Age: 15, Grade: 10
School Name: Riverdale Country School, Bronx, NY
Educator: Johnny Hager
She sang to us her lullabies, croons that always seemed to waver between the notes.
She sang to us her lullabies and her heartbreaks and her joys, as we wrestled in her arms, as we eased back against her chest to let the sleep come and find us.
And when we grew out of the lullabies, the same way we grew out of playing in the sandbox or confiding in dinosaurs instead of people, she would not croon to us.
She would smile, her lips powdery and smooth like apple skin, her teeth shaped like cracked pearls. It was broken-but I could still sense the curve of her lips there- feel the moonlight splinters set in her jaw waxing and waning -from my world under covers.
I could still feel the burden of her weight as she sunk onto the bed, her hand as she reached out only to find nothing,
except the bare outline of a leg bubble-wrapped in blankets.
Before, we would play. She was our tree, our nest, our pirate ship. We were her lullabies. We were her notes and her heartbreaks and her joys.
And while we ran and jumped and screamed, she would sit and peel an orange.
And then she would peel another and another. And she would not stop, even when the juice trickled down her cuts and the citrus soaked into her skin.
And we would grab- snatching slices like gold. We were the pirates we dreamed about, letting crescent suns dissolve down throats, gurgling orange juice to massage the ache in our mouths.
She would simply smile and murmur under her breath.
Link her notes like words, and fan them across our faces, assuaging our tired eyes.
Later, I learned to peel my own orange. And so I sat, with the juice trickling into the gaps in my fingers and then the tears trickling into the juice.
And I mourned my own pain. And my cries became my lullabies, which sung to me every night.
Later, we grew out of jumping and running, and shoved our screams into our front pockets until they became useful to us.
And we would sit in stilted rooms and talk at each other.
But when the darkness trickled into the cuts in our fingers and there was no one to stop it, and no hand to reach for, we would stare up at the ceiling-stoic, like marble-only marred by delicate rivulets.
There was no lullaby and there was only silence.
For she was gone, and she had taken her oranges with her.