this draft has been replaced by a new draft from 2002
WTH (May 31, 1999)
By Eric Nakao
The wheat in the fields was growing mighty fine. But that's another story. For in the hallways of Schlicter Valley High, discontent grew. Along with its attendant crops, malaise, bad feelings & queasiness. For in the hallways of Schlicter Valley High, that paragon of mediocrity, that pot of semi-cooked lentils, they were in the nascent throes, half-throes, of that mostly American of American past times, trying to do something.
"Good idea," said someone (Not me) when told of the plan.
"Great," said someone else. "Let's do it!"
Not that they were bad people. But, to paraphrase something a great mind once said about our canine friends (dogs), sometimes good people do bad things.
"Let's make Schlicter a great school!"
Were they teachers or students? I don't recall. But when people think of you as a pot of semi-cooked lentils (not me), then clearly something has to be done. And that they could embark with such enthusiasm, such optimism and pride, well, it's rather touching, isn't it? I mean you just hafta root for them. I know I did.
"We could be as great as East Nareen!"
East Nareen was the great school in the district. Maybe the universe. It's students won all the awards: Best Student, Student of the Year, Best Dresser, Best Dancer. It's teachers were involved, enlightened, brilliant. They were like lamps unto the darkness. Never too busy, always there. In each and every way, for each and every student. Always. Perfect. Wonderful. And the parents? Well, it goes without saying that you can't have such wonderful teachers and students without fabulous, terrific parents. They were supportive without being intrusive. Caring without being needy. And, boy, were they attractive. You can see where little Suzie and Robert got their good looks. Every hair in place, every tooth just sparkling clean and shiny. It was a wonderful school. No doubt. And it was what Schlicter Valley High aspired to.
"No, better," said another.
"Better than East Nareen? Is that possible?"
"If you can imagine it, it can happen."
"I couldn't imagine."
"Well, you should start," said the first.
Juney Frackle was a nice person, as were many of the people connected with Schlicter (woof woof). But she lacked drive, she lacked ambition. In fact, she thought that Schlicter was a nice school, as nice as she was. She liked it. It liked her back. What more could a person want?
"I'd be very happy with Nareen," said Juney.
But the thing was, the truth was, they were talking about closing down Schlicter. Schlicter Valley High. The oldest high school in the valley. Before there was East Nareen High. Before there was East Nareen, there was Schlicter. Home of the once mighty Schlicter Emus, lords of the gridiron, diamond, court, court, ring, whatever. Academically sound, impressive even. Style, stylish, for Schlicter Valley. But back then that's all there was. Schlicter Valley High was Schlicter Valley. The hope, the dreams, the future of the kingdom of the valley. Then came the people, the divisions, the subdivisions, the incorporations of the unincorporated, the new, the modern, the Nareens, the East Nareens. Suddenly, it wasn't Schlicter Valley anymore. It was Naperville and Kindrake and St. Halperin. And at the top was the Nareens, East Nareen especially. The new hope, the new dream of what? The future? East Nareen was the future. Schlicter Valley was the past. East Nareen was progress. Schlicter Valley was history.
Maybe it was the name. Schlicter. It sounded like a kind of razor blade or motor oil. Or maybe a brand of beer. And not the fancy designer beer, but big boozy sudsy wudsy beer, the kind of beer that people in flannel drank.
"Then why don't you just move to Nareen," said Amelia Abladoglio.
"Or East Nareen," said Tsu (the T is silent, usually).
"All I'm saying is East Nareen is nice. Why do we have to be better? Why do we have to be like East Nareen at all? Why can't we just be a better Schlicter?"
Amelia couldn't believe her friend sometimes. She was so stupid. She couldn't see the potential of her ideas, how they would make things better for everyone.
"Because East Nareen is the standard. East Nareen is the top."
"It's the future."
"Shut up, Tsu. Or Tsu. Or whatever your name is."
"All right. And Schlicter is…. Schlicter is…. They're gonna tear down Schlicter."
"Not if it's better," said Juney. "Besides, that's just a rumor."
"I believe in rumors," said Amelia, "especially when they're based in fact."
"The fact that Schlicter sucks."
"Schlicter doesn't suck. It's just…. It's nice."
"It's not nice!" cried Amelia. "It's a terrible school! I hate it here! It's hell with lockers and a pool!"
"Juney's nice," said Tsu, patting her friend on the shoulder.
"I don't care!"
"Well, maybe you're the one who should transfer to East Nareen," said Juney.
"You don't think I've tried?" cried Amelia. "I've filled out applications! I've faxed! I've e-mailed! I've f-mailed! I've f-ing f-mailed! I've bounced signals off of satellites!"
"Well, maybe it just wasn't meant to be," said Juney. "Maybe you just need a little break."
"No," said Amelia. "I don't need a break. And I don't believe in fate. I believe we're masters of our own lives."
"Then you're getting what you deserve," said Tsu.
"No," said Amelia. "I'm getting what I'm getting. But after I'm through here, I'll get what I deserve. Besides, they need me here."
"It's nice to be needed," said Tsu with a smile at Juney.
"Yeah," said Amelia. "They need me here. The students need their favorite counselor."
Counselors can be a good thing. I believe. Of course it depends on the counselor. And the counseled. The student counseled. And the subject, too. East Nareen. Now they had great counselors. Award winners. Best counselor. Best counseled. Best subject.
Juney was a counselor, too. Not an award winner. Never even nominated. But she was a good counselor. A nice counselor. In fact, that's what she was known as among the students: the nice counselor.
"So, how've you been, Mavis?" said Juney.
Mavis used to be Amelia's counselee. She was one of those who had cried or had to be restrained under Amelia's care. But Juney didn't know which. She believed in starting each student off with a clean slate.
"Fine," said Mavis. "I don't like it here."
"Now by here, do you mean here with me or here at Schlicter?"
"Schlicter," said Mavis. "I like being here with you."
"Oh," said Juney.
"I want to go to East Nareen."
Juney thought this over for a moment. She'd been hearing this a lost lately. More than usual.
"Well," she said. "East Nareen is a very nice school."
"The best," said Mavis.
"Maybe the best…"
"The…best," said Mavis enunciating every word.
"Well, maybe the best. But Schlicter is a nice school, too, don't you think?"
"I heard they were going to tear Schlicter down," said Mavis.
"Where did you hear that?" said Juney, a little amused, a little sad.
"Oh, everywhere. Students, teachers, Ms. Ablodoglio."
"Hm. And what do you think about that. About Schlicter possibly being torn down."
"Good," said Mavis.
"Good?," said Juney. She'd heard this kind of talk lately, too. "Why?"
"Well, Schlicter is…. It's bad. It's bad," said Mavis shaking her head.
"Why, why is Schlicter so bad?" said Juney.
"Well, it's not so bad," said Mavis. "It's just plain bad. I don't mean it's just bad, like there's nothing good about it. It's just…"
"Bad," said Juney.
"Hm," said Juney. "Do you think there's anything good about Schlicter?"
Mavis thought for a moment.
"You," she said.
"Besides me," said Juney with a little laugh. She thought of asking why her, but decided not to.
"Well, what about you?" said Juney.
"Yeah, you," said Juney.
"Me," said Mavis, like the thought had never occurred to her before. "Why me?"
"Well, why not you?" said Juney. "You're, you're young and smart and, and…"
"Not bad?" said Mavis.
"Better than not bad," said Juney. "You're good and caring and wonderful and, and…I like you."
"Really?" said Mavis, brightening a little.
"Yes," said Juney, beginning to feel a little tired, but happy to see some life in the unremarkable girl seated before her. "I like you. Very much."
"Oh," said Mavis, beginning to even smile to herself a bit. "I guess I can stay here then."
Mavis sat in the back of her civics class. Ms. Frackle was so pretty. Ms. Ablodoglio was pretty, too, but in a different way. There was a softness to Ms. Frackle, a warmth. Ms. Ablodoglio was warm, too. Or rather she was more hot. No, not hot. Heated? Sizzling? No, no, that's not what Mavis meant. And she certainly wasn't soft. Not like Ms. Frackle. Not like Mavis herself. At least that's how she thought of herself. Soft. Like a marshmallow. Like fabric softener. Like a kitten. At least that's how she thought of herself. Maybe other people didn't. Come out of your shell, they would say. Don't be like that. And shells were hard. Like ice. Like granite. But they protected, too. Like an egg protecting the little bird within. But she didn't feel protected. She felt everything. And if she felt everything, how could she have a shell? And if she didn't have a shell, how could she come out?
"Mavis?" said a voice from within. "Are you with us?" No, not from within. Where was that coming from? And what was that other noise?
"Ms. Frackle?" said Mavis beginning to come out of her daze.
The other students laughed.
"Ms. Frackle!" said Eppie Lemieux. "Oh, Ms. Frackle, Ms. Frackle, could I make an appointment, I'm having emotional problems."
The class howled with laughter.
"Eppie, you are an emotional problem," said Tsu.
The class howled again.
It was Ms. Min, Mavis's civics teacher. She had always been nice to Mavis. Never mean. Always fair. Always kind. And she was friends with Ms. Frackle. Mavis had seen them together, in the teacher's lounge, in the hallways. And with Ms. Ablodoglio, too. They were friends. The three of them.
"I'm sorry, what was the question?"
"Earth to Mavis," said Eppie.
Eppie was new this year, a transfer student. From East Nareen, the perfect school. Is this what people were like there? Is this how Mavis would be treated if she went there? Maybe Eppie was a reject. "Not Perfect" stamped on her file and shipped off to Schlicter Valley. And yet Ms. Min was also from East Nareen. At least that's what Mavis had heard. And she was nice. She was kind. Was she there as a student or a teacher? At East Nareen. Mavis wasn't sure. Ms. Frackle would know. They were friends. Ms. Min and Ms. Frackle. She would know.
"All right, class," said Ms. Min, turning away from Mavis and looking at the clock. "It's almost noon…"
"High noon. Bye noon," said Eppie.
"so remember your assignment. What does living in a civil society mean to you. Five pages. Double spaced. No late papers."
"No late papers!" cried Eppie. "That's not fair. I want to speak to my attorney. I want to speak with Ms. Frackle."
The class whooped with delight as the twelve o'clock bell sounded.
"Oh? I heard your attorney was Ms. Ablodoglio," said Ms. Min.
"No," said Eppie as she began filing out with the rest of the class, "Ms. Frackle is my attorney. Ms. Ablodoglio is my shrink."
Eppie sat in her usual spot with a can of soda and a notepad. "No late papers!" she wrote at the top of the page. That was funny what she had said about Ms. Frackle being her attorney. Everybody thought so. And Ms. Min had played along. It was important to have a teacher who would play along, not out of fear, but out of being cool, out of not being afraid. Eppie had no fear. But she was beginning to feel bad about making fun of that girl, Mavis. She seemed OK, had never hurt Eppie. And Eppie certainly wasn't the type of person who needed to step on other people to be popular. Maybe they could be friends, that girl and her, Mavis. Not that she needed any friends. East Nareen, two years, Schlicter Valley, two years - maybe one if she played her cards right - then it was off into the real world.
What does living in a civil society mean to you, thought Eppie. Civil, civilian, not a soldier, not at war. Civil, civility. Not a soldier? Not at war? There was that girl, Mavis. She was going into the counselor building. Probably to talk to her counselor, Ms. Frackle. Her attorney. Counselor is another word for attorney. If Ms. Frackle had been an attorney than calling her a counselor would not be wrong. But calling her an attorney would not have been funny. Eppie wondered what Mavis and Ms. Frackle would talk about. Would she tell her about what Eppie had said? Probably. But maybe not. Mavis had seemed a little out of it. She might not have even heard her. The other students probably told her though. But again, maybe not. Mavis seemed to keep to herself pretty much, except for Ms. Frackle, of course. If Eppie were her friend, she would tell her. Tell her how that new girl had made fun of her and how terrible she was, how East Nareen of her to have done that.
Society. Social? Society. Society? High society? Social. Social studies. The study of socials. The study of ice cream socials. Eppie thought some more. She wondered what Ms. Frackle was like. Why would a girl like Mavis be so interested in someone like Ms. Frackle? She seemed kind of quiet, Ms. Frackle. Mousey. Soft. Ms. Ablodoglio, on the other hand, there was someone that someone like Mavis should be interested in. Assertive, interesting, maybe a little too flashy with those short skirts, but that's OK. She certainly had the legs for it. Eppie had legs, too. Long and creamy, like soft-serve ice cream off a weeping willow tree. She didn't like to show them off though. Or show them, she meant.
What a pain, thought Eppie. This school was too crowded. She couldn't concentrate. Should she go to the library? The library was one of the noisiest places in the school. Should she go back to East Nareen? East Nareen had its problems, but at least there were quiet places you could study. Not like this school. Schlicter Valley. She found herself sighing lately after she said the name. She had transferred here because she heard that it was going to be torn down. Graduate, then blow it up. That would suit her just fine. But two years, one, if she played her cards right. Two years of soft people, two years of pants, two years of civil society. Of writing papers about civil society. She didn't know if she could take it.
For Eppie to graduate in one year, she would have to do well in classes like Ms. Min's. Ms. Min was OK. She wasn't soft. She was East Nareen. Eppie could tell. And here she was teaching at Schlicter Valley (sigh). And here she was teaching! Why would anybody from East Nareen want to be a teacher? She had heard that teaching was a noble profession and all, but still. Eppie could understand maybe teaching in some inner city school, improving the lives of the downtrodden masses, that would be noble. That would be cool. But Schlicter Valley! Maybe Eppie was wrong. Maybe Ms. Min was soft. And not Schlicter Valley soft. That would be acceptable, that would be understandable. But East Nareen soft. Not that East Nareen was hard. It could bend. It could even break. But it would break for a noble cause, not for some down-in-the-valley high school that was going down. Why was she here? Eppie would monitor the situation. She might even ask Ms. Min some day. But not now. Maybe not ever. Why get involved?
Eppie got up and tossed her half finished soda into the recycling bin. Maybe not now, maybe not ever, she thought and went off in search of a quiet place to study.
Mavis made her way down the counseling hall. The more she came here, the more familiar things became. They were becoming part of her, the walls, the paint, the tiles on the floor were becoming part of her. She could feel them softening under her feet, warming to her touch, her presence. There was Ms. Frackle's door, a thin crack between it and the jamb, the frame, the pillar, the post, the unhinged edge working in concert with its swinging, well-connected opposite to form a crack, an opening, a window into the tiny room within.
Mavis knocked and pushed the upper half of her head through the crack and there she was, Ms. Frackle. And Ms. Ablodoglio, her friend. They were eating. At least there was food in front of them. And they were talking, laughing. Of course. They were friends and that's what friends did. Mavis began to exit.
"Mavis, wait," said Ms. Frackle, letting one more laughing sound out as she held up her hand. Mavis stopped. "Did you want to see me? Come in."
Mavis didn't move. She felt her hand begin to slide off the door knob when Ms. Ablodoglio reached over and yanked the door open from her side.
"Mavis, hi! How've you been? Come on in."
Mavis stood in the doorway and took in the scene before her.
"I can come back later."
The two women looked at each other.
"Uh oh, she doesn't want to see me," said Amelia. She got up and guided Mavis into her chair. "Here, honey, you sit here and talk to nice Ms. Frackle and I'll go back to the cave and stir my cauldron."
Juney looked slightly disapprovingly at Amelia.
"Uh, could you close the door on your way out?"
"Oh my," said Amelia as she exited, but did as she was told.
Mavis looked at Ms. Frackle. Their chairs were closer than last time. She could have touched her with her knee if she swung her legs just a little to the right. Ms. Frackle had a plastic container on her lap. It was filled with some sort of fruit something, diced up and covered in a sweet-smelling, white cream. Ambrosia, she thought they called it. She held a small plastic fork in her hand. It was slightly stained red. From her lipstick, she guessed, her blush. No, not her blush. What did they call it? Her gloss, lip gloss, little pots of color, applied with the tip of the smallest finger to the lips. She hoped Ms. Frackle wouldn't eat anymore. It always made her nervous when adults ate in her presence. Except her parents, of course. It would have made her nervous if her parents never ate in her presence.
Juney saw Mavis looking at her lap.
"Would you like some?" she said.
Mavis shook her head. Juney took the container from her lap and set it on the desk. She was about to take one last lick from her fork, but something told her not to and she set it on her desk also.
"So," she said, looking at the downcast girl before her. "How're you doing?"
Mavis wouldn't look up. She could still feel where Ms. Ablodoglio had touched her on her shoulders to brought her here. Her chair was still warm. Mavis tried to slide to a cooler spot in the chair, but it was difficult to find. Who knew that such a small woman could have so much heat in her.
"Are you all right, Mavis? Did you want something to drink?"
Mavis shook her head.
"Maybe I should come back later."
Juney studied Mavis. A plain-looking girl. No, a pretty girl. Pretty face. Pretty eyes? She hardly ever looked up, it was hard to tell.
"All right. If you'd like. I'm always here for you, though. You know that, don't you?"
"I've been thinking about what we talked about last time. Do you
"Did you want to talk about that again?"
Mavis shook her head.
