By Tracy Gold
I’d completely forgotten I had a paper due today. I realized it as soon as I sat down in my uncomfortable plastic chair in English class, and everyone else started shuffling through their bags to take out their neatly typed papers. I totally could have done it last night, but instead, I’d stayed up late working on a drawing for art class that wasn’t even due until next week. If I could, I would quit school and just take art classes, be an artist. But no one understood that about me, and there I was, practically handcuffed into my chair, wishing I could be home sketching instead.
We’d just finished reading “Lord of the Flies” and Mr. Drake wanted us to write three pages about the id, the superego, and the ego, but I didn’t buy that psychoanalysis bull. You didn’t need to be stranded on an island with a group of them to know that teenage boys were animals.
But I still needed to write that paper, and I’d be damned if I couldn’t at least get two pages done during class. So Mr. Drake kept on rambling in his mental-masturbation way about how the boys raped some pig on the island when really they just killed it, and I scribbled until my hand hurt. “The id is the true soul of the human male,” I wrote, “because the id is the same thing as the penis.” Mr. Drake would like that. It was wonderful, what I could come up with while my classmates sucked in Mr. Drake’s words as if each phoneme were some ecstasy-laced lollipop.
I glanced up, to make Mr. Drake think I was actually paying attention, and Alan was looking straight at me. I looked back at him and he put his hand up to his mouth and stuck his tongue into his cheek on the other side, that pantomime blowjob crap that used to make me laugh but now made me want to vomit. I didn’t even know what a blowjob was before I met Alan, but he was really cute, and asked me to Homecoming, and we danced all night, and, afterwards, you know, I gave him one. I guess it was pretty bad, or at least, that’s what he told the whole school. He didn’t tell me anything, though. My friend Emily told me she’d heard it from her friend Katrina. And damn, if I’d known this was going to happen, I would have bit the whole thing off when I had the chance.
It took a good amount of reserve not to jump out of my seat and just bite it off right now. How dare he not talk to me for weeks, spread rumors about me to the whole school, and then freaking sign-language blowjob in the middle of English class? I could feel the heat in my cheeks. I looked down and kept working on my essay, scratching my pen on the paper so hard I ripped the page in a few places. And that was my big mistake.
“Olivia,” Mr. Drake said, “what are you working on over there?” I had just finished a few very personal sentences, and I hoped Mr. Drake wouldn’t read them aloud, which would be even worse than him knowing I was writing my essay in class. And I was just angry, angry at Alan, angry at Mr. Drake.
“A haiku about Alan’s tiny penis,” I said. Alan’s face turned bright red, and there was this silence in the room. I could tell half of the class wanted to laugh, and the other half was waiting to see if Mr. Drake was going to blast my skinny ass to the Principal’s office.
“Apologize,” said Mr. Drake, all glasses and floppy blond hair and argyle sweater. He walked up to the table and grabbed my paper. His face was red too.
“Sorry,” I said, looking at Alan, but I had my middle finger up underneath the
table where no one could see it.
Alan didn’t say anything, didn’t even nod. He looked down as his Adam’s apple wobbled with a gulp.
“You watch what you say in my class,” said Mr. Drake. He hadn’t looked at my paper yet.
“Yes sir,” I said. Why couldn’t Mr. Drake have looked at Alan five seconds earlier, when he was doing his blowjob hand signal? Alan was the one who deserved to get in trouble.
Mr. Drake looked down at my paper. In my head, I paraphrased my last sentences, which, given the chance, I probably would have crossed out before handing the paper in: “The superego is just the id in disguise, because the only reason humans pretend to be moral is because it’s in our own self-interest. That’s why my parents got married, after they had me by accident: self-interest, not morality.”
Mr. Drake looked up from the paper, and gave me this look, which was part pity, part disappointment, or maybe that’s just what I felt, looking at him, and it was all inside of me.
“I see you completed your paper well ahead of time,” he said. Even though the man wasn’t smart enough to collect papers at the beginning of class, like our older teachers, you had to give him credit for finding out what I was up to.
“Uh-huh,” I said, middle finger still up under the table, but now pointing at Mr. Drake.
“Well then, you must be ready to hand it in,” he said. “Shame, it’s only one page.” He walked to his desk and put the paper down on the table. Damn it. I shouldn’t have written so loudly.
