The tall evergreens brushed against each other, whispering in the soft warm summer breeze. The bushes and shrubs shook, shivered and shuddered, causing fresh drops of rainwater to dart and drop, from one to the next, glittering as they went. A red brick path circled a plain grass field at the art center, with the gorgeous greenery gathered around it. A few summer campers played a small game of tag on the field, darting all over and screaming every time a tagger’s hand touched them. The noises of excited children talking loudly to each other filled my ears, along with laughter and footsteps.
“There is no way I am going to do a good job on the next project!” Julie complained, while popping a quarter sandwich into her wide open mouth, and, at the same time, bringing me back to reality.
“You’ll do a great job. You did on the last one!” Ashley protested.
“ I won’t! And mine wasn’t that good!” Julie muttered.
“ Yours was the only one that looked anything like what it was supposed to!” Ashley shouted while staring at Julie. “You’ll do great just like you did in the morning!”
“Will not!” Julie grumbled.
“Will too!” Ashley replied.
On the next “Will too!” two voices rang out instead of one. I had joined Ashley in the debate. Julie’s face burned and her nostrils flared. On her next “Will not”, her voice lowered in pitch and increased in volume, probably to make up for the fact that it was now two against one. I glanced down and saw that Julie’s knuckles had turned white, and stood out against her red hands.
I knew that it was about time to give in. After all, the argument was ridiculous. But just as I was about to, Ashley gave another “Will too” glaring right at Julie. Katie, Anya and I watched the argument progress in silence.
All of a sudden, both girls went quiet. I looked at them. Julie’s face was white, and Ashley’s was red. They were staring at each other with so much concentration that I could have sworn their eyes were going to pop out.
Just when I thought that they would start shouting again, something happened that broke all the tension. A squirrel which had previously been sitting next to a small shrub next to our bench, took three huge leaps. The first landed on the arm of the bench that Ashley, Julie and I were perched on. Ashley’s jaw dropped, Julie’s eyes widened, and I was pretty sure I let out a gasp.
The second leap took the squirrel down to the ground, right between Katie and Anya, their mouths mirrored Ashley’s and their eyes Julie’s.
On the third leap, the squirrel zoomed back up to the bench, landing only inches away from my left leg. The fluffy, gray squirrel stared up at me with huge, warm, chocolate brown eyes. The remaining three quarters of Julie’s sandwich fell to her lap.
That was enough to distract the squirrel. In one smooth motion, it turned and hopped onto Julie’s lap, and for a second I thought my jaw would hit the ground. I could feel my eyebrows suddenly go up and my arms and legs go stiff. My nose itched, but I couldn’t force my hand up to itch it.
Meanwhile, the squirrel gazed at Julie with shining eyes. Nobody moved, not even a millimeter. It was as if we were frozen in blocks of ice.
We stared at Julie, waiting to see what she would do. When she did nothing, Katie slowly eased out her phone from her pocket and snapped a picture. This must have startled the squirrel, because before we knew it, it had disappeared into the bushes. I stared at the spot where the squirrel had been for a second longer, before turning back to the others. We burst into giggles and ended up laughing so hard that I thought I saw milk come out of Katie’s nose.
When we finally found that we could stop, Julie sighed. “Maybe I can do well in the next project!” she said.
Ashley stared at us all in turn. “Told you so” she piped up and for the second time that day, we all burst out laughing. Finally, our counselor lined us up to go inside. I was glad that the excitement was over, but as we trailed into the building, I thought that I saw a small gray squirrel sitting on the second grade table, and staring up at a little girl with sparkling eyes!
One spring morning
I thought I heard
The playful trilling
Of a bird
I looked around
And there it sat, still
Perched lightly on
It peered at me
With deep brown eyes
Then away it turned
With another cry
It cocked its head
And spread its wings
It trilled again
With a quiet ring
It turned once more
And away it soared
The wind that carried it
I watched it fade
Craning my neck
Until it shrank
Down to a speck
And as it vanished
I couldn’t help
But open the door
And feel the breeze
So cool and light
And watch the trees
Oh, what a sight!
It had been a mere three days since school let out, and already, freedom seemed to ring through the air. Leaves wavered lazily in the breeze, squirrels scurried across the trimmed lawn, and I lay back on the moist grass, surrounded by four of my best friends, Julia, Mark, Hannah, and Gaby.
We should have been smiling, laughing, and running barefoot across the lawn, but in the last few moments of Julia’s going away party, a melancholy mood had settled over us all. Later that evening, Julia’s plane would leave for Germany, and there would be no return flight. She was moving.
