M. Ann Hull

The Last Neglected Child

The last neglected child’s parents had neglected to give her a name, so no one knew what to call her and when. She tried on the name Resilience, but it made her feel like a jarred up lightning bug still blinking. She tried on the name Nobody, but it made her skin translucent, her bones cellophane. Her shadow said You can go by Shadow if you like, but she liked the moths that fluttered around her collarbone like snow, and she was scared it would scare them off. Because her mother had eaten mustard sandwiches when her own parents couldn’t be bothered to cook, the child thought of going by Mustard, but didn’t like how the name tasted on her tongue. Because her father had crawled into the bottle his father had emptied before (and his father had emptied before), she thought of calling herself Tradition, but it made her dizzy like turning in circles until you stopped and the world fell down at your knees. It wasn’t going to be Easy, but she decided to set a trap. One day, she sat in the front of a classroom and shot her hand into the air to swat away every question raised. The teacher never turned her back on the blackboard. Another day, she jumped off the roof of the house where the local reporter lived, thinking a writer would know what to call her. His column didn’t run that day; he didn’t have time to write when he had to rush her to Emergency. The doctors slapped a cast on her wrist and kids up and down the street came running with markers the better with which to write their names. Each one more Beautiful than the last. Not knowing what to say, that day, she grew up and grew out and grew old. On the last day of the last neglected child’s life, she dug through a closet her parents had left unlocked with their deaths. On the bottom of the box in the back of dark was her birth certificate. She stared at its blank line like she hadn’t imagined it a thousand times. That line was so crisp and so bold and so strong, so unmarked and unmarred, she imagined her parents married and happy and holding the piece of paper not wanting any pen’s sharpness to touch it. It was so beautiful, the way it had lasted all these years without any names on it to fade. On the last day of the last neglected child’s life, she had never felt so Loved. She tucked herself into the box, pulled the lid over her eyes, and let them shut.