August/September '04

Matthew Simmons The Bottle
Tao Lin The Novelist
Samantha Enns A Sheltered Paradox
Brendan Kiley Three Versions of How I Found My Winter Coat

A Sheltered Paradox

            Samantha Enns

I was sitting in the passenger seat of our '86 Volvo. It was sky blue with brown leather interior. Dad sent me there to wait for him a while ago, so there I waited. We'd just moved into a new house in the next town over from our old house.

It made me jealous that I had to leave my friends and Robbie wouldn't ever have to. My little brother was too young to have friends. He was why we had to move and get a bigger house too. I liked our old house a lot better than the new one. There wasn't anything white in the new one, not really. Everything was 'ivory' or 'buff'. It looked unnatural, like the real estate lady had tried to make it seem as though someone lived there, when no one ever had.

Nothing in our old house was white either, but that was because we'd lived there. Momma said it was different when they first moved in. She said they didn't expect to move, and that it upset her, but I knew the truth. My parents didn't expect Robbie, and they loved him just as much as me. I got a house, and so did he. I just didn't understand why we had to live in Robbie's house and not mine.

I sat there in the car for a long time, and my legs were starting to stick to the leather seat. It was summer, and I was wearing a pink and yellow sundress that just barely came over my knobby knees. I opened the door to let in some cooler air, and right then Dad walked out of the house. I closed the door and sat perfectly still, hoping he wouldn't care that I wasn't following his instructions to the letter, so long as I was committed to being obedient.

He got in and stuck the key in the ignition. "Buckle up, Marie," he said, his voice rough and low like the sandpaper in his workshop. He didn't put on his seatbelt, but I obeyed anyway, knowing what would happen if I didn't.

The car sputtered to a start, and I wondered how this could be the safest thing on the road. Everyone said it was. I heard Dad talking to his friend about it, saying that was why he didn't have a choice about what car he drove. I guessed that meant safety was real important to him, and Momma agreed with me.

"How many of those things did you say we needed?"

I swallowed, trying to remember. Just before I got in the car Dad had me go all through the house counting the number of electrical outlets. We were going to the hardware store to buy some of those plastic safety plugs so that Robbie didn't hurt himself. Momma promised me I could put them all in when we got back too. I didn't really want to, but I knew she thought it would make me happy, so I agreed.

"Ummm, forty-four." I said.

"Huh, is that so?" I wasn't sure what to say to that, so I kept quiet.

Dad didn't like turning the air conditioning on in the car, so I didn't ask, even though I felt sweaty all over. I started kicking my legs back and forth instead, hoping it would cool me off.

"Stop that, Marie. You'll mess up the car."

It wasn't really helping me cool off, but I kept doing it anyway. "I'm not touching anything." I said.

"If we crash you'll break a leg and get blood on the new car."

I stopped myself before saying, "So?" but never broke the pace of my leg-swinging. I didn't see why I should have tried to keep the car from being messed up. I heard Momma telling Dad that we needed the new Volvo to keep the baby safe. I knew they didn't mean me, and the baby wasn't with us, so what did it matter?

Dad sighed a big grumbling sigh that was supposed to tell me to stop it because he was getting angry. I didn't care.

He was staring out the windshield like it was real hard to see where he was going, except it wasn't. I stared too, hoping he'd see me and get angry. I saw naked waves rising from the pavement, stripped of color and shadow.

My head slammed forward into the dashboard, but I was only a few inches away from it in the first place. "Owww," I complained, even though it didn't hurt that much. I wasn't sure whether to rub my forehead or the back of my neck where he'd slapped me.

"Don't do that."

"Do what?"

He glowered at me, and I shrank back against the car door, wary of another slap. The second one was always harder than the first. After that I usually couldn't remember feeling anything.

I looked around our safe car, my thumbs tucked beneath my palms to help me remember forty-four safety plugs, and I wondered why Dad didn't want anything to hurt his family except for him.

Samantha Enns is a seventeen-year old freshman at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. She devours literary novels and enjoys following current events as well as immersing herself in website design. She has two cats and one younger brother. Her favorite authors include Milan Kundera, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Connie Willis, and Albert Camus. Samantha was editor-in-chief of her high school's literary magazine, Cadence, and is working on her second novel, The Things That Never Were, even though she hasn't published her first. She is a devoted participant in National Novel Writing Month and the YMCA's Youth in Government programs.