BIRTHDAY GIRL • by Angela Hui

Of course not, Momma’d never hurt me. She never raised a hand to me, never had a reason to. Every day she’d tell me, “Jenny, you’re such a good girl. You’re such a wonderful little girl,” and she would buy me lots of presents. She never got mad either, just a little sad when I got confused.

For some reason I’ve never thought my name is really Jenny. I’m not sure what it is but somehow I just always knew Momma was wrong. And whenever I told her, which I tried to remember not to do, she just cried and cried and begged me not to be so silly. Then she’d buy me another dollhouse, another Barbie, another toy that I’d never seen before and say, “Here, Jenny. Your favorite! This is your favorite, don’t you remember? This is your favorite, Jenny,” as if pleading with me to play that game with her, so I did, and my name is Jenny.

Momma worked most days. She sold dolls and action figures in the Outside. It isn’t safe in the Outside, she’d always remind me, and that was why I had to stay in the Inside, in the Downstairs, away from all the bad people and monsters that could hurt me. I liked the Downstairs, but sometimes when Momma wasn’t around I would climb up to the window and peek through the blinds, through the bars meant to keep the bad things out, and look at all the others go. I wanted to tell them to watch out and come join me in the Inside but then I would remember that they might be evil too. It’s important to keep that in mind, Momma would say, that everything and everyone in the Outside could be dangerous.

Did you know it was going to be my birthday in one day? That’s the way it always was, of course. I was always turning six in a day, because that’s how it worked. Hidden in a corner of the downstairs is a big box covered in what used to be pink wrapping paper. It’s turning gray now but it’s still so pretty. A long time ago, many days — or maybe months — ago, I took a peek at the card tucked behind the faded ribbon and it said something like, “Happy birthday, Jenny! Momma loves you and hopes you like this present!” except I could never open it since it wasn’t my birthday yet. Momma would say the actual day doesn’t come, that’s just the way things happen.
Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, my name is Jenny. I had to remember that so Momma would stop getting sad. I couldn’t tell her how confused I was getting, all of the weird dreams I had been having about the Outside, and the feeling that all of my clothes and all of my toys were someone else’s.

The dreams were so real that I just couldn’t ignore them. Me laughing, playing in the Outside. I’m so small. I can barely keep my balance waddling on two little feet, so a pair of warm soft hands keeps me from tumbling to the ground. They’re not Momma’s — hers are cold and bony — but the faces are always hazy, the voices distorted. Somehow, though, the visions kept popping up in my mind during the day, threatening to leap from my lips and bring Momma to tears.

Sometimes I would hear voices from the Upstairs, usually offering up facepaint or holy books. Momma would come down later and tell me not to worry, that some people from the Outside had gotten in but she managed to keep them away from me. Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, she would repeat, I was the most important thing in the world and that’s why she had to protect me from everything, that’s why I had to stay away from the Outside.

When you found me earlier I was very scared. I had never heard so much noise before, and I covered my ears and cried because I thought the world was ending. Someone was pounding on the door and yelling, and at first I did nothing because I knew that Momma built the walls to be thick and strong and the door to stay locked so that I would always be protected.

“Step away from the window!” I heard you scream, and it’s a good thing I did because the glass shattered and the bars were wrenched off and all of a sudden the Outside was so close. You ripped the blinds away and there was too much light. I felt a thousand arms grabbing me, pulling me through the window, and there were so many voices telling me that it was all going to be okay, that I had been saved. Still I kept on crying because there was just too much everywhere, and when I took my first gasp of air from the Outside I thought I would die because it was so new and so empty.

At the same time, though, I was happy because I had this strange little thought in my head. Since everything seemed to be moving around and happening here in the Outside, I thought maybe, just maybe, today could be my birthday.

Angela Hui is a student currently residing in the United States. She enjoys running, rock climbing, Rolle’s theorem and writing.

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Every Day Fiction