“Well!” Clarice said briskly. “That’s just silly thoughts. Of course, Gerry won’t come in here. Why would he? This isn’t even our house.”
“Anyway!” She got out of bed. “Need to make sure I’m all shipshape and shined up bright. I don’t want to come downstairs looking like a forlorn messy bed hit me. That would not be a good look.”
Sarah made up her mind. She felt relieved that The Institute never tried to make scrambled eggs. Because there simply was no way that they’d ever make it worthwhile, much less delicious. Not only would it be gray and slimy, but it would be devoid of ANY flavor. That was truth. That was fact. Undeniable fact. The Institute had no idea how to make anything good.
She lowered her fork. But if that was true, what about herself? Was she nothing good? Was she no different than the lifeless, miserable meals they made?
She set the fork on her plate and raised her hand before her face. Flames sputtered and flickered haphazardly on her hand and fingers.
It was true.
They had created her to be a monster. But somehow even less than a monster. She was a thing to be bought and used to kill. To burn. To destroy lives and homes and whatever she was commanded to destroy. Only to be passed on to the next person who wanted to use her.
She was nothing good.
Sarah frowned. The flames flared hotter before diving back into her skin.
Maybe it was true. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe she was a princess or an opera diva.
Maybe she was just a little girl.
She got out of her seat and marched steadfastly out of the room and all the way out of the house. She continued her march down the porch steps and into the front yard.
Robins, chickadees, cardinals, and a solitary blue jay sang in the trees — all proclaiming the joy of spring while also declaring their NO TRESPASSING lines.
But Sarah wasn’t outside to enjoy their melody-making fests. She turned in the direction of The Institute and stomped her foot on the ground. She drew a flaming X in the air.
She opened her mouth wide to scream and yell, “I AM NOT YOUR MONSTER!” But the words did not leave her throat. They couldn’t. No matter how hard she tried to force the words out, nothing. Not even a squeak.
She stomped her foot on the ground again and let loose a silent scream. Fiery tentacles emerged from her back, crackling and snapping in the air.
The blue jay scolded her before flying away. The chickadees held their places in the trees and aggressively “dee-dee-dee-dee”d at her. The robins and cardinals ignored the fiery spectacle and kept singing about love and property lines.
Sarah’s hair sparked in irregular patterns as she thought about what Carthage had said to Barbara.
“What is her name?” Barbara asked. “If she is your daughter, what is her name?”
“XQ, obviously.” Carthage looked annoyed. “What else would we name her?”
“There are like over 12,000 girl names per country that you could have chosen.”
“Yes, but what would be the point in giving her a personal name? XQ is what she is. Why bother naming her Jane or Sally when she is nothing but an XQ? She is a commodity, little miss receptionist. Something to be bought and sold and used. She is a fire creature. There are people who would pay millions of dollars to use her.”
Nothing but an XQ? A commodity. Not a someone? A something. Not just a something. A fire creature to be bought and sold and bought and sold over and over and over.
Sarah stomped her foot and furiously shook her head. She was Sarah. She was a little girl. She liked The Phantom of the Opera, Barbara and Ambrose, well-cooked food, pretty dresses, comfortable clothes, and many other things.
She was NOT just an XQ.
She was a person.
She was her own unique self.
Carthage could just go to the burned down Institute and eat those awful non-chicken nuggets for denying her personhood.