Palo Alto Weekly 34th Annual Short Story Contest
Teen Honorable Mention

The Battle Between the Unpredictable and Unseen

by Taylor Tam

Author Bio

Taylor Tam currently lives in Palo Alto and is an 8th grader Frank S. Greene Middle School. She loves playing competitive soccer and programming but enjoys reading and writing above all. She started writing when she was seven after being inspired by numerous trips to the library and meeting one of her favorite authors at the time. She enjoys consistently reading new literary works and genres and one day hopes to publish a book.

Inspiration

The majority of my inspiration to write this story came from the ever-changing world around me. Considering the times that we're living in, I saw so much resilience and people being able to come back from unimaginably difficult and traumatic events. I thought that this story would be an amazing and interesting way to portray how much strength and courage people can have through hard times. I really enjoyed building a relationship between the characters, and drew a lot of personalities and quirks from people that I found interesting in real life.

I sit in her room, once cheerfully painted a daffodil yellow, staring at her carefully hung paintings. A horse, standing peacefully under the azure blue sky and lively green trees, its mane whipping in the painted wind and eyes full of life. A large polar bear, nestled together with her smaller two cubs, white fur glistening and slowly blending into the bluish-white arctic tundra. The pink sea that she painted, a sea of fiery magenta hues dappled in white sunlight. I stare down at my fingernails, uncut and chipped, dirt gathering underneath them. They look so strange on her blue and white checkered quilt, still smelling of her and covered in a patina of her fingerprints. I naturally tap out the easy rhythm of the songs that they played in the church.

I know she would laugh at those songs. She was the kind of person that wherever she went she had those awful pink headphones with bright rhinestones on, and she'd listen to all the music in the world. Her feet and hands tapped out millions of miles of rhythms, from the slow smooth jazz to the fast paced nuances of rap. I close my eyes and try to remember her face, her white porcelain skin sprayed with freckles and framed in a halo of copper-penny colored hair. My fingers splay in a star-shaped figure on her pillow, feeling the silky smoothness of where we rested our heads together, stared at the Day-Glo stick-on stars on the ceiling, and tried to make our own constellations. I automatically look up and the constellations form, but I push them out of my mind. I can't think about this stuff too much or the black void of hollow emptiness starts to fill me up again, taking away everything that makes me who I am. No matter what I do, I can never be free of her presence. There is the trampoline outside, where we would find real constellations and pretend that we could fly with the birds. There is the living room, where I spent countless nights listening to her perform on the piano; she was always better than me at it anyways. Sometimes I feel like grabbing my head and wishing away all the things that made her the way that she was so I don't have to think about it.

Like a little kid, I still get up every night and check her room, expecting to see the form of her body underneath the checkered covers. I rub my eyes and check again because I tell myself, it's just a dream, check again and she'll be back. She never is. I still wait before eating breakfast, like I used to. I still save a seat for her on the school bus, telling other kids that they can't sit there because someone else is already sitting there. Maybe they think that I'm mad, but that was her seat, no one else's. My parents think that it's time. It's been one year now. They tell me that I've got to get used to her not being there. Adults have a puzzling way of being fine, or at least masking it better. There is this space in my life that no one can fill. It's like a wet dress hanging on my back. I want to take it off, the other part of me likes the reminder.

There are always songs stuck in my head. The ones on the radio that other people hear differently, but slowly make my throat tighten up. I'm still tapping them on her quilt, and I quickly tell myself to stop. She wouldn't want that. Days have passed since I sat in the angular, 1960's church, in that perfect dress smelling of fresh water and soap. I had pushed my fingers hard into my knees and told the tears to wait inside for another time. Staring at the intricate twists of the deep, velvety wood—it was the best attempt to ignore the white noise of people's speeches. That day was all waxy white faces and dark clouds, like even the sky was mourning. She would have wanted it to be in the summer, with the bright vibrant sun shining down through the big windows, light bouncing off the chairs—leaves hitting the windows. There were all these speakers there and people who called themselves her friends. Their warm mouths moved with canned emotion, sharing how she was a 'nice girl', how she was 'kind and loving', and how she was a 'friend to all'. It could have been anyone, but she wasn't just anyone. A tightly wound spring full of energy, happiness, and other things that surpass my ability to express. Sweet shampoo and a mild bit of salt was her smell—always fresh off riding her bike. She was always a bit distant - a part of her was always somewhere else - as if she already knew she wouldn't belong to this world for very long.

My parents took ages to find a new home. It was never the right one—the landscaping was hurried (too many oleanders!), the colors were common (you know, the sandy pinkish tan that's everywhere in Southern California), the atmosphere wasn't what they wanted. The day did come because it had to. They found the replacement - the new start. It was time to get going and move in... and I suppose on. I could keep a few boxes of hers, but only what would fit in our car. Do I keep the paintings or her fuzzy froggy blanket? Her perfectly folded and untouched band t-shirts or her guitar? The two brown boxes with little measurements on their sides stared up at me. It felt like a bad math problem with no answer in the back of the book. She never fit into boxes while she was in the world anyways, so how could she fit into them now?

I stand up, disturbing the fine carpet of dust that covers everything. Every step that I take wipes away another piece of her—each movement I make must be carefully measured out so she isn't erased entirely. I pick up her fluorescent pink and rhinestone-covered headphones and throw them in the brown box. A little rhinestone chips off and buries itself in the rug. My hands frantically move through the tangle of wooly clumps to try and find it, but it's gone. I'm moving in a whirlwind, throwing stacks of artwork into one cardboard box and her quilt into another. Even sitting on the boxes won't get everything to fit. I'm slamming my fist into her yellow-painted wall, begging for the universe to bring her back. Screaming that it isn't fair, selfishly crying that it should be anyone else but her. My breath is slow and full of heavy air. The boxes were done. I slowly now moved to filling black trash bags with her things; the shirts I didn't fit into, her now-shattered mirror encircled in delicate butterflies, the pink scissors patterned with strawberries. When I'm done, I lie face up on the rug spread out like a snow angel. It's quiet. Everything is in a box or a trash bag, sitting in the middle of her room. I haven't done it until now because I wasn't sure I could. Her old green blanket with cartoon frogs, her favorite, is pulled close to my nose. Her smell is there and for a moment I indulge in the deepest happiness.

The car door opens and the motor shuts off. My parents say hurry up and get to it. The air that day is fresh after the rain, and my feet made a squish sound on the damp dirt. GoodWill couldn't take any more—well, hey, neither could I, but what did that matter. The area outside of town is enclosed in a chain link fence, with a white and black sign, where the letters were hard to make out—tired, like all the things there. Piles of old crates, used mattresses, shattered windows, even some plastic toys create a town of ghosts. The sky is that shade of blue that she liked. The pain deep in my stomach, the one wedged in my bones, and pinned in my eyes is there, it's everywhere. The bags of her are placed into that yard with yellow grass and screws peeking out of the dirt. I take a hard, last look at them—she wasn't ready to be left. I tell myself, just one last look, but I can't seem to turn away from those shiny black bags. All those perfect little things are like gems in piles of trash--out of place. Minutes pass, and my parents touch shoulders and turn me around, and all I'm thinking is, I'm not ready to go yet. But I have no choice. Walking back to the car, I take in one of the deepest breaths of my life so far, trying hard to record the smell of wet air, old metal, and dirt. I hope I can do it, but already the yellow walls of her room were slowly getting harder to picture.