Cold Cereal and Morning Revelations

Talented teen writer James Chang offers a brief glimpse into a family’s unraveling. 

By James Chang 

“First Light” © brett jordan https://www.flickr.com/photos/x1brett/14270944583/

It’s Sunday morning and you are back, sitting across from me at the kitchen table. The nanny has prepared a bowl of cereal for each of us, and although I am starving, I don’t eat. It doesn’t seem appropriate.

Instead I stare at you. Your tattered clothes. Your hair, streaked with mud. Frozen sweat clings to your brow. Outside there are police sirens and indistinct voices. You stare back, but I know you aren’t actually looking at me. Your thoughts are elsewhere, miles away. Like seeds flung onto fresh soil.

What’s been your deal lately? Locking yourself in your room, ignoring me? Why did you run away last night? I long to ask you these questions. But I grit my teeth and the words falter. The cereal coagulates. I have never been the bold one.

Instead I hug you, pull you in tight. But you are cold and dry. The dirt across your face makes you look unfamiliar. Tell me what’s going on. Our mother is still outside arguing with the policemen who found you barefoot last night in a t-shirt and pajamas. I want to argue. Maybe then you would tell me everything, explain to me how every second in our grand, yellow-lighted house feels suffocating. How these days most things feel suffocating.

You would press your face against the marble tabletop and tangle your fingers in your hair and talk about how our father leaves for months at a time on overseas business trips and how our mother’s been slowly unraveling after quitting grad school. You would tell me how you can’t stand the fighting, the long stretches of silence. You can’t stand how he sleeps on the couch. You can’t stand the way she wanders from room to room, searching for something to distract her.

You would talk with me like you did when we were younger. Nestled in the backyard. Hidden together in the undergrowth. Coarse and rugged and real.

But I am not as strong as I used to be, and so I will never know why you ran away last night. Why you launched yourself into the swift January darkness, leaving me to watch as the stars traced your exodus.

The cereal is soggy now. A layer of milk skin has formed on top of my bowl. I can hear the police car backing out of the driveway. “Mom’s going to yell at you again,” I say. My voice is angry, but small. Your body tenses when I let go of you. Perhaps secretly, you want me to keep holding you—holding the brother whom I love.

But I can’t do it. Not anymore. The front door opens and the wintery air swirls into the house, curling, twisting. It stills for a moment, and then carries the unspeakable truth away.

 


James Chang is a high school junior, writer, reporter, political enthusiast, and alto saxophone player who currently attends the Horace Mann School in New York. His work has been recognized by the “New York Times,” “Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards,” “Freshwater Literary Journal,” and “Teen Ink,” among other literary publications. He is an alumnus of the 2016 Yale Summer Journalism Program and enjoys running nonprofit writing program Writer-2-Writer Workshops in his free time.

 

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