Earworm: Part 8 — The Castle

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 7 — I’m William Knight 

Hope poised her fingers over the computer’s keyboard. The cursor on the blank screen blinked rhythmically, taunting her like a child sticking out its tongue. Her Psychology assignment: Write an essay about the moment that most shaped your life, and why it shaped it.

“When can I have this?” Hope’s sister Karen asked. Karen was a tomboy of nine with more boyish features than Hope, but with the same dark, sharp eyes. Hope turned in her seat. Karen was admiring the poster on Hope’s bedroom wall. Karen often admired the poster. And she often asked Hope when she could have it. The poster was of a castle with rising towers and turrets and pitched gabled roofs. It sat on a sea of snow, perched in a mountain landscape. The poster showed its age, the corners folding inward, the holes through which the thumbtacks held it to the wall beginning to grow, its white borders graying and stained with time.

“Um, never,” Hope said.

Karen clucked her tongue. “Why not?”

“Because I’ve had that poster forever,” Hope said, turning back to her computer.

“Can’t I have it when you go off to college?”

“Nope,” Hope called over her shoulder.

“But, why?”

“Because I’ll take it with me.”

“Can I have it after you’re done with college?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’ll still want it.”

“What if you get married and your husband doesn’t want it hanging in your room?”

“Then I’ll give it to my daughter.”

“What if you don’t have a daughter?” Karen said, placing her hands on her hips.

“Then I’ll give it to my son.”

“What if you don’t have a son?”

Hope looked at her sister. “Look, Karen, when I’m eighty, if I’ve had no children or grandchildren, then the poster is yours. That’s only in, let’s see, sixty-five years.”

“Aren’t you tired of it yet?” Karen said with her hands still on her hips.

“It’s got sentimental value.”

“What’s that?”

“It means it’s very special to me,” Hope said, pivoting her desk’s chair to fully view the poster on the wall. “It reminds me of Dad.”

“Why?”

“Because he gave it to me, and when he died, I imagined he was waiting for me in there, and I could visit him whenever I chose.” Hope told and retold this story to Karen several times, but Karen liked to hear it. She liked to hear why her sister loved the castle so much, why Karen herself couldn’t seem to keep her eyes from it, and why, no matter how much Karen begged and pleaded, her older sister would never relinquish it.

“You miss him?” Karen said, looking at her sister.

“Of course I do,” Hope said in a surprised tone, even though her sister often asked the question of her.

“I don’t remember him,” Karen said, looking at the poster as if expecting her father to be standing in one of the windows. Hope realized that Karen was grappling with an emotion she could never quite understand, a kind of guilt for never knowing her father—the man her sister and mother loved more than anything.

“You were real young when he died.”

“I like Ron,” Karen said.

“I like Ron, too.”

“Can I have Ron in my castle, even though he’s only my stepdad?”

“First, you’ll have to get your own castle,” Hope called over her shoulder as she turned to face her computer.

“Aw, come on.”

“Too bad,” Hope said. She focused on the blinking cursor and positioned her fingers over the keyboard.

Karen rummaged through some of her sister’s junk scattered about the room.

“Can I have these?” Karen picked up a pair of blue and gold pom-poms.

“I need those.”

“I can’t wait to be a cheerleader,” Karen said, dancing and waving the pom-poms in the air.

“I pictured you more as playing on the football team.”

“No way. I want to be a cheerleader, like you,” Karen said, giving the pom-poms an extra vigorous shake.

“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“Why?” Karen said, marching and flailing her arms in butchered, mock cheers.

“It just isn’t. People look at you different, like you need to be a certain way.”

“Like how?”

“I don’t know, just a certain way,” Hope said, watching her sister strike poses with the rustling pom-poms. She said, “When I play basketball, I’m expected to be strong. When I play tennis, I need to be fast. But when I cheer, I have to be…” Hope paused for a moment, looking at the pom-poms and at the proud, adoring envy in her little sister’s eyes, “…I don’t know… Pretty.”

“But you are pretty.”

“Not because… I try to be. It’s like you’re just expected to be… popular.”

“Will I be popular?”

“I hope so.”

“Why do you hope so?”

“Because it’s hard if you’re not.”

“Why?”

“Look, Karen, I really do need to do my homework,” Hope said, turning to face her desk. “Why don’t you take the pom-poms to your room and practice some cheers.”

“Okay,” Karen said, taking the pom-poms and shuffling out of Hope’s room.

Hope focused on the cursor again. Okay, no more distractions, come on, let’s get typing here. But the cursor still just blink-blink-blinked.

“Go, Mystic Wolves,” Hope heard Karen’s muffled voice next-door.

Hope smirked. Cheerleading shaped my life to make me the best person ever! she typed across the screen. But then she highlighted the words and sent the sentiment to megabyte heaven. Everyone would assume the defining moment of Hope’s life was the death of her father. Her first brush with mortality, with loss, the first time she learned that a person she truly loved could be taken away from her. But those rooms inside her would stay locked, especially for a school essay. Her teacher would just love to tuck that little gem into her files. The story of a heartbroken girl coming to terms with the love and loss of a father—a father, who just happened to have been MysticIslandHigh School’s principal years ago. But she wouldn’t play their game. Especially when Ms. Thompson said to her, “I suppose you’ll be writing about your father,” with a gleam in her eye. After all, it wasn’t Hope’s father’s death that made her who she was. It was his life. The love and support of a man that now called from the halls of a paper castle.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 9 — Dreaming 

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