Mrs. Glassman was holding my charcoal drawing out in front of her as if it was going to give her the super flu or something. Woman didn’t get me, but hell if I was going to change my art because of it.
“Olivia,” she said, “I’m very disappointed in you.”
My heart dropped in my stomach. I actually heard it. It went thunk, and then thunkety-thunkety-thunk, and suddenly I thought I was going to have diarrhea right there in the art classroom. I focused on Mrs. Glassman’s face, which was oily and wrinkled at the same time, and the feeling passed.
Okay, so this was just some failed artist who was teaching high school art, but still, I’d come to this school because they were supposed to have a good art program, and my teacher already hated me. Great.
She held out my drawing. I thought it was amazing. It was Alan, right, except you weren’t really supposed to know it was Alan. Anyway, he was just staring straight ahead in the drawing like Frida Kahlo does in her self-portraits. I gave Alan a unibrow and all, so seriously, he should have been unrecognizable. In one of my favorite paintings—okay, favorite in a horrifying way—Frida drew her husband on her forehead, like some tyrannical alien implanted, or incubated, there. But instead of a creepy guy, on Alan, I drew a penis with two tiny brains for balls. And I mean, the detail was fantastic. I gave the penis hair, and the brain-balls had little pimples.
“What were you thinking?” said Mrs. Glassman.
“That men think with their dicks,” I said, looking straight into Mrs. Glassman’s eyes, those beady little black eyes that twinkled when she talked about making your art “appropriate” for your age. She’d given us this whole big lecture on the first day. I’d chosen to ignore it.
“Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to tell your parents,” said Mrs. Glassman, “and I’ll have to confiscate this for now.”
“Fine,” I said. I hoped she would give the drawing back, but my parents wouldn’t care. Dad lived in Hong Kong making shitloads of money, enough money that we could use dollar bills to wipe our asses if we wanted to. Yet Mom still didn’t think it was okay for her to come home from work before nine at night. It wasn’t like she was saving the world, for Christ’s sake. She worked in marketing for a mega law firm, not one of those environmental firms or even a criminal defense firm. Her firm had recently saved poor, poor Mason Oils from paying up after one of their tanks leaked and ruined almost all of the wells in a nearby neighborhood. And night after night, that’s what she’s chosen over spending time with me.
Still, Mom and I were supposed to get dinner tonight, as she was going to come home from work at a luxuriously early seven. I’d actually have something different from pizza and Chinese food to eat, though it would probably just be burnt chicken, knowing my mother’s cooking skills, or lack thereof.
I hoped Mrs. Glassman would wait until tomorrow to tell my mom about the drawing. I was looking forward to just being with my mom and just talking about things, whatever girls and their moms talk about, I wouldn’t know. But my mom would be mad I’d upset my teacher and she wouldn’t understand my art any more than Mrs. Glassman did. Before my parents split up, my dad had all these awesome nude paintings he’d collected over the years. He’d always spent money on art, and I think seeing that art was part of why I started drawing seriously. But when they split up, and Dad moved out, my mom systematically went through the house getting rid of all those exquisite nudes. Maybe she blamed the paintings for my dad’s affair. Thought his promiscuity was encouraged by the perfectly painted titties hanging all over the house. Or maybe she was trying not to admit that he left because he’d never wanted to marry Mom in the first place. He’d only done it because of me. Of course, he never told me this. But you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to pick up on it.
Anyways, Mrs. Glassman walked away with the drawing, and I kept working on what I was doing—drawing Alan, naked. I had planned to draw a teeny tiny penis but since Mrs. Glassman didn’t seem to like the peen I thought I’d just leave it off. It would make the same point. You get the best revenge through life, my dad had always said when I was upset, and art was my life, or at least, the only part I cared about.
When the bell rang, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. Mrs. Glassman was preoccupied setting up the classroom for the seniors, who came in next, so I looked at my phone.
Held up at work. Can we resched dinner?
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it hurt anyways. She did this all the time, but today, this was the one thing I had to look forward to, you know. I typed my response:
I probably shouldn’t have texted that, but when was the woman going to get it? She couldn’t keep doing this to me. She could always make time for work, but not for me. I was fed up with pretending not to care.