Juney saw something in Mavis's hand. It looked like a little porcelain figure, a kitten or a mouse.
"Is that for me?"
Mavis covered the kitten with her other hand.
"No," she said and closed her eyes as she felt the tears begin come.
Juney reached out and rested the outer edge of her index finger beneath Mavis's downturned chin.
"Look at me."
Mavis looked up. It was the first time Juney had gotten a good look at her. A pretty girl. No. Beautiful. Mavis was a beautiful girl with deep pools of amber light for eyes and baby-fine wisps of hair that danced around face like heather through the pages of a romance novel.
"I care about you. I do. I'm here to help you, I'm here to help you, I'm here to help you," whispered Juney as she wrapped her arms around Mavis and rocked her like a baby. And held her like a beautiful girl.
"Who does she think she is?" said Lulu picking at a scab. "That wasn't funny."
The other girls nodded in agreement, except Barelle.
"They laughed," she said. Barelle had known Lulu since second grade and they often disagreed.
"They laughed because she's from East Nareen. Because they think she's cool, but she's not."
"You laughed," said Barelle.
The other girls stifled a laugh.
"I was laughing at Frackle. Ms. Fuckle. Not at what Lemieux said."
The other girls began throwing little bits of paper at Barelle, except for Wendy.
"We all laughed," said Barelle, "because it was funny. What did you think, Wendy?"
Wendy shrugged, a silly smile dancing across her face.
"I don't pay Wendy to think," said Lulu. "Here." She took a dollar out of her pocket and handed it to Wendy. "Go to the candy machine and buy yourself something stupid."
Wendy took the dollar and went, taking Technita with her.
"Anyway," said Lulu. "It doesn't matter if it was funny or not. The point is is that she thought it was funny. She's only been here three weeks and she thinks she can try and be funny. She's trying to be popular. She's trying to score points."
"I don't know," said Barelle.
"I don't pay you to know," said Lulu handing Barelle a dollar. "Here, go to the candy machine and buy yourself something stupid."
"Go wipe yourself, Lulu."
Wendy and Technita returned.
"Did you have fun?" said Lulu.
Wendy nodded, a licorice whip hanging from her mouth like a wet noodle. Technita had a Ho Ho.
"That could be you, Barry," said Lulu. "Resistance is futile. Isn't that right, Wendy."
Wendy nodded. Technita nodded, too, the Ho Ho bobbing up and down from her mouth like a miniature flashlight.
"I don't think she's trying to be popular," said Barelle. "I think that's just her personality."
"Wendy, do you know what she's talking about?"
Wendy shook her head.
"Then shut up."
"Hey, don't tell Wendy to shut up." Barelle was getting angry.
"I can tell her anything I want. She takes my money. Eats my licorice. Here, give me one of those."
Wendy handed her a whip.
"It's not part of her personality. It's because she's from East Nareen. She thinks she's better than us."
"I don't think so," said Barelle, beginning to rise, but Lulu grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back down.
"Yes, she does. She doesn't pay us the proper respect."
"Nobody respects us."
Lulu threw her licorice whip at Wendy.
"That's because they've known us longer. We've earned their disrespect. But this Lemieux chick. She don't know us yet. She's got no business disrespecting us."
"She hasn't disrespected us."
"Yes, she has," said Lulu. "Do you see her here? Do you see her hanging with us? Does she ever say hi to us in the hallways?"
"I don't think she says hi to anyone," said Wendy.
"Exactly. And to top it off she's trying to be funny?"
"I think that's just her personality."
"It's not her personality. It's East Nareen. She thinks she's better than us. She disrespects us. She disrespects our entire school."
"But she's here."
"She's here. She hates being here."
"But you hate being here. We all hate being here."
"I hate her more," said Lulu grinding her teeth.
"Why! Because she's here! She doesn't belong here! This isn't her school. She belongs at East Nareen!" screamed Lulu. The others fidgeted slightly. "She has to be taught a lesson."
"Maybe she can teach us something," said Barelle.
Lulu gave out an involuntary snort.
"I think she's pretty," said Wendy.
"You don't think she's pretty," said Lulu. "Give me those." She grabbed the rest of Wendy's licorice whips and tossed them into the bushes.
"Maybe she can teach us something," said Barelle again.
"She ain't gonna teach us nothin'. She don't even say hi to us in the hallways. I know her. She's East Nareen. She's just gonna stick to herself, get her perfect little grades, say funny little things in class, then it's adios to the losers."
"I didn't know East Nareen people liked saying funny things," said Wendy.
"Well, you do now," said Lulu nodding her head.
Wendy nodded along.
"And what are we going to do about it?"
Wendy kept nodding her head up and down, a silly grin beginning to spread across her pretty face.
"Technita, what are we gonna do about it?"
Technita took out her other Ho Ho and squashed it like a cheap pastry.
"That's right," said Lulu transforming her previously gesticulating hand into a tight little fist. "The next time East Nareen tries to say something funny, we're gonna squeeze her Ho Ho til it just ain't funny no more."
"I'm not sure what to do," said Juney. "Did I go too far? Was I too fast? It doesn't feel right somehow and yet…"
Juney's voice trailed off. Mavis had gone from an interesting, but unremarkable new counselee to an almost all-consuming concern. What would she say to her next time? It couldn't continue in the direction it was going. And yet to break it off. To back off even a little.
"I don't know," said Tsu. "It sounds like at the time, you did the right thing. Under the circumstances. If it was most anybody else, I don't think it would be a problem, but with Mavis…"
Juney waited for Tsu to continue, but nothing.
"But with Mavis…?"
"I don't know," said Tsu.
"But she's in your class."
Tsu shook her head.
"Three weeks. She's hardly said a word."
"Has she handed in any papers yet?"
Tsu shook her head again.
"First paper, due this Friday."
"Hm," said Juney. "And you said she said my name in class."
"I think she thought I was you. That my voice was yours. She was like in kind of a daze."
"And then that other girl - "
"Eppie. Said what?"
"That she wanted to make an appointment with you because she was having problems."
"But she was mocking Mavis when she said this."
Tsu thought a moment.
"Uh, not really mocking her, I don't think. I think it was just a joke."
"Hm," said Juney. "And does this girl do this kind of thing often?"
"Not really," said Tsu. "She hasn't really said that much this year either."
"Then why do you think she said it?"
Tsu thought and shook her head.
"I don't know. Just a joke, I guess."
"After three weeks?"
"I don't know. She's new I think."
"Oh really. What's her last name?"
"Uh, Lemuel? Lambly? I don't quite remember. Something French I think. With an L. Is she one of yours?"
"I don't think so," said Juney. "Maybe Amelia. And you said she said I was her attorney or something?"
Tsu sighed and shook her head at the memory.
"I had said that their papers couldn't be late, then she said that she wanted to speak with her attorney, Ms. Frackle."
"Hm," said Juney. "Well, don't say anything about this to Mavis. Or Eppie."
"All right," said Tsu. "Are you going to see her today?"
"I don't think so. Unless she comes in on her own. I need to think about this for awhile. I think it'll be OK till then."
"Hm," said Tsu as she approached her classroom. "So are we still on for tonight?"
"Yeah," said Juney. "I mean if you still want to."
"Hi, Ms. Min," said a cheery voice.
"Tami," said Ms. Min. "Well, you're certainly here bright and early."
"Tami's never bright," said Miguel to the hootings of the other students.
"Oh, Tami's always bright," said Ms. Min. "She's just never early."
Tami's friend, Tamika, smiled at her.
"Oh, it's that paper you assigned. I need more time."
"More time!" said Ms. Min in mock horror as she unlocked the door. "You have three more days."
"I know," said Tami. "I need more time."
"Yeah, yeah," said Miguel. "We all need more time."
The other students joined in the movement.
"But remember what I said about no late papers."
"But if you gave us more time it wouldn't be late."
The students seemed enchanted by the idea of more time as they took their seats. Tsu took her usual position in front.
"Well, everybody seems to want more time on the paper. Should we take a vote?"
"Yeah, yeah," came the reply.
"All right. Everyone in favor of more time raise your hands."
Many hands flew up.
A few hands were raised. Tsu didn't see Mavis's hand. Or Eppie's either. She didn't think either of them had missed a class before. Maybe Eppie, once or twice.
"Shoot the opposed!" cried someone and everyone laughed.
"Oh, no no," said Ms. Min. "There are other ways to interact with differing viewpoints."
Eppie entered, notebook in hand.
"Eppie," said Ms. Min. Was that a newspaper in behind Eppie's notebook? "We just took a vote on whether to extend the deadline for our first paper. How do you vote?"
Eppie slowed down slightly on her way to a desk near the back.
"I'm, uh, too young to vote."
Everyone laughed. Except Lulu who exchanged a sidelong glance with Technita.
"Not too young to go to East Nareen," said Lulu. Wendy and Technita let out some muffled laughter. Barelle stayed silent.
"Oh, East Nareen is a fine school," said Ms. Min. "Eppie. What does living in a civil society mean to you."
"Oh, uh, I'm not sure," said Eppie.
Wendy and Technita let out some muffled laughter and poked Lulu in the side.
"Why don't you ask your attorney, Ms. Frackle?" said Lulu in a sweetly sarcastic voice.
Wendy and Technita hooted their approval. The rest of the class was silent.
"Uh, I think I'm noting some tension here," said Ms. Min. "Lulu. What does living in a civil society mean to you."
"Oh, uh, I'm not sure," said Lulu in a mock retarded tone.
Wendy and Technita howled with laughter.
"Sure you do," said Ms. Min. "Come on. A civil society. What does that mean."
"Well, it means a society where everyone knows their place. Where everyone's friendly."
"Where everyone says hi in the hallways," chimed in Wendy as she and Technita dissolved in a shower of giggles.
"Miguel. Do you say hi in the hallways?"
"Miguel is high in the hallways," said one of his friends.
The class burst out laughing.
"Oh, man," said Miguel. "Yeah, I say hi if I know them. Why not?"
Lulu kicked the back of Eppie's desk.
"So that's what living in a civil society means to everyone. Being nice?"
"It's more than that," said Tami. "You need rules. You need justice."
"Why?" said Ms. Min.
"Then everyone would just do what they wanted," said Miguel. "There'd be fighting and tension and nobody would get anything done."
"Ah," said Ms. Min. "If everybody did what they wanted, nobody would get anything done. Now there's a thought."
"Is this a new paper?" said Tamika.
"No. Same paper," said Ms. Min. "You all say you want more time?"
"Yeah, yeah. More time, more time," came the reply.
"What if I gave you till next Monday."
"Perfect," said Tami.
"OK," said Ms. Min. "I propose that we extend the deadline till next Monday. All those in favor say 'aye'."
Eppie sat down on the bench with her soda and opened her paper. Threats of war in the Middle East, a shooting downtown. Same old stuff. Should she work on her paper instead? That's what this little park was for, wasn't it? She was surprised to find it. Not too far from school. Pretty quiet. Not bad.
Eppie put down her paper and opened her notebook. What does living in a civil society mean to you, Ms. Min had asked. And Eppie had said she didn't know. And that was true. For after all, living in a civil society, what does that mean? It means nothing. She wondered if Ms. Min would accept that. An anti-paper. Teachers loved those. At least they had at East Nareen. But Eppie wasn't sure she had five pages of double-spaced, anti-paper inside of her anymore. Maybe she was becoming soft like Ms. Min. Like Ms. Frackle. Like that girl. What was her name? Mavis? What kind of name was that? And that scruffy girl who was giving her a hard time in class, what was her name? Lulu? She would hate to have that be her obituary: Eppie Lemiuex, formerly of the award-winning East Nareen High School transferred to Schlicter Valley High where she was beaten to a pulp by a scruffy girl named Lulu. And Ms. Lemiuex let it be known through her attorney, Ms. Frackle, that she wished the sum total of her possessions -- a cereal bowl in the shape of an owl's nest, a heart-shaped locket filled with filings from the Eiffel Tower and a ten year supply of double-spaced anti-paper -- be donated to her dear friend and esteemed colleague, Mavis.
Where was Mavis anyway? She hadn't seen her in class today. Mavis struck her as the type of girl who was never absent. You never noticed her, of course, but she was always there. Then why was she even thinking about her? Maybe she was the type of girl you never noticed till she was gone. But that wasn't quite true. For Eppie had noticed her yesterday. Had made fun of her (not really) with her Ms. Frackle remark. And had felt sorry for her (for herself?) and wanted to…what? Apologize? No. Be her friend. Maybe. Maybe Mavis. She tries harder. Besides, that scruffy girl, Lulu, appeared to be gunning for her. And Lulu had a posse. That skinny pale girl with the nervous giggle, and that big hulking girl, (Tectonic? Teutonic?), and that serious-looking girl, Barrel. Eppie would need a posse, too. Her and Mavis. Eppie and Mavis. Mavis and Eppie. Battling the evil Lulu and her Posse of Doom.
But where was Mavis? Eppie had never even spoken to her yet. Had not apologized. Did not know her last name. Was that her? No. It was the other. Lulu. The anti-Mavis. And she had her posse with her. Come on, Mavis, thought Eppie. Eppie needs you now.
"Hey, Lemiuex," said the scruffy-looking girl.
"Hey, Lulu," said Eppie. "Hey, Barrel."
"Barelle," said Barelle.
"Oh. Sorry. Is that French?"
"Shut up," said Lulu, her doughy face scrunched up like a 80-year old, cigar-chomping, boxing coach. She studied Eppie for a few moments. "You think you're funny, don't you."
"You think you're funny, don't you," said Lulu, moving in closer. Eppie could smell the licorice whips on her breath.
"She's from East Nareen where everyone likes to be funny," chimed in Wendy.
"Yeah," said Lulu. "Say something funny."
"Well, I, uh…"
"Go on, East Nareen. Say something funny."
"She's from East Nareen where everyone likes to be funny," squealed an excited Wendy.
"Well, uh…barrel," shot out Eppie suddenly and Wendy dissolved in a cloud of giggles hanging helplessly against the hulking girl who stood frowning beside her.
"Barelle," said Barelle gloomily. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
"No," said Lulu. "I want her to say something funny."
Wendy let out a whoop and rolled to the ground.
"She did," said Barelle gloomily. "Let's go."
"No. I'm gonna mess her up first," said Lulu. She held out her hand and snapped her fingers. "Technita!"
Technita scowled darkly and began to make a move towards Eppie. Wendy suddenly grew silent and looked up, her pale blue eyes rimmed pink with laughter.
"Barrel," shot out Eppie suddenly, though a little softer this time. Wendy let out another whoop and rolled over, burying her face in the grass, her thin, frail body shaking with excitement.
Technita looked at her friend, then looked at Eppie. Eppie held her palms up, shrugged and smiled. Technita looked at Wendy again who peered paroxysmically over her shoulder at Technita, then buried her face in the grass again. Technita looked at Eppie, then at Lulu, then at Barelle, then suddenly, a deep, gutteral sound began rising from her throat, it became louder and more distinct, then she opened her thick-rimmed mouth and a sharp barking sound came forth, her shoulders began to shake and she fell to the grass and hugged her friend as the two rolled in the grass, convulsed with laughter.
Eppie looked at Barelle who was frowning, then at Lulu who was screwing up her mouth. She shrugged at Lulu and turned to leave. What does it mean to live in a civil society, she thought and fell to the ground as she felt a sharp pain in the back of her head.
"Look," said Tami. "Student elections."
Tamika looked at the flier taped to the wall. "Student elections. Sign up now. Make a difference," it said chattily.
"Should I run?"
Tami was Tamika's best friend. They were both cheerleaders, but Tami was the cheerier of the two. And the more leaderly.
"You should," said Tamika, knowing that Tami had already made up her mind.
"I should," said Tami. "Vote Tami Tanaka for a cheerier tomorrow."
It felt good. Apparently, cheerleader just didn't have the impact it once had on college applications. Student body president would be just the thing to fatten up her resume.
"You should run, too," said Tami, always looking out for her best friend.
Tamika studied the flier again. Somehow the thought of putting herself up there, alone, did not feel her with glee. "Make a difference." She was already swamped with schoolwork. Did she really have time to run for office?
"So which one do you want?" said Tami brightly.
Tamika studied the list.
"President," she said suddenly. Tamika was a little surprised at her choice. Totally involuntary. For despite the misgivings experienced just recently and despite the knowledge that Tami had probably planned to run for that office, the word felt right as it passed through her downy lips.
"Hm," said Tami through the corner of her mouth. "I was gonna pick that one."
"Oh, did you want it?"
"No no, you go ahead," said Tami. "If not me, than you. I run not for the glory, but to participate in the race."
Tami looked over the list of remaining offices. Vice President? I don't think so, thought Tami. She loved Tamika like a sister, but to be Vice President to Tamika's Chief of State, especially since it was her idea to begin with, just didn't shake her pom poms. Treasurer? Council member? Attorney General?
"I choose council member," said Tami.
"Why not Attorney General," said Tamika. "You like rules."
That was true. Rules were good. Rules were fun. But she'd rather follow the rules, then enforce them. And if she were on the student council she could make the rules and have someone else enforce them. What could be better than following your own rules?
"Council member," said Tami.
