- Jewel Swe
[Content Warnings: Self harm, blood, and physical abuse.]
Rosanne has haunted eyes.
She stares at the mirror. The mirror stares back. When she pulls stringy, black hair away from her forehead, an old, angry scar glowers above her brow. Her hand twitches.
“You’ll be late for school!” her mother yells from the hallway.
Rosanne snaps her hand away from her head reflexively. She curls her fist into her crisp uniform until the wrinkles are permanent. She exhales shakily and opens the bathroom door.
Another day. Another mark on the calendar. Another nothing in an endless stream of nothings.
At school, Bonnie talks about books, television and other pastimes of girls their age. Rosanne listens with half an ear like always and curls her fingers into her skirt that reaches past her knees, hiding the scabs that never heal. They never heal because she keeps picking them off. One after another. Another. Another.
Sometimes Bonnie will talk about boys and how Conner who sits next to Andrew is cute, but Rick is far cuter. During those times, Rosanne tunes out completely and stares through the window, watching warm rays of sunlight chase the shadows into the dark. She doesn’t understand fascination or infatuation or why girls her age care whether a boy is cute or not.
Bonnie tells Rosanne that she will understand when the right boy is near and her heart begins to tremble. Rosanne’s heart trembles all the time. She doesn’t need a boy to make it happen.
Rosanne’s mother is a vegetarian, so they’ve never had meat in their house. Her mother speaks of animal cruelty and creatures on the brink of extinction. She doesn’t talk about human cruelty or all the humans on the brink of extinction. Humans don’t go extinct as a race. They go extinct when they stop believing in themselves.
“How was school today?” her mother asks. It’s always the same question.
“It was okay.” Rosanne’s answer is always the same too.
Rosanne wonders how meat tastes, if it tastes of cruelty and pain like her mother thinks it does. Rosanne wonders what her own flesh tastes like. Would it taste lonely and lost? Or like everything else? Just another piece of meat. Just another of something that already exists.
At night, Rosanne opens her window and counts the stars. She never finishes counting before going to bed. There’s always another to add to the growing number.
Every day is always the same as the last. Rinse and repeat. It’s been like that ever since her father left and she stopped having new injuries to hide. But Rosanne still picks at the scabs, so they never heal and fade. She’s afraid that she’ll forget him if she lets things change.
Rosanne goes to sleep trying to remember to exhale after every inhale. Another breath means she’s still alive. Another breath means she’ll continue the cycle.
Bonnie doesn’t sit with Rosanne the next day. She sits with Conner instead.
Different, Rosanne thinks.
“Everyone grows up,” the teacher says.
But Rosanne still bunches her fingers in her skirt and peels off her scabs until they bleed blood red.
Conner becomes Bonnie’s boyfriend. Bonnie starts wearing make-up to school. She stops talking about books and television. She stops talking about other boys. Bonnie starts to study harder because she wants to get into medical school. She says it’s because Conner has a weak heart. Rosanne has a weak heart too but not in the same way Conner does.
Rosanne finds interest in Bonnie’s sudden change.
Different, she thinks.
But Rosanne’s eyes are still haunted and she still wonders what meat tastes like.
It’s Monday when Angela arrives at their school.
Angela has dark blonde hair that spills into her eyes and she wears rubber bands on her wrists. Angela wears her sleeves long, but she rubs at her arms the way Rosanne pulls at her skirt. Angela looks like the girl in the mirror.
Angela’s gaze skitters across the room and her eyes lock with Rosanne’s. She smiles and Rosanne sees that her lip is badly split. But her eyes are warm and friendly. Not haunted.
Not another Rosanne.
Angela sits in Bonnie’s old seat. She doesn’t talk about books or television or boys.
“Do you like caterpillars?” she asks.
“No,” Rosanne says.
“Then do you like butterflies?”
Rosanne stops to stare at Angela’s wide smile. She’s missing a tooth above her split lip and Rosanne knows it didn’t fall out naturally. The skin under Angela’s rubber bands is raw and red in thin lines. Healing wounds.
“I like butterflies.”
