Fiction

An Ode to John Doe

By Maya Mossanen

To whom it may concern,

My name is Jake Mosley, and I think I am a great fit for your school because….
because….
well.
Maybe I’ll start by telling you a little about myself. I’m from Jefferson Ohio, birthplace of the great State senator Benjamin Franklin wade. Not to be confused with Benjamin Franklin the founding father… I don’t think anyone that important has come out of Jefferson Ohio and I don’t
think that’s changing anytime soon.

You can’t add that, you are supposed to convince them that you are the next great thing to come out of Jefferson Ohio, but counselor Addams also said I can’t lie in a college essay, “Let your inner colors shine through and they will love you, Jake.” Yea sure but what are my inner colors. All I’m known for is being that freakishly tall kid who jumped off the school roof into the
lap pool as a sophomore because Sophia Nelson bet he wouldn’t. Would have been a cool story if I hadn’t underestimated the distance and landed only half in the pool and half out of it. My scrawny abdomen bright red from slapping against the water and my left leg broken from hitting
the cement edge of the pool. It was a pretty dramatic day. All the girls in sophomore P.E. started screaming and the usually rowdy boys fell silent for once. When the principal showed my mother the security tape a week later I could see why everyone was so scared. My lanky body lay in a
tangled mess half in the water half out of it. To be honest it kinda looked like I was dead. For a second I was startled by that thought but recently the picture of my body strewn on the cold cement has been appearing behind my closed eyes more and more often.

I spent that summer in a cast. I watched as all my friends went swimming, rode their bikes to the diner, and met girls. What was that about? Just last year girls had been the last thing on any of our minds, we would watch in confusion as the girls did…well girl stuff. It felt like everyone around me was growing up except me. Like the cast on my left leg was somehow
anchoring me to the person I was sophomore year, lost yet somehow in the same exact place I’d always been.

God! Why am I thinking about this again? I can’t seem to focus at all nowadays, whenever I do I just start thinking about the past. I don’t know why it’s not like the past is even that great or anything. It’s just a blur that started when the colors that filled my first 14 laps around the sun slipped away freshman year and were replaced with… school and… “life.” That grey blur stretched all the way to today except for one blip of color, one day, one magical and perfect day. To most, it would seem like any other day but for me, it was something big. It appears behind my eyes almost as much as the image I saw on the security tape while my mother cried silently beside me.

It was July tenth summer before senior year, I woke up just like usual, got dressed brushed my teeth in front of the dirty bathroom mirror I shared with my little sister. The sink was littered with her leave-in conditioners, half-empty mascara tubes, and enough skincare products to clear up all the acne in North America. If you were to look at the sink you wouldn’t even realize It was just as much mine as it was hers. The only mark I left was my blue toothbrush and an almost empty tube of Colgate toothpaste. Seemed fitting in a way.

I walked downstairs, that’s when my monotonous morning routine was interrupted by the sound of her voice. I would know it anywhere Sophia Nelson. I peered around the staircase into the kitchen. She was sitting on our counter talking to my mother. Her auburn hair laid tangled against her yellow and orange striped t-shirt. Her hands were clasped in her lap as she talked to my mother in the same tone she used when answering a math problem in Mr. Shelby’s class. “I’m sorry sweetie is there anything I can do to help?” My mother asked in her friendly neighbor voice. It’s important to note that Sophia has been our next-door neighbor for as long as I can remember. From my window, I could see her playing with her golden receiver puppy in their backyard, having friends over for sleepovers, and doing her homework on their roof, it made me happy to watch her just living her life. I’m not sure why. I liked the way her face would light up when she Lady would learn a new trick, and how she would set up their trampoline with a bunch of pillows and blankets for all of her friends to watch movies on. It seemed so pure like her life was filled with a rainbow of colors that she got to explore every day. That’s why I was so confused when the arguing started sophomore year. I would hear it coming from their kitchen or their back porch. At first, they tried to conceal it. They bicker in hushed tones when Sophia wasn’t around, but eventually, it seemed like they didn’t have the energy to hide it from her any longer. Yelling would explode at random times it seemed to shake the house so hard Sophia would crawl out onto the roof just to escape it. She would sit there staring into the distance as the two people she loved the most picked each other apart bit by bit. I wondered what she was thinking in that colorful mind of hers.

Even though I knew things were bad at her house I was surprised to see her sitting in our kitchen it almost seemed like she was some figment of my imagination. She had never come over even when the arguing was so loud it would keep me up at night, she stayed. I wondered how bad things had gotten, bad enough to force her to seek solace somewhere farther away from it than her mossy roof.

“Can I just stay here for the day?” Her quiet math question voice asked my Mother.

“Of course dear, I have work in 20 minutes so I have to leave but you are welcome to say as long as you would like, make yourself at home.”

My mother left her sitting on the kitchen counter and started walking towards the stairwell. I backed up a couple of steps and started walking down so she would know that I had been eavesdropping.

“Oh, Jake good you’re up, Sophia Nelson is here, this stays between you and me but I think her parents are having a little trouble in paradise if you know what I mean.” I nodded as if I hadn’t heard the yelling that rocked their house for the past week.