That seemed like a step down to Tamika, especially after President. Maybe she should let Tami run for President and she would run for the Student Council.
"Are you sure you don't want to be President?"
"No. Council member is fine. Representative of the people. Champion of the oppressed."
"I thought that was my job."
"It is," said Tami. "It's both our jobs. It is the job of each and every elected official to champion the will of the people, to bring forth their better angels in times both good and ill."
"I've got a lot of homework," said Tamika gloomily. "Maybe I shouldn't run at all."
"Nonsense," said Tami. "We run, we work, we cheer, we win. You in your branch, I in mine."
"Oh," said Tamika. "I thought we would kind of run together. Like gazelles or those women who run with wolves."
"We run separate and we run as a team," said Tami.
"But how can we if we're in different branches? Why don't you run for Vice President, then we can enter the race on the same ticket?"
"Hm," said Tami, raising her mental pom poms to waist level, back straight, eyes focused. "No."
She saw her best friend slump a little before the flier.
"Cheer up," said Tami, placing one hand on her friend's shoulder and executing a Hand Movement Number 7 with the other. "We can still run on the same ticket if we form a party."
"A political party?"
"Yes!" cried Tami. "And you know what we're gonna call our party?"
"The cheerleader party?"
"No," said Tami. Tamika could really come up with strange answers sometimes. "We're gonna call it People First."
Tamika thought it over.
"I don't like it," she said.
"Shouldn't ideas come first?
"No," said Tami. "If ideas come first, then people come second. And when you come second, anything can happen. You saw what happened to the Communists."
"Oh, that's right," said Tamika. "But wasn't America an Idea First nation?"
"No. America was a People First nation."
"Unless you were black or Native American or a woman or…"
"America was a People First nation with some bad ideas," said Tami. "And when those bad ideas came first, people (ie blacks, Native Americans, etc.) came second and you saw what happened to them."
"Nice guys finish last."
"People First, People First, People First," said Tami. "Remember that and you will not go wrong."
Tamika thought about what Tami had said. She wondered if she could use it in her paper. What does it mean to live in a civil society? People first? Civil meant nice to Tamika. If you were civil to someone you were nice to them. Why not the Nice Party? And being nice meant what? Making people feel good? Not making them feel bad? Isn't that nice? Or is it People First?
Tamika saw a guy sitting alone at a bench. She would test out her ideas.
"Hi," said Tamika. "Mind if I sit here?"
The guy shrugged. Though it was a little hard to tell because he had kind of a twitchy nature about him. He wore dark-rimmed glasses, a bit on the thick side. His hair - well, his hair was arranged in a very creative manner. And his shirt, though a slightly rumpled, appeared to be clean with an attractive plaid design. It was a nerd. But that wasn't nice. He was a nerd. A mathematics enthusiast. A, a…
"My name's Tamika. What's yours?"
"Roland," said Roland.
"Ah," said Tamika. "Roland."
She said it with an emphasis on the Ro, stretching it out a bit.
What am I doing here? thought Tamika. "I'm a cheerleader," she said.
Ah, we have something in common, thought Tamika.
"The thing is is that my friend and I, Tami, are forming a political party, People First, I mean the Nice Party, the Nice People Party and we, I, was wondering if you'd like to join?"
"The Nice People Party?"
Roland appeared to be thinking.
It was an honor to be in his presence, thought Tamika. Look at all those books. He must be some kind of genius.
"I don't think so," said Roland.
"Oh," said Tamika. "Well, bye."
Tamika got up and started to walk away. Was that nice or what? Did she make Roland feel good? Did she make him feel not bad? She had invited Roland to join their party. That was good. But did it make him feel good? Did she put Roland first? She wasn't sure. Who was Roland anyway?
Tamika heard some scuffling noises behind her. She turned around and saw two big guys and a little guy descending on Roland. One big guy had Roland by the upper torso and yanked Roland's shirt up, but was having trouble pulling it over Roland's head because of the securely buttoned top button. He pulled and tugged and swung Roland by his inside-out shirttails with Roland somehow managing to keep his balance. Left, right, forward, back, skittering and sliding across the slickened concrete until the other big guy hoisted him by the legs and began popping off Roland's scuffy black shoes like bottle caps and the little guy unfastened poor Roland's baggy trousers and yanked them off with a gleeful hooting sound.
"Hey, stop that!" yelled Tamika and rushed to the aid of new acquaintance.
The two big guys and the little guy scooped up Roland's clothing and ran on down the hallways, screeching and hooting with their latest acquisitions.
Roland lie on his back, his scrawny, pale limbs sprawled helplessly at his sides. It was as if an order of pasta had fallen from the sky and splattered wetly on the grounds of their little school. Fortunately, there was no sauce (ie. blood). And Tamika could see little meat, so thin was Roland. He was mostly noodles as far as Tamika could tell. Should she look or look away? Should she leave or stay? She couldn't leave him (for she felt responsible for some reason.) But what could she do? How could she help him?
"Oh, Roland," said Tamika softly, shaking her head.
"Hey, what's up?" said a voice from behind. It was Tami.
"Roland," said Tamika.
Tami looked over the situation and frowned.
"This school is falling apart," she said at last. "I feel the need to run now more than ever."
"But what about Roland?" said Tamika.
"Yes. People First. Roland first." Tami walked over to where Roland's head lay and stood over him. "Roland. Roland. Can you hear me?"
"Maybe you should give him mouth-to-mouth," said Tamika.
Tami made a face at Tamika. She kneeled down next to Roland, took up his hand and began rubbing.
"Roland. Roland. Can you hear me? It's Tami. Tami the cheerleader."
Roland groaned again.
He seemed to be responding. Tami began rubbing his arms.
"Roland. If you can hear me, please respond," said Tami. She looked at her friend. "Tamika, start rubbing his legs."
Tamika nodded, feeling relieved to be a part of this resusitation. She knelt down and began to run her hands up and down Roland's noodle soft legs. Up and down she went, kneeding, stroking, feeling his pain, his anguish.
"Roland. Roland. This is Tami again. If you can hear me, please don't be alarmed." Tami slid her nubile body to the top of Roland's head and leaned forward to work on Roland's scrawny torso. "I'm concentrating on your upper body and arms. The hands you feel working on your lower portions belong to Tamika, a fellow cheerleader and Presidential hopeful for the People First party. If you can hear me, please respond."
"Please Roland," Tamika whispered, warm, salty tears beginning to fill the dewey crevices of her lower lids.
Suddenly, Roland's eyelids began to flutter. Tami bent forward and put her face close to Roland's, her years of cheerleading experience having given her an amazing suppleness.
"Wait a minute. I think I'm getting something up here."
Tamika's hands came to a halt, resting lightly on the soft, inner planes of Roland's pale, quivering thighs.
"Roland. This is Tami again. Can you hear me? Please respond. Would you like mouth-to-mouth?"
Roland's eyelashes continued to flutter. His breath became heavier, deeper, then settled down to a more regular depth. He shook his head.
Tami gave Tamika a quick glance.
"I think he's gonna be OK."
Tamika breathed a sigh of relief. Roland rubbed his face with his left hand.
"Ugh," he groaned. "Where are my clothes?"
Tami smiled at Tamika.
"Those guys took them. Remember?" said Tamika.
Tami leaned down and put her face close to Roland's.
"Those guys. Those guys took your clothes. Do you remember guys taking your clothes?" She looked at Tamika. "What were their names?"
Tamika shrugged. Tami redirected her attentions to Roland.
"We don't know their names, but we have an eyewitness, a cheerleader, who can back up your story. Do you remember anything?"
Roland let out a deep breath.
"Uh, I remember something about hands."
"Good. Good," said Tami nodding supportively. "Now that could have been me and Tamika. We rubbed you back to life with our hands. Or it could have been the guys' hands beating you to the ground. Do you remember anything else? Arms, feet? Were the hands big and hairy or soft and delicate with finely manicured nails?"
Roland shook his head.
"He doesn't remember," said Tami to her fellow life-giver.
"What should we do now?" said Tamika. "Should we report it?"
Tami thought for a moment, screwing up her mouth in concentration.
"Well, first we should get Roland something to wear. Remember, People First."
That's right, thought Tamika. The Nice People Party should have thought of that first.
Tami began to rise and Tamika followed.
"That sounds like a good idea," said Roland as he, too, began to rise. "You have very soft legs, by the way."
Tami, Tamika and Roland made their way down the corridor. Roland's bare feet slapped loudly against the slick pavement.
"Do you have to walk like that?" said Tami.
"Sorry," said Roland. The slapping noises stopped.
"Where are we going?" said Tamika.
"The girls' locker room, to find Roland something to wear."
"Wouldn't the boys' locker room be better?"
Tami shook her head.
"I'm not familiar with the boys' locker room. Besides, I have a plan."
The three reached their destination.
"Wait here," said Tami. She entered the locker room as Tamika and Roland stood outside. Tamika looked Roland over and felt a sudden wave of concern wash over her again.
"Are you in pain, Roland?"
Roland undulated the tiny portions of his scrawny frame.
"I feel OK," he said. "Maybe a little stiff."
"Oh," said Tamika. "Would you like me to rub your legs again?"
Roland thought it over.
"That's OK," he said. "Maybe later."
Tamika nodded. Tami emerged from the locker room. She had her cheerleader costume on now.
"OK, the coast is clear. Come on."
Tami waved Tamika and Roland in and led them to the cheerleader section of the locker room. Tami really looked good in her costume, thought Tamika. Her long, sleek legs flashing confidently beneath the skimpy powder blue skirt, her lustrous crown of jet black hair cascading invitingly around her winsome shoulders. Other girls had trouble pulling it off. They needed to be actively engaging their pom poms or standing beside other cheerleaders to look the part. But Tami looked natural. She looked good.
A grey, feathered outfit lay on the bench next to Tami and Tamika's lockers. Tami picked it up and held it out to Roland.
"Here. Put this on," she said.
"What is it?" said Roland.
"It's our school mascot costume," said Tami. "You can wear it till we get you home."
"All right," said Roland.
The Schlicter Valley Emu, thought Tamika. It had been awhile since anyone had donned the beak and feathers, not since the last mascot was driven out of town by the merciless tauntings of the Schlicter Valley faithful.
"Put on your cheerleader costume," said Tami to Tamika. "Roland won't stand out as much if he's surrounded by cheerleaders."
"I'll get dressed back here," said Roland going behind a row of lockers.
"Oh, thanks Roland," said Tamika as she began to undress. Not that it would have been bad if Roland had seen her in her underwear since she had seen him, examined him almost, in his. And she had rubbed his legs, too. Not that she would let Roland rub her legs. Unless they hurt, of course. But still, after having seen Roland in his underwear and rubbing his legs, she felt a certain closeness to him. She wondered if he felt the same way about her.
"How do I look?" said Roland as he emerged from behind the lockers. Roland seemed transformed. No longer the pale, spindly-limbed outcast lying helplessly on pavement, but a proud bird, flightless, mind you, but proud, strong and courageous. Meaty. Tamika wondered if Roland felt meaty. She hoped so. It was something that she couldn't help but notice about him, his lack of meat, as he lay before on the ground.
"Like an emu," said Tami approvingly.
"How do you feel?" said Tamika.
"I feel OK. I feel…"
Roland felt the sides of his shapely, emu-bulby body with his feathered wings.
"Yeah, I guess meaty. At least from the outside."
Tamika nodded. Maybe Roland could keep the costume for awhile. No one would miss it. He could wear it around the house to build his self-esteem.
"OK, now here's the plan," said Tami. "Roland is Suni, a female exchange student from Pakistan that we're letting wear the emu costume to get a feeling for American culture."
"Well, just in case someone catches him in the girls' locker room, he won't arouse suspicion or anxiety if he's a girl, right?"
"OK. So we'll take him with us to our classes this morning, then take him home during lunch. Is that OK with you, Roland?"
"I can make it home alone," said Roland.
"Not in that costume," said Tami.
"Emus can run fast, though, can't they?" said Roland.
"Sure, if you were a real emu we'd let you run home on your own. But your not, so you need us for protection, right?"
"Fine," he said.
"You really look good," said Tamika trying to nod some encouragement into be-emued Roland.
"OK," said Tami. "Now give me your books."
"Well, you're not going to be able to carry them around with you with all those feathers. I'll put them in my locker and we'll come back for them later."
"All right," said Roland.
Tami opened her locker and put Roland's books inside.
"And let me give you my locker combination just in case you have to come back here on your own to get something. It's 36-24-36. Can you remember that?"
"No, no," said Tami. "Oh, never mind. Come on, let's go. I don't want to be late for class."
Tami, Tamika and Roland approached Ms. Min's class. They could hear Ms. Min's voice from outside talking about their paper.
"Wait," said Tami and stuck her head inside the classroom. She saw three desks near back, then turned back to Tamika and Roland. "OK, there are three desks near the back. We go in, straight to the desks, don't look up, nice and natural. Ready?" Tamika and Roland nodded. "OK, let's go."
The three costumed students made a bee line to the desks, heads down. Tami and Tamika smiled quickly to each other. Mission accomplished.
"Tami? Tamika?" said Ms. Min, "and…"
"Uh, she's an exchange student from Pakistan," said Tami.
"The Schlicter Valley Emu is from Pakistan?"
The class tittered.
"No. Suni is an exchange student from Pakistan. We're letting her be the Emu for today so she can get a taste of American culture."
"Oh, well, welcome to America, Suni. We hope you'll enjoy your visit."
Roland waved a feathered hand.
"Well," said Ms. Min "to continue. Miguel. You were saying something about something you were calling the Pie Theory?"
"Yeah," said Miguel. "I was just saying that to live in a civil society, you had to think about things like how much is there to go around. If there was a lot of stuff that would be great, but there's not, so people fight over whatever's there."
"Oh, so you're saying that given the limited resources on this planet, a civil society is impossible."
"No, no," said Miguel. "Well, yeah."
"Hm. Interesting," said Ms. Min. "And what does the rest of the class think."
A silence hovered over the classroom.
"I subscribe to the Pie Theory," said Lulu.
"So do I," said Wendy with a giggle.
"Oh really? And why's that?" said the teacher.
"Well, because it makes sense," said Lulu. "It's all around us."
"The Pie Theory is all around us?"
"Yeah. There's only so many licorice whips in the candy machine. There are only so many desks in this class that aren't broken. There are only so many people on this planet that aren't assholes."
"And people fight over the good ones."
"They fight or they feel like fighting. Or they're defeated or they feel like they're defeated. That's society. That's the Pie Theory."
Other students muttered in agreement.
"So we're all agreed then. There's no hope for a civil society because of the Pie Theory," said Ms. Min. "Eppie, do you agree with that?"
"Uh, no," said Eppie.
Lulu screwed up her face in a fit of dyspepsia.
"I think that the Pie Theory exists, but that it's not absolute. There may be a limited amount of resources, but the possible combinations and allocations are much larger than the number of people on this planet."
"So you're saying that if everyone cooperated then everyone could get what they wanted."
"But it ain't gonna happen because there are so many assholes showing their ugly faces where they don't belong," said Lulu shooting a hot glare in Eppie's direction.
"So what Lulu is saying," said Ms. Min, "is that while cooperation is possible, it isn't probable because of conflicts in temperament and thinking." Ms. Min turned to Roland. "Suni, what do you think about all this?"
Roland looked at Tami who shook her head slightly.
Roland looked at Ms. Min and shrugged.
"Suni doesn't speak any English," said Tami.
"Doesn't speak any English? I've never heard of an exchange student who didn't speak any English."
"She's shy," said Tamika patting Roland on the shoulder. Roland bent his feathered head downward in a show of humility.
"Oh, she doesn't seem so shy to me," said Ms. Min as she walked over to Roland. "In fact…" She grabbed hold of the top of Roland's emu head, gathered the material in her fist and yanked it off like a magician. "Roland!" she said sharply.
The class went wild with laughter.
"Ms. Min," said Roland nodding.
"Ms. Min, I can explain," said Tami.
"Asshole, assholes," said Lulu under her breath.
"Go ahead," said Ms. Min.
Tami, Tamika and Roland walked down the street, still in their respective costumes. They had been sent to Principal Nolo's office where they were reprimanded and given appointments to speak with the school's counselors.
"Well, this isn't going to look good on my resume," said Tami.
"At least we weren't suspended," said Tamika.
"Why should we be? We did nothing wrong."
"In fact, we were the victims," continued Tami. "At least Roland was the victim. We were the, uh, saviors, the rescuers, the Good Samaritans."
"At least they know about it now."
"Agh, they're not gonna do anything," said Tami.
"Because they never do anything. They're in it for themselves. We help Roland. We report the perpetrators and what happens? They make us appointments to talk to counselors. I don't need to talk to any counselor."
"That Ms. Ablodoglio's pretty hot," said Roland.
Tami looked Roland over. Maybe they had rubbed his body a little too long.
"Do you think this'll hurt our campaign?" said Tamika.
"I don't know," said Tami. "The class was laughing at us when Roland got unmasked. We might have trouble regaining our credibility."
"What campaign?" said Roland.
"Remember the Nice People Party I asked you if you wanted to join?" said Tamika.
"Nice People Party. What's the Nice People Party?" said Tami.
