Short one this week. Hope you like it. (It doesn't stick to the prompt TOO closely but ah well.)
Here, how about I tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a young lady named Isadora. She wasn’t quite young, actually—she was in that awkward age between where people call you ‘young lady’ and the years where they treat you like an actual human being. Long story short, she was in high school, and it sucked.
Isadora had black hair and blue eyes, and she was stump short and stick skinny, and nobody liked her.
That’s right, nobody. Her father and mother had tried their best—to like her and to raise her—but as far as they could tell, she’d grown up a brat. Her teachers thought her withdrawn and her comments relatively uninteresting. Her classmates thought she was stuck-up and snobby. Either that or just-plain-weird.
Isadora had grown up with not many people liking her, and as the years went on, that number dwindled down and down until it hit rock-bottom goose-egg zero zip nada. She used to wish that people would like her, but that just added to the massive amounts of self-pity she experienced, so she started pushing away the desire to be liked at all.
After all, after the summer before sophomore year, there was something that she couldn’t tell anyone, and keeping secrets makes people hate you.
Self-hatred is a vicious cycle. You hate yourself so much you start to expect that other people want to hate you right when they meet you, like everyone is out to get you. Social paranoia. You can’t see any good in yourself, so, you suppose, why the hell should they see any? They don’t even know you. So you treat them with an instant defense, because you’re so convinced they already dislike you. And that’s the type of hatred that Isadora had for herself. She’d never been particularly good at anything, so she had decided to be the best at being the worst person she could.
She’d decided this at a very young age. She was nine, and she had realized she didn’t really care about all the things other kids cared about, and she had assumed there was something wrong with her. This assumption didn’t change much over the years.
So, yeah, nobody liked Isadora and that was pretty much that.
It was pretty convenient that she’d done this to herself by the time sophomore year came.
Isadora was sixteen at this point, and when she walked into school, people looked at her a little funny. She was walking stiffly, jerkily. But eventually people stopped giving her second glances, because they pretty much assumed that it was just a slight mannerism they hadn’t noticed before that had developed into a funny walk.
So, the year went on, and if the stiffness worsened, people either didn’t notice or just couldn’t give a shit. Who were they to care about this snotty girl? Seriously, they had more important things to be worrying about.
Isadora was perfectly happy this way, because God knew she didn’t want to tell anyone about this.
Which was why it was so damn inconvenient when Arthur showed up.
He transferred from Indiana halfway through second quarter, and he had wavy brown hair and glasses, and he seemed to enjoy verbal abuse. Isadora was at a loss. For every quip she used to snub him, he had two to retort with. And before long they were friends, and that was a very bad thing.
When you hate yourself, you can’t believe anyone would be friends with you, because you think to yourself that if you weren’t you, and you met you, you wouldn’t want to be friends with you. So you hold people at arm’s distance. But there are just some people where you can’t do that, and Isadora found out that Arthur was one of those people. It was third quarter, and she was missing school—she didn’t want anyone to know why—and he showed up at her house.
“You don’t even look sick,” he said to her, and she averted her eyes, fidgeting, holding back the pain.
“Well,” she told him, “shows how much you know.”
“Oh, Izzy, I know everything,” he sighed.
She shook her head. “If you call me Izzy, I’m calling you Arty, remember?”
“God, spare me. Okay.” And Arthur sat down at the end of her bed, and she looked at him with eyes that were filled with suspicion. Then Arthur asked, “Hey, why don’t you ever relax?”
“It’s just not something I do.” Before she could stop herself— “Especially not this year.”
Arthur stared at her, because that was the closest thing to personal information he’d ever gotten out of her. “Okay, wait, back up. Why don’t you, and why it is it especially this year?”
“It’s just…a problem,” said Isadora. “Look, I’m…I’m sick. I have to sleep. Sorry, Arthur, but I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“We’re talking about this later,” he said, and she hesitated as long as she could before nodding.
When Isadora got back to school, it almost looked like she was hobbling, bent over a little, her legs swinging along straight and stiff and unnatural. But people still ignored her. Still didn’t care.
Except Arthur. “What’s wrong with your legs?” he asked. Over and over. She didn’t want to relent, but she did, after two full months of him badgering her.
And that was the day Fate decided to act.
They stood in the courtyard, and Isadora rolled up the legs of her pants and showed Arthur. And he was shocked.
Arthur let out a yell and stumbled back, for the legs that she had showed him were kneeless, skinless, emaciated ostrich legs. Long and skinny and frail and breakable. and as the sunlight gleamed off them, Isadora felt the rest of her changing, too.
She had always been skinny. Now her back buckled in and her shoulder blades erupted from her back. And now the rest of her was breaking and folding, the skin looping itself up, and her shoulder blades were tearing out and out and blossoming into a pair of magnificent dappled wings.
Not ostrich wings. Isadora’s nose burst out from its cartilage and curved into a wicked hard black point, and as her body twisted downward and inward, those long ostrich legs shrank down and down, and she became a tremendous glossy eagle.
She took flight, soaring into the air without goodbye, thanking God that Arthur didn’t have to waste any more of his time with her, thanking God that he got to be free of her. Her eagle’s eyes cried no tears. This was best. She was finally alone.
So yeah, that’s the end.
Did you like the story? I hope you did.
But see, this isn’t how the world really works. People won’t wait for you forever—I managed to push Arthur away by refusing to tell him about my legs. I succeeded without having to turn into an eagle, and then I felt weirdly satisfied. I was alone, like I should be.
And my legs?
I’m sitting in a hospital bed. Alone with the beep of a regulator that’s making sure I’m still alive.
Last summer, I contracted something called transverse myelitis. As far as I understand, it’s where swelling occurs around your spine and stops the right signals from getting to where they’re supposed to, basically.
I wonder if turning into a bird would be more or less painful than this.
The pain’s going to go, though. It’s not long until my legs are totally paralyzed. Maybe, if I’m lucky, there’ll be complications and I’ll die. Life without aimless walks by myself isn’t a life for me. Life without going unnoticed isn’t for me. My parents visit too often, and I don’t want to see them. I got get-well cards from my classes, and I know they don’t even like me. They probably feel guilty for never asking about my legs, but that doesn’t mean they like me.
And Arthur…he visits. Every other day.
I just want him to stop—can’t he get it? I don’t want him to be here. And, most of all, I don’t understand why he wants to be here.
A brisk knock on the door. Arthur comes in before I can tell him to get out.
He settles down on the chair next to me and pulls out a book and starts reading.
Confused, I stay quiet.
After a while, I drop off to sleep. When I wake up, he’s gone.
This happens two more days in a row.
Then, he talks.
“How are you feeling?”
“Okay, I guess. Why are you—”
“That’s good, Isadora.” His eyes are so earnest that I can’t find it in me to question him.
I look down at my hands and shift. A bolt of pain sears down my legs, and I wince. That’s worse than it’s ever been.
My heart speeds up—I can hear the beeping on the regulator—and my mouth gets dry.
He’s on his feet instantly. “Should I get the nurse?”
“Siddown, Arthur,” I say, exhaustion filling my voice. So he sits down slowly. “Thank you,” I murmur. My heartbeat slows down—way down.
“Hey, don’t be sad about this,” his voice says. “You’re still great, and you’ll be great even when you can’t walk. You know, that, right?”
Lie, that’s a lie, I think. But I give Arthur a sleepy drugged-up smile for affirmation, the first smile I’ve given in a long time.
I close my eyes to go to sleep.