Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from our favorite emerging writers
Can you believe how cold it is out there? You'd think after a lifetime of cold weather we'd be used to it by now but every year winter sneaks up on us, puts its hands over our eyes and gleefully watches as we scramble to stay warm.
The one bright spot during this dreary time is that being forced inside provides plenty of opportunity for reading and writing. This week we're delighted to share Rachel Rodman's Happy Endings, a poignant story told in vignettes about helplessness and hopefulness in the face of abandonment and trauma.
As usual, we welcome you to read, share, and submit your own work to The Rail.
Stay warm out there, and happy reading--
The Derailleur Press team
When we found her, she had been alone for months.
Her foster parents enrolled her in soccer. It would, we all thought, be a way of gently modifying her present associations with grass and open meadows.
They also got her a dog, fluffy and white.
But there remained a hollowness to her, a lean waiting.
Her teachers saw it at school--the first school, after years of isolation, that she had ever been able to attend. I saw it during my site visits.
“Bo Peep,” said her state-appointed psychiatrist gently, during their weekly therapy sessions. “Your sheep are never coming back.”
In a Little House
We secured for her the best placement we could, under the time-sensitive circumstances.
But it was not a good one.
“Rocks as playthings?” I scribbled dubiously into my notes during my first site visit. “Pick axes?”
“Bruised ribs?” I wrote during the second.
But all these indications, all these suspicions were dwarfed by what we were forced to record in our final report, on the day that we took her again into our custody, when we found her unconscious and enclosed in a glass box--a glass box--while her guardians fawned over her.
Everything about this was wrong.
“Happily ever after!” said my coworker Gina brightly, after EMTs woke the girl in the back of an ambulance.
Gina was a new hire, fresh out of college.
Gina still said things like that.
In the Morning
We coaxed her from the rotting vegetable shed in which she had been sheltering, and from the tiny, feral animals, whom, in her loneliness, she had been whispering to.
“She’s missing a shoe,” said Gina, pointing to the girl’s cold pale foot.
“We have an entire bin of shoes back at headquarters,” I said. “When we get-”
“Make sure that it matches,” Gina interjected. “Make sure that it’s sparkly.”
Gina, I thought. What is wrong with you?
Just a Trim
That, I explained, would be one of the best things about school.
I showed her the items on our shopping list. I read them out carefully.
“No,” she said. “No haircut.”
“But-” I began. How she could possibly function at school without a haircut?
Or in any social setting at all?
“No!” she said. Though really she screamed it, loud and wild and inhuman.
Then she curled her arms around her knees.
“No,” she repeated, softer.
Keeping my distance, I gave her a careful smile. Then I made an exaggerated show of crossing “haircut” off the list.
“Just the school supplies,” I agreed.
Suddenly, she flipped her hair over her face, then combed her fingers through it, shaping it to serve as a veil--long long long.
One wary eye poked through.
“Friend,” she said at last, and held out one strand in my direction.
My heart lifted for a moment. But then it fell.
Because of course she didn’t mean me.
The hair was her friend.
“Friend,” she said again, and held out another strand. This time, her tone was slightly different. It was as if this second iteration of “Friend” denoted a different name, a different friend.
“Friend,” she said, of a third.
Flowers and Glass
She was sold by her father.
To a monster.
For a flower.
“She needs time,” I told her first set of foster parents.
“More time,” I said to her second set of foster parents.
“More time,” I said to the third.
But they didn’t have time. Not when she had razed their rose gardens, down to the roots.
Not when she had shattered all their mirrors.
Beauty removed an ear bud when I motioned her to, and raised a pierced eyebrow. “Time for another...change,” I told her, and nodded toward the secondhand suitcase that my agency had provided to her.
“Magical,” she grunted.
Cake and Balloons
During her last birthday party, she had gone upstairs. And, when she came down, everyone was dead.
Very, very, very dead.
“This year will be different,” her foster parents said. They made bright promises: frosting and presents; friends and games.
But the girl remained adamant: No, no, no.
“What should we do?” her foster mother asked me over the phone.
I had absolutely no idea. And at that moment, 80 hours into my 90 hour week, I was so exhausted I could barely think.
I flipped through the girl’s case file, scanning for keywords.
“Have you tried her with some…crafts?” I suggested lamely.
(Who was I? Gina? Did sleep deprivation turn me into Gina?)
“Like, maybe crochet?” I head myself saying. “Or a needle-based party game? Like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey?”
“Um,” said her mother.
Then, as if she’d been summoned, Gina was at my elbow. “Get some rest,” she said, and took the phone from me.
I was too tired to protest. Instead, with a woozy nod, I stumbled into the storage closet/break room and threw myself onto the couch.
“Ear piercings!” Gina was suggesting brightly into the phone. “Take her to get her ears pierced…”
Then I was asleep.
She had never felt right in that body--the body of her birth.
It wasn’t who she was.
But in the distant, savage place where she had been a child, fixing her body had required an equally savage price.
And she had paid it.
“I don’t want to go swimming,” she was signing now. Her hand motions were awkward and deliberate.
This language was still new to her.
“It’s not something you’d ever have to do,” I said, holding out the suit and goggles that the local athletics facility had provided to us, free of charge. “It’s just an option we like to offer…”
“It’s a very nice swimsuit,” Gina pointed out.
“Not EVER!” the girl signed. She underlined the intensity of this “ever” sign with a clap.
I stared at her.
Even Gina seemed to be at a loss.
The girl looked back and forth between us, wildly at first. But gradually her expression became dull.
When she signed again, she seemed a little sorry.
“I don’t swim,” she explained, using smaller, quieter hand motions.
Then she lifted a hand to her throat.
Once Upon a Time
Ten years in, I felt entirely used up. I had suspected this from the beginning, of course, what a flawed proposition this was, before experience had caused me to truly understand it: how useless it is to come in afterwards, when so much has already gone wrong.
I put in for a transfer. In my application materials, I argued for evidence-supported approaches to poverty and social inequality; I cited the literature on free preschool, preventative mental health services, and universal basic incomes.
When I left, Gina took my desk, with the candy dish. Gina took my office.
Probably--and I acknowledged this with a pang, mulling over what she had already done to my office (which was now several shades cheerier)--Gina would do very well.
I wished her luck.
On my new desk, instead of case files, there were blank pages.
And a pen.
Would I be any good at this?
I thought about loss and trauma and death and abuse; I thought about flowers and glass and useless trails, meticulously laid, crumb by crumb by crumb.
This had to be better.
To allocate funds and draft legislation. To build. To fight.
To create a new beginning, a fair beginning, from which a girl--any girl--could go on to plot her own adventure.
I lifted my pen; I lifted it with a little breath.
And I began to write.
Rachel Rodman’s work has appeared in Analog, Fireside, Daily Science Fiction, and many other publications. Her latest collection is titled Art is Fleeting (Shanti Arts Press).