Yesterday, our English teacher told us that phrases are incomplete sentences and independent clauses are complete, standalone sentences. She gave us an example that day, scrawled it on the board, the chalk raking against the surface in a way that shaved through me and made my insides coil.
She wrote this on the board, these two words, and told us to identify whether this was a phrase or an independent clause. I shot up my hand. Phrase, I called out.
She smiles tightly through white teeth arranged so perfectly I wonder if she got dental surgery. I wonder how expensive that was. I wonder why she’s teaching at this school if she has enough money for dental surgery. If I had as much money as she did, I’d already be on a bus out of here.
No, you’re wrong, she says and her sharp voice yanks me back to the chipped walls, the crowded desks, the stench of sweat and mint gum stuck in the air. It’s an independent clause. The class snickers and I want to glare at them, but instead I sink deep in my seat, the soft fabric of my jeans sliding down the metal chair until my torso is slumped under the desk and only my chin rests on the cold plastic table. Sit up, she says. I don’t. I slump further down, until I’m basically lying down on my chair. It’s an uncomfortable position, and the hard, icy metal of the seat rods press into my shoulder blades but I don’t sit up.
The teacher looks at me for a moment, and then turns away. I’m not surprised. Everyone gives up on me at some point.
I look back to the board. The words are still there, unforgiving in its careless scribble. I’ve changed. It seems like there should be more. I’ve changed isn’t enough. It’s never enough. There has to be more.
I think back to the evening before, when I walked into the jewelry store and slipped an emerald necklace into my hoodie pocket. The teenage cashier, lost in her phone, didn’t notice a thing. When I went back outside to the chilling winter air, I fingered the sharp facets of the emerald. I wanted to yank it out of my pocket and drop it in the sewage drain. I looked at the silver chain in my hand, the evening sun twisting it into a kaleidoscope of color. It felt like a gun.
Even more than the necklace, my thoughts scared me. If I didn’t watch out for myself, who would?
I’ve changed. I have changed. Or maybe I’m changing. I didn’t drop the necklace into the drain.
But I thought about it. I almost let go. And next time, maybe I will.
‘I’ve changed’ should be a phrase. It’s incomplete.
Tara Prakash is a sophomore at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. Her work has been recognized in Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (where she won a National Gold Medal), YoungArts, Blue Marble Review, Bow Seat's Ocean Awareness Contest, The Daphne Review, Beaver Magazine, and other literary journals and platforms. She loves writing poetry, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction. In her free time, she enjoys camping with her Scouts troop, hiking, and playing soccer.
"Street storm drain" by Fried Dough is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.