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The Perfection Paradox

BOOK: The Perfection Paradox
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The Perfection Paradox

By Scarlen Knox

Prologue

The day she killed herself had been
a good one, one of her best.

She mused over this thought as she
stood barefoot on her bedroom desk.

The noose hung in front of her,
crafted from ties, shawls, scarves, anything she could get her
hands on. 

A summer breeze wafted through the
open window, rustling the hem of her dress. Voices murmured from
the garden below, laughter and idle chatter. They were the voices
of her family, her friends.

A graduation cap trimmed with red
velveteen lay on the bed on the other side of the bedroom, next to
a sealed envelope and her mobile phone. It had vibrated and jangled
a cheerful tone ten minutes ago, but would never be
checked.

Eighteen years
old. She would be eighteen years old forever now.
She arranged the circle of knots
around her head so it rested upon her hair like a crown, before
hurriedly pulling it down around her neck. She could feel the
silkiness of her mother's scarf against her
throat. 
Her heart seemed to sense its
imminent demise and beat wildly, as if it wanted to burst from her,
as if it was desperate to escape. A terrifying numbness seemed to
pump from it, flowing from veins and trickling through capillaries,
until her whole body was frozen with a sinister case of pins and
needles.

The voices
outside seemed to grow louder.
An uneven breath. The seconds
seemed to linger beyond their usual tick of the clock.
She raised a leg and paused, unsure,
then stepped forward into nothingness. 
The makeshift noose creaked, but it
did not give way.

 

1.

To do
list:

  • Get into an Ivy
    League college

  • Win Prom
    Queen

  • Win Hunter’s
    love

Emily leaned
back in her seat, pushing a greasy strand of hair behind her ear
and biting the end of her pen thoughtfully. Yes, yes, that covered
everything important. She shifted uncomfortably, readjusting the
top of her ill-fitting shorts. That reminded her of something else.

Lose weight’
she
scribbled at the bottom of the list with glee.

She stared
out across the messy garden as she daydreamed of glory and Ivy
Leagues. The garden had been neat and well pruned when her father
had still been there to mow the lawn and tug the stubborn weeds out
of the flower patches. The grass had only been cut a handful of
times since he’d left though, and now it grew wildly, nearly
reaching Emily’s fleshy knees. The patches where rosebushes and
flowers had once grown were now overrun with weeds. The plants that
had once grown there were either yellow and stunted or had stopped
growing all together.

Emily snapped
her notebook shut and stood, readjusting the elastic of her shorts
once again. She wondered why she was so bloated all of a sudden,
looking down at the potbelly stomach that poked out from under her
vest top, and at arms that jiggled ever so slightly as she bounced
up the staircase.

Emily’s
bedroom was cramped and mismatched. She slept under the gables of
the house and her ceiling sloped down low, making her already small
room appear even tinier. The furniture clashed, inconsistent shades
of faux beech, oak and mahogany, but she’d grown so used to it she
barely noticed the odd colour scheme anymore. The walls were
plastered with posters of celebrities; famous actors and singers
Emily had heard the girls at school obsess over time and time
again.

The old
laptop her mother had bought her second hand for her birthday was
covered in stickers of more celebrities. Emily thought it looked
really cool, and if her summer plans worked out, droves of obsessed
lowerclassmen would soon be mimicking her effortless trends. She
picked it up to plug into the charger on the other side of the
room, but caught her reflection in the mirror as she strode past.
She stopped and observed herself.

Emily Davies
was a plain looking girl. Slightly larger than society’s standards
dictated was ideal, short with dull brown hair that appeared almost
grey at times. It fell limply down to her shoulders, accentuating
her plump face. Her nose was a little too big for her face, and her
mouth and eyes a little too small. A cluster of angry red spots
spread across her chin and forehead like a constellation of fierce
supernovas. Her once bushy eyebrows had been over plucked, now two
straight thin lines on her face, making her appearance almost
comical.

Her fingers
stroked her forearm absent-mindedly as she thought. The raw cuts
still stung a little as she touched them, but Emily resisted
pulling her hand away. A reminder of how worthless she’d been, a
reminder of who she had to be now, so she could
finally
be happy.

She wanted to
be the girl who got straight-As, the girl all the boys whispered
about as she walked past, the girl all the impressionable young
freshmen wanted to be, or at least be friends with.

She’d spent
all summer planning, every outfit for the first month of school had
already been decided, her school bag had been carefully selected
from a competitive shortlist, she had invested in some curlers and
had been practicing how to create the effortless ringlets all the
supermodels were sporting these days. Emily had even convinced her
mother to buy her a violent shade of azure eye shadow and a
bubble-gum pink lipstick on the condition that she only wore it on
special occasions.

She was not
going to let senior year be like the first three years of high
school, struggling to get noticed, to be anyone in a school with
thousands of students. It had been tough not standing out, not
getting the credit and recognition she
knew
she deserved, the credit she’d
worked so hard for.

When landing
the lead in the school musical was cool, she had been cast as
pirate #3 (stubble and all). When a hot prom date made you cool,
she had been forced to bribe her 15-year-old cousin into escorting
her. When a coveted spot on the cheerleading squad made you cool,
she’d nearly broken her neck attempting a cartwheel. And if that
wasn’t bad enough, she’d watched others breeze through with ease,
taking what Emily wanted so desperately and doing so effortlessly.
But there would be no more of that this year, this year would be
different, this year she was going to be perfect.

