Advanced Fiction Writing
What I Lost (analytical)
23 March 2017
Janell was in the living room, working on a bracelet. It was a Friday night, her mother was at work. Her father was listening to his shortwave radio. It was still early yet. The television was on ABC. Donny and Marie, one of Janell’s favorite shows was on, but she didn’t notice.
A bright, imaginative eight-year-old, she was always thinking, doing, or talking. When her older sister died, she asked lots of questions, and had a definite belief her sister was in Heaven. She wouldn’t realize it then, but later in life, Janell would remember the look on her parents’ faces. The words they said didn’t match the expression in their eyes. “Yes, she’s in Heaven now, and if you want to talk to her, pray to her,” they said. The words were optimistic, the eyes were pained.
Janell remembered they got rid of nearly all of her sister’s things. The house was simply too small to keep a large number of mementos for sentiment’s sake. The clothes had to go; Janell was far too young for the platform shoes and plaid miniskirts. Her mother kept a skirt she’d made for Elizabeth, her father had taken the grown-up camera he’d given to her. Later, when Janell was older, he’d show her how to use it. She was too young to have it now.
Janell got to pick out something to keep as well. She’d cried when her mother said they’d have to get rid of the stuffed animals. Janell loved them, but her mother said there were too many. So Janell kept some beads that Elizabeth had bought shortly before she’d died in the car accident. Her mother bought her some elastic, and Janell was busy stringing the beads on the white elastic on that cold winter night. It seemed it was taking a long time to make. She’d start, then undo it and start over. Some of the beads had holes too small for the elastic to glide through. But Janell tried her best. Her tiny, slender fingers were cramping from the effort.
What seemed like several hours later (in reality, it was only two) she finally had a bracelet she liked. She left it on the dining room table with a note: Look! Mom! I made this tonite! Janell was planning to wear it the next morning. Her father was taking her to the mall, and promised her they would play a game of air hockey. Janell loved air hockey.
The next morning, Janell got dressed, and before she set off with her father, slid the bracelet on her left wrist. First, breakfast, then the mall. Between dunking her toast in her sunny side up eggs, she kept glancing at the bracelet, looking solid with its white beads of various shapes, but mostly round. It contrasted nicely with her skin. In February, it faded to beige, but in the summer, she turned bronze. The bracelet would look even nicer in the summer when she was tan, she thought. Some beads were shaped like teeth. Maybe someday hers would look like that: big, strong, white. Janell’s teeth were big, but crooked. A few beads were long and narrow, like tiny bones.
She walked beside her father while he paid a bill at Sears. Then, the arcade. She loved the way it smelled: worn carpet warmed by two dozen or so video games in consoles, the sweet smell of pop drinks, the occasional box of Smarties or Now and Laters or some other multi-colored candy, the roar of bleeps, blips, and the shock! shock! of the air hockey puck echoed off the walls. The arcade was warm all year round. Not even the mall’s air conditioning could make it cool in the summer. To Janell, the arcade was some sort of energetic, indoor carnival, dressed in black walls, purple lights, and game signs. Seeing the air hockey table filled her with a bursting sense of anticipation. It was magic. Put in a quarter and the machine would hum to life, the thin white disk hovering over the table. The minute she saw it, she hoped no one else would get there first, drop a quarter in, grab the paddles, then send the white disk into action. Janell loved the sound the puck made whenever she made a goal. The shock! and then the rattle as the puck slammed into the goal.
When they got there, no one was using the table. Janell played the first game in her coat, then took it off and lay it against the wall, where it looked like a dead animal. She and her father played another game (she won this time) and the third game was a tie. Then her father said they had to go. Janell picked up her coat and put it on.
They were halfway down one of the corridors when a terrible thought seized her. The bracelet! She had gotten so used to the beads gently encircling her wrist, like the mouth of a large dog gently cradling its owner’s hand in its teeth. “Daddy! My bracelet is gone! We need to go back to the arcade!”
“Okay,” he said. Holding hands, Janell practically pulled her father in her urgency to get back to the arcade, despite his longer legs. Her eyes devoured the floor, looking for the white circle. She went right to the spot where she laid her coat down. Nothing was there except for the frantic pattern of the carpet, multi-colored geometric shapes against a solid black background.
She wandered frantically all over the arcade, looking on the floor, hoping, hoping it would be there. Her father had asked the arcade attendant if he’d seen a tiny white bracelet anywhere. “No, sorry,” the attendant said.
Janell reappeared beside her father. She burst into tears. Her bracelet, her last link to her sister, was gone. At home, only three beads were left, not nearly enough to make another one. He tried to console her, but her mother was better at this parental task. Her father, unused to his normally happy, youngest, (and now only daughter) being hysterical, comforted her the best he could. They rode home in silence.