Literary Orphans

I Am Your Protagonist by Exodus Brownlow

I am the protagonist in your life.

When all physical existence of me dissipates into nothing but fragmented flashes, I become long lingering thoughts.

Are you weary of my presence as much as I am of yours? I would not come if food was not a necessity.

I know that you remember that day.

It is the 24th day of April, nearly 12 years ago. What is it with kids and playing? What is it with kids and being reckless? I am running, and running, and running. Not only because I am “it” in this game of tag that we (my classmates and I) are playing, and not only because I am the fastest girl in the class, but because it is the only thing that keeps me from thinking of what is going on inside me. Today, my mama dressed me up in a dress of pure red. I never wear dresses because they always make it difficult to play in but my mama said that it was time I start acting like the little lady that I was. Being the fastest in the class serves no purpose when I must be so careful, when there are so many distractions, so Willy N, the chubbiest kid in class with a severe addiction to peanut butter cups becomes my safest target. When I reach for him, all of his rolls and his jiggling jelly, I trip. Fall. My backside, once safely hidden by the camouflage of my dress is now open to the sole view of your eyes, Michael Smith. When I look into them, I know that you know that I don’t want any of this–not this dress, or the pains in my stomach, and not my ruined underwear, once white but now red and filthy like the rest of me.

Grocery stores are in many ways like playgrounds. With people touching and tagging things, and claiming those things for themselves. Semi-deflated balloons float to the ceiling, and dance to the tune of the music that plays above them.

Today, I am wearing a pair of thick, red corduroys to eliminate the chance of accidents and I watch for your stares as I occasionally pass by you. In my cart, lies a bunch of things—meats, a loaf of bread, and a few packs of peanut butter cups to satisfy the savage sweet-tooth within. A box of pads is semi-hidden underneath the rubble, and I pray that you won’t notice.

Once my shopping is done, I finally head to the cash registers where your lane is fully open but instead, I opt to wait an extra six minutes for a lady in front of me with enough groceries to feed a small country. You reach out to me, wordlessly, and I look up to accept your small knowing smile, and I return one back.

We have done this small exchange for nearly twelve years, in so many different ways, and endlessly on a loop. I am waiting for you to say something, for your teasing comments, to finally put me out of my misery.

You are the protagonist in my life.

When all physical evidence of your existence becomes nothing but bouts of blurs, you shape yourself within my thoughts.

Your presence is always welcome but you only come because food is a necessity.

I wonder if you remember that day.

It is the 24th day of April, nearly 12 years ago. What is it with kids and playing? What is it with kids and being reckless? I am breathing, and breathing, and breathing. Not only because I am almost the slowest in the class but because it is the only thing that keeps me from thinking of what is going on inside me. Today my daddy took away my inhaler. I never went anywhere without my inhaler because it made it easier to play but my daddy said that it was time I start acting like the man that I was. I am tired of running. There is nothing left in me to keep myself unaware of all the floating specks of distractions in the air that seek to remind me of who I am. I stay behind you, the fastest one in class, who is slow today for some reason, for the sake of keeping face. Because I am part of this game too. Though I am right behind you, your mercy is that you don’t choose me and instead you go for Willy N. When your hands reach out for him, all his blobbiness and meat, you trip. Fall. My lungs are burning, contracting. I stop when you stop. Your underwear, spotted with bright pretty red polka dots, greets my eyes for the slightest second and I quickly grab the brown paper bag that I’d stolen from the house. This is all that I have, and I need to breathe better. When you look into my eyes, I wait for the teasing comments that all the other kids make but there are none.

Grocery stores are in many ways like playgrounds, with the sound of ringing registers and people pushing their carts down the maze of the aisles to find their way to me.

Today, I am using an oil diffuser that spouts puffs of peppermint oil mist to eliminate the chance of accidents. I watch for your arrival, studying the things that are in your cart like I always do—meats, a loaf of bread, and juice. Typical things. Once your shopping is done, you head to the cash registers to check out. My lane is fully open but you don’t choose me. You never do. And quickly someone else takes advantage of your missed opportunity. I reach out to you, wordlessly, and smile in your direction to receive one back.

We can do this small exchange for another 12 years, in many new ways, and endlessly on a loop. And I will wait for you to say something, to choose me, so that I may finally thank you for being my protagonist that day.

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Exodus Brownlow is a 25-year-old native of Cruger, Mississippi where cellphone service is fickle, and the roads are paved with dirt. While finishing an MFA in creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, she earns her living by ranching, home-schooling her younger siblings, and she is also a managing editor at Dirty Paws Poetry Review. Exodus has several publications with Valley Voices, Luna Luna Magazine, and Indicia Literary Magazine

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–Art by DML