When she was twelve or so, her father found a plaque at a store they went into. It escapes her memory where he found the plaque, but she could now describe it in detail despite not knowing where they saw it first. It was the only plaque that her father had ever bought. She loved plaques and signs and anything with a cute quote on it—but her father could not care less about such things. She once watched her father sift through old boxes of yearbooks and memories and deem so many not worth keeping. The twelve-year-old version of her couldn’t believe it: “You don’t want to keep the memories?” she’d cried. “I have the memories in here,” he’d said, tapping his skull. “I don’t know any of these people anymore,” he’d remarked. “I don’t need all this stuff.” And so, in the basement of her childhood home, she had learned that maybe her father wasn’t all that sentimental. Which is what made the plaque so strange. Her father hung it up in their home, right near the entrance. If you walked in and took a moment to hang up your coat, you’d catch a glimpse of the little thing hanging on a side wall all on its own. The plaque moved when the family did, and, where so many other objects were donated away, her father made sure the plaque survived. In the new house it sported itself on an almost fully bare sandy brown wall in the basement. Two creations hung on the wall: a painting of yellow flowers her mother’s cousin had painted, and the little plaque, taking up barely six inches of the long wall.**“Hey.” Dad’s here. Finally, Dad’s here. The last few moments of the first-grade softball game have already blurred in her mind and in her eyes. She begs the tears to not fall out, but when Dad arrives, she can’t help but let them drip. She imagines the wound on her thigh must be in the shape of the softball that hit her—red criss-crosses and all. She imagines a red blotch blossoming onto her thigh, eventually blooming into black and blue. She can’t see what it looks like yet; the grey softball pants cover her legs, and there’s no way to peek into her pants to check without looking weird. “You’re okay.” Her dad’s voice seats her back in reality. He lightly hits her helmet like the Tampa Bay Rays do when their teammates get upset. She looks down again and sees his knees bulging out from the rest of his leg as he squats down to look into her eyes. I bet Dad’s knee is bigger than my whole fist, she thinks. She feels tiny in a funny way, but she stifles a laugh. She doesn’t want Dad to think she’s being dramatic or lying about how much it hurts. “Dad,” her lip trembles, “I want to sit out now.” The cool metal of the bench with her friends dotted across it sounds more appealing than ever. They’d ask if she was okay, and maybe even share some of their snacks with her. If she could only suck some of the salt off the sunflower seeds and spit them out into the sand with her friends, she’d feel better. She’d be better. “Walk it off,” he tells her, his legs wobbling as he balances himself on the balls of his feet. Her mind whirls faster than the softball that hit her: she can’t go back out. She’s hurt! She’ll have to limp her way to the bases. The bench sounds much funner. What if she gets hit again? Why can’t she sit out like the other kids? Julia sat out last week just because she tripped and scraped her knee! What if she’s bleeding?**The plaque stood on its own in the house. It was the only collection of words she had ever seen her father care enough for to hang on a wall. Here, they were very different people. In ninth grade, she had made her own ‘plaques’ when they moved into the new house. She had logged onto Goodreads and found the most popular quotes from her favorite books. Taking a black pen, she’d scribbled the words onto neon pink sticky notes and taped them up all over her room. She’d taped them on the outside of the glass shower so she could read them while in the shower or while brushing her teeth. Perhaps if she could suffocate herself with words, she would disappear completely. But her father hated reading books. The only time she’d ever seen him reading a book was when she was in eighth grade. The front cover was a spoon. “You’re reading a book about spoons?” she’d asked in disbelief. “He never reads,” her mother had joked, “don’t discourage him.” Her father then went on to explain it was about some sort of math or science, another detail she now can’t remember. The book was not just about spoons, he let her know. But even still, the only book she had ever seen him read had a spoon on the cover, and this she knows as fact.**“Dad, I’m bleeding!” she cries in defense. Dad’s mouth peaks into a small smile. “You’re not bleeding,” he says. “You can walk it off.” “I don’t want to!” she pouts. She folds her arms and lets her bat falls into the grass with a slight dink. “When you get hit, you get a ball.” His eyes are very blue, and she wonders if hers are that blue, too. She’ll have to check when she gets home. “You can get a point for your team,” he explains. “Dad,” more tears sprout out of her eyes across her sweaty skin. “I can’t walk,” she squeaks. “You walked over here,” he argues. She suddenly wishes she had not walked over here. Maybe she should have crawled. Or asked for someone to get a wheelchair. Maybe even an ambulance—she bets the paramedics would understand how getting hit in the leg with a softball is one of the worst things that can happen to someone. “Walk it off,” he says again. He leaves her without a choice when he gets up and walks away with her bat, leaning it against the batting cage. He crosses his arms and waits for her to move.**Every time she walks through the basement to the garage, the plaque glances at her. Half the time she doesn’t even look at it but sees it out of her peripheral and just carries on. She didn’t spend much time thinking about the words when she lived at home. She doesn’t now, away from home either. But she thinks about her dad.**She decides to prove to Dad that she really is in pain and he’s being unfair. She limps herself to first base with cheers from her teammates and parents resounding behind her. She doesn’t care. When she falls and breaks all the bones in her body because of Dad, then he’ll see. She watches Julia walk up to home plate, and angrily crosses her arms as she watches from first. She’ll let Dad know he’s not being nice and fair like the other girls’ parents would be. She hopes he feels bad. She watches Julia get a strike. If she hits it, I won’t run, she thinks. I can’t run. And Dad will find out that he was really wrong when he sees I can’t even move. There’s a clink of bat hitting ball, and the neon green blotch whizzes past her. Before she even gets the chance to register what’s happening, her legs are moving at their fastest speed toward second base. Her foot roots her onto the cushy square, and when she looks up, there’s a silly smile on Dad’s face. She thinks Dad’s smile is off balance, but she likes the way his face looks with his teeth out. She pants, forgetting why she wanted Dad to be like the other girls’ dads, and what was so special about the sideline. She waves her hand at him and smiles back.**She spent years not reading the plaque but knowing it was there. And when she moved away, she thought it was just one of the many things she now didn’t see on the daily, along with her Mom and the now crinkled up sticky notes on the shower door. She can’t remember most of the quotes on the shower door, but the words from the plaque feel like they are awake where the others have gone to sleep. The only words Dad ever deemed worthy of displaying radiate from her, despite years of never thinking much about the way the words fit together. ‘Don’t try so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out,’ the plaque proclaims. The words blossom across her skin.
By Allison Cummins