Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: RELAX (06/08/17)
- TITLE: Relinquishment
By Ann Grover
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But it has always been like this, hasn’t it? Always someone poking about, misunderstanding her. What was it her mother would say, sitting on the patio with her friends? Oh, she’s so high-strung, that girl. Too big for her britches. Fussy as all get-out. I don’t know where she gets it from. With their dangly earrings swinging, the women laugh and sip from their lipstick-rimmed coffee cups.
She doesn’t know either. She doesn’t know why she is compelled to rearrange her bookshelf and bureau drawers and toys incessantly, checking her closet twenty times a day to make sure her dresses are still arranged precisely, by purpose, by colour. It comforts her with profound though momentary calm.
Her first grade report card says she must settle down and enjoy school. But the excitement of discovery and the promise of methodicalness has infused her with eagerness.
Mistrustful of swings and teeter-totters, her belly clenches and cramps as she watches the others shriek gleefully as they rise and fall. She imagines the impact of her body on the earth, if she were to plummet to the ground. The pain. And worse, the crying. The shame, the touching hands.
She finds refuge in the library, a place to be still, unnoticed. She relishes the soft swishing of pages, the clean and bright scent of glue for mending bindings and torn pages, and she savours the gentle order, the conciseness of classification. A prescribed place for geography. History. Biology and religion and art. There is no category, no number, for the unnamed thing within her.
Older, she keeps to herself. Oh, she has a few friends. Like her. Studious. Diffident. Serious. Why the long face? people ask. You’re going to trip over that lip someday. She pretends to smile. Tries to be like the others who move so effortlessly, speak smoothly and easily, tossing their hair over their shoulders coquettishly. But it’s a fleeting and brittle façade for her.
For comfort, she reorders her bookshelf -- by topic this time -- and remakes her bed; the sheets measure exactly twelve inches down each side. She makes lists of school assignments, library books on hold. Books she’s read. In her head, she recites the names of her cousins. The students in her class. The birth dates of her siblings.
It almost, not quite, but almost, banishes the memory of heated breath on her cheek. The bitter odour of sweat. A raspy whisper commanding her to calm down. Be quiet. Be still. Just relax.
But she can’t. Not then. Not ever.
Oh, outwardly she seems composed and ever so meticulous, but inside, she is a maelstrom, a tumult, never allowing herself to rest. What had her mother said? That she’s high-strung. Like a kite flying high, maybe? But doesn’t the taut thread that enables a kite to fly keep it from crashing to the earth? What if she were no longer tethered by the straining string, not bound by the certainties, the boundaries, she has constructed as a refuge?
She marries, has babies, wincing and cringing through the ordeals demanded by each. The marriage is short and intense, as if love could not cure her, but she becomes a good mother, an excellent mother, even. Her children are astonishingly boisterous and disorderly, and remarkably, she indulges their impulsiveness, their rambunctiousness, even allowing herself to be spontaneous on occasion. The turmoil abates as she immerses herself in the relentless busyness of motherhood.
A nurse comes in, checks her, and reassures her that all is good. Not by a long shot, she thinks, but that’s fine. She’s never been judged fairly or rightly by anyone. Why expect anything different now?
She thinks of her children, grown and far away. Their lives are cluttered and exuberant, passionate. She envisions their faces, recites their names, but not in her customary way of soothing herself, but rather as a litany of gratefulness, exultation.
Yes, she thinks, I did that one thing well. I can let go. I am not afraid anymore.
The kite! Release the string, release it! The string flutters away, undulating, an effortless, lazy pirouette.
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