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  from A Million Laughing Souls by Alisonn Rose

Untitled Chapter
first part of short story

Judy Bones, as she was called, wanted to be old. Judy Skelton was her real name but because she was so thin, kids at school had started calling her Judy Skeleton, which naturally led to Judy Bones. It was catchier, and somehow, more insulting. She had been bothered by it at first but then had decided it had a different sound to it, like something that wasn’t quite normal. This appealed to her. Her parents called her fresh and sometimes even silly, but they had never accused her of being normal, and that was good. When she didn’t understand something and they were tired of her questions, they sealed up the conversation by calling her young, as if that answered everything. “You’ll understand when you’re older” was one of her parents’ favorite things to say when they were tired, and it had become a phrase that her sister had begun to lord over her as well, mainly because she knew how much it bothered her.
But Judy didn’t just want to be older, she wanted to be old. She longed to have the powdery skin that so many of the older folks she saw had, fragile and delicate. It reminded her of the petals of a flower. A touch too gruff might just crumble it. She loved to visit the local nursing home and watch them all, strange and beautiful creatures; their own species, really. Some of them had deep grooves on their faces that looked like hash marks, even. Mrs. Brodsky, one of Judy’s favorites in the home, laughed at those marks, saying that they had them so they could pass the time by playing tic-tac-toe with each other.

Teeth were another exotic treasure: they seemed to shrink into small bits of yellow that were too tiny (and too few) to really chew with. They were like buildings of a ruined civilization left standing; monuments to another time and nothing like her own big, boxy set.

“How was school?” her mother’s voice interrupted Judy’s daydreaming. She shrugged and said “Fine” and before she could be pinned down into a longer answer, her mother said, “What about you?” When her sister didn’t answer, her mother prompted, “Veronica?” which got a dramatic eyeroll and the insistence that, for the hundredth time, that she was not going by Veronica anymore, she was going by Ronnie, and she would only answer to that name and that name alone.

“Fine, Ronnie,” their mother responded, wrinkling her nose dramatically, which sent her oldest daughter into a fit of heaving and sighing. “How was school?”

“School is school. Boring, useless crap that no one ever uses in real life.”

“Watch your language.”

“I can’t watch it. It’s invisible or haven’t you noticed?”

A smooth beat of silence passed before Judy realized her mother wasn’t going to respond. A flame of anger burst up in her. Ronnie got away with things lately that she never would, and it stung. It just wasn't fair.

Her mother defeated for the moment, Veronica/Ronnie sauntered out of the room, and Judy felt panic setting in. The focus was going to be turned back to her now, and she’d have to think of something to say about school, so she dodged (cut her off at the pass?) the question by telling her mother about her latest visit to New Hope Senior Center.

Her mother stayed silent as she listened to Judy talk. She always seemed to be on the verge of revoking Judy’s permission to visit the nursing home but in the end she always teetered back form the edge of that decision. Judy smoldered inside at the thought that something so important, so meaningful, could be ripped away by someone who decided they knew better than you but she knew if she got angry, she would be on thin ice. That was the thing about being young: people decided things for you on whenever the mood struck them. They decided what kind of things you might want to do, what kinds of things you might want to be, and in some cases, they even decided how you were, outright, plain and simple.If it weren't for her father, her visits would have been curtailed long ago, she knew from eavesdropping on one of their conversations.

“It’s sweet,” maintained her mother, doubt threaded (WC) in her voice, “but it’s also a little creepy. I mean, I’m not sure if it’s healthy. Shouldn’t she be outside playing with other girls her age, like that girl next door. Lila?”

Lila! She was a confection of gossip, paper dolls and mean teasing. How could her mother think they were anything alike?

“I don’t know,” he had responded, his voice warm and shaped around careful thought. “That Lila, she’s a bit of a sass. What harm can Mrs. Brodsky do?”

"But why is she so interested in them? She really doesn't seem to have friends her own age, and I'm not sure that's healthy."

"Better to have her where she's safe, though, than home alone, which you know is where she'd end up."

“I guess you’re right,” her mother had conceded, not sounding very happy about it.

Bless you, Daddy, Judy had sent the thought his way like a brilliant colorful beach ball and had been startled to hear him coming towards the door as if he had sensed her. She scuttled down the hall with a few quick hops so that she would be rounding the corner for the kitchen by the time he opened the door. She tried to appear casual but her heart was beating faster. He never opened the door. Maybe she had imagined it.

She was a latchkey kid, she'd heard them say before, which basically meant neither of her parents -- with the exception of her mother today...

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