I stared at my phone for a minute as the rest of my class left, but she didn’t text me back. Figures. I shoved my phone into my backpack and hurried to my next class.
I was walking out of school after last period, finally headed home to where I’d have peace and quiet for the whole night. I’d order some pizza and eat about five chocolate bars. I’d started to see some cellulite on my thighs but I was basically skinny so I’d be fine. More cushion for the pushing, Alan used to say, when we were still talking.
I turned the corner, and there he was, walking along right in front of me. I still felt angry from English that morning, and Mrs. Glassman, and my mom. I felt like a dog whose hair was rising on the back of its neck. Seriously, I had long hair. If I could get it to rise up like I was attached to some sort of adrenaline Tesla coil, I would gel the craziness until I had a head full of spikes, electrified knives. I could just spear Alan through the heart by head-butting him, like some killer goat.
“Hey asshole,” I said, and Alan turned around. Worked every time. “So you know your name?”
“Bitch,” he said, and put his hand down by his crotch and tossed out his fingers, like they were sperm, “leave me the hell alone.” I guess he hadn’t appreciated my tiny dick comment in English class that morning.
Well, I walked right up to him, and got in his face, and I could see him kind of sniff, like I hadn’t showered or something. I had showered, but I sniffed too, and he smiled. It took all the control I had not to slap him right then.
“Why did you tell everyone?” I said. I hadn’t confronted him about this before. In general, I was not a confrontational person. Today was an aberration. It’s hard to build people skills when it’s just you in your house, alone. But today—well, you know, everyone has limits.
“I consider it a service,” Alan said, “to warn my fellow men of sluts who don’t know how to swallow.”
And that was it, I swung back and brought my fist into Alan’s face, and I felt this satisfying crunch. It was so surprising—I thought I was going to miss and just hit the lockers behind him instead. I couldn’t believe I’d made contact. I drew my hand back from his face, and at first, I thought, damn, my hand hurts, and second, I thought, oh my god, I hurt Alan. He was holding his right hand over his nose and there was blood dripping out of the cracks between his fingers.
He didn’t say anything, just balled up his left fist like he’d like to hit me back, but I backed away and he turned around and stomped off towards the nurse’s office—which was right next to the Principal’s office—holding his face. A low chorus of “ooohs” rose up from the other kids in the hallway. Their faces swirled around me in a blur.
I was in for it. But I thought I might as well try to make it home, so I set off towards the lobby exit, almost jogging but not quite, so I wouldn’t draw too much attention.
I had almost busted out of the lobby doors when I heard my name. “Olivia Morgan!” It was Vice Principal McIntyre. “Come with me.”
I froze. I was a bad liar and there was no way I was going to get out of this. I would just have to go. So I turned back into the lobby and walked towards the hallway, kids brushing against me on their way out of school. The ones who hadn’t seen me hit Alan probably thought McIntyre found my hat in the Lost and Found or that I’d been caught with pot, depending on their innocence level. But scrawny Olivia Morgan hitting hot Alan Fisher? Smashing that gorgeous nose into his brains? No, no way they’d be thinking that.
“Sit down,” said McIntyre, when we got into his office. Judging by his red eyes he probably drank a little, maybe in the morning, maybe at his lunch break. Or maybe it was just that his eyes reflected the red from his hair.
“We’re sending Alan to the hospital,” he said, and my stomach did that thunking thing again, and again I thought I was going to have to go to the bathroom, but I just focused on McIntyre’s squinty freckled face. I started sweating, even though it was cold in here, and the swirling in my stomach stabilized into this low pain.
“Is he going to be ok?” I said. I had never punched anyone before. How was I supposed to know I was going to hurt him?
“Looks like you broke his nose,” said McIntrye. “This is extremely serious.” He let his words hang, and I imagined that we were standing in a gorge, and that there was this echoing serious, serious, serious, and I felt like laughing, but I held it in. McIntyre continued: “But as you haven’t gotten in much trouble otherwise”—so Mrs. Glassman and Mr. Drake at least hadn’t gotten to McIntyre yet—“we might be able to make it so you just get suspended.”
