A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY MARIE ZELAYA
When the boy was six, his mother tried to tell herself that her son’s frequent falls were nothing more than the awkward stage of a growth spurt. Instead, she busied herself with laughing at the way his hair turned into spiky spears of dirty-blond hair after he’d come in from playing with his father and the way his glittering blue eyes never seemed to stop dancing.
When the boy was seven, he was losing wrestling matches to his sister, who was two years his junior. His mother couldn’t ignore the wavering lines on the canvases her son had been so masterful at filling before. She still tried to busy herself with his tinkling laughter and his horribly wry sense of humor, the way his father spun his children around in circles, laughing.
When the boy was eight, he spent more time falling than walking. His teachers all agreed: take the boy to a doctor. On the way out of the school, the parents were apprehensive. Three days later, on their way out of the pediatric hospital, they cried.
By the time the boy was thirteen, his father didn’t laugh anymore when he came home from his fourteen-hour shifts at work. The boy was confined to a wheelchair, a tiny one, which made his mother shake with anger and sadness. His sister helped faithfully, always ready to help, even if that meant losing time with friends. When she set out her brother’s paints and canvas, her red hair would always bob cheerily, and her shoulders would always shake slightly as she comforted him in his failure afterward.
When the boy was fourteen, his father was gone with the wind, and his mother was gone more than she was home. Her tiny body would shake with effort through her worn business-suit as she tried to lug her son and his deadweight chair up the ten steps to his school.
When the boy was fifteen, the doctors told him he would never walk again, and his arms refused to lift their own weight. His sister still tried to joke around with him through the curtain of sadness that seemed to cover everything they knew. His mother still dutifully gave him the letters from his father which the boy always gave to his sister, who ripped them to pieces with enough hurt for both of them. He no longer went to school.
When the boy was sixteen, he was given two more years to live. His voice turned into a whisper and his sister and mother took turns feeding him. Once, in an attempt to paint, he tipped out of his wheelchair and ended up laying on the cold oak floor for hours as his heart struggled to beat and his chest began to hurt even more than usual.
At sixteen and two months, the boy’s mother had to do the Heimlich maneuver on him for the seventh time in two weeks. Afterwards, as she collapsed into a kitchen chair and the boy’s sister gently cleaned up the mess surrounding him, they all agreed that this would be his last solid meal.
At sixteen and four months, the small, sad family sits on metal chairs – with the
exception of the boy, who sits in his third-hand mechanized wheelchair – at a fundraiser for childhood disease housed in a sticky, humid repurposed warehouse downtown. The mother is the one who arranged this, thinking the boy needed to spend time with people like him; it does not seem to be working. She is just about to awkwardly edge out when she sees the girl. Her son sees her too, a young woman with angled pink hair, clear, round-rimmed glasses and a smile like she knew something no-one else did. She’s an archer. The mother watches her son’s eyes sparkle, though his heart disagrees. By the time they get his breathing under control, the archer is gone, save three arrows, all perfectly on the bull’s-eye.
At sixteen and six months, the boy and his family sit under a red-striped umbrella eating, or being fed, strawberry ice cream. It’s a paltry consolation in comparison to what the boy knows will happen soon. His mother has taken to staring into nothing, and his sister doesn’t have any friends at school, since she’s almost always taking care of him.
At sixteen, six months, three weeks, he sees the Archer. She’s at the Walmart, in line three rows away. She’s buying Band-Aids and Neosporin, and her eyes are still sparkling. The boy, for some reason, was suddenly overcome with the desire to talk to her. Well not talk, of course. Spell, spell his questions out on the worn letter-board his mother had acquired and hope the eagerness in his words showed through. So, he did. The mother and his sister gaped as the girl patiently read his words… and smiled.
At sixteen, eight months, the girl is coming by regularly. Her laugh is almost as light as the boy’s once was, and the boy’s mother finds herself thankful for the new company. Sometimes, they will sit, the boy, his mother, and the girl, playing games or reading, or sometimes just sitting outside watching the grass grow in its verdant lushness, sometimes the girl tells stories, all of them glad for the company. Even the boy’s sister is out more often now, leaving the house and being able to not spend the time worrying.
