I’M GONNA BE A PLAYBOY MODEL WHEN I GRADUATE. I’m gonna be a Playboy model. I think it’s the only career I know that would be suitable to me. Limited hours. Pay-per-job. True you can no longer shop for groceries like normal people. But I’m ok with that. Privacy is overrated.
Playboy models have the perfect life. Bright lights. Fluffers. I think I’m gonna need about two fluffers. One for when I’m actually turned on by doing the scene and one for when I’m not. I’ll spare you the exact nature of their qualifications. If you ask me when we’re together then I’ll tell you. Playboy models may have the perfect life, but fluffers do not. Sure there’s the excitement of being around porn stars but I’m certain that doesn’t last very long. And the pay probably isn’t that great. If I cannot be a Playboy model then I will be a porn queen. A porn queen is one who stars in her own porn movies and keeps permanent slaves. As in porn movies watchable on the internet. I don’t want to do any webcam stuff though. That interactive stuff where they tell you what to do while they’re jerking off to you? I’m not opposed to that as a concept but it just seems tedious, logistically. What I’m talking about is pre-produced lesbian bondage type stuff. Not totally lesbian. But I definitely do want to have some lesbian stuff. Aside from that stipulation, I’m talking about your standard basement torture setup. Sensory deprivation hoods. Wooden ponies. Ice torture. Feather torture. Extreme malice and tickling.
I wish I could get kidnapped. I would make an excellent kidnap victim. I’m pliable. I come with a vagina. I don’t care about my life. Also, I’m an excellent conversationalist. Which comes in handy during long trips across Canada. Or in isolated situations in general. I’m very friendly. Quite curious. Or, let’s say: inquisitive. I like to meet new people. Like to travel. I hate smalltalk, so when we meet we’ll have to skip the introductions and get down to the nuts and bolts of the kidnapping. Who? Me. When? Right now. Where? The trunk of your car. Let’s begin with a basic exchange of information. Just enough information for you to get me out of my former life, bind me and gag me, and throw me in the back of your car. That initial consultation can lead to deeper subjects. When you are tired of riding alone you’ll eventually untie me and place me in the front seat next to you so I can keep you company. Then we can tackle the grander topics. We’ll start with your hopes, aspirations, and dreams. Are you a mass murderer? Yes — err — well, aspiring. Do you enjoy killing people? I’m not sure yet. Are you a torture murderer? No. No? That’s ok. That’s ok. Keep your eyes on the road please. Drive safely. You don’t have to be a torture murderer. Yeah — no, totally. It takes all kinds. Is there a history of abuse in your family? Maybe something your mother or father did to you when you were young? Something you’ve never told anyone? (You don’t want to talk about it.) That’s fine. No problem. How ‘bout we start with some simpler stuff. Tell me about your dreams.
Of course I won’t have to be a Playboy model to get kidnapped. Or vice-versa. You just gotta get your foot in the door.
When I dream I see myself in California. I see myself in a house on the ocean. Or maybe an apartment to start. I will have a dog. Just one. A golden retriever. He will be able to run on the beach. He will sleep with me. I will have a photographic darkroom where I will develop and print my pictures. If I have a big closet I will use that as my darkroom. I can keep my clothes on the floor. If I don’t have a big closet I will use the bathroom as a darkroom. I will be in love in California. I think maybe I already am. But I don’t know if you will come with me. And if you do not, I will be sad. But I will go to California anyway. And I’ll find someone. Not another you. But I will find another someone.
My porn activities will cover the cost of my film lab. If you don’t come with me I’ll make pictures in my underwear and send them to you, and you can look at them in private. Although you know you can have me whenever you decide to.
In my beach house in California I will not share my bathroom with anyone. Not my mom. Not even close friends who come over. In my beach house the only people ever allowed in the bedroom will be me and you. Your parents will not be sleeping one floor up. Where we can hear everything. I will not have neighbors. (Or if I do I won’t speak to them.) I won’t have Theresa stopping by my porch every day. When I go outside it will be just me, and maybe you. I won’t have another cat. I know he’s skinny. There’s no need to remind me of it. Everyone already does. I would probably feed him more often if Theresa wasn’t bringing him beef jerky every day — and tuna salad and Vienna sausage and Melba toast with peanut butter and carbonated water and everything else she brings for him. It’s amazing she has any lunch left for herself after she stops at our place.
“Don’t you have a job to be doing?”
“I’m doing it.”
“Uh, ok. Can you not give him Melba toast?” I know it sounds like a crazy thing for a cat to eat but believe me, he eats it.
“He likes Melba toast. See. Look at him.”
“He vomits it later.”
“Oh I doubt that.”
“He will later. If you want to come back I’ll show you.”
“Take a picture. Post it for me.” She pinches my butt.
I swipe her away. “Keep your lesbian hands off me.”
“If I’m a lesbian, does that mean tomorrow is a date?”
Good point, good point. That’s rock solid logic you’ve got there. A mind like Bobby Fischer. I rush her, fake-punch her, punk the bitch out. She flinches. I rifle through her bag. “Anything in here for me?”
“That’s a federal offense. Get. Out. That’s a federal offense!”
“Your face violates more laws than I ever will.” Again I act like I’m gonna punch her. I’m just playing, though. I like Theresa.
“What’s wrong with Lincoln?”
I kick him. He falls over and it’s embarrassing how he falls flat with his front legs spread out. He doesn’t have enough muscle left to control them. “He’s sick.” I say.
“You should be nice to that cat. Here Lincoln — ”
“Get the fuck — .” I’m shooing Theresa off. “He — stop — he doesn’t eat Melba toast.”
“That cat is hungry. Look how skinny that cat is.”
“Well if he won’t eat that’s not my fault. He pukes everything up. Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
Theresa gives me the finger. This is a woman who’s forty years old.
I push Theresa away and perch myself on the steps. I grab Lincoln and set him in my lap. “Come’ere kitty.” Jesus you’re light. I put him down. “Why don’t you fucking eat you dumbass. Bye.”
“Tell your mom I said hi.”
“Tell her yourself.”
Theresa’s filtering through the mail and sucking on beef jerky. She’s not too fat given her age. Perpetually rude. She has a thing for my mom. Tomorrow they’re going to Mini racers. Which I guess is a date. Not sure I know why I give her so much of my time except I must be starved for the company. Which is pathetic on my part. She’s walking up the hill and I see her soggy ass. Trying to push through the seam in the back of her pants. Her tits scare me. I hope mine aren’t that bad when I’m old. But they will be. If I live that long. They will be.
Tits are actually way more important than puss when it comes to being a Playboy model. I mean, puss is important but variety in puss is less judged than it is tolerated. Basically, if you have one, that’s what counts.
My tits are fairly large. Their names are Judy. Some people name their left one and their right one separately. I name mine together. When I speak to them, though, I speak to either the left or the right one. “Judy, where are my piglet socks?” — “Are you comfortable Judy?” — “How about you Judy?” — Really? Excellent.
The door opens behind me. It’s my mom. “Did Theresa go? That cat looks horrible. You two are gonna freeze to death if you stay out here.”
“What do you want.”
“I want you to get inside. And feed your cat.”
I’m stroking the back of his bony neck. It’s not that cold out here. “I fed him.” I say.
“He looks sick. If you’re gonna have pets then you can learn how to take care of them.”
“He’s not sick.” I say. “He’s dying.” And I lift my head to her.
My mother looking very stern. “Whose fault is that?”
“Don’t ask me! He won’t eat! There’s something wrong with him!”
I push him off my lap. He almost falls over trying to land on the steps. His back legs flail out when he tries to balance. Then he looks at me and painfully rights himself, coming up a step and brushing his head on my boot.
“Give him some tuna.” She lets the outside door close.
“You always get mad at me when I give him tuna!”
From the living room. “Feed your cat.”
Bony cat. Sickly cat. “Lincoln. Lincoln. Get the fuck off me.” I kick him. Oh fuck. I only kicked him a little but it made him fall down a step. His back legs are so fucked up now they slide apart like someone learning to ice skate. Bambi learning to walk. He’s gonna die. Oh fuck. I yell back into the house. “If you have anything you want to say to Lincoln I would say it now.” Fuck me. Fuck. This cat is gonna die.
I step down below him and pick him up. Put him on the porch and open the outside door. “Go in. Go in.” I don’t kick him though. He takes forever. Stiffly stepping his legs over the bottom of the door seal. Step and painful step off the cold porch and into the house. I stand there. Holding open the door. Looking up the street at it getting dark. It’s actually not that cold.
Upstairs, I take my nightly shower. My nightly shower is different than my nightly bath. And entirely different than my morning bath. My shower is not a routine. It’s a ritual. In my shower I shave. In my shower I make smooth. And I’m not talking about with some fake-ass pumice stone. Pumice stones are for babies. The ticket is extra fine sandpaper. In fact, strictly speaking, the only personal care item one needs is sandpaper. And of course water. Every industry is like that. It may have many tools, but you can combine them. One tool duplicates the efforts of another. Duplicates can be removed. In the end, there is a characteristic implement for each industry. In beauty it’s sandpaper. In cooking it’s spices. In photography it is the frame. In photography you can have cameras and chemicals. You can have computers and film. You can have lights and subjects. But all you really need is the frame. And ultimately in photography it’s all about the frame. Nothing else really matters, even though it may be cluttering the periphery. In beauty I insist the critical element is sandpaper. Or: abrasion. But I’m sure some people would disagree.
I sand my legs. You can use a razor for this. But with tiny amounts of constant abrasion, razors are unnecessary. Think of a pebble in a stream. A pebble has no razor. A pebble doesn’t even have sandpaper. Just lots and lots and lots of water. And the pebble is as smooth as can be. If I got clean on a larger timescale, I wouldn’t need sandpaper, only water. In practice, I use both sandpaper and a razor for my legs — and other areas. I’m just saying. Theoretically, properly, those two cancel each other out.
I sand my face. Only a little. Little bits of sanding every day keep my cheeks, my neck, my mouth, extremely smooth. I sand under the water so there is never a moment of dryness. I even sand my lips a tiny bit. One swipe left focusing on the top lip. One swipe right focusing on the bottom lip. Rub them together. Do not lick. I sand everything else too. No need to go into detail. Just imagine a very smooth body with kind of a matte-flesh coloration. This is another place where elements can be combined. You could dry the skin and then moisturize it. You could lotion the skin and then powder it. Or you can simply collapse pairs of steps which counteract each other. Nature has made us almost perfect. That is not to say I don’t believe in working on that almost part. But in polishing the 2%, I want to be careful not to counteract the 98.
Forgive me if I use math metaphors. I know some of you have trouble with math. That’s perfectly ok. I have trouble with some things too. Like being good. Maybe you’re one of the ones to whom being good comes naturally. I would like to be good. I don’t have any philosophical problems with it. It just doesn’t work for me.
For instance I sometimes have difficulty keeping my underwear on. This is not a logistical difficulty. It stems from one of my core beliefs, which is that people should not wear underwear. I mean girls wearing bras and guys wearing briefs while they’re running kinda makes sense. My breasts being quite large, as mentioned, there’s no way I could run without a bra. But I never run, so it’s not an issue. That’s one of those areas where counteracting forces can be resolved. I do agree with the use of lacy things for purely decorative or sexual aims. The trick there however is if you’re wearing, say, a bra for decorative measure, then it has to show. If the target of the bra is someone who might not undress you, then it absolutely has to show or else what’s the point?
Infomercials for bra-strap-hiding devices make me laugh. That had to be invented by a guy. One who was foolish enough to think he had identified that pesky problem that women must be having with their bras. He was probably a gay guy. But he was definitely a fool. I remember on TV someone saying that Amanda Knox was probably a psychopath. “But even if she’s not.” They said. “She’s definitely a narcissist.” As if that had anything to do with it.
People these days convict you for being a narcissist. Even if they don’t convict you of it in court. They convict you of it in their minds. As far as I can tell, self-love is the primary form of genuine love out there. But I guess it’s the excessive part that some consider a problem. Still, what’s the alternative? Excessive self-hate? I think I have both.
This is Jenna at school: “What’s that supposed to be?” She’s pointing at my flower-encrusted bra. The pink one. It’s quite lovely. And thanks to a couple squirts of Eternity, it’s quite fragrant. Scent is the primary essence of mating. Not looks. Scent. I’m not saying it’s the primary essence of lovemaking. I’m saying it’s the primary essence of mating. This goes for humans as well as all other animals. Even very small animals. Like trichoplax adhaerens. If you don’t believe me check out the Discovery Channel.
“What’s that supposed to be?” Pointing at my scented bra with her Wicked Witch finger. Jenna has one of those raspy voices. Like she spent last night singing at the top of her lungs. Or she’s getting over a cold. Jenna stops me in the hall occasionally to ridicule me (usually via my clothing). I think part of why that raspy voice thing is sexy is because of the idea that someone is sick, that they’re weak. Kind of like the shaved head thing is sexy because at first glance you wonder if the person has cancer.
Jenna sometimes actually touches me when she ridicules me. She doesn’t touch my bra though. “Is that supposed to be a carnation?” She’s screwing up her face.
“It’s a gladiolus.” I say. “They’re from Africa. You can recognize them by the shape of their petals. See how they’re kind of pointy?” Gladiolus means little sword in Latin. But of course Jenna already knows that.
“It looks fake.”
Thank you Jenna. “Are you done now?” I guess I can get on with my day. “Thanks for your opinion.” You complete me.
I think they’re trying to put me in a mental institution. Today Miss Theobald sent me to the counselor. I think she thought I was sad. Or she might have seen some of the pictures I left in the print dryer. I’m not sure what I left there, but it might have been something disturbing. I think I might have printed some pictures with blood in them. Miss Theobald is very squeamish. She’s easily disturbed. So she makes me leave class to go see Ms. Connor. Miss Theobald sent a note along with me that said I was despondent, and that we should discuss that. I ended up helping Ms. Connor with her book. She’s writing a novel, but she’s not very confident about it. She’s a totally talented woman and I think she’ll make a fine writer. The problem is she doesn’t see herself as a writer. So we talked about what she’s working on and worked on some of her characters. I mean that’s ostensibly what we talked about. Really it’s about her getting over this idea that she’s stuck being a school counselor for the rest of her life. Or that she somehow doesn’t deserve to do — whatever she wants to do. Which in her case is write a book. We just talked a few things over. Nothing major. I think she found it quite helpful.
I think I’m gonna stop talking. I’m not really sure there is any point in it. And when I open my mouth I get sent to talk to school counselors or psychiatrists. I love talking to them, don’t get me wrong. They’re amazing people, but — I would rather have spent that period in the photo lab, printing pictures. I will still talk to you in my head, though. And I will still hear your voice talking back to me. When I close my eyes, we will say things to each other. But we need not do it aloud.
I think I prefer to speak with you that way, either in blue gel pen or with my eyes closed. If I do, will you read me that way?
You get sent to Ms. Connor too. You’re very emotional. Which is part of why I like you. They say you cry too much. They say you cry for no reason. And you do, Pony Boy, you do cry too much. But that’s one of the things I love about you most. No one cries the right amount. If your choice is crying too little, or crying too much, which one are you gonna choose? They say when you break down crying in computer class because you’re thinking deep thoughts, that that’s crying too much.
They also say you’re clever, but there is a difference between us. I can’t say what that difference is, but I know that you can feel it too. It is reflected in a thinness of the air that I exhale. Or maybe that I inhale. I don’t think that people like it. I know that sometimes it is unpleasant for you. I can kinda see it in your face. Or I can feel it in your breathing sometimes. It’s like around me things get very very quiet. Like there’s a vacuum, a thin air vacuum. Or maybe it’s the opposite of a vacuum, whatever that is. I want to meet the Unabomber. He seems like he would be friendly to me.
I think I know how Jared feels about playing chess. That’s the way I feel about making pictures. Most people say taking pictures. That’s because they don’t understand what they’re doing. You’re not taking pictures. You’re making them. For some people, making a picture is a question of how to approach the scene. When they think about which of the possible pictures to make, it’s a question of angles, and lighting, and subject. The problem for them is getting all those right in combination. For me the problem is running out of film. To me a picture is just that before I clicked the shutter, I had twenty-two shots left. And now, I have twenty-one. It’s how we think about creation. Are you creating, or are you using up?
I’m using up.
Run the water lukewarm. Mom’s got some guitar music playing downstairs. It’s vague, muddy, rambling and without structure. Close the door. Turn the lock and hear it snap into position. White cracked paint, twenty layers. This house is probably about sixty years old. My book is on the toilet. Red cover, cover closed. Toe in the tub. It’s fine. Cool enough to get me sick. If I stay in long enough.
It’s depressing to be alone. But actually what’s depressing about it is that it puts me in touch with my memories of other people. When you’re alone you have time to think about how much your previous interactions sucked. I need to check myself into a hospital. Or maybe get someone to do that for me. I could probably force them to do it by exhibiting certain behaviors. Pre-diagnose. Exhibit. Force conclusion. Reap desired result. I’m not gonna do that though. Not unless things get really bad. But I don’t know. They might be really bad right now and I just don’t know because I’ve built up such a high tolerance to things sucking. I think the problem with me is that there’s nothing wrong with me. But wait. That really is a problem. Because that means I don’t fit in with everyone else.
Check the stopper. It’s plugged all the way in. Bright light shining in the bathtub. White counters. Off-white walls, but close enough. Whitish shower curtain. White incandescent light with no shade. 100 watts. Really more orange but to most people white. Mirror on the edge. Look at myself. Hi. Hi self. Let’s do some looking. No. Put it down. No need. I know what I look like. I know how I am when I squint my eyes. And what if I were to push my reflection over the edge of the tub. Tip the balance of the mirror. Let it hit the floor.
No one hears the sound.
No one comes to check.
I could grab one of those glass fragments and cut my perfect skin.
I shut my eyes. Don’t do that. Don’t push the mirror. Don’t say anything more to yourself. Just lie in the bath and breathe. Don’t think right now. Don’t think about it being too bright. It’s not too bright. You like it this bright. That’s why you put it this way. It’s nice in here. It’s quiet. It’s got good echoes. Good dripping. Don’t press my fingers to my mouth. Don’t press my lips together. I don’t need to do that to not say anything. I’m not gonna say anything. I don’t need any help with that. Tape you. Tape you. Tape you and I’ll never have to listen to you again. Tape your eyes open for the bright light and your ears closed for the loud noises. Tape a gun inside your mouth. Make it quiet. Spin you around to get you dizzy, pull the trigger. Bring out the psychological instruments. Administer away. Let’s see what we can find out about the person who designed this test. Every question you ask me gives something else away. Bring out the blocks. Bring out the ink blots. The only thing wrong with me is that I can’t get any decent conversation around here. People peak when they’re about five years old. After that it’s down hill for about 98% of the population. Trust me. I’ve done extensive field work regarding this phenomenon. I’d love to be locked up if I could only convince you assholes to do it. Spend my days doing art classes with retards. Perfect. Much improved. Silence please. Silence. Would you take my temperature? I prefer it in the ass. A nice little insertion.
I bust out laughing.
I just like fucking with nurses.
Oh shit, I’m laughing by myself in the bathtub. Mom is downstairs with her structureless guitar performances. And I’m laughing by myself in the bathtub.
The funny thing is: no one hears me.
Tip that mirror over the edge.
It does break.
No one comes to check.
I do reach down and fumble on the tiles for a lovely shard.
No need to look as I reach for it. No need to be careful picking it up. What am I gonna do, cut myself?
Ah, there’s one.
Pull it into the tub with me.
I am going on a trip. A very long trip. I do not expect to return. I hope not to. I wish I could take you all with me, but alas, the car is too small. It only seats two, and only one of us is coming. I tried to get my traveling partner to come with me but you are not ready. You have some things to do. Maybe you will be able to meet me later. I sincerely hope so. But if not, know that I loved you, truly, and have never met anyone I could talk to like I talk to you. I feel like breaking things. I think I need psychological help. Oh, Pony Boy, you do help me, just by being, but I think I need help from a doctor. The only problem is I’ve already seen them and they are no use. I may have something especially wrong with me. Something they cannot diagnose. So I am putting all my things in a tiny paper boat that I will fold with my hands and set sail across a mud puddle. It’s a very tiny boat so I will only have room for me and one bag of my things. A very small bag. I will not even be able to take my kitten. So obviously there is not room for another person. But you can overlook the lake my boat sits on. And you can pray down on me with your breath. I will look up and see your eyes as stars. Your breath will wrap me up and push my boat along. Then it will get cold, my Boy. Very, very cold. And I will no longer be able to feel your breath as the warm wind, you will be very far behind me. This is where the sea gets cold. Where night surrounds me. Where the sun is a long time coming. That is where my boat will stop. I will be stuck. No wind. No light. No stars. Almost no sound. Then I will lie back and take a nap. And I will never wake up.
You say to me. “What are you doing?”
And I say. “I’m practicing my suicide notes.”
You give me a weird look.
“Well, you only get to leave one. I want to do mine correctly.” I don’t think a person should wait until they decide to kill themself to write their suicide note. It makes much more sense to start working on the note now. Then when you get the note like you like it, you’ll know it’s time. Lately I feel like I’m squeezing blood from a rock.
Drip. Drip. If I stay in here much longer I’ll get sick.
Squinting into my reflection in the mirror shard.
If I’m making faces at myself in the reflection of my suicide instrument then I’m probably mentally healthy enough to stay alive. Or: my sense of humor is probably in good enough shape that I should be able to be considered mentally stable. Aren’t you supposed to be depressed when you’re killing yourself? Maybe the thing that’s so sick about me is that I’m not even depressed while I want to kill myself. If I did kill myself, I would probably be laughing when I died.
Ok. Ok. All your solutions are wrapped up in the same pieces that form your problems. There aren’t any new pieces. Just rearrange existing ones and cancel things out, like algebra.
Get out of the tub. Unstop the water. Try reading a really subversive book and see if that helps. If we have any.
Go downstairs. See if we have any.
You’re not gonna kill yourself tonight.
You might kill yourself.
But not tonight.
Unstop the tub. I’m standing.
Naked, I kneel by the tub. I place the mirror fragments into my towel. I’ll throw them away in my room. Wash the towel to get any smaller pieces out. That should work, right? I walk to my room holding the towel. I don’t cover up. The guitar is still playing downstairs. I can kinda tell where my mom is by her music. And tonight I don’t care if I get caught walking naked. I think my mom already knows there’s something wrong with me.
I tuck myself inside my comforter. Wrap up all the edges. Make it a nice warm pocket. Reach for my phone. Set the alarm. 1:11. On vibrate. Lie here and try not to think about anything. It doesn’t work. But focusing on the patterns on the backs of my eyes helps. It helps that what I see is not something I’m guiding, not something my thoughts control. But instead it’s like I’m watching a little play of noise. Some random theatrical production that doesn’t even have characters. Just dots and dust and splotches of color. Moving outside of my control. And if I try to focus on them they go away. So it encourages you to relax. Eventually I recognize that state where I can tell that my thoughts are not making logical sense. But I am still having them. In this state I cannot have a train of complete thoughts. Each thought might make sense on its own but strung together they would not be acceptable in waking life. In this state I cannot follow my thoughts. I cannot think about what I am thinking about with consistency. I get lost as they flow from this to that. I can recognize this state while I am in it, though. This is the state that happens right before I go to sleep. It is a relaxing state if you go with it. It can be interrupted, sleep postponed, for a little while with effort. But that is inelegant. The thing I like to do is to watch my thoughts come and go, to listen to them without attempting to say anything. Things like: “That doesn’t make sense!” Or: “I’d like to go back and review that.” If I do that it is too much work. If I let my thoughts come and go and simply watch them, I fall asleep. You cannot remember when you fell asleep. But you can know when you are about to. You cannot know what mixture of ingredients will cause your death, but you can sometimes, for a second, see that it is about to happen.
1:11. A soft vibration in my hand.
And I’m dressing in the dark. Putting on everything but my boots which I carry with me. Slipping past the bathroom. Looking back: Mom’s door closed. Stand here for a second. She’s snoring. Sneak down the stairs. Glow of the cable box, flickering lights of the wireless. Grab my jacket. Let myself out. Lincoln is there. “No food right now kitty. Go back inside. Go back inside.” I push him gently with my foot, back inside the house. Lock the top lock with my key. Sitting on the porch. Lay my jacket beside me. Lacing up my boots. See my breath in the air. No hurry. I like these walks. Hurrying while I tie my shoes isn’t really gonna make me any warmer. Feel the cold. Just feel it. Tie the knot. Double knot it. Pull it super-tight. Pull my jacket by its hood and spring down the stairs. Slip my arms through the sleeves. Leave the hood down. Need to be able to see things coming this time of night. Need to be able to hear clearly. Usually no one’s out but you never know. The thing is, if there was someone out, it would just be you and them.
Up the hill. Hands in pockets. My ears are cold but I have to keep my hood down. I let every sound possible come into my ears. The sound of my own footsteps on sidewalk, on the edge of the street, on the asphalt when I’m in the street. The sound of my steps on the gravel in the alley. Past a green dumpster under a lamp on a telephone pole. Quick movement of a cat. I stop and turn. It might have been a cat. It might have been something else. Did it go under the dumpster? I kneel. I don’t see it. It was probably a cat. It was definitely something small. Keep going. Keep going. There’s nobody out here. It’s just me. Just me. It’s me and the cold.
When Elizabeth Young died I took the longest walk of my life. I was at school when I found out about it. I walked right out of class, out the main doors, all the way down Indiana Avenue, across the bridge, and all the way into downtown. Then I walked around downtown. Got myself some time to think on that one. Didn’t come up with anything. But got myself some time to think. That was a cold walk. That was a much colder walk than tonight.
On your street I pass your very next door neighbor. He’s single with a kid. His wife just disappeared one day. I think she couldn’t handle being a mom. I nod at your neighbor. He knows why I’m out here. He just walks up and down the hill when he needs to think. We see each other all the time. He gives me a nod back and I smile. I think people whose wives disappear need smiles as often as we can give them. He doesn’t look judgmental, either. Like he doesn’t care that I’m going to your house in the middle of the night. He doesn’t seem like he would even remotely think to mention it to your parents. Or if he did, he’d somehow do it in such a soothing way they wouldn’t care. We’re mirrors, me and your neighbor. We wake up in the middle of the night to creep around in the dark. We cross in the middle of streets that are silent, streets that contain no one. We never speak. We just see each other and know what each of us is doing. We wake up in the middle of the night so that we’re the only ones awake, and so we own the streets, and so we scare people, and so when people see us, we will get under their skin. We wake up in the middle of the night because if we didn’t we’d die.
Outside your window I have to step over a rock garden divider and halfway into the bushes to reach the fishing line. I wrap it around my hand and pull.
A tink from inside your room.
I put my hands back in my jacket pockets. I can still see my breath. I raise my shoulders. My neck is tight. I look up at your window. Come on, William, wake up. A flash of light as you turn your desk lamp on and then immediately off. It has a twisting on-off switch. You just turn it one complete revolution. On and off.
I take my hands out of my pockets and balance with my arms as I make my way out of a leafless bush.
I get to the door before you and have to wait. When you do get here it’s the slightest turning of a bolt lock. It takes six seconds for you turn the switch. I imagine your thumb pressing into the ornate hand lock, pushing open the handle latch. Then you pull the door open six inches. That part makes less sound when you do it quickly. Then you slowly pull it open further. I step inside.
There’s carpet everywhere until we get to the bedroom so I don’t take off my boots here. The more time we spend here the more chance we’ll get caught. Imagine your dad coming downstairs in his pj’s and I’m sitting in the entryway taking off my boots. We take the stairs slow, me behind you. You have on a pair of boxers, that’s it, and your hairy legs are at my eye level. If I was feeling more jovial I would poke you in the butt. Tonight, though, no. Tonight I care as little as ever if we get caught. But tonight I’m just not in the mood for it.
On the second floor, we go past the door that goes upstairs where your parents sleep. We go past Jenna’s door — deep brown stained wood. You and I have never spoken about Jenna. I’m not sure what I’d say.
Inside your room I step slowly on the wooden floor. I turn around and we kiss. You’re closing the door.
“You know our paper boat? I crushed it.”
“It didn’t have the correct amenities?”
“It got soggy. So I kind of crushed it. But without the crunch. As it was wet. And wet things lose their crunchiness.”
“What’s going on?”
“I had to get out of there.”
“I think I’m going crazy.”
I sit on the bed. You’re undoing my boots.
Cold light in your room. Blue light from the alley. It wasn’t that cold during the day but it looks like it could snow now. Or it feels like snow. The trees outside your window give me a feeling of lightness in my stomach.
Your hands on my feet. Pushing my legs into your bed.
It’s a bunk bed and on the underside of the top bunk you have a video camera rubber-banded to a truss. There are pictures under there. Pages from books. None pornographic. Snapshots. Diagrams. A couple of me.
I slide over. You hate your bunk beds but I love that you still have them. You reach between the steps of the end ladder and check the vent. If it’s not closed your parents might hear us. Actually they’ve never caught us, they’ve never come in. The main thing about the vent is that when it’s open, sometimes we hear them. And as sick a person as I am, please understand that hearing your parents do it is worse than distracting.
Your arms are around me and we kiss again. You brush my hair with your fingers. Your bed is still hot.
“I’m glad you came.”
“I might need to tomorrow too.”
“Good.” You half whisper it.
And even though in theory your parents might come in at any time, and even though your little sister is in the next room, and even though Jenna herself is in the next room after that, and even though my life sucks, and even though I can’t stay long because around 3:45 at the latest I’m gonna have to traipse my way back home in the cold all by myself — even though all these things, for this moment I am warm and snug and close with you in a little pocket of covers in your bed.
Waking. Slight blanket feel. My fingers. Blanket between my legs. Movement. My legs, and what’s between them. Curling up. Grip my hand on the sheet. Muscle. Contract the muscle. There’s my William.
