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Glitch  •  14 May 2021  •  Fiction

10-20-40

By Joseph Lucas
Content Warning: Drug use, underrage drug use, addiction, depression, emotional abuse of a minor, fatphobia

Anna stormed into the kitchen. It’s gotta be here, she thought. She rummaged through the draws and cupboards; looked in all the nooks and orifices. She searched and searched, but her lucky headband did not return to her. She yearned for it to materialise.

In her panic, Anna clumsily bumped the kitchen island, sending her mum’s canister of diazepam into flight. The container hit the ground, leaving a smattering of little white pills scattered across the tiles. Before her mum could notice (although knowing she was comfortably sedated, in a prolonged depression nap), Anna swiftly scooped up the tiny pearls. She looked around, to confirm she had not missed any, and noticed a tip of black plastic sticking out from under the lip of the oven. The headband! She yanked it out with urgency and, as if it were a fresh spring dandelion, blew a puff of air onto it to remove the dust. She slid the headband on; now she was ready. Wait. She opened the fridge, retrieved a fresh 2L bottle of Mountain Dew, unscrewed the lid and skewered the liquid with a metal straw. Now she was ready.

The light in Anna’s room was scant. The sun only just splintered through the lace edges of her curtains, which remained drawn at all hours of the day, spilling shards of light onto her desk. Her room was dusty; her lamp, books and shelves had grown a furry skin of thickly gathered dust. Her floorboards served as a memorial to exsanguinated Mountain Dew bottles, thrown carelessly into an unkempt head. A graveyard of green plastic surrounded her. 

Anna wheeled her gaming chair out from underneath her desk, and sat down at her PC. The annual Mathletics Championship had been whittled down from thousands of mathletes from all over the globe, to just four competitors. The race was hot. While Anna had only been alive for 12 short years, she felt her genius rivaled that of a young Turing, or Einstein. In reality, she possessed the mathematical wit of maybe a studious 17-year-old. A flurry of simple BODMAS equations posed to competitors would determine one’s triumph and ownership of a glittering, virtual cup. The first competitor to cross the virtual finish line, would win. Nina from Belgium was Anna’s most fearsome competitor. Nina had been crowned champion for the last two years running. But after reviewing her matches and gameplay, Anna had found Nina’s weak spot — her seven-times tables. A large majority of Anna’s study and preparation had been spent brushing up on her seven-times tables, timing how quickly she could bash the answers into her num-locked keypad. Anna felt well-rehearsed and was practically salivating for the race. She guzzled down her Mountain Dew in a few large gulps. She logged in, positioned her fingers keenly over the keyboard, and waited for the race to start.  

As the race began, Anna began pounding the keyboard with answers in quick, lightning-fast succession. Nina, always an answer or two ahead of her, maintained a tight chokehold on the race. The other two competitors were left to drown in their missed answers. They would never be able to catch up now. This race was clearly between Anna and Nina, alone. Perhaps it had always been between them. At that moment, a surge of seven-times table questions cropped up and Anna answered them boldly. She glanced over at the virtual map of the race. For the first time, she was a few answers ahead of Nina. The finish line was near. She had a good chance to win this. She had to win this. Correct, correct, correct. Anna cleared right answer, after right answer. She was so close to the finish line that she could almost taste the success; granules of it teased the tip of her tongue. Maybe this time, her mum would be proud of her. Then, in a flash, almost at the lightning-fast speed of her answering, the computer screen went cobalt blue. Then to static-y fuzz. Then completely blank. Anna hit the edge of her screen a few times with her palm, to no avail. She pushed the power button and held it, desperately begging for its revival. It woke up, albeit too late. When the screen returned to the Mathletics Championship home page, pixelated fireworks danced around a virtual cup in celebration, with her name plastered in big bold letters. Not Anna’s name, but Nina’s. Anna slammed her laptop screen shut with such anger she risked shattering the glass and crippling the keys.

She so desperately wanted to swipe her desk clean of her laptop and watch the plastic crack and clatter as it hit the ground. She wanted to punch it, until her knuckles bled red-raw. Then, she wanted to take a bat to it, sending plastic and glass shrapnel flying around the room. She wanted to reveal its innards, the guts of steel, mesh and fizzing copper wire that held it all together. And then break all of that too. 