"I mean the People First Party."
"Oh, so you're running for office?"
"Yeah," said Tami without enthusiasm.
"Well, I could explain to everyone how it was my fault and how you were just trying to help."
"We don't blame you, Roland," said Tami with a sigh. "It wasn't your fault."
"It was those three guys who took your clothes. Remember?" said Tamika.
Roland thought for a bit.
"Well, what if we make them return my clothes and apologize or something."
Tami shook her head.
"That's not gonna happen."
"Well, we don't even know who they were. Tamika, did you recognize
Tamika shook her head.
"What about Principal Nolo? He knows about it now."
Tami let out a little sarcastic breath of air.
"We tell the guy and we're the ones getting punished, y'know?"
"What would the People First Party do?" said Tamika.
Tami chewed her lower lip.
"The People First Party realizes that life is not without its disappointments. We put people first, we paid the price and now we move on," she said surveying the road ahead. "Are you sure you live around here, Roland? We've been walking an awfully long time."
"My feet are starting to hurt," said Tamika.
"Uh, yeah," said Roland waving his hand towards a couple of houses. "Over there."
"Which one?" said Tami. "The brown or the purple?"
Roland looked them both over.
"Uh, the brown," he said.
"You're sure," said Tami.
"Yes," said Roland nodding.
"So why don't you go in?"
"I thought we'd, you know, like walk around some more."
"Oh, Roland," said Tamika with a groan.
"Well, maybe some other time," said Roland grimly as he turned and made his way towards the brown house.
Eppie sat at what was becoming her favorite bench in her little sanctuary of a park. Well, maybe not so much a sanctuary since yesterday when Lulu and company had violated her space. Yet still, it was not Schlicter Valley. It was still quiet. It was her favorite bench. It was nice.
Eppie took a drink of her soda.
Why had she let herself get dragged into that discussion about the Pie Theory, she thought. What had she said anyway? Something about allocation and cooperation? No. Cooperation was Ms. Min's word. Then Eppie had shrugged, so it became her word. Cooperation was such a personal thing. It meant you had to spend your time with people you might not want to. And some people might use that time for their own personal ends. And then that girl, Lulu, had said something about too many "assholes", then glared at Eppie. That was personal.
Eppie looked up and noticed someone entering her domain. Was it Lulu again? No. This person was alone. Who was it then? It looked like a girl. It looked like Mavis.
The girl sat on a bench with an apple. Was it Mavis? Eppie looked more closely. It was Mavis.
It was Mavis, thought Eppie. Mavis. Mavis. You're late. Where were you yesterday when I needed you?
But that wasn't fair. If Mavis didn't want to respond to her signals, that was fine. She would still leave things for her in her will. But wasn't there something Eppie had wanted to say to her? She thought for a moment, then got up and began making her way across the park.
Eppie had wanted to be her friend, she remembered that. She stood over the girl with the apple and waited.
"I'm sorry," she said.
She had wanted to apologize. To tell Mavis she was sorry for what she had said about her in class the other day. Eppie had criticized Lulu for making the discussion personal, but she had done the same thing to Mavis.
She waited for Mavis to respond, but she did not. She sat like a statue. Or a painting. Girl with Apple.
"I almost got beat up yesterday," said Eppie.
Mavis lowered her eyes.
"I came here yesterday, by myself, and some other girls came. One of them didn't seem to like me very much. She wanted one of her friends to hurt me. I said something stupid and instead of hurting me, her friend fell to the grass laughing with one of the other girls."
Mavis ran a finger lightly around the rim of the apple, then up the stem and gently rubbed the tip with her thumb and index finger.
"I turned to leave. I thought the first girl would hit me when my back was turned, but she didn't."
Mavis looked up and held the apple out to Eppie.
"Oh, no. I don't…I just wanted to say I was sorry for what I said in class. That was…"
Eppie's voice trailed off.
Should she apologize or leave her alone? Would Eppie want Lulu to apologize or leave her alone?
"I'm not mad at you," said Mavis.
Mavis let the apple fall back into her lap and held her hand out to Eppie.
"Sit with me," she said.
"Oh, I don't want to, uh…"
"Disturb me?" said Mavis. She looked down at her lap, then up at Eppie through her thick dark lashes and smiled.
Eppie took Mavis's hand and let herself be drawn down. She had never noticed how beautiful Mavis was. In class, distracted and distant, Mavis seemed ordinary. But now she was beautiful. No. More than beautiful. She was sublime.
They sat quietly for a moment. It was nice. This park, this bench, this moment. Mavis drew her hand away and Eppie felt a softness slipping away from her. Not the bad softness that Eppie had seen in Ms. Frackle and Ms. Min and maybe even herself. But a good softness. A feeling of warmth. Of safeness.
"I don't like it here," said Mavis dreamily. "This school. These people. They're so…"
"Schlicter Valley?" said Eppie.
"Nobody likes it here," said Eppie. "Except Lulu."
Mavis smiled again, then turned her face towards Eppie.
"Then why did you come here?"
Eppie thought for a moment. Why did she come here? To get away? To hide away? To find a way?
"I don't know," she said with a shrug.
"Mm," said Mavis beginning to trace rings around the apple again. She looked up at Eppie, then fell towards her, stopping only when the edge of her lip touched the whirl of bony flesh that surrounded Eppie's outer ear. "I'll tell you what," she whispered softly, placing the apple in Eppie's hand. "Meet me here tomorrow morning and I'll tell you a secret."
"Hey, Miguel," said a voice from above.
Miguel looked up. It was that stocky girl from Ms. Min's class, Lulu, and she was smiling. At least he thought she was smiling. Her thin, pale lips stretched tightly to the corners of her mouth and from his seated position, Miguel could see the bottoms of her upper teeth exposed, ragged and menacing.
"Hey," said Miguel instinctively drawing his candy bar and soda can closer to his side.
Lulu looked amusedly at her friend, Barelle. Miguel didn't see the other two girls that Lulu was usually with, the skinny, giggly girl with the pretty face and the big, hulking one with the husky laugh.
"I liked what you said in class today," said Lulu. "About the Pie Theory."
Miguel nodded and smiled at Lulu. What did this girl want?
Lulu reached into her pocket, whipped out a dollar bill and handed it to the other girl.
"Hey Barelle, go to the candy machine and buy Miguel some licorice whips."
"Go buy it yourself," said Barelle and wandered off to the side.
Lulu snorted a laugh and dismissed Barelle with a wave of her hand.
"Forget her," she said. "You wanna…" She tried to give Miguel the limp, grit-covered paper bill, but Miguel held up his hand and shook his head.
"Yeah," said Lulu scratching the side of her chin with one hand, then leaning in closer to Miguel. "Liked it a lot."
She held the bill in front of Miguel's face.
"You know who this is?"
Miguel leaned back slightly and squinted at the familiar green figure in the oval frame.
"It looks like my grandmother."
Lulu snorted at Barelle and jerked a thumb at Miguel.
"Hey, he's a funny guy," she said, then turned back to Miguel. "No. This is you."
"I'm my grandmother?"
"Hey Barelle, Miguel's still trying to be funny over here."
She turned back to Miguel.
"I like that," she said placing a gnarled hand on Miguel's shoulder. She tilted her head back slightly, stretched her thin, pale lips to the corners of her mouth and exposed the ragged edges of her upper teeth again.
"I like you," she said.
Miguel nodded and leaning back slightly, tried to return her smile. After all, he could feel her gnarly hand resting firmly on his trembling shoulder, could feel the strain of her thin, pale lips stretched horribly across her granite caps as she gazed deep into his helpless eyes.
"And I like you, too," said Miguel shakily, trying to maintain a calm fascade.
"Good. Good," said Lulu nodding, unstretching her pale lips till they assumed their natural downward slope.
Lulu removed her hand from Miguel's shoulder and sat down beside him. She buried her face in her hands, breathed a heavy sigh and sat like that for the longest time. Miguel wondered if he should leave. He started to rise, but Lulu's hand reached over and rested on top of his knee.
"Don't go," she said.
"I won't," said Miguel, his eyes wide.
Lulu raised her head.
"Where's Wendy and Technita?" she said wearily to Barelle.
Barelle cocked her head to the left. Miguel looked and saw the two laughing girls stumbling in their direction.
"Where've you been?" said Lulu with seeming interest.
The pair of laughers stopped their stumbling and stood midway between Barelle and Lulu.
"Technita had to go to the potty," said Wendy with a squeak. "She's got the curse."
"Is that right?" said Lulu to Technita.
Technita smiled, looked at Miguel and blushed.
"Did you take care of it?"
Technita looked down at the ground and nodded.
"You threw it away?"
Technita nodded again.
"Or did you flush it down the toilet?"
Technita was silent for a moment, then nodded again. Wendy shreiked with delight.
"Technita," said Lulu with a sigh. "You know you're not supposed to do that. It clogs up all the pipes, remember?"
Technita nodded, her wide, sloping shoulders beginning to rollick with laughter.
"Technita's got the curse and now the whole school's got the curse," squeaked Wendy and buried her delighted face in the crook of her hulking friend's rollicking shoulder.
What was so funny, thought Miguel. Hell, he flushed things down the toilet all the time. He studied Technita. A big girl. A very big girl. But solid. Miguel could feel the strength in her strapping limbs even from back here. He was afraid of Lulu, but Technita was the one to watch. And that girl hanging from Technita and dissolving like Alka Seltzer in a pitcher of strawberry Kool Aid. Wendy, was that her name? He knew who she was. Thin girl. Slight. But with just the right curves to make her interesting. It was her face, though, that made her special. Pretty was the word to describe it. Extremely. Long, girlie lashes framing a pair of sparkling green eyes that danced with a mirthful insanity and a big, friendly cartoon mouth that could hit every note of the upper emotional scale with the flick of an artist's pen.
Lulu noticed Miguel studying Wendy.
"Pretty, isn't she."
Wendy became aware that she was being discussed and turned solemn. Lulu got up, whispered something in Wendy's ear and sat her down next to Miguel.
"OK, let's try this again," said Lulu. She took the worn out dollar bill from her pocket and held it up. "Who's this?"
"George Washington," said Wendy with a giggle.
"And what is he?"
"President," said Wendy confidently. "And a heck of a kisser." Wendy dissolved into laughter, leaning against Miguel for support.
"That's right," said Lulu. "And what's this?"
Lulu traced her finger around the oval frame of George's familiar snapshot. Wendy studied the lines and came up empty. She slipped her hand in Miguel's and leaned her head against his shoulder.
"Miguel, what's this?"
"I don't know," he said, feeling the cool softness of Wendy's hand resting in his. "A line? A border?"
"No," said Lulu. "It's a pie."
A little pop of laughter escaped from Wendy. She tightened her grip on Miguel's hand and then relaxed.
"A pie," said Miguel.
"Yes," said Lulu. "Remember? The Pie Theory? Your theory?"
Miguel shook his head.
"It's not my theory," he said.
"Sure it is," said Lulu, her thin, pale lips beginning to stretch again.
Now it was Miguel's turn to tighten his grip. Wendy let out a little yelp. Miguel tried to relaxed.
"You brought it up, so it's your theory. And this," said Lulu, pointing to the green-tinted portrait on the dollar bill, "is you."
"I'm my grandmother?"
Wendy buried her face in Miguel's shoulder, her own slender shoulders rollicking with laughter.
"No," said Lulu, tightening her own grip, though she held no one's hand. "President."
"President," said Miguel, beginning to get a little annoyed. "President of
"Why, President of the Pie Theory Party," said Lulu triumphantly. "President of Schlicter Valley High."
Schlicter Valley High, thought Miguel. Who wants to be President of Schlicter Valley High?
"Why me?" said Miguel with a wave of his hand. "Why not you. Or Wendy."
Wendy smiled and began tracing her finger up Miguel's arm.
"Because nobody likes us," said Lulu.
Wendy smiled. Or was it a frown?
"Sure they do. Everybody likes you," said Miguel.
"No they don't," said Lulu. "Everybody likes you."
"No, no, no," said Miguel, dismissing the thought with a wave of his hand.
"Yes," said Lulu. "Everybody likes you. I could see it in class when you were talking about the Pie Theory and everyone was agreeing with you."
"That doesn't mean they like me," said Miguel. "Besides, you were talking about the Pie Theory, too."
"Yeah," said Lulu. "And you could feel the temperature of the room drop about 90 degrees."
"Well, that's because you're so scary sometimes," said Miguel.
A staticky smirk came from Wendy's direction.
"I mean, not scary, but…"
"No no," said Lulu. "I'm scary and you're not."
"But that's why we need someone like you. Someone who everyone can relate to. And you, my friend, need someone behind you to help with the plotting of your campaign. And that's me. And Wendy. And everyone." She waved her hand across the various young women who presently occupied Miguel's line of sight. "So what do you say?"
Miguel looked over Lulu and Technita and Barelle and Wendy. He felt like kissing Wendy, she was so beautiful. He wished everyone else would go away. He then felt Wendy's hand give the slightest of movements, felt her soft cheek resting against his shoulder and felt himself begin to dissolve.
"All right," he said.
Tsu and Amelia were eating lunch in Amelia's office.
"So, how's your plan to change the fiber of Schlicter Valley High coming along?"
"Well," said Amelia. "I've given it a lot of thought and I've come to the conclusion that the problem with this school is that it has no direction, no purpose."
"Oh," said Tsu. "So what direction would you like to take the school and why?"
"The direction is up. The why is because I'm sick of this place, that's why."
"Why don't you just leave?" said Tsu.
"Didn't I already tell you that East Nareen won't take me?"
"Go to some other school."
"Other schools aren't much better than Schlicter. I got seniority here. I got connections. I can do more here than anyplace else."
"So what are you gonna do?"
"I'm gonna lift this school up."
"Yes, but how?"
"How do you lift your students up?"
"Oh," said Tsu letting out a breath of air. "I teach them."
"Well, I lecture, assign readings and papers…"
"And this lifts them up?"
"It teaches them," said Tsu. "I hope it lifts them up."
"So," said Amelia, "teaching them and lifting them up aren't really the same thing."
"Well, I guess not."
"So what do you do to lift them up?"
"Well," said Tsu, trying to think. "I try to teach them important things."
"And teaching them important things lifts them up?"
"Sure, if they're paying attention."
"And how do you make sure they're paying attention?"
"Well, by trying to make it interesting…"
"Aha!" said Amelia.
"And how do you make things interesting?"
"Well, by choosing subjects that might be relevant to their lives, by presenting the subject in a clear and compelling manner, by being fair, honest, open, engaging…"
"Aha," said Amelia. "So would you say that the majority of effort in making a subject interesting falls on you."
"I suppose," said Tsu with a shrug. "I am the teacher and I feel that I have certain responsibilities to…"
"Yes yes. So in answer to your original question, how do I, Amelia Ablodoglio, intend to lift this school up? I intend to lift this school up by making things interesting."
"What things?" said Tsu.
"Important things. Any things. The important thing is to engage the hearts and minds and bodies of the student population and the rest will follow."
"Yes. The thing is, people wanna be engaged, physically, emotionally and spiritually. And these other things, religion, politics, society, are just the vehicles that people use to get their daily injection of the good stuff."
"So how are you gonna engage them?"
"By giving them what they want."
"And what do they want?"
"To be engaged."
"You're losing me here."
"No," said Amelia. "You're just hung up on the idea that people want some thing like a job or a spouse."
"So what are you saying, that people could be just as happy married to a fire hydrant as they could another person?"
"If the fire hydrant engaged them as physically, emotionally and spiritually as a person, sure."
"If they did," said Tsu.
"Yes. If they did, they would."
Tsu looked skeptically at her friend.
"OK, look," said Amelia. "Forget the fire hydrant. OK. Listen. Suppose a person is in an unhappy relationship. Why is this?"
"Because they're not engaged?"
"Yes. Then suppose another person comes along and this person is charming, attractive and spiritual."
"Yes. So does the person in the unengaging relationship remain in that first person, or find fulfillment and happiness with the engagingly attractive second person?"
"Number two. Unless there are children involved or person number one has a lot of money."
"Two other engagements that we won't get into at the moment," said Amelia. "But the point is that the attraction, the motivation is not the particular person, but rather those things that engage the person in the relationship."
"What about loyalty?"
"If loyalty truly engages that person, then remaining in that original relationship would be an acceptable option. But if that person remains in that relationship out of a misguided sense of loyalty, then we have a person out of whack and in need of our services."
"Of the party we're going to create."
"We're gonna throw a party?"
"No. We're going to create a party. A political party."
"Why?" said Tsu. "Are you gonna run for office?"
"No," said Amelia.
"Cause I'm not running," said Tsu.
"You're too old."
"Oh yeah? Well, you've got bad hair."
"No no," said Amelia. "I'm too old, too. The political party is for the students."
"You're going to use the students as part of your plan."
"I'm liking this less and less," said Tsu.
"Who better to lift the school up than the students?"
"The students are here to learn, not to lift things."
"Agh, they'll love it."
"They could also get hurt."
"We'll make it voluntary."
"But look what they've got, a crummy education in a shitty school…"
"that's gonna get torn down anyway."
"To each thing there is a season."
