FINDING THE END
By Idalis Nieves
Ebony Rose didn’t care for interacting with the other students in her sixth grade class other than through the seating chart devised by Mrs. Anna. The kids in her class were scatter-brained and talked too much about nonsense—kiddy TV shows, upcoming trends, and dolls.
To block out the chatter, she would doodle in the bright blue notebook she hated. The reason? It was glittery. Since Mrs. Anna had given Ebony back her iPod the day before, blocking out the noise was easier. The day after it was taken, Mrs. Anna had scheduled a conference with her mom to discuss the music she discovered.
“I think your daughter’s music selection is inappropriate,” Mrs. Anna relayed softly, her hands folded on her desk. “Her music is very bleak and mature, which I believe is affecting her delay in socializing with the other students. And don’t get me started about their blatant blasphemous attitude.” Songs by Five Finger Death Punch were revealed to Ebony’s mother, Amelia. “Just look at the lyrics.” Amelia was given a piece of paper with the lyrics to one of the songs: “Wrong Side of Heaven”.
“I don’t understand.” Amelia handed the paper back after a quick skim. “The lyrics seem very deep and meaningful, especially for Ebony. She’s learning that no hero is truly emotionless. Besides, her father was with her when she bought it; she had his permission.”
“Oh! That’s right, your husband came back from…where was it?”
“Iraq. He’s been home for about two months now.”
Mrs. Anna turned to Ebony, clad in an oversized camouflage jacket and jeans. “You must be happy to have him back.” She smiled kindly.
Ebony nodded shortly, her fingers around the dog tags he gave her. They rested a little above her heart.
Amelia returned to the previous subject. “I fail to understand why you strictly refer to Ebony’s music influencing her character; she does her homework and doesn’t get into much trouble.”
“I’m not disagreeing with that, Mrs. Wood. She’s a smart student. The point I’m trying to get across is her choice in music is not standard, and quite possibly anti-Christian.”
Mrs. Anna continued, “Your daughter isn’t developing socially as well as the others; listening to her music during the free period and not interacting with the other girls. So I took it from her. Being alone for long periods of time could halt her growth and maturation. Here at St. Augustine’s School for Young Ladies, we aim for girls to socialize and form long-lasting bonds with their peers.”
“I’m happy being alone,” Ebony stated, her legs crossed at the ankle, her boots powdered with dust. “I don’t like being forced to talk with others, and I don’t want you to set up a free period just to make the others talk to me. And I want my iPod back.”
“You’ll get it back once the weekend is over.” Mrs. Anna held her hand out for Amelia to hand her back her daughter’s music player. “And there’s nothing wrong with making new friends.”
“I prefer being alone, or with my dad,” repeated Ebony, her arms over her chest.
“What kind of run-of-the-mill suggestions do you have for my daughter?”
“Try getting Ebony to listen to some cheery and upbeat music, and make it a point for her to talk with the other students. Also, conversations at a dinner table never seem to fail; definitely much better than staring at a TV while eating.”
As the final bell rang the following Monday, Ebony listened to her music when Amelia arrived.
“Ebony, how was school?”
“Nothing really happened. A girl got detention for being late.”
“Oh. Interesting. Do you like the song I’m playing?”
Ebony took an ear bud off to listen. “No.”
“Sounds like a stalker wrote it.”
“I grew up with The Police, EB.” Amelia sighed in defeat. “Did you talk with any of the students?”
Ebony shook her head.
“Why not, dearie?”
“Why would I talk with the kids when I’m nicely referred to as The Weird Kid? I don’t really fit in with the other girls. They want shiny things. All I want is my dad; he would always take me out for ice cream. Why did he leave?”
“He was fighting to defend us and our country.”
“Really?” How long does the fight take?
“I’m so glad to see my flower again,” Lieutenant Augustus Wood cried happily, grasping Ebony in his arms, spinning her. “You’ve grown so much.”
“Glad you’re home, Dad.” Ebony joined in on crying with her father and mother.
