The Breaks

Mal could barely control her giddiness. She was faint from the anxiety and excitement coursing through her body, running in parallel neon streams from the top of her head to the tips of her tingling fingers and toes.

“I’d like to buy a vowel,” she shouted, her voice hoarse from the effort.

The light shone down on her, illuminating fair strands of hair and heavy globs of mascara. Mal ignored the glare, her pale blue eyes focused on the board before her. She knew this, she absolutely knew it. The answer was “Howling with laughter.”

“An A!” Alex called back. Vanna, resplendent in a red sequined gown that hugged her famous curves, walked gracefully from one end of the platform to the other, her manicured hand pushing the black button on each lit screen.

The audience cheered, the noise reverberating throughout the windowless studio. It echoed around Mal, pulsed just outside her ears. She could feel the air pushing against her, and her heart thumped harder and faster.

“I’d like to solve the puzzle, Alex,” she called.

Howling with laughter, howling with laughter, howling with laughter. She muttered the phrase under her breath, her mind whirling at the thought of what she would do with her winnings. She would get the final puzzle. Obviously. Then she could take her money – taxes, what? – pay off her remaining student debt, the typical albatross of her unfortunate generation, then she was out of here. Leaving behind her nagging mother, her cheating boyfriend. Paradise was just a plane ride away. And she watched enough movies (“The Firm,” anyone?) to know that the Cayman Islands were the place to be. Sun, sand, surf and safe banks. It was a no-brainer.

Mal lifted onto her toes, bounced three times, then cupped her hands around her mouth to clearly and confidently announce, “Howling with laughter!”

She squealed after the announcement, went from bouncing to jumping exuberantly. Her ill-fitting black blazer flapped at her wide hips, her limp curls sprung apathetically. She didn’t care. This was her moment.

So absorbed was she that Mal didn’t notice the audience’s lukewarm applause or the look exchanged between the two other players. All that mattered was that she was the smartest. The fastest. The winner. She was going to win. Win.

Beep, beep.

“I’m sorry, that’s not correct. On to you, Matt. Spin that wheel!”

Other and Together

*Note: This story is an updated/edited version of the one that has been published on WOW! Women On Writing. Thank you for reading!

The girl stood on the street corner, alone. Her hands were at her sides, fingering the pleats on her burgundy skirt. Her school bag lay silent against her leg, though the occasional breeze gave life to the buckles that remained unfastened. She didn’t glance around, looking anxious; she didn’t look bored, her eyes glazed over and blank. No, she observed, absorbing the colors of the trees and the sky, the touch of wind against her skin. She felt.

This little girl, Amber, was other.

She saw strangers’ looks, the fear, the lack of understanding. She saw the flushes of embarrassment, though she didn’t understand them. She saw parents kneel down and scold their children when they laughed or pointed at her.

Unlike those children, Amber could not hear, could not speak. She could make sounds, enjoyed the vibration in her throat. She didn’t know that the noises were jarring and loud, didn’t realize they made her a target. Fluent in sign language, Amber communicated with a flutter of her hands that appeared almost poetic. But without friends, she chose to interact with no one. She merely watched the world around her.

On this particular day, while she waited at the bus stop, something changed for her. As strands of blonde hair danced against her face, as the hem of her skirt lifted and fell with each gust, Amber slowly raised her arms higher and higher, reaching toward the sky. She tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and welcomed the sunlight that turned her vision red. She swayed back and forth, back and forth.

And when she lowered her head and opened her eyes, there was a girl standing in front of her.

“Hi, my name is Annie. I’m new. My family just moved here. What’s your name?”

Amber stared at the girl.

“Are you new here too?”

Silence.

“Am I bothering you? I can stop talking. My dad tells me I talk too much, but sometimes it can be a good thing. My family moves around a lot ‘cause of my dad’s job, so being a chatterbox makes it easier when you’re at a new school. I have a new cat, too, and his name is Charlie. Do you like cats?”

Amber’s brown eyes revealed nothing, only reflected Annie’s curious gaze.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re not very talkative. Are you ok? My sister, Sarah, she says I can be really annoying, but I don’t care. I spend a lot of time with my mom, anyway. She doesn’t work, she stays home to take care of me and Sarah and Charlie and my dad, and she likes to cook. She’s shy, so I like to keep her company. I’m great company. Do you want to come over later? Where do you live?”

Again, silence was – and could only be – Amber’s response.

“You’re really quiet. Is there a mall around here? Sometimes Sarah drives me to the mall, and we go shopping. You should come next time. My mom doesn’t like to go shopping ‘cause people look at her funny. I talk for her using my hands. See, like this.”

And Amber’s world opened up.