GLASS by Fiona McKay (1st place, Flash Nov21)

Push it down. All the way down. Everything is fine. I can do this. I can.

It’s just a test. Mom always says that a test is just to help the teacher see if the teaching is working, or if there are gaps. The test is more about the teacher, not you. She always says that. When she’s talking, and I’m sitting in the car beside her, I believe her, and it’s the truth. Then we get to school, and I put on my coat and my smile, wave to her, and she takes the truth away with her in the car. I’m left looking for friends as she indicates and pulls away and disappears into the traffic. And then I must go in.

First class; maths. I breathe all the way down to my ankles and turn the page. Everything makes sense in class, the words and numbers flowing. Then we are cut loose, and left to work through the examples, and it’s like swimming too far out to sea: the edges become more distant, more indistinct. A wave of panic breaks over me, leaving my sweating fingertips icy against the table. They are as confused as I am.

Breathe. Push it down. Don’t let anyone see. Don’t let anyone in. Never ask.

What’s the worst thing, mom always asks; what’s the very worst thing that could happen if you don’t know the answer. I don’t know, I always mutter back. The truth is, I do know. I can see exactly what happens. The thing is, I’m invisible. Mom wouldn’t understand that. I’m made of glass. Light shines through me, catching on my rough edges and shimmering all the colours of the rainbow. Everyone sees the colours, but not the glass. If I change that, if I put up my hand, then the crystal becomes opaque, the colours vanish, and everyone can see how thick and cloudy my brain is. I wake up at night, picturing their clown-faces looming into mine, fairground-loud and leering. Telling me I’m stupid, stupid, stupid. Telling me I’m nothing. If I let the voices in, I’d have to cut the voices out. Better to keep them out. Better to stay light, and bright, like glass.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Jamie has his hand up. Please miss, please sir, please miss. Jamie always has his hand up. There’s a small tide of laughter through the room. The teacher gives the class a dead-eye stare and the laughter drifts into the corner. Yes, Jamie? she says, in a very ordinary voice that is calm, and patient. Jamie asks, and she explains, and the air held tight in my lungs flows out, and warmth and understanding flow back into me.

Mom says we all have the same feelings, but I wonder do the clowns come for Jamie in the night? Is he so much braver? Maybe next time, I’ll put up my hand. Maybe. The bell rings.

Push it down. All the way down. Five classes until home-time.

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