With each fold into the heavy brown, orange, and red paper, a minute of Jamie Colston’s was avenged, though this narrative seemed to be trapped in her own mind. She sat on the floor of her dingy apartment, sick yellow light leering at her through disheveled drapes, making paper turkeys and maple leaves. Her skeletal frame was topped with ragged clothes, so thin her backbone showed through her shirt. However, the most troubling aspect of her appearance was her face, on which was plastered a tight, toothy smile which was painful to look at. Her eyes, normally a light hazel, were muddy as her stringy brown hair cast shadows onto them. She had a stack of turkeys on her left - all paper, and all made with complete precision. On her right was a similar stack of maple leaves, all the exact same size.
Jamie’s mother watched from the entrance of the room, a cigarette between pursed lips and a dark look in her eyes. Her own body was worn from lack of care, and she bore a remarkable resemblance to her daughter, who she had been staring at for the last thirty minutes. Finally, she said, “What are you doing?” The southern twang morphed every syllable of her words.
Jamie did not respond… in fact she gave no sign she had even heard her mother. Just one fold after another. Her hands were dry from rubbing the oils off onto the paper, but she kept folding. Soon she set another turkey on the growing pile. In her mind, she was remembering the last week with something like pleasure, though the memories were painful. On Monday, she had gone to the market by herself - the first time she’d been allowed to go since before her father passed away.
She recalled the rows of candy - her mom had given her three dollars to buy whatever she wanted, and she’d practically been skipping on the way over to the convenience store. When she was in the candy aisle, she’d stopped, basking in the gorgeous colors which enshrouded her. She looked at the king size bars, larger than her own face, and debated on which one to take home. After she’d decided on Hershey's milk chocolate, she suddenly switched to Kit Kat, and then to Butterfingers, picking each one up and examining it before setting it down with glee and moving to the next one. She did this with all of the candy bars she could find, eventually finding herself back where she’d started.
“Make a choice kid, c’mon!” barked a gruff voice behind her.
She jumped, dropping the AlmondJoy on the ground. Upon turning, she found an old man with a sour face looking at her through narrowed, beady eyes. She wanted to say, “I’m sorry, please go ahead,” but the words stuck in her throat, and all that came out was a dry rasping. Her lip trembled as the man continued to stare at her, and then jumped away from the rack as though she’d been electrocuted.
“For God’s sakes,” said the old man, viciously grabbing a Baby Ruth and shuffling off to the register. Her face remained blanched long after the man had gone, and after she had regained her senses she ran home, the three dollars scrunched in her tightly balled fist.
That was Monday. She folded another paper.
On Tuesday she had gone to school - she only had to go to school three days a week, and she liked it most of the time. Mrs. Hunt was really nice to her and her friend Kevin was too. He always made her small things out of paper… she couldn’t pronounce the word he said when he told her what they were… oh-rah-gah-mee. It sounded alright in her head, but the syllables never escaped her vocal chords at school. It was from Kevin that she learned how to fold turkeys and maple leaves.
But that Tuesday Kevin had not been there, and Mrs. Hunt was sick. So she’d been with Ms. Wallace, who yelled at her.
“C’mon Jamie, use the damn bathroom already!” shouted Ms. Wallace when Jamie had told her in a whisper she needed to use the bathroom, but had frozen upon getting inside, wishing it were Mrs. Hunt standing in the stall with her and not Ms. Wallace.
Then, when she was at lunch, Ms. Wallace went on a break outside to go put one of those things in her mouth her mother always had. She couldn’t say that word either. As Jamie nibbled at the end of her slice of pizza, the grease dripping off onto her tray, she eyed her chocolate milk. She always liked chocolate milk, even if she didn’t like anything else her food served. However, Ms. Wallace had said, “No chocolate milk until you finish your food,” in a sharp tone.
As she tried to swallow a bite of pizza, some people came by her table, where she sat alone. These people were tall… and good looking… well, they would have been if their faces hadn’t been so twisted with furrowed eyebrows and scowls. One of the girls sat right next to her… she smelled good, like Jamie’s mother did sometimes when she went out at night.
“Hey, is that chocolate milk?” she asked. Before Jamie could answer, The girl grabbed it and opened the bottle, “I love this stuff… I didn’t get any today, though.” Her friends snickered as she began to drink it quickly. Jamie tried to say something, but could only grab the girl’s arm with her spider-like fingers. The girl slapped her away roughly and finished the chocolate milk, slamming the bottle down right in front of Jamie and walking away with a smile on her face.
Jamie was horrified, her mouth agape as she tried to grasp what had just happened. Unfortunately, at that minute Ms. Wallace came in and sat down in front of her. “Jamie, you drank your milk!” she yelled.
Jamie heard faint laughter behind her as she tried to tell Ms. Wallace it wasn’t her. She said, “No… not-”
“I told you not to drink that milk!” Ms. Wallace was angry… Mrs. Hunt would have never yelled at her, and nothing like that had happened to her while Kevin was sitting next to her. Ms. Wallace made her sit in the corner for an hour after lunch, and when Jamie went home, she tripped on her own shoelaces, cutting her hand on the concrete.
That was Tuesday. She placed another leaf on the pile.
