Ilk
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Vision"
Originally featured on 10-19-2009
As part of our series "The Words That Seem to Justify Anything"

I heard them say it, my name, mixed in a conversation,“Rebecca is ilk,” and my ears listened to them while still maintaining my own conversation with the girl sitting next to me. I looked into my meal, the food somehow now an object sitting on the plate, instead of being my food.

When I could, I put the word in an online dictionary, while hovering over my laptop, and learned what it meant. Then I waited for the next time I heard them say it, so it wouldn’t appear as if I cared too much, and they started talking about how we were from the same group, kin, and that we were different ages, and that I was old. Not as old as some of the more solemn types with stronger mythological bonds, but that I was old.

I decided my things were not my own, my 19 year old face not my own, but borrowed. The anxiety in my chest when I spoke belonged to this young body, but if I wanted to, I could drink coffee and use my silence for power, paint my eyes black and be the soul they decided I was. I gave reason to my pain: I was not myself, but a stowaway, biding the time.

Then they talked about some of the other people we knew and they decided unaminously and quickly who was ilk and who was not and I felt bad for those who were labeled as first generation souls, somehow recently born and stumbling through their own, personal mythological passages, not comforted by the rhythm of repetition. They were those whose eyes shifted quickly. Everything ragged and fresh for them. Their awkwardness of youth not a consequence of a body, but belonging to their own soul. And there was palpable shame in that. That shame was something that we talked about, in reference to their obvious efforts to succeed, in the ways they hesitantly raised their hands in lecture halls, voicing their squeaky self-serving opinions.

My grip on what I was was so palpable as I shakingly put on my eyeliner, steeling myself in the mirror before each meeting with them. Trying not to be young. Creating a strong shell of my image, wanting to show them that I was indeed ilk.

If I was an old person, having lived several other lives, I wasn’t just a girl in a dormitory, a girl with neon pink lamps and history textbooks. I was a vessel holding a soul, for this rotation. What was better was that there were people like me and older people. We were those that were old, the knowers. The Abercrombie shirts were not our own, but belonged to our young bodies and when we sat together in lawn chairs in parking lots at outdoor movie festivals, it was only to pass the time.

Read More By Alice Clark

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