THE THROWBACK GIRL • by Joanna Bressler

It was a mess an hour ago down at the campground. Kids yelling, huge RVs, garbage spilling out of the trash cans.

Mother said, “You’d think these people would know better. They’re supposed to love nature if they’re in the High Country. What’s this world coming to?”

Mother’s mastered the art of speaking from a lofty place.

According to her, the people at the campground will all be driving over to a big swimming lake made by a dam. “They won’t put in the effort to hike up to the beautiful lakes. Lucky us, we’ll have them all to ourselves.”

She smiled at Father and flashed Mindy her fond-of-Mindy look. Nothing to me.

I’m Mother’s affront to nature.

The beautiful lakes were left behind when the glaciers receded. Each one is a perfect little jewel, a star sapphire. Mother’s practically racing up the trail she’s so eager to reach where “The Fairyland” begins.

Mother talks like that, like we’re still in kindergarten, but Mindy’s almost nine and I’m fifteen.

The trail is dusty and the dust flies up in my face.

Mother told me, “Alicia, don’t worry, you’ll be able to make the climb. We’ll help you up the steepest parts. We’ll even push you, won’t we, Dear Heart?”

Father didn’t answer. Father hasn’t spoken in years. He’s a shaking stick of tall pale.

They’re way ahead of me. Father, Mother and darling little Mindy skipping right behind them. Except Mindy’s taller than me. She’s six years younger and six inches taller.

I’m short. Short, squat, and hairy. There’s hair all over me.

Gruesome.

I’m those bones they dig up in Africa and make an imaginary picture of, showing how they looked back in the Pleistocene, whenever. I’m like Lucy, the big Leakey find. I could pass for her sister.

“She’s not going to grow much more,” the Height Specialist said. “Her leg bones are setting too early. She’ll reach four feet, four and a half if she’s lucky, that’s the limit. Sorry, little girl.”

I wanted to kill him.

“See,” Mother said. “See, Alicia, it could be so much worse. You could be a midget.”

I can’t breathe anymore through the dust and the heat. The hair under my arms and between my thighs is pulling and sticking, itching and dripping, and this horrible trail is practically vertical and I’m climbing it at about an inch an hour.

I’m desperate to go on all fours, feet and hands, hustling along like I bet those primitive Neanderthals did if something was chasing them. I tried it once in the park and it is so much faster. 

It drove Mother crazy, “Stop that this minute, Alicia. You look ridiculous.”

“Mainstream her,” the Child Psychologist said. “She’s smart, she’s savvy, the teachers will keep the other kids in line. She’ll be fine.”

What school did he go to? Not one in this universe.

Down at the campground, Mother said to Father, “I can’t believe we waited sixteen years to come here again.”

I can believe it.

They had me, they had the parade of docs and shrinks, the support groups for deformity parents, special outfits to hide the body hair, one beyond belief misguided year of electrolysis.

Then they had Mindy. Pretty Mindy, special outfits for her too. Pink leotards and ballet slippers.

But listen to her, Mother, listen to her, don’t you get it? Mindy drools all over her Barbie dolls. She coos and giggles at them.

Did you happen to notice who does her homework for her?

One short hairy throwback, one Barbie, not so good, Mother. You should’ve had your reproductive organs clamped in a vise.

A shout from up ahead, “Girls! Mindy, honey, wait for Alicia to catch up. It’s just a few more steps.”

And then what, Mother? You think I’ll love it, out of the dust into the meadow over the stream on to the lakes, waltzing through Wizard of Oz country, and Mindy’s Dorothy and I’m supposed to be yapping little Toto?

Here comes Mindy, “Alicia? How ya doing, Sis?”

Last year, she called me “Big Sis” once too often.

I lost control, grabbed her, shoved her across the room.

She wailed, “Ow, ow, Alicia, you’re hurting me.”

Usually I try not to.

A few more steps and we’re over the top, into Fairyland. A broad lumpy green meadow with boulders and trees scattered around, one blue lake directly ahead, two more beyond it, mountains in the distance. Like Mother said.

First we have to cross the stream, fast-flowing and shallow with muddy banks and a muddy bottom. Tiny flowers like red and yellow stars stick up along the edges.

“Look,” I say. “Mindy, look at those flowers, why don’t you pick some for Barbie?”

I mean, what do you think Mindy’s carrying in her backpack? Lunch, yes, and a rain parka, but Barbie’s along for the ride, too.

Mindy kneels to smell the flowers and I stand over her.