At sixteen, ten months, five days, the girl comes by on the weekend with what she says is a surprise. The family, by now accustomed to her presence, willingly pile into their ancient sedan and let the girl drive. The boy, strapped in awkwardly, hasn’t been out for a while on account of his health, which is ever-declining despite his ever-increasing mood. They all relax as they drive farther from home than they have in months, maybe years. Pines give way to rocky cliffs, then to sandy shores within an hour, and the sun shines differently than when it does through the suburban jungle of their neighborhood. The girl, upon arriving, painstakingly tugs the boy into this wheelchair and across the sandy soil, sinking with every step. The family, unsure, stands back until the girl, sweating and pale, sinks into a bench at the water’s edge. Her effort is appreciated more than she knows. For a while, the boy’s chest doesn’t hurt.
At sixteen, eleven months, the boy watches the girl shoot her arrows with a little less accuracy. Sometimes, after the matches his family attends to watch her compete, he’ll see her double over behind the restrooms and gag into the sandy ground. Every time
he tries to talk to her about it, she’ll dodge the question, instead laughing and smiling that knowing smile of hers, trying to hide her paling skin and watery eyes. Just like his mother did years before, the boy tries to ignore what the internet tells him she has and what is so blatantly present before his eyes.
At sixteen, elven months, twenty-eight days, the boy sits beside a hospital bed in the pediatric wing of a cancer hospital, tasting antiseptic and squinting against the cold, bright lights. The girl lays in the bed, almost buried beneath wires and tubes. Her hair is a paltry shade of pink, nothing compared to what it was before. Here, in these settings, is where the boy learns the truth. Terminal cancer, a death sentence much like his own. Outside, their families wait and the boy’s sister, halfway across town, sitting in a cafe drinking hot chocolate with friends, bolts out of her chair and takes the number 6 bus to the pediatric complex. By the time she gets there, she barely has time to see her brother make the first sound he’s made in years. He cries, in short, strained gasps that sound nothing like normal human grief.
When the boy is seventeen, he’s bedridden, and the only reminder of the girl that died only a few months ago is her bow and arrows, which the boy has learned is a Japanese yumi, carefully set in his line of vision. Sometimes the mother will see him staring at it, sometimes she’ll catch his sister placing it in his hands and running his hands along the curved wooden shape of it. His father has taken to visiting from wherever it is he lives twice a month, which seems like not enough, considering. The boy himself doesn’t do much more than stare out the window at the changing leaves of the elderly oak in the front yard and feel the feeble beating of his heart. In the fashion of his previous attempt years earlier, he convinces his mother to place a paintbrush in his mouth and a canvas on his bedside, and since he’s obviously not going anywhere, she does it. Eventually, his sister wanders in, and they watch as a shaky, undefined full- body portrait of a girl with short, rose-colored hair drawing a bow’s string back takes form.
When the boy’s sister is fifteen and eight months, her brother has been gone for two months. The funeral was small, and her father came but left soon after. Her mother cried for weeks afterward.
When the boy’s sister is fifteen and eleven months, she goes to the same fundraiser she’d been to years before, back when her mother didn’t look so tired all the time. She sits in the same worn metal chairs under in glistening sunlight that streams in through industrial windows. When Contestant 23 steps forward, she wishes her mother were with her. It’s a boy, the age her brother was when he came, his eyes laugh with a joke nobody’s told yet, and his dark skin shines healthily. She watches him aim and shoot, and by the time he’s done, the only thing that remains in her mind is the image of three arrows, all perfectly on the bull’s-eye; and somewhere inside her, something akin to hope stirs like the waves on a sandy shore or wind through pines that stand far from the city’s towering scape.
Marie Zelaya is fourteen-year-old homeschool student from Sparta, Michigan. She uses writing as a way to connect with people, to share feelings and ideas, and ultimately to feel less alone in the world.