Today we begin a week of Flash Fiction, featuring the work of a new writer each day. Enjoy Monday’s opening story.
by Judith Beth Cohen
My name is Ophelia Greenbaum and I’d call my life a mess, a total wicked mess. Last week they kicked me out of high school for setting off the fire alarm. The shrink they sent me to called it “a symbolic signal for help.” What do they expect from a girl named for a character who drowns herself after her father gets stabbed in some queen’s bedroom? That Ophelia didn’t have a Mom. I do, but mine’s obsessed with death–like maybe she should get a job working for Dr. Kevorkian. It’s not just the name — I got the visuals too — I practically grew up staring at that English painting of dead Ophelia drifting down the river. I learned something else about Ophelia; when she says “the owl was a baker’s daughter” it sounds like she’s going mad, but my teacher said that comes from an old story about Jesus that everyone back then would know. Supposedly, he went to a bakery and asked for something because he was hungry so the baker’s daughter took a big cake and cut it in half, in order to keep some for herself. This pissed Jesus off, so he turned her into an owl. I guess the story means that you’ll get punished if you’re selfish. Seems really dumb to me because it was Jesus who wouldn’t share, and I’d rather be an owl than work in a hot bakery any day. Besides, the story only matters if you’re Christian and believe that he’s the Lord, and I’m part Jewish, at least on my Dad’s side, though Mom said you can only be one if your mother’s Jewish, so I guess I’m not really anything.
Things weren’t bad enough already when my Mom, who’s a total depressive, threw my Dad out of the house. No reason that I could tell — I mean he wasn’t seeing anyone else or anything rational like that. I know a girl whose Dad has a gay lover and her mother didn’t throw him out. Next, Mom decides I should be on Prozac too, because it helps her. But I wouldn’t take it, no thanks. I don’t want to be a Zombie wandering the halls, zoned-out; I’d rather stay pissed off! I thought I was handling things — seeing Dad on weekends until my Mom really goes ballistic. I mean she causes a total nuclear explosion by announcing that I have a sister she gave her up for adoption when she was sixteen. And get this, Mom joins a birth mother’s rights group so she can find this other “daughter.” She believes that her life will be perfect if she can just get her back, but I think she’s deranged. I mean is it fair for this girl to suddenly discover that she has a depressed mother and a little sister who sends off alarms when there isn’t even a fire? What if she doesn’t want us?
Now things are really out of control. Mom got so bad she had to go to a hospital. I guess Prozac isn’t so great. She looked terrible, crying all the time, saying over and over: “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I’ll be O.K.” She doesn’t have to apologize to me, but I can’t see why she has to be in a hospital. Maybe it’s like when I was little and I’d get upset and angry and start kicking and hitting and the teachers would put you in a little room alone until you calmed down. They called it “Time Out.” Kids hated being isolated in that room with only the ugly walls and a smelly, dirty mat on the floor. They’d cry and pound on the doors, but not me. I liked it — it felt nice to be alone, knowing there were people outside the door and stuff was going on, but you didn’t have to be part of it. You could just listen and be alone. I’d look at my hands and pretend they belonged to someone else. I’d count my breaths, just like Mom learned to do in meditation classes. When they came and invited me back, I didn’t always want to go — I liked that quiet room. Maybe Mom just needs some time out in a place like that.
If I can find my missing sister, maybe things will get better. She might be a movie star or a doctor. Maybe she’s rich and she’ll get us out of our dilapidated house. I could go to that birth mother’s group and see if they can help me. But, given our luck, she’s probably a basket-case-drug-addict with AIDS. God, I only hope that girl has a normal name like Kristen or Becky, and that she’s never even heard of William Shakespeare.