I think how light and graceful she was on that trail, how lumbering I was. How she’ll dance along in life and I’ll plod. How that blonde hair will get her everything.

I don’t even hesitate.

I push her.

She jackknifes into the shallow water but then doesn’t pop up. I reach in the next second and pull her out but there’s red streaking down her face and through her hair. A big flat rock was right under her head with a thin muddy layer camouflaging it.

I didn’t see it. I didn’t.

Mother calls from the lake, “Alicia, where’s Mindy?”

Mindy’s across my lap. I’m rocking her. Her eyelids are fluttering.

Mother’s rushing at us screaming, “Oh, God, Alicia, what have you done?”

“Please, Mindy,” I whisper. “It was only a joke. Please, Little Sis.”

Mother’s almost upon us when my mind snaps into gear. There’s only one choice. I lay Mindy down, kiss her cheek, rise up onto all fours, and off I go fast and howling toward the mountains.


Joanna Bressler has been a dancer, psychologist, health researcher, professor. Currently she writes short fiction and memoir. Her work has appeared now and then in national magazines, anthologies, and on the Internet. Her hobby is writing unfinished novels. She’s terrifically skilled at it.


Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 4 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    A really startling and unexpected story. I was a little disconcerted at first by the formality of “Mother” and “Father” in a contemporary narrative, until I began to understand the emotional distance of the MC from her parents.

    Powerful and distressing and memorable. Five stars.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    A really startling and unexpected story. I was a little disconcerted at first by the formality of “Mother” and “Father” in a contemporary narrative, until I began to understand the emotional distance of the MC from her parents.

    Powerful and distressing and memorable. Five stars.

  • A good story well told.

  • A good story well told.

  • This was a disturbing story to read – and that’s good.

    The “mind snaps into gear” cliche, well …

  • This was a disturbing story to read – and that’s good.

    The “mind snaps into gear” cliche, well …

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Oh, my!

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Oh, my!

  • DrSuzanne Conboy-Hill

    I just hit 5 and the average went down – how on earth did that happen? This is lovely, confident prose with so many parallels in disability, discrimination, and prejudice and none of it writ so large we would fall over it. Art and craft, nice.

    • Camille Gooderham Campbell

      Based on the timestamp of your comment and the votes placed around that time, your rating of 5 was recorded at very close to the same time as a few other votes; the cumulative effect of those votes would have slightly brought the average down.

      • DrSuzanne Conboy-Hill

        That’s a relief! Those stars are big enough, I was sure I hadn’t mid-hit 🙂

      • joanna b.

        And thanks, Camille, for explaining why this phenomenon happens.

      • DrSuzanne Conboy-Hill

        Camille, I’ve posted on the FB site – this has happened twice more now but in the other direction. It’s beginning to look less like coincidence than that Disqus is behaving oddly.

        • Camille Gooderham Campbell

          Looking into it, will post on FB.

    • joanna b.

      Thanks, DrSuzanne, for the rating and comment, of course, but also for mentioning that the average went down. This has happened to me more than once and each time I feel awful, wondering if I hit the wrong button.

      • DrSuzanne Conboy-Hill

        It’s happened again twice – in the other direction this time so someone will be pleased! I’ve mentioned it on the EDF Facebook group but it’s helpful to hear you’ve experienced it too. This is new – I haven’t come across it until just recently.

  • I just hit 5 and the average went down – how on earth did that happen? This is lovely, confident prose with so many parallels in disability, discrimination, and prejudice and none of it writ so large we would fall over it. Art and craft, nice.

    • Camille Gooderham Campbell

      Based on the timestamp of your comment and the votes placed around that time, your rating of 5 was recorded at very close to the same time as a few other votes; the cumulative effect of those votes would have slightly brought the average down.

      • That’s a relief! Those stars are big enough, I was sure I hadn’t mis-hit 🙂

      • joanna b.

        And thanks, Camille, for explaining why this phenomenon happens.

      • Camille, I’ve posted on the FB site – this has happened twice more now but in the other direction. It’s beginning to look less like coincidence than that Disqus is behaving oddly.

        • Camille Gooderham Campbell

          Looking into it, will post on FB.

    • joanna b.

      Thanks, DrSuzanne, for the rating and comment, of course, but also for mentioning that the average went down. This has happened to me more than once and each time I feel awful, wondering if I hit the wrong button.

      • It’s happened again twice – in the other direction this time so someone will be pleased! I’ve mentioned it on the EDF Facebook group but it’s helpful to hear you’ve experienced it too. This is new – I haven’t come across it until just recently.

