For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’ve been a little more serious about writing lately, mostly because it helps me make sense of what my family and I are going through. A while back, I entered NPR’s “three minute fiction” competition, which is currently in its sixth round. My submission for the fifth round was rejected, but since it involves adoption, I wanted to share it here. At least this way, it won’t go unread.
At 25, on the day of her wedding, Elizabeth sat alone in a small room, with flowers and a fluffy white skirt. While she was waiting, she flipped the black button between her fingers. It reminded her of Carl, her brother, and she wished that she knew where he was. Of the four members of her original family, only she, Elizabeth had escaped. After her wedding, she planned to do what was expected, to live in suburbia, drive an SUV, and own a coach purse. But she had one fear: that she would never be planted anywhere.
She remembered the moment that fear had become real. She was five and she pulled the black button, shiny with spit from Carl’s mouth. He had silvery eyes, small teeth, and a large mouth. A mouth which he was always putting some object into. Elizabeth had thought that perhaps he was hungry. She remembered what was in the refrigerator, ketchup, bread, cheese, and those brown bottles.
Carl was on the floor crying, screaming, gasping for his button. Elizabeth put it in her pocket. Occasionally she heard muffled noises from behind her parent’s bedroom door.
When the door was closed, the trick was to keep Carl occupied. It was dark and smoky inside the apartment. A kind of gray, dingy haze.
There was fighting in the upstairs apartment. There were thuds in the downstairs apartment. In the bedroom down the hall, it was silent. Elizabeth noticed a fly trapped on the sticky, filmy floor. The button flipped back and forth between Elizabeth’s fingers. She turned on the TV.
The show was her mother’s favorite. Elizabeth knew this because of the yelling. Her mother would yell if Elizabeth happened to talk, or Carl, who couldn’t talk, cried right in the middle of an episode. Her mother had straggly blond hair with brown at the top. It shook when she yelled. Then she would raise her bone-thin arms. They had tattoos and bruises and band-aids. The tattoos were dark and coiled up and down like snakes. Elizabeth wondered when those arms would snap off.
Carl touched the TV screen, leaving small fingerprints. The TV was brand new. It was flat and big. The money should have bought Elizabeth a birthday present. She had asked for dress-up clothes, princesses and ballerinas all in pink. But her father said no. So she sat in the corner, angry. She sat and stared at his bald head. He wore a black t-shirt with food stains, mostly ketchup. He scratched his stomach. He always wore long sleeves, even in the summer. He said he didn’t like his arms. But Elizabeth knew it was the marks that he didn’t like.
And then she heard frantic crying from the room. When Elizabeth heard the sirens, she knew what would happen. She had seen enough police and doctor shows to know. They took her father on a long flat bed with needles and clear bags. Later they came for her and Carl. Carl cried, and Elizabeth thought his silver eyes looked like glass. But she only stared. It was a blank stare, a gaze focused on nothing in particular.
She slipped the black button into her pocket. She never imagined that it would carry her through 20 years. Through the court dates, the new families, Carl’s jail sentence. She never knew that it would be the only thing left from her first five years of life. The only thing that could take her down that aisle.