Julia sat cross-legged on the lawn, her hair pulled away from her round face with a neon green hair tie. Her blond bangs spilled over her forehead, and the blazing sunlight brought out the hints of amber and chestnut in her eyes. Her gaze flickered anxiously from face to face, as if she were struggling to memorize every last detail.
Our friendship had been forged over the scorching embers of middle school. With the new school year had come stricter teachers, meaner kids, more work, and only one constant face through all of my classes: Julia. We’d met on the first day of school, and from there, we had quickly become friends, growing closer and closer as the days passed. As soon as word of the move had reached my ears, I’d fallen into a state of permanent denial. Julia wouldn’t leave because she simply couldn’t; a change that drastic was unimaginable and therefore impossible. Even now, I was hoping for a miracle.
Mark stood up abruptly and drew his phone out of his pocket.
“Everyone get in!” he called. He held his phone out. A selfie. A desperate attempt to preserve these last moments with Julia. We piled into the frame, and he snapped the photo. Four of us clustered around a beaming Julia, our smiles broad and genuine. I wished I could freeze that moment and live in it forever.
The sound of approaching footsteps brought me back to reality. I glanced up and caught sight of Hannah’s mother, a tall, thin woman with short hair dyed a dark shade of magenta, stepping out onto the porch. She peered at Julia over her red-framed glasses and smiled.
“Sweetie, your mother’s here.”
Without a word, Julia scrambled up and walked indoors. I followed, clambering up the wooden steps and ducking through the doorway. The door slammed shut behind me, and Julia and I found ourselves alone in Hannah’s kitchen.
The air was much cooler inside, a sharp contrast to the smoldering heat outdoors. The midday sun bathed the entire room in a soft, golden light, and the aroma of freshly baked cookies drifted into my nose. The room seemed like a safe haven, a tiny piece of the world that harsh reality couldn't touch.
"Julia, hurry up. Your mother's waiting."
Even the safe haven was temporary.
Julia hurried past me into the hall. I followed, my shuffling footsteps deafening in the silence. Finally, we stepped out onto the front porch. By now, the rest of the group had clustered around us.
Julia turned toward us and grinned halfheartedly. "Bye, guys."
I wanted to smile back, but I couldn't; if I smiled, the tears might fall. I just nodded.
Julia bit her lip and started across the lawn. A few strands of her hair had escaped her ponytail and hung limply around her face. She reached up to push them out of her eyes.
I tore my gaze away from her; I couldn't bear to watch her climb into the car. I turned to the sky, but it seemed to taunt me with its endless expanse of clear blue, framed by lethargic wisps of clouds. I looked back just as she pulled open the car door.
Julia hesitated, then glanced back at me. I could have sworn that I saw tears glimmering in her eyes, but she climbed into the back seat. The sight finally jarred me out of denial. I’d seen her in person for the last time. She was really gone. The others trudged into the house, and I was alone.
I sank down onto Hannah’s front steps. The sun-warmed brick burned against my skin, but I didn’t care. I’d spent so long denying that she was leaving. I’d put off saying goodbye, and now, when it had finally hit me, it was too late. How could I have let this happen? Angry tears clouded my vision. The cracked pavement before me danced in and out of focus like a mirage. A tear slipped down my cheek, and I reached up to wipe it away.
Hope fluttered in my chest; I knew that voice. I looked up and met a pair of hazel eyes. Julia forced a smile. “We never really said goodbye.”
“I’ll miss you,” I blurted. “You’re my best friend.” We both knew that it was true, but neither of us had ever said those words aloud before. Her eyes widened, and another smile broke out over her face, genuine this time. She knelt down on the steps beside me.
“Promise we’ll stay in touch?”
Before I could respond, she threw her arms around me.
“Promise.” I mumbled into her shoulder. I wasn’t sure how long we stayed like that; it could’ve been seconds, minutes, or an eternity. The next thing I remember, Julia was halfway across the lawn. I heard the scraping of metal as the car door slid open, and I watched as she climbed inside. The door clicked shut behind her. The car pulled out of the driveway. The squealing of tires on concrete echoed through the air, and she was gone.
I smiled. This time, I was ready.