"But I can make this place great. And they'll be the ones to benefit."
"Through what? Your cockamamie Engagement Party?"
"It's not cockamamie. It's the way of the world. Engagement Party. That's a catchy name, by the way. I'll think I'll use it."
"Fine. Use the name, not the students."
"I'm not using them. I'm facilitating them. I'm counseling them. That's my job."
"Your job is to counsel them on individual problems. Not use them in some grand scheme that you don't even know will work."
"They're having student elections anyway. What's the harm? What would be the difference from my counseling them on the direction they should take and you're teaching them on the use of various political strategies."
"That's my job. I'm a teacher."
"But you wouldn't object to them using what you taught them in their campaign."
"No. As long as they used it to accomplish something that they themselves came up with, not for my own personal ends."
"Fine, that's what I'll do, too."
"But you just told me that you're doing this to lift the school up."
"Forget that. You've shown me the error of my ways and I repent. Instead of forming this party to lift the school up, I offer it freely and openly to any who wish to use it for their own personal ends."
Tsu looked at her friend skeptically again.
"So, are you in?"
Tami and Tamika sat in front of their lockers in the cheerleader section of the girls' locker room. They had gotten Roland home safely yesterday, suffered through their half day suspension and now were ready to begin another day.
"That's not going to look good," said Tami shaking her head as she began unlocking her locker.
"What. Brown top with a pleated skirt?"
"No," said Tami annoyed. "Our suspension yesterday. On our records. The worm of iniquity rears its ugly head in the pit of my once pristine consciousness."
"Oh," said Tamika. "Well, didn't Principal Nolo say we could clear our records with 200 hours of community service?"
"Community service," said Tami with a dismissive snort. "Community service is something convicted felons do to avoid spending time in the slammer."
She banged on the metal door of her locker for emphasis.
"We'd be helping people though, wouldn't we?" said Tamika. "People First."
"People First. People First freely," said Tami. "People First willingly. People First happily. Not People First penalty. Not People First iniquity."
Tamika let Tami seeth for a few moments.
"But we've done community service before and we were happy."
"That was voluntary!" cried Tami. "We did community service before because we're a People First people who revel in our humanity! Who are humble in the face of adversity, but steadfast in our determination to overcome! Justice! Justice! My heart cries out for justice and there is not a soul to speak!" And with that, Tami flung open her locker and let out a blood curdling scream. She shot up and pointed at a body lying curled and lifeless inside the familiar metal box. "Roland! What are you doing in there!"
Roland lolled his pale, lifeless head towards Tami and Tamika.
"Oh, hi guys. Is it morning yet?"
Tami grabbed Roland by the shirt front. "You get out of there right now!" she hissed and yanked Roland out of her locker like a big dummy.
"You idiot! What are you doing in there?"
"Oh, well, you gave me your combination yesterday, I thought it was an invitation to spend the night."
Tami threw up her hands and stalked away to blow off some steam.
"Roland," said Tamika. "You spent the night here?"
"Well, you know, I needed some place to stay."
"Tami, Tami," Tamika called out to her friend. "Did you hear that? Roland said he spent last night in your locker because he need a place to stay."
Tamika heard the sound of fists banging against metal from the other side of the room. She turned back to Roland.
"But we took you home yesterday, didn't we? Why didn't you stay there?"
"Oh. Well. They threw me out."
"Did you hear that, Tami? They threw him…" Tamika turned back to Roland. "They threw you out? Why did your parents throw you out?"
"Well, they're not really my parents," said Roland.
"Really," said Tamika. "So you're like a, a foster child or something? Did you hear that, Tami? Roland's like a foster child or something."
"I'm not, no."
"You're not no what? You're not no foster child?"
"So what, they're like your relatives or friends?"
Roland shook his head.
"Acquaintances? Religious commune?"
Roland shook his head again.
"So, you, like, knew them, didn't you?"
"Tami, Roland says…"
"I heard him," said Tami, back from her sojourn. "So. Roland. You walked into a house of complete strangers and they threw you out, eh?"
"Remember, People First," said Tamika to Tami. Tami screwed up a smile for her friend.
"So. Roland. Wandering soul. Babe in the woods. Why didn't you tell us?"
"Yes, Roland, why didn't you tell us? Remember, People First. Nice People First."
Tami gave Roland a sympathetic nod.
"Well, I didn't want to get you in anymore trouble, you know, after your suspension at all."
"Did you hear that, Tami?" said Tamika with a sympathetic shake of her head.
"I'm sitting right here, Tamika. OK, Roland, now that was very nice of you to not want to get me and Tamika in trouble, but then why did you come here to stay in my locker? Don't you think that that could get us into trouble as well?"
Roland shook his head.
"Well, it was getting late. And you gave me your combination…"
"And you gave him your combination," said Tamika sympathetically. "I might have done the same thing."
Tami gave her a funny look.
"But," said Roland. "It's daylight now. My mind is clear. I can see that I've upset you again, so I guess I'll be moving on."
Roland began to gather his things.
"Roland…" said Tami unhappily.
"No,no," said Roland. "I've caused you enough trouble. I'll always think kindly of you. Here." Roland handed Tami a familiar piece of material. "I washed your brassiere last night and used it as a pillow. I hope you don't mind."
"It's very soft, by the way."
"Now, Tami. Roland," said Tamika, holding out her hand to stop him. "Stay in my locker."
"What?" said Tami.
"Stay in my locker, Roland. As long as you want. I don't mind."
Tami gave Tamika another funny look. Tamika raised the palms of her hands in desperation.
"Oh, I couldn't. Really," said Roland.
Suddenly, a voice came from the other side of the room.
"Is everything OK over there?"
It was Mrs. Dooley, the dedicated, though slightly obtuse, girls' physical education instructor.
"Quick, quick, get back in my locker!" whispered Tami to Roland.
"But I thought…"
"Never mind what you thought, just do it!"
Tami grabbed Roland by the shirt tails, shoved him back in her locker and slammed the door shut.
"Shut up!" hissed Tami.
"Is everything OK here, girls?" said Mrs. Dooley appearing from around the bend.
"Oh, everything fine," said Tami cheerfully.
"Peachy keeny," said Tamika with a smile.
(Je 21) "I thought I heard something."
"Oh, it was probably just…noise," said Tami.
"Noisy noise," said Tamika laughing.
"Achoo!" said Tami quickly, doubling over and banging on her locker with her fist.
"There it is again, Mrs. Dooley," said Tamika laughing, then banging twice on Tami's locker. "Noisy noise."
"Noisy noise," said Tami laughing, with a final locker hit.
"Well good," said Mrs. Dooley, slightly flustered. "Then maybe you girls can help me unpack some boxes in my office.
Tami and Tamika exchanged quizzical glances.
"Oh sure, we'd love to," said Tami.
"We love helping," said Tamika.
Eppie walked towards the park. It was still rather early, about a half an hour before school started. Mavis had said to meet her here in the morning. This must be what she meant. But what kind of secret could Mavis have to tell her? Would she even be there? She seemed like a flighty sort of person. Yet there she was at the bench they had sat at yesterday. Mavis waved at Eppie and seemed happy to see her. Eppie waved back and smiled. She liked Mavis. She just didn't understand her.
"Hi," said Mavis brightly, holding out her hand.
"Hey," said Eppie, taking Mavis's hand and letting herself be drawn down again. "I wasn't sure you'd be here."
Mavis smiled quizzically at Eppie.
"I mean I wasn't sure how early in the morning you meant," said Eppie.
"Me, too," she said and laughed some more.
Eppie laughed too, but was beginning to feel a little uneasy.
"Uh, you said you had something to tell me? A secret?"
Mavis nodded excitedly.
"Uh huh. And a surprise."
"Oh," said Eppie. Now it was her turn for a quizzical smile. "What is it?"
"Well," said Mavis. "I…am running…for class…president!"
"Oh well, that's wonderful!" said Eppie trying to reflect her benchmate's excitement. "But what's the surprise?"
Mavis fixed Eppie with an expectant gaze.
"You're…running…with me!" she squealed and threw her arms around Eppie.
"Oh Mavis, no," said Eppie struggling.
"Yes!" squealed Mavis.
Mavis unwrapped her arms and looked fondly into her running mate's whirling eyes.
"Because it was meant to be!" she exclaimed. "Mavis and Eppie! Eppie and Mavis! Don't you feel it, too?"
Oh no, thought Eppie. The signal for help she had sent out to Mavis the other day must have gotten mixed up somehow.
"Oh Mavis, I can't run," said Eppie, suddenly becoming tired.
Mavis began to unwind.
"Why not?" she said.
"Because I," said Eppie searching for the right words, "don't like doing that sort of thing. I came here, to Schlicter Valley, to not do that sort of thing. You understand, don't you?"
Eppie looked at Mavis for a reply, but Mavis seemed lost in thought.
"You understand, right? I mean I think it's wonderful you're running and I'll do anything I can to help you, but I'd rather not run myself, OK?"
Eppie touched Mavis on the arm, but Mavis didn't move.
"Oh. OK," she said in a small voice.
"OK," said Eppie, still feeling a little weighed down. "So I guess I'll see you in class. We can talk more about your campaign then."
Eppie approached Ms. Min's class in a cloud of thought. The way things had gone that morning was upsetting to her. She felt she had hurt Mavis again. Mavis's secret had seemed to make Mavis happy and Eppie was happy for her. But the surprise. What a surprise. It involved Eppie. And Mavis had seemed even happier at the surprise than she did at the secret. She had thrown her arms around Eppie and given her a hug. That was a surprise, too. But then Eppie had had to turn her down and Mavis had turned pensive.
Eppie entered Ms. Min's class and Mavis was not there. Eppie sat in a desk near the back
Oh Mavis, Mavis, why aren't you here?
Eppie had even thought up some ideas for Mavis's campaign. Shouldn't that be enough? She was going to help Mavis with her campaign. Friends help friends and Eppie was going to help Mavis. And yet where was she now?
Eppie heard someone saying something about pies. Mavis had given Eppie an apple and a hug. Eppie had given Mavis two stories about herself. One that drew Mavis closer, the other, that drove her away. Would it be that terrible for Eppie to run with Mavis? They could run a nice, simple campaign, get lost in the crowd, short concession speech, then back to the old routine. It was worth a thought.
But why did Mavis even want to run for office? It didn't seem like her. And President, no less. Someone else must have given her the idea.
Ms. Frackle, thought Eppie. For she was Mavis's counselor. An agent of influence.
"Did you say something, Eppie?" came a voice.
Oh no. Eppie hoped she hadn't said Ms. Frackle's name out loud.
"Uh, no, Ms., uh…"
"Well, maybe you'd like to tell us your thoughts on what was just said," said Ms. Min.
"Could you refresh my memory a little?"
Eppie heard a snort of derision from Lulu's direction.
"The Pie Theory," said Ms. Min.
"Oh, the Pie Theory," said Eppie. "Are we still talking about that?"
(2004 note: Connie and Wendy are the same characters. I was trying out new names.)
"Are we still talking about that?" said Lulu sarcastically as she slammed her books down on the bench. "That girl has to be destroyed."
"Give it up, Lulu," said Barelle morosely, sitting down.
"But she wants to die."
Technita sat down next to Barelle.
"She doesn't want to die. Nobody wants to die."
Technita rested her lumbering head on her friend's shoulder. Barelle patted her on the knee.
"Besides, you have your campaign to think about, remember?"
"That's right," said Lulu rubbing her fingers together. "Where's Miguel?"
Lulu looked around until she saw Miguel and Connie listing in the hallways.
"Miguel! Connie! Stop that nonsense and get over here!"
She saw Miguel and Connie look in her direction, then they whispered something to one another and Lulu heard Connie giggle.
"Don’t think I don't know what you're talking about over there because I do! Now get over here!"
Miguel and Connie whispered something else to each other then started making their way to the bench.
"OK," said Lulu. "Now that we're all here, let's get organized."
Connie giggled. Lulu grabbed Connie and sat her on the other side of the bench from Technita and Barelle. Technita lifted her whoozy head from Barelle's shoulder and began to slowly slide her way over to Connie.
"OK. Miguel. What did you think about what was said in class today?"
Miguel leaned against a pole next to Barelle and shrugged.
"I don't know," he said. "I wasn't paying attention."
He smiled at Connie who giggled again.
"Connie, would you stop giggling?" said Lulu.
"I thought you liked it when I giggled," said Connie with a giggle.
Technita rested her head on Connie's giggly shoulder and relaxed a little.
"Not now," said Lulu. "We have to focus."
Connie became silent. She wound one of her hands around Technita's massive bulb, rested it on her opposing cheek and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
"Now Miguel, what you just said is not acceptable. You're our Presidential candidate and it's imperative that you be up on everything. If someone wants to know about the budget for building maintenance. Snap!" Lulu snapped her fingers. "You've got the answer. If someone asks your position on school violence. Snap! You're there. Got that?"
"What about the Pie Theory?" said Miguel.
"Hey," said Lulu. "Everything flows from the Pie Theory. Maintenance budget? We only have so much money to allocate. Here's what maintenance is getting and here's why. School violence? Too many assholes. Here's what we do about them and here's why."
"What do we do about the assholes?" said Barelle.
"Shut 'em down," said Lulu.
"How do you shut down an asshole?"
"You can't," said Barelle.
"Yes you can," said Lulu.
"By not feeding it."
"How do you feed an asshole?"
"You don't feed the asshole," said Lulu. "You feed the mouth and the mouth feeds the asshole. So when you cut off the mouth, you cut off the asshole."
"How do you cut off an asshole? Wouldn't that just make it bigger?"
"You don't cut off the asshole, you asshole, you cut off it's supply and the asshole withers and dies. It's basic Pie Theory."
"Does an asshole ever really die?"
"We put it out of commission then."
"What about the mouth? The mouth is kind of a reverse asshole, isn't it?"
"When we cut off the mouth's supply, it withers and dies also."
"But when you were talking about the asshole, the mouth's supply was food, wasn't it? But the mouth has other functions also. Speech, for instance."
"And kissing," said Connie, letting go of Technita and gazing at her Miguel.
"Well, speech's supply is thought."
"Food for thought."
"So we plug up the ears, pinch down the nose and shutter up the eyes."
"What about the brain?"
"We kill the brain."
"What about the heart?" said Connie.
"We fuck the heart."
"And that's the Pie Theory?" said Miguel.
Connie got up and stood next to Miguel.
"Only for assholes," said Lulu.
Technita looked at her departed friend, got up and began to slowly lumber down the empty hallway.
"Technita! Where are you going?" shouted Lulu.
Technita didn't answer.
"Agh, let her go," said Lulu with a wave of her hand. "We don't need her."
Eppie walked down the hallway of the counselor's building. Ms. Min had given the class another week for their paper. That was good. But they had to turn in seven pages instead of five. Big deal. She thought that Ms. Min and Ms. Frackle were friends. Maybe she would see her there eating lunch with Ms. Frackle or something. She would listen at the door or peer in like a spy to see if she was. There was Ms. Ablodoglio's office. If Eppie was ever gonna talk with a counselor she thought if would be her, but apparently not. Mavis liked Ms. Frackle. She said she was nice. Good, thought Eppie. Then it'll be the nice Ms. Frackle for me, too.
There was Ms. Frackle's office. Nice door. She stood outside and listened. Nothing. Eppie opened the door slightly and peered in like a spy and there she was, the beauteous Ms. Frackle. She was younger than Eppie expected. She must have left her floppy gray socks and aluminum walker at home. Actually, she could have been Eppie's older sister or younger mother, her younger mom. She had an attractive face. Pretty? Pretty pretty. Beauteous? Lovely? Lovely to look at, lovely to behold. But her most attractive feature was her seeming aura of optimism that made her seem young. Eppie could see it in her face, her eyes, her everything. Not an empty headed, pie-in-the-sky kind of optimism, but one that felt that practically anything could be better as long as there was someone who cared.
Ms. Frackle looked up from her desk.
"Hi," she said. "Can I help you?"
Eppie was taken aback. She didn't think Ms. Frackle could talk for some reason.
"Oh, uh, no. I was just looking for someone."
"Oh really? Who? I know practically everyone."
Knows practically everyone, thought Eppie. What am I getting myself into here?
"Uh, Mavis," she said.
"Ah," said Ms. Frackle, softening a little at the edges. "Well, come on in."
Eppie hesitated. Maybe Eppie had made a mistake coming here. Just passing through, she would say with a laugh, then go on her merry way.
"Uh, I was just passing through," mumbled Eppie. "Maybe some other time."
"But I'd really like to talk with you," said Ms. Frackle. She looked up at Eppie with a sly, but friendly, smile. "About Mavis."
She really was lovely. She reminded her a little of Mavis, if Mavis was a counselor and 20 years older.
"All right," said Eppie and shuffled on into Ms. Frackle's office. "Should I shut the door?"
"If you'd like."
Eppie shut it half way, to where the edge of the door rubbed against the frame, but before it could latch itself shut.
"Should I sit?"
"If you'd like."
Eppie sat in the chair opposite Ms. Frackle and looked around the office. Neat, yet cluttered. Books lined the shelves. Was that Freud? Oh no. A diploma from some famous university. No pictures though. No one to call your own, thought Eppie. Or just a private person.
