It is impossible to fold the same piece of paper seven times.
You wrote inside the lines. Your textbooks neat, unmarked, while ours were brazen with graffiti.
Sometimes, I sat next to you when I came in late. You sat so still, as though you were trying to dematerialise. You never made the slightest utterance, even when they broke your compass and used it to scratch names into your leg.
I wondered what it would sound like if I ever heard your misery. I imagined you floating near the ceiling of the classroom, squawking softly like a finch.
We met ten years later at a party. I was into saving things by then. You were off your face, acted like you didn’t know me. Later, you came over, pulled your sleeve back like you were showing me the time. Raw lines traced through pale skin like tracks on a map. You pointed to a red scar near your wrist, ‘That one’s yours’.
After we break up the second time, I beg you to get help. You write thirty-two pages in your notebook after the psychologist tells you to jot down feelings about your father. The psychologist suggests regression therapy.
You don’t want me to keep the baby. You want your gene pool to finish with you. You say every generation gets worse like a bad movie sequel. You want to be the grand finale.
You see yourself quite clearly as a farmhand. The family you work for moves the animals with wooden traps and whips. You try not to use force unless they’re watching. When you’re old enough they make you drive the sheep into the slaughterhouse. When you come around in the therapist’s office you’re bleating like a lamb.
You leave notices for the abortion clinic on the fridge next to my reminders about prenatal classes and scan appointments. You continue even when I reach the third trimester. On Mothers’ Day, you send me a sympathy card.
You write your suicide note on the back of a receipt. The policeman said it was all you had to hand, said it showed it wasn’t planned. It feels like criticism, like you hadn’t prepared properly for a test.
I become obsessed with reading it.
Three words. The last crossed out. I can’t.
Jo Withers writes short fiction from her home in South Australia. Previous work appears in The Caterpillar, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, Molotov Cocktail, Milk Candy Review, and Best Microfictions 2020.
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