Today’s story was inspired by the David Wilcox song “Burgundy Heart Shaped Medallion”.
I’ve always thought the song was beautiful, short and simple. So I wrote a story that was beautiful, short and simple too.
Deedee was afraid.
She had been practicing for this event for the past few months. She was supposed to be ready.
She didn’t feel ready though. She felt like the opposite of ready. She felt… reverse ready? Unready? She was sure there’s a word for it, she just couldn’t think of it at the moment.
She looked nervously at the other children seated beside her. They all seemed well-prepared.
The boy in the blue suit was reading his notes, and mouthing words to himself. The girl with the curly hair and green dress was staring into space, bored. One of the kids farther away from her was yawning.
How were they all so calm?
Probably because they’re all so ready, Deedee thought.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so inadequate.
She enunciated each letter clearly in her mind. That was one of the words she had practiced with her father.
She thought back to the previous night.
“What are the rules?” her father asked. He was lounging on his left side, holding a stack of flashcards in his left hand. He held a glass of juice with a straw in his right, which he sipped from occasionally.
“Daaaaaaad,” she said. “It’s the same as every night.”
“Refresh my memory please.” He brought the straw to his lips and took a long, imperious sip.
Deedee rolled her eyes at him. “Daaaaaaaad!”
“Excuse me, my name isn’t Daaaaaaaaad. I am the Ultimate Mega Grand Ruler President of the Bees.” He waved his hand imperiously, sloshing juice onto the floor. He grabbed the end of his t-shirt and wiped the juice, while maintaining a dignified expression.
“That’s not what the judge is called!”
“What is the judge called then?”
Deedee thought for a moment. She couldn’t come up with an answer.
“He’s just the judge,” she said, frustrated. “Now stop wasting time, I have to be ready for tomorrow.”
“Fine then,” her father said, waving his hand magnanimously. He was more careful, and sloshed only a little bit of juice. “As Mega Giga Emperor of the Bees, I will describe the rules myself. We have here a stack of cards, upon which are inscribed the letters of the names of the words you will be spelling. For every correct answer, you will be awarded the chance to spell another word. If you fail, you will be destroyed!”
He stood up and yelled the last word maniacally, then settled down and took another sip of his juice.
“First word: asymptote.”
She spelled out the word, clearly enunciating each letter, then repeated it back to him.
“Correct!” her father boomed. “You have gained the right to spell a second word. The Bees are pleased with you.”
“Second word: littoral.”
Deedee opened her mouth to answer, then paused and narrowed her eyes. The word sounded suspicious.
“Can I have the definition please?” she asked.
“The littoral zone is the part of a sea that is close to the shore.”
“I knew it! I knew it was a trick. L-I-T-T-O-R-A-L. Littoral.”
Her father silently brought his straw to his lips, and took a long, long, looooong sip.
“Aaaaaaah,” he said. “Correct! You have gained the right to spell a third word. The Bees are pleased with you.”
He looked at his flashcard.
“Third word: psittacosis.”
“What? I don’t remember that one. Sid-a-ko-sis?” Deedee hesitated. “Can you put it in a sentence please?”
“The parrot stopped eating because it had psittacosis.”
Deedee furrowed her brows together. She remembered the word. It was the parrot fever. She had always pronounced it differently when practicing, and now she couldn’t recall how to spell it.
A wave of anxiety washed over her. Was she going to get it wrong? Was she going to get eliminated in the third round?
A rising feeling of frustration began in her chest, and went up to her throat. Her eyes welled up and she fought back the tears. She knew the word, it wasn’t fair. She knew the word.
“Um, sid-a-ko-sis. S-I…”
Her father cut her off.
“The Grand Emperor of the Bees declares you wrong!” he said. He took a long sip of his juice, finishing it in one gulp. Then he continued to make slurping sounds with his straw. “It’s spelled P-S-I-T-T-A-C-O-S-I-S.”
“I knew it,” Deedee cried. “I knew it. I knew I was missing a letter. And I’m going to make a mistake tomorrow and miss a letter and I’m going to get the words wrong even when I know them and spelling sucks…”
The frustration and fear she’d been experiencing all week finally reached a breaking point. She buried her face in her hands and cried.
Her father looked at her in confusion for a moment. Deedee never got upset when she made a mistake. She giggled and they tried again.
But tonight was different. He lay down the cards and juice. He scooched over and put his arms around his crying daughter.
He didn’t say a word. He just held her and waited.