Anna so desperately wanted to do all of this, but instead, she sat in all-encompassing silence. She sat so quietly that she heard the hum of the machine. The whir of its heart awaited her next command. Anna removed her lucky headband — her crown — and laid it on her desk.

The sun shone brightly and drenched the grass in warm, sticky honey. The wind rustled through the trees overhead, almost singing through the branches. To Anna, everything smelled sweet, like berries and sugary fruits. She sat, cross-legged on the grass, and watched as her mother glued plastic rhinestones onto a headband next to her. Anna had picked out an assortment of gems in different colours and sizes for her mum to adorn the headband with. As she worked, she whistled “My Funny Valentine” by Ella Fitzgerald.

It was a song her mother always sang. She knew it well; it spilled from her mother’s mouth like honey. Anna thought it was a strange name for a song. Whenever she heard it, she would feel a little strange inside too. There was a tinge of sadness to the melody, the way her mum lingered on the ending notes, holding on for too long before moving on to the next line. Her eyes withdrew from herself as if she were looking at something incredibly boring, like a white wall or a line of ants. When her mother sang that song, Anna felt the world slow around her and she noticed the sweet, sticky sun shy away and nuzzle beneath the horizon. She felt the wind fall dead, as well as the cold and the darkness draw in, as if everything in the entire world stopped. 

Once the headband was complete, her mum slid it onto her head, tucking it behind her ears. Her mother watched as the light reflected off the crystals’ many shimmering faces, like fistfusl of glitter in the sun.

“Well, now don’t you look pretty?”

Anna blushed and her mother smiled a brilliant grin. Anna felt that grin warm inside her like a spoonful of soup. She felt for the first time in her little life that her mother was proud, and loved her just as deeply.

Anna blushed and her mother smiled a brilliant grin. Anna felt that grin warm inside her like a spoonful of soup. She felt for the first time in her little life that her mother was proud, and loved her just as deeply.

Anna headed back down to the kitchen. She noticed her mother in the living room, sunken in her armchair, gin and tonic still in hand. Anna tried to tiptoe past her with tiny, agile, cat-like steps but her mother stirred before she could get past.

“I never get to see you when you’re on that computer all day.”’  

Anna froze. Her frustrations, disappointments and dejection built up inside of her, like bile. She wanted to erupt and vomit it all up. Words fizzed on her tongue. She opened her mouth. But she choked it down. 

“Sorry,” she replied. 

Her mother sat upright and looked over to her, pausing to take a deep long look at her daughter. Anna hated this look, she felt undressed and completely exposed. She could feel her mum noticing her imperfections; the way the folds of her clothes hugged around her hips and stretched over her stomach, the way her fingers jutted out of her palms like cocktail sausages. And when Anna returned her mother’s gaze she would get lost in the pits of spooned-out flesh where her eyes should be. The darkness. The contempt.

“I think you’re drinking too much of that Mountain Dew. You should quit.” As she spoke, she lifted her glass to her lips and gulped down the rest of her gin and tonic, like a pelican would with water. 

I hate you, Anna thought.

Anna walked to the kitchen. The bottle of diazepam sat untouched, exactly where she had left it. She shook a few pills from the bottle into her palm. She looked over one shoulder, then the other, to confirm that her mother wasn’t looking. Of course, she wasn’t. She went back up to her bedroom, holding the pills firmly in her hand. She pressed them into her palm so tightly they left little round imprints on her skin. She shut the door behind her and went back to her laptop. 

Anna looked at her headband, sitting on the desk. Immediately, that funny little melody her mother would always sing entered her mind. With two clicks, Ella Fitzgerald’s voice filled the room as she turned the volume up to full blast. 

“My funny valentine

sweet comic valentine 

you make my heart smile”

Anna put the pills in her mouth and swallowed them with a warm wash of Mountain Dew. 

In blurry ecstasy, she danced around her room, silly and denied self-awareness. In this bliss, she danced, but she danced alone.

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