Status: Updates weekly-ish.

S/he Screams in Silence

Memory Foam

The blue mat ripped, like Velcro, away from her humid forearms one by one as Emily shifted, impatient limbs aching to prove their mettle. She wanted to think that she smelled like her dad, but she had yet to get there. At eight years old, that kind of sourness eluded her and her classmates, but come a year or two and they’d all be wondering who it was that hadn’t yet realized they needed deodorant.

Acutely aware of her body, Emily felt the skin on the back of her neck scrunch as she lifted her head up to glance diagonally across the mat at Kenny, his tongue poking out between his lips in concentration. You did not mess with the Presidential Fitness Test, the pink triangle seemed to say, and Emily totally agreed.

Now if only her best friend would; it wasn’t fair that the entire female gender’s reputation rested on her biceps alone. She stole a glance to her right, at Jenny, the color of disdain clouding her eyes the same way Jenny’s black bangs fell into hers—messily. She rolled her eyes, something she had learned from the older sister who’d left home, somehow inheriting with it an abundance of misplaced ire.

But just look at that form, it screamed apathy! Head drooping, butt too high, knees buckled in pain at the mere thought of even performing a pushup!

On days like this, Emily looked to her gym teacher, Ms. Barclay, with her toned calves and the spirit of ten warrior princes burning within her, and wondered why the other girls couldn’t be like they were. Give both of them a couple of swords with emeralds in the pommels and see what would be left of all the monsters in her closet, the dragons waiting to be slain, and her brother for that one time he told her she threw like a girl. They would decimate everything, obviously.

Ms. Barclay crouched down to the boombox resting on the scuffed gym floor, and the third-graders waited tensely for the cassette-recorded man’s voice to direct them in even, measured tones. But before he took over, Ms. Barclay addressed the kids in a warm timbre meant to encourage. “Alright, guys, get up into your planks. It’s about to start! Good luck!”

Emily sprang into form, hands aligned under her shoulders and feet together in the back, her heart in her throat. She peeked at Kenny again and reminded herself of her goal. Kenny would do enough pushups to earn the Presidential Award. He would also outdo the rest of the boys, like he had done on their practice days leading up to this moment. It was simple; all she had to do was a singular pushup more than him and then she’d be legendary. She’d be better than a boy…and a heck of a lot better than a girl.

The cassette tape cut into her thoughts. “We’ll now begin the pushup section. Ready. Begin.”

She gritted her teeth and sucked in a shallow breath.


She lowered herself.

“Up. One.”

She pushed herself back into a plank, breath like rocket exhaust shooting her upward. Hah! She’d never done anything easier.

“Down. Up. Two.”

By the twentieth pushup, Emily thought that maybe she had underestimated the stupid tape. Her shoulders burned and she had started to shake slightly, but all she had to do was see the sheen of sweat coating Kenny’s forehead and her resolve strengthened. An extra shot of adrenaline erased some of her cramping discomfort, and if she could have reached the boombox she would have kicked it in defiance and kept going anyway. But as it was, the Presidential Fitness man continued to say, unfazed, “Down. Up,” counting all the while.

So she kept up her assault on stereotypes of female weakness through 25, 30, 40, 50 downs and then ups until her breath ran ragged and starburst droplets of sweat revealed the mat to have been dusty. From her peripheral she watched as others dropped, groaning.

No one else cared enough to stare back, but Ms. Barclay observed quietly as she went head to head with Kenny, whose own breathing sang songs to accompany Emily’s harmony. It was just the two of them now.

Kenny smiled behind his quaking arms at 56, and Emily almost forgot to breathe that round, discerning that this particular smile was definitely different from the one he’d sent her way after earning the gold star in math that week. This was a smile of defeat, and when the man said “up” that time, Kenny stayed down.

“Fifty-eight” told Emily she had won. She planned to lay herself on the mat gracefully, like her adversary and friend had done, but her trembling muscles induced a haphazard flop towards earth instead.

Emily twitched herself awake, suddenly startled that her ceiling wasn’t blue. It was the first time she’d ever had that thought. Chalking it up to her subconscious leaking its way out of its dream container, she had a second thought. “Why have I been dreaming memories lately?” she mumbled into her pillow.