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Isabella Swenson

United States

I repeatedly read Harry Potter, Narnia, Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, Trials of Apollo, Laura Ingalls, or Anne of Green Gables. When I'm not reading, I’m writing, grudgingly doing some homework, singing, playing the piano, or my flute.

The Fourth Domino

March 2, 2019


  When I was little, I had a neighbor named Cassie. I went to Cassie's house all the time.We mostly jumped on the trampoline in her backyard or played around with her dogs, but the other thing that we really liked to do, for whatever reason, was to create elaborate domino maze things. They'd take hours to create and seconds to knock down, but the result was always super satisfying, no matter how brief. 

  Cassie's since then moved away, so she's not exactly relevant to my story any more, but those dominos, in a sense, are. Well- Okay, all of my domino sets are buried somewhere in my closet, so not literally relevant, but metaphorically relevant. Like, think: the Domino Effect. One domino falls, and that triggers a chain reaction. 

  The first big domino in my life was pushed over only because I was listening to an Adele song in my room one day when I was in eighth grade, and my mom overheard me singing along.

  Next thing I knew, she'd plopped me in our church's choir, and I was going to rehearsals twice a week after school, and going on a stage to sing with twenty seven other teenagers every Sunday morning.

  I only mouthed the words to all of the songs, though, hoping that my minimal effort would get me kicked out of the choir, but either Mrs. Riley saw something in me, or she just didn't care. I tend to believe that it's the latter, because a) she'd never heard me sing a single note and therefore could not gauge my level of talent and b) she didn't really concern herself much with the choir's well-being; Her eighteen year old niece, Hope, mostly ran it, while Mrs. Riley sat back and took all the credit for our mediocre performances. 

  We didn't sound half bad. It's just that most of us were forced into it by our parents and we weren't really motivated, so maybe we weren't the best about showing up to all of our rehearsals and whatnot. I'm pretty sure that Hope Riley was the only one who actually cared. 

  And so I suffered in this mundane choir for about two years, frequently relating that it wasn't my thing to my mom. But she isn't exactly the best listener. So, nothing changed. I stayed in that dumb choir. 

  Then, smack-dab in the middle of my sophomore year of high school, the second domino fell. Seven year old Ethan Henderson, who was a member of our church, died. It was really sad. I knew his sister, Olivia. She was in the choir, and we also had geometry together, at school. Olivia was very athletic; balancing track and soccer and probably some other sport, too, all at once. She got good grades in her classes, too, and was the type to groan over an A-minus. She wasn't exactly musically inclined, though, and the choir's level of quality did suffer a bit because of her, much to Hope's chagrin, but Olivia was generally a pretty sweet and funny person. Everyone liked Olivia.

  Even I like Olivia, and in general, I don't like most people... Okay, that sounds bad. What I mean is that I'm just kind of antisocial; an introvert. Like, I have friends and all, but mostly, being around people is painful. I didn't enjoy receiving attention from people who I didn't know extremely well. That's why I had such a problem with singing in front of people.

  Okay, back to Olivia. Everyone was super sorry for her when her little brother died. I remember the Monday I came to school and she wasn't there. I didn't think anything of it at first, because, hey, who doesn't miss a day of school at some point? But then she missed Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. 

  I'd long ago muted the choir group chat that Hope Riley had optimistically put me in when I'd first joined the choir, but now I checked it out, trying to see what was up, and that was how I found about about Ethan, who'd apparently been fatally hit by a car. I'd never known anyone who'd died before, except for my paternal grandpa. But I'd been, like, four back then, and don't really remember him all that well, so it's debatable whether that counts or not. Either way, Ethan's abrupt death was shocking: The cute little kid who'd shyly held the door for me last Sunday was no longer alive. 

  Then, the third domino was pushed, and it was pushed by my headstrong mother, who'd somehow decided that it would be a wonderful thing for me to "do something special for poor little Ethan." She wanted me to sing a song by myself in front of the whole church, which was just the sort of thing I should have expected her to make me do, at some point. But I was totally unprepared. She'd told me that she'd cleared it with Mrs. Riley already (who'd definitely cleared it with Hope, first, I'm sure). I'd be singing at the next service. My mother told me all this on Saturday afternoon. The next service was on Sunday morning. 

  I didn't like this. My first thought was thanks a lot, Adele, and my second thought was how the heck am I going to sing in front of, like, two hundred people tomorrow? Did my crippling stage-fright mean nothing to my mother? But in response, she said something *super* reassuring, like, "Oh, suck it up. You'll do great." (Thaaaaanks, Mom.)

