Apr/May 2013  •   Fiction

Delicate Shards

by Carla J. Dow

Artwork by Clinton McKay

Artwork by Clinton McKay

The paint is peeling off the swings. Bright red gives way to patches of somber grey, a cold hard metal under the fun of the scarlet shine sitting on top, brazen and bold.

I swing slowly back and forth, back and forth. The metal of the chains scrape loudly on the frame, grating back and forth.

She looks up at me. He looks up at me. Their little bubble is broken for a moment by the noise, but only for a moment. She may have looked, but she didn't see—she couldn't see through the bubble. She saw instead only the irritating scrape of metal grating on metal.

I look down at them: mother and son playing at a family. The swings are still grating, the paint is still peeling. I'm not part of this family anymore. I don't meet the standards for the new beginning. I am like the somber grey, hiding unseen under the bright red exterior. I have been around much longer than my little brother—this new coat of paint—but he is her chance to start again. To forget how she tried and failed with me.

A flake of red paint catches my eye as it falls from the frame. The once silky covering is peeling in thin delicate shards.


My lipstick that evening is bright and red. The fun I will force the night to promise me is reflected in the brazen and bold scarlet shine.

I cavort unbound back and forth, back and forth. The beat of the music thumps loudly through the floor, pounding up through my legs and into my spine. He looks at me. I am inside the bubble now.

I started sleeping with men at an early age, with boys even earlier. I wanted to cultivate the same attention she got, before she got her new family. Now she's moved on, and I have taken her persona. I have what she left behind—just like the forgotten shade of last season's lipstick.

We fuck up against the warped plastic doors of the toilets. The smell of urine clogs my nostrils, battling for acknowledgement alongside the stink of his cheap aftershave and the overwhelming stench of sex. His thick stubble scrapes my face, and his wedding ring scratches my buttocks where he holds me.

A flash of red reflected in the murky mirror catches my eye. The once silky covering of my lipstick has run into spiky delicate shards smudged across my face.


The car we ride in to the clinic is red, but not bright. The shine is long gone. Patches of rust eat away at the scarlet, which gives up, suffocated.

I'm pregnant. This does not meet the standards for the new beginning. This parasite inside of me is the somber reality of living my life under a bright exterior.

She paces the waiting room quickly, back and forth, back and forth. The heels of her boots clack loudly on the cheap tiled floor, back and forth.

Inside the doctor's office, he looks up at me. She looks up at me. They share a bubble of disgust as she tells him her 13-year-old daughter is pregnant.

I'm given a pill to take, and I swallow it in front of her—face to face—with murky water from a plastic throwaway cup. I stare into her eyes as she watches me kill the dirty secret inside of me.

A flicker of her regret catches my eye. What if she'd gotten rid of me when she was pregnant at thirteen? Her confidence in the new beginning is peeling away in delicate shards.


The knife I select from the kitchen drawer is heavy, long and sharp. The blade is dull and lifeless. Like me.

The wallpaper in the bathroom is peeling, flaking away from the hopeless damp. I see strange patterns in the mold, which grow brazen and bold.

I sway slowly back and forth, back and forth, slumped on the floor. The hard sharp metal of the knife digs into my skin, grating back and forth, back and forth.

I look up and catch my reflection in the mirror. The fragile bubble I have formed around myself breaks for a moment as I see what it is I am doing, before I slowly return to the safety of the haze. She's right; it is nicer in here.

A pool of red fills my vision. The silky scarlet smoothness of the blood covers my wrists, my arms. My skin comes apart in thin delicate shards. I'm not part of this family anymore. I didn't meet the standards for the new beginning.