Angela gives Rosanne two butterfly hairclips to pin back her fringe. Rosanne stares at the mirror. The girl who stares back refuses to place them in her hair. What if she forgets her father? What if she forgets the pain?
Rosanne presses her fingers into her uniform but doesn’t curl them into a fist. Angela’s uniform is always crumpled but for other reasons. Angela is not another Rosanne and Rosanne thinks maybe she doesn’t want to be another Rosanne either.
Bonnie doesn’t tell anyone that she kissed Connor, but word gets out anyway. The girls giggle and gossip while the boys laugh and tease. Angela doesn’t care about Bonnie and Conner. She’s more disappointed that Rosanne didn’t wear the butterfly hairclips.
Rosanne finds she doesn’t want to disappoint Angela. She likes Angela’s smile that outshines the bruising shadows on her cheeks. So she listens properly when Angela speaks and even though Angela never talks about why her wrists are covered in cuts or how her lip was split, Rosanne likes to hear why caterpillars are cute and butterflies are pretty.
The next day Rosanne wears the butterfly clips. The girl in the mirror gives a shy smile that curls her lips upward just a tiny bit. It’s not a pretty smile, but the girl’s eyes don’t look as haunted.
Her mother gasps when she comes down for breakfast.
“Where did you get that scar?” she asks.
Different, Rosanne knows.
“Father,” she says.
Rosanne’s mother stops talking about animal cruelty that day. They discuss human cruelty and how sometimes you can find creatures you thought were long extinct.
Angela beams when Rosanne shows up at school and something stutters inside her fragile heart. It’s not the constant, anxious trembling but something much faster, like having Cupid shoot rainbows through your veins.
Rosanne wonders if perhaps her heart is not as weak as she thought.
“You’re cuter than a butterfly,” Angela tells her and Rosanne blushes red like her healing scabs.
Rosanne starts to think it’s okay to forget. It’s okay if today is not just another day on the calendar.
Angela comes over three weeks after their first encounter. Rosanne’s mother shows an expression she has never seen before. It’s somewhere between surprise and delight.
“I’m so glad my daughter has friends,” she says as she ushers the two girls inside.
Rosanne doesn’t tell her that Bonnie was sort of her friend too. Bonnie is busy studying for medical school these days.
They go up to her room after dinner and Angela sprawls on Rosanne’s bed.
“What’s your favourite colour?” she asks out of the blue and it’s so inane that Rosanne blinks before registering the question.
Rosanne doesn’t know if it’s her favourite colour or the colour she sees most in front of the mirror. Her scabs are starting to heal nicely now that she doesn’t pick them anymore. Maybe soon red won’t be the most frequent colour.
“Me too!” Angela says, reaching out to thread her fingers with Rosanne’s. The cuts on her wrists are more white than red. “Red has a lot of meanings. Red for passion, red for blood, red for love.”
Angela looks right at Rosanne when she says ‘love’. There’s something more to the word when Angela says it. It’s not just another word.
Rosanne feels her cheeks warm and she turns away, but she can’t help the upturn of her lips or the way she tightens her fingers around Angela’s.
Angela laughs, bright and happy.
“Now you’re all red too.”
Rosanne walks to school with Angela. She stops spending her time looking at the girl in the mirror. The girl in the mirror no longer has haunted eyes or crumpled shirts. Her scabs are healed and she’s learnt how to smile. The girl in the mirror isn’t lonely anymore, so Rosanne no longer needs to keep her company.
Instead, Rosanne spends her mornings with her hand clasped in Angela’s. They talk about butterflies and red and make each other blush.
Rosanne smiles at Bonnie when they pass in the hallway. Bonnie spends most of her time with Conner when she’s not studying, but sometimes she comes and sits with Rosanne too.
Soon, Rosanne forgets her father. She forgets to count her breaths at night and she doesn’t bother with counting the stars. She doesn’t wonder what meat tastes like. She tried it at Angela’s house and decided she didn’t like it.
These days, she always pins back her fringe with butterfly clips and doesn’t hide her knees. She smiles with a tiny quirk of her lips and isn’t afraid to say she’s in love with another girl.
She’s not just another Rosanne anymore.
She is Rosanne.