It’s seven o’clock in the morning. Cold, so the custodian let several of the kids in to let them get warm. The usual crowd of freshmen and a few sophomores had been dumped on the curb by parents going to their 7:20 shift at the plant. The shadow in the darkest corner of the hall was Evie Hokee, but none of the other kids knew that. They didn’t really see her or know she was there. As the hallways filled with students the closer it got to first bell, the more Evie faded into anonymity.
The sharp sting of the razor had brought her awake that morning. Buried in the corner, wrapped in the worn coat that had been her grandmother’s, she remembered the pungent smell and the sweet iron taste of her blood when she held the opened vein in her wrist to her mouth while fumbling for the gauze wrap. The awkward bandage was hidden under the long black sleeve of her ragged sweatshirt. Her hand throbbed from the stricture of the bandana tied too tightly over it all. She hadn’t bandaged yesterday’s cut as well and blood had oozed like the futility of her life out onto the page of the pop quiz in first period Spanish. She wadded up the stained vocabulary, stuffed it into the pocket of her coat, and didn’t add it to the stack passed to her from behind. One more zero wouldn’t matter.
Zeros. She thought briefly of those perfect circles, like the braided cords she wore around her neck. It was a strange necklace, but no one saw it. No one saw her. She could feel the long tail of the yet unbraided cords down her back. Maybe tomorrow she would finish it.
Through the day Evie again moved among her fellow students, the teachers, counselors, administrators, and staff. During her lunch period she found her usual place in another corner as far removed as possible from the crowd. The silence of her solitude was a dam against the flooding din of conversation, but the students’ shared familiarity still washed accusingly over her, a drowning wave that forced her to the bottom of her Sea of Depression.
After shivering for an hour under the bare tree in front of the school at the end of the day, she again walked the four miles home. Her mother either had to work a double shift or had simply forgotten her once more. The apartment was dark when she let herself in. She cut the mold off of the heel of bread that remained in the bag, spread the last of the peanut butter over the edges and onto her fingers, and ate for the first time that day. Running cold tap water into same glass she’d used that morning, she washed it all away.
In her room a single bulb gave her the light she needed to work on her braiding. Evie pulled the circle of cords over her head, slipped that noose of intertwined strands over the doorknob, and drew them tight. One over and around the other she laced together an intricate pattern of connected lines and finally reached the end. Seven feet of re-braided survival cord from a wristband she’d managed to shoplift from the corner convenience store, a sturdy necklace with a long tail. After knotting together the five loose ends, she widened the loop from the doorknob and once again placed it over her head. The chafed abrasions around her neck stung like the still open wounds on her arms. Her work hadn’t taken very long, but after tucking the braids under he sweatshirt, she lay down or the bed and eventually slept.
Morning came, but she woke as usual in darkness. She didn’t know if her mother was there. It didn’t matter. Evie smiled, but it was an odd expression did nothing to dispel the sadness and despair in her eyes and in her heart. This was a smile of relief and finality and purpose.
She was still wearing the clothes she had worn the day before, the same ones she’d worn the day before that, and probably the day before that. She didn’t remember. There weren’t many choices. Her grandmother’s coat had been her blanket, and she slipped her arms into the too-long sleeves. A freshwater clamshell she had found several years before on a rare trip to the nearby lake was on her bedside table. She held it in her hand for a moment, remembering that warm afternoon of light, then put it in the left pocket of the coat, the pocket without the hole in it. Her eye caught the photograph pinned to the wall. Two little girls were smiling. Evie barely recognized the one on the right as herself just six years ago. On the left was Mandy. Mandy had been her friend, but her family had moved that year. They’d both wept and promised to keep in touch. Now Evie had no idea where Mandy was. She pulled the pin from the wall and put the photo with the shell.
One leg of the nightstand wasn’t really attached to the table. Evie took it in her hand and then dragged the table under the ceiling fan in the middle of the room. The fan hadn’t worked in years, but Evie knew it was firmly secured to the ceiling. She put the broken leg back under the edge of the table just enough to hold it up, then, as she’d practiced so many times, gingerly climbed onto the unsteady surface.
Slowly and deliberately she pulled the trailing end of the braided necklace of cords from beneath her sweatshirt and coat and stretched it toward the supporting shaft above the broken fan over her head.