“I’ve made you your favorite dinner,” Amelia stuttered in between sobs. “Pot roast with garlic sour cream potato skins. And for desert, a strawberry shortcake I made from scratch.”
Augustus took his wife in his arms, hugging and kissing her. “It’s great to be home. Merry Christmas, all.”
On Wednesday when Mrs. Anna left to go to the bathroom, the girls squawked with their friends and peers. A few grabbed their disastrously bejeweled cellphones and began sharing videos on Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, and Tumblr. Few used Facebook; only used to view baby animals playing with young children. Some girls took photos together and began trying to find a filter to erase their natural flaws or at least make them comedic. Three friends were sending text messages to each other; exchanging looks at one another only to share smiles and short laughs.
Back when Ebony did have someone in class to talk to, her only friend Tobi, the two would play the game of the cootie catcher to find out which actor they would soon marry—Tobi usually got Chris Hemsworth and Ebony’s “husband” was Tom Hiddleston or Daniel Craig. Since she moved, Ebony had been banished from playing the cootie catcher game due to her outcomes ranging from “That boy you like will never notice you” to “A plane will land on your head. Your head shall explode as a result.”
In the meantime, Ebony grabbed her glittery blue notebook and began doodling birds and sheep. She smiled to herself as she felt the coolness of the pen in her hand and the faint swishes of her written words on paper and the melody of Five Finger Death Punch in her ears.
As she drew a gun, she remembered that she had only seen a gun once: in the Disney movie “The Fox and the Hound.” Given her knowledge acquired from the film, Ebony assumed that was what all guns looked like. Her dad called them “boom sticks for adults” before he was deployed. Considering the sound the gun made in the movie and sounds of them when her mom watched the news, Ebony concluded her father was right.
Why did my mom suggest I watch that movie out of the other Disney movies? Was that the kind of gun Dad used when he was away overseas?
According to the squabble coming from the other girls in the classroom, Disney was full of beautiful princesses (with either light or dark hair) always finding their Prince Charming.
The girls began fighting over which prince would be theirs through the sacred cootie catcher. No girl could refute the results of the cootie catcher and trying to defy it through another cootie catcher was social suicide.
The song that played next on Ebony’s iPod was “Crossing Over”—another Five Finger Death Punch tune.
Hey don’t wait for me there
Just find your own way
Hey don’t wait for me there
Cause I’ll be there soon enough
I’ll be there soon enough
Nine birds pecking for worms and eleven sheep gnawing away at the grass. In between the animals, a shepherd with a large walking stick stood with a boy hunter though his gun was some distance away from him. He was not skilled with a gun, but the shepherd aimed for him to learn.
He is young. Time will allow his skill to grow, assumed the shepherd. A boy must learn how to provide for himself. A strong boy will grow into a man—the best kind of man. A protector, a provider, an everyman.
With Ebony’s birthday falling after the Christmas Break, her father took her on a shopping spree after calling in to say she was “sick.”
“Are you sure all you want for your birthday is a CD?” Lieutenant Wood asked.
“Yes. I like music.” Ebony was about to pick out the newest single from Avicci, Hey Brother, when a different album cover caught her eyes by a band called Five Finger Death Punch. On the cover, a man wearing a gas mask pointed directly at her. In the red and yellow sky behind him were the silhouettes of fighter planes flying over what looked like a demolished city. “I want this one.”
“’War is the Answer,’” her father read. “Are you sure, EB?”
“Yes. You were in one, and you came back. You must’ve won.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing, honey. It’s nothing too important. I’ll get you the CD.”
The hunter was given a bow and arrow by the shepherd as the young hunter seemed more comfortable with the supposed primeval weapons. His skill was immediate and advanced; he took down two rabbits with it. The shepherd discarded the gun outside of the pasture until the boy hunter felt ready to carry the weight of the boom stick. The hunter smiled wide.
Well, I’ll be. This boy might grow into a strong man faster than I thought.
