“Playing It Safe” by Hema Nataraju

Would you like some candy, honey?” Her eyes dart over my face, searching for something. Of course, I’d like candy.

“No, thanks.” I mumble.

She’s one of those people who wear perfume at home. The house is pristine and cool like the inside of a fridge. Her husband is sitting next to her at the edge of the plush cream couch, smiling nervously at me. It’s adorable how jumpy they are. Makes me want to laugh. First time foster parents, I guess.

The husband’s hands are clean, no visible tattoos, no dirt under his nails. They don’t look like hands that hit. He looks like someone I’ve seen on TV. TV makes me think about Magda at the group home where I came from. Nine kids and one TV.  Magda knew exactly where to whack it when it stopped working and where to whack the kids when fights over the remote erupted.

“What? I can’t believe you’re saying no to candy!” She smiles and pushes the bowl towards me. “Go on, you’ll like ‘em.”

I pick a round one wrapped in golden foil and quickly fold my fingers over it. I really should’ve cut my nails.

It’s like candy of the gods, the shell gives in with just a touch of my tongue and silky chocolate lava floods my mouth. I’ll come back for more at night.

“Your room’s upstairs. Come see,” she says.

I clutch my backpack and follow her. My bare feet revel on the carpet. It’s like walking on marshmallows.

The bedroom smells faintly of baby powder. Marks of a peeled-off wall decal hang like a ghost on the blush-pink wall behind the headboard. I’ve walked into something unfinished here, someone else’s room. It’s going to be really weird to sleep here all by myself, on this big bed. Magda said I was lucky. Maybe I am, I don’t know.

“Let me help put your things away.” She reaches for my bag, but I pull away before she can lay a hand on it. She raises her palms and backs off. I almost feel bad for her; she seems like a nice person, but I don’t want her to find my cigarettes. Or my pocket knife. Or the only picture I have of my mom.

She’ll want to be friendly and then casually ask why Mom’s in prison. Everybody does that. I don’t want to tell her. Mom had made me repeat – It wasn’t me who hit her boyfriend with a cast iron skillet. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me.

I won’t be able to keep my hands off their things. They won’t understand when I tell them I really can’t control it.

They’ll yell and I’ll curse like I always do.

They’ll never adopt me.

So, that night, I sit up on the bed, bring out my knife, and slash their beautiful sheets before I like them or anything.


Hema is an Indian-American writer living in Singapore with her husband and their five-year-old daughter. Her work has appeared in The Sunlight Press, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Aerogram, The Brown Orient, National Flash Fiction Day, and in a couple of print anthologies. She blogs at www.hemas-mixedbag.com and tweets @m_ixedbag.