Home > Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(12)

Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2)(12)
Author: Tammara Webber

‘Why are they always mad at each other?’ I asked.

‘They aren’t really mad – just in a disagreement about what’s black and what’s white. Problem is, they’re fighting over something in between.’

Dad believed Grandpa was disappointed in him for leaving, instead of staying and working on the boat. I wasn’t so sure. Maybe Grandpa just wanted to be allowed to do what he wanted to do with his life, instead of being judged as not educated enough – not good enough.

‘So they’re fighting over the grey stuff?’

‘Yes, but more like – the colours. Grey tones in black-and-white photos are the coloured things in real life – the green grass, a pink scarf, a yellow rose. I think they sometimes don’t understand how much falls in the middle. How much will never be black or white.’ She smiled. ‘Maybe they’re artistically challenged. Like I’m math challenged. You know?’

I nodded. But I was comfortable with both, so I didn’t really understand.

Lying on my new bed, I stared up at the three faux-flame bulbs of the only light fixture in my microscopic room. The switch was on a cord that hung down the wall by the door. The fixture and arms were a sort of oxidized brass, but so corroded that I couldn’t tell what it was supposed to look like. Maybe the metal had been shiny once – like fifty years ago. Probably, brass wasn’t made to be this near the ocean and never polished.

I stretched my arms out to either side and touched the walls, then reached behind me and touched the third wall. The fourth wall was mostly the pantry door, with a tiny bit of wallboard around and above it.

Going up on my knees, I groped along one of the shallow shelves Grandpa had left attached to the wall and grabbed my iPod from its new home next to a stack of my sketchbooks. A few months ago, these shelves held canned goods and preserves and boxes of cereal and macaroni and cheese. There had been a basket of potatoes by the door that Grandpa called tubers, and a basket of onions next to it that I could still smell even though they’d been moved somewhere else – to a drawer in the kitchen, I guessed.

I shoved my earbuds in and dialled to a playlist of a new band I’d just discovered before we left Alexandria. They’d been local, getting some play on the college stations. I was thinking I might go see them, live. Now, unless they got really famous and started touring, I’d never see them. Even if they started touring, they’d never come here. No one came here.

I wasn’t sure what happened to the boxes of ornaments and decorations Mom dragged from the basement closet every year – the strands of lights, twistable green garland, velvet stockings and the advent calendar with its tiny hinged windows.

I hadn’t expected any gifts, but Grandpa gave me a pearl-handled pocketknife with a blade longer than my middle finger. It looked old, but well maintained and wicked sharp. Dad, having failed to remember to buy me a gift on a major holiday, handed me a few bills, and I stuffed them into my wallet without looking at them. ‘Thanks,’ I said to each of them, and then Grandpa pulled an ancient waffle iron from a low cabinet and a box of waffle mix and plastic jug of maple syrup from a high cabinet.

First Christmas without Mom, over.

I’d grown a bit more since summer but hadn’t been shopping for new clothes. I hadn’t had a haircut. Honestly, I sort of forgot about how I looked until the first day I had to go to a new school.

In this town, there was one elementary school, one junior high and one high school, all housed at the same address. Sort of like my private school back home – or what used to be home. Most of the kids here had known each other most if not all their lives, just like we had. Newcomers were mistrusted until they made friends or became outcasts. I knew this, but even so, I didn’t think about how it would apply to me, until it did.

My T-shirts still fitted okay, but my jeans didn’t. My shoes squeezed my toes. I’d outgrown my North Face jacket, and the sleeves of my hoodies were all too short. I tugged them down my arms until the knitted cuffs stretched out like too-wide mouths and stayed that way.

I wore my wide-banded watch and my rubber wristbands every day, relieved they weren’t banned here, because my teachers quickly decided that I was a delinquent. They wouldn’t have bent any rules for the introverted and possibly unstable new kid with ill-fitting clothes, too-long hair, and no desire to participate in class.

The other kids mostly agreed with the teachers.

In class, I took whatever seat the teacher pointed me to and did as little as possible. In the halls, I kept close to the walls of lockers, eyes on the floor, ignoring any insults or ‘accidental’ shoves. Sometimes I imagined myself reacting. I remembered the scuffles and shoving matches we’d had on the ice – the rush of putting an opponent face-first into the acrylic wall when he’d injured a teammate or talked a little too much trash. No skates or glassy ice beneath my feet, I could have smashed noses and popped shoulders from joints before most of these guys knew what hit them.

But then they’d know I gave a crap what they did to me. So I didn’t bother.

At lunch, I was sentenced to the outcast table with a couple of guys from my grade, Rick and Boyce, and a seventh-grade girl, Pearl, who slumped into her seat and read while hiding behind a head full of scraggly, dark hair and glasses. None of them were inclined to talk to me, but they didn’t toss bits of food or hateful comments, either, so I ate my lunch, as silent as I was the rest of every day, and then I pulled out my sketchpad and hunched over it. I’d learned to keep my backpack with me all day. Lockers weren’t secure, even though everyone was warned to guard their combinations. The supposedly confidential codes of those built-in locks had long since spread through the student body.

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