  • S Conroy

    Agree with all previous comments. This one is just so damn good.

  • S Conroy

    Agree with all previous comments. This one is just so damn good.

  • Chris Antenen

    E.xcellent and disturbing. I’m at a loss for words and feel like crying.

  • Chris Antenen

    E.xcellent and disturbing. I’m at a loss for words and feel like crying.

  • Wow! I loved this story. I felt so much empathy for Alicia and enjoyed her outcast sense of humor. The Mother was developed perfectly and the Father who hadn’t spoken on years made me chuckle.

  • Wow! I loved this story. I felt so much empathy for Alicia and enjoyed her outcast sense of humor. The Mother was developed perfectly and the Father who hadn’t spoken on years made me chuckle.

  • Amanda B

    “…a shaking stick of tall pale.” My favorite of the many brilliant descriptive phrases in this story. Bravo Joanna Bressler. Keep writing, your stories are always a captivating read.

  • Amanda B

    “…a shaking stick of tall pale.” My favorite of the many brilliant descriptive phrases in this story. Bravo Joanna Bressler. Keep writing, your stories are always a captivating read.

  • chipschap

    Very well done with an unexpected, disturbing, but somehow appropriate ending. Great writing craft.

  • chipschap

    Very well done with an unexpected, disturbing, but somehow appropriate ending. Great writing craft.

  • Jen

    Absolutely what everyone else said. This was a fabulous story that with incredible real characters that I could see in my mind’s eyes. This is one of my favourite EDF stories period.

  • Jen

    Absolutely what everyone else said. This was a fabulous story that with incredible real characters that I could see in my mind’s eyes. This is one of my favourite EDF stories period.

  • terrytvgal

    I have more to learn yet (well, of course I do!!) about the structure and pacing of flash fiction. I am so often let down by endings; they come at me before I feel enough story has happened and don’t do what I think they should. My very first reaction is to be disappointed when it seems stories ‘stop’ rather than resolve or wind down. That is what i feel happened here. A stop,not a resolution.
    None-the-less, This is a story that works on so many levels. A discussion of ‘disability’ and family dynamics and sibling rivalry and maybe even a dash of fantasy if we wonder how such a child came to be and then realize that the mother was last up at the lakes 16 years ago — “I can’t believe we waited sixteen years to come here again.” — around when she’d have conceived Alicia maybe?
    All and all a great story with lots to ponder.
    4stars. Thanks much, Joanna!

    • joanna b.

      thanks, terrytvgal, for your comment.
      endings are so difficult. to paraphrase that song, “breaking up with a story is hard to do.”
      this story has gone through many different endings and i still wasn’t all that confident about the one i ended up with.
      what i decided though, in terms of technique i guess you’d call it, was to stick with the voice of the narrator, Alicia.
      and to not indulge the voice of the writer who, take it from me, would have loved to obsess for another thousand words about what might or might not have happened next to every character in the story.

      • MPmcgurty

        Beginnings and endings are the most difficult for me, even without word count constraints. Sometimes people feel they have to end them “cute” or make the ending complete a circle to the beginning. I am like terrytvgal: I am very often disappointed with endings to short stories, especially with flash. But I think you did a superb job here.

      • kat

        I found the story to be clilched and superficial. I think that perhaps this Should be turned into a novel, and let us see what happens to Alicia and the rest of the characters. Go deeper and warmer, even with the voice of the character. I think it’s in there.

  • terrytvgal

    I have more to learn yet (well, of course I do!!) about the structure and pacing of flash fiction. I am so often let down by endings; they come at me before I feel enough story has happened and don’t do what I think they should. My very first reaction is to be disappointed when it seems stories ‘stop’ rather than resolve or wind down. That is what i feel happened here. A stop,not a resolution.
    None-the-less, This is a story that works on so many levels. A discussion of ‘disability’ and family dynamics and sibling rivalry and maybe even a dash of fantasy if we wonder how such a child came to be and then realize that the mother was last up at the lakes 16 years ago — “I can’t believe we waited sixteen years to come here again.” — around when she’d have conceived Alicia maybe?
    All and all a great story with lots to ponder.
    4stars. Thanks much, Joanna!