Light. Tuesday. It’s Tuesday. Look around.
“What time is it?” Is it possible I don’t get out of bed today? No. Not possible. The smell of french toast.
“Shhh. Just stay here. Wait till they leave.”
Uncover. Recover. Uncover. I’m still at William’s house. “Oh fuck I’m sorry.” Roll out of bed. Wood floor, cold. Where’s my sock.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m glad you’re here.” You get out of bed and check your computer. “It’s 7:18.” You press play on some music. It’s a girl band, but I won’t say who because I don’t want to embarrass you. “They’ll be gone by 7:40 at the latest.” You say it quietly but not whispering.
I lie back in bed. Cover my mouth and giggle. There’s an evil look in my eyes. I make my finger into a hook and with it tell you to come back to bed.
I push you down by your chest and get on top of you, straddle you. The top bunk is low. I can’t sit up, so I’m like a rider on a crotch rocket. Literally. I pull myself up and my eyes are flashing. I say. “Let’s have some fun while we wait.”
You don’t go inside me. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because we have to keep quiet. Maybe it’s because one or more of us doesn’t completely want to. I don’t know if I’m ready to make love but I know I’m close. I’m not in a hurry but I think I will do it this year. Next year at the latest. Some people have sex when they’re twelve. I guess I’m slow. I remember Jenna got completely naked in a storage room off the library when we were in fourth grade. There were boys and girls in the room when she did it. What were we doing in there? We were cutting class, I guess. In the fourth grade. I guess if I was cutting class back then it would be unreasonable to expect that I would stop now. Anyway we dared her to pull down her pants but she took all her clothes off. I guess I had more of a fixation with her than most of the people in that storage room. And that started before I saw her naked and didn’t have much to do with having seen her naked once I had. It started out as a thing with her hair. Or maybe the fact that she was a crossing guard on the street I crossed so I saw her every day. She parted her hair on the side and sometimes had this off-center ponytail that fascinated me. It was the first time I had seen an off-center ponytail and something about the length and the cut of her hair made me unable to stop looking at her. When I think about her I think about the neon orange crossing guard belt she wore every day after school. Crossing guards got to leave at 2:45 so that by the time the rest of us got out and made it to the intersections, they would be set up. They’d have their belts on. Neon orange that went around her waist and had a strap that went diagonally up her chest, over one shoulder, and down her back.
I kind of lost track of her for a couple years. It was before you and I got together and she and I were involved in different programs. Or rather, she was involved in programs. I was involved in becoming a degenerate, reading Heinlein novels and Aldous Huxley. Then in seventh grade I sat next to her in algebra. It was extremely annoying because she could multiply and subtract faster than me, but I knew I was smarter than her. Finally I asked her how she could subtract so fast and she showed me these dumb little tricks she was doing. Breaking a hard subtraction into two easier ones. That was the only thing I ever learned from Jenna. It’s not that she’s dumb at all. But my main enjoyments of her have not been intellectual.
I don’t think of her when I’m with you. I want you to know that. I mean my mind does wander all the time. Even sometimes when we’re together. And sometimes it might wander to thoughts of your sister. But it’s not in a sexual way when you and I are doing stuff. It’s not like — I don’t know. Whatever.
At 7:44 we hear the front door close. You go into the hallway first. Then I come out half-dressed behind you. I kiss you and send you on your way. I’ll have some time to myself in your room while you shower. It’s too soon since I last bathed and we don’t shower together. That’s just not something we do yet. But we do kiss in the hallway and all I have on is my underwear. This is how we always do it. Hopefully no one has any video cameras installed in your house. I’m not ready to take a shower with you. I don’t want to do it in the shower my first time. I don’t want to do it in water my first time. But soon, I think. Soon. I want us to make love, Pony Boy.
Jenna’s door is stained wood. Deep brown. Long vertical swirls and fist-sized knots. An old metal doorknob. She’s the only girl I know who doesn’t have anything taped on the outside of her door. I think she thinks she’s too cool for that. And it’s kinda true.
I hear you close the shower door. You take long showers. Usually at least 20 minutes. Each of your sisters has their own room. Abby’s door is open. The little one. Room looks like a nuclear bomb went off. And Jenna’s door. I really hope you don’t have video cameras in this house. But you can’t. I mean I would know by now if you did.
I push open Jenna’s door.
Sound of the shower behind me. I’ve got at least fifteen minutes. Ten at a minimum.
At the top of the drawer are the nice ones, the ones she wears on a daily basis, the ones she wears when she’s jogging or doing laundry. At the bottom of the drawer, in the back, are the special ones. The colored ones. The lacy ones. My favorite pair of hers are silky white. Shiny silk with a sheen on the outside. I love to smell them, steal them, to put them on my head and I love to put them on me and pretend that I’m her. Pretend that when my hand goes inside them it’s so that my fingers will be next to her skin. Pretend that my vagina is her vagina. That my cunt is her cunt. Nothing makes me wetter faster, nothing makes me cum quicker than wearing Jenna’s stolen panties and pretending that I’m her. And I sneak them back into her drawer afterward, folding them exactly the way she folded them, putting them in the exact spot she put them, even though she probably put them into her drawer with less thought than I do. Every time I open that drawer I become her. I know exactly where everything goes, know it better than she does. Slide the drawer closed gently and quietly — slightly open if she left it that way, ever so slightly, not even a crack showing, just not pushed tight to the cabinet. I do this every day when I’m at the house with you like this. I like it when Jenna’s home when you and I are there, because I know she’s wearing some of the panties I’ve seen in her drawer. But I like it in a different way when no one’s here but us, because I know which ones she’s wearing by which ones are missing.
And I am her when I’m inside them.
When she has boys over she wears the white silky ones. When the white silky ones are in her dirty pile I masturbate with the plain ones. I like them all because all of them are hers. I imagine kissing Jenna on the lips. I don’t know if I would enjoy the softness of her actual body if we actually touched. I’m not sure if I was looking at her actual face and I put my fingers in her, if I would like the way it looked. She’s something to me, something more than she should be. I have so many ideas about her. And I can’t help myself with her panties. It’s worth continually risking getting caught. I guess there’s some part of you that doesn’t want to get caught and some part of you that does. Ultimately it doesn’t matter because it’s exciting either way. If you did catch me I think a) you would be mad, and b) we would make love, deep love. Maybe not that day but I bet we would if you caught me. I like being scared you will but I don’t want you to. It’s part of our relationship, the deep part, the unseen part, the unknown part. What’s the difference between something that happens in your subconscious that you never know about, and something that happens in the physical world that you never know about? What’s the difference, to you, between things I do in my mind that you never know about and things I do in real life that you never know about? Some things are said to your face. Some things are said behind your back. Some things I say under my breath. Some things I never knew I said, because I don’t remember. But they happened anyway. Somewhere, they did happen. Somewhere, they are real. They’re in the other side of my dreams, the part of my dreams I don’t know about. Maybe those are your dreams. Your secrets. Things like that are all around me, really. The whole shape of the world that I can see, all the surfaces that I can see, their other sides are the things you do when I’m not looking, the things you hide from me. Those things you say without me. The me that’s in your dreams.
Into Jenna’s room. Check the dirty clothes. Huh. Where are they? Oh well, I guess I’ll wear the blue ones with a striped band. Or maybe the white and red Hello Kitty ones. Oh how I’d love to tongue Jenna’s cunt through the Hello Kitty on the Hello Kitty ones. It’s just in the right place, the Hello Kitty. The people who made those panties knew what they were doing. Top drawer. Way in the back. I’m gonna do this. It’s risky but I’m gonna do this. Take ’em. Right now. Silky white. Yep. Folded. In that same spot. In my hand. Close the cabinet. Still the sound of your shower. Out. Out. You might look. You might look. You might notice. If you do, maybe you’ll just think you’re going crazy. Out of Jenna’s room. Are you done with your shower? Still. Be still. Nope. You’re still showering. What if you come out of the bathroom right now and see me coming out of her room? Um. Her door was open and I thought I’d close it so it wouldn’t let any cold air in from the hallway. It was — I thought I saw a gel pen just like mine in there but it was actually a flashlight. What is your sister doing with an emergency flashlight in her dresser anyway? Are you guys worried about power outages? Also, do you think I could borrow your sister’s gel pen? I can’t find mine. Totally quiet. Just the sound of the shower running. I’m by myself. Back in your room. I don’t even have to take my clothes off to do this. I lie on your bed with the door open picturing Jenna coming home from school in her Canon running shorts and long-sleeved sweatshirt. Seeing me lying on your bed and seeing what I’m about to do. She’d probably be jogging in place and she’d take one earbud out of her ear and watch me do it. Hi Jenna. I push down my skirt. How was your day? I lift the top of my panties and place her carefully folded white silk ones right in the pit of my crotch. The way she folded them. That’s her fold. I took her fold from her room as she folded them and put that against me. I pull mine up snug. Her silk on me. A surge, a surge of warmth, tickling, tingling, expanding. I pull up my skirt. This is gonna be a fun day.
I get up and find the duffel bag at the top of your closet. We’re gonna pack some things. Put the bag on your bed. Put the boxers with the smiley faces on them into the bag. Put the green-and-gray striped shirt with the white collar into the bag. That shirt looks so cute on you. Think about the bulge in your pants. Put my dirty purple piglet ruffle socks into the bag. Press everything down. We’ll wash it all later. Still plenty of room. Put your Serengeti-large and tiger-sharp African game knife into the bag. Perfect. Press everything down. Zip. Lovely. Unzip. Lovely. One last look. Inhale. Lovely. Zip it up.
Bag in hand, I bang on the bathroom door. “What are you doing in there? Jerking off without me?”
“Are we late?” Your garbled voice through the water sounds. “I’m just thinking.”
“Well think fast. We gotta go get my bookbag. And I need to change.”
I go downstairs cautiously. No one’s home but I go slowly just to be safe. It’s all quiet. Dining room empty. Breakfast dishes in the kitchen. I let myself out the back and then into the garage.
Flip on the overhead light. It’s dingy yellow. Hardly lightens things at all. I hit the door switch and after some grinding and grumbling the garage is open to the alley. Your yellow-painted bug is sitting there cutely. I saw you take that entire engine apart once, set every belt and tube and screw on the floor of the garage, oil it all, shine it, and put it back together piece by piece. The whole engine. Myself, I don’t know a thing about cars. I open the driver’s side door and place your duffel bag on top of a horrendous pile of shit in the back seat. I tap the bug on its roof for good luck. I say hello to the bug in my mind. But the bug does not say hello back, even in my mind. We’re not verbal with one another, but we’re pleasant nonetheless. I think we need to paint this bug blue. Chalky blue. Not light blue, and definitely not baby blue, but some sort of light chalky blue.
I sit in the driver’s seat. Put my hands on the wheel. Someone goes past in the alley. Was it your neighbor? Your garage is cleaner than my idea of what a garage should be. Garages are places where people kill themselves. I wonder vaguely as to the mechanics of this. Is it really as simple as sitting there with the car on? Don’t you need a hose or something? Can it be a water hose? Or is it a certain kind of hose you need? How do people figure that out? I guess the ones who don’t do enough research are the ones who kill themselves unsuccessfully and end up in the hospital with their family all around them, crying.
I’m think I’m about to have a nervous breakdown. I’m packing my stuff tonight. I’m putting everything in the bug and I’m going to Albuquerque. Maybe Sedona. If I can make it that far. Probably end up in Oklahoma but at least it’s not here where we have confederate flags on people’s trucks and the highest murder per-capita in the country. English teachers handing out crossword puzzles. Some people, when you say that to them about the English teachers handing out crossword puzzles, they don’t understand what the problem is. Hey, if you don’t understand what the problem is with that then I can’t help you.
I’m gonna put everything in that back seat.
It doesn’t need to be packed nice and neat. We can organize it when we unpack, after we get wherever we’re going. Wait till we have some shelves to put this shit in before we worry about where everything’s gonna go. Biggest mistake of my life: not dropping out after ninth grade. This is the last year I’m doing this. You have to understand, when you’re in a political argument or an argument about education, even a religious argument, economics, whatever, that you’re arguing within the framework that has been set up by the discussion. My life is like that right now. Whether I’m on the pro side or the con side of this hypothetical argument, certain invisible assumptions have been set up for me, so as original as I think I’m being, or as controversial, essentially I’m not saying shit. Argue till the cows come home. Argue till the bell rings. Argue till your breath runs out. Doesn’t change the basic pretense of the conversation, which is the same for people on both sides of the argument. If I take one suitcase of clothes and a crate of personal items that should be plenty. Not even a crate. Maybe just a suitcase and my bookbag. I don’t need much for a trip like this. We’ll get more stuff when we get there. Close the driver’s door. The floor is cluttered with pens. You like to take notes. You’re always writing, even when you drive. But you should never do that. You should never take notes in life. While you’re taking notes you’re missing out on things you should be doing right then. Instead of later when you’re processing your list. But I’m getting distracted. Don’t do that. Tonight we’re gonna pack the car. I hit my head on the steering wheel, thrice, softly. It’s not don’t take any notes. It’s don’t follow your notes. Or just: don’t follow notes. That the note distracts from actually doing the thing the note is designed to make you do. Can I get everything I need into this back seat? I think I can get everything that I need into this back seat. What do I need? Some clothes. Sandpaper. My books. And keys. Keys. We’ve got to make a second set of keys. And we need to repaint this thing.
Imagine California. Even if I have to work in a factory. I can do that. I can probably work in a library or a coffeehouse. Don’t really want to wash dishes, and I know I can never serve as I’d have to speak my mind with the patrons (which wouldn’t be pretty). People who go to restaurants are assholes. But I could work in a factory. You can’t be egotistical about your job when you work in a factory. Which isn’t to say anything negative about people who work in factories. Quite the opposite. Their job just doesn’t give them anything to be overly proud of. Which I think is a great advantage. Rob works at GM. I could do that.
I could do that. But it wouldn’t matter what my job was. Even when I met all the dorks who live in whatever town we go to, it would be ok. They would at least be new dorks! I just would never invite them to the house. Anyway I’m a dork too.
I might even steal your bug if you won’t go with me. I wouldn’t like it. I wouldn’t want to drive alone at first. And I definitely wouldn’t want to live alone at first. But I would do it if I had to. If I have to I will. I don’t think you’d mind if I stole your car. I think you’d understand it was for a greater purpose. I’d drive this bug right to New Mexico. I think I would like Montana, North Dakota, or South Dakota. Anywhere that’s bleak.
You’re right beside me. Standing next to me. Next to the bug.
I pull you in. “I think we should leave today.”
“Ok. Seriously?” You smell like freshly cleaned boy.
“I’m gonna die here. If not today then Friday. Come away with me. We’ll start a circus.” Whatever you want to make a note about doing, that’s what you should be doing now. That’s it. Don’t make the note. Use the idea that you should make a note as impetus to simply do the thing. Right now. “Will you?”
“I want to go in summer.” You avoid my eyes.
“I know you want to graduate here.”
“Not really. I just — want to finish the year.” But you do. You do. You want to graduate here.
“What are you learning? They’re not teaching you anything.”
“My class at Sinclair.”
“They have community colleges everywhere.”
I would try distracting you with sex, but there’s no use distracting someone with sex in a situation like this. “Please. Come with me.”
You settle yourself in the driver’s seat and I’m sliding over.
“Seatbelt.” You say, and close your door.
I put on my seatbelt. “Please let’s go today. If we’re ever gonna go let’s go today. I’ll be nice, I promise. I’ll even drive. You can read to me.” Smile. Put my hand on your leg and lean into you. Let you smell my neck. (It’s worth a try.) “I’ll even pack your things. Look. I already put some things in here. We’ll just put a few more in and then we’ll go.” Kiss your lips. Kiss them again. My pleading eyes. “Want me to pack for you?”
Of course you say no. You find some madly polite way of doing it, as usual. I love you. I do. And in an hour all this will be forgiven. But you’re lucky I speak to you. You’re lucky I make time in my life for you. When I’m an old woman I will live on a mountain and be inaccessible to anyone who can’t climb it. That is how lucky you are, William. Because you happen to know me at a time in my life when I need the company. In the future I am much more picky.
You park in the student lot.
I get out of the bug. “See you soon.” I wave a kiss and head off. You’ve got things to do. And I’m not in the mood. You go toward the theatre.
I’m at the courtyard. Stairs going into the main entrance. Part of the building passes over the area where we wait in the morning to go in.
BJ standing on one of the concrete bench/table things with his hands in the air. Doing some hackey sack move. He flips it up. Dyson misses it. It rolls away. And Dyson’s running to catch it. With his tattooed head, his chains jingling.
Molly’s face deep in a tiny blue book, her playbook. She reads it with stern eyes. Her back against a square column. Ass on the concrete. Last year Dyson had Molly convinced that the world was gonna end and now they don’t speak anymore. I don’t think BJ ever really believed it but he went along with it. Sharon? I don’t know if Sharon believed it. But Molly definitely did. I never really knew how to approach the whole issue. What’s the nice way to tell someone they have a messiah complex?
BJ sits down in front of Molly. Molly wraps him in her legs. She’s wearing a teal leotard under a fur coat and she presses her breasts into BJ’s back. Molly’s breasts are smaller than mine but they work out ok in a leotard. She’s brushing her hands through BJ’s hair. Biting his neck. She wore that same leotard yesterday. If I was alone with Molly I would cut up her tits with a mirror shard. And I would cut up her whole body. I’d probably torture her. I’m very sick.
Molly sees me. “Top of the day.”
Top of the day yourself. I say. “Hi.”
Lowering her book. “How does the wintry sun meet you this morning?”
I just ignore her. I’m sick of this Renaissance Fair bullshit.
Molly tries to stand and come after me but BJ sits her down and she goes back to biting his neck. She’s very well trained.
Dyson kisses one of his chains and puts his arm around me. “And where is William?”
“How should I know?” I take his arm off. “I can’t keep track of your boyfriends.”
Dyson sits next to Jared. On the concrete in front of them is a chess mat. Dyson looks at me and kisses his chains again. Jared is tapping pieces on the concrete, the mat, his head, and swapping and changing pieces on the board — check check check. Tap tap tap. Swap. Tap. Check. And with his other hand, he’s writing. Schematics? Architectural plans? There’s some angles in there. The guy is either an idiot savant or maybe possibly he’s got something. Either way, Jared’s definitely a thug. Him and Dyson robbed a Burger King earlier this year.
I go sit by my puddle. It’s muddy today. My mud puddle is away from everyone. Over by the wall. I drop my bag and sit on the concrete. I’m folding a tiny piece of paper. Making a paper hat. If you crimp the edges right, it’s a hat-boat. I place it carefully in the pond. Watch the sleeves. Watch the sleeves. Don’t want to get them dirty. Float the hat-boat on the water. Breeze blowing. It feels more like May than February. This would be a good day to skip. Let’s skip, William. Let’s go to the park and ride the spring ponies, the spring ponies, ride them back and forth, back and forth. Let’s hide in the treehouse. Ride the welded streetcar. I will suggest this to you when I see you next. Go paper hat. Float boat. Ride on your tiny wind.
The bell rings and everyone moves at once.
I look around. I watch them go up the main steps. All these people. And they’re all so clockable. Most of them I can tell you everything you would ever need to know just by looking at them. Tell you easier than I can spell their name. A name is very important. If I can spell you, often I know everything I need to know about you. If I can do you like C-a-r-o-l or N-a-d-i-a or M-a-r-c-u-s then I definitely have you. For a Jared it’s not as simple, and we have to look beyond spelling. But spelling is very important. I look out at this crowd. Some of you are playing hackey sack. And some of you are writing textbooks. Basically what you’re doing right now is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your lives.
I’m up the steps and through the main doors. I go through the metal detector and raise my arms for the wand. A group of girls examines me.
Security. We have cameras in the hallways. Surrounded by semi-spherical mirrors. The mirrors are made of plastic so if someone breaks them they won’t hurt anyone. All the doors are locked so that you can’t get in from the outside. They are kept that way all the time except for short segments during lunch when you can take a break outside or in the morning for a few minutes when everyone comes inside. We have armed security guards. They used to carry just pistols but now they have big guns. They don’t always carry their rifles, except at the doors. But the main office has an ammo room now. It used to be someone’s office. Now it’s walled with guns. Guards are on the court during basketball games. During plays there are guards at the theatre doors. You’re watching Our Town, or The Miracle Worker, and there are rent-a-cops with major artillery standing behind you. I guess they’re watching too. It must be uncomfortable to watch a play with a rifle in your arms. I mean what are you thinking? They’re looking for some kid to start shooting. Is it gonna be someone on stage — one of the actors? Someone in the audience? Are they gonna come from behind, John Wilkes Booth style? Are they gonna come in the theatre from outside the school and start shooting? It just seems like a lot to worry about while you’re watching a play.
We have security drills. This is in addition to fire drills and tornado drills. Here we don’t have earthquake drills. Security drills are where we pretend that we’re being attacked by people with guns. The guards stand at the doors. We lock doors. We unlock doors. We lock them again. We move from one room to another. We practice going from our various classrooms to being all together in the auditorium. I’m not sure what the purpose of that is. So we can all be shot at in one central place? Aren’t you an easier target when everyone’s together? What if we’re in the middle of a security drill, locked in the auditorium, and there’s a fire?
None of the outside doors have windows. They’re steel fire doors. The inside doors are wooden and have a tiny square window at the top. The windows are plastic. Inside each window is a criss-crossed wire mesh. Every window on the outside of the school has an additional wire grid plating. Diagonal grids of wavy bars. This is so that in a tornado the shards of plastic won’t fly around and cut you. Or to keep out burglars or something. Not that there’s anything to steal. I mean what would you steal? It’s a fricking school. What are you gonna steal, a whiteboard?
Security is a joke. They stop and ask for these ultraviolet passes. Shine their little light on them. Make sure they’re really ultraviolet. Give me a break. You can print that shit out on the internet.
You’re not supposed to be allowed to bring knives into the school. Not even a one-inch knife on a keychain. But of course everyone has them. If they say we can’t have them, people bring them in just to break the rule. I guess it’s a good rule. People stab each other with X-Acto knives all the time. I saw this kid in shop class, Anton Reddy. He got stabbed in the chest by this kid Blaise in the machine shop. They were just playing around. They weren’t even fighting. But a piece of Anton’s chest came out and they suspended Blaise. It was a very exact cut. This little chunk of Anton’s chest came right out. But the point about the X-Acto knives is that they’re available in school. They’re in the shop room. They’re in the art classes. There’s a rule you can’t bring knives to school but the school already has knives in it. There are knives that are required to be in school. So essentially we have a rule that there have to be knives in school, but there’s also a rule that there can’t be knives in school. There’s a law downtown like that. It’s illegal to sit on the sidewalks downtown. But they don’t care if say a pregnant woman sits down on the sidewalk because she’s tired. The law is just there so they can arrest people they want to arrest anyway. Or the way we “punish” people for skipping class. The ones who actually get caught for such things. They put you in the lunchroom. It’s called hall sweep. If you’re cutting class, “wandering the halls,” they put you in the lunchroom for the rest of the period. So let me get this straight. If I don’t want to go to class, and I’m wandering the halls, then you’ll put me in the lunchroom for the rest of the period, preventing me from going to class. You’re helping me not go to class. If they wanted you to be in class they would put you in class. But that’s the thing. They don’t want you to be in class. Pseudo-intellectuals — Jenna for example — will argue this type of thing with you to hell and back. They’ll say that you can’t have “people like that” in class with the people who really want to learn. But Jenna’s wrong. People who are sort-of smart trip themselves up with thoughts. If the mission of the school is to teach people, then helping people not go to class is not something you do. There’s actually no discussion that needs to happen after that point. Except pseudo-intellectuals like Jenna think that there is. But their arguments are based on — basically stuff that’s too disgusting for me to think about. Stuff that ends with -ism.
The security guard never really checks my bag anymore. He just pokes around the top. Pushes around some Somerset Maugham. Maybe a little Kierkegaard. Then says. “Arright young lady.” And waves me on.
I love that guy. I heft my bag off the table.
Some voice from somewhere: “I think it’s just indecent. I hope you never become a mom.”
Who said that? Was that about my clothes? Is that fucking Jenna? Why is it that people who are such bitches to me are also so hot? Maybe they’re just hot to me because they’re bitches. I can’t tell. It was Jenna. There’s that pack of them up there. It’s Jenna, Sara Krey, Jessica Tak, and Kristen Picket. And Jenna’s looking straight at me. Fucking whores. They’re gonna become moms? I’d like to see that.
They’re still talking about me. I’m walking past them and they’ve all stopped to stare. They’re looking at my stockings, then back at my face, then at my skirt. Jenna says. “Too bad you learned how to dress from your mom.”
I say. “Too bad you got your face from yours.” And I keep walking. But it’s not true. Jenna’s face is fine. I mean, from an objective point of view, her face, her skin, her hair — it’s perfect.
From behind me I hear. “Try not dressing like a whore. Bitch.” That’s Jenna.
Then Kristen Picket with. “They’re giving free abortions at Planned Parenthood.” Which doesn’t even make any sense. But I let it go.
Choke your ass next time. “Do you want to get choked?” I say that under my breath. My face is burning. But I keep walking. What are you gonna do with people like that? I’m headed for the office. Ten minutes till homeroom. Although I’m probably skipping homeroom today. I don’t hear anything more from Jenna and Company. My heart’s beating a little fast. Hopefully they’re not back there filling a Coke bottle with sulfuric acid and about to spray it on me. That happened once in this hallway. Not between me and them. But still, I think about it when I’m here. I think people who just have babies and do nothing else are cop-outs. I mean people who all they do with their lives is have kids. Of course I was born, and it’s kind of a strange thing to say “thank you” for, but I guess if I was being interviewed and someone asked me, I’d say thanks to my mom for having me. Some people imagine their weddings when they’re young. Did you know that? They see themselves getting married and making babies and being happy. Apparently most people do this. Like it’s normal to imagine such a future. But I don’t see myself getting married. Unless you wanted to. I think there’s something wrong with me.
Down the hall I’m filling out forms in Mr. Baumgartner’s. At the circle table. Couple kids waiting, another kid at the table with me. Girl I don’t know. New girl. Transfer. I’m writing with my gel pen so I don’t have to press so hard. Graduation Year Desired: this one. Course Hours Completed: all of them. Summer School/Additional Credits: list the details. Reason For Decision: Because this place fucking sucks. Reason for Decision. Write: omitted. This field intentionally left blank. Because this place is a stewing ground for illiterate racist idiots? They should have checkboxes and that should be one of the options. Check. Because I find it difficult to learn inside a prison? Check. Because: I want you all to go to hell? Smiley face. Double underline. Please go to hell. Would you like us to go to hell? Please check one: yes/no. Yes, definitely. Today if possible. Permanent residence desired. I will send you postcards. Sign my name. Student ID Number: unknown. Look it up yourself. Signed and dated. Fuck y’all. Have a nice year. Without me. Happily without me.
I stand. The transfer kid checks out my stockings. I put the form on Mr. Baumgartner’s desk and I’m out the door.
Mr. Baumgartner calls me back. He tries to stop me.
I don’t answer. I close the door in his face: shut nice and neat.
Through the glass, Mr. Baumgartner saying something. He’s on mute.
I wave. Smile. Turn and go.
I’m in the main office negotiating with this psycho-bitch employed by the school.
She passes my form back over the counter. “You need to put an X here.”
“Are you kidding? I already put an X in like three different places.”
“This X means that you acknowledge you waive the right to request school-reimbursed textbook expenses after this year.”
X. Quick and Easy Done. Pass it back to her.
She’s shaking her head. “Won’t you miss hanging out with your friends next year?”
This bitch obviously doesn’t understand. I don’t have any friends. Just smile at her. She’ll lose interest in a second. They have difficulty concentrating on one subject for long periods of time. I take a paperclip from her organizer and while she’s blubbering I run it into my arm. The skin above my wrist. Just poke it right in. Puncture it. How do you like that? You don’t. You don’t notice. I could probably ram this paperclip in both my eyes while I’m standing here and you’d keep talking. What was that? You don’t think it’s a good idea that I miss my senior year? You don’t know that these summer classes are going to fulfill the standard graduation requirements? Well too bad. Too bad for you, you widowed whore, but keep talking. Drag this paperclip against my arm all day if I have to listen to you. Cut that white ball of hair off a potentially bald head. Is that a wig you fucking — punch. I punched another hole in my forearm. That one’s bleeding. A little dead white sliver of skin coming off around part of the hole. From where I scraped it before. Oh you noticed? Yes I’ll take a tissue. Set the paperclip down on her desk, bloody tip and all. Yeah, slide your chair back you sheltered suburbia bitch, I know where you park your car. No I don’t need to go to the nurse. “What’s she gonna do, issue a bandaid?” Give me a piece of that Scotch tape from your dispenser. See. All better. Fixed. Quick and Easy Done. Q.E.D. You were saying? No. Please continue. I don’t need to see a counselor. Please continue. I was enthralled. Let’s have another piece of tape. I’ll tape your mouth shut if you say another word. Say it. Say it. Say something else.
Tape you shut.
Spencer next to me talking to another of these office bitches. “Well. I wouldn’t say that I’m exactly happy to be back.” Then insanely quickly: “But I’m glad you’re happy that I’m back.” Then normal speed: “I’m.” Then a drawn-out pause. I’m — “elated that today is Tuesday.” Then insanely quickly: “As Tuesday is the best day of the week but.” Then a drawn-out pause. Then at normal speed: “Under the circumstances, no.” Then a pause. “I wouldn’t.” Then a pause. “Say.” — “That.” — “I” — “Am.” — “Exactly.” — “Happy.” Then insanely quickly: “To be back.” That’s Spencer.
Here’s Spencer’s fucking bitch clerk at the desk. “So. It’s already first period. Give this note to Mr. Meechen.”