After a few moments, Deedee stopped crying, and pressed herself against him.
“So,” her father said quietly. “What’s wrong?”
“I got the word wrong,” she replied. She wiped her eyes and sniffled.
“Yes, you got the word wrong. You get lots of words wrong. But that’s not the answer to my question. What’s wrong?”
He pushed her back at arms length, and looked at her with concern. He raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“I’m worried,” she began, then paused. He nodded, and said nothing. “I’m worried that people will think I’m stupid. Miss Chu said I’m really smart, but I don’t feel smart. I get a lot of answers wrong, and they make me feel dumb.”
“You get a lot of answers right too. In fact, you got two right answers and one wrong answer.”
“Yea but the wrong answer is worse! I get one wrong and I’m out. What if I’m out in the first round? Everyone will make fun of me!” she wailed.
Her father looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then pursed his lips. He stood up, stretched his back, and held out his hand. She took it, and he pulled her to her feet.
“Come with me, we’re going to do some magic,” he said.
“There’s no such thing as magic. You always says so.”
“Well, today there will be magic. In fact, it’s going to be a powerful enchantment, one that you can carry around with you everywhere. You can use it anytime you feel bad. Come on.”
She frowned in disbelief, but followed him anyway as he walked out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. He waved her over, and made her stand in front of the mirror.
“When you look at you, that’s what you see, right?” he said, pointing at the mirror. “You see Deedee, nine years old, less good than everyone else.”
She nodded sullenly, watching her reflection nod back.
“That person in the mirror is a liar,” he said. “That’s not really what you look like.”
He reached into his pocket, took out his phone, and took her picture. He placed the phone next to her reflection.
“Notice how they’re similar but not quite the same?” he asked.
She nodded. Her hair went to a different side, her eyes were placed oddly. Even her nose was strange.
“Which one looks wrong to you?”
“The picture?” she asked.
“Isn’t it funny,” he said. “That the picture feels wrong, even though it’s the accurate one, and the mirror feels right, even though we know it’s not?”
She shuffled her feet, her face betraying her confusion.
“So what? I don’t get it Dad.”
He spread his hands and gestured at both the mirror and phone.
“Only one of these is real. I think you know which one it is.”
He knelt down to look her in the eyes.
“We all have a voice inside us. It says mean things to us. I’m boring. I’m dumb. I’m ugly.” He punctuated each word by tapping on his chest. “It also tells us everyone else is smarter, faster, better.” He tapped her forehead with every word.
“But that voice is a liar, like the mirror,” he continued. “Open your hands.”
He reached for her hands, and turned them so the palms faced upwards.
“Here’s the enchantment I’m going to make for you. Every time you’re worried, and think you’re not good enough, you’re going to take all those bad thoughts and put them into your hands.”
He waited for her expectantly.
“I’m… worried,” she mumbled. “I feel dumb.”
He nodded. “Now we make all those bad thoughts vanish with a poof!”
He clapped her hands loudly together, and held them there for a moment, then opened them.
“Now all that’s left are the good words. The words that see you, from my point of view.”
He pressed his finger into her hand and tapped out words.
“Smart. Funny. Happy. Confident. My favorite person. I wish I could be more like you.”
He gave her a big smile, and released her hands. She held them up to her face, and examined her palms, like she was reading the words he put there.
She clapped them together slowly, thoughtfully.
Then gave him a mischievous grin.
“You like me more than mom?”
He looked around carefully, then gave her a conspiratorial look. “Ssshhh,” he whispered. “I like you just a tiny bit more. But don’t tell her I said that or she’ll make me do the dishes.”
“Alright everyone, thank you for waiting.” A woman with a headset and clipboard stood in front of her, snapping Deedee back to reality. “We’re going to need you all to line up please, and then you can make your way on-stage, and we’ll begin the Spelling Bee.”
Deedee stood up and shuffled with the other kids into a line.
She cupped her hands to over her mouth, and whispered some words into them.
Then she clapped her hands together.
The boy in the blue suit turned at the sound, and gave her a nervous look. He didn’t seem so put together now that the time to spell had arrived.
Deedee looked at her palms again, reading the invisible words her father had written for her.
Then she looked at the boy and gave him a big smile.
“I like your suit,” she said.
He beamed at her. “Thanks! Blue is my favorite color,” he said, returning her smile.
Now that you’ve read the story, here’s the David Wilcox song that inspired it 🙂