    • joanna b.

      thanks, terrytvgal, for your comment.
      endings are so difficult. to paraphrase that song, “breaking up with a story is hard to do.”
      this story has gone through many different endings and i still wasn’t all that confident about the one i ended up with.
      what i decided though, in terms of technique i guess you’d call it, was to stick with the voice of the narrator, Alicia.
      and to not indulge the voice of the writer who, take it from me, would have loved to obsess for another thousand words about what might or might not have happened next to every character in the story.

      • MPmcgurty

        Beginnings and endings are the most difficult for me, even without word count constraints. Sometimes people feel they have to end them “cute” or make the ending complete a circle to the beginning. I am like terrytvgal: I am very often disappointed with endings to short stories, especially with flash. But I think you did a superb job here.

      • kat

        I found the story to be clilched and superficial. I think that perhaps this Should be turned into a novel, and let us see what happens to Alicia and the rest of the characters. Go deeper and warmer, even with the voice of the character. I think it’s in there.

  • BUD CLAYMAN

    This was a GREAT story! One of the best I’ve ever read on this site. Looking forward to more of your work.

  • BUD CLAYMAN

    This was a GREAT story! One of the best I’ve ever read on this site. Looking forward to more of your work.

  • Chuck Meyers

    Fantastic. Great story.

  • Chuck Meyers

    Fantastic. Great story.

  • Tibor Simic

    An in-your-face story that plays on the reader’s identification with an outcast. The basic plot is a bit of a cliché – a talented but misfit girl is repressed by her mother and tormented by her peers until she erupts and does something violent, that’s more or less the jacket blurb of Stephen King’s Carrie. The story is improved by some intriguing exploration of what beauty and nature mean, and an interesting and tragic ending. By embracing her “Neanderthal” side, the girl is negating who she truly is, a highly developed, observant, eloquent, intelligent person, and embraces the identity the society constructed for her based on her looks. Food for thought!

    The writing style could do without telling what we already inferred from character’s actions. For example: “Mother’s mastered the art of speaking from a lofty place.”

    I think this story is ultimately more likeable than truly good. Three stars.

    • joanna b.

      Tibor Simic, i enjoy your comments on EDF immensely. i began to worry that you were not going to chime in at all on this story. thank you for doing so. i think your last sentence gives me the Miss Congeniality award and, believe me, I’ll take it and run.

      • Tibor Simic

        Hi! Since you’re participating in the comments section, could you kindly say how close or far from your own thoughts I was with my comment that “the girl is negating who she truly is?” Just curious.

        • joanna b.

          Tibor,
          the thing is, i don’t see Alicia as two-sided: Neanderthal side vs. “who she truly is.” i never have seen her as two-sided. i see her as Alicia, flesh and blood and real and adolescent. she’s many-sided, if you like. i can accept that. along with all the rest of your comment.
          Joanna

          • Tibor Simic

            Thank you for the insightful reply. Everyone sees a story through their own glasses, of course, so there’s no “right” and “wrong,” just different readings.
            Congratulations on your story’s overall success, and all the best with your future writing. I’ll remain your faithful and critical reader.

  • Tibor Simic

    An in-your-face story that plays on the reader’s identification with an outcast. The basic plot is a bit of a cliché – a talented but misfit girl is repressed by her mother and tormented by her peers until she erupts and does something violent, that’s more or less the jacket blurb of Stephen King’s Carrie. The story is improved by some intriguing exploration of what beauty and nature mean, and an interesting and tragic ending. By embracing her “Neanderthal” side, the girl is negating who she truly is, a highly developed, observant, eloquent, intelligent person, and embraces the identity the society constructed for her based on her looks. Food for thought!

    The writing style could do without telling what we already inferred from character’s actions. For example: “Mother’s mastered the art of speaking from a lofty place.”

    I think this story is ultimately more likeable than truly good. Three stars.

    • joanna b.

      Tibor Simic, i enjoy your comments on EDF immensely. i began to worry that you were not going to chime in at all on this story. thank you for doing so. i think your last sentence gives me the Miss Congeniality award and, believe me, I’ll take it and run.

      • Tibor Simic

        Hi! Since you’re participating in the comments section, could you kindly say how close or far from your own thoughts I was with my comment that “the girl is negating who she truly is?” Just curious.

        • joanna b.

          Tibor,
          the thing is, i don’t see Alicia as two-sided: Neanderthal side vs. “who she truly is.” i never have seen her as two-sided. i see her as Alicia, flesh and blood and real and adolescent. she’s many-sided, if you like. i can accept that. along with all the rest of your comment.
          Joanna

          • Tibor Simic

            Thank you for the insightful reply. Everyone sees a story through their own glasses, of course, so there’s no “right” and “wrong,” just different readings.
            Congratulations on your story’s overall success, and all the best with your future writing. I’ll remain your faithful and critical reader.

