Pink Braces Girl

By: Sofia Ayres-Aronson
Laurel School, Shaker Heights, Ohio

He looks sad, standing there. His face is down, he’s looking at his hands. What’s in his hands? Paper, a little crumpled-up ball of paper, no bigger than a quarter. He says his soul is on ice. He’s wearing jeans and a plain white T-shirt; barefoot because he left his sneakers at the playground. Small ears, small nose, big lips, long toes. He’s standing at the blackboard and his palms are covered in white chalk dust. The last time I saw those palms they were wet and blue and colder than ice. Right when those little hands grasped my arm and I pulled him from wet icy rocks into the ambulance. Blaring lights. Blue hands. Brisk water.

He looks at the purple notes Ms. Burnes wrote on the blackboard. The purple notes bother him, because some letters aren’t purple. The e should be blue, and b is banana yellow, and c is peach. I can see him working this out in his head. The letters bother him. He’s stuck on it. He needs to fix it. His long nimble fingers reach for the eraser, and those long smooth nimble fingers quickly erase the purple grammar lesson. He relaxes as soon as the purple is gone.

He puts his basketball on a desk and unfolds the paper in his hand. I know that basketball- it’s the one his coach gave him after he had to be kicked off the team. The S in SPALDING is scratched out now, and green paint is sprinkled on the side. Wonder where that came from? There’s a knife in his pocket, and he takes it out. No, razor blade. He presses it into his skin and draws an angel (I think it’s an angel) into his wrist. A circle on top of a triangle for a head, wings, and a ring above the circle. Then he starts drawing something around it. Those nimble fingers falter and the blade slips and cuts him where he didn’t want it to go. The angel’s messed up now. He moves his lips, angry, but he can’t make any noise. He can’t let the foster lady see him here, of course he can’t, how could he forget? He presses the paper onto the bleeding angel with a slash down its middle. The blood runs together with the ink on the paper. He slips on his hoodie and picks up his basketball, the blade back in his pocket. Of course, the whole time, he never flinches. Mikey never flinches.

He licks his lips then. He puts the foster certificate with the wet angel-shaped bloodstain in the trash to rest among the old homework and pencil shavings. He runs his fingers down the bookcase, stopping at The Boxcar Children. I know he loves this series. He’s already read this one, though. He lowers his eyes and puts the book back. Then he just stands there, his back to me, and I can’t see what he’s doing, except his long fingers, those long brown fingers which strum his arm like he’s playing the guitar. I heard he played a hymn on his guitar for his father’s funeral. I wonder if he cried. I bet he didn’t cry.

He’s shaved his hair. Afro’s gone. There’s a kind of zig zag drawn in the back of his head, almost like a lightning bolt. The latest fashion. Even eight year olds want to be cool, and Mikey’s always worried about how he looks. I always told him he looks fine. Handsome, really. That pink braces girl Anya, fawned over him. Of course he never noticed.  Mikey notices everything, except for that pink braces girl Anya.

And then he turns around and looks straight at me, straight through me and out the window at the evening sun. His mouth twitches and he thinks about crying, about the comfort of heaving cold, wet little sobs, and watching the sun set, then going home, wherever that is. But he doesn’t allow himself that. Of course he doesn’t, because after all these years, he’s still Mikey, my Mikey, and no matter how much he’s changed, he hasn’t changed at all.