Everybody Has It
by Nicole Smith
Andi tried to unlink the chain from her wrist, but no amount of struggling loosened it; it was impossibly locked. Andi’s eyes locked onto the sheer bag which lay on the bed beside her; attached to it was a chain about four feet long, whose end connected to the bracelet like chain that encircled her wrist.
She ventured down to the basement and returned with her dad’s toolkit, fumbling through it until she located pliers. This should do the trick. However, twisting the pliers against the chain in every which way only led to futile scratches and Andi’s increased frustration.
She flung the useless metal tool down and reached for the next closest object, a hammer. She slipped the chain between the claw and pulled it away from her, grimacing as one side of the chain strained against her wrist.
After several unproductive seconds, Andi flung her hand against the wooden nightstand in frustration and groaned when pain shot through her knuckles.
Andi sighed; the bag seemed attached to her permanently. It also did no good to try to remove the weights from her bag; every time Andi almost drew a weight out of the opening, an invisible force seemed to thrust it back in.
One of the worst things was getting dressed in the morning. Andi’s favorite season was the summer, just so she could wear a tank top. Whenever she wore a long-sleeved shirt, she had to work the sleeve carefully under her chain and over her arm, oftentimes resulting in an exasperating dance and much rattling from her bag.
Andi next rummaged into her nightstand to find the list she’d been documenting since the first appearance. The first one read: 8 years old — 2 pounds.
* * *
At eight, Andi was racing alongside her brother, enveloped in a cloak of night. The scooter wobbled back and forth dangerously, but Andi was determined to beat her brother to the finish line of their driveway.
At some point, she could no longer distinguish where the edge of asphalt met the curb. The scooter began leaning heavily to the left, and the next thing Andi felt was a throbbing pain in her knee. She was knocked onto her side on the street, and blood flowed from her wound. The resulting bruise turned each color of the rainbow for days on end before finally settling on an ugly marking of raised dots and uneven lines that dressed her entire knee.
It was the one part of her body she abhorred. Short-shorts became a fashion to be avoided. Friends throughout middle school teased her for wearing long “mom” shorts and skirts.
After the imprinting of her scar, Andi felt something weighing her down, creating extra effort with each step.
The bag was given to her by an attendant at her fifth birthday ceremony. It had always followed loosely behind her, and she’d barely thought twice to consider its purpose. Children were encouraged to look forward to the day as a momentous occasion, as if all they were receiving was a particular kind of flashy bracelet. Now, she rummaged in the bag to inspect the item that had magically sprouted. A small black sphere, with dim lettering.
A two pound weight was revealed.
Her first physical scar.
Andi shook her head to clear it and studied the next transcription that jumped out at her: 12 years old — 5 pounds.
* * *
The six girls were sitting in Audrey’s princess-themed room and munching on cookies when the clock’s tick announced it was 3:00 a.m.
Audrey moaned, throwing her head back, “I’m bored.” They’d already played Truth or Dare and a game of Twister that had ended in a sprained ankle for Audrey’s friend Maura. They had tripped over each other’s chains, of course. And they were running out of food to snack on. “C’mon, doesn’t anyone else have any ideas, or do I have to always be the one?” Audrey puffed her lips out as she surveyed the room of girls, all of whom remained nervously quiet.
The most daring of Andi’s friends, Stephanie, broke the silence: “I have an idea...” And that was how the six of them came to be standing in front of the pond a block down the street, shivering slightly in the not-quite spring wind.
“Now what do we do?” Audrey demanded, raising her eyebrows at Stephanie. The girls were standing in a circle facing the pond, Stephanie on one side of Andi and Krista on the other. All of the girls possessed sheer yet durable bags that attached to their wrist by chains. They appeared identical, but the amount of weights in each of their bags varied.
“The person who loses has to jump in,” Stephanie explained.
“Nose goes!” Everyone besides Andi shouted in unison, who was still processing what had just occurred.
“But... I can’t...” Andi protested.
“What, are you a coward?” Audrey taunted. “You were last, so you have to jump.” Audrey’s cohorts, Maura and Liz stood behind her, heads nodding in agreement.
Liz spoke up. “Steph should make her do it.”
Maura hung onto this suggestion. “Yeah, Steph, if you want to be friends with us, we need Andi to be in the water.” Andi and her two close friends, Stephanie and Krista, had been waiting for a chance to receive their acceptance into Audrey’s group, but hadn’t expected the opportunity so suddenly.
Shock flitted across Stephanie’s face. “I—”
“Oh, forget it,” Audrey scoffed. “I don’t know why I ever thought you might be cool enough to be in our club.”
Stephanie appeared dumbstruck one minute and, the next, Andi heard a movement to her right. Someone shoved her and icy water engulfed her. Andi’s lungs screamed and she flopped and floundered for what felt like ages, her bag’s one weight assisting in the tug towards the bottom of the pond. She vaguely registered laughs in the background, until a hand grabbed her by the back of her t-shirt. It was Krista who pulled her out.
Spluttering, Andi turned towards the group. The guilt painted on Stephanie’s face confirmed it was Andi’s friend that had turned on her.
Instantly, Andi felt her body grow heavier. After Krista had volunteered to walk home with Andi, whose house was just down the street, Andi managed to sneak back into her house and sank onto her bed. Andi rummaged in her bag to find a bigger, yet basically identical object to the first.
That was when she learned to be careful when choosing her friends.
Weight: 5 pounds.
* * *
Andi turned the list over for a minute, contemplating how a friendship that could dissolve so suddenly could still affect her.
Some people bragged about what filled their bags, proud of feeling “tough” for lugging such a large amount of weight around all the time, saying that it made them stronger, molded them into who they were. But many times, Andi knew it was just a front. Maybe if they faked it enough, they’d believe it, and the weight might actually feel lighter.
Andi returned to letting her eyes fall on a line close to the end of her list. At this point in her mid-twenties, Andi had acquired multiple weights from the boys. They were clumped in a section of her bag; it was the things they told her that accumulated and haunted her.
23 years old — 17 pounds.
Andi peered into her bag, reaching in until she held in her palm one of the heaviest weights.
* * *
Andi found herself talking Colin down from one ridiculous burst to the next. His unpredictable mood swings were insufferable. Yet she was drawn back every time with Colin’s sporadic exuberance, that smile that could make stars seethe with jealousy.
Their conversation always found a way to resurface. It only ended in denial and kisses that drowned.
“You’re just too good, I’m only going to ruin that.” It didn’t help that he spoke these words while outlining her face with his finger and looking into her eyes.
“That’s what I’m here for, you know. I can keep part of it, make it better,” Andi would say. The desire to take everything that haunted Colin coursed through Andi; the pain of his parents’ separation, the distance between him and his siblings. This was when she began to alter her beliefs about people swapping their weights.
“I need to handle it myself. My bag is twice as heavy as yours. You’d only end up with way more than you bargained for.”
Nothing could sway Colin this time; her phone stayed empty of his name and her ears of his voice.
Weight: 17 pounds.
It was at about this addition that Andi truly began to notice the weight. She’d pull her right arm forward with extra force, while her left swung effortlessly beside her. Sometimes Andi would wake up with every bone in her body aching due to the strain the extra pounds put on her muscles.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Nicole Smith