Elizabeth McHenry

Elizabeth McHenry

flash fiction by Malavika Krishnan, age 16

I met Elizabeth McHenry in the third grade, and I’d be lying if I said I was anything but mesmerized by her—the bizarre haircut with the bangs she had crookedly cut short herself, the peculiar designs she would always draw all over her arms with a Crayola marker, the look of determination she would suddenly develop on her face when she was focused on something (never our schoolwork, though–usually an object as dull as a dried glob of glue or the ripped perforations of a piece of paper).

Growing up, Elizabeth McHenry generally kept to herself. She possessed that innocent audacity that made her the type of girl who would sit at the single desk in the center of the classroom, transfixed by her own thoughts and unaware of the eyes scrutinizing her as she bit the end of her pencil. I sat surrounded by a group of cocky guys who were too caught up in their own immature jokes to notice her, and I pretended I didn’t know her name, either. But every day, I noticed her sitting there alone, and sometimes, she would turn up a corner of her mouth when she saw me looking.

As we all seemed to grow increasingly petty with age, concerned by matters of popularity, keeping up with trends, maintaining our grades consuming our thoughts, our adolescence—Elizabeth McHenry seemed to only grow wiser. She transcended the shallow concerns that occupied our young minds, always involved with something far more important. She remained the girl she had been in the third grade, but with a new kind of intensity and focus I can only attempt to put into words. That year, she wrote an angry, opinionated letter to our Senator when she disagreed with a new immigration bill he endorsed. Her next crusade involved standing outside the principal’s office every day, notepad in hand, pleading with every passing student to sign her petition for a more eco-friendly campus. I signed it, though I had no grasp of  the vast issues this tiny but spirited girl hoped to battle head-on.

Although she was all about fighting the big battles, she was impressively detail-oriented. She was the girl who waited every morning for a family of sparrows to eat seeds from her hand-painted bird feeder, day after day, until they flew away for good. She was the girl who lovingly watched her little brother without complaint every day after school when her parents were out saving lives and whatever else surgeons do. I understand her behavior now, but back when matters of popularity, soccer, and maintaining my grades were all I could think about, I wished Elizabeth McHenry would care a bit more about the social scene so I could get the chance to know her.

Long after Elizabeth McHenry had been pushed out of my mind, I sat on the dining room table with my kids, reading the newspaper while they sloshed around the orange juice and made a mess of the pancakes. I was on page three when I noticed her name. I read the story of how her mother had long been abused by her father. How Elizabeth McHenry couldn’t take it any longer and felt so strongly for her mother that she killed her father in her rage. How she was convicted by a jury for murder. At first, I was shocked. Was this really how Elizabeth McHenry’s story ended? But the more I sat and pondered, the more it made sense in my mind—it was just like the Elizabeth I knew to be willing to do anything for what she was passionate about. I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew I was envious of Elizabeth McHenry. How liberating it must be to fight for what you believe in. To feel so alive every day. To care so much. I let out a long sigh, cleaned up the mess my kids had made, and prepared myself for yet another mundane, regrettably ordinary day

2015 Scholastic Writing Awards Gold Key, Gold Medal

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