She would be
the pinnacle of Rosewell High’s social hierarchy if her life
depended on it. She was tired of going unnoticed by the jocks,
their gorgeous gazes always passing Emily and landing on someone
undoubtedly less deserving of their affection. This would be the
year Hunter craved her, the year he pursued her relentlessly until
he had her. She would no longer be on the periphery looking
in.

She wasn’t
one of them yet, but she would be, and if that meant toppling the
famous Kennedy Blakewood then all the better. Emily thought it was
about time her reign came to an end.

2.

Hannah had
calculated it. This would be her fiftieth home, her fiftieth
school. Shouldn’t she get an honorary medal or plaque or
something?

She sighed as
she tried to stare out the window of the car through the thick
grime. The rusty springs nudged Hannah’s thighs through the cracked
leather seat and she rocked softly with discomfort. She could hear
the erratic thwack of the cord her father had used to tie their
timeworn couch to the roof of the car. She raised her hand and
cleared a patch of filth so the hazy world beyond smeared into
focus.

She glanced
up and back and could see the tattered twine flailing and flapping
in the wind as they careened around a bend, the motor wheezing and
spluttering with the effort of not combusting.

Wide suburban
avenues overshadowed by grand oak trees slowed the car to a content
pace and it ceased to struggle. Past the ancient trunks were high
metal gates and thickets of greenery barely obscuring sprawling
estates at the end of paved driveways. Hannah could see turrets and
chimneys jutting out above the skyline of well-kept
bushes.

The stately
homes and luxury cars were left behind and the houses became
smaller and less splendid. The trees bordering the streets shrunk
from imposing oaks to newly planted cherry trees and then to
shrubs, until there was no greenery lining the streets at all. The
roads themselves became less even, and the family car rattled
detrimentally across pothole after pothole.

The station
wagon wobbled through grotty streets. The sky was dull and smoggy,
Hannah thought of the pristine skies and tranquil sun that shone
over the mansions they had passed. The only birds Hannah could see
here were scrawny pigeons; grey to match the heavens they thrashed
through with cumbersome strokes.

A faint
stench of waste wafted into Hannah’s nostrils and her eyes lingered
on a ditch filled with acrid brown sewage festering in the sunless
heat. A stray dog limped along the brink of the ditch, calculating
a safe route down to the septic water. The dog swung out of view as
the car turned into a dead end street. The houses were tiny, the
paint chipped off their flimsy wooden exteriors. Shattered windows
had been shoddily plastered with duct tape.

Residents sat
out on their porches in plastic garden chairs, roughly rolled
cigarettes dangling from their chapped lips, the men’s white vests
stained with beer and sweat, the women’s makeup-caked faces barely
allowing the sun to reach their smoke-saturated pores. Their front
gardens were overgrown with weeds and littered with debris, from
rusty bicycles to supermarket trolleys.  

The engine
faltered and died outside a shabby split-level house. Unlike the
anterior gardens of the surrounding houses, this one had no
abundance of questionable vegetation erupting from it, but was
cemented over instead, adding to the ‘Soviet Russia’ theme the
whole street seemed to be emulating.

Hannah
staggered out of the car, her legs weak from lack of movement, and
followed her father up the decaying steps to the front door. The
mustard coloured exterior had splintered, flakes of paint scattered
on to the top step as Hannah’s father turned the key in the lock
and stepped over the threshold, his daughter shadowing him with
reluctant curiosity.

An unpleasant
odour forced Hannah’s hands to her mouth as it nearly choked her,
and she immediately regretted inhaling so deeply. The house reeked
of mildew and dank, the interior patchy with condensation, and in
its furthest corners glaucous fungus and mould had begun to slyly
spread itself across the ceiling and walls. There were decomposing
remnants of half-eaten food on the floor, as well as the familiar
buzzing of flies on a sweltering summer’s day. Dozens of ants
marched back and forth from the scattered leftovers, so perfectly
in sync with each other; their responses so automatic and
predictable to their companions that it was like watching an
assembly line at work.

There was an
ancient sofa made of stiff textile in the living room. Springs had
pierced the fabric in several places, but it didn’t look
dilapidated enough for her parents to consider throwing it away.
The carpet was a questionable brownish grey shade, though Hannah
couldn’t tell whether this was intentional or not. Sprinklings of
food and white powder covered it, and there were occasional clumps
where stray cigarette butts had singed the threads from brown to
black.

A dining
table took up much of the open space of the kitchen. A table leg
was missing and had been replaced by several dusty breezeblocks
piled on top of each other. The grey bricks raised one corner of
the table slightly above the three held up by legs, so the table
surface itself was not quite parallel to the floor.

Hannah heaved
a cardboard box with her name scribbled on the side out of the
trunk of the car and headed to the door her father had pointed out
as he dropped a box onto the floor of the ‘master’ bedroom. Through
the door, the bedroom was cramped and dingy and not even wide
enough to fit a single bed. Instead a thin foldable camp bed had
been pushed up against the wall. As Hannah tried to shuffle past it
to open the window and release some of the damp stench, she found
she could barely move across the room without pressing her shins
against its metal frame. The window was lined with moss and damp
patches. Insects scurried along it, diving in and out of burrowed
holes and cracks in the wall, scuttling into their kingdoms of
dust.

BOOK: The Perfection Paradox
8.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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