Sleep clung to my eyes the way the last dewdrops of morning cling to the new, green leaves of the trees. With drooping eyelids, I watched the branches bow to the gentle breeze, the sparkling droplets of last night’s rain dripping rhythmically off of their leaves, shimmering in the light of the early morning sun. A small squirrel scampered across the ground below me, weaving in and out of rose bushes as it made its way over to a towering tree. When it reached the bark covered trunk, it paused for a second, sniffing the air before leaping and scurrying from limb to limb. I lost sight of it amid the dense green foliage, only catching the occasional glimpse of its bristling tail. I squinted harder, my nose pressed against the clear glass of my bedroom window. Just as it reappeared with a nut between its paws, I heard a voice.
“Anya, have you rollerbladed today?” my mother asked, slicing into my thoughts like a pointed dagger. She stood in the doorway of my room, her hands on her hips.
“Yeah, mom,” I fibbed. Why does she always have to interrupt me when I have something to do? The angry thought crossed my mind like a tornado, destroying everything in its path.
“Really? When?” she replied, one eyebrow raised. She must have seen the guilt on my face, because a second later, she sighed. “Look, Anya, you have to practice for the party next weekend. Maggy, Nisha, Becky, Susan- they all know how to rollerblade. Do you want to be the only one who doesn’t?”
“Then you have to practice.”
“Fine,” I responded bitterly, throwing a hint of sarcasm into my voice. My mother frowned, showing me that she had caught it. I waited for her to call me out, but instead she simply turned and began to walk out of the room. Suddenly, she halted, as if something had suddenly occurred to her. She turned to face me and met my eyes.
“Have you finished your homework?” she asked. I glanced at the small pile of papers sitting on my desk. My math challenge had been finished this morning, my reading log last night.
“Yeah,” I said, glad to be telling the truth. My mom nodded.
“Good. Now go down.”
Suddenly I wished that I had lied after all. “But… what about… I still have to…” I frantically rambled, at a loss for a good excuse.
“No ‘buts’,” said my mother. “And don’t even think about being sarcastic.”
“Ok, well can I at least rollerblade a little later? Like, maybe at three?” I protested, not about to give up.
“No. Look, if you go down now, I’ll invite someone over at, say, 1:00 p.m.” It may have been a bribe, but it was a good one, and it worked.
“Make it 12:00 and we have a deal,” I said. I’m not giving in that easily, I thought.
“Anya!” my mother replied, the tone of her voice telling me that I was pushing it too far.
“Fine!” I shouted, more loudly than I had intended. I stormed past my mother and out of the room. As I searched in my closet for my rollerblades, I felt my heart sinking lower and lower in my chest. I don’t even like rollerblading! Why do I have to learn for some party!
As I marched down the stairs with my rollerblades tucked under one arm, I couldn’t stop the raging stampede of thoughts from taking over my mind.
Why does she always have to wreck my day! I could’ve been reading right now, but nooo! I have to go downstairs and rollerblade! The skates and helmet under my arm suddenly felt ten times heavier. I mean, really, aren’t parents supposed to encourage reading! Some small sliver of me refused to accept this argument. They don’t need to! I already love it too much!
As I neared the top of the basement steps, I forced all the thoughts to leave my mind. I’m only going to rollerblade now. I’ll just focus on my feet, nothing else. Hesitant to be on wheels, I took the stairs one at a time, the sense of dread in my chest building with each step. I wished with all my heart that my rollerblades would disappear, that my mother would suddenly change her mind and let me read.
No matter how much I wished, the bottom of the staircase grew larger and larger, closer and closer. Three steps remaining. Two steps. One. As I stepped onto the solid wooden floor, I couldn’t help but sigh. Why can’t I ever do what I want? How come I can’t ride a bike for exercise? Why does the floor have to be so cold? I rattled off an endless list of complaints in my head, determined to stay in a sour mood. As I sat down to strap on my skates, the complaints changed to exclamations.
My mom is way too good at making me do stuff I don’t want to! I never get to have any fun! I hate rollerblading, anyway! I pushed myself up using the back of the chair, teetering as I placed all of my weight on a single row of wheels. I grabbed the clear plastic tablecloth, then the table itself, and began pulling myself from one end of the room to the other, releasing the table only momentarily to grab onto the bookshelf. First along the table, then the bookshelf, and back to the start of the table to begin all over again.
It was a tedious process, my feet sometimes sliding of their own accord across the polished floorboards, my tight grip the only thing keeping me from falling. Knees bent, lean forward, feet tilted and angled outward. I constantly reminded myself of the basics of rollerblading. Following my own advice, I resumed my angry thoughts, finding that I could now move far more smoothly. She always ruins everything! Why can’t she let me do my own thing for once? I’m never allowed to do anything! I can’t even-
“Anya,” said a voice, shattering my thoughts yet again. I frantically looked up to meet my mother’s eyes. What was she doing here? Had I been speaking aloud? I didn’t think so.