“I think she needed a little break and that’s why she’s here, I have to go to work but could you do me a favor and spend the day with her. I think she really needs a friend right now.” I nodded again. I tried to hide how my stomach flipped at the thought of spending a whole day with Sophia Nelson. What if she got bored or annoyed with me, I’m nothing like her preppy shiny friends they are so full of color and noise.

Despite every thought in my head telling me to go back upstairs and avoid the certain disaster headed my way I walked into the kitchen. She didn’t see me at first. She was busy fiddling with the kitchen aid lighter we use to start our old stove. Flick Flick Flick… I watched as the flame illuminated her shadowed face and then flickered out.

“Hey.” She turned her head.

“Hey.” I already didn’t know what to say. I felt my hands get clammy and we stared at each other silently for a little too long.

“Wanna go get breakfast? I asked.

“Sure.” She said yet this time, not in her math question tone, this was a different tone, I couldn’t tell what it meant.

We walked side by side down our street. We passed perfect rows of white houses, children playing in their front lawns, and the paperboy who rides his bike up and down our street every Monday. It was easier talking to her than I thought it would be. We slipped into a conversation about school but soon found ourselves talking about books, and friends, and even what kind of dog she wants when she gets older… an Australian Shepard named Shiva. It was nice talking to her about the future. It didn’t make me all feel scared and anxious like it does when I talk to our school counselor about it. I liked hearing her plans they sounded so bright and hopeful she actually knew what she wanted to do.

“I wanna go to veterinary school and someday open up a little clinic so I can help keep people’s animals healthy… I guess it’s not gonna really save the world or anything like that, but it’s something good you know.” The thought of her and her little veterinary clinic made me smile. We walked into the diner. It’s the same place everyone from our high school had been going for years. It was the kinda place with a checkered floor that played the same five Elvis songs on repeat. Good for a greasy burger or solid stack of chocolate chip pancakes. We sat down at one of the old booths in the back. It had cracked red leather benches and a table sticky with coffee rings.

“So what do you wanna do?” She asked as she slid me a menu.

“To be honest I don’t really know, I’ve never felt like I had a calling. I don’t really have a lot of talents or anything like you with animals. I’m kinda just a regular John Doe I guess.”

“What does that mean”

“I don’t really know I heard it in a TV show once these cops were talking about this guy they couldn’t identify. Like there was nothing special enough about him for him to be recognizable. No one knew who he was so they just called him John Doe. Sometimes I think I’m kinda like that guy.” She looked at me for a second like really looked at me. I worried maybe what I had said was a little too weird.

“I don’t think that, I think the cops would recognize you. If I were one of the cops I would say hey I know that guy he lives on East street. I always see him riding his bike in the rain, and doodling stuff in this brown sketchbook on his lawn. And whenever someone new moves to East street he walks over to their house with his mom and they give the new neighbors an apple pie.” I sat for a second stunned that someone like Sophia Nelson actually cared enough to pay attention to my life.

“What?” she asked “I’m not a stalker or anything it’s just stuff I noticed, we’ve been neighbors since we were kids”

The waiter came we both ordered the chocolate chip pancakes and she got a black coffee.

“I guess I just didn’t think you were paying attention,” I said. She looked genuinely confused.

“Seriously? Why do you think I dared you to rump off the roof sophomore year?” My crumpled body flashed behind my eyes.

“I don’t know… because you thought it would be funny?”

“No, because I wanted to get your attention, I thought you were cool, but after you got hurt I felt so bad I couldn’t bring myself to talk to you. I felt like it was my fault. And then you had to be in a cast all summer, that must have been terrible.”

“It really wasn’t that bad” I lied.

That had been the worst summer of my life, but the concern in her voice somehow made it feel worth it. The fact that I was sitting here having this conversation with her somehow made it all worth it.

We kept talking in between bites of fluffy chocolate chip pancakes, and when she finished her second cup of black coffee I paid we and left. I could tell she didn’t want to go home yet so we walked to the dog park. We sat on a little bench in the afternoon sun and watched as people played fetch and walked with their dogs. We weren’t even talking anymore, we just sat there quietly enjoying each others company without having to say a word. That’s when something amazing happened. She reached out and untangled my clasped hands. She pulled my hand to the center of the bench and just held it there. Our hands intertwined between us felt like a bridge connecting us, letting her colorful light slowly spread from her heart, down her arm, into her hand, and finally to me. I felt the light fill my chest and soon my body was buzzing. I could tell hers was too. We were both grinning. For a second she wasn’t thinking about her parents and I couldn’t imagine the way I looked that day laying on the cement.

Like I said it’s not a day that would seem extraordinary to anyone else, but for me it was special. Honestly it was probably the best day of my life, because that day didn’t feel grey it felt like the rainbow and I don’t know how else to describe it.

Sophia and I didn’t really hang out again after that. I would see her at school and wave. She always smiled back, but that was it. Eventually the color faded away and that day we shared became a memory I like to think about now and then. Even though I’m sure she doesn’t think about that day as much as I do, here I am still applying to her dream school.

So, admissions committee I make no promises to be the next Benjamin franklin, founding father or state senator for that matter. However, I can honestly say I see a bright and colorful future ahead of me at your school…

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