Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Outlook( 06/02/11)
The Edge of the Mattress
By Debbie Roome
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I stare at the sagging ceiling. Mouldy patches appear as shadows and I pretend I’m looking at a map of the world. That blotch there is my city and that blob there is Canada. Miss Selwyn is from Canada and I dream of going there one day. Dad says I’m filling my head with nonsense.
I slide off the mattress, slowly, carefully, and put the blanket back in place. Yes! I raise a fist in silent triumph. I did it without disturbing my brothers. The one who sleeps on the edge of the mattress always has more space and freedom than those on the inside.
My thoughts turn again to Miss Selwyn. “Your homework this week is to do something different, go somewhere different, try something different,” she said. “You need a new outlook on life, something that will change you and change your thinking and dreams.”
I shrug on a jersey and creep over to the door. The apartment block is a scary place at night but by 4am, most of the activity has died down. The passage is deserted, lit by a single bulb hanging from a wire. Before I change my mind, I slip out and gently pull the door closed.
“How many of you have been out of the city?” Miss Selwyn asked the class last week. Most hands stayed down including mine. “How many of you want to go out of the city?” All our hands shot up. “Then you need to start thinking differently. Dream about visiting other places. Read books about them. Believe that one day you will.”
I’m at the stairs now and peer through the rails. The ground is fourteen floors below and the roof is five floors above. The stairwell reeks like a toilet and I gag as I start my ascent. Nose buried in my shirt I stay close to the wall, avoiding a splintered banister rail and a mess of vomit.
My brothers and I made it as far as the roof door once, but some teenagers were lying against it, syringes and tinfoil scattered like confetti, their eyes spacey. I was scared and took off back to Mom. The boys called me a sissy but were close behind me.
Heart racing, I make it up the last flight of stairs without incident. A dull light shines above the battered metal door and I pause. It’s exhilarating to be so close to fulfilling the first step of my dream. Eyes closed, I take a deep breath and twist the handle.
Cool air rushes in, cascading over me and down the stairs. Pulling my jersey tight, I step across the threshold and onto the roof top. The first light of dawn is spreading across the horizon and I’m amazed at the view. Our apartment window looks straight out onto a brick wall but up here I can see forever. City buildings spread in every direction with the newer ones to the west. I watch as the sun rises inch by inch. A glass skyscraper reflects the shifting colours in panels of pink, rose and peach, gold, amber and mauve. Far below, cars scurry like ants but no sound reaches me. It’s quiet up here and pure. The stench of the gutters and alleyways is a world away.
I walk around and around as the sun rises higher. A lake shimmers in the distance and emerald fields unfold like a patchwork quilt. A formation of birds swoop past me and I feel as free as they appear. Arms stretched out I turn in a slow circle, reaching out to what the world offers. Inside my chest, I sense dreams growing, excitement building, hope blossoming.
“You need a new outlook on life,” Miss Selwyn said.
I can’t wait to share my experience with her. To tell her how beautiful the world looks from up here. To confide my plans to visit Canada one day. For now I have to go back to the filth and grime of the city but I know one thing for sure. There is so much more to life than waiting for my turn on the edge of the mattress.
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