“You’re doing so well! So much better than last time I checked,” my mother finished. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. So she didn’t hear my thoughts! And she likes how well I’m doing. Though I tried to stay angry at my mom, I couldn’t help but blush, managing to contain my smile by biting down on my lip, but the next thing she said wiped all traces of it off of my face for me.
“Anya, I think it might be time to let go of the table.”
My eyes widened at my mother’s request. I shook my head vigorously, gripping the table harder than ever with both hands. “No!” I shouted, then sheepishly looked up at my mother, who appeared to be a little shocked. “Sorry, I mean… I-I’m not ready yet. Just give me some time,” I corrected.
“...Ok, then,” she replied. “I’ll let you decide when you’re ready. If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen.” I thought I heard her sigh and mutter a few words to herself as she tromped back up the stairs.
I went back to my rollerblading, trying my best to ignore her suggestion. All the same, a voice infiltrated my thoughts, slithering into them like a venomous snake. Hey, maybe my mom has a point! I can let go! It’s easy! You’re already speeding around the room holding on, right? The voice was optimistic, but at the moment, I didn’t want optimism. I wanted as much negativity as I could muster. A second voice popped into my head, putting up an argument. No, no, no! That’s completely ridiculous! One second I can hardly stand and the next I’m whizzing along at 70 miles an hour? More likely I’ll fall and break my neck! The first voice suddenly cut in. I won’t break my neck! That isn’t going to happen from letting go of the table! Look at me! I’m already going pretty fast!
I let the voices battle each other for a little longer, and despite my efforts, the positive voice began to sway me. My mom always said that I needed to try new things. I was too obstinate, too reluctant to change. It was just barely possible that she was right. I slowly loosened my grip on the table, my eyes squeezed shut, bracing myself for a fall, but nothing happened. I opened my eyes, blinking in shock as I looked down at my steady feet. If my confidence had been displayed on a thermometer, the mercury would have burst through the glass.
Proudly, but still cautiously, I released one hand. I felt my knees tremble and felt butterflies flit around in my stomach, but I stayed still, putting my weight on the wheels to keep them steady. I moved forward a few steps, experimenting with the new way of rollerblading. “Take it step by step,” I mumbled. “Go at your own pace.” Following my own advice, I skated back and forth across the table a few times before cautiously releasing my other arm. I felt myself teeter, then almost fall forward, and finally catch myself awkwardly on the back of a chair.
I pushed myself back up and attempted to regain my balance, planting both feet firmly on the floor. After a few minutes of standing, I began to move. I slid my right foot slightly forward, then my left. At first I took short, choppy steps, then longer, fluid ones. As I paused for a second to rest, I couldn’t stop a thought from crossing my mind. I’m doing it! I’m really rollerblading! Before I started to move once again, a realization hit me like a brick, almost making me trip. Wait a second! My mom was right after all! If I hadn’t rollerbladed today, I wouldn’t have figured out how to rollerblade on my own! If she hadn’t pushed me to let go of the table, I couldn’t have done this. I tried to switch my focus back to rollerblading, but my mind wandered back to the thought each time I tried to shove it away. I used to hate reading those books when I was three! What were they called? Bob books? I had always despised them, constantly begging my parents to read them to me instead of forcing me to read on my own. A single memory flashed into my mind, one of the several reading sessions.
“Mommy, can I read one book and then watch a movie?” I had asked her when I was four.
“No,” she had replied firmly. “Two books.” “Look, they’re only three pages each,” she had added when she had seen the pout displayed on my face.
“Do you want to be good at reading or not?” I had nodded eagerly in response. “Then just read two books, no more, no less,” she had replied, and that had been that.
Now, looking back at that, I saw myself as ridiculous and my mother as right. Would it be the same way for rollerblading? Maybe my parents weren’t so bad after all.
Before I could expand on the thought, I heard a door creak open and my dad’s voice seeping through the crack. “Anya, breakfast,” he called.
“I’ll come up in five minutes,” I replied quietly, deciding to go up and down the length of the basement one last time.
“Anya, now!” he called again. I sighed in response. My parents are strict, but they only want the best for me. The thought zipped across my mind like a blast of lightning.
“Coming,” I said, just as softly as my previous statement. I made my way over to a chair to unstrap my skates. When my skates and helmet were neatly tucked away in a drawer, I walked across the basement, feeling the chill of the floorboards yet again.
