By Bald Punk
Felicity was a dark child. Something black circled her bones, beat when her heart beat, and sprayed out like venom from her eyes. For that reason she never looked upon someone other than to steal a glance—less they see it.
But everyone saw it.
Felicity was eleven years old and she was fairly certain no one really knew what she looked like. Her mother definitely did not. She’d have to pull her daughter’s frizzy black hair away from her face for that, and about as close as they came to each other during the day was in the dark and grimy hallway of their tiny house. But before going from room to room, knowing she’d have to navigate past old furniture, empty bottles and cans, broken toys, piles of books, boxes, and papers, Felicity gave a listen for her mother’s nasally breathing and clumsy footfalls so as to prevent a close encounter.
There were many nights when her mother woke Felicity needing someone to talk to. Invariably, she was insanely drunk and made no sense—which Felicity could deal with—though sometimes she was out of her mind, puffing madly on her cigarette and crying and telling Felicity how much she loved her. Yet her words had no effect as out through blades of hair pressed close to her sleepy eyes, Felicity would silently watch her mother’s skeletal hand work the cigarette, sending cinders dive-bombing to the floor before returning to her mouth for another deep drag. It wouldn’t be long before she wished her mother would just die—like she sometimes said she wanted to—and leave her alone at last.
Other times in the middle of the night her mother would trip and fall atop Felicity as she lay sleeping in her bed. Her mother’s stark, bloodless face with skin pulled tight over bone would wind up inches away from the young girl’s mask of hair. And peeking out at her mother, she’d see her lashes opening and closing in an involuntary manner, while her lolling light blue eyes seemed nearly blind—not seeming to recognize anything that resembled a daughter or even a person, let alone a girl who needed sleep. So close, Felicity would get a full blast of her mother’s breath that always reeked like a mid-July dumpster. And the inside of a dumpster was where everything they owned belonged, including her mother’s drug-addled body and maybe even Felicity with her long frizzy hair and all her darkness.
It was those moments that made her feel no remorse when she thought of the time she almost killed her mother. It happened in the middle of the night after her mother had abruptly fell backwards onto Felicity’s bed, babbling to the ceiling how Felicity was such a good baby and how she used to hold her for hours. But Felicity snapped and reached under her mattress and took out her favorite pair of scissors and chased her out of her room. She almost stabbed her in her stomach, but that was after her mother lost her balance, slipping on the paper and box strewn floor. It was something her mother did a lot; lose her balance, that is. She was always falling. She probably had been falling in one way or another for the past twenty years.
And Felicity did find her passed out on the floor a lot, too. One morning not long ago she’d had to step over her in the hall to get to the bathroom. When she came out, she stole a look at her mother who was lying there naked, the side of her face smushed against the soot-covered rug with blood around her open mouth, snoring like a man—somehow the burned-black cigarette still between her fingers. Felicity would have run out the door to catch the school bus, but the threads from the torn rug that were caught up in her mother’s toes bothered her. She went back to her room and got her scissors from under her mattress, which was where she also kept her chess game and some old baseball cards.
When Felicity got back into the hall she climbed over her mother and used the black handles of the scissors to move her foot, and then neatly cut the threads from the ripped rug. For a moment she clicked the scissors open and shut, admiring the long slender silver blades before her eyes fell on her mother’s skinny body. She was bony like Felicity, but her face was like an old woman’s. It was hollow looking: her red-pimpled cheeks cut on sharp angles to her chin. In all, it looked like a machine had sucked all the life out of her skinny body, leaving black-and-blues along with a gruesome, Halloween mask for a face. But she had a pretty mouth, her lips weren’t so thin, and they had a cupid-bow shape. In picture albums buried somewhere in their house years ago, Felicity had seen how her mother had been almost pretty.
But no one could ever think something so mean about Felicity’s looks, because no human on Earth ever saw her pale face. It was always down turned, her unmanageable hair more falling than sweeping from one side to the other, as she crusaded to hide from the world. Her green eyes, avoiding, avoiding, avoiding, less she make eye contact and the recipient see her darkness. The ugliness in her. Her black soul. Her black heart, beating in demon rhythm.
It was a little over a month ago on October 10 that Felicity had cast her darkest magic spell. It was wrong what she did, but she couldn’t help herself. It had been the crowning achievement of her interest in magic spells that had begun about a year ago when she’d found a book called 101 Magic Spells. She had paged through it, but it didn’t catch her interest right away. She’d brought the book home anyway and forgotten about it. Then a few days later when she had woken late one night and her house was unusually quiet—so much so that she couldn’t sleep—she had spotted its spine between old newspapers. She’d spent the rest of the night paging through it, reading in the swath cast by the hallway light into her room.
After that she liked to make up her own spells though she did use some of the words she remembered from the book. Of the ones she created, her favorite spells were Finding Love, Never Start Smoking, and Make the School Bus Go Faster. When it came to doing evil ones, or especially giving the evil eye, Felicity was very careful, because she was sure someone as dark as herself had to have what was called the “transmittal power of Evil.” She was afraid she’d hurt someone with it even though sometimes she did send some of her darkness to the kids at school that treated her badly, and to her mother’s visitors who came near her. She couldn’t call them boyfriends, because boyfriends stayed for at least a little while. Didn’t they?
Felicity wasn’t exactly sure how it all worked—how her darkness connected her to all the evil of the world, but she knew that she had to be really, really angry for it to work best. Like she was on October 10.
It was a Saturday and Felicity was in her yard cutting a two-foot-square patch of grass with her scissors. On either side of her, between weeds and patches of high grass, was junk people threw over their fence or carried in late at night. Like when she’d seen teens from the neighborhood deposit an old couch and broken TV there. Drunk and laughing they urinated on the couch before Felicity backed away from the window. But she had recognized one of them. He was a chubby teen and walked on purpose like one leg was shorter than the other. She was pretty sure his nickname was Lurch. One night she’d seen him in their house. Sleep still in her eyes, she had gone to use the bathroom, and flicking on the light had seen his fat and naked body, hairless like a holiday turkey. With one forearm resting against the wall while he peed, he was startled by the light, but didn’t see her. Felicity went back to her room, holding her pee in for what seemed hours. And she had to go real bad, having drunk two tall glasses of water after reading in one of the magazines on her floor that it was good for the skin. As she lay in darkness, hoping a lot of water would make her pretty, she hardly heard the sounds of her mother’s bed. She was good at blocking that kind of stuff out, though trying to forget she had to pee was tough.
It was about seventy degrees that Saturday and very bright and sunny. After Felicity finished cutting the two-foot-square patch of grass, she looked over her yard and wondered how long it would take to cut the rest. Maybe one night she would do it.
She slipped her scissors under one of the torn pillows of the couch in her front yard and went looking for the black cat named Sunny. In a green dress and pretty nice sneakers she’d found by the goodwill bin at the supermarket, Felicity shuffled along the broken walk that led away from their bungalow, making sure not to step on a crack. After going up three crooked steps, she opened her chain-link front gate, her knees close—as that’s how she walked—while her long black hair was safely pulled across her face. First she checked the sidewalk and then across the street. No Sunny. It was pretty quiet, though. The pizzeria was closed on the corner, and next to it there were no lines outside the check-cashing place like there were on Friday afternoons.
“Swis, swis, swis,” Felicity called in a whispering voice. “Sunny, where are you?” Since he didn’t come right away and there was no one on the sidewalk, she ventured out.
There were three street level houses Felicity went by before she came to the parking lot behind a large, tan, stucco building that housed Anuzzi’s catering hall. She headed for the trash container, which was hidden by tall weeds sprouting between the building’s cracks and a partially falling fence that surrounded it. It was Sunny’s favorite place since the pizza guy bought a BB gun to ward off intruders from entering his dumpster.
“Swis, swis, swis. Sunny!” Felicity called, still in a half-whisper. She smelled something dead, and for the slightest second her heart dropped. She couldn’t bear to think of life without Sunny. He was her rock.
After taking a few steps closer to the dumpster, she spotted two older kids from her school: Vito and Leon. They were coming from around the corner of the building about sixty feet away and were dressed like twins with baseball hats turned backward, colored T-shirts, thick silver chains around their necks and pants that fell from their thin waists. Vito and Leon were both in the 8th grade, two years ahead of Felicity, and they teased her on the bus all the time.
Her heart sank as they headed directly at her. She briskly walked away, trying to make it seem like she didn’t see them. From the corner of her eye, through her sweaty hair, she saw them jogging in her direction—each boy had a hand dropped to his waist, holding up his pants. They sprinted when she quickened her pace, but she still thought she had a good shot to outrun them as their oversized pants hindered their motion.
“Yo, yo, yo,” Leon called out. “Where you goin’ girl!”
She flung open the chain link gate to her house and jumped over the three steps to the walkway and ran as fast as she could. But her heart thumped as a split second later the gate crashed open again and she heard their laughter. Probably no one saw them because the front lawn of her house was down low, cement walls separating it from the two taller homes with curtains pulled down to avoid sight of the dilapidated bungalow.
Felicity was at full sprint just feet from her door when one of them grabbed her hair and sent her crashing down beside twisted plastic lawn furniture and the old couch.
Both boys looked loopy, like rabid dogs, while their pubescent voices boomed in the warm spring-like air.
“Where you going freaky deeky bitch. Don’t you wanna hang? Have some fun freakin’ ha, ha, ha, freak!”
But Felicity knew she could say no words that they’d hear. It was the way it worked. She just closed her eyes tight and held her breath, wondering what she would do if she could get to her scissors. All her muscles were tense and she imagined herself as an impenetrable rock, and that worked until she felt a sweaty hand on her thigh. She opened her eyes and saw Leon’s face: his circle of hate. His dark eyes were glassy and he was real high, but it was too late. She made up her mind in a flurry of thought that he had tormented her for the last time. He had to die. Felicity conjured up the mark of death from her evil, dirty-water soul and set it fully upon his shoulders. Queen takes knight. Game over for Leon.
She set her eyes on Vito. Even on drugs he was still Hollywood-cute. Cute enough that once before she had super-secretly liked him. It was a crush that she wouldn’t even admit to Sunny though she thought it over at times. How could her crush sustain him sitting behind her on the bus as someone spit in her hair? She didn’t know the answer. But what did it matter? Spit washed out and she would have forgiven him if he had done it; and she definitely wouldn’t have condemned him death for it. No. Never. But she couldn’t control her darkness even though all she had wanted was for him to sit next to her on the bus and to see him smile with those bright white teeth of his. But it was too late. Vito’s hand was under her dress. Queen takes King’s life. With blue skies above and spring in the air, her darkness was sucked up like a magnet by Vito’s chest. After it was done, she looked fully upon his smooth tan face that had a whitish sheen, and wondered, did Vito’s mother ever see the soullessness she saw? When Felicity’s evil worked its magic, she soon would.
However, the boys didn’t stop after her darkness cursed their souls, and Felicity thought about Hilary Duff and how nice she seemed. She wished she had a friend like her. Did Hilary like chess? Felicity thought how she never ever would like anyone more than Sunny. Oh, she hoped he wasn’t around. They might hurt him, too.
Felicity’s eyes were still closed tight after they stopped and went away. She knew they had probably grown tired of her like they would their girlfriends, wives, and children—that is, had her tormenters lived.
Stiffly she got up, and with her shoulders fixed like she was a box, she marched into her house. Her knees pressed together because it hurt and not just because she walked like that. It was very dark inside and silent, except for her mother’s deep, gurgling snores. Felicity went to her room and sat, refusing urges to wipe her face or clean where they touched. It was a connection the three of them shared. Their drool and fingerprints that lingered on her bird-like frame were nothing. Water and soap could take them away. But nothing Felicity knew of could unlock the seal of death from their bodies. It was coming and nothing they could do or say would stop it.
Twilight set outside her window that day as Felicity remained in her room. It was littered with boxes of her mother’s old clothes and other stuff she collected from the street, like an old bike that she never rode and dolls she never touched. Then about an hour after dark Sunny came to her window. Before she could stop it, a smile broke over her face, and she pulled her hair from her eyes. Sunny didn’t care that she had crooked teeth or that she wasn’t pretty. He was gentle and kind. She opened the window and took him in her arms, sniffing his coat, amazed at how he always smelled so clean. Except for a few tiny bald patches on his black fur, he was silky and beautiful. She felt privileged that something so beautiful would like a scrappy, thin thing like herself, and she smiled as he licked her face clean.
It took two days for her black magic to work. On the bus stop, wearing the same green dress as when she had cast her spell, Felicity stood at a distance from the other boys and girls who all wore pants. Through blades of hair she noticed some of them were crying. She listened to their sobs of anguish, and thought of the darkness in her, and how in that moment they were all the same.
The yellow school bus came lumbering along, and not a moment too soon. Felicity was starving and couldn’t wait to get to school and eat. She sat in the green fake-leather seat near the front, across from the “blind” bus driver, Tom, who liked to smile a lot. She knew he wasn’t really blind, but somehow he never saw anything bad happen on his bus. Maybe he was too busy smiling?
On the way to school, Felicity heard one of the kids from her stop telling someone who had just come on that Vito and Leon had drowned while rafting in the ocean. A third boy in the raft had lived. He was in the 8th grade at her school, but he had never ever come near her.
All the while Felicity stared fixedly out the window at the passing homes like she always did. Someone could smack her on the top of her head and she still wouldn’t turn. Though sometimes someone would sit in the seat next to her and she might blink, knowing without turning that they were positioned on the edge, farthest away from her.
Otherwise, that day she didn’t know how to feel about the boys’ deaths. She was empty inside, but it did feel sort of good that probably no one would spit on her for at least a few days. She was evil and so why would what she felt matter anyway? All she could think was that she would have to talk it over later with Sunny. He was the best. He was her rock. When they were alone, she felt specks of brightness in herself, probably much like the girls that wore pants did.
For the next couple of weeks the kids at school left her alone. It was like her magic had set up an impenetrable wall between her and their body fluids. But it was exactly one month later on November 10 that Felicity cast another deadly black magic spell. For this one, she had dug really deep into her bottomless pit of soul and conjured up a heavy, inescapable net of blackness.
It had happened at night. She had been lying in bed sound asleep when she woke gradually, thinking she felt something like a hair in her mouth. She pressed her lips together, felt a finger, pulled back with a flourish, and reached under her mattress for her scissors.
She reared back, ready to strike, yet saw it was her mother who was sitting calmly on her bed smoking a cigarette. Why she had her finger in Felicity’s mouth was a mystery. But she was just sitting there like a wobbly tree waiting to fall. She couldn’t have weighed more than eighty-five pounds; her arms were all bruised, but in that moment her face wasn’t completely devoid of life, as there was just the tiniest speck that conveyed to Felicity the message: “When will this end?” And strangely enough, for the first time ever Felicity felt sort of sorry for her mother.
But she didn’t hug her, because it would do no good. They were two creatures born without love in their hearts. There was only one thing Felicity could share, and she gave her mother all she had—she opened her black soul and let the darkness swim out until she could no longer see her mother’s face.
The next morning Felicity left her house clutching her growling stomach. She couldn’t wait to eat; it was probably the only reason she went to school. Being careful not to step on one of the many cracks in her front walk, she passed her mother who was lying face down on the torn up old couch.
Felicity stopped in her tracks and moved to the spot on the grass that she had trimmed with her scissors real nice and neat the day before. That spot of grass reminded her of all the homes she saw from her bus window. Felicity wondered where Sunny was. She sometimes saw him when she was on the bus stop, and when she did, she’d drop her hand and wave to him. Sometimes he came right up to her. And even though Sunny was just a stray cat with a missing back leg that people said mean things about, she always dropped down to pet him. Sunny loved Felicity in all her darkness, while she liked him as best as she possibly could.
Because of what happened with her mother they took away all Felicity’s dresses, her favorite scissors, and her chess game; and then they washed and cut her hair, and brought her to a dentist who pulled some of her teeth and put braces on her. But they were nice otherwise.
A woman named Cheryl, who also liked to wear dresses, seemed to have a need to hug Felicity a lot. It was pretty awkward and at first Felicity didn’t say a word. She grew stiff when Cheryl lifted her chin or sat close to her and brushed her hair. Once when the woman’s arms were around her, Felicity had said, “No, no, no.” She wanted Cheryl to know that she wasn’t comfortable when people touched her, especially adults. But Cheryl was like most people and she went right on hugging her, not caring what Felicity thought.
On the day Felicity got her hair cut she wouldn’t pick her head up at all, though an hour later Cheryl had kept her promise to buy her pizza and it was difficult to eat with her head hung low. Each time she took a bite there was Cheryl’s smiling face. Felicity thought she should have asked for spaghetti and meatballs.
The braces made her face look so different that Felicity felt sort of like a secret agent, not herself anymore but someone totally different. But she wasn’t sure. She needed to talk it all over with Sunny who she was more worried about than anything. When she thought about her mother, she felt like they had parted ways years ago, or had never really been together at all. Sunny was her only family. Her rock. But pets were not allowed where she now lived.
Her new home was really nice and she thought again and again how Sunny would love it. It had two huge dumpsters in the back and lots of trees and grass for him to play in. It was a real big building too, and all the floors shined like on the first day back at school from summer vacation. Felicity didn’t know how to feel about Cheryl, the other adults or girls her own age. All she knew was that this woman was really the only person that touched her, and she wasn’t so bad. But nothing could replace Sunny in her heart. She even told Cheryl about him. It was a few weeks after she had been in her new home. They had all gone on a bus trip to the zoo. It was really nice. It was the best bus ride ever. Cheryl sat next to her the whole way, there and back. At the zoo, Felicity’s froze in her tracks when she first saw the monkeys. She was amazed by the funny noises they made and how they scratched under their arms just like in picture books. In the next room were two Bengal tigers with beautiful striped fur coats. One growled and the little hairs stood on the back of Felicity’s neck. A second later the same tiger looked directly at her and she gulped, opening her eyes wide.
“They’re in the same family as house cats,” Cheryl said, standing next to her.
Stiffly postured, Felicity shook her head and said, “Other cats.”
“Did you say something, sweetheart?” Cheryl bent over and grasped her by the shoulders.
Felicity took a few quick breaths and tensed up in an effort not to cry. Her eyes seemingly had nowhere to go because Cheryl was so close. “Stray cats, too! Like Sunny . . .”
The next day Felicity was sitting in her sunlit room that was empty except for the furniture, bed, and pictures hung on the walls. Someone knocked, but Felicity didn’t say anything. She kept on reading her book called Spy Kids Adventures, though she recognized Cheryl’s shoes when the door opened. The woman spoke as she continued to read.
“Now Felicity, you know I told you pets are not allowed here.”
Felicity stared blindly at the page for a moment, and ran her tongue over her braces.
“However, I just got the okay to make an exception for a mascot.”
Felicity lifted her head to Cheryl’s smiling face, and then to something black squirming in her hands. It was Sunny!
Brightness raced through Felicity as the cat leapt into her arms. So much brightness that it felt like every last speck of darkness in her was completely gone—if only for a moment.