Spencer shuffling with his briefcase. Just for show. Not opening it. Not getting anything out of it. Not putting anything into it. For all we know there’s not even anything in it. But just for show. Clacking it on the countertop faking a knee spasm jerking his leg upward and slamming it on the briefcase causing an involuntary shoulder jerk hitting himself in the eye with the corner of the briefcase throwing his head backward and his whole body jumping back a foot. This is a kid in eleventh grade. I can’t wait to see what he’s like when he’s thirty.
Spencer’s bitch clerk smiles politely at him. I doubt the look on my face is that supportive. “Ok!” She says meaninglessly.
Spencer sees me on his way out of the office. He adjusts his glasses. They go from crooked. To straight. “Cheerio.” An elaborate tip of an imaginary hat, a courtesy, a bow. He ends up on one foot somehow.
“Cheers.” I say.
Auditorium. You and Mrs. Reece and them will be in there practicing. Play opens Friday. The Diary of Anne Frank. I never got into theatre. Lean back on the double doors. Through them. Stage lights on. House lights off. Mrs. Reece, fat, sitting smack in the middle of the auditorium. Smattering of students around her. She’s watching the stage intently. She doesn’t see me come in. I hear your voice. Raspy, muted, deep. Like your sister’s. It’s not the voice I would expect given your face. I slip behind the curtain. Set my bag down gently. June is here, goofy little June. Ass on a crate. Elbows on her knees. Chin in the palms of her hands. Tacky fishnets over pale legs. She’s looking onstage. Is she watching my William?
That fucking bitch is watching my William.
Bright white of unpainted backdrops in the spotlights. Light coming through from the stage to where we are behind the curtains. June glares at me and I’m sure I glare back. She’s a simplistic whore. What else do you want me to say?
I go and stand between her and the stage. If she’s watching William, make her work for it. You can’t spend all your time bumming around backstage at high school plays. I mean come on. And it is you she’s watching. You’re doing a scene with Molly. Molly’s supposed to be your daughter. Which is kind of weird because I’m pretty sure you like each other in real life. I know she likes you. I think you like her. You probably do. I mean she has a pussy. And she writes weird intellectual poetry. Which I’m sure you like. What can I say? It’s not my style. I think intellectuals are full of shit. But if that’s what you’re into. What can I do. Now June. That I will never understand.
I turn my head back to June. The bitch has stood up and is watching your scene. Her eyes dart to me. Hatred. Good. Hate me. I want you to.
You are giving some fatherly advice to Molly’s character. Molly is playing Anna Frank. You are Mr. Frank. Your hair is poofy and beautiful. When you are done I will kiss you. I may kiss you everywhere on your body, right in front of these people. Pull you into the shadow of the stage curtain. Touch you everywhere. Molly is leaning back on you and you put your hand on her head approvingly. You would make a wonderful father. And I know just how to arrange that. You’re so loving and careful. We just have to fuck first. Can’t seem to get that to happen. I mean it’s a logistical problem. It’s mainly a logistical problem.
The lights go out. Was that the end of the scene? It seemed like kind of an awkward ending.
Mrs. Reece’s voice booming from the seats. “Go get some water, go to the bathroom, meet back here in ten minutes.”
Unintelligible talk from kids in the seats.
Mrs. Reece. “Hurry back. Work out your bodies. Do some stretching. You have ten minutes. Be here at 25 after.”
Molly walks past me. “Hey.” She says.
June’s voice. “That was great Molly!”
You try to walk past me. I grab your belt. “Hi.”
We’re in the curtain folds. I bite your neck. Your hands on my torso. The bottom of my breasts. I’m pulling you to me and your tongue is on my neck.
“So I have ten minutes with you, huh?”
You bite me hard.
The lights are off and Mrs. Reece is getting some water herself so we move to Anna Frank’s couch. Or Anna Frank’s parents’ couch. Or maybe it’s their spare couch. The one that didn’t make the cut to go in the living room. The one pushed to the dark of a backstage corner. Between the stage curtain and the back wall. I’m lying down. My back on the scratchy fabric. You’re kneeling on top of me. I look over the back of the furniture across the set. June’s gone. Back to class? Molly too. To do stretches. Probably right outside in the hall. The weight of you on top of me. Your hands, your wrists, my ankles, pulled tight and awkward in leather boots. This is why I wear stockings. This is the reason I wear these boots. Skin sheared by silk. Cased in leather. Your leg is on my crotch. Pressing in to me. Then bright light. Someone opened the door.
It’s Jason. And Mrs. Reece with him.
Jason screws up his face. Affected surprise. And says. “O-kaaay.”
Mrs. Reece says. “William, I need you on the stage in eight minutes.” Then Mrs. Reece looks at me. She shakes her head.
Why do they do that? Bizarre looks. Disapproving stares. Don’t I deserve a verbal admonition?
Mrs. Reece lets the door fall closed.
You are intent on me. You are holding the back of my neck. “Let’s go upstairs.”
Upstairs. In Anna Frank’s bed. I guess this is where Anna Frank’s parents have sex. There’s some scene in the bedroom. I think the whole family sleeps here actually. The shop class built a second floor into the set. It’s just one room with a mattress and a lamp in it. You get there by climbing a ladder. Was Anna Frank’s bedroom like this I wonder?
I’m pulling up your shirt. My hands on your navel, your belly, your nipples.
You’re kissing me and your hands are going down my skirt.
I stop your hand before it gets to Jenna’s panties.
This second floor shakes when you even sit down on the bed. You must have to be very careful when you do scenes here. The bed isn’t even on a stand. It’s just a mattress on a plywood floor. A lamp plugged into an extension cord. Unpainted particle-board walls. No blankets. A funny smell in the mattress. The real Anna Frank bedroom was probably worse.
I don’t know if I want to have sex with you right now William. I don’t know if I can. In my dreams it’s always in a hammock. I think I must have had some questionable childhood experience in a hammock. I imagine bare feet. Ropes. Feet on ankles. Wriggling toes. I imagine our hair together. Running together like water. Or wind. Strands of it entwined. Our hands locked. Our entire self locked.
You’re whispering dirty things to me.
In a few minutes the rehearsal is gonna start again. Maybe they can keep going without you. And you can stay here with me. We can make love while they do some other scenes. “What are you doing second period?”
Your fingers on my neck. You say. “Going to class?”
“Boo.” I can feel your weight on me. “Meet me in the paint lab.”
You’re pressing me into Anna Frank’s parents’ mattress.
“What are you doing after school?”
You bite my bottom lip.
“Come to the print lab.”
You stop biting me. “After the test?”
“The test? It’s called the PSAT. Yes, after the test.”
“Ok but now you have to go. We’re gonna rehearse — ”
“I know.” I punch you in the stomach.
“Are there any scenes of the play without you in them?”
You give me one light kiss on my forehead, which I hate.
I take that as a no.
Heft my ALICE pack and go. The bookbag bulges. It has ten books in it. The lockers aren’t safe. They get bashed in. Things get stolen out of them. Sometimes they explode.
Clack of my combat boots on the marble. Out of the auditorium, past the main office and the metal detectors. Front hallway empty. First period is halfway over. Hall sweep is in effect. If I’m found I may be sent to the cafeteria to wait out the rest of the period. Not really into that. Head downstairs. Head to the lab. Find a music private lesson room that’s unused. No one ever looks in those. Find Mr. Walker. Hide out in the sculpture studio. Darkroom not open yet. Not till second period. What’s today? Is it Tuesday? What the fuck class am I supposed to be in? Oh wait. It’s Tuesday. Second period is AP Bio. We have lab on Tuesdays. I’ll make it to that but gotta kill some time first. Hanging out in the auditorium is not an option. I’m not gonna sit around watching you do scenes from Anne Frank.
Paper due in French Thursday. Need you to look at that. I have statements in the third person, mixed second-person, it’s all wrong. I need it all in the correct tense. I’ve got my pluperfect and my conditionals mixed up. Maybe some future perfect in there by accident. I always had trouble with tense and I know it’s something that comes naturally to you. You’ve got a big vocabulary. I do too actually but I never use it in public. It’s unsafe. It’s actually unsafe to use your full vocabulary. You don’t want to stick out. I already stick out, even with limiting my words. Vocabulary isn’t that important for Playboy models. On the list, it’s below puss and tits.
I go past the main office. Spencer in there. Why is he still there? Oh yeah. He got suspended last week for bringing a water pistol. He’s probably got a lot of paperwork to fill out. Bright red plastic pistol, didn’t even have water in it. Spencer. A little fat but very funny. Good with words. A little stilted — maybe look at that. He could find a job as a humor writer. Maybe for a newspaper. I get stares from the office. Frigid housewives, nasty hair. These people hate their life and the best they can do is stare at my sweet ass. Their dry fake tight curly hair. Fat dresses to cover their fat pelvic-stomach area. I get looks from them? Look at me, go ahead. Spencer doesn’t see me. The fat mom he’s talking to does. Flares go off in her eyes. Is she looking at my stockings? These whores think this is 1964. That’s right. That’s right. Keep looking. See this sweet ass? You wasted your time, bitch. I give my ass a little pat, left cheek.
Go past the counselor’s office. Mr. Baumgartner’s still there. No one will ever think you’re cutting class if you sit in there but it’s a shitty place to hang out.
Hallway clear. Down the corner stairs. No one here. Writing desk in the hallway. I try a private lesson door. Locked. Sound of choir kids from Mrs. Caswell’s. Choir door open. Can I sneak by without Mrs. Caswell seeing me? Yes. Don’t need to see Charisma right now. Definitely don’t need to see Jessica Tak or Kristen Picket. I get past at least without Mrs. Caswell seeing me and I try not to notice who else is in there.
Coming around into the back hallway. Here’s Marcel walking backwards. Talking up some girl. Hands in the air. “You know where to find me. I know you know that.” Marcel sees me. He shakes his head. “Mmm mmm mmm. Girl, you’re gonna start a riot with that ass.”
“Shouldn’t you be in class or something?”
Past Marcel, besides the other girl he’s talking up, it’s just a special-ed kid waaay down the hall. The special-ed door open. Kid sitting in a desk outside the room. It’s Kayla.
Marcel. “Where you going? I ain’t done looking at you yet.”
“Go to class Marcel.” I turn and smile. He’s still looking at me. With that other girl behind him in the hallway.
“Ass of your quality is scarce around here. I gotta feast, when there’s a feast.”
“Have you ever heard the story of the dog and his bone?”
“Nah. I’m’onna have to look that up.”
Turn around. Keep walking. “Get to class Marcel.”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.” He goes back to the other girl. “Baby. Where you going?”
Past Mrs. Klein, door closed, steel reinforced plastic, tiny window at the top of the door. You can hear her yelling even through that. I had six weeks of summer school with that bitch. Never again. Never again. I’m graduating this year. Tired of this fucking place. Here’s Sara Krey. Don’t look. Don’t look. Pretend I’m looking at the ceiling, oh lovely, nice spherical mirrored security camera, nice camera. Get past Sara, get past. Whore-beast. Roaches in her cooter. Don’t they have a rule against the lesser primates attending public school? Sara frowns. Did she just frown at me? Mother of god, did that whore just frown? At me? What the fuck does she think this is? What did I do to offend her? Just ’cause your mom makes you wear jeans to school. I turn around, walk backwards. Check the bitch out. She’s not looking back. I hope you get a glass bottle stuck in your cunt you fucking whore. Break it off and get rushed to the hospital with that shit bleeding. I give her the finger. She’s not looking.
I stop walking. I stop walking. What’s wrong with me? What is wrong with me.
Special-ed kid to my left. Kayla — I don’t know her last name. Super-sweet, but her mouth is always open. And she has a crush on my William.
Sara disappearing down the hall, straight-ass ponytail swinging on every step. Pudgy-butt. It’s like she gets jeans with a butt-size that’s one size too big. Or like she wears big underwear.
I could cry. I could actually cry right now. Turn and walk. Just go. Go. Don’t look at Sara. Definitely don’t look at Kayla. Don’t see her face. Special-ed kids break me up. She’s looking at me. Don’t look at her. She’s holding up a paper in my face. Don’t look at her paper. There. Boots. My boots. Look at my boots. If I look at Kayla’s paper or if Kayla smiles at me I will cry.
I go to the stairwell and sit. I sit here for 25 minutes. Kayla doesn’t follow me. Only a few people see me while I’m sitting here. I pretend to read Heinlein but the main purpose the paperback serves is as a really shitty blotter for tears.
I go upstairs early so that as soon as the bell rings I’m at Dr. Mancini’s. He’s my second period. Why a guy with a PhD is teaching high school biology I don’t know. Perhaps he’s got a criminal record. I don’t have any reason to think that. I’m just saying. There’s got to be some reason he works here. Like a criminal past. Not creepy sex stuff, but maybe murder. Like a knocked back charge. Second degree. Manslaughter. Something.
Dr. Mancini draws down the projection screen in the front of the classroom. We’re dissecting today. On this screen a digital projector will show us an animated presentation of what to do. Step by step. Through the insides of the animal. You can kind of just keep your eyes on the screen and make your hand go through the movements shown in front of you. You look down every once in a while to make sure your animal is on track. We did this before with mice.
We did cows’ eyes and frogs in regular bio. And I did a shark once in preschool.
Today is cats. Dr. Mancini is fussing with the projector. PowerPoint isn’t his thing. Actually I don’t think it’s PowerPoint but I’m just saying. Computers aren’t his thing.
He’s quite good with a scalpel though.
I’ve got the school-supplied dissection knife, plus an X-Acto knife I stole from the paint lab, plus a very sharp pencil. Just in case. And I also have a mirror shard in the back of my bookbag. The one from my bathroom. You remember.
These implements are set on a loosely-folded segment of industrial paper towel. My cat is before me.
“You don’t have to be careful with these first incisions. Just enter your animal at the abdominal region, through the transverse abdominis. Watch now.”
The animation starts. Dr. Mancini comes up the center aisle. There are only eight people in the room, including the teacher. There are three pairs of students. It’s Amy and James. Megan and Maggie. Jenna and Alison. Then me. Then Dr. Mancini. I’m a year younger than the others in this class. This is their senior AP Bio class. I joined the class a week late for administrative reasons and during our first lab Dr. Mancini suggested I join one of the already-formed partnerships for lab purposes. But none of them seemed suitable to me so I work on my own. Everyone in this class hates me. That, however, is not my concern.
My concern is dissecting cats, pigs, worms, or whatever else Dr. Mancini asks us to do. Everyone in here thinks I suck up to Dr. Mancini. But that’s not true. He annoys me frankly. Somehow, though, in these people’s minds, staying alert and asking questions in class is sufficient condition for me being a suck-up. That’s why I’m graduating early. I have to get out of this place.
Dr. Mancini at the front of the room. Holding his scalpel at eye level kind of like a dancer might hold his partner in a waltz. He shivers. Then approaches the cat. “Follow the guide. Stay with me. Blade excursions are solid lines. Fold points are dotted lines. The primary incision is shown in green.”
Some confusion from Jenna and her partner.
“Do not worry if your animal does not resemble the guide animal. As you will see, they are all quite similar once you remove the fur.”
A solid green line traces along the belly of the guide animal. My head is high. I’m looking at the screen. My hand moves without my looking. I had already marked the start point with my finger and can feel the sculpture of the body in my hands well enough to guide the knife. I’m using the school-supplied scalpel for this.
“How are you doing?”
Jenna’s partner Alison speaks. “Can you pause the animation?”
“This whole class.” Dr. Mancini says. “Is about pausing animation.”
“This cat is too large. His fluffiness is getting in the way of the incision.” That’s Jenna.
I have my primary incision finished now and I look down to check it. It’s perfect. I lay the scalpel beside my other instruments. There’s no way Jenna is gonna make it as a doula, much less a nurse. “You do know doulas have to clean up people’s shit.”
“Shut up.” I don’t turn around but I can imagine Jenna glaring at me with her scalpel in-hand, too-fluffy unpunctured cat before her on the desk.
“It’s true.” I say. “People shit themselves when they have babies.”
“Please everyone stick with your dissection. You don’t need to help each other. Jenna. Alison. Put your knife to the animal.”
Jenna and Alison don’t move.
Dr. Mancini holds up his knife to show them. “Put your knife to the animal.” He leaves his desk and goes to help them.
I’m watching the screen. Dotted green fold-points fade in along the bottom sides of the guide animal. My hands are working. Folding back the cat. Opening it. I can feel through the outer layer that some of the insides are still frozen. Other parts have warmed up. Like food cooked in the microwave. Dr. Mancini probably took them out of the formaldehyde too early. Why I wonder? Then, realizing his mistake he put this cat, and possibly others, in a freezer. Again, why? Because it was easier than putting them back in jars?
“Dr. Mancini. This cat is frozen.” I look back at Jenna and Alison’s table.
As he makes an incision in Jenna and Alison’s cat, Dr. Mancini’s eyes are on me. He looks like someone from the Addams Family. Or possibly a real-life gangster. I say real-life because the thing that’s most distinct about him is that it looks like he’s been awake for a really long time. Like he’s been afraid to sleep. Or he’s been up all night torturing someone. Yep. That’s pretty much what he looks like. All he says to my comment about the cat being frozen is. “That one’s new.” And he goes back to cutting up Jenna and Alison’s cat.
I shake my head. That girl’s never gonna be a nurse. She won’t make it. She’s too weak. To be a nurse you have to give people shots and clean up people’s shit and deal with people dying. Jenna doesn’t have what it takes to operate in a high-stress environment. I’m sorry, but she doesn’t.
My eyes are back on the screen. Dr. Mancini can take care of those two. Concentrate on the guide animal. I wonder who makes these presentations. How many takes do they do? i.e. is this calico wondercat on the screen actually twins so if they mess up an incision they can do a second take? Don’t be silly. Probably whoever does this is an expert. They don’t need a second take. Fade in solid blue lines over the peritoneum. My hands go for the X-Acto knife. Smaller blade will be better. I don’t want to cut myself. Run my hand along the region indicated by the guide. Glancing up and down to check my progress. I’m on track. This is really gross. The trick is to not think about it. I don’t want to cut up this animal any more than Jenna does. Any more than any of these people. Dotted blue fold lines appear on the screen but I’m already folding back the muscles.
“Don’t worry about marking down what you see. The screen will label points of interest. You can make notes later. This presentation is on the web.”
And I’m in. I’m as in as I can be given the task. Yellow cut lines fade in around a segment of a translucent sac blocking my access to the large intestine. I guess we’re getting the big stuff out of here first. I swear to myself that I will wash my hands with turpentine, dip them in photographic stop bath in the print lab, submerge them in pools of antibacterial hand sanitizer before I eat, touch my face, see William, or do anything. Then I make a series of deep cuts at the entry and exit connectors to the cat’s intestines. As instructed by the screen I slice away the fat surrounding the intestines. Then I remove the organ. Pulling it through soapy filmy webs of whatever. Leaving a hole the rest of the limp cat slushes in to fill. And I set the intestine on wax paper on the left side of my desk. I imagine how it looks from Jenna’s point of view. There’s me. Ahead and to her right. Two desks forward. My back is to her. The shaved back of my head and the long forehead locks spiraling down. Exotic. Empirically prettier than her hair. Though I do love hers. Jet brown we’ll call it. And against her skin, so Jenna. So completely Jenna it stomps me. Dr. Mancini is probably doing their entire dissection for them. And Jenna sees me casually place a cat’s large intestine on the left side of my desk, wipe my latex hands on the industrial paper towel, lift my head, eyes to the screen, and continue with the solid orange incision about the heart. Honestly, I love that girl but she can eat me. Fade in dotted orange. Folding back a layer of muscle. I’m gonna graduate this year. Cut away the diaphragm. Fade in solid red. Cut away sinewy muscles attaching the heart. Animated movement of the heart coming loose. These demonstrations are really good. And by graduate I don’t mean you’ll be seeing me in a cap and gown. Pull away the heart. Filmy plasma glop. By graduate I mean I pick up my diploma from Mr. Baumgartner’s office. Set the solid heart on wax paper. Then I slip out a side door and you’ll never see me again. I tear off a new sheet of the industrial paper towel and carefully wipe my cheek. Never another racist comment from Mrs. McDunnough. No more crosswords from Mrs. White. I love Mrs. White. I do. But give me a fucking break. Fade in purple double lines over a reddish brown organ the screen tells me is the spleen. Are we gonna get to do the vagina? How many kidneys does a cat have? Two. Is it the same for most big animals? I have a whole collection of organs now. Diaphragm, gallbladder, liver, spleen. And the small and large intestines. Spread out on wax paper. Space between each of them. In kind of a roughly staggered grid. Blood and filmy plasma reflecting in the gray light of gated windows. Wavy diagonal wires gridding plastic windows. My latex hands stick to the paper when I set things down. They’re in all shapes and sizes. Things never seen. Things we feel inside us. Things we vaguely feel moving. Things that do jobs for us that we never understand. Lumpy things. Gummy things. Hard things. Slight things. Things thinner than a hair. A goopy system supporting thought. Looking at the screen. Rows and rows of pixels. My thoughts don’t seem goopy at all. But they are made of a goopy system. And now a thought system is telling me how to dismantle a goopy system that simple thoughts were made of. Cat thoughts. Thoughts about food and cleaning and sex drive. I wonder what my cat would think if he saw me dissecting another cat. You know their understanding is somewhere between ours and an ant’s, but where? When we buried Zelda did Lincoln understand? Zelda had gone behind the couch to die. And Lincoln had seen her there. When a cat sees a dead cat, he knows the cat is dead. Does he know what death is? Does he know what it means? I wish. I wish I could explain it to him. That’s what’s hard about being around animals. Or babies. Stuff happens that they’re sad about. Or at least stuff happens that disturbs them. That they don’t understand. And because they have no words, it is impossible to explain it to them. I can say things to them but they’ll never understand. My meaning is locked within me. I’m in a dream I can’t explain. It’s like, to a cat, human consciousness is a dream that humans can’t explain. Or to a baby, an adult is in a dream adults cannot explain. Because to the baby, my dream isn’t real. And maybe it isn’t real at all, in any sense, except that I’m deluded to think it’s real to me. It’s like I’m in a dream I can never get out of. In the sense that what I am is inside a dream. That what I am could never be outside of a dream. And the cat is outside of my dream. This cat, being dead, is really outside of my dream. Except that, to me, he’s still here.
I wipe my face again. I’m thinking of Lincoln. My little skinny cat at home. Sickly kitty on the porch. Kitty who won’t eat. Kitty whose stomach throws up all the food I give him. What part of him is wrong? What part of him is broken? I could take him apart, piece by piece, clean all the pieces and put them together again. Polish him and put him back together. He’s so rusty now. He’s my little Tin Man.
I’m crying. I’m crying into my dissection cat.
Look up. Dr. Mancini by the screen. Peering into his animal.
Without thinking I look around. Jenna might see me crying. Then all these people will have proof that I’m a freak.
But the desks have no people. Amy and James are gone. Megan and Maggie are gone. Jenna and Alison are gone.
Their desks are littered with animal parts. Knives. Paper. Boxes. Jars. Their chairs are pushed in. Their bookbags are gone. One of the windows in the back is open a slit. Cold air coming through the gridded bars.
My pencil is in my hand. Had I been using it to poke at something? Some sinew I had been examining?
Dr. Mancini sees me looking at the sharpened pencil. There’s the tiniest bit of crusted blood on its tip.
“Where did everyone go?”
From the all-night gangster, a bitter laugh. “I’m glad we didn’t disturb you.” Then back to his dissection. “They left.” He makes an incision behind the kitten’s ear and peeks behind its head. “You can stop if you want. Dissections are optional. It won’t affect your grade.”
“They all left?”
Dr. Mancini shrugs. “It’s not their thing. We’re doing the trachea now.”
In Mr. Walker’s, I brush by people painting. Walker sees me, keeps talking. He’s showing Ed Lawrence how to do hair highlights with a sponge.
Sculpture studio. Drop my bag on the floor. Pull the string on the overhead light. Sit. Everything where I left it. Check my paints. Has anyone been in here messing around with my stuff? Doesn’t seem so. Check the water. Still have water. Dry this brush on a rag. Adjust my legs. Whores. That’s all these bitches are is whores. My canvas is fine. Board-canvas. I hate stretching them. Board canvas is my life. Photo emulsion is my life. Acrylic is my life. With the occasional interruption of whores. Just paint. Sit here and paint. Reproduce this photo the best I can and don’t get emotional. Definitely don’t get emotional.
Mr. Walker at the studio door. “Need anything?” Sweetest man in the world.
Ok. He closes the door. Almost all the way. Back to teaching.
It’s a class out there and it’s a class in here. We proceed side by side. Where’s my slab-brush? Where’s my sandpaper? There. Get some brown. Tear off a strip of sandpaper, rub off the paint with it. Sand off a layer of acrylic. Down below to what I painted yesterday. I’m a boat in an ocean. The paper hat we folded. Set my boat in a mud puddle. Set me down and wind blow, blow. I paint with brown. I wear brown. I paint with black. I wear black. I paint with red. I wear red. Maybe a little olive green in there. Pea green, like you. And some white. Sweet pea, William. Sweet pea, my Pony Boy, steeped in olive green acrylic.
I’m painting this photo of you. The one I took without you knowing. When you were in Miss Theobald’s class, looking at a book of Man Ray. It’s what I’ve been painting for the last two weeks. Trying to get it right on canvas. I’m not very good with acrylics. And I’m going for a perfect reproduction.
After kneeling in this studio for ten minutes, I need to adjust. Jenna’s panties are sticking out of mine a little uncomfortably. I don’t want them to fall all the way out. I get up (carefully). I (carefully) go to Mr. Walker’s easel.
He keeps painting. He’s a great painter. And he has a perfect job. He just paints all day and lets us paint beside him. He half-turns his head and looks at me through thick glasses. “Yes?”
“I need to go across the hall.”
“Be my guest. Oh wait. Take that in case someone sees you.”
I take an ultraviolet hall pass from the table next to him. Mr. Walker and I have an understanding about all this hall-pass/hall-sweep stuff. It’s ignorant. Mr. Walker is definitely on the level. I glance at the floor of the sculpture studio — none of my notebooks are open or anything. Then I (carefully) cross the hall.
School bathrooms are gross enough to turn even me off, so this will be quick.
I’m back in the sculpture studio for a minute and Mr. Walker is at the door. You’re with him. Olive boy in a pony suit.
Mr. Walker says. “You have a guest.”
William, boy. Pea boy in a pony suit. You sit beside me.
Mr. Walker leaves the studio door open. Goes back to his class.
I say. “If I don’t kill myself then I’m gonna have to stop talking to people.”
You say. “Then stop talking to them.”
That is a good idea. That is a good idea. If I can’t make them not-stupid then I might have to. I might have to stop talking to them. The only problem is. Who am I gonna talk to?
You sit behind me and put your legs on either side.
“Did you need me for something?”
“I didn’t come for you.” You pick up our doll. It’s our naked Barbie. You’re twisting her. Making her straddle a pencil sticking out of a heating vent.
I look at you pointedly. Put my hand on the Barbie. You know what I mean. Today. You know what I mean. I’m brushing my fingertips on your skin and you get distracted. When we make out there’s something of you that’s not there. I think you’re thinking. Thinking too much. About things that are not here. Discussing things in your mind with yourself. Which I understand. Saying things in symbols. Maybe words. I turn your face to mine. Bite your lip. Look at me. Here you are. I am the Barbie. You are the pencil. Love in a box of pencils. See, there. I have some irony, too. I know a kiss is a farce, that love is a joke being played on us. I know that. But I like our joke. And I think you like it too.
You kiss the side of my neck. Kiss behind my ear. Put your hands on my stomach. All of this gives me some nervous comfort.
I say. “I don’t want to talk.” And I go back to painting.
You say. “I know that.”
I twist so I’m facing you. “But you have to stay.” I squeeze you.
“I will.” You open a notebook. It’s got some scientific scribbles in it I don’t understand. Perfect boy.
I paint. Sand down the browns. Mix in water. Dry the wet brush on a pad of newsprint. Use a corner of a rag when I have to scratch my face. Don’t want paint from my hands to get there. You write, Pony Boy, you make your scribbles. I don’t understand those plans. I am sure that I do not want to. And while you draw your plans, I’ll work on my reproduction of you. There are things you say on paper. There are things you say in words. Perfection is knowing when to say things on paper and when to say them with words. You are perfect, Pony Boy. I don’t know how you got that way. But I don’t question it.
I do not look at your plans, your notebooks. I do not ask questions about them. I draw piglets in their margins from time to time, mock you by casually underlining sections I deem important. Make words that rhyme with fragments of words that appear in your notes. Write them in pink, or green, or purple, or blue. Always carry gel pens. Keep them in my pockets. Keep one in the top of my bag. Note to self: never write on people’s skin, no matter how cute you think it makes them look. Ink is bad for the skin. It seeps into the blood and then into the brain. You do not want gel pen ink seeping into your brain. Am I correct? Yes, I think I am correct. You do not want ink in your brain. The place for ink is paper.
Barbie doll at my side. You’re poking me with her leg.
Her legs are at right angles. “Is she horny?”
Your voice in my ear. “She needs it.”
I half-turn to you. “In here?”
“In the auditorium.”
“Not through the balcony.”
I kiss you. “I’ll see you in the darkroom later. Now I’m painting. And I need to paint or I’ll go crazy. Leave me alone. Work on your plans. Meet me — ow!!”
You bit my ear.
I push you back. Turn. My knees on top of you. “You hurt me.”
You lift my skirt and slide under me. Then you bite me. Slow, firm, gentle. Your teeth raking my neck.
The bell rings. Fourth period.
I look at the open door to the sculpture studio. Everyone’s cleaning up their stuff but no one’s looking in here. They’re probably too scared. No. “No.”
I push you off. “I’ve got to go to work class.”
Work class. That’s where we do community service work around the school. But not because we committed crimes. Just because we go to school. Work class for me is right before lunch. Today our job is painting parking bumpers. That’s the thing that’s supposed to stop you if you pull your car too far into the space.
