Saturday, July 17, 2010

Third Place.

Bronze - 492 words
Mary Ann Loo

Sandra sits on the windowsill, her bare feet dangling above the 90-foot drop to endless oblivion. It is 8pm, and despite movements in the lighted windows of the surrounding buildings, despite the orchestration of various blaring TV sounds, the world is seemingly silent in this one frame of time. A silence that echoes, screaming louder and louder in her ears, pounding through every trembling fiber of her body – the inevitability of that final moment when she’ll loosen her grip on the tiny ledge, and allow herself to fall, fall, fall out of this life, out of this pain forever.

“Good work, Sandra,” the teacher said, handing her the Math test with a red 97 scrawled on the top right corner. Sandra returned to her seat in the first row, her heart pounding wildly as the question arose within: why hadn’t Mr. Lee congratulated her for coming in first?

“Come on, Sandra, it’s just a test.” her boyfriend said as they walked to the bus stop outside the school. “It’s not like you did bad – you got 97! So what if you didn’t top the class this time? James and Geraldine only beat you by like 1 point!”

Sandra came home that afternoon, took a quick shower, sat at the table in her bedroom and opened her Chemistry textbook, overtly highlighted and underlined, the empty white spaces between chunks of text peppered with her tiny penciled handwriting. Chapter 10 was unsullied – the class wasn’t starting on it for another week – but not for long. Sandra had her highlighter pens laid out: pink for new terms, orange for main points, yellow for supporting points, green for formulae… She systematically worked though her color scheme, capping and uncapping, shading, underlining, and all the while the red 97 haunted her thoughts; three hours later, chapter 10 was colorful, but her memory retained none of it.

How was she going to explain to Mom? Sandra has topped her class in Math, English, History, and Chemistry every single year, every single test, every single assignment. Just like Mom. She was class president, president of the debate team, and she’d just been appointed valedictorian. Just like Mom. As far back as she can recall, she has rarely met anyone outside of school, she goes to bed at 3, wakes up at 6, even on weekends; she’s always working, working, working. Just like Mom. And Mom expects only the very best, and nothing, absolutely nothing less.

So Sandra finds herself on her windowsill, 90 feet away from repose, from an eternal escape. She looks back at the tiny bedroom, its white walls decorated with the periodic table and a famous scientists calendar, the chemistry textbook at the beginning of an untainted chapter 11, the letter in her tiny handwriting. A few moments from now, Mom will be home, she will walk into an empty bedroom, and see the open window, and the words: “I’m sorry for being in third place.”

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