by Elissa Kunihiro, Age 16, Canada
Artwork by Journey Meyerhoff
The fiction prompt for December was “lights.”
The lights are everywhere. They’re hanging in colourful strings off the edges of rooftops, wrapped in luminescent cords around trees and illuminating snowbanks around driveways, turning streetlights into bright corkscrews in the dark. Beautiful.
But there’s a dark shadow on the edge of the festivities, puffing out clouded breaths as he trudges through the slush on the roadside. The glow of the passing headlights glances off his hair; the drivers are too busy carolling in the car to take note of his shivering when the wheels spin wet snow onto his pants, and he clutches his parcel more tightly.
He’s never been one for holiday merriment––to him, unreasonable happiness is a delusion. Because sometimes his parents work late throughout Christmas to receive twice the hourly pay rate. Sometimes he eats cereal alone in front of the television and calls it Christmas dinner. Sometimes he wakes to bitter words in the weeks leading up to the holiday, his parents hissing of money and time and of course he’s unhappy, but we can’t help that––
Sometimes his shadows are darker than he can shine.
Lately, he’s been thinking about division. The way the ceiling of his family’s rented basement and the floor of the family above them separates the silence around him from the laughter that emanates through the air vents and punctuates his sleep. How his four-year-old sister sits alone at her daycare when he comes to pick her up, her baggy hand-me-downs looking especially grubby against the pristine, shining plastic of the room. The dissection down the middle of the bed his parents share, an invisible and ubiquitous wall between their turned backs in the dark. There’s always a separation––a clear line drawn between people until it seems impossible to cross.
She was the first person to step across that insurmountable line and flash him a bright smile. She offered him her company and gave light to his gloom, and in turn he will give her his words. He has nothing greater to offer, but he knows that when she sees the worn notebook, the pages filled with ink and scrawled drawings––she will know that it is everything.
When she opens the door, she’s dressed in white, a radiant silhouette against the lights of the hallway. It looks like she’s holding a shadow when she pulls him to her, her hair gleaming golden against the dark of his shoulder. She takes the parcel from his hands, shaking off his sheepish apologies for the soggy wrapping paper.
Here, the ever-present divide is palpable. His boots leave grey puddles on the white tile floor. The tattered notebook looks like a game of “what doesn’t belong here” next to her picturesque tree. Everything is about contrast today.
But in the dim of the lights sparkling on her Christmas tree, she brushes her fingers over her name in dark ink, traces his words with bright eyes. And when she smiles and takes him by the hand, he is glowing.
Elissa writes, “For me, writing is a safe way to explore my own voice. As John Green says, ‘Writing is for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.'”