The next day was Wednesday, and she had woken up feeling sick. Jamie’s mother gave her what she could - some old Advil they found in a cabinet, but it was her stomach which ached, not her head. She spent the day looking at a book she liked to read sometimes. It was simple, and mostly pictures so she didn’t have to worry about words she couldn’t pronounce. That day, she had been reading the book with a glass of orange juice next to her. She liked orange juice - it was sweet, a little bitter, and made her feel like the pretty people in commercials who drank orange juice when they woke up. As she reached for it after flipping a page and giggling, the door opened and startled her, knocking the glass over onto the book. She yelped, feeling the cold liquid hitting her legs and jumping up. Her mother rushed over to her and picked up the book, which had soaked through completely, leaving a yellowish stain on most of the pages.
“Jamie, look what you did!” Her mother yelled as Jamie tried to wipe the juice off of herself. Her mother was always cranky after work.
Jamie tried to explain but could only say, “Sorry… scared.”
Her mother threw the book on the table and pinched the bridge of her nose. “You should have known it was me, Jamie… who else would come through the door? And what were you doing with orange juice anyway? Did you eat the bagel I left for you?”
Jamie wanted to say that she felt too sick for a bagel - that orange juice calmed her stomach for some reason which escaped her. “Stomach.”
“Your stomach hurts because you don’t eat anything,” snapped her mother. “Now go to your room while I clean this mess up.” As a force of habit, Jamie saw her reach into her coat and pull out a pack of cigarettes, putting one in her mouth. “Now, I said!”
Jamie pointed to the book on the table and said, “Can I?”
“The book’s ruined now,” said her mother as she lit her cigarette, “Go to your damn room.”
Jamie scurried off, trying to ignore the stickiness on her lap as the juice dried. She heard her mother muttering some things she couldn’t quite catch. That was her favorite book and now it was… ruined. She wondered when, or if, she was going to get a new one, but her mother was always so tired in the mornings that she didn’t think it would happen soon. So she curled up on her bed, wishing her stomach ache would go away and trying to imagine what she should have said to her mother to quell her anger. It had been an accident, after all, but Jamie seemed to have a lot of those. It didn’t help that she left her bagel on the counter untouched, either.
Her mother came into her room after a few hours, refreshed from a morning nap, and forced Jamie to eat the bagel, which was dry because they had no cream cheese. Jamie took it down, feeling the hard edges scratch her throat and wincing with each swallow. Later, her mother had gone out to the store, and Jamie looked at the book on the table.
It was certainly ruined. Orange stains had penetrated almost all of the pages, and they had blurred and distorted some of the pictures. She wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t escape her eyes. They felt like they were collecting beneath her eye, building up pressure in her skull until she had a splitting headache. She grabbed at her own thin, brown hair and pulled, trying to release some stress from behind her eyes. It didn’t work. She squeezed her head, hard, and found that of no avail either. Finally, her mother came home and found Jamie rocking back and forth on the couch.
“What’s wrong, Jamie?” she asked with a sigh.
“Okay, take some Advil…” Her mother gave her three Advils absentmindedly and some water. After Jamie took them her mother ordered her to eat something, so Jamie nibbled on a slice of white cheese for an hour until it was gone. The Advil didn’t seem to be working - her headache just kept getting worse, but now she was scared to tell her mother about it. She seemed so busy, and she had to go to work again that night.
“Eat some dinner,” said her mother that evening. She was dressed for work, but wasn’t going to leave until she saw Jamie finish her food. Unfortunately, that night they were having one of Jamie’s least favorite meals: black beans and rice. The beans were mushy and didn’t have much salt, and the rice was old.
After about an hour of watching Jamie try to eat with limited success, her mother took the plate and packed up the food with annoyance in every movement. She threw an old banana in front of Jamie and watched her eat it, though Jamie hated bananas more than black beans and rice. “I gotta go to work, hurry up!”
Jamie finished as quick as she could, and her mother threw out the peel, leaving without kissing her on the forehead, as she always did. Again, Jamie wanted to cry but felt the tears well up inside her head. She went to bed with a headache, and didn’t sleep much.
That was Wednesday. She added a fold into the turkey she was making.
Now it was Thursday, and she didn’t have to go to school because it was Thanksgiving. While she knew most of her classmates were happy to not go to school, she felt the opposite way. Tuesday had been such a mess that she was looking forward to seeing Mrs. Hunt and Kevin again, but now she’d have to wait until next Tuesday.
She stopped her recollection, startled by what she was holding in her hands. This turkey was strange. It looked like she had forgotten to fold its tail, so it was more like a duck than a turkey. She stared at it for some time, frozen in place. Normally, this would have upset her, and she knew that on some level it did. But the turkey looked so innocent to her - how could she get mad at it? And on the same token it felt dear to her, like she had made it that way on purpose, and so she couldn’t get mad at herself, either. She held it in the light, watching the yellow sun bounce its rays off of the brown paper and felt like she was holding an artifact like Indiana Jones would find in one of his movies. This turkey was special - it was her that made it. The rest were made following Kevin’s exact instructions, so it felt like she was just a machine when she made them.
Her mother noticed Jamie frozen in place and walked over to her, exhausted from a long night and desperately needing to sleep. “Jamie, what’s wrong?”
Jamie did not answer immediately. She simply held the turkey up for her mother to see.
“What’s this?” Her mother did not notice what was off about the turkey.
Jamie smiled and looked at her, feeling her mouth unhinge easily and saying, “Different.” She held the turkey to her heart and got up, feeling the beginnings of hunger in her stomach and finding the beans and rice from last night in the fridge. She took them out and waited for her mother to help her heat them up, who could do nothing but stare at her daughter, utterly nonplussed.