“I did it!” cheered the boy hunter, his kills in his hands. “I’m a hunter now!”
“You are, indeed,” agreed the shepherd.
Where was the teacher? How long does it take to go to the bathroom?
“Did you get your mom to buy you that Elsa dress?” a girl with a golden ponytail asked her dark-haired friend.
“Duh! She’ll get me anything just to get me to shut up about it. Besides, she’d never let me wear that giant camouflage jacket like the Weird Kid. Think her dad gave it to her?”
All you have to do is ask, reasoned Ebony as she kept drawing.
“My dad said he’d take me to get ice cream if I got a C or better on the math test. If I get a D, I’ll use my white-out again.”
Was Mrs. Anna stuck in the toilet? Did her bony butt slip into the bowl? Hopefully she managed to sneak in a cheeseburger. She needs it. Maybe she’s listening to my music. It’s not all bad and “disturbing.”
After a month home, Augustus began seeing his daughter wearing his jacket and tags more often. She nearly cried when he asked to take them to get them cleaned. “I wonder if Ebony’s music is changing her,” he stated during one late night with Amelia. “She doesn’t seem to be making new friends.”
“It’s been hard for her since Tobi moved,” she responded gently.
“Three months seems too long,” offered Augustus.
“And her music is not her fault. You let her choose the music. I think it’s a phase, but I think she wants to know about your time in Iraq.”
“I don’t want her to know about my time there. What I did there stays there. I’m not going to relive that. I can’t relive that again!” His right hand formed a white-knuckled fist.
“I’m not asking you to. What I am asking you to do is not jump on this; take away EB’s music, the more she’ll want to listen to it.” Amelia’s hand graced her husband’s. Their wedding rings touched.
“I don’t want her to think I’m a monster…or broken.”
“She won’t, love.” Amelia wrapped her arms around her soldier securely. “She’s your daughter; she loves you.”
Given her father’s sudden tears, Ebony left the sanctuary of hiding behind an adjacent wall to return to her room, resuming “Wrong Side of Heaven.”
Arms wide open, I stand alone.
I’m no hero, and I’m not made of stone….
The following Thursday, Mrs. Anna announced the free period. Since she was present, no girl had their jeweled phones on display, and Ebony kept her iPod in her pocket.
The boy hunter soon grew bored of his simple weapons and took the gun as a means for a challenge. His aim was steadier than before resulting in a bird to go along with the fallen rabbits. It would soon become a feast of champions.
“How come I’m not afraid of the gun anymore?” the boy asked.
“You’re growing into a fine man,” the shepherd answered. “A man learns to use his fear to become stronger and not as an excuse to stay a coward.”
“I’m brave!!” announced the boy, jumping up and down over and over again. The gun was still in his hand. “Can I keep practicing?”
“Of course, my boy. See if you can find the fat rabbit, and it’ll be a wonderful dinner we’ll have tonight. That rabbit keeps eating the vegetable crops each harvest, and I want that beast to be on a platter tonight!”
“Yes, sir!” The boy saluted to the shepherd.
Ebony was six when her father prepared to ship off to Iraq. Augustus fastened an American flag lapel pin on the collar of young Ebony’s dress.
“I’ll be home soon, and you’ll be able to call me a hero.”
“I don’t want you to go,” she cried.
“I won’t be gone too long. This is what I’ve trained for, and I’ll be proud to serve. Be proud of me for fighting to come back to my flower.” He turned to his wife, her face streamed with tears. “Be strong.”
The Wood family shared one last emotional hug before Augustus would leave home and walk into war.
During the last day of the week, Mrs. Anna returned from a conference and began writing the current lesson on the white board. Girls stopped their conversations and resorted to whispers behind Mrs. Anna’s back and secret cootie catcher readings. The chirps and squeaks in Ebony’s world subsided save for the scribbling melody coming from her pen. Mrs. Anna turned back to address the class. After her short lecture, her attention was locked on Ebony, her attention still on her notebook. Everyone else was facing the teacher, more or less.
