The Cage

Grade: 
7

Thoughts, facts, ideas, all flow smoothly to my brain, dancing down, spirited and carefree. I wish the world was only made of them, but it’s infected with words. Words are shiny pearls on the outside, but up close are storms, torn and jagged, undecipherable by any but those who said them, so easy to mix up and confuse. Words drift away from me, and once I catch them they are cut by the sharp points of my soul. By the time they reach my lips, they are broken, indistinguishable from a soft moan. I hate words.

 

My mother is done making dinner. She calls to my father and brother, her voice sharp and clear, like fresh cut grass. She is crisp and efficient, doing three things at once and still able to make sure that everyone else is on task. My brother meanders down from his room, where he is holed up all the time. He is sixteen, and is starting to move away from our parents, and the only way he knows how to do this is to physically stay in his room, cut of from the rest of us. He doesn’t talk to them anymore, but he talks to me. His voice is deep and slow, like a lumbering bear, safe and calm for now, but ready to wake up at any time and charge. Then my father comes in from raking leaves. He greets me, ruffling my short hair, and murmuring something with his soft, dreamy voice, like a slow, calm stream, comforting me.

 

I am stuck in the cage. I try to break out every day, but to no avail. My body is the basic structure, but it would be easy to escape from. It is words that hold my cage together, spiky tendrils weaving themselves in and out, filling the cracks, and around me if I don’t stop them. Their poison is slowly leaking through my veins, numbing me, and they will suffocate me if I can’t get out soon.

 

They sit down to eat, and Mother starts bringing out the food. She has meatloaf, carrots, broccoli, and mashed potatoes. She says something, and then Mother and my brother start eating. It’s my father’s turn to feed me today. He fills my plate and starts carefully putting food in my mouth. I don’t like carrots, but he doesn’t know that, and they’re his favorite, so he gave me extra. He also completely skipped the broccoli, which is my favorite, but he doesn’t like. He thinks he’s doing me a favor.

 

Faces swirl around, twisted by the hurricane inside me. They help me escape from my prison, at least for a while, and with them I am free. I am ripping them apart with the storm, and they slowly disappear. They are the only ones who understand me, and without them I will be alone, all alone. There are very few left, from the many that were there in the beginning, and I am scared of what will happen when they are all gone.

 

It’s my bedtime, and my mother wheels me over to my room. She then picks me up with much groaning and puts me on my bed. Mother then picks a cheerful book from my shelf, and brings it over. It has a picture of a spider on it, along with some gold blobs at the top. She opens it and starts to read. I concentrate on the pictures. Her storytelling voice is neither loud nor soft, but just in the middle, but she reads books with the same sort of stark efficiency she uses when she cooks dinner. It doesn’t sweep me away, like my father’s voice does, or make me feel soft and warm like my brother’s, but it makes me feel safe, like nothing can change as long as she’s here. She’s already done with the story, and puts it away. She kisses me on the forehead, then leaves the room, shutting the door behind her. It’s funny, I’ve known my parents all my life, but they don’t know me.

 

A swirling face grabs me and turns me to dust, so I can go easily through my cage. Together we fly away, soaring high above the sky until I find the shape of the real me. It’s easy, because everything around me is gray and slow, but I’m a colorful masterpiece, twirling and dancing. I soar into it, and we merge perfectly, me as I should be and me as I am. Together we are whisked into a world where we can be free. A cloud of cinnamon tickles our nose and a shimmer of yellow bathes us in golden light. We burst a bubble of laughing, and let the happy sound wash over us. But it can’t last forever, and too soon a storm of gray washes over us, and covers the colors and tastes and smells and sounds and tears us apart, and forces me back into my cage.

 

My mother is waking me up, pulling back the curtain to let light flood into my eyes. She doesn’t work this morning, and slept in, so it’s a hour after when I usually wake up. It annoys me, but she doesn’t know. How could she? I’ve never had a real conversation with her. I probably never will. By now she has gotten me ready for the day, so she wheels me into the family room, where my brother is already watching cartoons, and sits me in front of the screen. Then she walks away, probably to get me breakfast. I hate cartoons, they’re blunt and bloody, with crude figures falling down and blowing each other up, and grating voices, like fingernails on a chalkboard, talking constantly. I try to turn away, but they surround me with their squeaky voices and violent endeavors. Luckily Mother comes in and wheels me away, shouting to my brother, who then follows. We go to the kitchen, where she has finished breakfast.

