'When She Looks Back On This Day, She’ll Feel Like It’s Her Fault' by Chelsea Stickle
It’s the July 4th races, and she’s the oldest in her age bracket. Her father tells her to run the 100-yard dash. She’s still skinny and her breasts haven’t come in, so he can look her in the eye and pretend she’s a boy with long hair. There are no photos of him as a child, so she doesn’t know that the two of them are identical at her age. Her grimy white Keds are on the edge of being too small. She digs the toe into the grass and her toenail hits the joint where the rubber meets the fabric. She and her father don’t spend much time together. He travels and when he’s home he’s too busy. She knows better than to invite him to the Daddy-Daughter dance that her Brownies troop goes to annually. Rejection seems worse than never asking. “It’s only a 100-yards,” he says. “Come on! It’ll be easy.” He was a high school debate champion. He argues for a living. She figures it’s easier to run the race and lose than argue with him. She finds her mark in the center of the pack. When the starter pistol goes off, she flies through the grass. She doesn’t feel her feet pound the ground or the sun burning her bright White skin. She’s never thought of herself as fast, but she’s left the other girls coughing in the dust of the parched field. She finishes first. She can’t believe it. Her eyes find her father’s face. There’s a sort of pride there, but his smile is elliptical. It’s like he found a string on her to pull. He knows she’ll deliver. Even if she doesn’t want to. She has strong legs. She’ll use them. And he’ll push her every day until she breaks.