Francine refused to wince as the ruler cracked across her knuckles.
That is the first line of her story, that is her first real memory: her father grasping her wrist and laying her hand flat on the table before bringing the ruler down. She remembers the sound the ruler made as it hit flesh. She remembers the pain and the way she curled her toes and clenched her jaw to keep from crying out.
She looked up at her father, stared up at him until his screaming became an angry buzz. Then she looked past him to Thom. Thom who sat quietly at the table, his hands clasped in front of him, looking at her sadly. She knew better than to ask him for help. He couldn’t do anything and it only made her father mad that her head was in the clouds.
Later that night, she hid the ruler in her closet and Thom held her hand.
She never tells anyone this story. No one knows it but her, her father, and Thom. And Thom, like all imaginary friends, faded away soon after.
That wasn’t her first line.
“Please, Francis... Stop this... God, we can’t... Not here. They will see us.”
That is her first line, the first one that matters. She remembers it when Jeffery Marrit kisses her in the closet at her first boy-girl party. She remembers the way Thomas looked, frantic and flushed, his mouth bruised from their kiss. She remembers that she smiled at him, touched his face with her callused hands, and told him that he was beautiful.
Her Thomas. Her Thom, she realizes.
She pushes Jeff away from her and scrubs her mouth with the back of her hand. How could she forget?
This is not her beginning.
"Couldn't you, just this once, say 'sorry'? And then maybe we could move on." That is not a first line, but is the beginning of the end.
Harry says, “Couldn’t you, just this once, say ‘sorry,’ Frankie? Then maybe we could move on.”
Didn’t Thomas say that to her once? Didn’t he say it?
She looks past him and thinks, ‘Poor Harry, there’s a third person in the conversation and he doesn’t even realize it.’
“Dammit, Frankie! Say something!”
She blinks and rubs her hands together; her knuckles ache from the cold. “I’m sorry.” But she’s not sorry and he seems to realize it.
“Fuck you!” He storms off, leaving her in the parking lot.
Frankie sighs and runs her hand through her hair. She wishes his leaving mattered, but she doesn’t love him.
She stares at her palms and remembers Thom holding her hand after her father beat her. She clenches her hands and remembers Thomas helping her up after a night of drinking.
That’s not the ending.
It was the most appalling thing he’d ever seen, but he couldn’t stop watching
That was the ending. She remembers watching it, the core of her appalled. But she never could say sorry, she never could put aside her anger and her need to be right. So she remembers watching as Thomas walked up to the chopping block. She remembers the sickening sound of the ax cleaving his head from his shoulders
And she remembers the feel of his hair as she lifted his head for the crowd.
She remembers her grief.
That's the ending.
Life is like a storm, his uncle had told him once. Focus on the next wave, try to keep the ship going. Wave after wave after wave… That’s how it goes.
Frankie doesn’t believe this is her ending. She takes a step, and another, and another. She walks past the bus stop, past the street where she lives, past the city limits.
She’s not sure if she’s running away or if she’s just trying to find something she lost. She’s never had much in her life and she doesn’t expect she ever will. But maybe she’ll get lucky, she used to be lucky once, a long time ago. Centuries ago.
So she walks and walks and walks and imagines that waves are hitting her ankles, her knees, her thighs, her waist, pulling her forward into blue.
Her life is a series of first lines.
And one ending.