 

The faces come less and less, and without them there the monsters aren’t afraid to come. They come to torment me, swarms of them, swallowing me in a storm of claws, nails and fangs. These are just the scouts, though, and there is something terrible in the distance, crawling toward me, or is it pulling me toward it? All I know is that something horrible will happen if I let it reach me, and nothing I have ever done has stopped or even slowed it. In fact, it comes faster now, accelerating as the faces fade. They keep it away, but with them gone, it comes all the faster, closer and closer, and if I don’t do something, we will meet within a week.

 

Breakfast proceeds as usual, and then everyone goes off to their various activities: Mother went to work, my brother to his job, and Father takes me to my therapist. She annoys me with her constant whiny voice, like a leaky balloon, ceaseless in her own pointless talking. Her constant goal is to get me to talk, but I won’t poison the air with words like she does. Even if I wanted to I couldn’t, but she doesn’t understand that and keeps her pointless goal. After each session I have to get an appointment with the doctor that works next door to her, where he checks my heart and blood and reflexes before giving the same stamp of approval he gives every day. It’s pointless, but everyone thinks it’s important, so we keep going.

 

One sole face is left from the swirling cloud that always used to surround me, the rest have been torn apart and shredded by the storm. As each one left they took with them a layer of me, and now I am hollow, there is only one layer left. If this one goes, It will take with it the last part, and there will be nothing left. It is torn and battered, but it is the strongest and has survived. It can’t last forever, though, and I wonder what will happen when it leaves. Will I, too, become a face stuck in a hurricane, or will I simply disappear, my remains swept away, so no trace of me remains? What will come first, the Monsters, this last face leaving, or the vines, squeezing me until I’m gone?

 

Therapy passes in a blur; I’m not paying attention, so I get a little frowny face as my score for the day. Oh well, I don’t actually care. I’m just glad to get away from her leaky balloon voice, though I’m not sure if getting poked and prodded by the doctor is much of an improvement. Father wheels me in, and I get my daily check-up. My blood pressure, heart rate, brain waves… something’s wrong. Father and the doctor are clustered around the screen, along with two other nurses. More are swarming in right at this moment. They are all talking at once, and not happy, carefree talking but urgent, clammy tones all trying to be heard. I see Father pull out his phone. His face is white, and his hands are trembling as he tries to dial the number. Then he faints.

 

The vines’ poison has done its job well, and I have let my guard down for just a minute too long. They have worked their way inside the cage, and are heading for me now, with no cage bars to block their path. They are angry, like a hornet ready to sting. The vines are inching toward me now, taking their time now that they have worked their way inside. They are slow, but the first of them have already wrapped themselves around my arm, my leg, my stomach, with more on the way. Then they start squeezing. They are squeezing and squeezing and I can’t breath and they need to back off…

 

Mother rushes in, her coat on backwards and wearing mismatching shoes. My eyes start to droop and I can’t see her well. Then a light starts flashing and a siren turns on and I need more air and I can’t breath and I can’t think...

 

Then I see the last face and it lets me see something simple: the other me, lost and empty and afraid, and I know that I can’t let it down and I push the vines away and make them share and then breath, filling my lungs with the smell of the cinnamon that the face has given me. Now I’m mad, the vines are in my space, they are trespassers, and I swing my arms and they back off but I’m not done yet and I am kicking and biting and hitting and scratching. After a while I look down and see that they have all retreated, the last tendril is just now slithering through the ground. With them gone, my cage is simple and flimsy, and I walk out. I know the monsters won’t follow me now, now that I am free. I realise the face, and walk away. I am free. I am free at last.

My eyes flicker open and I am in a tiny bed and we are going fast on the road. I am surrounded by people, who all give a collective sigh, as though they are saying that everything’s all right now, but something’s not right. Then I realize that I haven’t breathed, and I fill my lungs  with the sweet air and breath out and in and out. I am happy now. I made it.