Ms. Frackle sat opposite her, smiling warmly. She felt like she knew her. Ms. Frackle knew Eppie, she meant, not the other way around. Eppie felt like she was going to give her a hug like Mavis had done. And the funny thing was, Eppie felt like hugging her back. What was she doing here? She looked over Ms. Frackle's desk again. If she saw a box of Kleenex and box of bon-bons she was leaving.
"So," said Ms. Frackle. "You know Mavis."
"It's kind of warm in here, isn't it?"
"Is it?" said Ms. Frackle. "Let me open a window."
Ms. Frackle got up and opened a nearby window. She was graceful, like a dancer. Strong, clean lines. Soft, supple edges. Rhythm and music filled the air when Ms. Frackle opened a window. Was it springtime in Paris? Autumn in July? Ms. Frackle sat back down opposite Eppie and smiled.
"So where do you know her from?" she said.
"Uh, we have a class together. Ms. Min."
"Ah," said Ms. Frackle.
She did know Ms. Min. Eppie could tell. She felt like saying, you and Ms. Min have had lunch together, haven't you, but decided not to.
"And we talked together. In the park."
"Ah," said Ms. Frackle. "Are you Eppie?"
That did it, thought Eppie. She knows who I am. She knew who I was all along. She lured me in with her bon-bons and diploma, then hit me over the head with her open window.
"Yes I am," said Eppie with a smile.
"Ah," said Ms. Frackle. "I thought so."
Why does she keep saying "ah" thought Eppie.
"Mavis speaks well of you."
"Mm," said Eppie nodding her head. "We just met."
Ms. Frackle nodded.
Ms. Frackle smiled.
"But I like her."
Ms. Frackle leaned forward a little.
"And how do you like it here at Schlicter Valley?" she said.
Why was Ms. Frackle asking her questions like that? She thought she was here to talk about Mavis.
"It's OK," said Eppie with a shrug.
"You like your classes and everything?"
Eppie made a little face.
Eppie shrugged again.
"You know, I think I should be going now," she said, beginning to rise.
"Oh, of course," said Ms. Frackle. "I hope it wasn't something I said…"
"Oh no," said Eppie with a smile. "Everything's fine."
"Because I'd really like to see you and Mavis here together sometime, if that's OK with you."
Eppie sat back down. Where did that come from? Mavis and her together? Mavis and Ms. Frackle together? She didn't know if she could take that.
"Why?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't know," said Ms. Frackle. "Mavis seems to like you. You seem to like Mavis. I mean you're here and all."
Eppie smiled weakly, half to Ms. Frackle and half to herself.
"Well, why don't you think about it and if you decide to, my door is always open."
"Oh, OK," said Eppie absentmindedly, getting up from her chair and beginning to leave.
"Oh, and Eppie," said Ms. Frackle, stopping Eppie in her tracks. "I meant my door is always open to you, too. Not just with Mavis."
Eppie took another look at the mysterious Ms. Frackle, nodded faintly and turned again towards the door.
"So are you in?" said Amelia.
"Why do I have to be in?" said Tsu annoyed.
"Well, I thought we could use your class to introduce my idea."
"I don't think so," said Tsu. "My class is for teaching, not recruiting."
"You wouldn't be recruiting, you'd be teaching."
"The Engagement Party is not civics."
"Sure it is. How could it not be civics?" said Amelia. "What are you teaching now?"
"We're doing a paper on what it means to live in a civil society, though it's taking them forever."
"Maybe they're not engaged."
"Or maybe they're lazy."
"Ah, I thought you said that it was up to the teacher to make things interesting."
"I did," said Tsu, slightly defensive. "I am."
"Sounds like you're in a rut."
"I'm not in a rut."
"How do you know that talking about the Engagement Party won't give them new ideas for their papers?"
"Well," said Tsu weighing her options. "I guess I could say something like, Is it the role of a civil society to engage its citizens?"
"That's the spirit."
"But I'm not going to talk about the Engagement Party."
"Fine," said Amelia. "I'll talk about the Engagement Party."
"Right after you talk about whatever it was you said you were going to talk about."
"Why don't you just start your own class?"
"No no," said Amelia. "You say something like, And now, without further ado, I'd like to introduce that tireless pooh-bah of that engaging new phenomenon, my esteemed friend and colleague, Ms. Ablogoglio." Amelia came around and placed her hands on Tsu's shoulders from behind. "Then you lead the applause, we embrace, lift our arms over our heads like champions, and you respectfully back off, still applauding, maybe wiping away a tear."
"I'm not going to do that," said Tsu, her arms crossed in front of her body. "Though maybe I'll call you a pooh-bah."
"So I can come to your class?"
"I'll think about it."
"And talk about the Engagement Party?"
"I'll think about it."
Tami tapped on her locker door with one finely manicured nail.
"Roland? It's Tami," she said in a hushed tone. "Are you…Are you home?"
Tami heard some rustling from within.
"Roland. It's OK. We're alone. Just me and Tamika."
Some more rustling was heard. Tami exchanged glances with Tamika. It was Tamika's turn to try.
"Roland, it's Tamika. We're sorry that we kept banging on your door yesterday, but Mrs. Dooley was out here and we couldn't take the chance of her seeing you. Do you understand what we're saying here?"
"I'm opening up," said Tami.
"What if he's not decent?"
Tami rapped on her locker door again.
"Roland, are you decent?"
"He's decent," said Tami. "Besides, what could we see that we haven't seen already?"
Tamika thought back to the emu suit.
"All right," she said.
Tami twirled the combination lock and opened the locker door. It was empty.
Some more rustling was heard from Tamika's locker followed by some giggling. Tami signaled to Tamika to open up her locker and when she did, there was Roland.
"Roland, what are you doing?"
"We thought we heard you in Tami's locker."
"You did," said Roland. "Look."
Roland slid down the metal panel that separated Tami and Tamika's lockers.
"I borrowed some tools from metal shop last night and fixed it up."
"Well, that 's very resourceful, Roland," said Tamika.
"I like living in here."
"Well that's all very well and good, Roland, but you can't," said Tami.
"Because it's a locker and people don't live in lockers; they in houses or apartments."
"This is my house. This is my apartment. This is my home."
"And there's not enough room."
"Sure there is. In fact, there's room enough for two now. Come on."
Roland waved his hand for Tami to come join him.
"I'll try," said Tamika and climbed into the locker next to Roland.
"Now this is just stupid," said Tami.
"Kinda cozy," said Tamika with a smile at Roland.
"Safe neighborhood, reasonable rates, close to school," said Roland. "Besides, I saw something here last night."
"You saw something?" said Tamika.
"Yeah," said Roland adjusting his body. "You know, maybe this place isn't so great for two people."
"Oh, sorry," said Tamika, exiting sheepishly from the metal box.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Tamika. It's your locker," said Tami irritated. "Roland, get out of there and let Tamika have her locker back."
"That's OK," said Tamika sitting next to Tami again. "Now what was that you said about seeing something last night?"
(Je 28) "Well," said Roland. "You remember those three guys who stripped me of my dignity the other day?"
"You saw them?" said Tami.
"Yes. One of them."
"Well, I hope you did the sensible thing and hid in my locker till her left," said Tamika.
"Oh, I thought about it," said Roland. "But then I sez to myself, I sez, hey I ain't a-scared of you. Sure, when there was three of youse guys I was maybe a little fershmugened…"
"OK OK," said Tami. "So what was he doing in here?"
"That's what I said to myself. Hey, what are you doing in here?"
"Well, what was he doing in here?" said Tamika.
"He went to the bathroom."
"Why did he go to the bathroom in the girls' locker room," said Tami. "I don't like the sound of this."
"Neither did I," said Roland. "So I followed him in there."
"Yeah? And then what happened?"
"Then I saw him go into one of the stalls."
"Oh no," said Tamika.
"Yes," said Roland nodding vigorously.
"Well, and then what happened?"
"Well, then I heard a flush."
"Nothing," said Tami annoyed.
"Yes. Nothing. Nothing nothing."
"How could there be nothing nothing?"
"That's what I said to myself, I said, hey, what are you doing in there, you big thuggy?"
"Did you check?"
"Yeah huh," said Roland. "I stealthily worked my way towards his stall, carefully softening my footfalls so as not to call attention to myself, moving my hands thusly from side to side, establishing a rhythm that propelled me forward with the utmost silence."
"Wow," said Tamika.
"Yes," said Roland nodding.
"Well, what did you see?" said Tami.
"Well, when I neared the stall, I ever so gently lowered my frame, horizontal to tiled floor, lowering my frame of vision so as to espy the machinations of the beast within."
"And what was he doing?"
"Nothing," said Roland.
"Nothing? He was just sitting there?"
"Squatting? Lying? Leaning? What?"
"No," said Roland. "He was doing nothing because he was not there."
"Wow," said Tami.
Roland nodded in agreement.
"What do you mean he wasn't there?" said Tami annoyed.
"I mean he wasn't there," said Roland.
"He left then."
"No," said Roland. "I followed him in. I saw him enter. I heard him flush. He did not leave."
Tami and Tamika exchanged puzzled glances.
"Then where did he go?" said Tami.
"There's only one place," said Roland.
"No way," said Tami.
"Yeah," said Roland nodding. "Think about it. He enters, he flushes, he's gone. Where'd he go? You tell me."
"No," said Tami. "He's too big."
"Yeah, no," said Roland. "There've been times when I've gone in a stall, did my business, looked in the bowl and said no way, no way is that going down. But you know what?"
"No way," said Tami.
"It's the swirling motion, I think," said Roland.
"You can't swirl a whole person down a toilet," said Tami. "No way. No how. No way."
"Then where did he go? You tell me."
"I don't know," said Tami. "You must have passed out or something from the stress."
"Were you stressed, Roland?" said Tamika, placing a hand on his arm. "Have you eaten lately? You want a Ho Ho?"
Tamika began looking through her bag.
"No," said Roland. "No Ho Ho. I have eaten. I did not pass out. I know what I saw. I was there. You weren't."
Roland got up and began to pace.
"He's cranky," said Tamika nodding sympathetically to Tami.
"I am not cranky," said Roland. "I saw what I saw. I was there and I saw what I saw."
"He's crazy," said Tami.
"I am not crazy."
"You live in a locker and you tell me you're not crazy?"
"You let me live in your locker, what does that make you?"
"OK, everybody calm down," said Tamika. "Now we're all under a lot of stress here."
"I'm not under stress," said Roland.
"OK," said Tamika. "We're all under a lot of stress here except Roland who says he's not under a lot of stress here. What's say we all go over to the toilet in question and have a look for ourselves."
"I'm up for that," said Roland.
"Let's get this over with," said Tami and three began making their way from the cheerleader section of the girls' locker room to the mysterious scene of the crime.
"Well, which one is it?" said Tami.
"The third one," said Roland. "And that makes a lot of sense, too. Number one for urine. Number two for the more substantial load, the hefty
"Oh Roland," said Tamika.
"And number three for body and soul."
"Why not number three for body and number four for soul?" said Tamika.
"You can't flush the soul," said Tami, then looking at Roland. "Or the body."
"I saw what I saw," said Roland.
"OK, let's have a look," said Tami and she opened up the stall for the three to examine.
It was a regular looking toilet. White and shapely with a bulby top that opened in a wide-mouthed basket. Lips of curved porcelein edges, topped with a friendly lid that conformed to the contours of its distressed human inhabitants. But its most important feature, at least to the three investigators, was the slender hole at the bottom of the bowl.
"I don't see it," said Tami.
"It is kind of small, Roland," said Tamika.
"Maybe it stretches," said Roland, "like when babies are born."
"No way," said Tami.
"Let's test it out," said Tamika.
"Flush a Ho Ho," said Tami.
Tamika got a Ho Ho out of her bag, dropped it in the bowl and flushed. Round and round the tube-shaped pastry went, following the currents of the water, lower and lower towards the slender hole beneath. And reaching its destination, turned upright and spun quickly round the inner rim of the hole, (weeky weeky), till it sunk beneath the purview of its observers and onward to its tubular journey below.
"You see?" said Roland. He turned to Tami. "Ho ho."
"Proves nothing," said Tami. "People are bigger than Ho Ho's. Get in, Roland."
"Is that such a good idea?" said Tamika. "Is this a People First kind of thing?"
"I don't mind," said Roland climbing into the bowl. "I don't mind going down."
"He's not going down," said Tami. "We're just bringing him back to reality. An OK thing to do."
"Well, at least take this," said Tami taking her cell phone out of her bag and handing it to Roland. "Just in case something happens, you be sure and give us a call, OK?"
"Roger," said Roland.
"Any last words?" said Tami.
Roland shook his head.
"Let 'er rip," he said.
"Oh, I can't watch," said Tamika covering her eyes.
Tami pushed down the metal handle and the rushing waters came cascading from beneath the rim of the bowl and swirling around Roland's thin pale ankles.
"Bombs away!" cried Roland as the rushing waters formed a mighty funnel around Roland's calves and feet, a vortex of unstoppable suction, pulling all that dared float and bobble within its awful whirl down with it into the dreaded passageway that lie at bowl's bottom.
"Is he gone?" ventured Tamika from behind her trembling fingers. "Is Roland gone?"
"See for yourself," said Tami.
Tamika slowly parted her slender fingers and raised her gently misted eyelids to witness a miracle. Roland was not gone.
"Roland, you've come back!"
"Come back! He never left!" said Tami. "Roland, get out of there."
Roland stood erect in the bowl, one hand stiff at his side, the other clutching Tamika's cell phone.
"Two out of three."
Tami shook her head.
Roland let out a sigh, unstiffened his body and climbed out of the bowl.
"I'm sorry you had to see that," he said.
"I didn't," said Tamika.
"Should I do it again?"
"Are you sure you had the right bowl?"
"Right bowl, wrong idea," said Tami.
"I saw what I saw," said Roland.
"You didn't see nothin'," said Tami. "Did you actually see the little thuggie go down the toilet?"
"Well, well, of course you didn't."
"Then where did he go?" said Tamika.
"I don't know," said Tami shaking her head.
"And where did he come from?"
"The toilet," said Roland.
"Would you get your head out of the toilet, Roland?"
"Hey, that's it!" cried Roland. "He went in head first!"
Roland made a move for the bowl.
"No way," said Tami, grabbing Roland before he could take the plunge.
"But it makes sense. Babies are born head first, I should have gone down head first, too."
"Roland, even I have to agree with Tami on this one," said Tamika. "I just can't stand by and let you go down head first. How will you breathe?"
"But it makes sense. Babies are born head first to facilitate the slide. If they come out feet first, then they get stuck," said Roland, slumping down beside the bowl. "And I was wearing shoes."
"But even if babies get stuck, they come out a little," said Tami. "Did you feel yourself go down at all, Roland?"
"Again with the well," said Tami. "Come on, let's get out of here."
And the three began exiting with Roland bringing up the rear.
"The Head First Party. That's what we should call ourselves," he said.
Eppie had walked passed the park on her way home. Mavis wasn't there. She hadn't said she would be there and she wasn't. Mavis could be trusted, thought Eppie. She liked Mavis. She still wanted to be her friend, but she didn't want to run for office with her, that's for sure. Eppie had thought about it some more and decided that she definitely did not want to run, did not want to put herself in the spotlight like that. She had come here from East Nareen for a little anonymity. Two years, then outta here, what's the big deal? And that she would want one friend, was that a bad thing? Two years, one friend, what was wrong with that? Mavis wanted to run for office, though. That was strange. That was unexpected. It would bring more people into the equation, but that was OK. Mavis would still be her only friend. Her true friend. Eppie would maintain a professional relationship with the others. Friendly, cheerful, helpful, maybe a little distant, but an OK kinda girl, people would say about her and that suited Eppie just fine. She would help Mavis in her campaign, but not run herself. She would maintain a professional relationship with the others. A small sacrifice, but that's what friends did for each other.
Eppie entered her house. She half expected to see her mother, but she knew she wasn't there. She was at work, as usual. Paying the bills, living her life. Good for her, thought Eppie. She would do that someday. Eppie looked at some letters on the kitchen counter. Bills, bills, an application from a credit card company. You are a winner! it said. Maybe Eppie would give it to Mavis. You are a winner! she would declare, arms spread wide. I give you credit because you are a winner. Eppie opened the refrigerator. It was half full. Or half empty. There was an apple. There was some juice. There was her mom's lasagna from last night. Should she eat it? Her mom wouldn't. She liked bringing home new things every night. Maybe Chinese tonight. Or pizza. Chinese pizza. Eppie preferred leftovers. She liked the picked-over feeling that leftover food had. People had once wanted this food, had loved it (or not) and now here was what remained: the leftovers. Eppie's Leftovers, her mom liked to call them. Eppie took the leftover lasagna and stuck it in the microwave. Five minutes and voila!, you are a winner.
