Austin Preparatory School
The air that wraps your body when you walk into your old home for the first time since you left is made up with the feeling of when you’re six years old, and your parents come home late from their dinner party, and you listen as they pay the babysitter downstairs, the nice one who has long hair a few shades lighter than buttercups and a girlfriend (but your parents don’t know that; they wouldn’t let her watch you if they did), and your mother’s perfume is particularly fragrant, and your father’s tie is the same shade as her lipstick, and it’s ten p.m.., and you should have been asleep hours ago, but you’ve been creeping around your tiny yellow bedroom like an inmate on a breakout mission ever since the babysitter left your tiny white bedroom door three-quarters shut (just the way you like it), and you’ve been flushing your cartoon coloring book red with the crayons that you stole from your Nonna’s house, but it wasn’t really stealing, because she knew you were taking them, and after the front door, with its peeling paint that your mother always offhandedly complains about shuts behind your babysitter’s back, you sneak down the stairs extra-loud because you want them to know you’re awake, and they exchange tight-lipped smiles and an exaggerated, “I wonder where our little angel is?” and you pause at the base of the stairwell and grin with your perfect white baby teeth, the front left of which is loose, and when you finally enter the kitchen, where your parents stand with their post-outing glasses half-full of red wine, your mother puts her glass on the granite countertop and envelops you in her bony arms, the skin stretched thin from years of skipped lunch (and breakfast and dinner), which she will pass on to you for a time, but that time is not yet, and then your father, his face a mirror of your own, all pointed nose and owl eyes, puts his hand atop your head of curls and musses them, a gesture which you will one day grow to hate, but that time is not yet, and then you all make your way back up the stairs together, wine still a quarter full and forgotten, staining the bottom of the glass like the glass in the church windows where the old man talks for a long while with vague allusions to love laced with hate, the type of love that will justify your mother telling you, later, that your soul will catch fire someday, just like your babysitter’s, but you don’t know that quite yet, so you trace patterns in the wood of the pew in front of yours (because you are too short to see over it), and the moment could be a photograph, really, the three of you on the steps: your mother in her red dress and off-white shawl, your father in his black suit and red tie, and you, you in your candy-striped pajamas and socks dotted with unicorns, padding up to a night of rosy dreams under a pink princess blanket, and isn’t everything so sickeningly perfect? Isn’t it?
Achingly personal. The bittersweet nostalgia of a joyful memory laced with pain creates a beautiful emotional tension.
Maddie Botti is a senior at Austin Preparatory School in Reading, Massachusetts. Their work has previously been published in The WEIGHT Journal and Canvas Literary Journal. When they're not writing, you can probably find them annoying their cat, having photo shoots in the woods, and watching Pose.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR