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Earlier this month, the Litro & IGGY Young Writers Prize, was awarded to American student, Katherine Liu, for her entry Feather footed Kids Katherine say’s inspiration for her writing “…comes from mainly images or lines that stick in my head, or moments I’d love to explore more through words”
Katherine received a cheque for £2,500, her story can be read below and will be published in a coming issue of Litro Magazine and showcased at a London underground station. To find out more about the award and how to enter for 2016 visit www.iggy.net/writingprize/
In youth we were thunder-bringing, earth-shaking, feather-footed kids. We lived in the suburbs, all those perfect houses in rows and all their perfectly manicured lawns, but sometimes when we were in the neighborhood park we’d pretend we were somewhere else, somewhere rural where the fields stretched for miles until the clouds dipped low and kissed the golden horizon.
That was us in those days, shoes off, barefoot, chasing the dragonflies clicking through the languor of summer: the heat, the dust, the salt dotting upper lips. Sometimes we would even fling our arms skywards, as if we were the dragonflies themselves – and in a way, I suppose we were.
I don’t know why I can’t recall those days very well. When I look back they all blend into one another, bumping and sliding along until it all seems to become an impressionist painting of watery blue. Blue like the robin’s eggs we found in a tree, I had to stand on my tippy toes, morning mud squelching through them as I struggled to peer into the nest. Blue like the billowing sky, like the benevolent sea which we never saw, like the color reflected onto our hair when I squinted until everything was colorful.
Or maybe the days blend into one another to become red. Not just any red, but the rusty red of flaking deck paint; picture baseball fields rising and filling the sky with the thunder of a thousand years. I don’t recall us playing baseball, ever. But it sounds poetic to say that sometimes I think about the red dust everywhere which we walked out from.
And we walked everywhere.
There was a creek behind the bushes in the park, and we used to swim in the calm part before the water crashed into toothed rocks a few dozen meters downstream. They fenced off that creek a few years after we graduated high school, when a girl’s body was dragged out, bleeding from her chest and between her legs. She wasn’t actually bleeding, of course, but she had been earlier. That was the summer when all the neighbors shut their screen doors, turned inwards. But in our days we hadn’t feared things like that.
We would all climb onto the boulder and jump. We peeled our shirts off – boys and girls alike – because we were all the same then. We were silver minnow fish darting through the clear water, drops crystalline on our lips.
And Marcia had this chicken coop in her backyard. Sometimes we would eat bowls of cherries, holding the seeds in our mouths until they were tawny-colored clean. Then we would spit the seeds onto the tin sides of the coop and listen to the impact buckle against the walls, then the chickens squawking on the inside. On days like that, Tom would take one of Marcia’s strawberry-blonde braids and take the end in his fingers and twirl the thin golden strands as if he were twirling cherry stems, swatting them across her face, across her eyes so she would blink and then her light eyelashes would flutter like butterfly kisses.
We even had this picnic table, like a testament to the fact that we were children and we were gods, legends, myths. When they first planted the picnic table in the park, it had been sandcolored and stubborn. We came in hordes, trampling over weeds, wearing floppy sun-hats, smelling of sunscreen. Right from the start we rubbed our fingernails over the wood, trying to scratch our messages into it. And in time, we were able to. The picnic table became a recordkeeper for us, and on it, we wrote everything that we were.
We thought we would live in the days of sun-tossed youth forever.
Marcia said the day we stopped flying was the one where a man stole one of her chickens and killed it.
He’d undone the coop’s latch, heavy wooden thud, and carried the chicken to a tree stump, looped around his arm like its neck was already snapped. Our noses were smudged against Marcia’s backyard window. We wished it were earlier still, the chickens with their feed scattered before them, the chickens lined up in their coop and clucking and their black beetle eyes beady. We were all trying to remember Marcia twirling, the way she would throw her palms up to the sky with splatters of sun-kissed freckles across the bridge of her nose, and her eyelids shut, feathered.
But then the man was swinging the axe in an arc, and the chicken, its head lopped off and body strutting dazedly, was dead.
To this, Tanya disagreed. She said the day we lost our wings was the one where we found the old man in the park.
He was pacing in our place, the sweep of wildflowers beneath the hill, where the creek water flooded out and the cattails swayed on their stalks. When he saw us he lifted his head, raised his thin eyebrows impossibly high, mouth stretching and gaping open to reveal pink gums. For a second we saw his eyes, rings of dusky blue around the irises which had once been brown, deep and dark.
Then he went back to the old tick in his heart, walking in circles, feet pushing and arthritis joints bending in a way that made it seem like he was jerking. He cupped his hands over his ears, pushing down until they popped. Repeat and repeat, rheumy eyes bulging, mouth popping along with his ears. We were reminded of the fish we used to see in the Asian supermarket fish-tanks, mouths puckering and gills flapping while their bodies rippled circles through the slimy water.
That night we were seated on some porch steps, swatting at the mosquitoes landing on our skinny legs. Their pouch bodies burst like red balloons, swiped across our skins. Someone asked if anyone had been scared, and we all laughed. But the stars still felt menacing in the huge and cavernous night, like they were about to swallow us all.
But Jon said no, that it had been much earlier than all of that. He said the day we became mortals was the one where we noticed our record table had started to rot.
It was the day after a big rain. When the clouds had cleared, we ran back to the picnic table, where the seats were still damp. That day we noticed that pine needles had fallen into the cracks between boards and stayed there, refusing to be flushed out. We noticed that they’d begun decomposing, and suddenly we saw that the cracks had turned green with fungi. A whole film was spreading over the table’s face.
Our carved names had been weathered and made round, and our pale fingernails hovered and then reached out to brush against the indents, ash against ash.
I visited the record table yesterday, you know. I was sitting under the table’s underside, which was once our ceiling, now slimy with wads of gum. There was a patch where the gum had been scraped off. Jonwashere, it said. I even peered out under the benches, looking for him, something foolish stirring. I didn’t see him. But I knew that I wasn’t the only one who still thought about our old fortress, safe-house, and I lay down.
And you know something? Now there are new children gouging their names into the table, which is green and gray, driven by the same impulse that had once driven us. And they’re probably playing in our park too, climbing over that rusty fence to splash in the creek, laughing as they cup dragonflies in their hands. Maybe they even raise their own chickens, suck cherry pits too long in their mouths. But these children are not us and we are no longer children. We have lost contact with one another and drifted apart, into new towns, and our picnic table’s weary countenance is a testament to the fact that, in time, we too will drift away.