“Do Not Pull!” the sign read. Marissa sighed, puffed her cheeks out, and crossed her arms over her chest. As a rule, Marissa was a rule-abiding citizen, primarily because she was one of those people who could never seem to get away with anything. At 8 years old, she ate a piece of Halloween candy before her parents checked it, pricked the inside of her mouth with the needle someone had inserted inside the chocolate bar, and spent the entire night at the hospital. At 14, she tried to sneak out the window after her parents thought she was in bed, and promptly made them aware of her failed attempt with a howling scream when she slipped, fell too abruptly to the ground, and broke her leg. At 17, she took her eyes off the road for a second, wanting to see if the ping she heard notified a response from the boy she liked, and consequently was a second too late in reaction to the car that veered into her lane going the wrong way, and had a head-on collision.
Marissa’s parents were tired of the hospital bills. Marissa was tired of being puffy eyed and bored in the hospital. She no longer tempted fate by purposefully ignoring clearly stated rules.
And yet… This lever was
Bright yellow in hue, it dangled temptingly in front of her. Why draw so much attention to it when you didn’t want anyone to use it? Would anyone blame a dog for ignoring a “No urination” sign on a bright red fire hydrant? Perhaps it was just a joke. Or a test to see who the rebels were.
Marissa wet her lips, and tentatively reached out with her right hand, but only got a foot or so into the air before it started shivering too much to be any use, and she quickly enveloped it back against her bosom. Rebel she was not.
“This is ridiculous!” she told herself. But her mind insisted on reminding her of the time she was at a frat party, had so much to drink she could not find her designated driver, and spent 4 hours walking home in the cold. Of course, it was mid-winter. At one point, she had stumbled and fallen to the ground, and when sober, she had realized with a chill that she could have easily died, even though she was only 19 years old.
“What could possibly happen?” she tried. “It’s flimsy plastic!” Only now her brain was admonishing that she had been hurt by plastic before. When she was 3, she had kissed her crush on the cheek in the sandbox, and his response had been to hit her over the head with his shovel. It is amazing, the amount of damage that can be inflicted by plastic when wielded with enough brute force. The trip to the hospital from this incident resulted in 6 stitches; her hand instinctively went up to the small, pale scar that remained on her forehead.
By this point, she was starting to feel that she needed to pull the lever, lest she lose all self-respect. The fact that the fingers of her dominant right hand were tingling in anticipation of pulling a childishly colored lever was approaching a level of phobia. This reaction, this panic, was not normal. The chance that this action could have dire consequences was extremely unlikely. It was just a piece of plastic, that moved – like an over sized McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. Not the best comparison, since Marissa had suffered another hospital stint from an unfortunate incident with a Happy Meal toy. But she had also had the opportunity to play with numerous Happy Meal toys without any negative consequences. At least 95% of her time with Happy Meal toys had been a positive, or at least, mediocre, experience.
She shifted the fingers of her right hand off of her left arm. She could do this.
Deep breath in. Hold. Deep breath out. Hold.
At the tortoise-like pace that she had been told will win the race, Marissa’s arm extended. She began shaking about halfway to the lever, and she focused on her breath, kept slowly moving.
The tips of her fingers just brushed the tip of the vivid handle. Relief was already blooming in her chest, as she realized that she was going to face this irrational fear. Relief that quickly turned to pain, everywhere, as a little boy zipped around her and pulled, in a single sure movement, without hesitation, thereby dooming them both.
Written in response to M’s Putting My Feet in the Dirt’s April Writing Prompts.