Dobos is our work class administrator. He’s swirling a couple melted pieces of ice around in a red plastic cup. It has a sippy-cup lid on the top. Like the kind you give to a toddler so they don’t spill apple juice in your car. This is the cup Dobos always drinks out of. “Flunk Annie Flunk. Flunk Maureen. Flunk Devon.” This is the way Dobos speaks to us. “I want to see some effort! Do you want to flunk?” Dobos is walking up and down our ranks.
We’re standing in the teachers’ parking lot waiting to get started.
“Do you know how fucked up you are?”
A smattering of “no”s from the crowd. This goes faster if you answer him.
“You’re so fucked up you don’t know how fucked up you are. Flunk Manny.”
Manny looks sideways. It’s hard to know the appropriate reaction to the things Dobos says.
“I brought you out here to think about how fucked up you are. And by the end of this period.” Dobos swirls the ice in his sippy-cup. “I want you to be able to tell me how fucked up you are. That’s something you should be able to tell me about yourselves.”
I’m looking at the back of Jenna’s head. Her satin brown hair. One tail of her white shirt, untucked, coming from the bottom of her jacket.
Dobos picks off the first two girls. “Get your paint. You two.” Jenna. Kristen Picket. “Get in pairs. Lead man gets the mop. Tail man gets the paint.” Dobos pushes Jenna and Kristen by their shoulders. He pushes them at their row of parking spaces. Then he points directly at my face. “You’re tail man.” He pulls me forward and picks my partner. Jessica Tak. “Tak. Get your ass over here. You’re lead man. Flunk Annie Flunk. You two take the second row. How many can you do in an hour? First one to finish doesn’t have to clean up. Race Annie Race.”
“Why can’t we paint with rollers?”
“We can’t afford rollers!”
“Flunk Jenna Flunk.” Dobos gives Annie Markowicz the next mop. “Burn Annie Burn.”
I’m painting my second parking bumper with Jessica Tak. Jessica Tak is a prime candidate for a MacArthur Genius Award. Based on her broad contributions to society. She’s not helping me. I’m running the mop. I’m pushing the mop bucket. I’m probably gonna be the one making trips to replenish the paint. In fact, if Jessica Tak gets any more helpful, I’m gonna give her one million dollars myself. We’re gonna hold the MacArthur award ceremony right here in the parking lot. Cunts like Jessica Tak are the type of people who if you’re painting parking bumpers and you use up your mop, and they have a spare mop, and you’re painting parking bumpers together, she will hold back on you and keep the other mop “for herself.” Thinking somehow that in this fucked up situation there is such a thing as her benefiting from keeping the extra mop for herself. Cunts like Jessica Tak aren’t the type of people who understand that step one is dipping the mop into the paint bucket. Step one-and-a-half is getting an entire row of parking bumpers painted before Dobos decides to keep you during lunch. Or flunk you. And step two may never happen because by the time you get to step two you probably already got flunked. Cunts like Jessica Tak think that they’re probably gonna get to step ten. They’ve worked up in their minds how great step ten is gonna be to the point that they’re complete fucktards when it comes to helping you with step one. Cunts like Jessica Tak are the kind of people who while they’re sabotaging you on step one will stand there doing nothing except pinching the clean mop between their legs. And staring you down. While you’re bent over painting parking bumpers with a dirty mop in toxic lead paint and inhaling the fumes. Jessica Tak makes it very difficult for me to feel good about giving her her MacArthur. This is the kind of person I tend to get stuck with in work class. Not because I’m doing anything to attract them. Just because of all the people out there, most of them are like Jessica Tak.
Jenna and Kristen are on the row in front of us. Marcel and Jared are on the row behind us.
“Do you know how long I was fingering that girl?” This is Marcel.
“I fingered the fuck out of that girl. I fingered that bitch for like half an hour. It took me forever to make that bitch cum. I tried to take my finger out and she put it back in. So I’m fingering her with like three fingers. And I sneak my hand out for a second and it’s like this shit. Smells like blood. By the time that fucking bitch came I had period blood all over my hand. I’m like, dried blood and shit. Fingered that bitch for thirty, forty-five minutes before she came.”
I reach toward Jessica. “Gimme that mop.”
“Oh. I think we might need this tomorrow.”
“We need it now. Hand it over.” She keeps it. She keeps twirling it between her legs. Thanks whore-beast. I’ve got your MacArthur right here and I need to finish painting these parking bumpers so I can give it to you. Thanks for helping me out. No need to say anything now. You’ll need to save that energy for the acceptance speech. With the million bucks you can buy yourself a new face. With the extra we’ll get some soap to get the pussy blood off Marcel’s hands. And some latex gloves to finger girls with next time. Fucking asshole. “She probably didn’t even cum.” I suggest.
“Oh, she came. She came after forty-five minutes!”
Jared chimes in. “She was probably faking ’cause she wanted you to get your hand out of her cunt.”
“She put my hand back in, fool. I fingered the fuck out of that pussy. Then she came.”
“Did you fuck her?”
“Of course. Why do you think I spent so long making that bitch come? Then I could do my thing.”
Upon hearing this Jessica farts. It smells like processed ham.
“I fucked her, bro.”
Jessica’s fart smells horrible. I want to throw up. What does this girl eat?
“Whatever. You fucked her.”
“Good for you.”
I pinch my nose with one hand and extend my other to Jessica. “Gimme the mop.”
Jessica holds the mop behind her. “What? This?” She’s shaking her head. “I think we’re gonna need this for the rest of the row.”
Jared and Marcel are watching.
I say. “Jessica. Give me. The motherfucking mop.”
Do you believe she argues with me? My face burns. I can’t even hear what she’s saying. I guess she doesn’t want her MacArthur. I’m a sheepshit. I should kill this girl in her fucking sleep. Tonight. Never have to smell her dumb-ass farts again. Someone who just met this girl would know she’s a cunt by the way she farts. Swear to god. Some people can’t even do that right. Tell by their farts how fucked up they are.
Finally I get to lunch.
“How ‘bout you hand over some pork sides.” The lunch lady is looking at me with bug eyes. “And a nice big pile of mash potatoes. Just take the scoop. Take the scoop. Fucking bitch.” Laughter from beside me. “There you go. Put the scoop in your warty hand and plop it on there. Get plopping. Get plopping. Mother-whore. Plop it on there. More potatoes. I’m in the mood for potatoes. And another pork side. Put three on there. Why don’t you take the day off. Sow. You fucking sow.” I take my tray and skip past the line. Need milk. Need salt.
My lunch lady shakes her head and talks to the one next to her. “I don’t know if I can work here anymore.”
End of the line. I get salt. Milk. Go right past the place where you’re supposed to pay. The checker looks surprised but nobody says a thing.
Where I sit is as far away as possible from the stupid people. Fortunately, Jenna and Company have a different lunch than me. So I don’t have to look at them. My table is all the way in the corner. Just one table between ours and the door. Everyone’s here but today I’m not in the mood for conversation. I’ve got my pork sides. I’ve got my milk. I unload the ham because it’s reminding me of Jessica Tak’s fart. I place three slices side by side on the table.
Molly doesn’t eat meat. I’d like to feed her that ham after it’s been on the table about 30 minutes. Maybe get some flies in here. Molly’s playbook is open. Face-down. She’s sitting on the back of her chair. BJ stands next to her. He’s got his hands on the teal leotard, right below her breasts. They’re pressing their bodies together. Hold on, hold on, I got this. Janel sees me planning something. I’m standing up in my seat. What does Janel care? I give her the eye. She just gives it back and puts a baby carrot in her mouth. Good girl, that Janel. Molly not looking? Check again. Nope. Ok. Gimme that red drink. Red drink. I take the red drink from Molly’s tray and pour it in her milk. Just a touch. They’re still not looking. A little more red drink. Ok. Set it down. Sit down. Janel shaking her head. I sit back down. Lean back. Where’s my camera? Molly reaches back for her milk. Sips it. Oh! Oh! Classic. Molly does a double-take on the milk then back to flirting with BJ. Just drink it bitch. Next time I will get you on film.
Under the table. Slump down. Look under the table. I’m wearing hard-toed boots. This is why I wear hard-toed boots. Molly sits down in her chair. Pushes it forward. Ohhhh! Kicked her in the shin. Fuck you. Molly looks at me. There’s no one else it could have been, except me. I take a bite of my sandwich and smile with my mouth open. That’s right bitch, I want you to know it was me.
Molly says. “Do you know how far a whale can talk to another whale?” She’s posing this question to me.
Nope. I have no idea. I don’t care.
What an encyclopedia. She continues. “Two whales.” Everyone’s listening. “On opposite sides of the earth. Can talk to each other.”
“Really.” Did you know I have Jenna’s panties on my cunt?
“They do it with low-level vibrations. I mean the amplitude.”
“That’s amazing.” See this? This slight little leg adjustment that you didn’t even notice? That rubs Jenna’s silky panties on my vagina lips. It’s the only thing that makes this conversation bearable.
“It’s low-level amplitude. Long-range waves. There’s a sine curve for it. Like this.”
I lean across the table, my butt lifting from my chair. Yes, Molly, please. Show me the sine curve for how whales talk. That is lovely.
They’re marching us into the library like we’re headed for a gas chamber. Two long lines next to each other. Backing out into the hall behind the cafeteria.
It’s one o’clock. You would think they would do this in the morning.
“Take your pencils. Take two pencils. They’re already sharpened. If you need another one during the test bring your dull or broken pencils to me and I will hand you a sharp one. Only two pencils will be issued to each student. If you break a pencil, bring one pencil, one pencil, to me. I will issue you only one new pencil at a time.”
I’m getting close to the pencil announcer.
It’s one of the office aides. Curly nasty hair. Blue shirt looks like hospital scrubs. White flakes on her shoulders.
I guess I’m kind of reeling back from her.
“Do you want your pencils?” In one hand she has a copy of the test.
I take that from her. I guess I’m kind of looking nervously at her other hand. The one with the pencils in it. It looks like it has not been washed in a really long time. I snatch one of the pencils out of her hand and she’s shoving the other one in my face.
“Take your other pencil.”
“I don’t need it.”
“Take your other pencil.”
“Thank you. I’m fine.” I’m walking past her.
She’s saying. “Don’t be complaining to me that your pencil runs out or it breaks while you’re taking your test.”
“Pencils don’t run out.” I say. But I’m past her.
Mr. Baumgartner is guiding people to their seats. I go past Dyson. He’s kissing his chains, trying to be suave. Spencer is next to Dyson. Spencer is arranging two pencils and the test booklet with magnetic precision on the study desk in front of him. Talk about OCD.
“You might want to see someone about that.”
“Excuse me?” — “I didn’t.” — “Catch.” — “That.”
“I said good luck.”
Dyson answers for the two of them. “Good luck to you as well.” Dyson’s just being nice. It’s not a matter of luck for either of them. They’re smart kids. Crazy. But smart. But look who’s talking.
“Today is a half day, as you know. When you’re done with your test you can leave. Do not rush. Do not rush. Colleges look at your PSAT even more than they look at your SAT or ACTs. Take your time. Answer carefully. This test matters if you plan on going to college. There will be no talking. When you finish your test, if you have extra time, take time to check your answers. Then bring your test and two pencils to me. Place them on this desk and you can leave. Go ahead and move on in. Take the next available seat. No talking.”
My seat is way in the back of the library. Facing the librarian’s desk and some dark shelves that have periodicals or microfilm or something on them that no one ever looks at. There are only two desks here, mine and the one to my left. At the one to my left is Amanda Sauder. Which is good because Amanda Sauder is a very quiet person. I sit. I put my test down. It’s actually nice and dark back here. It relaxes my eyes. Amanda Sauder is not gonna be any trouble. I’m facing away from the rest of the room. Don’t have to look at anyone except a little sliver of Amanda Sauder out the side of my left eye. As long as she stays very very still it will be almost like no one is here at all. Perhaps an occasional cough from behind me. Reminding me that there are in fact other people in the room. But that’s it. Otherwise I can focus. Calm. Let go. Exhale. I breathe out and get myself situated in the chair. Ass in the right place. Jenna’s panties keeping me company. Not too much thought about those now. Just a low-level comfort. Softness. Work on my breathing. Look straight ahead. There’s no one here but me. Ignore the instructions. The only thing that matters is Mr. Baumgartner saying we can begin the test. Then the only thing that matters is that I finish the test as soon as possible. That’s the only reason I’m here. That’s my only goal. Finish as soon as possible. Be the first one finished. It’s a race. It is a race. That’s my only consideration. Finish first. Get out of this room as soon as possible. Visualize putting my pencil on the desk with that nasty curly-haired office aid and getting the fuck out of this place.
“Does everyone have a test? Yes? Does everyone have two pencils? Ok. Begin.”
I stand up.
I go to the desk at the front of the library.
I stare down that ugly-ass office aid with the dandruff.
My one pencil is still sharp.
I hand Mr. Baumgartner my test.
I put my pencil on that motherfucking desk.
And I walk out of that library first.
There are things I want to say to you. There are things I want to do. I don’t know how to write this in a note, but please don’t make me say them aloud. Some things are better left unsaid, some things are better said without speaking. Some things I want to say to you in a bed. Or maybe a hammock. Or maybe in the dark. I think some things can only be said in the dark. Without eyes. I think I said some of those things to you last night. But not at your house. Before. In my room. I had to say them by myself, move my lips invisibly and think dirty thoughts. Next time I think those things I want us to do it. Do all the things we write about and think about when we’re alone. Do all the things I see in your eyes, or think I see, or maybe I just imagine are there. Behind your mind. Somewhere in the thrust of you. There’s brutality in you somewhere. Below the steady brushing of your hair. I think those things may be in the hands, William. Or in the small of your back. There might be a little part of it in the ears. And maybe a small part in the nose. Next time I call you, come. I want you in my basement again. And this time we’re going all the way. My mom will be out till six p.m. tomorrow.
There are things I want to say to you. There are things I may never say. I feel that you listen, though, and you are one of the only ones who does. Sometimes I want to say things to you when I just wake up. Call me more often, William. Boy. Call me when you’re in bed. I will listen. And say those things you want to say to me but are afraid to. I am afraid. I am afraid everything I say to you will turn out not true. I am always ready to hold you. P.S. Call me soon.
I know you’re busy. Come away with me. Even if we don’t drive to California, let’s drive to the park. I need our talks again. After the test today. Meet me in the print lab and we’ll go somewhere. Cemetery? Or park?
I fold my note and take it along a row of lockers on a side hallway. Lockers number 0 through 93. I come to yours. Locker number 62. Sometimes I dream I can’t remember which combination is yours, and which is mine. Turning the dial. 32. 12. 0. Open. Your locker is disturbingly organized. I kneel. Open my bag. Get my scotch tape. Stand. Unfold my note. Press it against the inside of your door, below the vent. Tape one corner. Flatten. Tape the other corner. Flatten. A dab of tape on the bottom. Disco. I kneel again. Put the tape back in my bag. Close up my ALICE pack. What the hell do you have in your locker? Something with a metal hand-grip. Some electricity science-fair-looking equipment. What is this, something to measure Boyle’s law? What are you doing, William?
Close it. Lock it. Bag on shoulders. Continue.
Photo lab. Black and white lab. Two rooms: film developing and film printing. I’m in the developing room. It’s just me. This would be the end of sixth period if it wasn’t a half day. A few people are in the lab next to this one. Printing film. Making pictures. Dipping photo paper in developer, then stop bath. Then rinse, then wash, then dry. They’re listening to the radio in the next room. We listen to oldies — by consensus. There’s no radio in here.
I close myself into my changing closet. There’s a latch on the inside. On the outside there are padlocks. We keep these closets locked when they’re not in use. Probably so kids don’t have sex in them. They’re wooden closets. They fit one comfortably. Or two if you’re copulating. I suppose. We use them to de-spool film. You can use a bag instead. You put your hands in a dark bag and you can take film off its spools and spool it onto developing canisters. Then you’ve moved your film from one light-proof container to another. And you do that inside a changing bag. But some people can’t work the changing bag. So we have these changing closets, which are light-proof closets. You go in them and de-spool your film. I can work the bag but I like the changing closets better. Don’t ask me why. It’s just nice in here.
Changing closet #1 is mine. It’s clearly labeled with my name in masking tape. If I catch you using my changing closet I yell at you. That only had to happen once. Now we have an understanding. I don’t like people reorganizing my things. These kids are disorganized. They disrespect other people’s things by moving them and not putting them back. They leave bags of photo paper open and then turn the lights on. They use air canisters to play practical jokes on people who are sleeping. Then when you need air to spray a negative you can’t find any air. These are the kind of people who don’t even use a magnifier to focus their prints because when they look at a print, they can’t tell if it’s in focus anyway. They’re just here so they won’t have to take biology because they’re afraid of dissecting a cat.
I guess I like these changing closets over the changing bag because I need quiet. With the bag your head is in the light and your hands are in a completely dark space. You can change your film anywhere. With the bag you have to pass in scissors and tape and your developing spools and of course your film before you start so you have everything in the bag before you open your film. In here I just keep my scissors on the shelf. And in here it’s dark for me too. It’s actually not completely dark. There are tiny seams where the door closes. But it’s dark enough. It takes time for film to be exposed. Light and time both. A tiny bit of light takes a long time to expose film. Even in the print lab, there’s dim brown light so you can see. That light exposes photo paper. If you leave photo paper out in there for long enough, it will turn completely black. Film is always exposed, a little bit. Photo paper is always exposed, a little bit. Until it goes into the stop bath. And even then. Everything is always exposed, everything is always progressing just a little bit. Growing. Decomposing. The edges of your body are always rubbing off. Microscopic pieces of you. Falling off. You’re always losing hair. Your edges are always changing. Even a picture doesn’t last forever. Little bits of it are always changing. Little bits of it are always going away.
I’m in this narrow closet, designed for one.
I love my wooden box.
But I get out of it for now.
Bright lights. Sinks. Closets and bags for spooling film. Timer clocks for telling how long you’ve been doing something — soak film in some chemical for twenty seconds. Forty-five seconds. Rinse. Next chemical. Clotheslines for drying negatives. Light table for cutting them. I start developing. Three black cylinders of film in various stages. Two short cylinders and a tall one. Doing a couple of your rolls while I’m at it. You’re welcome. ’Cause you’re slow at taking tests and after the PSAT you have to work on your science fair project. ’Cause I’m your slave. Are you happy to have me as your slave? Are there better choices? I can develop film with my eyes closed. What’s a couple more rolls? Timer reset. Forty-five seconds. Agitate in stop bath. I’ve got these cylinders staggered so I can agitate them all at the correct times. I can only agitate two at once because I only have two hands. This means that one’s gonna sit with developer in it a little longer than it should. That’s ok. That’s ok. Came in here to think anyway. Need time to think. If negatives get a little darker than they should be I can always adjust in printing. Agitate. Agitate. Agitate is when you pour the liquid back and forth inside the cylinder where the film is. To get the chemical all over the film. Evenly. You do it slow. Pour. Pour. Forty-five seconds. Now empty the liquid out. You can’t re-use developer. Pour it down the sink. I love the way it smells. Some people use gloves when they do this but I love the way it smells on my fingers. Stopping those two and I need to rinse this one. Stop bath is a chemical that stops the developer. Stopping those two. Timer: two minutes. Agitate. Agitate. Stop. Where’s the rinse? We don’t rinse with water. We rinse with Photo-Flo. Where’s the Photo-Flo? Cabinet at feet? No. Cabinet at left? What the fuck is this? “Who put all this junk in here?” Junk in the cabinet. It’s more of your fucking electricity experiment. Flat-faced balls. Slam them to the side. Photo-Flo? No. “Photo-Flo, where are you?” I sing. Good thing no one’s in here. They already think I’m crazy. Maybe it’s they know I’m crazy. Kick the cabinet. One of the flat-faced balls drops out. Flat thud, its side smacking the floor. “Who told you this was a place to store your science fair project?” There’s a hand-grip with nubs on it. Press my fingers into them, plush buttons taking fingertips like Tempurpedic. Kind of relaxing. But a definite click, inaudible, a click you can feel when you press a button in far enough. Digital. A distinct in and a distinct out point. The buttons make it so that the thing can kind of roll, roll a few feet anyway, before stopping on some combination of points and faces and plush buttons. Like it wouldn’t roll far on a flat surface or a slightly tilted one, but it would roll down a hill. The whole thing gray. Dark gray flat plastic polygon dome. Light gray plush buttons. Looks like some kind of hand massager. Could I get off on this? How do you turn it on? I put it down. Then kick it. It smacks around the wall-base with flat metallic sounds. I put the thing back and close the cabinet. “Think this is your own personal Radio Shack!” I stand. I agitate the film that’s in stop bath. Set the canister down. This is too much. This is too much. Yell loud enough so that people in the next room can hear you. “Where’d y’all put my fucking Photo-Flo?!?”
I go out of the developing lab. Into a short dark hallway. Into the darkroom.
Brown light. Tan-ish brown light. It’s not red. That’s just in the movies. It’s a tan-ish brown light. A few people in here. The radio’s on. I go to my enlarger. My back is to the room. Livingston is here. Meryl is here. Suzanne Schaeffer is here. She can’t print photos for shit but at least she keeps her mouth shut. The normal sixth period people are worse. Can’t stand some of those people. I set my timer. There are timers in here too. Each enlarger has a timer. You have to know how long you’re exposing the paper for. Each print has its own group of settings. You might want to write them down for each print you make if you are unable to remember them. Twelve seconds. Where’s my air can? “Where’s my air can?”
Look around. Meryl has it. Go to her. She’s printing that same one as yesterday, trying to. Take the air. Don’t look at her. The girl needs to learn how to properly use filters. You can’t use a five filter on everything just because you want to. Back to my station. Don’t look in the developer tray. Don’t look at David. David. Actually David is ok. The haircut is a problem, but — . Blow the air into the tray. Blow the air over the negative. Usually you would remove the tray and then blow the air in. That’s the official recommended method but that method is actually flawed because removing the tray requires you to put the tray back in. While you’re putting the tray back, more dust can get in. If you hold the spray can carefully, you can avoid the introduction of more dust. I do not suggest you remove the film tray. This is one of the areas in life where counteracting forces can be eliminated. I get new paper. Out of the bag. Close the bag. Square it on the flatbed. Twelve seconds. Look around. Where is William?
I’m at the print dryer when you finally show. You purposely rub on me when you come into the room. I will have to teach you a lesson. That will be later, at my house. “Can we go now?” I turn and face you. Now it’s me doing the rubbing.
You brush past me. You’re going for the lower cabinets, looking in each one. You get to Meryl’s.
“Can I help you?” She sees what you’re doing but doesn’t move.
You open the cabinet anyway. You press the wooden door against her. Like she’s a cat and this is the best way to communicate with her. By wordlessly pushing her aside. You close the cabinet.
I’m pretty sure Meryl likes you.
You check the cabinet by Suzanne Schaeffer.
“Don’t be rubbing on those other girls now.”
I’m at the stop bath pushing torn strips of photo paper around with bare fingers when a hot hand lifts my skirt, touching my left leg. I almost fall. Lose control of the nerves keeping my rag doll standing. Limp to the left a little. Your breath in my ear. I bite my lip. Your finger goes inside the leg-curve of my underwear.
I grab your hand. Jenna’s panties.
Your voice in my ear. “I think you should stay home tomorrow.”
I turn around and now you’ve got a finger all the way inside my underwear. “Why? So you can have your way with me?” You must feel what’s there. I’m blushing hotly. Ropes tie your ankles to bedposts. My piglet socks shuffled down to the toes. I’ve got my hands on you, one high, one low. Everything is hot. “Can’t you see I’m working?”
You press your fingers up and around me and I push you away. I want to fuck. I want to fuck now. “Don’t you see people are trying to get their work done here?”
Meryl is looking. David is looking. Out of the corner of his eye. Meryl huffs back to her enlarger with some shitty print from the wash. She doesn’t even dry her prints properly. She definitely likes you.
I’m gonna have to teach that girl a lesson. “Hey!” I lunge in Meryl’s direction, leaning over the developer trays. “Hey! I’m talking to you! What are you huffing at? Keep your eyes on your print you might have better luck!” An arm on my elbow, I shake it off. “Learn how to print a fucking picture!”
Meryl resets her developer timer.
That’s right. I thought so. Roaches in these bitches’ cooters. One wrong look from Meryl. Give me one wrong look. Try me. I think I have a violence fetish. I think I need to see a doctor. I turn to you and say quietly. “You think maybe you can give me the information for a psychiatrist?”
You look concerned. You’re whispering. “Have you — ? Has anyone — ? Who’s been in the developing lab today?”
“Are you looking for your science fair project?”
“Flat black balls.” You shape them with your hands.
“You oughtn’t leave your Inspector Gadgets lying out where anyone can find them.”
You laugh. You look scared. “Where are they?”
“Lost your balls did you?” I grab your belt. “I can think of something we can do for that.”
We’re too exposed in here. I pull you through the dark hallway and into the developing lab. We kiss. I was planning it under my sheets last night and it would happen under my sheets. Or on top of them. “There is something I want us to do together.”
“Yeah.” Something neither of us can do alone. Something we talk about when I call you. “You know the stories you tell me on the phone?” The ones that make me wet? “I want you to tell me those stories when you’re next to me. My mom is at work. Tomorrow she’s out till six. She’s taking Theresa to a Mini racers tournament. We can have the house.” I would give you more detail but I don’t think it’s necessary. “Please come. Tomorrow or today.”
“I can’t today.” You open the cabinet. You start taking out the flat-faced balls. The hand-grip with the buttons. Putting them in your bag.
“Stay with me.”
“I’ll meet you later. I have to do some stuff right now.”
“What do you have to do? Your science fair project!?”
You kiss me. A quick kiss.
I put myself between you and the door. “You know what your sister did to me yesterday?” I’m gonna make you listen to this. Because this is bullshit. “Jenna and her friends. I fell asleep in English class. Jenna wakes me up to ask me if I’m gay.”
You put down your bag.
My arms are folded.
You rub my shoulders. “I’m sorry.” You’re shaking your head. “I’m so sorry she did that to you.”
“Do you believe that? She woke me up to ask me if I’m gay.”
“She’s — she’s insecure. It’s no excuse but it’s an explanation.”
“Also, she thinks the fact that I won the debate contest is luck. Every time she mentions it she’s like ‘You got really lucky on the debate last year. Do you think you’re gonna do the contest again this year?’ I guess ’cause she’s only gonna enter it if I don’t. ’Cause she’s afraid of losing. For her everything is hard work. For me it’s somehow luck.”
“She’s mean. She is. She always has been. It’s just a front.”
“She’s a fucking whore! I’m sorry to say that but would you please tell her to chill her friends out?”
“Yeah. I will. I’ll say something.”
“Thanks.” But you’re fading away from me. Going away.
“No. No no no no no. Oh William.”
You’re picking up your bag.
“Don’t leave me.”
“I have to do some things.”
“Please please please. Please stay.”
“Meet me later.”
“I’ll meet you tomorrow.” You pry me off. You separate me from the door. With your bag of machine parts, you leave me.
2:30. Everyone else has left the photo lab. Miss Theobald has come by to lock up, and instead given me the key. If I turn off the lights and put the chemicals away she’ll usually do this for me. And I get to work alone. I bring the radio with me when I go from the print lab to the developing lab and no one else is there. Without oldies it’s too quiet when it’s only me. I just have to leave by the time they close up the outside, which is never before six.
I’m in the developing lab doing a roll of film. Thinking. Giving myself some quiet. In a minute I’ll rinse this last canister, wash out the sinks, and lock up.
I hear voices in the hallway. High-pitched giggles like some sort of monkey. Something scraping dully on the cinderblock wall. They’re going to the print lab. It’s locked. I put my back against the sink. As far from the door as possible.
When it opens, it’s Jenna. “There she is.” She wails.
It’s Jenna and friends. To be specific, it’s Jenna, Sara Krey, Jessica Tak, and Kristen Picket. They sort of fall into the film lab. They are definitely looking for me. All eyes my direction. I wonder if developer damages the eyes. Not sure what these girls are up to.
“School’s over. Didn’t ya hear?”
“You finished your test first just to hang around here?” Jessica Tak is closer to me than I ever want her to be. I can smell her pits.
Kristen is in my face. Her eyes creep me out. They’re different colors.
I’m smiling. Nice kitty. Want some food? I swirl the developer back and forth in the canister.
Sara actually touches my shoulder. “Um — ”
“Are you gay?” Asks Jenna.
Blood rush to my face.
Jenna is laughing hilariously. “We just wanted to know!”
Cut you with my fingernails. Four of you. Developer in your face. I can throw developer in your face.
Sara Krey is giggling out of control.
I should do it. I should throw this on them. “That’s what you came down here to ask me?”
Jenna. “Are you?”
Kristen puts her hand on the film canister and I pull it back toward me. Developer sloshing around inside. I guard the cap with my hand so nothing comes out. Kristen slaps it out of my hands. It’s in the sink behind me. Kristen is in my face.
Jenna pulls her back. Jenna is in my face. “You are. You are gay.” Her breath stinks. “I knew you were.”
I have actual tears in my eyes. “Jenna. Let me ask you a question — ”
Then she hits me in the cheek. Side of my face. The fucking bitch actually punches me. And Jessica Tak is on me with her knees. And I’m on the floor. Head hits the base of the metal sink. Crack through my neck. There must be blood. That’s definitely gonna bruise. And Sara Krey is down here with me and it’s everyone else’s legs I see, shoes and feet. Jessica Tak has her fingernails in my ear and she’s pulling it almost off. I kick a pale leg with my boot and knock somebody back. I kick another pair of legs with my boots. As hard as I can. Ripping Jessica’s fingers off my ear. I kick as hard as I can. All the grit of my teeth. Hoping to break someone. Shit. If they’re going four-against-one I can’t afford to hold back.