“Anya?” my dad called again.
“Coming,” I repeated, more loudly this time, and with that, I started up the stairs.
In a word, she’s imaginative. She can spin worlds from nothing but a leaf-littered field, twisting a blade of grass into a skyscraper, a misshapen group of mushroom into a flourishing nation. She’ll tell you how the patches of moss that grow between the sidewalk cracks are the last traces of forest on a desolate planet, how the anthills are worn-down mountains and the stray leaves are dragons drifting down from the trees. Cupping a runaway spider in a folded leaf, she’ll give you a little half-smile and tell you how it’s an alien species, the last of its kind, sent in disguise to colonize the earth.
Clouds are flurries of gentle pastel
Evening skies, breaths of paint
Towering trees rise from charcoal scrapes
Arrows of sunlight, pencil gray with gold taint
Stars, pinpricks of watery white
Rain’s curtain a shimmering silver wash
Trembling fall leaves made of layers of pen
The texture of wood, the stroke of a brush
Fresh snow is a canvas, lost footprints the paint
Birch forests built by palette knives
Candle flames dance amid shadows of ink
The whirling world painted with brushstrokes of life
When you lie, she knows, and she lets you know that she does. For the first few moments after the words leave your mouth, she looks at you quietly--thoughtfully. She’ll purse her lips, tilting her head ever so slightly to the right, and your heartbeat will quicken. Soon enough, you’ll feel your face begin to turn pink. You’ll have to look down to hide it--it’s then that she knows for sure that you’re lying. But don’t worry--she isn’t merciless. Her silence is a peace offering, a chance to make it up to her. If you speak up, you’ll be met with a sickly-sweet smile and a curt nod. Congratulations; you’ve been forgiven. You’re in the clear. At least, temporarily.
No, the real problem comes when you stay silent. She’ll utter one word, one syllable, that’ll drive guilt home like a hammer to the chest.
Honestly, he’ll believe anything--absolutely anything. I once convinced him that the wind was really the Big Bad Wolf’s futile attempt to blow his house down, and that the leaves turn colors in autumn because adults go around hitting them with paintballs. “That’s why you see so many on the ground,” I told him. “They sometimes get knocked out of the trees.”
And he believed me. Granted, he was only six at the time...but still. He believed me.
The snow touches the ground
With its powdery feet
And candles burn
Amid the sleet
There are five on the table
And one on the porch
Each flickering like
A glowing torch
Clinging to branches
Are the last autumn leaves
The cold winter breeze
A circular design
Sits by the front door
Painted with flowers
And so much more
Almost buried in snow
The trees sway in the breeze
"Diwali" they say
Shaking their leaves
I have nothing to write. My pencil hovers uselessly above the lined paper, the worn eraser rhythmically tapping the space in between the thirteenth and fifteenth lines of the notebook, never daring to miss a beat. The notebook rests on a solid, white desk, the blank page almost blending into the equally blank background. The white paint is peeling, and it litters the floor, collecting more densely each time a disturbance causes more to flake off and drift down to the wood. Each chip of paint falls slowly, like a new snowflake being welcomed into the never-ending blanket that covers the world at winter.
My chin rests at the edge of the desk. My mind is a huge mountain, looming ahead, blocking the rushing river of words. It's as still as a dormant volcano, waiting to awaken and let the writing roll across the vast landscape of the page like licking flames. The holes in my notebook are deep, empty pools. Nothing but air lies within their depths. Writers block! they scream. Writers block! Writers block! I tear my eyes away from them, drop my pencil, and thrust my face into my elbow. My left hand starts to act of its own accord, relentlessly drumming out patterns on the plastic arm of the chair. I sigh.
And it's then that inspiration strikes me. I sit up straight, pick up my pencil, and as soon as I touch it to the paper, it takes flight. It sketches an image into my mind, one word after another, soaring through each so quickly that they blur before my eyes. And then, I am done. As I look down at the page, now overflowing with words, a single, lonely phrase catches my eye. It's the sentence that sparked the idea, the sentence that started it all. Five simple words: I have nothing to write.
A sudden flash
A booming sound
The comforting pit-patter of rain
A blast of lightning
A clap of thunder
And the comforting drizzle of rain
A bright white light
A low rumbling sound
The beautiful silvery rain
A lovely light
A crashing sound
And the comforting tip-tapping of rain
I'm a high school senior from Millburn, NJ.