What was it that person, Ms. Frackle, had said? Something like, I would like to see you and your esteemed colleague, Mavis, in my office, tout de suite. But why? why? Eppie had implored the deceptively steely Ms. Frackle who had calmly replied, because I want to. That was cold. Ms. Frackle could use a few minutes in the how-to-be-nice-to-Eppie microwave. You are not a winner. But why did Ms. Frackle want to see her again? She had originally said she wanted to see her and Mavis together, but then, had said that Eppie could come in by herself, alone, if she wanted. But why would Ms. Frackle want to see her alone? Did she want to hug her like Mavis? Did Ms. Frackle want to run for office with Eppie? Ms. Lemieux, I would be honored to have you as my running mate in the annual Counselor-Student competition in the Most Huggable Couple category. Or was she, herself, the one who wanted to hug Ms. Frackle? Why would she want to see her alone? Mavis was her counselee, not her. Did Ms. Frackle think that she was in need of counseling? Eppie shook her head and laughed. Ridiculous. Eppie Lemieux helped people, she didn't need help.
Eppie went to her room and got the phone book from her nightstand. She opened it up and flipped through the pages. A, B, C, D, E, F, G…Ga, Ge, Gea, Gi, Go, Goo, there it was. Mavis's phone number circled in red lip liner. Eppie put her finger on the number, picked up the phone and dialed Mavis's number. The phone rang, a click, and a voice at the other end. Hello?
Eppie took a beat, then spoke.
"Hi Mavis, it's Eppie. Wanna come over?"
"The Head First Party. What does that even mean?" said Tami.
"It means, you know, use your head, your noggin," said Roland.
"For what, plunging into toilet bowls? Is that going to be our logo? A picture of you with your head in a toilet?"
"It could also mean think first," said Tamika.
"Think about what? It's too general. Remember what I said about ideas getting in the way of people, of humanity?"
"But you should think before you act."
"Maybe," said Tami. "But after you put people first."
"You let me stand in the toilet," said Roland. "Was that people first?"
"We let you stand in the toilet because you wanted to stand in the toilet. It was your idea."
"Aha," said Roland. "So it was Head First, Idea First."
"For you," said Tami. "Not us. If you get the idea to stand in a toilet and it involves nobody else, then fine, be Head First."
"But you didn't let me go in head first and that didn't involve anybody else."
"Yes it did," said Tami. "You could have hurt yourself and that wouldn't have been a People First thing to let happen."
"Why not? If I wanted to hurt myself."
"Did you want to hurt yourself, Roland?" said Tamika.
"Well, no," said Roland. "But I wouldn't have."
"How would you breathe?"
"I would've held my breath."
"What about your dignity?" said Tami.
"I would've held on to that, too," said Roland.
"Yes," said Roland.
"Then go. Go ahead and stick your head in the toilet, Roland," said Tami.
Roland shuffled around in his wet sneakers for awhile.
"I don't feel like it now," he said.
Tami threw up her hands and walked off.
"I'm glad you don't feel that way anymore, Roland," said Tamika, patting him on the shoulder.
"Not now, at least. I might again later."
Tamika smiled sympathetically and began recalling how meaty Roland had looked in his emu costume. Maybe she should get it for him to wear tonight, to get Roland to rid himself of this head dunking obsession of his. But then Tamika thought she saw a large, lumbering figure entering the girls' bathroom.
"Roland, did you see that?" whispered Tamika.
"No. What?" whispered Roland in return.
Tamika pointed towards the bathroom. Roland nodded, then signaled for Tamika to follow him.
"Shouldn't we get Tami?" whispered Tamika.
Roland shook his head.
"There isn't time. Come on."
Tamika and Roland slowly crept up to the stalls. They heard rustling noises coming from one of them. Roland looked at Tamika and held up three fingers. Tamika nodded and they approached the Stall of Body and Soul. Tamika's heart was racing. She held Roland's hand for support, though he was holding onto hers just as tightly. When they reached the mystery cube, Tamika peeked under and saw two thick, muscular legs planted sturdily into two of the biggest shoes she had ever seen. She turned to Roland in amazement and made the universally recognized signal for big feet with her hands. Roland signaled Tamika to look further. Tamika shook her head and signaled for Roland to take a look. Roland shook his head also, then signaled for Tamika to sit on top of his shoulders, he would rise and she could look over the top of the stall where it would be safer. Tamika considered Roland's spindly body, recalling especially the noodle-like limbs she had witnessed on the day of his deepest humiliation. Tamika shook her head and signaled for Roland to get on her shoulders and he could look over the top for Tamika, as a cheerleader, was in excellent shape and had hoisted many cheerleaders in the past. But Roland wouldn't do it. He signaled again to his own scrawny shoulders and even patted Tamika's thighs to show her where they were supposed to go. Tamika didn't want to, but time was running out, so she reluctantly agreed. Roland gave Tamika the thumbs up, squatted in front of her and signaled for her to ascend. Tamika placed one hand on top of Roland's pointy head and swung one finely-toned leg over Roland's noodly frame. So far, so good. Then she swung the other so that she now sat astride the top of Roland's upper torso, his head wedged firmly between her legs for support. But now came the hard part. Roland placed his claw-like fingers on top of Tamika's lean, velvety knees and began to rise. Slowly, trembling, Roland began to gain in stature. Lips pursed, eyes bulging, veins popping. Sweat poured from his oily scalp, blending with the sweet nectar that seeped forth from Tamika's velvety smooth thighs. Up they rose, as a flower pushing towards the sun, Roland and Tamika grew. Higher and higher, together, sweating, trembling, yearning, grasping, slipping. For Roland's tiny feet began to slip beneath him on the sweat-stained tiles beneath. Swaying, weaving, left and right, Roland and Tamika wavered, like a palm tree beneath a tropic breeze. Tamika tried to maintain her upright center of gravity atop of Roland's wavering pedestal, but was having problems finding the proper rhythm. Left, right, back, forth, went Roland. Left, right, back, forth followed Tamika on top, but just a little too late, a little too much or a little too little for them to work as the unit. And the more Tamika tried to compensate for Roland's crazy quilt waverings, the more off-kilter they became. Roland dug his fingers into Tamika's fleshy thighs, desperately trying to move forward towards their agreed upon goal. Tighter Tamika squeezed her muscular legs together, clasping Roland's pointy head in a vice-like grip of sweaty determination. Sweet rainwater perspiration poured from Tamika's thighs like fragrant nectar from a cantaloupe bursting. Oily sweat flowed from the side of Roland's cheeks that huffed and billowed and undulated against the heated flesh of Tamika's clasping limbs. Tamika hunched forward, wrapping her arms around Roland's pointed head, grasping for support, pressing her upper torso hungrily against his heaving melon, cradling his head in a hot, heavy embrace of undulating womanly palpitations, drenching his oily scalp in the sweet nectar of her embrace, filling his hairy nostrils with the passion of her desire, engulfing him like a flame. But like a boat tossing in the waves of a too-powerful storm, like a top spinning crazily towards the table's edge, the end was near. "Bombs awa-a-a-a-y!" cried Roland, wet shoes slapping noisily against the echoey tiles, heaving forward, sending Tamika flying through the air with a little yelp of both protest and release towards the upper reaches of stall number three. While Roland, valiant swain, dedicated stamin to Tamika's trembling flower, went crashing through the door of self-same stall, opening for all the world to see, its harried occupant frantically flushing the contents of the watery bowl as Tamika, slender waist astride the high flown metallic bar, gasped breathlessly, "Technita, is that you?"
Roland lay at Technita's impressive feet and looked up.
"Wow," he said as Technita, standing above, quickly hoisted her lower garments to her substantial waist and fled the stall in tears.
A low, rasping sound emitted from Technita's lumbering frame as she brushed passed the entering Tami.
"What did you do to her?" demanded Tami. But before Tamika and Roland could answer, Tami whirled sharply around and went after the weeping giant.
"Well, did you see anything? said Roland to Tami who was still folded over the metal bar above.
"Well, I thought I saw her flush some papers or something down the toilet," shesaid.
"A lot of papers?"
"I think so. They seemed to be like in a package or something. Maybe like a term paper. Or a pamphlet."
"Aha," said Roland. "And they flushed. You can't flush a pamphlet down a regular toilet now, can you."
"I guess not," said Tamika with a shrug. "Did you see anything?"
Roland re-lived the sight of the hulking young woman rising hurriedly above him and hoisting her substantial lower garments to their proper positions.
"I saw what I saw," he said.
Eppie walked down Maple Street. It was late afternoon and the leaves were swirling around the sidewalk. A pile of leaves would come alive and dance across the pavement like little kites across the horizon. Mavis had declined her invitation to come over (a disappointment), but had suggested that Eppie come over to her place instead (a surprise). Eppie accepted, "all right," she had said, and was now making her way down Maple Street to Mavis's house.
Mavis of Maple Street, thought Eppie. It had a nice ring to it. She could write a book with a title like that. Mavis sat in her bedroom contemplating the arrival of her good friend Eppie. Eppie had invited Mavis over to her abode first, but Mavis, being of delicate constitution, had had to decline and extended her own charming invitation to her good friend instead. Eppie wondered what Mavis's bedroom was like. Probably somber, with lots of browns or deep purples with discreet sconces lining the walls, shades drawn, of course, and maybe a fireplace. Or no, Mavis seemed more like a girly girl type. Probably frilly with a canopy over her bed and a poodle with a rhinestone necklace around its puffy little neck.
There it was. 828 Maple Street. Mavis's place. It was brown. But a light brown, almost white. Kinda creamy. Like Mavis.
Mavis had declined Eppie's invitation in her creamy, dreamy voice and had invited Eppie to her place instead. But that was OK, she thought. For the purpose of the call was to see Mavis, in person, not to get her into her bedroom. Mavis's house would be fine. Mavis had said she was alone. That was fine, too.
Eppie rang the bell.
Ding dong it went. Like Mavis. No. Like a bell. Ding dong dell. Ding dong…bell.
Eppie heard running feet. Did Mavis run? She had hugged Eppie, so she must run. The door swung open.
"Hi!" said Mavis brightly, though not loudly.
It was the happy Mavis. The huggy Mavis. The happy, huggy, running Mavis. "Come on in!" she said in her bright, whispy, girly voice.
Mavis opened the door further and waved her hand for Eppie to come on in.
Eppie stood there for a moment, smiling and wondered if she should hug Mavis. Hi! she would say back and throw her arms out wide and give Mavis a big Eppie hug. It's so good of you to invite me to your boudoir. I would have come sooner, but my horse threw a shoe and I had to hitch a ride with the local five-and-dimer. Here, I hope you like bon-bons.
Should she have brought a gift? A bottle of Snapple or something? But no, people didn't do that nowadays. At least not while they were still in high school.
"Well, come on in," said Mavis again and took Eppie by the hand and pulled her inside.
"Oh, yeah. Thanks," said Eppie, standing next to Mavis in the inner doorway. Mavis sure has soft hands, she thought. Eppie had soft hands, too. But Mavis. It was like holding hands with a giant marshmallow. Or not a marshmallow because marshmallows got sticky when they got hot and Mavis didn't strike Eppie as the sticky type. Or the hot type either.
"I'm so glad you called," said Mavis, leaning up against Eppie.
"Oh, me too," said Eppie.
"Come on, let's go to my room."
Mavis shut the door and led Eppie down the hallway.
"Nice picture," said Eppie waving at a painting of some flowers that hung on the wall.
"Oh yeah, that's my mom's," said Mavis. "She likes to paint and stuff."
"Oh, like taxidermy?" said Eppie.
"Come on, it's in here," she said and guided Eppie into her room with the tip of a soft, knowing finger.
So this is Mavis's room, thought Eppie. Looks normal. A bed, a desk, a lamp, maybe a little spare, but nice.
"Nice room," said Eppie.
Mavis smiled and sat on the bed. She patted a spot next to her for Eppie.
"So, tell me why you called," she said.
Why had she called? There were several things she could say. About the campaign, about not seeing her in class today, about Ms. Frackle.
"I wanted to see if you were all right," said Eppie.
Mavis smiled and put her hand on Eppie's.
"After yesterday, you seemed upset that I didn't want to run for office with you. And then you weren't in class today…"
Mavis laughed, clapping her hands together.
"I didn't miss anything, did I?"
"Well, no," said Eppie with a shrug. "But, were you upset yesterday?"
"Uh, a little, I guess," said Mavis, furrowing her brow a little. "More disappointed."
"I guess I wanted, I guess I thought, you know, I kind of saw the two of
"Me, too," said Eppie, nodding with some enthusiasm. "But not yesterday. Not running for office. But in the park a couple of days before when that Lulu and her friends were giving me a hard time, I thought of you."
"Really. In what way?"
"Oh, you know, when Lulu and her friends would have jumped me, you and I could have, you know, knocked them around a little."
"Really! Why did you think I would be a good fighter?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Eppie, smiling and flustered. "You seemed kind of wiry or something."
"And they're so big, especially that…"
"No no," said Mavis laughing. "That other one. Technita."
"Oh yeah. And Lulu looks like a scrapper, too, with those ragged teeth and orangutangy arms."
"Maybe I could hold my own with the skinny one, but you'd be on your own with the rest of 'em."
"The skinny one! I was gonna grab her by the ankles and use her as a weapon!"
The two girls laughed some more until Mavis spoke again.
"So, does that mean you've changed your mind? You're gonna run with me?"
Eppie calmed down quickly.
"Uh, no. I'm sorry, but like I said yesterday, I'd be happy to help you run. In fact, I have a few ideas. But I'd rather not run myself."
"Oh," said Mavis, turning pensive again.
"I mean, you know, I'd like to, not run, but help you, but…"
"Not run yourself."
It seemed to Eppie that they had gone over this before. She thought about leaving, but then thought that that would leave them where they were before. If Eppie came here for any reason, it was to not have that happen again. She put her hand on top of Mavis's and waited for her to speak again.
"So you really don't want to run with me?" she said at last.
"Not not with you, but not run at all. If I ran with anybody, it would be with you."
"Hm," said Mavis.
Eppie waited for Mavis to speak again, but Mavis just sat there, thinking.
"Why do you want to run so badly anyway?" said Eppie.
"Well, Ms. Frackle said it would look good on my college application if I did."
Ms. Frackle! thought Eppie. I knew it!
"Ms. Frackle," said Eppie.
"Yeah. My counselor. She also said it would be good for my self esteem or something."
"Why would she say that?"
Mavis shook her head and was lost in thought again. Eppie felt Mavis's hand go limp under hers. Maybe she shouldn't have said that.
"Why me, though?" said Eppie trying to go back to a less touchy area. "Did Ms. Frackle say I run with you?"
Mavis shook her head.
"No, you were my idea," she said absently.
"Mm," said Eppie. "Maybe I should go."
She began to rise.
"No!" said Mavis, suddenly snapping back to life. "I mean, don't. Please. I…I like it when you're here." Mavis lowered her voice. "Not many people come to see me."
Eppie stood and considered the situation. Maybe I should go, she thought. If she left, though, she knew she would never come back. So the question was not whether she should go, but whether she wanted to form some sort of relationship with this strange girl. But was she a strange girl? She seemed strange, sometimes. Like there was a piece of her missing, that when she became lost in thought, which was not infrequent Eppie was quickly learning, Mavis would slowly fade away behind this missing piece, if you could do that, and when she returned, she would have to reach out abruptly like she had to stretch herself out to reach across the space, or through the space, to get back to where she had been before. Eppie had said she wanted one friend. It didn't have to be Mavis though. Or did it. For Eppie still felt a connection to Mavis, felt that she was the only person worth knowing in her present sphere, except for maybe Ms. Frackle. So should she stay or go? Did she want a friend or would she go it alone for the next two years?
Suddenly, a woman popped her head through the doorway. Was that Ms. Frackle? No. She was too old. It was Mavis, but older. Mavis, but older.
"Hi honey, I'm home."
It was Mavis's mom.
"Oh, hi, mommy," said Mavis. "Where's daddy?"
Why was Eppie not surprised that Mavis called her parents Mommy and Daddy?
"Oh, he's in the garage fiddling with the car," said Mavis's mother. "Who's your friend?"
Mavis looked at Eppie who was standing and Eppie looked back. What was Mavis thinking? Did she think of me as her friend? thought Eppie. Did Eppie think of Mavis as her friend? How would she have answered if Mavis had come over to her house as was the original plan and her mother had popped her head in Eppie's bedroom door and asked the same question?
"Oh, this is Eppie," said Mavis, not taking her eyes off of Eppie.
"Oh, what a wonderful name!" said Mavis's mother clapping her hands together. "Will she be staying for dinner?"
"So what do you think was in the pamphlet?" said Roland as he and Tami made their way out of the girls' bathroom.
"I don't know," said Tami, rubbing her hand across her stomach. Hurtling into that bar had hurt, though she supposed it could have been worse if she'd hit the floor. Or a wall. "I'm not sure it even was a pamphlet. It could have been, you know, anything."
"But it looked like papers."
"It must have been some sort of message to her cohorts in the underworld," said Roland gravely.
"What sort of message?"
"I don't know," said Roland. "Look." He pointed up ahead to Tami seated next to the weeping Technita. "Tami's beating it out of her."
"Tami would never beat anyone," said Tamika of her best friend.
"You don't know her as well as I do," said Roland.
"You don't know her at all," said Tamika, slightly annoyed.
