“Xavier”

The last time I saw Xavier was on my tenth birthday. He proposed to me that day, with a ring fashioned from a twisted branch and adorned with serrated leaves. The jagged thorns left a white scar on the inside of my finger, a constant reminder of his youthful promise.

I never saw him after that. He used to come over every weekend to play in the reeds; I was convinced that a creature lurked beneath the tall grass and so I stayed perched atop the rocks, but he was much braver than me. He would venture down beside the river until all I could see was his hair, flaming red, as he gathered smooth pebbles and crooked stems with half-soaked petals.He used to bring me the treasured fragments he foraged, laying them down beside me on the sunbaked rocks. Some days, stalks of waving cattails were gnarled staffs, and we were wizards, crafting spells to halt the sun’s descent across the sky. When it rained, he fashioned rafts from strips of willow bark and we were pirates on the narrow river, taking turtles hostage and later casting them overboard.

He used to bring me the treasured fragments he foraged, laying them down beside me on the sunbaked rocks. Some days, stalks of waving cattails were gnarled staffs, and we were wizards, crafting spells to halt the sun’s descent across the sky. When it rained, he fashioned rafts from strips of willow bark and we were pirates on the narrow river, taking turtles hostage and later casting them overboard.The day after I turned ten there were vans in our gravel driveway, and men with black windbreakers to slick back the downpour. My mother had gone out to greet them with bare feet and a thin robe; she was unwell, even then—the purple valleys beneath her eyes condemned her.

The day after I turned ten there were vans in our gravel driveway, and men with black windbreakers to slick back the downpour. My mother had gone out to greet them with bare feet and a thin robe; she was unwell, even then—the purple valleys beneath her eyes condemned her.I watched them from the nook behind the door, that same shadowed corner where hours before Xavier had offered me his crude declaration of love. The barbed ring had latched onto my finger like a leech, and I smeared away crimson beads with the edge of my sleeve.

I watched them from the nook behind the door, that same shadowed corner where hours before Xavier had offered me his crude declaration of love. The barbed ring had latched onto my finger like a leech, and I smeared away crimson beads with the edge of my sleeve.It was instinct, even then, that drove me from the sheltered darkness of the oak door out into the rain. Mud sloshed beneath my toenails and I was crying silt tears as gravel splattered my face and mingled with the glassy sleet.

It was instinct, even then, that drove me from the sheltered darkness of the oak door out into the rain. Mud sloshed beneath my toenails and I was crying silt tears as gravel splattered my face and mingled with the glassy sleet.Without Xavier to drag me by my hand I remained tucked behind my mother’s tattered robe, peeking out with heavy eyes as the men knelt before me with unfamiliar smiles. I glanced up at my mother but she seemed not to notice me at her side; the deep ravines that hollowed her eyes had filled with brackish water.

Without Xavier to drag me by my hand I remained tucked behind my mother’s tattered robe, peeking out with heavy eyes as the men knelt before me with unfamiliar smiles. I glanced up at my mother but she seemed not to notice me at her side; the deep ravines that hollowed her eyes had filled with brackish water.“An accident,” the kneeling man was saying.

“An accident,” the kneeling man was saying.
“Couldn’t swim,” rasped the other. I didn’t understand why his eyebrows furrowed, or why his mouth had pressed into a hard line. They were silly, I had thought; of course he could–he was the captain of our band of pirates, commandeering our makeshift barge with two feet dangling in the swirling stream.They were speaking again, but I couldn’t hear. There were tendrils of black ice crawling up my stomach and I started to fall, right then; without him to slash the reeds away they wrapped around my ankles and pulled me to the ground. There was fresh blood on my finger but I didn’t wipe it away; instead I stared as it pooled at my fingertips and lingered for a moment in a trembling orb.

They were speaking again, but I couldn’t hear. There were tendrils of black ice crawling up my stomach and I started to fall, right then; without him to slash the reeds away they wrapped around my ankles and pulled me to the ground. There was fresh blood on my finger but I didn’t wipe it away; instead I stared as it pooled at my fingertips and lingered for a moment in a trembling orb.

They were speaking again, but I couldn’t hear. There were tendrils of black ice crawling up my stomach and I started to fall, right then; without him to slash the reeds away they wrapped around my ankles and pulled me to the ground. There was fresh blood on my finger but I didn’t wipe it away; instead I stared as it pooled at my fingertips and lingered for a moment in a trembling orb.There was silence, then. Only the gray sheet of rain separated my world from Xavier’s. Blood and water mingled and the mud-soaked path turned earthy red, sighing and sinking beneath my bare feet. I clenched my fists and uneven nails dug into the soft flesh of my palm; against white knuckles the barbed ring crackled and hissed like a clap of thunder.

There was silence, then. Only the gray sheet of rain separated my world from Xavier’s. Blood and water mingled and the mud-soaked path turned earthy red, sighing and sinking beneath my bare feet. I clenched my fists and uneven nails dug into the soft flesh of my palm; against white knuckles the barbed ring crackled and hissed like a clap of thunder.

There was a darkish brown river streaming from my finger, where the thorns had stuck and wrenched free and had now driven into the soft earth. I brought my hands to my face and the river twisted and wound down my cheeks, flooding the basin above my lips; when I looked up my mother was screaming, holding me and thrusting me towards unfamiliar hands.

I was still, eyes cast downward as black rubber soles buried the ring with a wet squeal and calloused fingers touched my face. They swabbed away the rivulets that trickled down my chin, and with neither a word nor a whispered vow a chalky bandage had replaced the promise on my finger. Hot blood bubbled beneath the gauze and I prayed that it burned, prayed that it stained red so I wouldn’t lose him.

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About Jaclyn Rothman

Jaclyn Rothman is a seventeen year old high school student from Los Angeles, CA. She attends Harvard-Westlake school and works at a small animal hospital when she's not studying. She has previously been awarded first prize in Creative Communication's National Poetry Contest, and won a literary award while studying abroad at Christ Church College, Oxford.



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