There’s fire in my ear. I rip something on Jenna’s leg. She’s falling back shrieking. “Fuck!”
Smack. I get punched in the left side of my head by Sara. And I’m yelling. “Stop! Stop!” And I’m crying.
Jenna pulls her friend off the floor and Kristen and all of them drag themselves into the dark hallway but then Jenna comes back and while I’m lying there pressing my hand to my ear and then looking at it — bloody hand in my field of vision — Jenna comes back and kicks me in my face. She hits my neck and my face and knocks me to the base of the sink again. I have my hands in front of my face, guarding. She spits on me.
“Fucking cunt. Fuck you.” That’s Jenna.
Then they leave.
I’m in quiet. I’m on the floor and I’m under green fluorescents and I can hear the trickle of water in the sink and the hum of the manual timer I had set for two-and-a-half minutes. At the end of which time I am supposed to pour the developer out of my black canister. Then I’m supposed to pour in the stop bath. That way my pictures won’t be overdeveloped. If they’re overdeveloped they’ll be too black to properly print. It’s probably time to pour out the developer. But there’s this little problem of my neck feeling like it’s split open. And that bitch. What was she doing pulling on my ear? Trying to pull it off? What kind of a thing is that to do to someone in a fight? I push myself off the base of the sink and am sitting up. I can feel my side. Pain in my right side. Where I got kicked. Standing. Put my hands in the sink and blood runs off them. Silver sink, huge double basin, a trickle of cold water and my blood running down from somewhere, along my hands and into the drain.
I go for the developer timer. Turn it off. This film may just have to be overdeveloped. I go for a rag on the counter and wet it. Put it on the back of my head. On my ear. Cold water is good. Can it get colder? Pulse in my ear, in the side of my face, on the back of my neck. Holy motherfuck. Fucking whores. I kick the base of the sink and scream.
I’m running cold water over the rag when the door opens behind me and Jenna has the writing part of a writing desk in both hands and she’s coming for me with it and my hands go up but she slams the thing through my hands and into the side of my face.
There’s slime coming out of me. There’s blood and slime. Somehow they’ve gotten inside me and now they’re coming out. On a river of blood and slime. I can’t see them. I can feel them. They’re biting me on the way out. They don’t know what is happening to them. They are terrible. Terrible little mouths, terrible little teeth. And they can’t bite me enough to tear my hand off but they will be able to when they’re bigger. They hate me. I don’t even think they know who I am. I don’t even think that they know I’m their mother. But they hate me. Hate me with their bites. Hate me with their claws. They’re tearing into me, ripping me, shredding me. Leaving blood on top of blood. And there’s more of them. I’ve had three of them. They have come out of me. And now there’s another one. Wet slicked-back fur. In weird little patches. Like it was cut wrong at the salon. This one’s coming out backwards. It’s not breathing. It’s folded in half with its legs pushed too far apart. It should break. It should break under that shape. That shape is not right for it. But its jaws are clenched on me anyway. It must have bitten me before it died. Its teeth are clamped shut on my hand. My blood is on the kitten and his blood is on me. Try to wrench my hand free. I can’t do it without tearing my skin. I wish you would let go little kitty. I really wish you would let go. The other kittens are making sick little meows. E x t e n d e d. Like in slow motion.
I grab myself. Shaking. It’s a dream. It’s just a dream. God. Everything is dry. I run my hands across the wooden floor. The things our minds make up in dreams! Lean back. Wood of the changing closet. My foot on the door. The red of the EXIT sign coming in but other than that, darkness. I’m still stuck in here.
I don’t actually remember them putting me in here. But I can imagine them doing it. Was I knocked out? They moved me into the changing closet? I can see the four of them moving me. I see it from an overhead point of view. Like a movie. I wonder if that’s how it was, if all four of them moved me. Or maybe the other three never came back, and Jenna put me in here by herself. But that’s not likely.
I kick the door. Kick it again. It rattles and the seam widens but it’s not coming open like that. Kicking reminds me what I have tucked inside my underwear. I take out the white silk and reach over my head. Place them on the shelf above. Got to remember to get those later. Throw them away outside or something. If Miss Theobald finds them in here she’ll definitely send me back to Ms. Connor.
Dark. Motherfucking dark. Darkness. Dark so dark it actually comes out of the darkness and eats you. Deeper than flatness. Dark that’s got extra space inside it. Spaces you could go into and never come out of. Dense darkness that doesn’t just stop light. It swallows your eyes. I get used to this darkness. This darkness is my home. I live here now. I’ve slept here now. I can dress here. I can undress here. I imagine myself here because even though I am here, I can’t see myself here. Because I can’t see at all here. So to have the full experience of being here, I have to imagine that what is true is true, to get a picture of it.
I know where everything is. If someone was in here with me I would know because when I went to pick up something I had put down I would feel that it had been moved. If you could somehow magically get into this locked closet with me and you moved one of my things, I would know because I know exactly where everything is from when I last touched it. That’s how I know where I am, by my things. My boots. The roll of masking tape. That metal clip. If any one of them moved it would startle me the same way it would startle me if I was walking down the sidewalk and I went to take a step and the sidewalk wasn’t there. I know where I am by the placement of things. The floorboards. I navigate by them. The seams in the door. The crumpled strip of paper. Those two tacks. They are my stars. Except I place all my stars. I set out their constellations. I put those tacks by the door. One on the left and one on the right. As a trap. In case anyone comes in who doesn’t know my darkness. I form all the dark things into succinct iconographic characters within my mind. Draw them out. Study them. Give them stories. Give them names. Give them seasons. Give each star a color. Give each one a note. Even though that’s maybe not their real color in the light. The tacks are blue, to me. Since the only light is the slightest red cast from the EXIT sign, I give them a symbolic color in my mind. The tacks are blue. That metal clip is blood red, shiny, slick. Jenna’s silk panties on the shelf above are gray. They’re silvered gray now. That’s their new color. Gray like the color of the Tin Man. I give each thing a color. I give each thing a distance from the sun. Draw orbits through them. Charting the paths of planets, worshiping them. These are my stars, and I know my stars like three fucking Wise Men. Like the best astrologer. I can read your fortune in these stars. I can give you a two-card reading. I can do a three-card reading. I can do your whole fucking chart if you come close enough. Come into this room and I’ll read your fortune cookie with one punch. Then I’ll flip you over and read you your lucky numbers, learn Chinese. Fuckers. I will read your fortunes. And tonight fortunes are half-price for violent packs of bitches who lock me in closets. Sit down at my table. I’m Zelda da Fortune Tella. I will tell you whether or not to take that trip you’ve been planning (no). You won’t be going anywhere. It looks like the only thing in store for closet-locking bitches is getting cut up by me. You can run away now. I’ll give you a two-minute head start. Sit down bitches. I’ll read your extended five-day forecast off one of those long scrolly horoscopes from Rite Aid. Day one: you get cut up real bad. Day two: I eat your motherfucking brains. Etc. Day one: you false-step. Day two: I bury your ass. Day one: you breathe. Day two: I kill you. Day one: you move. Day two: I still you. Etc. Waiting for these motherfuckers. Waiting.
Search in vain for my bag. Again find only the corners of the changing closet. Pair of scissors. Short strip of a film negative. My bag isn’t in here. My bag is outside this damn closet. If it’s even there. Knowing Jenna they probably threw it in a dumpster six blocks from the school just to give me some good luck. Take the negative. Hold it up. Press the changing closet door open a crack. As far as the lock and latch will let it go. Red of the EXIT sign. Hold the negative to. Couple of dark frames. This one has something. It’s backwards. Turn it over. Hold it very still. Let my eye focus to the correct range. It’s an image of a knife. Holy shit. Fucking psychopaths. And it’s slightly out of focus. An image of a fucking Special Forces murder knife. Like a Polaroid from a dream. Looks like someone made this in the lunchroom. Background of one of those plastic chairs. This image, this idea, extracted from someone else’s subconscious and left here on the floor. Which means someone from period two is using my changing closet. That’s when I’m in AP Bio. When I get out of here I’m gonna get my own lock and lock this thing up tight. No one’s getting in here but me. The last thing I need is out-of-focus negatives lying around. That type of shit will mess with your chi.
Thinking of the test today. Circling. Filled in that last oval. Closed the blue book. Ended the series of questions. Don’t go back and check the answers. Don’t go back. Pencil down.
Now my closet. Hours in here. What time is it? Zen breathing. Clutch my sides. Breathe in contentment. Breathe out resentment. Fuck it’s cold. I should have brought my hat. Why don’t I have my hat? It should be with me at all times. Check the floor again. Shelf above. Silk. My bag’s still not here! I should keep a hat with me at all times. This is a lack of planning. I didn’t plan ahead. I didn’t think I’d be locked in my changing closet in mid-winter for an entire night until someone comes by tomorrow morning! When is the first photo class? Wednesday. It might be — I think it’s still second period. That might be it. Maybe. That might be it. Breathe in. Breathe out. Try not to start shaking. Shaking makes you colder. It makes you think about the cold. They could have at least put me in here with my jacket. Just breathe slowly. I’m not even sure I brought my jacket. Breathe slowly in. Is it on the table? Breathe slowly out. I don’t think it’s on the table. And of course you always have to pee at moments like this. It’s inevitable. If I think about it, it will start sooner. Naturally while I’m locked inside a closet. Naturally. I’m not gonna pee in here. If I do I’ll disguise it somehow. I could let it run onto the floor outside the closet and it would evaporate. Don’t think about having to pee. Don’t think about having to pee.
I’m glad Jenna’s gone. It’s better here without her. It’s even better to be locked in a closet without her than to be free and have her around. She’s a terror. She can’t be trusted. There’s just less to contend with, if you are able to suffer alone. I can wait in the pain of being cold. And also of being stuck in here like I was dead. But I can do it alone. I can do it without someone watching. I can try pushing my back into the crevice made by the closet walls. See if that makes it any warmer. I can rub my legs together like an idiot for the warmth of friction with no one here to see. This is not, on top of being shameful and pathetic to my own observation, also embarrassment with strangers. Yes, leave me here. Go home to your brother. You two are too much alike. Go somewhere warm. You’re probably having dinner right now. The whole family together. And the two of you are both thinking about me. Each from a different angle. One of you wants to fuck me. The other one wants to lock me in a closet. Leave me to plead with the temperature. And with time. By myself. If you’re being abandoned it’s much better that you do it alone. Not like on The Alaska Experiment where you’re stranded in the middle of a deadly ice shelf and to make matters worse there’s a camera crew and survival experts there. Not to help you. But to watch you suffer.
There is something wrong with us if you can’t actually go to Alaska anymore to struggle and possibly die in the wilderness. You can’t actually do this by yourself. It has to be on a TV show. Alaska doesn’t even exist anymore. Not in the sense of danger and wildness and huge expanses. Alaska is now our idea of something that could have been wild, once. We watch it on TV and pretend it still is.
And run to the kitchen to snag Klondike bars during the commercials.
I wish this darkness was Alaska so there would be something here to eat me.
I’m gonna stop messing with people. I think I’m gonna have to. The only thing that scares me is that I may have to stop talking with them in the process. I don’t see how people talk to people. The ones that do talk to people successfully are never ones that I like. I don’t understand people. The best ones must be hiding somewhere.
If I didn’t mess with people I would just cut them. I would like to cut Jenna. I would like to cut parts of Molly. I would only cut girls, I think. I can’t think of any boys I would like to cut. Or: I cannot imagine liking cutting a boy. Jenna I would cut across her face. I would cut her with an X-Acto knife. Mark her up with lines first, guides. A little Sharpie to the cheek and then a little X-Acto over that. Molly I would cut on her abdomen. I would only cut Molly once, to make a point. But Jenna I would cut until she looked like Pinhead from Hellraiser, just cut the fuck out of that face. ‘Cept my version wouldn’t be in straight lines. It would be all over the place. Who else would I cut? That would be it, for starters. Those are the main ones.
This dark in front of me is connected to a whole bunch of other dark. It’s the dark of the changing closet inside the dark of the film developing room inside the dark of the printing workshop (inside the dark of the downstairs of the school inside the dark of the whole school inside the darkness of night in general).
I’m thinking about Lincoln. When we first got him. I picked him out. The shelter guy gave us the sob story about how all his brothers and sisters had already found homes. And this was the only one left. Lonely kitty. Etc. I did feel sorry for him. Not because of the guy’s story. The guy’s story was probably bullshit. He probably didn’t even have brothers and sisters. I felt sorry for Lincoln just because he was a sorry-looking cat. He was. He was from the beginning. I loved him from the beginning but right from the first time I saw him he looked sad. He kind of doesn’t know how to move right. It’s embarrassing to have him around because he’s so pathetic in the way he moves. And he nustles right up to you with no regard for your boundaries and no idea that he’s embarrassing himself by getting so close to you. He gets closer and closer and closer to you like you aren’t even there. We call him a whore.
And even though he was always greasy he at least used to be soft. He used to have fat under his skin. Between the fur and the bones there used to be softness. Fatness. Something nice to pet. I love him when he isn’t annoying me. But he annoys me pretty much all of the time.
So supposedly he was the last one left of a litter. He wasn’t a runt. He’s kinda like one of those women with large shoulders and a big jawbone. Kinda awkward. Kind of a slut. He just doesn’t know when to stop. He’s a slut for attention. Like he needs to be close to you at all times. Which is weird for a cat. It puts you off. It’s not even like he wants to be pet. It’s just like he wants to be close to you. The way he does it is annoying though. He creeps close to you. Then he sits at a good distance. Like he’s on your chest. Then after a second he moves closer. Like instead of your chest he now wants to sit on your mouth or something. No matter how close he gets to you it’s not close enough for him. He tries to get closer. It’s annoying. Between Lincoln and Zelda, if I could have a cat in here with me right now, it wouldn’t be Lincoln. There’s just something wrong with him. And he’s so annoying, you don’t feel bad about hating him. Not hating. But when you make fun of him it doesn’t feel wrong. Kind of like some people I know around this place.
Zelda is the only cat I’ve buried. We found her behind the couch. Stiff neck cat. Eyes glazed over cat. Pits in the eyes. Something had already taken bites out of her. Claws extended, tail stiff, neck stiff. Legs rigid. I wrapped her in a blue towel. Carried her into the back yard.
Some things are so dark that they cannot be said in words. They can only be said without eyes. Even if you have eyes they are like things said to the blind. Said in blackness. Without respect for the light. They can be said in bumps and ridges. They can be said in caverns. They can be said with spit. Some things are said with hair. Some things are said when blood dries. Some things are said when crust flakes off. Some things are said when skin is cut. Some things are said by severing. Some things are said by brushing. Some things are said by pressing. Some things are said with tongues. Some things are said with toes, or teeth, or tears. They don’t need light. They don’t need words. They don’t need sound. They get said anyway. They get said stronger, and they get said more terrible. They get said in ways that don’t go back. They get said in ways that maim. They put me together and take me apart. They put myself together. They take myself apart. These are the things you should say to me. These are things if you say them I will listen with my skin, I will listen with my skull, I will listen with my fingers, I will listen in Braille.
Voices. Someone coming. Who the fuck is that? It’s gotta be midnight. Not really sure. Squealing, yelling. Who is that?
Straighten in the closet. Stretch my legs, but silently. Stand. Hands on the door, find the crack. Darkness. Red glow of the EXIT sign. Someone in the hall. Outside the lab. Muted. But squealing.
“Wwwwweeeee! What the fuck.”
“Oww you motherfucker. You cracked open my knee again.”
Something I can’t understand. Someone else speaking.
Then Dyson again. I think that’s Dyson. “I don’t care I just wanted you to acknowledge it.”
Then another crash. Metal on metal. That’s the heating box in the hall.
Considering. Considering. Dyson? Is that Dyson? Even if I yell they might not hear me. It always seems soundproof in here during the day. But I can hear them. Ok. I’m gonna do this. Who else is out there?
“Oooowwwwweeeeee!” Someone kicking the heating box. Kicking the shit out of it. That’s gotta be Dyson.
Ok. Ok. I’m doing this. Beats the alternative — getting let out of here by Miss Theobald in the morning. Fuck that.
Start banging on the door of the changing closet.
Not making much noise.
“Helllo!” Bang more. Slip my boots on. Kick. Kick the door with my boots. “Helllll-oooo?!”
Then it’s quiet out in the hall.
I kick some more. “Dyson?!!!”
Total quiet in the hall.
And I scream. “Let me the fuck out of here!!”
Followed by some rustling.
They’re in through the outside door to the film lab. In the hallway outside the developing room. These assholes have the master key. Their voices clearer now. And it’s definitely Dyson.
“If it turns out to be a cleaning lady I’m gonna kill her. You know I will.”
“Shut up.” Deep voice. “Just shut up.” Jared.
I grab Jenna’s panties. Stuff them in my skirt waist.
“Are you sure we should go in there?”
I bang on the closet. “I ain’t no cleaning lady!! Fuck!”
“Is that who I think it is?” A third voice. “Ha!”
“You want to get me the fuck out of here?”
And they’re opening the door to the film lab.
The lights switch on.
I bang on the closet door.
Dyson. “What the fuck!?”
“Get me the fuck out of here.”
“What.” — “Are you doing here?” — “Do you know.” — “What time it is?”
“What time is it.”
Rattling on the door. I can see them through the seam. Jared, Dyson, Spencer.
“Y’all having some kind of sleepover?”
Jared. “Nah, we were looking for you.”
“Well.” Kick the door. Jared flinches. “You want to let me out?”
He rattles the latch and padlock. “I don’t have a key.”
“Break it off!”
“Just kick it! It’s a tiny little lock! There’s probably a screwdriver if you can find Miss Theobald’s toolbox.”
“Where is that?”
“In the next room. In the print lab. She’s got a screwdriver in there. Just take the latch off.”
Jared hands Dyson the keys. “How’d you get in there?”
Dyson ignores the keys and throws himself against the door of the changing closet. The whole thing rocks back.
I get my balance. “Just get the screwdriver!”
“Don’t worry, I got this.” And Dyson slams himself into the closet door. The wood splinters.
He runs against the wall and springs off it. Into the closet with his arms braced. Spencer steps back. When Dyson hits the closet, the door breaks. It breaks.
It’s broken almost in two, part of it still locked to the closet.
But there’s a break. And it’s big enough for me to get through.
Jared and Spencer help me through the splintered opening. “Again.” — “What were you doing in there?”
I brush myself off. “I’m developing film.”
But Jared moves in close and looks at me. “Whose blood is this?” Then he looks at the back of my neck.
“Who did this?”
“Fucking — a pack of bitches. Four bitches.”
“Just some girls.” I grab my bag.
Jared is wiping my forehead with a wet rag. “Fuck me. You want ice?”
“You got some?”
Dyson turns off the water in the sink.
Main hall. Thick dark. Just the red of emergency EXIT signs and one light in the office. Spilling out weakly below a door. Jared goes first of the four of us. Then Dyson bouncing all over the place. Then Spencer. Then me.
Dyson vaults off the marble wall. Falls. Rolls. Rights himself. Slams into a trophy wall. Bounces back. Punches the glass. Cracks it. Resets on the other wall. Slams himself the fuck into the trophy wall. Big shards of glass. He’s bleeding a little. A few drops, looks like. From his face. And his hand. His face and his hand. Just a few drops on the floor. Kicks the glass. Some of it goes forward and slides past Jared about ten feet. Dyson kicks some smaller shards back the other way. Some of it hits my boot.
“Chill. Dyson Chill.” I kick the glass back at him.
Dyson grabs hold of one of the sets of double doors at the main entrance. He jerks them back, pushes them forward. The chains hold tight but he jiggles the whole thing violently. “Fucking mess with me!”
We’re at the doors to the lunchroom.
Spencer says. “Ice?”
Jared keeps walking. “Back door. Kitchen. Those are chained.”
We go around to the back of the cafeteria. My boots totally echo.
There’s a light on in the kitchen. Just enough to see. Jared’s key gets us in. I sit on the counter. Spencer brings me ice. I put it in the hood of my sweatshirt and pull the hood around on my neck.
Jared has his knife out. He stabs it into the steel countertop and makes a dent. “So. Who jumped you?”
The ice feels good. It hurts and that feels perfect. “Don’t worry about it.”
Jared again stabs his knife into the countertop.
“What are you guys doing here?”
Jared looks at Spencer. Dyson is picking up chairs and throwing them across the lunchroom.
Long hallway on the second floor. Those guys are running around. I’m going through my bag. There’s my Calc II book. There’s AP Bio, binder and book. Clear cover of the binder with a ripped-out page of some eukaryotic transcription going on. Pretty lovely stuff. Very stylish of me to decorate my Bio binder thus. And woe to the motherfucker who gets my textbook next year. Condition of cover? Perfect. Graffiti or markings inside book? No. Pages missing? Yes, definitely. Check that motherfucker front to back. Or you’re gonna have to pay for it. Feel around the bottom of my bag. Fuck. No phone. Those bitches took my motherfucking phone. Probably texting my friends telling them I’m a lesbian. If they post punk statuses I’ll just leave them. I won’t erase them. Too bad for their fun. Everyone in my contacts already knows I’m a freak. That’s how I roll you fucking bitches. So post away. Don’t assume that just because you live in fear that I do. Every secret is a weakness. Didn’t Napoleon say that? Check the back pocket. Fuck. My phone is definitely not here.
Dyson going “wwwwweeeeeeeeeeee!!” coming around the corner on the back tire of his bike, duct-taped flashlight spotlighting the space before him. Spencer is rolling around the carpet and Jared is rolling over him. Dyson rides circles around me and my bag, then goes toward the other two. He’s got a broom pole, handle from a mop, sticking out in front of his bike and he’s up standing on the pedals grinding them going faster and faster toward Jared and Spencer, screaming, howling something with no words, careening toward them standing on his bike and they hit, Dyson’s arms raised high like a runner crossing the finish line. The bike tire runs over Spencer. Dyson’s face hits Jared’s hip. They’re all rolling on the floor trying to outdo each other at screeching. You would think they’d have someone watching the security cameras in here at night. But I guess not.
I take out my Paul Frank notebook.
Those guys are screeching like hawks. Or a rubber belt in a bum car. Or peeling sheet metal.
“What the fuck y’all trying to accomplish?”
“Join us. We’re toiling in ecstatic bliss.”
“I don’t even think you know what toiling means.”
“We don’t have to. It’s like religious ecstasy. Don’t you go to church?”
“I try not to when I can avoid it.” But I’m standing up. I’m going to them. Boys rolling around on the carpet at school. Thank you Jenna for getting me into this. “What do you mean you’re toiling?”
“We’re getting our energy out!”
“I can see that.” I kick Jared in the stomach.
“Roll around with us!”
Jared does a handstand, his face an inch from the floor. A red wristband, a black wristband. His hair touches the carpet. Dyson, seemingly dormant, springs into flight. He launches on Jared. They tumble together. Jared punching Dyson in the stomach. Spencer chants “punch — punch — punch” with every hit. Spencer punches himself in the face and falls back. They all seem totally happy.
Half an hour later I’m writing you. Scribbling in the Paul Frank notebook. I can hardly see.
Jared opens a Spanish classroom and turns on one row of lights.
Spencer hauls the last of several trips’ worth of frozen breaded pork units from downstairs. Also some mashed potatoes. He’s hunched over, dragging a large box up the incline of the back stairs.
Jared comes out of the Spanish classroom with three rolls of industrial paper towel. He throws them down and goes down the hall. There’s a janitors’ supply closet. Jared lets himself in. Light spills into the hallway.
Spencer is halfway down the stairs throwing the remaining boxes up into the hallway. Mostly mashed potatoes and veggies.
Jared is rolling a mop bucket toward us. He kicks the veggie boxes back down the stairs. “Those are fucking instant potatoes! What are you gonna do, boil water?”
A box hits Spencer in the face. “I thought.” — “That’s why.” — “You were making the fire!”
“I’m not gonna boil water! I just want some light.”
“Turn on the fucking hall light!”
“I want natural light.” Jared kicks over the mop bucket. Gray water floods the carpet. He rights it. Tosses in the paper towels. Unravels the top roll. Kneels.
Spencer comes all the way upstairs. “I guess we’ll just have pork then.” He breathes in deeply through his nose and looks at me with wild eyes. “And I guess.” — “All the rest of this stuff.” — “Was a waste!” He drop-kicks a box of spinach. It hits the ceiling.
Jared torches the paper towels in the mop bucket. “We cook now.”
Burned and still-cold pork units held over a paper towel fire. We’re using the clamp part of those metal clip-on lights to hold our food. The four of us shoulder to shoulder around the mop bucket.
Dyson smacks his lips. “I think I can eat fourteen this time.”
Jared. “Eat up. Soon these are gonna be in short supply.”
“Food probably tastes the same. I mean if we don’t die.”
“No one’s gonna die.” Jared kicks Dyson in the knee. Knocks him over.
Spencer looks nervously between me and Jared. “Eat your.” — “Fucking.” — “Pork.” — “Use your mouth for that.” — “And keep it shut on all.” — “Other accounts.”
“What?” Dyson rights himself. “What’s she gonna do?”
“Eat your pork. Here. Have some more.” Jared stuffs his own piece in Dyson’s mouth.
Dyson chews it and licks Jared’s fingers.
Jared says. “You animal.”
“How is.” — “Your pork?”
I nod vigorously. “Wonderful.” I was really hungry.
“Have some mayo.” Spencer holds up the industrial-sized jar.
I dip my pork into it. My hand fits all the way into the mouth of the jar. This pork tastes wonderful with mayonnaise. It does. It’s a little gross. But mostly it’s wonderful.
“So you never heat the veggies?”
“Look who’s gotten particular!”
I clamp my mayonnaised pork unit and hold it over the mop bucket.
Jared unrolls more paper towel and lays it on the embers. He lights the new paper.
I wave my pork around the mop bucket. Some of the mayonnaise falls off but that’s ok. “Wouldn’t toilet paper work better?”
“Smoke’s too black. Burning bleach. Carbon.”
“What about the smoke detectors?”
““They’ve been disabled in this area.”
I shake my head. “Good grief, gentlemen, that’s a tad dangerous. What if there’s a fire.”
“You want to see our plan?”
“Show her. Wait.” Jared stands right over me, his crotch in my face. “You can’t tell anyone.” He wags a finger at me.
Spencer opens his briefcase. His computer is inside.
Jared takes a step closer. “Promise.” He extends his hand for a shake.
I take two of the fingers and shake them.
“Ok, show her.” Jared sits cross-legged next to me.
Spencer starts showing me their plan.
There is and there isn’t novelty in heinous acts. Things just seem novel when we forget to expect them. After something bad happens we focus on it as though it was the worst thing that ever happened. The sensible thing would be to realize that right before it happened we never expected it. And to live each moment knowing that our expectations are wrong.
“Are you gonna leave a note or a video or something?”
“What’s the point if people don’t know why you’re doing it?”
“It’s not important that they know.”
“This is our world. We know why we’re doing it. That’s their world. They don’t need to know and if we told them they wouldn’t understand.” Jared looks completely satisfied with this. To him, the question has been answered.
“Ok. But what is the point of doing it?”
“The point.” Jared says. “Is that we’re smarter than them. They are focusing on this and focusing on that and they’re not really focusing on what needs to be done.”
“So you’re punishing them?”
“No. You don’t get it. We don’t care about them. You don’t punish people you do not care about.”
“We don’t care about anything about them. We don’t care about punishing them. They can do that to themselves. In their own ways.”
“You only punish people you love. If you didn’t love them, you would leave them alone. You wouldn’t punish them. You just wouldn’t talk to them.”
“But people you don’t love — you blow up?”
“It’s not.” — “About them.”
“We’re not — in a sense we’re not blowing them up.”
“It doesn’t have anything.” — “To do.” — “With them.” — “It’s not.” — “Aimed.” — “At them.” — “They’re there.” — “But we don’t care.”
“They’re on a different plane.” Jared adds.
Thanks. Yeah. That clears everything up. “I get that. But why are you gonna kill them?”
“I thought you said you have explosives in the school.”
Jared and Spencer look at each other. Caution.
“Yes.” Jared says.
“So you’re setting them off for visual effect. If it happens to hurt someone, that’s extra?”
Jared says. “Our intention isn’t to hurt people. But it’s not for visual effect. We’re destroying things.”
Spencer says. “Do you see?”
“Yes. I think I do.” And I do. It’s bullshit. It’s complete bullshit. But if they want to sit here and talk semantics, that’s fine. Those people are on a different plane. Clearly Jared is a little bit crazy. But he’s also a little bit smart. I’ve always known that about Jared. Most people would think that Spencer was the smarter of the two, just because of grades. To most people Jared just seems like a punk. A disruptor. They tried to suspend him for coming to school with a shirt that said “pussy.” He turns around and on the back of the shirt there’s a drawing of a cat. They couldn’t suspend him. It’s freedom of speech. I don’t know what the exact rules are but he convinced Mr. Shapiro that if they suspended him he would sue. And knowing Jared he probably already knew he would win. I don’t know what the rules are on what you can wear, and believe it or not I haven’t read the Constitution, but somehow I think Jared probably has. Most people see him as a disruptor but he definitely does some authentic thinking. I admit it’s hard to detect through the slurry of language. Dyson’s not Jared-smart. But he’s definitely manic.
We’re playing football with a lopsided clump of Styrofoam and duct tape. I’m asking them questions about their plan. I really didn’t believe them at first. It sounded ridiculous. Now I’m starting to think that parts of it might be true. “Where did you get the — what did you call them?”
“Where did you get the tac-mines?”
“There are some parts of the plan, dear, that you do not want to know. Suffice it to say we bought them discreetly from someone we know. If that’s all you know about it, that’s the best thing for you. We don’t gather that this someone wants to be involved with us in any way except discreetly.”
Your science fair project. I knew there was something up with you earlier. Damn you, William.