Mrs. Anna cleared her throat. “Ebony, did you get the lesson?”
She nodded quickly, writing down the final word of her sentence.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Anna walked away from her desk and toward Ebony, peering down into the writing. Her tongue clicked in mild disapproval. “Unless you’re taking notes, put your pen down please,” Mrs. Anna stated in that “I’m The Boss Of You” tone she used too much. “You’re never going to make new friends if you lose track of the world around you.”
Several students laughed.
Let’s hope. Putting the pen down, Ebony realized the hunter had killed one of the shepherd’s sheep. She hoped she could right the wrong on the bus ride home considering how the boy hunter’s attempts to calm the situation down were worsening it. As for now, she was to learn the majesty and the versatility of the multiplication table.
Too bad sheep don’t multiply like rabbits. If only the boy got that rabbit.
In the dark recesses of the living room, the former soldier sat in a recliner; a glass of scotch straight in his hand as he flipped aimlessly through television shows. He didn’t notice his daughter quietly creeping into the kitchen for a glass of water until she accidently dropped it.
“Show yourself!” the Lieutenant declared, rising quickly from his seat with his fists clenched; his gun was under his pillow in the master bedroom. HIs nostrils flared in passionate ferocity and the glass of scotch was sparkling on the floor. “I’m warning you! Get out! Show yourself!”
Ebony turned on the light per her father’s orders; he quickly softened his stance and gaze once seeing his daughter’s mirror-like eyes.
“Please, don’t cry, my flower,” pleaded Augustus. “I’m so sorry.”
“What’s going on? Who did you think I was?” stammered Ebony.
“Nothing, and no one. Please, just go to back to sleep. I don’t want you to see me like this.” He turned away from Ebony.
“Why? Did you have a nightmare?” Ebony approached her father. The biting perfume of alcohol lingered and swirled around the empty space between the former soldier and his daughter. She crouched down to look into his transparent eyes.
“Nothing to concern yourself with. And don’t worry about the mess, Ebony. I’ll clean it up.” He pulled out a broom and dustpan from behind the refrigerator. “Have a nice sleep.”
“Need any help, Dad?”
“No. I have it under control. Don’t worry about it, I don’t want you getting hurt by the shards.”
I didn’t mean the glass.
“Go to bed, Ebony. You have school tomorrow, and I know you’ll want your iPod back.”
Going back to school the next day, Ebony couldn’t think of a way to end her story.
“How could you have missed?” the shepherd demanded crimson-faced and tending to the dead sheep.
The boy was trembling “I’m still learning, sir. I didn’t mean to kill your sheep. I was aiming for a fat rabbit, but he jumped away too quick.”
“How are you going to repay me for this? I was supposed to give this sheep to the local state fair!”
The blood of the once prize-worthy sheep ran freely along the pasture, while a herding dog seemed to do nothing to calm down the sheep running amuck. The shepherd cradled the lifeless animal in his arms.
“I don’t know, sir. Will it still be a good dinner, anyways? I mean, sheep have more meat on them than rabbits.”
“You’re making wise at a time like this?”
The boy trembled. “I’m trying to find the silver lining is all, sir. I’m sure you have another sheep you can put in the fair.”
If only the boy had caught that rabbit.
Arms wide open, I stand alone
I’m no hero and I’m not made of stone
Right or wrong
I can hardly tell
I’m on the wrong side of heaven
and the righteous side of hell…
About the Author
My name is Idalis Nieves and I am a Linfield College student class of 2018. My field of study is Creative Writing; a major I decided on back in high school. From age ten and onward, I’ve enjoyed writing stories and poems for my friends and myself. I was never told by my family I should stop reading, though sometimes my love for books had gotten some unwanted attention from past teachers.
As a writer, I enjoy molding and shaping my words to design characters, settings, and one’s innermost thoughts. I’m greatly honored by the opportunity to have my work being read by more people on a greater scale. I aim to keep conducting more of my words into relatable characters and build stronger language.
Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/idalis.nieves.946