Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Junk Food( 08/30/12)
A Subtle Softening
By Addie Pleasance
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I reach for her hand. “Beth, she’s fine. Really.” A kiss on her palm, and then on that soft place on the inside of her wrist. Beth pulls her hand away.
“She shouldn’t be so near the water, Greg. The undertow . . .”
“There’s no undertow in this lake, sweetheart. It’s too small. And have you walked in that water? It’s only two feet deep, maybe three, all the way out to the buoys. Violet will be fine. Let her have some fun.”
Beth sighs and slumps, then sits on the beach blanket, never taking her eyes off Violet.
I lower myself to Beth’s side and rest a hand between her shoulder blades. She has lost weight; I can feel the knobs of her backbone as she leans forward. She is squinting, watching Violet, and I know what she is looking for.
“The scars are barely visible. If we don’t make a big deal about them, they won’t bother her. Okay?”
Beth shrugs. “I can see them from here.”
I was watering the lawn when I heard a screech of tires. When I ran around to the front of the house, there was a car on the curb. I remember noticing the make and model of the car before I noticed Violet’s bicycle, its wheel spinning wildly. Finally I saw her, crumpled and small. The driver of the car and I just stared at her—it couldn’t have been more than a second or two—when Beth ran out of the house, screaming.
There are 206 bones in the human body. The collision of automobile and bicycle broke nine of Violet’s bones, one for every year of her age. I skipped that week in high school biology, but I learned their names in the days following her accident, a Latin litany: scapula, ulna, tibia, femur, patella.
Violet spent forty-three days in the hospital. Beth never left her side.
Violet runs back to us from the shore, a network of scars traipsing across her beautiful limbs. “I’m hungry,” she says. “Can I get something from the concession stand?”
My wallet is buried in Beth’s beach bag, and as I root around for it, Beth stands up. “No, mom,” says our daughter. “I want to go by myself. Please? It’s not far.” Violet points to the shack, perhaps fifty yards away.
Beth looks to me for support; I pretend not to see, busy pulling a few bills from my wallet. “Here you go, kiddo.”
Violet grabs the money and scampers off, her limp barely noticeable. Beth calls after her: “Buy something healthy!” but Violet either doesn’t hear, or pretends not to. She’s already nearly to the concession stand. When she disappears around the side of the building, Beth walks a few paces closer to the shore to get a better view.
Several minutes pass, and Violet appears again, walking slowly toward us, her hands full. As she nears, I can see that she is grinning, struggling to balance her bounty. “Look, you guys,” she says. She’s bought a hot dog smothered in some sort of cheese-like sauce, a drink of shaved ice and sugary syrup in a wholly unnatural blue, a yellow cotton candy. When she hands the hot dog to me so that she can sit down, I see that she has tucked one of those giant straws filled with candy powder into her swimming suit.
“Good haul,” I say, but Beth is wide-eyed.
“Oh, Violet.” She actually chokes a little on her words. “This stuff is horrible! Eating all these chemicals will ki—”
I shake my head at Beth and she stops talking. Violet doesn’t notice; she’s eating quickly, eager to get back to the water. A gob of orange cheese dangles from her lip.
Violet practically inhales her feast, then jumps up and heads back for the water, a dusting of candy powder on her chin.
I pull Beth to me and hold her tight. Together we watch our daughter, her long legs glistening with water and the promise of adolescence. Violet turns, waves, spreads herself into the water on her tummy. Beth tenses in my arms, but as I hold her, my lips on her hair, I finally feel a subtle softening.
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