New Spring Green (Rebecca Ackermann)

When Ceci arrived at our school, she was wearing a green t-shirt with a little green cricket embroidered on it, and corduroy pants printed with brushes dipped in red and blue paint. Her socks were dotted with fluffy white clouds, and around her wrist she wore a scrunchy the color of boardwalk mustard. Each item made her look a year younger than the rest of us, and the way she ducked and hid behind her long lashes made her seem younger still. She was obviously pretty, but style ruled. We all understood that jeans were the right pick now, and animals, bright colors, silly socks should be left behind on the school’s first floor, where the elementary school kids squirmed and shouted until they learned better. Maybe the rules were different where Ceci came from or maybe she didn’t get to choose. Regardless of the truth, I met her and forgot her all in the same two minutes.

Gymnastics was my thing. Everyone knew that when I slipped on my purple leotard with the leggings that go over, not under it, they were about to see an incredible show. My body could whip through the air like a pinwheel in the breeze, physically inevitable and extraordinary at once. I wore my hair in one long braid and it spun too, a flourish on my tricks like an exclamation point on an already-perfect sentence. When I left 6th period early for practice each week, the other kids watched with envy and admiration; Ms. Gomes always nodded a silent message of support for my mature dedication. I knew I would be headlining the talent show.

I auditioned in front of a panel of teachers, conducted by Ms. Gomes and the two circles of her glasses, reflecting my own achievement back at me. I smiled and flicked my fingers up and out at the conclusion of my demonstration of expertise. Ms. Gomes nodded and then the other teachers did too. I bowed deeply and walked out of the gym, barely noticing Ceci in line behind me.

The night of the talent show I blinked my eyes into the darkness of the auditorium to find my dad’s curly hair and fuzzy beard. As I waited for my turn, my purple leotard felt tight, sweat bloomed and went stale under my leggings. I wished my mom could see me shine.

Ms. Gomes spoke Ceci’s name into the scratchy microphone and out she came in her cricket t-shirt. Now she wore long green leggings too and a sparkly green swim cap covering her hair. “Get ready for the Dance of 1,000 Crickets!” Ms. Gomes announced, and the audience clapped, politely and out of sync. I practiced my back handspring in my head.

Ceci launched onto the stage, leaping and bouncing like the floorboards were rubber not shellacked wood veneer. Her body blurred into a single green curve, a light and agile insect lost in the ecstasy of existence. Ceci wasn’t a shy girl with a weird shirt anymore; she was a cricket born brilliantly into being. The audience gasped in unison as she flipped backwards and then forwards, landing in a graceful split only to spring up again. I hunted for my dad’s face in the crowd and caught him, mouth open, eyebrows raised in awe. I traced his gaze to the other side of the stage, where Ms. Gomes and her glasses were smiling at him in return.

I’ve run the next part through my mind over and over, trying to identify the moment when jealousy took possession of me. I know now it was when I witnessed my dad mouth the word “beautiful” at my favorite teacher. I imagined my mother, a silvery ghost who only existed in the air around my father and I, hearing it and looking over to see what talented girl had impressed him. It wasn’t me. I threw myself on stage and on top of Ceci, scratching and scrabbling until I could feel us both propel off the side of the stage and slam onto the hard floor. Ceci’s body landed on mine with the crunch of 1,000,000 crickets, my arm snapping where her hip found safety. She was crying, her swim cap half covering her eyes and the embroidered insect on her shirt unraveling on two sides. Ms. Gomes rushed over to us, her face squeezed into panic, and reached for Ceci first. 

“That shirt is for little kids,” I growled at Ceci from under her, surging with fury, grief, and adrenaline but not yet pain. I wouldn’t do my tumbling performance that night or ever again.

“You’re a bad person,” Ceci whispered between soft sobs. Maybe she was trying to hurt me back or maybe she was right. Regardless of the truth, I was relieved that my dad, Ms. Gomes, or my mom would never get the chance to see for sure that Ceci was better at anything than me.


Rebecca Ackermann is a writer, designer, and artist living in San Francisco. Her short fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Flash Frog, and elsewhere. Her essays have been published by MIT Tech Review, Electric Lit, and The New York Times, among other outlets. She’s currently a Fiction Reader for Okay Donkey, and you can find her tweeting strong opinions @rebackermann.

image: Christine Naprava is a writer from South Jersey with a soft spot for photography. You can find her on Twitter @CNaprava and Instagram @cnaprava.