Jared and Spencer are watching me. “See, I told you he would say something.”
“No, I get it. So you bought them off the internet.”
Jared is definitely reading me to see what I know. “We can’t trust the internet. I mean we don’t care about our privacy. Our privacy isn’t the concern. But this person. He’s not planning to die tomorrow. So he does care about his privacy. Anyway you can’t trust the internet for things like this.”
“So where are these supposed land mines? Are they already in the school?” Damn you for having anything to do with this.
“Don’t worry about where they are. It is advisable not to know. And they’re not land mines, they’re tac-mines.”
“When are you gonna do it?”
“Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never. I don’t actually know. We’re using a dice roll to figure it out.”
I laugh. A snorty laugh. A dice roll? “You’ve been playing too much Magic The Gathering.”
“Magic The Gathering.” — “Doesn’t use dice.” — “You mean.” — “Dungeons and Dragons.”
“Whatever. You’re gonna do a dice roll?”
“Military commanders, when they choose the time of an attack, use random numbers. Coin flips, things like that. They use a dice roll to choose the time when they’ll actually execute a maneuver. That way they can’t be spied upon, they can’t be figured out in advance. Even if you know what the general knows, you still know nothing. Even he doesn’t know when the attack will happen.”
“Where are they? Not where are they now but I mean — ”
“Where will you be safe?”
“Write down your class schedule. Give it to me.”
“Or stay at home tomorrow.”
“That’s ok. I’ll take my chances.”
“But you can’t tell anyone. Like warning the whole school or anything. Is there anyone you want us to save?”
“No one comes to mind.”
“And no warning everyone.”
“I won’t.” I’m looking from Jared to Spencer to Dyson to Spencer to Jared. Chess prodigy/thug. Blubbering eccentric. Hyperactive maniac. And what am I?
“Do you think we’re crazy? For doing this? What are you thinking?”
“I don’t think you’re crazy.” I look Jared in the eye. “I’m thinking what took you so long.”
Jared looks convinced.
I might be convinced myself.
Jared says. “So. You’re good at math, right?”
“This coming from Bobby Fischer.”
“That doesn’t mean I can add.”
“What kind of math are we talking about?”
“I don’t know what to call it. Angles?”
“Ok.” Spencer turns the computer in my direction.
Jared explains. “The lethal blast radius of one mine is two hundred feet. That doesn’t mean that anything within two hundred feet of the mine is gonna die. That just means that anything within two hundred feet of the mine could die. We’re gonna have three mines here.”
“Why three? Is that the amount it takes to kill everyone in the lunchroom?”
“Three is just the number we decided on. Based on how many we could get. To kill everyone in the lunchroom for sure we would need 10 or 12 mines. I mean to absolutely guarantee that everyone in the lunchroom was killed we’d need that many. But these placements will maximize the lunchroom.” He points to their diagram on Spencer’s computer. “Maximize damage. Given the mines we have.”
“That’s very interesting gentlemen.” I stand up. “Which lunch period are you doing this?”
“Random. Might not be lunch. Might not be the lunchroom. Dice roll remember?”
“Right. Well I have lunch fifth period so if you can swing it fifth period that would be great. How many of us can you get with three?”
Spencer zooms out the map. Clicks in an overlay. “This.” — “Is the estimated sure-kill.” — “Region.”
“But you might want to check our math. Are you good at angles?”
“Angles? You mean geometry. I’ve reached my quota on angles for the day. Anyway this is physics.”
“We think this thing is wrong about the blow-back ratios. Obviously it’s not gonna be exact. It’s just a best estimate. I mean we might get fewer than this number. We might get more.”
Jared reaches in and taps a control sequence on the keyboard. In the lower right corner, a total updates. 271.5. He taps another sequence. Circles adjust. “Those represent the blast radius.” The direct blast area is shaded red. The blowback area is shaded blue. Press return. 304.9. “This placement might give us more effect because of how — you know how those kids clump the tables.”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because the tables are gonna move around. Pieces of the chairs. Stuff is gonna fly through the air. That’s actually what kills people. Part of it. I mean there’s the main blast, there’s heat shock and air shock and pieces of the mine flying through the air. That will be what kills you if you’re near the mine. If you’re within here the explosion and those chunks of metal will definitely kill you. But there’s also the secondary wave. That’s basically pieces of — in this case — tables and chairs — ”
“Yeah. People, tables, chairs. That stuff’s gonna be flying through the air. Anything that’s within here, when that stuff flies through the air, that will kill you too.”
I point to a spot on the screen. “Make sure you include this area.”
“Who sits there?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Who is it?”
Jared moves one of the mine icons. The blast radius changes. Now it totally overlaps the table I pointed to. But this configuration pushes the death toll down to 201.0. “How’s that?”
“It’s lovely. Seriously, which placement are you going with?”
Jared hits the control sequence. It toggles between their candidate configurations. 271.5. 304.9. 271.5. 304.9.
“I guess you want to go with the larger number.”
“But we’re worried about this wall.”
Spencer and Jared both leaning in touching the screen.
“See this wall.”
“This is where they stack.” — “The clean lunch.” — “Trays.”
“That might block this blast from here.”
“The trays might.” — “Blow apart.” — “We’re not sure. They could.” — “Fly.” — “Around.”
“Show her the alternate model.”
“We’re not sure if this 304.” — “.9.” — “Is correct.” Spencer clicks something. “See.” — “It could be 238.” — “.6.”
I look from Jared to Spencer. “Uh-huh.”
Jared is rubbing his tiny bit of chin stubble. Spencer is staring at the screen. Blue light reflects in his eyes. He looks tired.
“Where did you get this program?”
“We downloaded it.”
“Well.” I say. “It sucks.”
“Why? Show us.”
“First of all. What’s this .5?” I’m tapping the keys. “What’s this .9?” I’m laughing. “Right? If you’re this .6, what does that exactly mean? Does that mean you’re otherwise ok but missing your arms?” I close the computer and set it in the briefcase. “Good luck boys!” I’m standing and brushing off my ass.
Spencer closes his briefcase. “It was free.” — “What do you expect?”
I’m going away from them, down the hall. I lean against the cinderblock. Stretch my arms. They’re camped twenty feet away. The mop bucket fire is out. “What about the mines? Were those free too?”
No answer. I continue down the hall. Something people never understand: You do your investigation. You get answers to all your questions. You still never figure it out. There’s no satisfactory explanation to shit like this, not even inside the heads of the people doing it. The best story you can tell about it, the closest one to the truth, everybody knows instantly. Some kids got mad at their classmates. Some kids felt they were out of options. Some kids were scared, so they did something stupid. That tag line is as close to the real story as any investigation can produce, and the tag line is cheaper. I can’t explain what these guys are thinking. Or what I am for that matter. I’m just telling you what we did.
Jared at my side. “You have to understand. If you say anything about this. We’ll have to take you down with us.”
“Don’t worry.” I’m smiling. My god I’m really smiling. “I won’t say a word.”
“Not if Mr. Shapiro comes up to you and asks about it point blank. Not even then.”
“Not even then.” I say. I’m ahead of Jared and I twitch my butt. “Not in my wildest dreams.”
The universe is basically an explosion. It is. If these guys are gonna blow up the lunchroom, what am I gonna do? They probably won’t even get it right. And what if they do? The force inside a gun is an explosion. When people have sex that’s an explosion. When things become popular we say that they “blew up.” The spreading of an idea is, essentially, a bomb. That we blow things up is only natural. I’m gonna have to have a talk with you, though, when I see you next. Simply because I don’t want you to go to jail. They do track things like this back you know.
“Let’s go have some fun.” Jared is on his bicycle, his deep voice booming. “All work and no play makes me want to kill a motherfucking cop.” He puts his foot on the high pedal, his body huge under dark clothing. “Meet me in the auditorium.” And he’s off, bike rattling into the tunnel.
Spencer latches his briefcase.
Dyson on his bike going the other way. Squealing “wwwweeeeeee!” as he disappears.
Spencer stands. “You coming?”
“I’ll meet ya.”
“Show starts directly at midnight.” He says. “If you care.”
Flicker of whites and grayscale on the theatre backdrop. Dark house. Jared’s bicycle propped between two rows of audience seats. Jared’s feet on the row in front of him. Dyson in the balcony with a projector. Reverence among the three of them. Tiny voices of the actors coming through the single speaker on the projector. I’m coming in through one of the side front doors. Dyson waves silently. He’s got a Twizzler in his mouth. Rips off the head and chews. Waves at me with the rest of the Twizzler. Spencer is a few rows in front of Jared. Silently watching the screen. Dyson’s bike has its front wheel hanging over the balcony railing.
Moving slowly through the auditorium. Down the stairs. Adjust my bag. Peer over my shoulder to see what film it is. Black and white characters talking, people smoking — something old. A wheel drives through a mud puddle. Shot of the sky. Black and white clouds.
I go to Spencer, one row behind him. “Hey.”
“Are you guys gonna kill yourselves tomorrow?”
Spencer leans back in his seat so our heads are closer. “We’re leaving it up to the.” — “Individual.”
“I might flip a coin to.” — “Decide.”
“What about cameras? Won’t they know it was you?”
Spencer shrugs. His eyes never leave the screen.
“Find me before you do it, ok?”
“I can’t.” — “Promise.” — “That.” — “I will.” He turns his head halfway in my direction. “I’ll.” — “Try.”
My hand on his shoulder. I stand. I’m crossing the rows of chairs. Half of them up. Half down. Some missing the seat. A run of what would have been four seats, entirely gone. Bolts on the concrete, jutting out. I turn sideways. Splintered wood of the chair backs. Drop my bag. Go down Jared’s aisle. Spencer turns all the way around. He smiles a smile that I see in his eyes. Sparkling. And goes back to watching the movie. Still smiling, I’m sure. I sit next to Jared. Right next to. Smooth my skirt and put my legs on the chair in front of me. Both legs, all the way up. Sit in silence a minute. Then lean toward Jared. “What did I miss? — ”
“Shh.” Jared doesn’t even look at me. He says. “This is my favorite part.”
Half the time you’re watching a movie the screen is black. The room is dark when it’s switching frames. Your brain doesn’t notice. It strings together experience from little flashes.
Jared to my left. Black and white flashes on the walls of the set. Anna Frank’s living room. You can see the seams. But you forget about them. The movie shows on the set walls. On the couch. On part of the black curtain at the side of the stage. Flicker of a woman’s face. Half of it on a wall. Some of it on the floor. An edge of it on the coffeetable in Anna Frank’s living room. But all I see is the movie. Or that’s all I think about. Dazing out. Eyes blurring. A woman’s face. She’s crying. A man at a piano with a woman sitting at his feet. It’s garbled, a dream. People who seem like they mean what they’re saying. To me it’s lost, faint chatter coming through a tiny speaker on the projector in the balcony. Lost in the air on its way down to me. Leaning back next to he who cannot be interrupted. With my legs up and my ass exposed and my hand on his knee. Little play of fingers. Brush of fingers. Not tickling. Tickling distracts. Jared shifts. He’s thinking about me. He’s definitely thinking about me. Cars racing in black and white. Turning an impossible corner.
I scooch back in my seat. I may just watch this movie.
My head is on Jared’s shoulder and his head is leaning on mine. I say. “Why don’t you come with me?”
Dyson is snoring from the balcony. Spencer is lying on the couch in Anna Frank’s living room.
I scrape my fingernails on Jared’s thigh through thick jeans. “Come on.”
Leading Jared by the hand. Dark lower hallway.
His deep voice. “Where are we going?”
“Don’t worry.” I say.
“Nothing’s gonna — jump out at me or anything. Are they?”
“I don’t know. Do you have other people posted around here or is it just you three?”
“You’re not gonna tell anyone.”
“I’m not gonna tell anyone.”
“You’re gonna get emotional and try to save people. I know you.”
“I’m not even gonna save myself. I’m gonna eat lunch when I eat lunch and I’m gonna sit where I always sit. Regardless of your diagram.”
“Where are you taking me.”
“Why are we here?”
“This is Mrs. Skelton’s class.”
“Ok. Why are we at Mrs. Skelton’s class.”
Because. I touch Jared’s chest. “Because.”
“Are you gonna kill me now? Because I heard some girls like to kill people after they have sex. They kill the male. In some species.”
I step close to him. “Who says we’re gonna have sex?”
“You were acting all — smushy. And everything. At the movie.”
“Shhh.” Put my finger on his mouth. “We are gonna have sex. But I want you to remember something.”
“This.” I put my finger on the door to Mrs. Skelton’s class. “109. Fifth period.” This is where Jenna has speech.
“Who are you after?”
“A bunch of assholes who hate me.”
Jared’s deep voice. “I can’t guarantee — ”
“I’m not asking you to guarantee!” My voice echoes down the long hallway. Blue street light coming in through grated windows. I put my hand on Jared’s belt. “I’m not asking for a guarantee. I’m just saying.”
I’m not gonna say much about what happened next because I don’t want to piss you off. Are you mad at me? I hope not because when it comes right down to it it doesn’t add up to all that much. In all honesty, I liked doing it. And it wasn’t like I was mad at you or trying to get back at you or upset at you in any way. Jared and I weren’t into each other or anything. I mean we weren’t talking before that night. It certainly wasn’t planned. It was just kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. Kind of an on-the-spot thing. I just made the decision and did it. I was horny. He was there. Please don’t read much more into it than that. Ok? It’s not like we’re ever gonna do it again. Obviously. It wasn’t the best sex I can imagine. It wasn’t the worst. I was kind of glad to get it over with. I mean it definitely made me want to do it again so it’s not like it was bad or anything. It was definitely not what I expected. But when is that not the case? Good but different. Like when I used to watch soap operas with my parents. I would imagine, while watching the actors kiss, what a kiss felt like. Funny I can’t remember now what I thought one would feel like then. But I remember that when my first one happened it was entirely different than what I imagined. More specific. Much less vague. And good. Very good. But also kind of gross. Just a little. Everything with the body is a little gross if you think about it. But wonderful. Wonderful. A nice surprise. Sometimes perfection. Perfect design when used as designed. So yeah, we fucked. I hope you don’t mind my stating it in those terms. It was just late and I was anxious and I was more susceptible to it after being locked in a closet by your sister and her bitch friends. I hope you know I don’t mean anything against you when I express my hate for her. I actually kind of like her. Which is extremely sick, I know, given the circumstances. She is, however, a horrible person. She’s a bitch. I just mean as a matter of definition. Her being your sister doesn’t erase the fact that she acts like a bitch. I’m not sure how you turned out so nice, given that you shared a womb. I haven’t always been the nicest person to her, either. I know that. You will never know how horrible I’ve been to her. Chalk it up to my instabilities. I am pretty sure there is something very very wrong with me. Sometimes it comes out in ways that most people would be very very afraid of, I think. I am glad we can have these conversations. Glad I can share with you. Even though it’s mostly for my benefit, since you can’t talk back. I think everyone needs a person who goes around with them inside their head. Someone who is there always. For me, that person is you. Maybe that’s what we really are. Not boyfriend and girlfriend, not friends even. Not, most essentially, lovers. But you are an angel who stays with me. I somehow know you’re there even though we have a one-way communication link. I am the one who talks to you. And you are the one who listens. The main thing I know about you is how you would respond. I never hear you. But I know what you would say.
Jared bending over by the wall in 109. I still have my boots on. Put one foot on top of him. Brace myself with my arm and about to pull myself up.
“You unlocked this?”
“I think it’s that one. We wirecut the welding actually. We did one in every room.”
I step on him. My boot presses its tread into his shirt and back. I put the other boot up. I hardly have my other hand up when he stands. Pushes me up. I slip down some but get one boot on his shoulder. He gets the other boot in his hand. Pushes me up.
“I’m pretty sure it’s that one. Do you see one with a wire cut in the middle?”
“Yeah. It’s cut out in the middle.”
“We put a mark on ones we cut so you could see ’em from the inside.”
“You need to get a master key to the chains, go out the front door.”
“Slight problem with that.” He pushes me up.
I’m sliding open the plastic window frame.
“Can’t re-lock chains from the inside. People would know.”
I shake my head. “What do I do now?”
“Push on it.”
I do. I push on it. The wire grating falls out. “Push me up.”
Jared lifts me and I crawl out into the gravel of the alley. I stand and brush myself off. Gravel prints in my knees.
“You coming back?”
“What time is it?”
“Yeah. I’m just gonna walk.”
“I’ll keep this open. Close the grate. Set it up against — ”
“Ok. Have a nice walk.”
“Thank you Jared.”
I go to the teachers’ parking lot. Kick a parking bumper. Check my boot. The paint is dry. I’m looking at the moon. My skirt is too short to hold the wind from me. My stockings crumpled in a trash can in 109. Sitting on a parking bumper. Moon not full. Average almost-half moon, weird little rough-edged covering. Like someone’s not that far behind me holding up a ripped piece of paper to block the light. Doesn’t look anything like the earth — an almost perfectly smooth ball — is blocking that light. It looks much more like someone is holding up a ripped piece of paper. Rough edges. Does anyone ever think about this? About how little science holds together. Does the theory fit with what it actually looks like? Probably not. Probably no one thinks about it. I’m freezing. No car here. No buses running. No one out. I have to be back in three hours anyway. Might as well stay. Cold rush of wind. I actually enjoy it for once. Makes me cold enough to hurt. Bites me. But tonight I like it. It feels great. It makes me feel very very awake. Right here. Black sky, cardboard moon, gravel of the parking lot. Cold. And me. Hot blooded me. Total fucking mess me. Full of regret me. Doesn’t care me. What’s to regret me. Going forward me. Nothing is a mistake me. Tonight’s a night I could run away. If I got in the bug tonight I don’t even think I would tell you. If I did I would give you one chance. If you said no I would go without you. Tomorrow I might go. Tomorrow is the kind of day that we could go, pack up and go, and no one would question it. As long as they don’t find out about you. Which they won’t as long as Jared and those guys don’t say anything about you. Which they sound like they wouldn’t. Especially if they kill themselves. If they kill themselves and I don’t say anything no one will ever know. Even if they survive, I don’t think they’ll say anything. They would be too embarrassed if their plan didn’t work. They probably wouldn’t talk to me at all. I think I’m safe. There’s no evidence I’m involved. I’m not involved. I’m not involved. It doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not the one buying military shit from my cherished schoolmates. I’m not the ones making blast radius plans of the lunchroom. Anyway I might die tomorrow. And they might have told other people. Other people may know about this and not say anything. Dyson probably told someone. His dad? I don’t know. Maybe not. I could call the police. Tell them about Jenna. Tell them she locked me in the changing closet. I could say Jared raped me. Nothing there too too far from the truth. I wouldn’t do that. I mean I wouldn’t do that. I’m just saying. I could say that. I’m not gonna but I could. I could call in an anonymous bomb threat to the school tomorrow, very early, 7am. 6am. I don’t have to decide now. It’s tonight, it’s not tomorrow. I pull up my shirt. Cold air on my belly. Put my fingers on it. Feel the navel. I just had sex. I just had sex. I’m cold. I’m sitting with the moon.
Open my eyes at the top of the auditorium. The movie’s off. The house lights are off. It’s light outside — what time is it? Did they do it yet? They must not have done it yet. I actually slept. What was I dreaming? I don’t think anything. Sweatshirt covering my legs. That’s right. Left my stockings in 109. Threw them away. Was outside. Moon was nice. Came back in. I had sex last night. That’s excellent. Really. Don’t get trapped by ideas. Where is Jared? Oh yeah, those three were sleeping in the lunchroom to get a feel for things. I think I should call the police. Or maybe not the police. But someone. Sit up. Look over the balcony. Jared’s bike is still in the seats. I guess they don’t care about anything now. The projector is off. Wonder how they get by in the morning without anyone noticing them. Duh. They go out one of the windows and just come back in with everyone else. Sit around in the courtyard playing hackey sack and Bobby Fischer and go in with the rest of us. I could go out the window. Except how do I get up without help? Did they go out already? Fuck. I’m gross. I need a bath.
I push open the backstage door. Hall lights are on. Janitors must be here already? Is it 7:30? 8:00? There’s a bathroom right outside the auditorium. Blue light showing on the frosted plastic. Beyond it zig-zagged wire grating. Four-inch slit at the bottom of the window. Trees outside. A cold breeze but something springlike in it. Something of a new day. Tingling in my lower spine, my forearms. Springtime. It is one of those days that feels like springtime in the winter. This is the type of day when we always cut class. Me and you. Go to the park downtown. Go look at mansions for sale. Pretend we could buy them. Get the flyer and call the real estate agent. Pee in the stream in the park. Cool air running through the four-inch slit. Frosting my legs, and I like it. Making me feel like shorts. Stockings from last night completely gone. That me completely gone. Let go of it. Let it fucking go. Completely gone. Wearing my skirt like it was summer. Late spring days when it’s still cold in the morning. When you dress for noon but leave at seven. New outfit, new day. This is the type of day when you and me would walk right out the front doors, see Martin Shapiro picking up some kid who was cutting, and smile and wave at them both as we left the school. That’s all you have to do is smile and wave. Kids who cut class look like they’re trying to hide. If you smile and wave at the principal, even if the reason he went outside is to find kids who are cutting, he won’t catch you. If you wave at him and maybe add in a pleasant “Good morning Mr. Shapiro!” then he will think you are doing something you are supposed to be doing. Must be going off to a doctor’s appointment without your parents. Must be doing some kind of art project. That’s our other major tactic. Carry some piece of school-supplied art equipment. A video camera. A film camera. Must be doing an art project. Getting a good shot of the school. “Good morning Mr. Shapiro!” We love you Miss Hannigan. Fuck ‘im. As he’s dragging some other kid cutting back to school. That’s the whole thing. It’s how you look at things.
Run my hand under the cold water. Then put it under the hot for a second. Two separate knobs, two separate spouts in these sinks. Temper the cold with a splash of hot then take the smattering to my leg. Try to give the major surfaces a lick, is all. Half these kids probably don’t even bathe ever. Just give it a lick so as not to draw attention.
The bathroom door opens. It’s a student. Must be a freshman. She goes to a stall and locks herself in. It might not be 7:30. It might be later than I think.
Hand in the sink. Cold then hot. Splash it on my face. Wipe my eyes. Get the gunk out of the cracks. Splash again. Wipe it with my shirt. It’ll dry by the time anyone sees me. Doesn’t matter. You’ll probably notice, though. You’ll probably notice I’m wearing the same thing as yesterday. Probably. Not necessarily. Sans stockings. Oh well.
Cool spring day in the winter. Maybe we can cut today.
Heft my bag onto my shoulder. The thing has got to weigh a third of what I do. Or possibly half. Out the bathroom. That’s a classroom door open. Lights on inside. What time is it? Find a clock. I go past the class. There are people in it. Mrs. Reece is there. The desks are in a circle. Are they meditating? Keep going. Round the corner. There’s a clock. 10:58. Just go downstairs. Go downstairs.
Bottom of the stairs. There’s people everywhere. Woman in a maroon jumpsuit with a set of keys. She looks me up and down, looks at my skirt. Am I a mess? I thought I got everything. Maybe I’m just wrinkled. Keep going bitch. This is where you’ll be working for the rest of your life. Don’t talk to her. Pretend she didn’t look at you. Don’t turn around. Just walk like normal. She doesn’t know where I slept.
Past the main office. There’s my office aid, phone in hand. How did I sleep this much? Payphone here. Fuck. I don’t have any money. Those fucking bitches took it. But — right — it’s free to call 911.
Across the hall, the lunchroom is full. It’s fifth period.
Pick up the handset. Are those guys gonna do it today? Dial 9. What am I gonna say? Dial 1. Some guys are gonna blow up the school?? How do you know? Where are you calling from? Just press the other 1. Press it. Hello? What’s your emergency? My emergency? Is that my friends are gonna blow up the school. Well not really blow up. You see, there’s this thing called a sure-kill region. I mean even our most optimistic estimates — . This is like — . This is like a hundred people dead. Max. A hundred people max. You think you can send someone out? Where?? Van Buren. You know the fucked-up ghetto school where teachers hand out crossword puzzles in English class. Yes. Yes. That’s the one. Me?? I’m nobody.
Just press the other 1.
And say what?
I’m at school and some kids are gonna blow up the school.
I think there’s a bomb? No, I didn’t put it there. I’m not even sure where it is. No, I didn’t see it. I don’t know, they just said there was one. Who’s they?? Some kids in my grade. Do you know their names?
Put the handset back. They record these calls. They record these calls. If I do this they will have my voice on tape. It will be on the news. My voice will be on the news. My call will be on CNN someday and I’ll be the one like. “Yeah. There’s a bomb in my school.”
My 911 call will sound very calm and very not-upset and people will later say. “She did not sound upset in her call. She sounded very calm.” She wasn’t acting normally for someone who knew this was going to happen.
Or: She hated everyone anyway.
Or: If she wasn’t in on it she would have called sooner.
Or: When the bomb went off, she wasn’t sad.
And I won’t be. If what? If you blow up some assholes in the lunchroom?
Just pick up the fucking phone.
Martin Shapiro comes out of the main office. In his regular suit and tie. Hasn’t anyone told him he doesn’t have to wear a suit and tie to a school like this? This is the kind of school where people get raped and blown up.
There’s a crowd of kids between us but Mr. Shapiro sees me anyway.
I hang up the phone. I think I was talking to it out loud.
He comes over. “Your mom is looking for you.”
“Are you ok?”
“Yes.” I nod.
“Are you calling someone?”
“I’m calling the police.” That was not what I should have said.
“Why are you calling the police?”
“Because. Our cat. We lost our cat. I just wanted to tell someone.”
Strange look on his face. “Come’ere.”
I take a step backward.
“Use the phone in my office.”
“I don’t think that — I mean — . With sexual harassment — . I could say that you raped me and if there were no witnesses — . So. It’s probably not a good idea. For you.”
He gestures toward the main office. “If you need to make a call. There’s a phone on the desk.”
Lunchroom. Sea of bodies. Tables buzzing. Lines to get food. People sitting with their trays. Whole place lit up. I look to my normal table. Molly. BJ. Janel. Where are you, William? No sign of Jared, Spencer and Rat Boy. Maybe they’re not gonna do it today. Maybe they’re not gonna do it at all. I mean, really, they’ll probably chicken out. They’re not competent to do something like that. I should probably tell someone anyway. But I don’t know who. I will do that. I’ll do that in a minute. I need to get out of this school as soon as possible. And I think I’m gonna leave the state. Get in the bug. Go to your house. If you’re there, we’ll go together. If you’re not, I’ll go by myself.
A girl goes past me. That’s the girl who got raped in here. She got raped in the lunchroom. What’s her name? That corner is the spot where it happened. How did that get started I wonder. I mean was the first one not rape? Or was it all rape. I saw one of the lunch aides see it and walk away. I know she saw it. She walked right out of the lunchroom. And it wasn’t like she was leaving to go tell someone. She walked out slow like nothing was going on. No one even knew about it until the end of next period. I think some kids who saw it told their next period teacher. Then the teacher went to the girl and asked her. She was like in the back of a typing class with bruises on her neck. Like the teacher hadn’t noticed that before someone mentioned it. Hey, I think that girl back there who isn’t typing — ? I think she got raped last period. Or maybe the teacher saw the bruises and didn’t think about it. I mean that’s understandable. The teacher probably didn’t want to pry. Or maybe — I think they said it was in her shop class. It is kinda dark in there. Why am I thinking about this? I think there’s something wrong with me.
I pull out a yellow chair. Drop my bag. Sit. The girl one seat away from me looks at me like I’m weird. It’s the girl who got raped. There are two other people at the table. None of them talking. I don’t look at them. I don’t have to look at them. I can sit wherever I want. It doesn’t need an explanation. These aren’t reserved. Pull in my chair. Cross my ankles, boots under my thighs. Skirt is up, part of my ass showing. What does it matter. Blue gel pen.
I want to disappear. I feel like everything I’ve done is wrong up to this point in my life. It’s all so unacceptable. I want to spend forever in the impressionist wing of the national museum. Sit on benches and eat snack lunches and have conversations with you as a stranger. Every time we spoke would be the first time. I don’t know what we would say. Probably nothing that made sense.
But we would sit in front of Monets and it would be awesome.
I’m writing you this note because I might leave today. I will take the car as you suggested. And I will bring it back, someday, because I know you love it. Thank you for understanding me even when I’m crazy. I know I’m hard to deal with, you can spank me for it later. But I do love you. And I want you to come with me because I need you. To live, I think. I know it’s silly. I’ll probably get stuck in the desert. Or Oklahoma with my luck. Have you ever changed a flat tire? I certainly haven’t. I guess I’ll have to learn. So what do you think? New Mexico? Tell me after lunch. I know you hate this place. I can keep you company. And give you backrubs. Kiss me, William, next time we meet. I bet I will need a kiss by then. P.S. If you find Jenna dead don’t worry it was me. I might have to kill someone today. Not you. Love, and pigs, and wriggling toes, ME.
I fold your note. Go out of the lunchroom. Head left. I pass Mr. Baumgartner’s. Make the mistake of looking in.
Mr. Baumgartner sees me. Stands. He’s coming out.
I keep walking.
Mr. Baumgartner’s calling me. “Come here for a second.”
He comes up beside me. “What is going on with you?”
“Just one of those days. I’ll check you tomorrow ok?”
Hand on my shoulder. And I’m looking up into his big eyes. At his bald head with a combover, but somehow it’s sweet. He brings me into his office. “Sit down for a second.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
He laughs. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Are you — are you planning on working all day? I mean when do you get off?”
“Nothing. Don’t listen to me I’m stupid today.”
“What class are you supposed to be in now?”
“I don’t have class today. I have — painting.”
Mr. Baumgartner looks doubtful.
“You know I don’t go to class.”
He smiles. He’s looking at some kind of register.
I’m looking out the window. “You know this bumper sticker I saw the other day?”
