The Difference Between Eight And Sixteen Is Nothing

As soon as Martina gets off the bus, Aaron is right there in her seat, his body taking over all the space, sucking up all the oxygen. I watch my friend’s backpack bouncing as she walks towards her house, until she slides away as the bus takes off. I bite down on the end of my braid as Aaron leans over me, encouraged by the loud guffaws of his friends. The sour stink of him makes bile rise in my throat and he smiles at my squirming, leaning in closer. The remnants of his lunch are plastered around his crooked teeth like hastily applied grout around broken kitchen tiles.  He leans forward, sniffing, like a lion that can smell my fear. I think about how far my house is from the bus stop, and whether my schoolgirl legs will be able to outrun him. I run. And I run.

With each passing year the number of strides from the bus stop to my front door gets fewer, like the number of seconds I need to take them. We go to high school. We learn to drive. Nobody takes the bus anymore; they pile into each other’s clapped-out cars, those tattered keys to independence. I run. Every morning, every weekend, all the way onto the state track team. Nobody knows what I’m running from. I never tell them and they never ask. But still, I run. And I run.

I am sixteen years old, dawdling home from Martina’s, late on a warm Saturday afternoon. The air is thick with cut lawn and summer fruit; dragonflies hum on their way to the pond, a silvery disc in the middle of the park. I kick idly at a stone on the pavement and watch it skitter up the street, where it stops as if afraid to go further. A shabby pickup truck parked on the side of the road ahead rumbles dark and ominous. I heed its warning; I know whose truck that is.

Aaron emerges from the drivers side door as I step sideways into the park. My hands tremble but I feign ignorance, even as every nerve in my body screams, silent sirens. The crunch of my shoes on the gravel has an echo just a few steps behind. I am eight years old again, and that sour smell has never left my nostrils. The leonine bulk of Aaron stalks my shadow, emanating covetous hatred. Adrenaline dilates my pupils, fills my lungs. I run. And I run. 

Amanda McLeod is an Australian writer of fiction and poetry. Her latest words can be found in Elephants Never, Ghost Parachute, and Mookychick, and elsewhere. She is also the assistant editor for Animal Heart Press. When she’s not writing, she’s seeking the quiet. Find her on Twitter @AmandaMWrites

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