Just suspended? What, like they were going to expel me for practically punching a guy by accident? Okay, it hadn’t been totally by accident, but still, breaking his nose? I hadn’t meant to do that.
“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” I said, looking down. Part of me really, really wanted to do the middle finger thing under the table and flick McIntyre off because he just didn’t get it. Alan had hurt me way worse than a broken nose. But another part of me, maybe the smarter part, maybe not, kept myself from doing that.
“You need to learn self-control, Olivia,” said McIntyre, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. How did he know what I needed to learn? He’d hardly even spoken a word to me since he’d come and given his silly little student handbook talk at the beginning of the year.
The door of McIntyre’s office creaked open, and this older lady who worked in the office came in. She was dressed in way too tight of an outfit for someone her age, leggings and one of those dress-shirt things the preppy girls loved to wear.
“Mrs. Morgan is on her way,” she said. I looked down at my watch. It was three pm. They’d actually convinced my mom to take off from work and come get me? When she’d already cancelled dinner on me? I was so shocked I didn’t bother to correct the older lady. My mother was now going by “Stephens,” her maiden name, as if “Morgan” were some disgusting schizophrenic alter ego.
“Thanks, Margaret,” said McIntyre, and even though this woman was probably sixty years old, I saw him watch her ass as she left the room. I wanted to break his nose, too, at that moment, but I restrained myself. See, I had plenty of self-control.
So Vice Principal McIntyre and I just kind of sat there in silence for a while, and McIntyre filled out some paperwork.
Finally, once it seemed that all the noise had left from the school building—it was eerie, really, I’d never been there after everyone had cleared out before—I heard my mother’s high-heeled footsteps coming down the hall.
“Oh, Olivia,” she said, and she put her hand on my shoulder. It felt weird—when was the last time she had touched me?
“Your daughter punched another student this afternoon,” said McIntyre, from his throne behind his desk.
“I heard,” said my mother, giving me a stern look. But behind the sternness, there was—I could just see it—guilt. Let her feel guilty. Let her think I’d done this because she’d cancelled dinner on me. But that wasn’t it. It was mostly an accident.
“We may have to suspend her,” said McIntrye. “We’ll have her hearing tomorrow at ten o’clock, and you should keep her at home until then.”
“Alright,” said my mother. I just knew she was thinking about all these meetings she’d have to miss at the fancy law firm. La-di-da.
We walked out together to the car. I hadn’t spent time with my mother outside when it was daylight in a long time. And it was a whopper of a fall day. Not too cool, not too hot. Just perfect. Figured. A storm would have been much more fitting.
When we were in the car, I took out my sketchbook and started drawing. We lived really close by, but I just felt like I had to sketch, or I’d do something crazy, like grab the wheel, or break my mother’s nose too. I’d never actually do that, but then again, I’d done a lot of things today that I would normally never do. Also, I could feel my stomach clenching, and I knew I’d better get to the bathroom at home quick. In the meantime, I put my feet up on the seat and balanced the sketchbook on my knees so the movement of the car wouldn’t affect my drawing too much.
“Olivia, I just, I don’t know what to do with you,” my mom said, “I got an email from your art teacher, too. She said you were drawing penises?” When she said the word penises, in this high voice which made me want to laugh, she turned to look at me instead of looking at the road. She wanted to talk with me so badly that she didn’t care if we crashed on the way home.
I thought about telling her about Alan. The blowjob, the whole thing. Maybe this was our chance for mother-daughter bonding and all that crap. She’d tell me some disgusting story about her sex life, back when she had one, and I’d make puking noises, and we’d both laugh, and the pain in my gut would dissolve with every word.
But she would never understand. She’d said it herself. She didn’t know what to do with me, as if I were some piece of software from work she wasn’t trained to use. I just focused on my drawing, and my stomach settled a little. I was sketching my mom. She was looking back over her shoulder, but in her right hand, she was holding a pistol. She was pointing it straight off the page, pointing it at me.
Tracy Gold is a Fiction MFA candidate at the University of Baltimore, and she also works as a marketer, writer, and editor for technology companies. She was published in student and alumni publications at her alma mater, Duke University. She’s currently seeking representation for her first YA novel, about a girl who survives a plague that kills all of the adults. You can find Tracy at http://tracycgold.com.