Mr. Baumgartner closes his register and says. “Tell me.”
I pause for effect. “It said: FAT PEOPLE ARE HARDER TO KIDNAP.”
“Was the driver fat?”
“That’s the thing. No she wasn’t. She was skinny.” I knew Mr. Baumgartner would understand.
“I want to talk with you about your PSAT.”
“I was just trying to finish first.”
“I saw that.”
“Did I fail?”
“You got the highest score. You got the highest score in your class. And. I was looking through some records. I believe you got the highest score in the history of the school.” The guy definitely has a combover. But in his case it’s cute.
“Ok.” I say. Ok. I’m getting kind of nervous. “So what are we gonna to do about this?”
Mr. Baumgartner leans in. “I know you’re going to graduate early this year.”
“Right.” Definitely. Definitely cutting out of here.
“Are you thinking about what colleges you might want to go to?”
Smiling. Wow. Yep, I’m smiling. Leave that to Mr. Baumgartner.
I’m shaking my head and biting my bottom lip. Looking at my lap.
Actually, I’m gonna be a Playboy model. Wanna see my tits?
In the hall I see Jared walking with one of the detonators.
He had the hand-grip thing. The neoprene handle. That’s definitely what I saw.
I run to the door.
People throughout the hallway. Jared.
Jared just walked into the lunchroom holding the detonator.
Cringe. Tight fingers. Make them claws. This was not my original plan for the day. This was not the plan. Think about going to Jared. Asking him to stop. No. Go back to Mr. Baumgartner’s desk. Get my bag. Go out. You don’t have to talk to him. Why don’t I just ask Jared to stop? Exactly why am I not asking him to do that? Because I want to see what happens? Or maybe: for no reason. William, why did you have that stuff in your locker? Why didn’t you tell me about it? How did you buy it? Can they trace it to you? Did I sink us both? Did you? At least we’re gonna sink together.
I can’t stop it. Stay calm. I can’t stop it. That’s not possible at all. If I run to Jared now, he might set it off. I don’t want to die today. I don’t want to die.
Keep going. Steady. Steady. Round the corner. Definitely do not look back. Whoa — leaning. Not good. Stop. Two feet. Two feet, two legs. Now walk. Yeah. Perfect. Just like normal. Walking can be done in many circumstances. I walk now. It is the same act as when I walk any other time, regardless of what just happened. Or maybe what’s about to. Many people walk and it’s all walking. Guilty people walk. Children walk. People who are about to get hit by a car, walk. All the same.
Paint lab. Mr. Evan Walker. Same lovely beard. Cute old man. Well, cute middle-aged man. Laura Hollister. Jason Atkinson. Beth Rice. Erica Jones. All painting. You are the lucky ones. Smile weakly. Hike past them. I peer into my studio. Empty. I shuff off my bag. It hits the floor with a clomp.
Back in the main room. “Have you seen William today?”
Mr. Walker points at the door. “He just left.”
Grab Mr. Walker’s keys. Red neck strap. On the desk by Laura. On top of a yellow folder.
Push the door. Open. Lean out.
You’re right there. Coming from the direction of the special-ed room.
I step into the hall. “Did you go to check on your special admirer?”
“Yeah, I took her virginity.”
Tug your shirt. “Get in here.”
Mr. Walker doesn’t even look up. Back in the room. Push you toward the studio. “I’ll meet you.” In one move, I take the keys from the yellow folder. Go to the door. Lock the door. Push the handle. Locked. Turn and place the keys back on the yellow folder. Eyes catch with Laura. She saw. But only she saw. Lock eyes. Remove hand from keys. Smile. Get a screwed up face in return. Heart leaping. Feeling nervous now! Laura’s look follows me only halfway to the studio. She’s looking at my legs. That’s what I get for wearing short skirts! Turn around. Paint your portrait of — who? — actually that’s not half bad for her. Kind of lopsided. I’m waltzing through the room. Jason Atkinson painting fruit that looks like a vulva. And some that looks like a cock and balls. Nice. Very nice. You have a future. To the studio, fluorescent light in the main room, incandescent in here. How many? Four, five, six, seven. You are the lucky ones.
I pull the studio door so it’s almost shut. “Please say you just went to the lunchroom to find me.”
“I was looking for you all morning! I’ve been calling you.”
“I lost my phone. I figured out your science project. Did you know this was gonna happen today?”
“No! No. Just — listen to me. No matter what. No matter what don’t say anything. Ok? Just — . You didn’t see anything. You didn’t know about it.” You’re shaking your head. Your hands pulling me in, dizzying me. “I’m serious.”
“I’m serious too.”
You touch my arm. “You’re clammy.”
“Yeah.” You look worried. “You’re shaking. Did you eat anything?”
I whisper. “Call Jared. I just saw him. Going in the lunchroom. Call those guys. Are they about to do it?”
You take my head in your hands. Our eyes burn together.
“There’s no reason you have to get in trouble for this. This has nothing to do with you.”
“Call those guys and get your stuff back.”
You push open the door of the studio. “I’m getting you some water.”
I grab your arm. “I don’t need water.”
You look out at Mr. Walker’s class.
“I locked the door.” I say.
And something rocks the building.
We look at each other. Then you open the door from the studio into the main classroom and we stop our conversation right away. You’re not dumb. That’s part of why I like you.
I’m looking at Mr. Walker.
His eyes dart to everyone in the class. “Did you feel that?”
Jason Atkinson sets his paintbrush down. Steps back. Looks at his painting.
Beth and Erica are laughing.
My heart is beating fast.
I want to get myself off.
I pull you into the sculpture studio. Press myself against you. You undo the top buttons of my shirt. Put your hand on me. Press your fingers under my skirt. Wetness. I’m kissing. Kiss. Horrible, horrible me. It can’t go back now. It’s done. It will never be then ever again. It’s all now now.
You’re off balance, leaving me, trailing my hand to the classroom. People are looking. I button my shirt. You push on the class door. It won’t go. It was locked with a key. You take the key from the desk. You open the door. You’re out in the hallway. Don’t go. I’m pulling you.
“I have to see what happened.” You say. “We might have to go.”
People are milling around the hallway. Did you feel that?
You pull me close. You speak clearly and quietly. “Don’t go back to my locker.”
I shake my head.
“Listen to me. Listen to me. You don’t know my combination.”
I’m pulling away.
“Go home. I’ll meet you.”
Mr. Walker is in the hallway now. So is Laura. So is Jason.
You say. “I have to check some things. Go home.”
Laura hears this. I push past her and go back to the sculpture studio. I hoist my bag.
You knew about this from the beginning. Was it you that thought of this? Was it you that wanted this to happen? I can see Jared all excited when you first mentioned the idea. Or did they come to you? Put a few heads together and look what happens.
Shluffing my bag down the hallway after you. Where is Jared now? I look in the gym. They’re playing soccer. Red versus black. Girls in shorts and ponytails. Squeak of their shoes on the floor. Laura trails behind me. She definitely knows something is up. Kayla’s outside the special-ed room with her mouth open. Don’t look. Don’t look. There’s the one with the epic limp, who walks like a car with wheels of different sizes. I don’t want to see that one. Kayla is coming up to me. She has spit in her braces. Close your mouth Kayla. Close your mouth. What is she saying? Will you deliver this??
“Wi’ you ‘e’iver i’?” She shoves it in front of me. It’s a badly folded note — addressed to you, by the way.
I stop and look at her. “Kayla. Close your mouth.”
A scream from the hall to my left.
“Now what is this?”
The special-ed teacher, Mrs. Skelton, is in the hall now.
“For Wi’iam.” For William. “Wi’ you ‘e’iver i’?” Yes.
“Yes.” Give me the note. I will deliver it.
I’m coming around a corner. There’s someone puking. I can hear it. There’s Adrian walking. She slips on it and the smell makes me want to throw up. I get chills. I shake my head. Just don’t breathe in as you go by. It’s a big girl, really fat, shoulders ballooned up under her sleeves. Stretched skin popping out of her sleeves and she’s only — what — fifteen? Her puke is orange and brown, strict delineations in it. Two distinct meals. I’d hate to see that girl’s shit. That’s what I’m thinking. Wow. There must be something wrong with me. I would hate to see her shit. She probably hates it too. That’s the funny thing. She probably feels the same way about herself that I feel about her. And she feels the same way about me that I do. Uhgg. Whoa. Almost lost it. She’s puking. Walk more. Keep walking.
People gathering in front of the lunchroom.
There’s Mike Breeley. He’s standing next to John Tennemeyer. John covers his mouth. He might throw up too.
Approaching the double doors. A crowd now. I see proper Miss Theobald. She just sits down in the middle of it, not covering the opening of her red skirt when she does it. Just drops a knee to the floor and kind of lops over. A tall girl in a track uniform comes out covering her head. Dobos is next to Miss Theobald. He doesn’t have his ice cup and he’s not saying anything.
Dust, melted plastic, table leg, plaster fragments, blown out the double doors. Martin Shapiro is on his phone. This is the most attentive I’ve seen him all year. I push in, oh — Chris Rhodes has no leg. Bricks everywhere. Chris is sitting in a chair. Parts of the ceiling caved in. There is still a red drink on a table with a straw in it. Chris has one leg now and his blood is on the floor.
Wreckage. It makes my throat want to throw up but I like the quiet. Does that make me sick that I like this quiet? I don’t like the rest of it. Oh God, Jordan. Bloodslick. But the — oh — the quiet is nice. That’s — from the back that looks like Meeghan Farrow. Oh God I think that’s Meeghan Farrow. I wonder who else is in here. Don’t look. Oh God. Throat, no, don’t — throat — breathe through your nose. Breathe through your nose. Don’t stop, no, don’t sit down. I don’t believe I’m sitting down. I think if I sat here for the rest of the day no one would notice me. Holes blown in chairs, tables on their sides, fragments of — people. Fragments of people smaller than I would have ever imagined. A piece of skin, burned skin, smaller than a key. Whose? I’m sitting down. Clutch my knees. Probably the safest place to be. Oh God — close your eyes. Better. I can see it still, but better. Vomit. I need to throw up. Taste of vomit. Stand up. Trip — almost. Catch the top of a chair. Don’t fall. Ok. Breathe, look straight ahead. Bag. Up. On my shoulders. Both straps. That feels better. Focus on the bag. Carry my bag. I have to carry my bag. Those kids aren’t dead. This is a movie. Carry my bag. Easy! Do not slip. Do not slip here. Um, yeah. Definitely do not slip here. Is that someone’s lunch or is that someone? Looks like mud on the wall. Like mud right there on the wall. Dirty feet, tire tracks. I know this table. BJ? No, that’s not him. Must be someone with BJ’s shirt. That doesn’t even look like BJ. Who’s this next to him? Is that — ? That’s Molly. That is Molly. That definitely is Molly. The top part of her. I’m looking at the top part of Molly.
Next to her, some of the flat black balls. These must not have gone off. If they find these, William, will they track them to you? How many more of them are there, in places around the school. I pick them up, one at a time. Matte-black spheres at the base of the lunchroom wall. Stuff them in my bag. William. William. Why did you have anything to do with this?
There are things I want to say to you. Teal leotard top. Where’s the bottom? Things I cannot say. That’s Molly’s teal leotard top and that’s her shoe over there. That’s Molly’s freshly-done hair. That’s Molly’s makeup. That’s most of Molly’s face. Those are her lips. That’s her cheek. And that is where it ends. The edge of Molly is different now. That is where she ends. There are things you only write in your quietest thoughts, things you never say in words. There are things like this that cross my mind every time I see your face.
I’m about to topple. Put my hand on my leg. Kneel down. Kneel. If I black out here they will think I am one of the dead. Scratch my nails on my leg. I’m one of the living. I’m still one of the living.
Molly with. Oh. One leg so far above her head. God. Circus dancer. Fell off the tightrope. I saw pictures like this in a train safety video in middle school. Stay off the tracks. If you play with trains this might happen to you. Never go between cars. Cars that couple unexpectedly can cut you in half.
That’s Molly. And that’s Molly. There’s part of her there. And there’s part of here there.
Molly’s skinny legs stretched like that. Lincoln when he stumbles. He doesn’t even have enough energy to get onto the couch. He’s big enough, but there’s not enough umph. Not enough umph in that cat anymore. The front half of him gets up and the back half doesn’t make it. It falls limp. It drags the front half back down off the couch. Molly stretched like that. Two halves of her. Vomit in my mouth.
Why do people assume, when a bomb goes off, that it is over? Why do we look at the effects of the blast and not imagine that this is only the beginning? No, a bomb goes off and we look at a person without a leg and instead of thinking that could happen to us right here right now where we stand, we think what a horrible thing just happened to you.
Looking at Molly. Shard of glass from my favorite mirror. It’s in the back pocket of my ALICE pack. Unbuckle it. There. At the bottom. Not wrapped in anything. Feel its edges with my fingertips. Microscopic treads on my pinky. So delicate at that scale. You could just scrape a fingerprint right off. Sit against the wall. Draw up the sleeve of my sweatshirt. That’s Molly, that’s really her. Put the mirror to my arm. Drag it all the way up. All the way through my elbow pit. That’s pretty good. I’m bleeding now. Pull off the sweatshirt. Pull off the left half of it. I don’t feel like throwing up anymore. Put the mirror on my arm and make another line. Press it. Draw it upward. Press harder this time. Press it all the way in. I don’t need that skin. I don’t need it anymore. My blood on laminate tiles. I think I can do one more. I think I can do one more and then I can pass out right here. Probably five minutes. Probably about five minutes.
Blood on the back of my leg. Puddle forming. Sitting. Dizzy. Lean against the wall. There’s nothing in me to vomit. Oh fuck. Almost passed out. Looking at the ceiling. A light fixture. This light, it’s lovely. It’s even celestial, to use a word Molly would use. I’m not worried about blackness. Blackness is what I’m looking for. I don’t think you ever know you blacked out unless you wake up.
“Any movement in there?”
“A lot of black in here.”
“What about that corner?”
“It’s all black.”
“What you got?”
Someone’s kicking me. I can move my eyes. There’s someone there. I think that’s the person kicking me. Look around. That’s the only person I can see.
He gets closer. It’s my security guard. The one who never checks my bag. He’s touching my hand. Pressing fingers into my neck, pressing on my wrist. “Can you hear me?”
He’s prying something out of my grip. My hand is clenched. He presses it flat on the floor. I’m holding something. What? Oh yeah. It’s the mirror shard from my bathroom.
I nod my head.
“Come’ere baby.” The ceiling moves behind his head. We’re going up. “Red coming out!”
Someone I can’t see. “Stretcher!”
“Come’ere baby.” Arm under my neck. “Straighten her up.” I’m moving my legs. I’ve still got the mirror shard in my hand. It’s like the muscles in my hand are being controlled by someone else. We’re going out of the lunchroom. It feels like he’s gonna drop me. “Red coming out!”
“Bring out your red!”
“I gotcha, baby, I gotcha.”
“Holy fuck what happened to that one? She in a knife fight?”
“She did it herself.”
“When did she do that? Motherfuck me.” Then to the radio. “Send a fucking surgeon.” “Holy motherfuck. Here sweetie. Jesus Christ. Give her to me. Give her to me. Check for more. Check for more.”
Handing me over.
“What’s she got in her hand?”
“Jesus mother of fuck. Take my mic.” Shuffling me around. Now that guy has me. “Sweetie, you’re ok. What happened to you? Why’d you do this?”
Their hands on my arm. Turning my arm. “Look at that shit.”
“She do this before or after? Check for more.” The guy gets his mic back. He’s setting me down. Putting my head on something soft. I feel buttons. A jacket. He’s talking into his mic. “Critical in need of life support. Southeast entrance. Twenty yards.”
I see a class photo upside-down. I can read the year. 1978. The glass in the frame is broken, but the picture is still hung perfectly straight. There’s blood on the floor. Mine?
Someone yells. “Where the fuck were you guys?” They don’t sound at all concerned. Chirp on the radio. “Gonna need about — life support — send — ”
I can’t tell what they’re saying.
I’m more awake now. I can see my hand. Mirror shard. Oh right. Yeah. I did this.
The first guy, my security guard. He’s next to me. “What do you got here?” He tugs on my hand.
I look at him. Loosen my grip. Let the mirror fall.
He picks up the mirror shard. “You’re ok. You’re gonna be fine.”
His mic is talking. “ — sure hope you’re ordering — pizza otherwise I don’t — the fuck you’re doing.”
He talks back to them. “You’re right here. Come through. Corner door.”
“I’m — at — door. I don’t see — ”
“We’re in the hallway.”
“What are you doing — hold on. Yo! What the fuck — ?”
I hear a door cracking at the hinges and paramedics are running by. I think I’m better. I can move a little. What made my neck sore?
“You’re gonna be ok.” The security guard is turning the mirror in his hand. “Where’d this come from? Move your foot, ok? Bend your knee.” I do it. “Can you bend the other one?” I do it. “You ok? Look at me. Where’s your worst pain?” There’s a stretcher coming out. “Look at me.” Holding the mirror up. “What’s going on with this?”
My face, reflected. Bruises, blood.
“You’re gonna die anyway, you don’t need to help.”
Somebody comes in behind him. “She stable?”
“Let me take a look.”
There’s maybe ten kids in the hallway. Two security guards. Five paramedics. William, where are you? Did you go to my house?
The security guard’s fingers dig into my shoulder. “You’re good. You’re gonna be fine.”
I move my fingers. I didn’t know he’d been holding my hand.
He lets go. He looks surprised that he was doing it.
Another paramedic comes in behind him. The security guard is instantly out and the paramedics are all over me.
I think I can actually get up now. I think I can actually stand.
“Whoah! Where do you think you’re going?” Hands on me.
I’m pretty sure I’m fine now.
“I’m fine.” I’m standing.
“”You gotta lie down while we finish your arm!”
“My arm’s fine.” All I need here is some tape.
“You need to be still. We’re gonna stitch that up. Just stay still.”
“Oh don’t worry.” I say. I lie back down. “I do this all the time.”
The paramedic is yelling. “What about in there? Talk to me. Hell-lo? Finch!? Talk to me!”
A guy yells back from the lunchroom. “Yeah.”
“What is the situation in there?”
“It’s all black in there?”
“Then get out here and give me a hand with this one.”
The air rushing.
Class photos shatter. Their frames fall.
One of the main doors tears off its hinges. The metal detectors are in pieces. Everything is dull, all the sound muted.
I don’t remember standing. But I am.
Everyone is lying down in the front hallway. Everyone is down.
Martin Shapiro rights himself. He’s still here? Wow.
I look back. One of the paramedics is standing up. The other one is crumpled over my stretcher.
Dragging my arm behind me. It’s attached. I’m fine. Got half-worked stitches dangling out of my skin but that’s cosmetic. Check my legs. Yep. Still there. Boots on. Totally fine. Pair of scissors clanking along on the floor. They’re attached to some plastic tubing taped to the back of my hand.
I push on the door to the teacher’s parking lot. It’s chained shut. Sounds of people outside. I try the auditorium doors. Locked. Eerie speech from inside, cavern of whispers.
I go back to the lunchroom. Left my bag.
“Get out of the way!” Soldiers pointing guns at me. “Miss! Miss! Do not come in here!”
There are dogs in the lunchroom. Beagles. Soldiers walking them on leashes. Small fire on the lunch trays. Everything sounds hollow. A military guy combing through burned bodies and chairs. There’s my bag. With a neon orange X spray-painted on the back of it. I put it on. Adjust the straps, they’re cutting into my shoulders. Why don’t they make these straps thicker?
“Miss! Stop moving!”
I don’t have to talk to them. They don’t own this cafeteria.
There’s an arm on the floor. Severed in a fuzzy way below the elbow. I pick it up.
Confused glances between the two soldiers. “You want to put that down?”
“Do you know who this is?”
“Put it down. Put it on the floor. I’m gonna be sick.”
“Whose fault is it that she’s like this?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well I don’t know either but it isn’t hers. Keep this till we find out who this is. Don’t shake your head at me. You don’t own me. I’ve had people all day telling me what to do. Take a number!” I step into his gun.
The soldier moves back, startled.
That’s right. That’s right. “What are y’all doing here? We don’t allow guns in our school. Didn’t you see the metal detectors?” Keep going. Fuckheads.
“Miss you can’t be in here.” The soldier is looking at the fishing line and plastic tubing taped to my arm.
“This belongs to someone.” I shake the limb. “We’re gonna find out who.”
“Miss. Miss. You can’t take anything out of this room.”
“Take off the bag.”
“Take it off. Put your knees on the floor.” They’re coming toward me. They’re gonna stop me. “Put your knees on the floor!”
I make a step backwards. “I’m not giving you my bag. You want my books? I have to use these for homework.” I open my bookbag and hold up a paperback. “You want my Heinlein?” I throw it on the floor. I pull out my AP Bio textbook. “I’ve got to write a paper with this tonight on origins of parthenogenetic species. You want to help me with that?”
The soldiers have stopped coming toward me. Their eyes are wide. They grip their guns. “Jesus Christ.” That guy is sweating. “Miss. Just stop moving. Stop moving!”
I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m starting to feel good for once. I turn my back on them and walk out of the lunchroom.
“Miss. Miss! If you take another step I will shoot you.”
But here’s the thing, see. Somehow I don’t think you will. I go out of the lunchroom. Can I make myself throw up by thinking about it? I should have died earlier. I might get my chance to now.
“Do not move! Miss!”
I keep walking.
They’re on their mics. “T-C-M possible! Ordnance moving! Please advise!”
Squawk back over the air. “What?! — Who is in possession?”
“A student. Over.”
“ — fuck did that — happening down there!!? — ”
They’re following me, but from an increasing distance.
“Is there another detonator?”
“ — don’t know! — ”
“What the fuck miss? Miss. I’m trying to help you. Please stop moving!”
I don’t want your help.
Continued click of boots behind me.
I’m at the private lesson rooms. Nobody’s here. Three closed doors. Lights on in two. I open the middle one. Shuffling. Something knocked over. Open the door all the way. Marcel’s butt is in the air. He’s kneeling over Artemis. So Marcel isn’t a virgin after all. I was wrong about you, Marcel. Way to go Artemis. You probably could have done better than Marcel Hallows. But whatever.
The guy behind me shouts. “Stay away from the door!”
Startled looks from Marcel and Artemis. I smirk, close the door on them. Ten feet away I turn and go back.
The soldier guy backs up. He still has his gun pointed at me.
I knock on the private lesson door. “Do y’all know what’s going on out here?” Silence. I shake my head. They’re probably as well off in there as anywhere. “Nevermind.” Carry on.
When I find that boy I’m gonna kill him. Was this your plan, William? Did you want to help these idiots blow up the school?
I’m in a computer classroom, army dude is waiting outside. This kid I’m looking at is gone. I stand. The side of his head is missing and there’s a hole in the LCD in front of him. The kid is slumped forward on the keyboard, but the screen is still working, mostly. Geometry problems in a window. Kid’s wearing a striped shirt — blue, white, and yellow. Fat blue-and-yellow stripes with white ones, thin, between the blue and yellow. Like those snakes with three colors but it matters which order they go in, ’cause if it goes red, black, then yellow, it’s poisonous. But if it goes black, then red, then yellow, it’s harmless.
I turn around. I’m the only one in this room who’s alive. Army dude is keeping his distance from me. There are rows of kids at screens in here. All gone. One girl has a box on her screen that says “Click OK to Continue.” It’s a ninth grade class. Here’s a goth girl with fishnet tights. I’ve seen her before. Black hair, black fingernails, blood red lips. It’s June. Brown in the corners of her mouth, little crusts of dryness. She’s extra pale now.
The kid next to her has a pin on his bag that says “I love girl scouting.”
I poke June’s head. She doesn’t move.
By what’s on her desk, it looks like she coughed up blood and part of her stomach.
A kid with his pencil case bloody, SpongeBob Square Pants mousepad.
A girl who used to have blond hair. Light blue dress. Shoes with fake buckles.
Wooden desk. The teacher. Crumpled in the corner by the flag. She must have tried to hide.
I look at the board. They’re learning about angles. Acute. Obtuse. Right. There are three-hundred sixty degrees in a circle. Tomorrow’s work: take a picture of something in your house that has an acute angle. The can opener. The medicine cabinet if it’s slightly open. The spokes on my bicycle tire. Take a picture of something in your house that has an obtuse angle. Barbie’s legs if she’s really horny. The medicine cabinet if it’s wide open. The semi-hexagonal bay windows in the living room. Take a picture of something in your house that has a right angle. Barbie’s legs if she’s not quite so horny. The medicine cabinet — if it’s open to a right angle. Underlined on the board: DO NOT FORGET.
I go outside and my military dudes are in a line going back down the hallway. The closest one is twenty feet away. Then there’s twenty feet between him and the next guy, then twenty more feet before the next guy. Four of them like that. Watching me.
I bang on the door to 128. It opens. Everyone’s huddled halfway under their desks, wide eyes, mouths closed, watching me. I lean in the room, look around. “Where’s Mrs. Guerin?”
Wild shaking of heads, fingers over lips, waving arms back and forth. I look back into the hall. Not sure what they’re shaking their heads about. I duck out. Pull the door to and hear it click shut.
Hallway. I find an end, corner it. Kayla’s there. She giggles, pointing at me. Around the corner, here comes Spencer. He looks both ways. He’s got a detonator in his hand. I back off. The military guys back off behind me. Spencer moving away. He looks back at me. He starts running.
“I can’t get picture down that corner.” It’s one of the soldiers, two guys behind me.
“What’s that kid’s name?” The soldiers are yelling at Kayla. You. Girl in the purple. What’s that kid’s name with the bomb.”
“He doesn’t have a bomb.”
I grab Kayla’s arm and push her back into a classroom. “Kayla. Don’t come out.”
“ ‘I’ you ‘e’iver my ‘ote?”
“I’m about to.”
“ ‘E’iver i’.”
“I will. Just go in there and close the door.”
“Girl in the purple! The kid with the bomb. What is his name?”
I roll my eyes. “She’s retarded. Leave her alone.”
“Miss, I’m reminding you that you are in extreme danger. Please lower your bag. Just put it on the ground.”
I grab Kayla by her overall straps. I make my eyes say I’m serious. “Stay inside. Don’t come out.”
She goes in the room. She saw my eyes.
I pass the gym.
The guys behind me are coordinating. “These doors.” Double doors. Fire doors. “Seal everyone back. Seal everyone back. Lock these doors. Do you understand. Everyone behind that wall. Lock the doors and everyone behind that wall. What’s back there?”
“Does it have an exit? It exits to the hallway?”
“Get everyone out of there. Get ’em behind these doors. Lock this and get everyone behind this wall. One minute. Got me? One minute, do this.”
All that from behind me.
“Spencer?! Spencer??” I’m moving down the hall. Come’ere you dumb shit. Are you even here anymore? Poor kid. Semi-intellectual. Loner. Everyone thinks he’s weird. The main crime committed in this school is the track team de-pants-ing Spencer. That shit happens all the time. “Spencer?!”
A teacher looks out at me from a classroom.
“Spencer in there?”
Teacher shakes his head, looking me up and down.
From behind me, the lead military guy says. “Lock your door.”
Next classroom. I go in. “Spencer in here?”
A chorus of “no”s.
“Where’s your teacher?”
“We don’t have one.”
“Did Spencer go by here?”
A few of them point, all in the same direction. The next classroom?
I back out, check the hall.
As I go to the next classroom the lead military guy goes into the last one. “Listen up. You. Lock this door when I leave. Nobody leaves. Stay in here. Stay down.”
The next classroom door is shut. I knock. No answer. I try the handle. It’s locked. I bang on the door. “Anybody in there?”
Some desks being moved. A desk falling over?
I bang on the door again. “Spencer?”
Then screams from inside.
“Spencer?? Hey. There’s a whole bunch of military guys out here. I think they want to hear what you have to say. What’ch’all got going on in there?”
A single yelp, like the sound a cat makes when you accidentally step on his paw — except if a human made that sound. Then a muffled: “Shut the fuck up.” And more desks moving.
Military voice from behind me. “Multiples in a class on the back hall.” Then someone on the radio. Then. “I don’t know.”
I bang on the door. “Spencer?!”
More shuffling and then a bang on the door from inside. A sound like someone kicking it. Then. “My name’s.” — “Not.” — “Spencer!!”
But it’s Spencer’s voice.
I look back at the military guys. They’re still with me. I rest my head against the classroom door. “Ok.” I’m picking at the half-sewn stitches in my arm. “What is your name?”
What is your name?
The lock clicks open. I go in. I stand in the doorway. All the kids are backed up against the wall. Some chairs knocked over. Spencer is sitting cross-legged on the teacher’s desk with the neoprene grip-thing in his hand. I look at the kids. Jenna’s there. Kristen Picket. About 20 others. Spencer is holding himself perfectly still. Rigid. Like he’s frozen. How did I end up in a room with this kid? Stupid boy. Why did you go through with this thing? I wish you had already blown yourself up with it.
“Is there another detonator?”
“I.” — “Don’t even.” — “Know.” — “What the.” — detonator is.” — “”What does it.” — “Look like?”
“It’s that thing in your hand.” The molded black neoprene hand grip. It’s like a handle with grips all around it.
“I haven’t seen any.” — “”Detonators.” — “No.” — “Haven’t seen any of those.”
New voice in the hallway. “They were probably keeping ’em separately. This the room?”
This new guy strolls in carrying a laminated floor plan of the building. He’s dressed like a commander. He’s holding up a flat black ball, right by his head. He’s asking me matter-of-factly. “Have you seen any other pieces like this?” More soldiers behind him. Backing him up with machine guns. He speaks calmly to the soldiers, without ever taking his eyes from me and Spencer. “This hallway. Check and clear. Check each room. Clear the room. Check back.” Behind the commander, soldiers shoot out the lock on the classroom across the hall. They enter the room. Five seconds later they’re moving a train of kids away from our door.
