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National Teen Storyteller Contest

16 Siroccos

Mary Lawrence Ware, 10th Grade, New York

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The third place winner in our June 2020 National Teen Storyteller Contest, presented in partnership with the student-led and founded Decameron Project! We invited creative writers to share a flash fiction story that thoughtfully explored LGBTQ themes.

My mother says menopause is full of pain. Hot flashes, anger, despair, insomnia, a surge of untamable emotions and a condition that only those of a certain group can really understand. I guess I can’t understand and am happy to resign to assuming it’s like a period but with no blood and everything else is much worse. I’m not sure if that’s medically ignorant or emotionally insensitive but that’s really all I can offer as a self-explanation at this point.

She tells me that recently she can’t stand to be around men.

“They do not understand how little pain they have to go through. They’re loud and obnoxious. They disgust me and I’ve grown out of pretending.”

I nod in agreement. Though I am nowhere near menopausal, this I can understand. Except for a few friends, my appreciation for men is limited to my father (on occasion. He’s on thin ice as of late). I never got it. Never got the rush of excitement when they would tease me about cooties, or play ‘house’ with me or try to glimpse up my skirt. These moments only resulted in a deep feeling of embarrassment and a burning urge to strike them across their smug faces.

I felt ashamed that I could not find it in me to giggle and blush like the other girls, doling out gooey exceptions for each year’s new apologies for ‘inappropriate, boyish behavior’. I found no secret delight in their presence or flirtations. I could not forgive them, but even in mounting frustration at my female counterparts I found it hard to stay mad at them.

Whenever I asked them why they allowed this torture to continue they would just laugh knowingly. It was when they laughed that soft lips would part and offer a view of bright teeth and blushing smiles, they would whip about in their skirts that just brushed past their knees turning their necks to face one another in sisterhood, the nape gently stretching, giving way to the softness of an inner arm, the curves of waists bundled in uniforms and belts. It was this meaninglessly curated existence of permanent, natural beauty that kept me from being able to stay mad at their complacence. Their words meant nothing but their existence was everything to me.

My throat burns with unexplainably despondent longing for removal from an otherness I cannot place. I toss and turn and wander into the blue-black mist of midnight that sets on our house. I can hear my mother similarly tossing in her sheets, the burden of 50 on her, and 16 on me.

She moans about how her whole body flares up in heat then chills again and again and again. I tell her that’s the price of existing. Constant discomfort.

She tells me to shut up. It is not the time and what would I know about constant discomfort?  I’m not sure I could offer an explanation that would sit well with either of us but the closest thing… who knows. It’s everything after all. Every zipper I tie up a girls back, every smile through the mirror in the third floor bathroom, every borrowed light, every time my name is said in that lilting loving tone, or my hand is grabbed with a gentle meaningless, manicured squeeze…

They all used to link arms with me smiling, playfully teasing me and telling me something must be wrong with me. I guess it’s true.