Apathy Did Not Become Her

Apathy Did Not Become Her

flash fiction Carolina Mesquita, age 17

Sometimes, behind closed eyelids, Fern could again see the yellow sunbeams that once glided through the living room windows during the late afternoon to cast shadows against her grandmother’s happy wrinkles. The old woman, whose insurmountable elegance made her armchair appear decidedly regal, lived with her daughter’s family in their home for the last two years of her life.

Fern spent most afternoons with her grandmother during that time, preparing tea whenever the old woman was overtaken by one of her coughing fits, or studying the varying expressions on her grandmother’s face on the days that she spent hours staring out of the adjacent window. They almost never spoke because the girl’s proficiency in Spanish did not go beyond her ability to mutter a feeble gracias whenever her grandmother wrapped a shawl around Fern’s trembling shoulders, or whenever the old woman remembered precisely how much sugar her granddaughter preferred in her coffee.

Fern’s mother worried for her. Years ago, when the girl was seven, she came home one afternoon and announced to her parents—a first-generation, Mexican-American mother and a white-as-Wonder-Bread father—that she wished to abandon her given name “Fernanda,” and instead preferred the anglo name “Fern.”

Now, a year following the death of her abuelita, Fern buried her face in her pillow almost every night, overwhelmed with shame. Guilt had always been familiar to Fern, but in almost all other regards, she had grown indifferent. Her friends had come to bore her—they had always been high-achieving, witty, and attractive, but Fern now found them to be neurotic and self-indulgent. She was uninterested in their party invitations and starry-eyed tales of love and lust. They exuded a youthful and flamboyant energy that she once did as well—yet now, she found herself unable to maintain that façade and floated through adolescence in a lethargic haze.

She avoided mirrors so as to avoid seeing the empty hole that punctured her midsection and the word FRAUD printed across her forehead. Outside observers were ignorant to this emptiness within her: she woke early every day, ran a mile in the morning, ate and dressed well, did well in school, helped her mother around the house, tutored a group of biology students three hours a week, and got a full nine hours of sleep every night.

Apathy did not become her, but she embraced it relentlessly while scolding herself for feeling like a first-world brat. While her friends looked at each other with hearts in their eyes and hard liquor in their stomachs, Fern spread her arms across her bed and stared through the ceiling. When she next looked at the clock, she found that four hours had passed—it was time for sleep. She buried her face in her pillow, wondering how long it would take for her to get people to start calling her “Fernanda” once again.

2015 Scholastic Writing Awards Silver Key

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