  I thought about pretending to be sick or something, so I wouldn't have to do the dreadful task. Ethan was having an amazing time in Heaven, and wouldn't be particularly upset about me not singing, right? Like, he could go and watch a live Michael Jackson concert instead and have a much better time. 

  But then I pictured Olivia, who I'm sure would sing a hundred songs for her brother in front of the church, if her voice was any good. I thought about all of the times she'd done nice things for me; the frequent smiles she always gave me, the times she'd let me copy off of her geometry homework when I'd forgotten to finish it. 

  If I couldn't get myself to do the song for my mom or for Ethan himself, I felt like I could do it for Olivia. 

  The next day, I saw Olivia for the first time all week. She was sitting with her parents for once, rather than the choir, and she was wearing a black dress, rather than the pink one or green one she usually liked to wear. She looked composed enough, but very sad. Her mom and dad, however, were complete wrecks, and were visibly in tears. Mr. Henderson, I noticed, was wearing two different colored socks; a wardrobe change that was probably based on a lack of caring about anything in particular due to grief, rather than a wish to stir things up a bit. 

  I went to sit up with the other choir kids, in the front row. Everyone looked very somber.

  We opened with a very long prayer, dedicated to Ethan and his family, and then Elizabeth Northrup went up and sang Jealous of the Angels with Victoria Crawler, because they had volunteered to sing for Ethan, just like me. (Only, to be fair, my mom had signed me up.)

   Never in all my days had I sung by myself for the church. I didn't like the idea of it any better now than I had last night, or the night before, or the night before that. My stomach felt funny, and I felt that I wouldn't be surprised if I suddenly were to throw up, even though my stomach was empty. 

  Jesse Roane went up and sang something next, in his deep, bellowing voice, and then Hailey Clover played a long, sorrowful song on the piano. I think she was singing at the same time as she played, but her voice was too quiet for me to hear. 

  Well, I was next up. I tottered up to the stage in the heels that my mom had made me wear, and stood before the assembly of  two hundred or so God-loving people. My throat felt dry and my stomach still felt all fluttery, and I thought, You know, I REALLY don't feel like doing this. And I walked off the stage. 

  ...No, just kidding. My feet were glued to that stupid stage, and I couldn't have moved in that moment, even if a cougar charged at me. So, I stayed on the stage and tried not to look as ill and afraid as I felt, and I sang my song.

  The whole time, I tried to look anywhere but at the choir kids who were staring at me blankly in the front row- Up 'till now, they'd never heard me sing before, because I'd always stayed as quiet as possible, and now they shared looks of mutual surprise. Hope Riley was actually beaming. 

I saw my mother's smiling, triumphant face amongst the sea of people, also, but couldn't muster any anger toward her now. She had a reason to gloat, I guess. Here I was, doing the very thing I'd declared to her that I wasn't capable of doing. 

  And then my eyes fell on the Henderson family, and my fourth domino fell.

  Mr. and Mrs. Henderson still looked as upset as you'd expect them to, having just lost their little boy, and feeling the loss acutely, but there were small smiles on both of their faces now, because of my song, which was so much more gratifying than the fact that I'd gotten up here and conquered my fear. Olivia had her face hidden in her hands, and I couldn't tell how she was doing. 

  I finished the song, cringing at the way my voice cracked on the last note, but no one seemed to care, and they all clapped as loudly as it was appropriate to, for a song dedicated to a dead child. I sat down feeling hot all over, and Hope squeezed my hand and told me that I had done very well, and why hadn't I sung like that for the choir? 

  The service was about twice as long as it usually was, but when it at last was over, I parted ways from the choir and met my mother, to leave. She didn't waste time trying to talk to all of her church lady friends as she usually did; she was too pleased with her little success over me and couldn't contain it, which wouldn't do in such a serious setting, and so she knew she needed to get out of the church, away from prying eyes, as quickly as possible. I was kind of horrified with the obvious hints of a smile on her face, ready to burst forth at any moment. 

  "Mom," I reminded her quietly, "Ethan Henderson is dead. Show some respect?" 

  Her barely suppressed merriment left her face all together, replaced by an expression better fitted for such an upsetting occasion. 

  As we jostled our way through the crowd, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned, and found myself being embraced by Olivia Henderson. Her face was very red and so were her eyes, but she offered me a smile and said quietly, "I know Ethan heard you. Thank you. I know these sort of things are hard for you." Then, she slipped away to rejoin her parents. 
I hope that you guys find this little fictional story to be worth the read!! Tell me any thoughts you have on it, in the comments, please!


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  • March 2, 2019 - 1:21am (Now Viewing)

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1 Comment
  • LittleWolf

    Woah I thought that this was real until the footnotes! Oops... But I love your writing, it such a subtle feeling to it.

    7 months ago