This week, we honor five very talented young writers, all from our summer camp workshops. These five young ladies were selected as the winner and finalists of our 2010 Rose Million Healey Award in Short Fiction, which was founded by Patrick Million to honor of his Aunt Rose Million Healey, the woman who most inspired him to pursue writing.
Today, we showcase the work of finalist Cali.
My Heart Is Not What’s Bleeding
I am laying, squashed and defeated and trickling tar blood, under a red cloud that has been killing me for years. Its vapor finally took my pink lungs by siege and bled like Magic Marker into my bloodstream and flooded my poor, dead heart.
You see, I think it all started when I moved here.
I came from the country where does nursed their fawns along the side of the stream in the springtime, and the clouds were as white as the snow that blanketed the flat land in the winter. It was the land that the great naturalists dreamed of—no civilization, no buildings, no society, no artificial life. Only a few settlements of families like mine dared to scatter themselves like pine nuts across the land. But I had long yearned for more than the loose homeschooling of my mother and the sight of a blurred, green landscape.
I had heard of a place called a city, where people lived by the hundreds of thousands, where the wolves I knew well were downsized and domesticated into little creatures called “dogs,” where there were structures devoted solely to the sale of nail polish, a commodity I knew only from the private drawers of my mother. The buildings reached into the gray sky and had dozens of tiny glass windows to peer out of, to see all the people.
I began to dream endlessly of the city. While most girls my age were planning their weddings, I drew geometric sketches of my future apartment and mentally arranged the design, from the kind of sink I would have to the zebra-printed rug I would place in the middle of my bedroom. Then I was suddenly eighteen, and my parents told me I was free to go anywhere I liked. They gave me information to access a trust fund I never knew I had.
I never knew about a lot of things.
But I happily walked to the nearest town, where I took a train to a station, and from there took another train to the city. Suddenly, I was there, and it was the city I dreamed of. The superstructures of metal and plaster were even taller than I had imagined, and there were hundreds of people passing me by, talking to each other, going into buildings, going into shops, carrying tiny fluffy dogs and briefcases and purses and acting natural.
I wandered around for hours, maybe days; I didn’t run out of energy at all, even when it seemed to get dark and the people went inside. There was so much to see! Then it began to rain and everyone ran inside or under an umbrella, which prompted me to think about where I would live, and I found a listing of apartments in a newspaper and looked through it in a place called a café until I found the one that sounded perfect. I walked to it and gave the man in charge the money for the apartment, and I was in my new home with a window the size of a wall that looked down onto the beautiful asphalt street and pavement with all the new people. I also had a balcony with a chair to sit in and watch the people below. It was like the city itself was inviting me to observe it.
After a few weeks, I had explored every part of my new city. I had spoken to every boutique keeper, every friendly homeless person, every neurotic squirrel that dashed across the trunks of the few trees, and the time for reconnaissance had ended itself. I now needed to buy furniture and clothes and a cat. A waitress in the café I had found myself in during my first week, her name was Stevi, had attached herself to me, and I decided she would become my best friend. That’s what people in the city did.
Stevi and I bought all of those things, except for the cat, and she arranged for me to have what she called a “housewarming part.” She invited all her friends, who would become my friends afterward, of course. That’s also what city people did. They all came and brought all kinds of gifts and drinks, which eventually made me feel very dizzy, but it was a good feeling nonetheless.
I suppose it was the next morning when things became stranger than usual. Everyone had left, and I woke up on my couch. I was lying on my back so that when I opened my eyes I immediately saw the ceiling. There seemed something unusual about it. There was a very vague collection of fog—in a diluted crimson color—floating around the air vent. I furrowed my brow at it, but my head hurt so I went to my bedroom, took an aspirin, and went back to sleep in my own bed.
I understand that I became the sole source of a considerable amount of what Stevi called “drama and trauma” when I arrived, most notably someone named George apparently trying to “make a pass at me” (that’s the term Stevi used; I’m not sure what it means), and his mate Ivana getting very irate and chasing him around West Forty-second Street with a broken lamp she found on the curb. There was that, and also how a small group of girls a year younger than me suddenly became unnaturally obsessed with my story, the girl from the boonies. They would be at my door every day after my first month, giving me cards and flowers and occasionally money. I thought perhaps they were the ones who sent the red cloud to me, but I was now doubting that. Then, of course, there was Stevi’s former best friend, Jeanie, who was in a fragile state anyway and didn’t appreciate Stevi being around me more than her, but we eventually resolved that situation.
I loved the city. I love the city. And I will always love the city. In all of the grayness, the smog, the strange people, the danger, the high prices, the artificiality, there is always beauty. The beauty to me, is in fact in the less pleasant parts of the city because when I look for the beauty in those situations, I always find it after only a small effort, like a treasure I could delight in forever. So while I became used to the city, I never became bored of it. Perhaps that’s my singular fault, for that is what led to my current state, which is less than lovely.
I didn’t know it was a harmful thing when I first saw it there in my apartment. I was still sleepy and thought perhaps it was part of a dream world I was not yet awake from. But years went by, and it was always there, growing and darkening like an angry storm cloud that threatened a beautiful day with its sheets of keen-edged rain.
But then it became harder to breathe, especially deeply, even on a clear, sunny day. The girls who surrounded me constantly said I should move back to my familiar wilds, for it was possible the internalized physical shock of the hazy city had caused this ailment. But I was no longer a daughter of that land; I could not go back to the place of no people, the place that carried only the sound of the high whistling-wind in winter. I was addicted to the static chatter of the crowd and the bumping vibrations that radiated from the neon clubs in the darkest hours of the mornings; I needed their reassurance that I was home. But in turn for that happiness, I compromised, unknowingly or knowingly, my life. Though we all die, and at least my demise came before I could grow old and not remember who I was.
So here I am, watching my last breaths echo out like radio waves in the icy air, as well as the darkened blood puddling under my chest, my back facing the clouded sky and my eyes as glassy as a fogged window. My heart is slowing like a timpani drum at the close of a symphony, my fingers are no longer fidgeting; I am near my death, and I am still happy.
Cali, tenth grade, McCallum High School