by Laura Ward-Smith
I’m lucky; I was never pretty. I am not one of those girls formed flimsily in the shape of other people’s gazes. Instead, I built myself from the inside out, reliant on no one’s approval but my own. I saw advantages in being invisible, of being able to slip through the cracks. I accentuated my plainness, cloaking myself in dark, formless things, saying nothing with edges to catch against.
But you were one such creature — as fragile as a jar filled with sweet nothings, an invitation to be broken. Your name is Annalise. Beautiful and vivacious, you were the wearer of blue eyeliner and a pink puffer-jacket and other such unfathomably cool things. I was drawn to you as we are all attracted to shiny, sparkling objects. But in that way girls instantly know the order of things, I knew that we would not be friends. Instead I watched you, unnoticed, from the shadows.
Maths class, third grade. I made some remark — some whispered joke about the put-upon, bespectacled teacher, an easy target — that made you peal with laugher, the trilling notes of your approval showering me like warm rain. Desperate to repeat this effect, I found myself rehearsing anecdotes to amuse you with, bringing titbits of gossip to the lessons and sprinkling compliments over our conversation. You must have found my eyes a pleasing mirror to look in, as you asked me to sit with you at lunch, and by the end of autumn term we were best friends.
But familiarity rubbed away the shimmer of your beauty, revealing your brittle core. You lapped greedily at my inferiority, nourishing yourself with it. You would point out my faults, making direct comparisons with yourself; grades, appearance, whatever else came to mind. Eventually the price of your friendship became too dear and I gradually withdrew my affections. Like a hermit crab changing its home, you one day moved on to some other, more hospitable friend.
I’m sorry to hear you are gone now, that this world, in the end, broke you apart. I still catch your laugh sometimes in the hiss of the rain and wish that I had stayed with you, wrapping myself round you like an invisible shell.
I went to your funeral. The girls from school where there, almost unrecognisable with their anxious, world-weary faces, the soft stomachs of mothers. I said how tragic it was, that such a beautiful girl could take her own life. They startled when I spoke and looked towards the door, as if wondering how I’d got there.
Laura Ward-Smith works in communications for a major British broadcaster, with a focus on drama and film. She has recently had short stories published in Ellipsis Zine and shortlisted for the Hammond House International Literary Prize. She lives in North London and enjoys all forms of storytelling.