Ethan Lin | Art by Caroline Wang
how about saying that i’m not interested in going to the party. Claire blinks.
She sees a flurry of events yet to come. A disappointed “Oh, uh, alright then” as Alice goes back to work on the physics lab. The puddle of eraser scraps growing as the words and numbers on Claire’s lab sheet refuse to line up. Kaden doing that thing again, where he stretches his finger across the bustling room to turn off the lights and snickers to himself. The ensuing chorus of groans. The intercom delivering that last, relieving chime of the day. The teacher’s whiskers waving up and down as he wishes a good weekend to the class that is already out the door. Alice muttering something about her mom picking her up, as she turns away from Claire, from the path they had taken to walk home every day. The casual “Ahaha, okay, see ya” barely masking the hitch in her voice, a black constrictor wrapping around Claire’s heart.
okay, so i’m definitely not going with that. it has to be perfect. how about saying i have a dentist appointment so i can’t go. Claire blinks again.
Another flurry. “Again? Ah, don’t worry about it, it’s okay.” A fake smile. A swelling sea of black dust.
A flick, a snicker. A “Goddammit, Kaden.” A chime. A “Have a good –- oh, they left already.”
An excuse. A chest crushed.
no no no, dammit, what else. how about–-
“Claire? Yo, are you there? Never mind, just forget it.” Alice turns away.
Claire’s guts collapse and fold, tumbling and twisting. not again. She puts her head in her hands, wishing with all her heart that she could have just said “yes.” Back then, it would have been a no-brainer. Back before her superpower manifested. Some people got cat ears, fire breath, or even the ability to control gravity.
Claire got crippling anxiety.
The chalkboard menu of the little coffee place screams “hipster,” with its artsy flourishes and distinct aura of pretentiousness. The various items written in cursive swim across the dark-green sea, drawing Claire’s gaze. Dozens of options, written with smooth, white lines and all equally tempting. They reach out at her, invisible tendrils extended, each promising that they will be exactly what she needs. A tired “Next” drifts from the barista with eyes ringed by dark circles and round glasses and the line shuffles forward. Claire bites her lip, eyes darting between the choices.
black coffee? Blink. mmm, no. The white tentacle connected to that item is severed, and dissipates.
chai latte? Blink. eugh, who drinks this crap? Another tendril shrivels into nothingness.
peppermint mocha? it’s, like, april, what the hell? Blink. okay, it’s not bad, but no. The tendril retracts, disappearing into the chalkboard.
passionfruit mango tea? Blink. yes, this is it. Every other tendril is now gone, the victor dancing across the chalkboard, making its victory lap.
Claire orders, a self-satisfied gleam in her eyes as she takes a sip, this time for real.
Claire’s eraser rubs against her now-worn lab sheet again, purging a slightly misshapen number from existence.
Being able to predict the outcomes of her actions with a blink of an eye was a blessing at first. Helped her find the perfect drink to get, gave her the perfect words to say when she wanted to ask that guy out. The Claire without her superpower was only good enough. Good enough wasn’t enough.
Another imperfect word disappears into black dust.
But the awkward pauses before answers to simple questions dragged longer and longer, the blinking faster and faster, as she flipped through potential actions like a dinner menu as a waiter approaches. It became obvious. People pointed, people laughed. Each blink showing her another futile choice as well as holding back the welling tears. But she couldn’t stop, she had to be perfect. And if she couldn’t be perfect when others were around, then she avoided being around others.
Her eraser is gone now, the vast ocean of scraps on the table is all that remains.
The lights fade, the deja vu sets in.
The snicker, the groans.
The same groans that erupted from her friends when they missed the bus again because she always spent too much time figuring out what to have for breakfast. She doesn’t want to lose any more friends.
The chime, the unheard farewell.
The same unheard farewell that she had given the last time her friends left for a party. The last party they had invited her to.
The same excuse she had heard so many times before, the bitter end to so many friendships before. The barrage of memories pound against her skull, a dull drumbeat. If this is the cost of perfection, she doesn’t want to be perfect anymore. She takes a deep breath, and turns to face Alice’s disappearing figure.
“Alice, wait.” Claire watches as she stops. “I… I’m sorry. I want to go to the party.”
Alice turns around, a familiar warmth in her eye, and they share their first smile in a long time.