blue pixie and the siamese fighting fish
MY COWBOY BOOTS SCUFF the wooden floor as I walk onto the stage, and for the next ninety seconds I won’t think of anything but the rhythm and sound of each syllable in my poem. Today is Round One of Lakeville Middle School’s Poetry Slam Contest.
The applause comes to a slow stop. I spin my lucky sea glass in my pocket one last time as I tap the microphone. My best friend Hannah gives me a thumbs-up from the fourth row. Still not used to her new hair. I actually like the black-as-night-tipped-in-blue pixie cut, but the uneven bang fringe isn’t really working for me. She said she’s paying tribute to Fred, her blue-flecked Siamese fighting fish that died two weeks ago, so I told her I loved it.
The crowd stares at me. Waiting. My mind quiets. I love this moment. The Before. When everything is still and anything is possible. I take a beat to look out at the faces, and then the words flow as I march across the stage.
like a broken clock,
a flat tire,
the blare of a police siren when you’re trying to sleep.
I say okay
just bad luck
like a black cat,
Friday the 13th,
an open umbrella on the kitchen floor.
a different clock, a different hour, a different day.
Sliding doors and missed chances.
What if it was yesterday?
links in a chain,
a corner puzzle piece when you have two sides.
When I finish the poem, I’m kneeling at the edge of the stage. The quiet escapes out the back while everyone in the first four rows stands. Cheering. Me. Molly. My insides do a victory dance. I bow and take my seat next to Hannah. A little hand squeeze. Bridgett goes next. Her obsession with obituaries is not left out of her poetry. Her words are sad and dark, but somehow she makes them sound like a beautiful song. I clap loudly. Hannah pretends she’s busy with something else and can’t applaud. She’s not a fan. Of obituaries or Bridgett. And if I’m being totally honest, Bridgett kind of deserves that. Ever since they both showed up to Richie C.’s fifth-grade Halloween party wearing the same zombie bride costume, B has sort-of-kind-of not been so nice to Hannah.
Hannah’s the last to go. She bows her head; the bangs hang like a slope in front of her face. Her poem is a tribute to Fred. I decide for her next birthday I’ll get her a new Siamese fighting fish from Pete’s Pet Palace.
When all the poets have spoken, Ms. P. steps onto the stage and says into the microphone, “I will make the announcement tomorrow as to which two classmates will move on to Round Two of the Poetry Slam Contest.” Spit flies from her mouth and I’m thankful there are four rows between us. “Nice job today, everyone.”
The bell sounds the end of the day, and I run home to tell Dad or Kate or Ian, but when I get there, the house is echo-empty. I take the stairs two steps at a time. In the mirror, I see my braces under my smile and I don’t even care. I love today. I spin sixteen times and fall onto my bed, dizzy.
I exhale and open my eyes. I wait for the room to stop spinning. I grab four red Twizzlers, pop in my earbuds, and click on the B. B. King playlist I made during art on Monday. We’re on the watercolors unit and I’m more of a stay-in-the-lines artist.
I skip to track four. This is Mom’s favorite song. Ideas swirl in my head for my next poem. I need to move on to Round Two. Then the final round. Then I need to win. The whole thing. My plan depends on it.
This past Saturday, I came millimeters close to making a ginormous mistake that could have ruined my chances of winning the slam and my plan. I was shopping at Shine Gifts and Gems with Hannah when I almost bought the glass giraffe. Its long sunflower neck and cocoa spots were a splash of yellow against the white shelf. It was so beautiful, but a possibly disastrous purchase just a few days before Round One. Thankfully, I realized that before the clerk with dirty fingernails rang up the sale. I didn’t tell Hannah why I returned Sir Giraffe to his shelf, but if I had bought him, then my collection would have forty-five glass figurines. Forty-five—a terrible odd number. I decided to wait until I could buy Sir Giraffe and Monsieur Kangaroo.
I grab a ruler and lay it along my snowy white dresser to carefully align my glass zebra so it sits exactly one inch from the blue glass dolphin. I pick up the giant panda (an awesome birthday gift from Kate and Ian), set her down on her paws, slowly reach for the elephant, and rest it precisely one inch away. I finish with the stallion and cow. Finally, they’re all perfectly aligned. I step back and exhale. So beautiful.
Except for the pink glass perfume bottle. It’s lost next to the whale.
I pick up the perfume and roll it between my palms. Mom let me borrow it. Then she told me about the guy she sat next to on the T who pulled out an eight-inch hunk of cheddar and ate it like a Snickers. That was kind of our thing. Not the cheddar, but lying beside each other on my bed and sharing the weirdest thing that happened that day. Now every time I’m on the T, I look for the Cheese Man. No sightings yet.
The perfume smells like jasmine and mint. Mom said Dad had the scent made for her for their tenth anniversary. I spray my wrists with I Love You Forever and wonder if the bottle will last for the entire year.
Three hundred sixty-five days is a really long time.
Text copyright © 2016 by Elly Swartz