The commander clips his mic to a strap on his arm and in the same movement brings his weapon to his face. Now he’s got a stubby machine gun on Spencer. The commander’s eyes are directly on mine.
Behind him, soldiers are moving kids out of the classroom and toward the double doors leading into the sunlight.
The commander is asking me. “Has he made any demands?”
I shake my head.
“You been talking with him?”
“You know this kid?”
I’m not sure what to say to that.
The commander looks at Spencer. “I know him. Spencer Ellis. How you doing Mr. Ellis?”
Spencer squints his eyes.
“He said not to call him that.”
“That’s his name.”
I step toward the commander. “I know, but — ”
The commander taps his mic. “Open and hold. On two. One.”
“He says his name’s not Spencer right now. He asked me not to call him that.”
The commander gives me a look of acknowledgment “Two.” He says.
Pops from behind us. Soldiers spill through the doorway, two on each side. Screams from the kids in the room. Two soldiers cross the open door, face it, turn, survey the room.
The commander looks at me. He can tell I want to get out of here. He shakes his head and says. “Spencer Ellis?”
Spencer raises his detonator hand. “Spencer’s not.” — “Here today.”
“Who am I talking to?”
“You might want to check.” — “Her bag.” Spencer’s pointing at me with the detonator.
The commander motions to me. “Why is that?”
I unshoulder one of the straps of my bag.
“Here’s the deal. See that thing?”
The thing in Spencer’s hand? Yeah, I see that.
“That’s the detonator.”
“Why’s it have tape on it?”
“That’s supposed to keep it from going off. Sometimes we wrap ’em in Styrofoam and duct tape to keep them from going off. But it’s very unstable like that. It’s designed to be.”
Spencer raises his voice. “Check.” — “The bag!”
The commander takes a quick look at me and then his eyes are back on Spencer. “Open it. Go ahead.” His machine gun is on Spencer.
I shuffle off the other strap. Drop the bag. It hits the floor and I hear flat metal clicks from inside along with thuds from all the books.
I kick it.
The soldiers are yelling. “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!”
“What’s in her bag?” That’s Kristen Picket.
“I think it’s part of the bomb.”
“That was a bomb?”
Jenna gives Kristen the silence look.
Spencer says. “It’s in pieces.” — “They’re.” — “Spread around the school.”
Commotion from the kids against the wall.
Two soldiers are on my bag, sliding it toward the commander. One is opening the buckle. She’s a girl. “Push it up here. Opening! Back away.” The girl soldier opens my bag. The other one steps backward.
The commander is talking to the girl soldier. “What do we got?”
The girl soldier opens the mouth of my bag with ceramic-looking pliers, two feet long. She picks through my stuff. She takes out my Calculus book. Opens the cover with her tongs. Goes back into my bag.
And takes out a matte-black, flat-faced ball.
From the lunchroom. From the developing lab. Wrapped in black plastic when I was looking for my Photo-Flo. Irregular polygonal faces. Perfectly seamless. Five cushy buttons on the outside. Guess tac-mine operators have to have a full set of digits. Plush buttons, look like you could take them off with a razor. Like they’re not physically connected with whatever’s inside, just stuck on the surface.
Spencer says. “There’s a whole crate of them.” — “In the auditorium.” — “They’ve been there for.” — “A week.”
The commander clicks a switch on his mic.
“Mendoza, Mendoza. Anders here.”
“Mendoza. Go ahead.”
Anders clicks his mic. “We got a tac-mine situation in 109. Clear the building over?”
After Anders says that I hear shuffling in the hallway. Boots clicking. Soldiers running.
The girl soldier is working on my bag. Removing object, then object, then object. She removes my copy of Of Human Bondage. Flips open the cover with tongs. Like she’s excavating a fossil — no rush. Satisfied with the book, she moves it aside. She extracts another tac-mine from my bookbag. She says. “That’s lovely.”
I remember now. I put those there.
Anders says. “We’re fucked.”
I guess some part of me knew that those were there. But some other part of me didn’t.
Spencer is in a trance or shock or something. He’s like a statue.
Anders lowers his weapon. In a tac-mine situation there’s no use pointing a gun at the guy. Anders to me. “Did you find any other pieces?”
“In the photo lab. It’s downstairs.”
More soldiers in the hallway running.
Spencer pantomimes a little spitting motion toward me. Or a little kiss. He says deadpan. “You should probably.” — “Get.” — “Everyone out of the school.” — “Or send your bomb dogs around.” — “To.” — “Disarm it.”
Anders rolls his eyes at me. He sees. He sees! This is what I have to put up with every day.
A soldier shoves a laminated diagram in my face. “Point to the photo lab.”
I point to it.
“Are there any other pieces like this?”
Only the ones in your locker. I shake my head.
“Are you sure?”
Anders says. “There might be another detonator. We’re missing five.”
On the floor, three flat-faced balls at Anders’ feet. The girl soldier and I are looking at each other. The fingers of Spencer’s left hand are squeezed tight around the detonator.
The girl soldier says. “He may have mined the room. Possibly lockers.” She addresses me, she addresses Jenna and the kids behind the desks. “Does he have friends who might know about this?” Then to Anders. “Hallways, parking lot, cars, homes in the neighborhood. How in the fuck did he get ahold of this shit?”
She pulls another flat-faced ball out of my bag.
Anders talks to the girl soldier. “Should we clear the room?”
“No. Who knows. Tactically it doesn’t really matter.” She points to Jenna and the other kids. “One of them might have a det, pieces. Do any of you have one of these detonators? If you have it just show it now. You won’t get in trouble.”
“This is.” — “The only one.” Spencer says.
The woman soldier speaks to him. “That’s fine. You’re doing great. Anything you want we’re gonna get you. You want a news camera? Get you whatever you want. You want to talk to me?”
Blank stare from Spencer. And maybe the edge of a tear.
Jenna pleads. “Spencer!”
Spencer shouts. “Jenna shut up!”
Anders is rubbing his face in his hands. “Unlike my friend here, I don’t negotiate. Ok Spencer? Mainly I shoot people.” Anders steps forward, putting his gun in Spencer’s face.
Jenna says. “Don’t mess around Spencer.”
Spencer says. “If you’d like to go, go.”
Anders says. “What if I don’t want her to go?”
Spencer says. “I don’t mind if she walks away.”
The woman soldier is by Anders’ side. She holds her gun up at chest level. “Give Jenna the detonator. You can have my weapon. Come’ere Jenna. Come on up here. Give Jenna the detonator. Let her walk it out of here. You can have my weapon. You can do anything you want with it. Shoot me. I promise. You can shoot me.”
Spencer jiggles the detonator.
Anders steps right up on him. “Maybe I don’t care.” Anders says. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he’s gonna let Spencer explode him and this entire room of people. Anders presses his gun into Spencer’s cheek. “Maybe I want to shoot you anyway. For fun.”
The woman speaks. “You want to talk to Jenna?”
Jenna takes a few steps toward the front of the room.
Anders says. “I’m gonna let you go in the next room with her.” He’s got sweat on his forehead. We’re probably gonna die.
“Time’s.” — “Up.” Spencer says.
Anders flips off his safety. “That may be. That may be.”
The woman pleads. “What do you want?”
“You want that girl?”
“Come on up here Jenna. Come on.”
“We’re gonna let you go in the next room with her.”
Jenna says. “Spencer, you can talk to me.”
A soldier pushes past me. He knocks over the trashcan. My crumpled stockings and Jenna’s panties spill out onto the floor. Jenna glances over but there’s no recognition. She sees them, but there’s no way she knows those are hers. The guy next to me raises his rifle. His hands are tense. I try to step back but there’s another guy behind me and I can’t go anywhere. From the way the guy in front of me is, it looks like he can get Spencer with one shot.
The woman soldier lets Jenna step up next to the teacher’s desk.
I see a light coming from the hallway. There’s a camera crew.
“Wanna talk to the news? Wanna say something?”
Spencer shakes his head.
Anders makes a motion with his arm. They turn off the light, but the camera is still pointed right at us, shooting right past me into the classroom. Anders laughs. I don’t think Anders gives a fuck. I think he thinks we’re dead anyway. “Spencer, do you mind if I take Jenna in the next room? If you’re not gonna.”
Spencer’s eyes twinkle. “Do you like her?”
Anders. “I could learn to.” Is he just fucking around? This must be some special training he went through, that teaches you how to talk with people in situations like this.
Jenna has a blank look on her face.
Steel-reinforced plastic windows. A grid of steel webbing between two sheets of unbreakable plastic. Room full of twenty kids, Spencer, Jenna, Anders, this woman, shooters, me. The news behind us. Soldiers in the hall.
“Get those cameras out of here.” That’s Anders.
“Roger that.” From the hall.
Jenna puts her hand on Spencer’s knee. “Hey. Hey. Talk to me.”
Jenna takes a half step toward Spencer and in the instant of Spencer’s reflex to look at her Anders is on them, on Spencer and Jenna in a bear-grab, arms around them both and pulls the detonator in tight to Spencer’s chest, over Anders’ chest, he’s got his hands on Spencer pushing in around the detonator weaseling his hands over the detonator Jenna’s arm is stuck in their grips somewhere the three of them are like a half octopus flailing, Anders rips them on the ground Spencer’s arm folding the wrong way at the elbow and the woman soldier and the other soldier are tagging them, tagging all three of them with the tips of their guns, stepping forward Anders looks at the woman soldier, he’s nodding like we’re ok, I think he’s nodding and a soldier from behind me goes for flat ball number one he’s reaching around between people’s legs got flat ball number one in his hand he’s back back back he’s at the door at the hallway throws flat ball number one into the hallway, the woman tagging the octopus she’s got Anders at the tip and Anders is yelling “clear” over kids’ screams kids are running back pushing against the wall. Two of them holding hands rush the door. “Don’t move! Don’t move!” yelling at them pushing in that soldier’s got flat ball number two in his motherfucking hand and I’m sure Spencer’s arm is broke he’s wailing and Anders is hugging the detonator and one half of each of Spencer and Jenna like crushing your teddy bear he’s smiling at the woman soldier it looks like “We’re ok, buddy!” and flat ball number two is in the hallway back back back there’s two soldiers tagging Spencer-Anders-Jenna-Anders-Spencer they can take him out and probably not kill anyone else just incapacitate the motherfucker they’re on it stepping in in in in gun-tip in Spencer’s motherfucking face press against his skin squirm and I’m back on ya motherfucker I’ll pop your face so fast you fucking punk! Anders is screaming at the woman and Spencer at the same time “Is that the last one? Off him! Get off him! Spencer is that the last one you wanna get shot in the face!!? What? What? If there’s more you tell me or I’ll pull your motherfucking head off!” Spencer’s arm is broken just from Anders squeezing him on the detonator. Got his left hand on Spencer’s left hand I think. “Tear your motherfucking head off!!” The woman shouts. “That’s all!” And from the hallway. “Five cleared.” Anders is squirming with Spencer. “Tear your motherfucking head off.” The woman shouting. “That’s all!” “Nobody’s gonna die in this room!” Anders. “I ain’t letting go of you until I get pried off you with a fork-lift! This thing ain’t goin’ off. Is the hall clear?”
“Fifty-feet! Seventy-five! Clear now!”
Kids are trying to run out of the room.
Soldiers tag them. “Stay there! Don’t move! Back against the wall!”
Anders is crushing Spencer and half of Jenna and the detonator. Kids on the side of the room are moving every time the Anders-Spencer-Jenna thing moves. Some kids are actually crying. Crying real quiet, like if you were crying in church.
Anders is licking his lips like you do when you concentrate. He’s holding in Spencer and the detonator with all his might.
The woman soldier yells. “Spencer! How many did you set?”
Spencer shakes his head.
“Listen to me Spencer. I’m gonna shoot you in a minute. How many did you set?”
He shakes his head with Anders crushing him. Jenna’s wailing.
She’s got him tagged. On the hair. She steps in, it’s one shot.
“Three.” Spencer manages.
But she shoots him anyway.
Spencer’s head springs forward.
Jenna stops screaming.
For a beat there’s no sound at all in the room.
Jenna looks surprised.
The woman soldier is swinging around, pointing her gun everywhere. Anyone moves I’ll shoot them. You can see it in her eyes. “You got it? Are we clear?”
Anders is struggling with the body trying not to let its weight unsettle the detonator.
Jenna is looking at Spencer with a strange frown. She touches her chest.
The woman. “Are we clear?”
“No.” Anders. “No!”
“Let us out of here!” Kristen says.
The woman screams at her. “There’s a bomb in the hall! You can’t go out. Did he set any more?”
“I didn’t see him set any!”
“It might be somewhere else.”
“Are we clear?”
“No!” Anders yells at Jenna. “Don’t move your arm! Don’t move your arm!”
The woman waves her gun at Kristen and them. “Get away from that closet. Get by the windows.”
Jenna looks confused. The she recognizes the sensation as pain.
Anders still has her arm. He’s trying to hold onto the detonator. “Jenna. Listen to me.” He speaks gently, like Mr. Rogers. “Stay still, ok? Stay still.”
The woman soldier orders Kristen and the rest of the class. “Get by the windows. Sit down.” The windows are just a tiny slit at the top of the wall. “Face the wall. Put your head down. Did you see where he put the other one?”
“We didn’t see him.”
“He came in here like that.”
“It may be somewhere else in the building. Are we clear?”
“I think so.” Then to Jenna. “Don’t move, ok? Just leave your arm where it is.” She’s looking at Spencer, who is limp and soaking her and Anders with blood. “Jenna. Jenna. Look at me.”
“Anders, she’s shot. Are we clear?”
“I think so. Pretty sure. Why don’t you take your arm out of there. Go ahead.”
“Just pull your arm out slowly, just move slowly.” The woman lowers her gun and guides Jenna’s arm. “Pull.”
Kristen is shaking.
The woman is holding Jenna’s arm like it’s a snake.
Jenna’s knees are falling.
The woman puts her arms around Jenna and lowers her to the floor. “She’s shot! Medical help in here!” Kristen and some of the kids grab Jenna and pull her over by the windows. Jenna’s not moving. “Tell her to breathe.” The woman soldier goes to Anders. The kids rub Jenna’s back, touch her head, pull her in close to them.
Anders is a ball containing a ball, squeezed as tight around the detonator and parts of Spencer as he can. “I’m holding it with my gut.” Anders’ back is slick with blood. “Got part of it with my gut. Can’t get it all with my hands.”
“I’m gonna grab your mic.”
She kneels beside him and gently unclips the mic from his shoulder strap.
Anders has Spencer’s limp arm in his face.
The woman clicks the switch on the mic. “Shots fired. We need a stretcher in 109.” She throws down the mic and yells out the door. “We got people shot in this building, get more medical!”
I push my way in. “As far as I can tell the only people shot are right here. And they were shot by you.”
“I need a stretcher!”
I’m kneeling by Jenna.
One. Two. Hole in her shirt. One there. One there. And blood coming. Thick syrup running. She presses her hand to her chest. It soaks the cloth and the blood comes through. Now it’s on her hand. She’s looking at it. Yep. That’s your hand. And that’s your blood. Jenna makes a whimpering sound.
My arm on her lower back, grabbing her shoulder.
And she’s grabbing me. Looks in my eyes kind of, shakes her head. She says. “Fuck.” It doesn’t sound like her.
“Yeah, I got you. Ok. Gimme your hand. There we go.”
There’s blood dripping. Oh man.
Jenna says. “That hurts.” She’s not looking at me. She’s looking at the woman soldier.
The soldier pushes her gun around to the back. She’s coming toward us. Kneeling.
I think you’re just now starting to see what happened.
“You shot me.” You say. And you’re still cute, even when you get shot at.
“Why don’t you get some help?”
“Oh — .” You’re gripping me. You look scared.
“We’re gonna get you that medical. Be just a second.”
You’re bleeding. That’s your blood. That’s a whole lot of your blood on the floor. You’ve got your hand on mine, grabbing me. Desperate handshake. Blood in the space between our hands.
My other hand is on your hair. I’m rubbing your forehead. That’s my left hand, where the arm has stitches in it. It doesn’t have your blood on it yet. It’s already stained with mine. I’m brushing back your hair.
You’re squeezing my hand hard. Got this look on your mouth like you’re about to say something. Eyes kinda squinty. And squeezing me so hard. I squeeze back. I don’t think you’ll mind if I squeeze you as hard as you’re squeezing me. And you don’t seem to. You’re smiling.
Oh, fuck, Jenna. Fuck. Squeeze my hand. Squeeze my hand. Salt water, blood. Some of that is my tears. My face is next to yours. “Oh no! I’m sorry for crying on you!” I’m wiping red tears off your cheek. “I’m sorry!”
“It’s ok.” Bright spot in your eye. “I can taste them.” Your tongue peeks out the side of your mouth, twisting sideways, reaching for my tear on the side of your lip. “You taste salty.”
“They’re tears you dummy.”
I’m sniffling. I wipe my eyes with my thumb. Everything’s blurry. Bright red puddles. Gray light from the slits at the top of the wall. I’m blinking. When my eyes clear there’s Jenna, eyes open, facing the ceiling.
But she’s not looking anymore. She’s not there.
“Jenna?” I squeeze her hand.
Nothing squeezes back so I squeeze harder.
Her hand is limp.
I place it on the floor carefully.
The last thing I ever said to her is call her a dummy.
But she knew I was joking. She did know I was joking.
Riot teams in the main hallway. A bunch more dogs. Running past me. Storming the school. Guns in arms. Yelling codewords. Clearing rooms. Them quickly going in. Me slowly going out. Without my bag for once. I feel weightless. Like surgery has removed part of me. Left behind with the people in 109.
I’m the only one walking out of the school. Everyone else is coming in. Firemen. Random students. Police trying to coordinate, but there’s not enough of them. As I go by the main office there’s Mrs. Reece in a chair in the waiting area, wiping her mouth on her shirtsleeve, shaking her head. A cop is standing behind the main desk making a call on the office telephone. He’s probably calling his girlfriend. And that’s probably the best use of his time given the situation. “Yeah. Honey. I’m gonna swing by the grocery store on the way home. Maybe get Boboli crust, some green peppers, and a couple of rice bowls. Does that sound alright?” He makes eye contact with me as I go past the main office. Through the glass. Why don’t you just go home now? I ask him this with my eyes, telepathically. He answers me back with his eyes. I can see what he’s thinking. You’re right. The damage is done. I might as well go spend a quiet evening with my girlfriend. I approve. He probably has a pretty girlfriend. They can spend the night watching TV, or try to make a baby. The guy doesn’t look half bad for a police officer. I mean his eyes aren’t dumbed-over or anything. My steps, my movement, my thoughts — they are at half. Speed. Of all. That is. Around me. Even a quarter speed. I am between it all. Everyone around me is in scenes. I am in frames. They are operating at twenty-four frames per second. I am operating at six.
Front entrance. I step over remnants of metal detectors. Push open the double doors. Flash of sunlight fading. Eyes adjust. Down the stairs. Courtyard empty except for emergency crews going past me. Going into the school. And there’s a police line. Yellow tape dangling in the wind. Stretching out above the grass like a kite that’s about to land. A barricade of cars. Throngs of people behind it. Parents.
The sky is cool and blue. Nothing in it.
This is my world. This is the courtyard I wait in every morning. This is the mud puddle I took a picture of yesterday. This bench? This is where Molly and BJ sit. This beam? That’s what Molly leans against to read her playbook. You people. You crowds. You worried, worried people. Where were you yesterday? Where was your focus yesterday? On something else that made the news?
As I go through the barricade, people are staring at me like I’m the last native in North America.
Someone screams at me. “Have you seen Ashley?! Is she in there?” My world bounces. This woman is shaking me. Do I know you? Who’s Ashley? I shake her arms off, shoving past. Clear of all these people there’s a street with no one on it. It’s much calmer back there. The woman screams at me again. “Do you know Ashley Palmer?!”
I stop and turn around and say. “No.”
This is how it usually is. This is my world. Except today it has the sound turned down.
It’s so sunny I have to squint my eyes. Been warm all day. One of those winter days when it feels like spring. I walk away. I just walk away. I walk past the school and I walk down Wayne Avenue and I walk downtown and I walk over the bridge and I walk through courthouse square. This is longer than the walk I took when Elizabeth Young died. How old was I then? That must have been three years ago now. I don’t really need a coat today. And I left my bag in 109. It feels weird to walk without it. I’m adjusted to it, adjusted to carrying textbooks and notebooks and binders on my back. Without it I don’t know how to stand. I feel like something’s missing. But it feels better this way. Strange, but better. I pick the stitches out of my arm. And it’s so bright I have to cover my face when I look at the sky.
Open the door. Empty porch. Where is Mom? Doesn’t she know we have things to do? Get out the Wii. Bust up some Mario Tennis, something. “Mom! Mom?!” The door was open. No one home? Mom? You won’t believe what happened at school today. Go upstairs. “Hello?” Where’d you go you freak? I’m in my room. We had quite a ride today didn’t we? Sit on the bed. Untie my boot. Untie my other boot. Feet up. Keep my boots on. I like the feel of them. I should masturbate. Think about closing the door. Not hungry. A little achy. I should watch the news. I’m probably on it.
Oh. That’s right. Mom and Theresa are at Mini racers tonight.
I hear the front door open. “Mom?” No answer.
I sit up. “William?” Is that you?
I go to the stairs.
Boots unlaced. Be careful not to trip. The TV comes on. Channels flipping. Lean down to see. There is a boy standing in my living room. William. Boy. There you are. You were supposed to meet me here. And here you are. Few more steps — ah! Almost tripped. I said be careful not to trip. I’m at the bottom step.
You brush the hair from your eyes. “Hi.” Tall boy standing. Looking at me.
TV squawking about the school.
I hand you Kayla’s note.
You turn it in your hand. “What’s this?”
Front door’s open. I go to close it. “It’s from your special friend. She asked me to deliver it.”
“What’s it say?”
I close the door. “I don’t know.”
“It’s a love note.” You’re staring at the TV. Kayla’s note unfolded, your hand at your side.
Go over to you. Go over. Walking toward you. Going now. Boot, boot, shoulder, shoulder. Take the note from your hand. Set it on the table. Pull you to the couch. Sit you down. Push. Push your shoulders down. Sit you down. Step over your leg. Put one of mine on either side. Touch you. You’re looking me straight in the eye. I’m not gonna kiss you. Instinct says to kiss you but I’m not gonna be able to. Am I gonna be able to kiss you ever again? You’re looking at the TV. Look at me. Don’t look at the TV. There’s nothing there that’s gonna help you. There’s nothing on it really. They’re saying they don’t have a full list of who’s dead at the school. Just go in and look around you dummies.
You’ve got a serious look on your face. There’s doubt in your eyes. You touch my arm where the openings are. “Please don’t do this anymore.”
You subtly shake your head.
I’m staring at you.
You’re staring back.
You open your mouth. “I — ”
“Shh.” Just look at me.
Look at me.
There are things I want to do to you.
Unbutton me from my neck to my stomach.
There are things I want to say.
Pull me so I’m riding you. You’re my saddle.
I’ve been planning things for us, and I need to tell them to your skin.
My shoulder strap comes off. Leave it. Let it dangle. Adjust my balance over you. Feel lightheaded. My other strap comes off. Some creaking sound from the couch.
Leather cured in oil and blood. Baked for days in the sun.
You’re cushioning my ear and head, neck cradled in your hand.
I pull you in, press down.
I’ve been planning things with you, William. Things I could not say to you in the presence of others. Things that are private. Sometimes I have trouble talking about these things, even in the dark. Some things are better whispered. Some I must spell with my fingers on your back. Then there is no record of it, except maybe in your mind. And maybe when I spell things on your skin you do not even know what I say. Only your skin knows it. Fortunately for me skin has no memory. When I say something on your skin I only say it then. It is said for a moment, between our skins, understood only by skin, and forgotten by skin. It’s a surface that is constantly being erased. It constantly goes away.
“Do you like that?”
Your gentle eyes. “It’s perfect.” You say. “Today at school — ”
“Don’t say anything — ”
“You have to know — ”
“They will find me. That stuff is beyond illegal.” You look me in the eye.
“I want you to know, I didn’t tell them that you had it.”
“I know you didn’t. But they’re gonna find me anyway.”
“Leave. Take the bug. I’ll come with you.”
“They’ll find me eventually.”
“We just won’t say anything — ”
“What are you gonna do when they ask you?”
“I would never — ”
“I don’t expect you to lie for me.”
“I will though, I will. It’s the best thing I can think of to lie about.” Release. Exhale. “I was worried you’d kill yourself, William. You’re not gonna kill yourself?”
“I don’t think so. Are you mad at me?”
“No! Of course not! Of course not! I’m just glad you’re ok!” I’m feeling red in the face. You brush my hair back for me. I’m holding your cheeks. “You’re lovely, you do know that.” I turn your head with my fingers. How many more times am I gonna get to do this?
And then you say. “Jenna didn’t come home today.”
I keep your gaze. There is crushing in my chest.
You keep talking. “She might still be at the school. She might still be in one of the rooms. They said they’re keeping people there.”
I look away from you. My face toward the TV, but not looking at it. “They’re not keeping people there.” I say.
“I heard they were holding people in some of the rooms.”
“They’re not.” I say. I smooth your hair. “They’re not.”
You look down at my lap. I’m sitting on you. You’re sort-of barely shaking your head. “Did you see her today?” You’re asking me.
Oh boy. I’m not gonna cry. I already did my crying.
I’m holding your face in my hands. Did I see Jenna today? “Yes.” I say. “I did.”
Every minute that I spend with you is one grain in an hourglass. I can wonder what to say, I can search for the words, I can try to fill each moment with the perfect things. In truth it’s the other way, My Love. Every grain is falling out of time, falling away from me. I never need to try to use them. They’re falling all the time. They slip away without my help. It’s not a matter of what to paint on a blank canvas. You’re gonna paint whether you like it or not. Your arm is moving the brush at a constant flow, the paint is spilling onto the canvas no matter what you do. What you do is not stop it flowing, or start it flowing, but shape it while it flows. Every time I see you, every word I say, it’s falling out of me like sand. It’s not that I’m picking it from some endless pile so that I can paint my life. It’s that it’s going away, falling out of me, constantly. Your glimpses are happening. They’re running out regardless. Pay attention while the sand falls through the glass. That’s all you can do. That really is all you can do.
I’m not sure what the relationship is between the you I talk to in my head and the you I know in waking life. I don’t know if one of you is your spirit and the other one your body? Or maybe I’m just talking to myself and have chosen you as the one I direct my words to because I know that in real life you’d listen. I think you’re mostly non-judgmental, which is why I talk to you. I think you do it on purpose. I don’t think I like the reason you do it. Which I’m pretty sure after some observation of you is just because you like to hear people’s secrets. But you don’t hurt us after we tell you. And even if you want to, deep down, the fact that you never actually do counts for something. It counts for a lot actually. But I don’t know sometimes if you really care or if we’re just your lessons. Your subject matter. Some endless catalogue of people with potentially interesting lives that you collect to make yourself smarter. I’m pretty sure if there is a god that she would do the same thing. Just create us so she could sit around listening to our stories.
If I was god I would have a movie theater with an empty floor and one cushy seat in it. Like a big puffy chair. I’d have popcorn without butter and I’d sit there in my piglet socks. And the only thing that would play on the screen would be people’s dreams. I’d watch people’s dreams. It would be a giant movie where I could be awake all the time and connected to the minds of everyone who was asleep in the whole world at that time. And I’d just listen to their dreams. You find yourself my angel. And everything I say, I say because I have the comfort of knowing that you are listening. Even though you can never speak back. I know you’re there. And I know you hear me. And knowing that makes me feel like talking. But if I were god I would do things a little bit differently than you, my angel. I would make my movie theater and sit in my piglet socks and eat popcorn without butter and sometimes I’d put my head down and forget about the pictures and just listen to your sound. And sometimes I’d mute the sound and watch the pictures in silence. And the only sound I’d hear would be the sound of my own breathing. Feel the beat of my heart and the pulse of blood in my veins. And it would be rapid-fire. Flickering in the light. My only interest. My obsession. I would love you so much that I would never let you know I’m here. Not because I didn’t want us to interact. Because I didn’t want to interrupt you. I would never interrupt you. I would never make you self-conscious by letting you know I’m here. I would never blink. I would never close my eyes. I would watch my screen forever. And everything that came across would be the providence of your dreams.
We’re still kissing when I feel Lincoln brushing against my leg. I pet him.
You see my worried look.
I’m running my hands over Lincoln’s back and I can feel his spine. Bones sticking up almost through the fur. His haunches separate from his body, knocked apart weirdly. Like a dinosaur skeleton. Fur greasy, clumpy. He stopped cleaning himself. Check his butt. Still that piece of shit on him. That was from weeks ago. I can hardly pet him now. He doesn’t really pet anymore. You have to be soft in order to pet. Lincoln’s so bony. I put my hand on his head anyway. Rub on the base of his ears. He’s not really responding. Not really turning his head. Not rubbing up next to the thing you’re petting him with. Just sitting there. Holding his head close to the ground. Below his shoulders. Neck touching the rug. His eyes are still open. But he doesn’t really move anymore. Kind of like he’s sleeping.
I get up from the couch.
“What are you doing?”
“I’ll be back in a minute.”
I leave you there, my boots striking the floor, hitting loose boards, squeaking. Living room. Dining room. Kitchen. Cabinet. Open the drawer. Can opener. Peeling the lid off, turning the handle. Ragged edges of the metal. Drop the lid in the recycling. Some tuna spills on the counter. Wipe it up with the ball of my hand. Lick it. If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this right. Clean up the counter. Top cabinet. Get a plate out. Red border on the white plastic. The one I made for Mom in kindergarten. Fork. Forking chunks of tuna onto the plate. Arranging it. Making it nice. Get a little air in there. Separate the pieces. Gonna make this nice for you, kitty. Gonna make this nice.