  • joanna b.

    This has been a truly lovely day for me, clicking in and reading these reviews. Thank you to everyone who has commented.

    Sarah, you commented on a story a few months back about “trudging” being a kind of cliche. Based on that comment i cut the original first line of this story: “We trudge up and up.” And good riddance to it.

    Joseph Kaufman and the other EDF reviewers made some good suggestions for a minor revision. The revision turned out to be more than minor although, thank God, less than major.

    EDF is truly amazing. I’ve had stories rejected here too but to get thorough critiques of those stories from the editors is so unusual in the writing world these days. And so generous.

    Mainly I’m glad my throwback girl Alicia was so well-received.

  • joanna b.

    This has been a truly lovely day for me, clicking in and reading these reviews. Thank you to everyone who has commented.

    Sarah, you commented on a story a few months back about “trudging” being a kind of cliche. Based on that comment i cut the original first line of this story: “We trudge up and up.” And good riddance to it.

    Joseph Kaufman and the other EDF reviewers made some good suggestions for a minor revision. The revision turned out to be more than minor although, thank God, less than major.

    EDF is truly amazing. I’ve had stories rejected here too but to get thorough critiques of those stories from the editors is so unusual in the writing world these days. And so generous.

    Mainly I’m glad my throwback girl Alicia was so well-received.

  • Carl Steiger

    I’m still chewing on this one. I did not want it to end the way it did. Even though Alicia’s (re)action is certainly understandable, and the dire consequences unintentional, the lapse in judgment left me less sympathetic for her than I had been.

    Well, even talented misfits aren’t perfect, and it’s a great story anyway.

    • Tibor Simic

      I felt that Alicia betrayed her intelligence to embrace her “Neanderthal” looks so. By smashing her sister’s head on a rock, even by accident, and running into the woods, she validated what society’s looks-based assessment of herself.

      It would be interesting to see a misfit story where the talented misfit finds a way to fit in, perhaps through a hobby or subculture.

      • People tend to conform to expectations. Because of the constant pressure of her mother’s expectation of brutality and Mother’s simultaneous rejection of that brutality, Alicia would be driven to animalistic behavior for two reasons: to conform and to rebel. Since she’s caught from both sides, I wouldn’t expect anything different.

  • Carl Steiger

    I’m still chewing on this one. I did not want it to end the way it did. Even though Alicia’s (re)action is certainly understandable, and the dire consequences unintentional, the lapse in judgment left me less sympathetic for her than I had been.

    Well, even talented misfits aren’t perfect, and it’s a great story anyway.

    • Tibor Simic

      I felt that Alicia betrayed her intelligence to embrace her “Neanderthal” looks so. By smashing her sister’s head on a rock, even by accident, and running into the woods, she validated what society’s looks-based assessment of herself.

      It would be interesting to see a misfit story where the talented misfit finds a way to fit in, perhaps through a hobby or subculture.

      • People tend to conform to expectations. Because of the constant pressure of her mother’s expectation of brutality and Mother’s simultaneous rejection of that brutality, Alicia would be driven to animalistic behavior for two reasons: to conform and to rebel. Since she’s caught from both sides, I wouldn’t expect anything different.

  • MPmcgurty

    Disturbing but in an unflinching tone. Alicia’s voice was great. As they climbed I knew some tragedy was going to occur, but I have to admit I was surprised at the choice. Alicia’s sudden affection for Mindy didn’t seem so sudden after reading the story again. Five stars.

    This reminded me of a short story – I think by Harlan Ellison – where the babies on another planet suddenly are being born hairy and resembling primates. Can’t remember the name of it.

  • MPmcgurty

    Disturbing but in an unflinching tone. Alicia’s voice was great. As they climbed I knew some tragedy was going to occur, but I have to admit I was surprised at the choice. Alicia’s sudden affection for Mindy didn’t seem so sudden after reading the story again. Five stars.

    This reminded me of a short story – I think by Harlan Ellison – where the babies on another planet suddenly are being born hairy and resembling primates. Can’t remember the name of it.

  • Cranky Steven

    Five stars for a great story and because I hate those type of dolls. Should have smacked her sister with the rock again for having one.

  • Cranky Steven

    Five stars for a great story and because I hate those type of dolls. Should have smacked her sister with the rock again for having one.

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