There was a time when in late afternoon
The four-o’clocks would fold up at day’s close
Pink-white in prayer, and ’neath the floating moon
I lay with them in calm and sweet repose.
And in the open spaces I could sleep,
Half-naked to the shining worlds above;
Peace came with sleep and sleep was long and deep,
Gained without effort, sweet like early love.
But now no balm—nor drug nor weed nor wine—
Can bring true rest to cool my body’s fever,
Nor sweeten in my mouth the acid brine,
That salts my choicest drink and will forever.
Adolescence by Claude McKay
She’d really put her best effort into her English exam, Mel thought as she stirred her bowl of instant noodles. In fact, she’d written a rather clever essay on Romeo and Juliet and the importance of making well-considered decisions. She twirled the noodles slowly around her fork and raised it to her lips, dropping it with a loud splat! as Mam opened the door.
Mam stared. Mel stared back. Mam stared harder. Mel stared back. Neither of them moved a muscle.
“I don’t want to talk to you right now,” Mam finally said, and Mel grabbed her noodles and scurried upstairs.
Lisa was waiting for her.
“So I heard you and Mam are shooting and bawling.”
“Well I think they should let you go to Bangor. Honestly, it's the best idea I’ve heard all week.”
Mel perched herself on the edge of her mattress, still holding her noodles. She eyed her sister warily.
“Why are you on my side?”
“What, you think I want to keep sharing a room with you?” Lisa scoffed. “Room to myself and you’re no longer the favourite child? Doesn’t get much better than that. I wish I would have realised it earlier.”
“I am not the favourite child.”
“Come on, you’ve always done better in school than me.”
“So what? George’s the favourite child, not either of us.”
“Aye, you’re probably right,” said Lisa. “He does have the advantage of being four and having dimples.”
“Have you ever considered that maybe you’re supporting me because you just want me to be happy?”
A few hours later, Mam’s distinct five-beat knock interrupted Mel’s text exchange with Anne. They’d been sending ecology memes to each other for the better part of the night. Mel shot a desperate glance at Lisa.
“Tell her I’m asleep!” she hissed.
“What is it, Mam?” said Lisa.
From behind the door: “Dad and I would like to talk to Mel.”
“She’s never asleep this early.”
“She must have been exhausted,” said Lisa. “The poor lass came in and cried herself to sleep. Now there’s a line of drool half a meter long hanging out of her mouth. It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen, if I do say so myself.”
“Well, wake her up then.”
“What?” Lisa squawked. “I’m not going to wake my poor, knackered baby sister just so you two can ambush her.”
“Will you please just open the door?”
“No, Mam! I’m not getting involved in your stupid fight!” said Lisa, who was absolutely getting involved in their stupid fight.
Dad’s voice now: “Mel, I know you can’t be sleeping through this.”
Mel and Lisa shared a glance. She’d have to reconcile with them eventually, but she didn’t have the strength for it tonight.
“If you won’t answer us, then fine,” said Dad. “It doesn’t matter because you’re grounded anyway.”
Two sets of angry footsteps tramped downstairs. Lisa giggled. “You’ve never been grounded before,” she said.
Mel scowled and burrowed deeper into the blankets.
About the author: Ella Shively is a writer and wildlife technician in northern Florida. You can find her online at https://www.instagram.com/shivelywrites/.
About this chapter's featured poet: Claude McKay was born in Jamaica on September 15, 1889. He was educated by his older brother, who possessed a library of English novels, poetry, and scientific texts. In 1912, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica (Gardner), recording his impressions of black life in Jamaica in dialect. That same year, he traveled to the United States to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He remained there only a few months, leaving to study agriculture at Kansas State University. McKay’s viewpoints and poetic achievements in the earlier part of the twentieth century set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance and gained the deep respect of younger black poets of the time, including Langston Hughes. He died on May 22, 1948.