin. The mixture boils and in the center rises a small, blue flame.
Now comes the first ingredient: a little kindling for the fire to grow. A piece of what started it all. She grabs a note from the box. She doesn’t want to read it again but she knows she has to. She needs her blood to boil with the concoction before her. She needs to make herself believe that this cruelty is simply justice finally playing its part.
What’s up? Can I just say that you’re very pretty? You want to go out sometime? Sorry if I am too straightforward. I just don’t know how else to ask you. But yeah, maybe we could go to Starbucks to talk? I’ll trade you a frappuccino for any tips on how to get grades as good as yours! Does that sound fair? I really hope you say yes–
She feeds the now crumpled piece of paper into the tiny flame. Oh, how easily he can charm her, make her feel beautiful and wanted and enough. Now, the butterflies have gone. All that’s left are blood-curdling anger and searing pain, sensations that make her want to pull all her hair out and scream. But no, she needs to press on. Passion to strengthen the flame. She drops a wilted rose, one of the many he left outside her house everyday during the first few weeks. A slip of paper is taped to it and You are worth it is written in fading ink. She secretly kept them in a box beneath her bed long after they’d lost their color. How very stupid she has been.
Not anymore. Now she’s turning the tables and the prospect of living a life of less hurt urges her to continue down the page to A sharp word or a small lie. Just one? He’s said hundreds. But only a handful can actually be held by the hand. The rest have been nailed into her brain, left on tapes of his melodic voice playing over and over in her ears. Too conservative. Too demanding. A bitch.
I won’t leave you.
She casts a glass into the flame. The glass he swore did not contain any alcohol. The first of the lies she managed to catch. The first night he kissed her naked body in near darkness. The flame roars and darkens into a deep blue.
She keeps going. Recklessness. She drops the box of condoms he left unopened one dark night they had the house to themselves.
Anger. The pencil he threw at her when she accused him of never really caring about her. It was two weeks after her positive pregnancy test and he hadn’t called or texted since she had broken the news to him.
Betrayal, the final ingredient. Put as many pieces as possible until all turns to black.
The young girl’s lungs struggle to catch up with the quick beating of her heart as she throws one item after another into the expanding blaze. The I’m-sorry Teddy Bear he left on her windowsill, the pair of movie tickets she found on his desk followed closely by the box of chocolate hearts he gave her after she asked him about them, the picture of a curly-haired girl behind her own photograph in one of the pockets of his wallet, and finally, his last note, her greatest fears and suspicions realized:
I can’t do it, babe. I can’t take care of you and what’s inside you. I have to live up to my parents’ expectations. They will never accept me if they ever find out what happened. You’ll be fine on your own. I’m sorry. This is goodbye.
How lucky he is, to be able to escape so easily, to have a body that won’t betray him when he lies to his mother and father, to be free to make a choice away from judgment and humiliation, to already have someone new to stitch the shattered little pieces of his heart back together. Does his heart even need any mending at all?
She bellows his last words into her mountain of rage and destruction. The flames wail and dance and one blink of an eye later, a shapeless black monster with slits for eyes and a large, fanged, smiling mouth hovers before her. It splits into a million little versions of itself and zooms around the room, biting their way out of the house through the thick walls. One pierces through her abdomen. Another starts chewing its way into her brain. She falls to the ground and writhes, screeching through the greatest pain she has ever felt in her life as hundreds of teeth as sharp as knives tear through the inside of her head and squeeze the life out of the seed in her womb.
When she retches a pool of blood, all the pain subsides. Except for the one in her heart. There is a new hole there and she doesn’t know why. She doesn’t remember what she has been doing but the title at the very top of the opened page on her grandmother’s book gives her a hint.
Obliteration. For the erasure of memories and mistakes.