by Jacob Berg
Her favourite colour once wrapped her in baby blankets. It once sang birdsongs in beams of morning light bouncing off her wall, tiptoeing across her bed and illuminating rosy sheets as the sun claimed its rightful place over the newest day. The Judge gave Dawn 2-4 years, depending how the future laid itself out. She would get greedy and take 6. Blood was too sharp and paper too dull but she was pink; she was a butter knife.
She spent a month and a half in a hospital room when she was born, not that she knew the difference. Something wasn’t quite right: maybe her lungs? Or her head? Her parents were unconcerned with specifics, the doctors could fix it all in due time. The room, though, birthed problems of its own.
There are places in this world, good and bad, that have smells that you can’t quite recall but remember the moment they trickle up towards you. Every time her parents went outside for air that rancid, sterile fragrance would fade off into the past, and every time they walked back in the cologne of the dying would crash over the back of their unsuspecting heads as if they’d turned towards shore for a glimpse at their angel. Dullness overwhelmed her 4 year old brother, but to her it was all pink. Sometimes a family friend would peer through the window and they could see, for her parents, the blood was too sharp and the hospital room was too dull but she was a butter knife.
But her parents made it through, like every good couple does, and they continued to build themselves a life. Two parents with steady jobs gave up obsolete youthful passions and bought themselves a castle. Baby pictures graced preschool classrooms and the walls of mid-level management’s offices. Grades were gained, money was made, and they bought Dawn the softest pink blankets. They painted her walls in roses and fairy dust. They watched her pull her chubby thighs across the slowly fading beige shag carpet of the family room they had kept from a previous king. They watched her pull her chubby thighs off the dull rug only to stall and return to the dust over and over again until her feet were strong enough to support her soul. The first word Dawn ever said was “love.” When she was only 11 months old, as they sat in an aging room lit only by early autumn’s twilight, they couldn’t possibly fathom the joy the memory of that word would bring to them. They wouldn’t know what she meant until she was 9, when they watched her learn to speak it a second time.
Dawn was only 6 years old when her entire family was sentenced to return to the hospital room. Her father skipped bail after the first hearing. Her mother held her hand but walked behind her with a bowed head and wet eyes. Her brother screamed at the cruel man in the dull coat who had stolen his sister’s hair while he was at school. The Judge struck his gavel and spoke without fear of being understood by the children. Cheryl understood the verdict that had been passed down; she grasped for some happier thought and heard the piercing static of a muted television in her husband’s new home. The two children looked at each other and smiled. They giggled together and pressed their fingertips into their heads, understanding only the word brain. They told their mother that as far as they were concerned, the first word was gibberish and the last two words were the same and they were stupid words that didn’t matter. Cheryl let them have their fun, together on a dull bed. She joined into the game and she smiled; even as the joy leaked out of her tired, fading eyes, diluted in water. Even as it poured, guided by lines her children once carved into a white, sandy beach that were now etched into her thinning face. She passed that joy onto her wise and oblivious children, and she smiled.
Cheryl felt that she still owed her husband a few words. She would never find him face to face against his will, nor did she want to. She hadn’t been on a computer in weeks. She hadn’t sent a letter since her last year of summer camp. She could picture the half sentences choked out through tears over a phone call, him screaming at her just to spit it out already, that he didn’t have time for any more of her bullshit. So she got an umbrella and typed out the message on her phone. Malignant brain tumor. Terminal.
And she heard nothing.
The Judge gave Dawn 2-4 years, depending how the future laid itself out. She would get greedy and take 6. Dawn would never be given the privilege of a long lifetime, but Cheryl swore to give her a full one. Her days would be filled with small pleasures. Live performances of musical theatre that she’d loved since she was first told to defy gravity in the backseat of her mother’s Volkswagen and began flying. French Fries from anywhere that made them, which she’d loved since the first time her father got too stoned to cook dinner and drove her to McDonalds. Her seatbelt, her plates, her blankets were still pink. Her clothes, her walls, her cheeks were still pink.
The Judge gave Dawn 2-4 years. She took 6. She was greedy. Do you know how it feels to watch a child learn to speak for a second time? She was kind. She loves unconditionally. She is beautiful. She was twelve when her face stopped reflecting the sunrise. Dawn hadn’t arrived this morning. The lead actor bowed and finally directed the audience’s attention to the technical crew. The last French fry salted and eaten, the blood still too sharp and the hospital room duller than ever, Cheryl bought Gavin a tub of margarine and told him of their new life.
Author Biography: Jacob Berg is a recent high school graduate from Toronto,
ON preparing to attend Queen’s University in Kingston. He does stuff sometimes,
other times he doesn’t really.