Tamika hadn't noticed this about Roland before. He seemed to be awfully sure of his opinions. Was this type of personality consistent with the Nice People Party? Of course, Roland had never actually said he was a member of their organization, so she couldn't hold him to that exactly. But still, did that make a difference? At least in terms of how she viewed him. If Roland didn't live up to the ideals of the Nice Person Party, should she treat him any less than if he did? Were her ideals contingent on what others did or did they exist within her? Still, it would have been nice if Roland wasn't so suspicious of everyone. But Tamika supposed being stripped of your dignity and living in a locker did that to you.
"Come on. Let's go see what they're talking about," she said.
As it turned out, Tami and Technita weren't talking about much of anything at this point. They sat next to her and Tami's lockers in the cheerleader section with Technita weeping and Tami consoling.
"I hope she's not going to move in with me," whispered Roland to Tamika.
Tamika put her hand on Roland's shoulder.
"We have to help her," she said in low voice.
"Because she's unhappy," said Tamika nodding.
"But what if she's one of them?"
Tamika shook her head.
"I don't think she is," she said in a whisper.
"You can't be sure," said Roland.
Tamika nodded. Tami looked up at her and motioned towards Tamika's bag. Tamika opened up her bag and took out a package of tissues and handed it to Tami who in turn offered one to Technita. Technita took one and blew her nose with a loud, honking sound. Roland let out a disapproving gust of air.
"So, are you feeling any better?" said Tami.
"Did they scare you?"
"Scare her!" said Roland. "She scared us. We saw her big feet under the door and thought she was one of those guys."
"Roland!" whispered Tamika sharply, hitting him on the arm.
Technita shook her head.
"We saw her flush something down the toilet," said Roland. "A message to her cohorts in the underworld."
Tami looked at Tamika.
"I saw her flush something. It looked like papers. I don't know what it was."
"Is that true, Technita?" said Tami. "Did you flush papers down the toilet?"
Technita began to cry again.
"I knew it! I knew it!" cried Roland. "She's one of them! She sent a message to her cohorts in the underworld and now we're all gonna die!"
"We're not going to die," said Tami to Roland. "Technita, did you flush something down the toilet?"
Technita sniffled through another tissue, then nodded.
"Well, what was it?" said Tami gently. "You can tell us."
"I got the curse," said Technita gulping back the tears.
"She's got the curse!" cried Roland. "Oh my God, she's got the curse and now we're all gonna die!"
"Not that kind of curse, Roland!" said Tami sharply, then to Technita. "You mean you flushed a tampon?"
"Impossible!" cried Roland. "Fiction! Fantasy! Propaganda! It was too big to be a tampon! Tamika said it was the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica!"
Tami looked at Tamika again.
"Well, it did look kind of big," she said.
"Was it a tampon?" said Tami to Technita, but the lumbering girl was rolling in tears now. Big salty whales came flowing from her eyes and tumbled down her burning cheeks as she nodded with her enormous head hung low.
A low, moaning sound suddenly filled the locker room.
"Listen," whispered Tami.
"What was that?" whispered Tamika.
"It's Satan!" cried Roland. "Satan don't want no big tampon flushed down his awful Hell toilet!"
"Would you shut up!" whispered Tami. "It's not Satan."
The low moaning sound filled the room again.
"Then what is it?"
"It's pretty creepy," said Tamika, hugging herself.
"It's the pipes," said Tami.
"Satan's Hell pipes," said Roland nodding.
"No," said Tami. "The pipes are beginning to clog from Technita's tampons."
Technita began to cry again.
"You know you're not supposed to flush them down the toilet, don't you?"
Technita let out a piercing howl. Roland jumped back.
"Oh God, look what you've done. We're goners now."
"Technita," said Tami again. "You know you're not supposed to flush them down the toilet, don't you?"
Technita hung her head even lower and nodded.
"Then why do you do it?"
"Well," said Technita between her sniffles. "I used to throw them away until one day I came in here and found a crowd of girls standing in front of my locker and laughing. I came pushed my way through and found that someone had taped one of my used tampons to the outside of my locker and written "Bigfoot lives" underneath."
Tami and Tamika looked at one another.
"Well, that's terrible," said Tami, putting her hand on Technita's arm.
"Poor Technita," said Tamika. "There are a lot of mean people around. They don't understand."
"Oh God, I'm sittin' here with Bigfoot," said Roland with a low moan.
"Roland!" whispered Tamika sharply.
"Oh no, they understand," said Technita. "So I stood there, totally out of it, but then someone came busting through the crowd."
"Satan," said Roland.
"No," said Technita. "It was Lulu. And boy was she mad."
Technita began to chuckle. Tami and Tamika exchanged puzzled looks.
"She pushed her way through those laughing girls, ripped my tampon off my locker and stood there screaming, You fucking assholes! You think this is funny? If I ever find out who did this, I'm coming over and beating the crap out of her and shoving this down her throat!"
"Well, that was nice of her," ventured Tamika who had always thought of Lulu and her gang as something like hoodlums.
"Yeah," said Technita, still chuckling from the memory. "Those were the good old days."
"The good old days?"
"Yeah," said Technita turning sombre. "They don't like me anymore."
"Why? What happened?" said Tamika.
"Oh, they found someone they liked better. Miguel."
"Miguel," said Tami racking her brain. "Miguel of the Pie Theory?"
"Right," said Technita. "Lulu likes Miguel. For president. Miguel likes Connie. So according to the Pie Theory, Miguel is in and Technita is out."
"Is that what they said?"
"Not exactly, but I could feel it. Connie used to like Technita, but now she likes Miguel. Lulu used to like Technita, but now she likes Miguel. Barelle still likes Technita, but Technita misses Lulu and especially Connie."
"Connie's cute," said Roland.
"I'm sure they all still like you," said Tami.
Technita shook her massive head.
"No," she said. "Connie and Lulu like Miguel now. Lulu him for president, Connie for a boyfriend. Technita could go back, but she doesn't like being liked second best."
"Politics sucks," said Roland.
"It's not political," said Tamika.
"Yes it is," said Roland. "They took Technita in for personal reasons, and crowded her out for political. It's all there. Read it and weep."
"Well, we're political, too," said Tami. "We've got a party that says Technita comes first."
"The Nice People Party," said Tamika.
"No. The People First Party," said Tami. "Why do you keep saying that?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Tamika.
"The People First Party," said Tami, "says that people come first. Not just presidents and boyfriends, but all people at all times."
"Technita doesn't mind being second," said Technita.
"But I thought you just said you didn't like being liked second best?" said Tami.
"Oh yeah, except that."
"Well, we like you first best," said Tamika with a reassuring smile.
"Yeah," said Technita.
"But you can't go around flushing your tampons anymore," said Tami.
"Plumbing first," said Roland.
"People First," said Tami. "Plumbing…well, plumbing is plumbing. The thing is, when you have to change tampons from now on, just stick it in my locker and Tamika or I will get rid of it later."
Technita looked slightly skeptical.
"Will it be safe?" she said.
"Sure, Roland'll be there."
"Yeah, he lives in my locker."
Technita began to chuckle.
"It happens to be very roomy," said Roland, a little offended. "And I don't know if I want to live with a used tampon. I mean I might turn into a werewolf. Or an omelet."
"You're not going to turn into an omelet," said Tami.
"Guard Technita's tampon and we'll bring you an omelet," said Tamika nodding supportively.
"Well, all right," said Roland. "No ketchup though."
"All right," said Tami. "Now, Technita, do you have a place to stay?"
"She can't stay here," said Roland.
"Roland, where's your People First spirit?" said Tamika thinking back to her Roland as complainer thoughts.
"Don’t worry, little man," said Technita with a chuckle. "Technita can take care of herself."
So Mavis is somebody's child, thought Eppie as she sat at the Googie dinner table. She supposed that shouldn't be such a surprise. After all, Eppie was somebody's child, too. Her mom's. And her dad's, too. Though Eppie's mom and dad were divorced and Eppie hadn't seen much of her father lately. And they seemed normal, Mavis's parents. They seemed nice. Though Mavis seemed nice, too, so that shouldn't have come as a surprise. It was the normal part that threw Eppie.
"So, Eppie, what do your parents do?" asked Mrs. Googie, though Eppie was going to avoid calling her that for as long as possible.
"Oh, my mom's a, uh, real estate broker and my father's in insurance."
"Ah, well, Mr. Googie works at an insurance company, too. What company does your father work for?"
"Mom," said Mavis. "I'm sure Eppie doesn't want to get into that."
"Oh, that's OK," said Eppie. "He works for Saginaw Life."
"Saginaw Life. I don't believe I'm familiar with that one. Honey, have you ever…"
"Oh, it's in Chicago," said Eppie nodding. Why was this woman asking her all these questions? Maybe she was a little quick with the normal judgment. And Mavis's dad. He sure was quiet. He worked for an insurance company like her father, but he was nothing like her father. At least what she remembered of him. Her father was always happy and joking. That's where she got her sense of humor, her mother always said. But this man. He just sat there, chewing away like an old goat. No wonder Mavis was strange.
"Uh, mom, can we go now?" said Mavis.
"Oh, sure, honey. You and your friend go along," said Mrs. Googie.
"Uh, you don't want us to help you clean up?" said Eppie. She would help them even though they were strange.
"Oh, that's sweet of you, honey. No, you go along and Mr. Googie and I will clean up as soon as he's finished. Isn't that right, dear."
Mr. Googie grunted as Eppie and Mavis went back to Mavis's room.
"Your parents are nice," said Eppie as she sat back down on Mavis's bed.
"Oh yeah," said Mavis, still standing. "Mom's a little nosy and dad's not much of a talker, but they're OK." Mavis sat down next to Eppie. "So, what are your ideas for my campaign?"
The campaign. Was that why Eppie had come over here? But that's what friends were for, right? They helped each other out. But Eppie still felt she didn't know much about Mavis. Friends should know everything about each other it seemed. They should share everything. And so far, it seemed to Eppie that she, herself, had done most of the sharing. Sure, Mavis had fed her. Tonight with dinner and before with the apple, but still, food was not friendship. You feed the animals at the zoo, but they're not your friends. You feed prisoners in a prison and they're not your friends either. You have to share: thoughts, feelings, everything. It wasn't that Eppie didn't have feelings for Mavis. And she felt that Mavis had feelings for her as well. But they weren't shared feelings. They were like the two ships passing in the night. Ho there, matie! Ho there, matie! I have feelings for you! And I for you! Farewell! Farewell!
Eppie looked around Mavis's room. She saw an old photograph on Mavis's dresser. Eppie went up to have a closer look.
"What's this?" she asked, holding up the picture of a little girl, about six or seven years old, and dressed as a flapper.
"Oh, that's a picture of me in my depraved youth," said Mavis with a laugh.
Mavis got up and stood next to Eppie.
"Oh no, just a party."
"Hm," said Eppie, not quite satisfied. "And who's this?" She pointed to a young boy standing next to Mavis in a gangster costume.
"Oh, that's Al Capone," said Mavis dreamily.
Eppie waited for Mavis to continue, but nothing came. She was getting nowhere.
"Maybe I should go," she said and began to make a move for the door.
"Oh," said Mavis suddenly. "I thought you wanted to talk about the campaign."
Eppie shook her head.
"Why? What's the matter?"
Mavis looked expectantly at Eppie as Eppie felt herself burning up inside. She felt she wanted to tell Mavis something, but wasn't sure what it was. She felt she wanted to know Mavis, to hold her, to know something about her, something wonderful that Eppie couldn't quite explain.
Mavis came over to Eppie and taking her by the hand, led her back to the bed.
"Tell me what you want," she said in a voice so soothing that Eppie felt that she would break. "Tell me what you want and I'll be your friend forever."
Roland sat in the dark, waiting expectantly. A few shafts of moonlight shined through the slats of the converted lockers. It was a comfortable locker, not as padded since Tami and Tamika had stopped leaving their underwear, but still, it was nice. He didn't feel as safe as before though, since he saw one of his attackers invading his territory and vanishing down the slippery drainpipes of toilet number 3. And that new girl, Technita, she was supposed to bring her used tampons for him to guard. Outrageous! As if he didn't have enough problems. He was getting a little hungry, too. Tamika had promised him an omelet tomorrow. He had requested no ketchup, but now he wished he hadn't. Some toast would be nice, too. And bacon. And a napkin. Roland rested his head against the cold metal sheeting to his left. He missed Tami's bra. He shouldn't have said anything. It was his only pillow and now he had none.
Suddenly, there was a tapping on his door. Roland stiffened and waited.
"Roland," came a soft whisper from without. "Roland, it's me."
Roland waited some more. He didn't recognize the whisper. People usually were yelling at him it seemed, so this was new.
"Roland, it's me. Technita."
Oh no. Technita. Here with her tampon, thought Roland. I may get my omelet sooner than I expected.
Roland slowly opened the door and peered out as the shaded figure of a giant girl loomed overhead.
"Hey, Roland," it said and handed a plain, brown, paper bag to him. "Sorry."
Technita grinned sheepishly and started to exit.
"Uh, you don't have to go," said Roland, a little surprised at his own forwardness.
"Oh no. You must be tired from carrying cheerleaders on your shoulders."
"No no. Tamika was light. She had sweaty thighs though. I can still smell her perfume on my cheeks. Here. Take a sniff."
Roland offered up one of his cheeks to the lumbering girl.
"That's OK," said Technita with a chuckle. "I know what it smells like."
"Oh really? How's that?"
Technita shook her head and snorted a little.
"Say, why do you live in that locker anyway? There's a whole school out here just waiting to be slept on."
Roland shrunk back a little in the metal box. He kind of liked it here.
"Oh, you know, it's comfortable. And cheap." Roland attempted a little laugh. "And it's fairly safe." He banged on the metal walls with his fist. "Heavy metal."
"So, where do you sleep?" asked Roland.
"Oh, anywhere. Everywhere. The chemistry lab, the cafeteria, Principal Nolo's office…"
"You sleep in Principal Nolo's office?"
"Sure, why not?" said Technita with a shrug. "I pay taxes."
"What's it like in there?"
"Oh, it's nice. It's has a couch…"
"A little refrigerator…"
"Oh ho. What's in the safe?"
"I don't know."
"What's in the refrigerator?"
"Little weiners and Cheez Whiz," said Technita.
"Mmm. Little weiners and Cheez Whiz," said Roland. "And crackers?"
"In his drawer."
"In the cafeteria."
Eppie walked home along Maple Avenue in the moonlight. It was a good meal, even though Mavis's parents were strange. And she had not accomplished anything with Mavis either. Mavis in the moonlight. Mavis of the soft hands. So was that it? Was Eppie going to go it alone for the next two years? Eppie wasn't sure. For she still felt something for Mavis. But Mavis wouldn't open up to her. She wanted Eppie to do all the opening. Was that acceptable for a friend? Eppie wasn't sure. But she was sure that being with Mavis felt good. It felt bad, but it felt good because she felt that Mavis wanted to be with her, too. Wasn't that enough? For a two-year friend as opposed to a no friend? It seemed a possibility to Eppie.
There was her house. Her mom's car was not in the driveway. Late date? Open house? Eppie entered and remembered the lasagna she had heated up for herself. She had forgotten about it after talking to Mavis on the phone. She went into the kitchen and took it out of the microwave. She stuck her finger inside and was surprised to find it was still a little warm. Lasagna was like that though, the layers of noodles were like insulation. Should she eat it? Reheat it? She still had that paper to do for Ms. Min's class. And there was the Ms. Frankel thing. And there was Mavis, of course. Mavis. Mavis in the moonlight. Mavis in the moonlight and you. She had asked Eppie what she wanted, but Eppie couldn't say. She had said that she would be Eppie's friend forever. Did she mean that? Or was that just teen-age hyperbole? Was that just Mavis in the moonlight talking? For no one was anything forever, were they? Why, ten years from now Mavis wouldn't even be Mavis anymore. She'd be a different person, halfway between Mavis and Mrs. Googie. Or maybe she'd turn out more like Mr. Googie. Even worse. Or maybe, with Eppie as her friend, she would turn out different. Better. Eppie herself would be different, she supposed. Was that what friends were for, to make sure you didn't turn out like your parents? Or was it the other way around? Your life changed you, too, though, didn't it? For better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death did you part. Amen. But what if she turned out to be like Mavis? Or what if Mavis turned out to be like her? Who would be better off? Eppie liked Mavis, but she didn't want to be her. Or even like her. She just wanted to be near her, sometimes. To be together, but different. That was it, together, but different. To share or not to share, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for the next two years. Oh boy.
The Googie family had fed her, but had not given her dessert. It was unfinished business, clearly. For what was a meal without dessert? It was like blowing up a balloon and forgetting to tie up the end. Was that what was missing from Eppie's life? Dessert? A tied up end? Eppie looked at the lasagna and felt like ice cream. She was ice cream. Hard and soft. Cold and creamy. Sweet and delicious. The perfect ending to a wonderful meal. Maybe she would work out some ideas for Mavis's campaign, hear what Mavis had to say, then maybe ask Mavis for a hug. That would be enough for now, and not forever, she supposed.
Roland and Technita walked down the hallways together. It wasn't such a bad place when the students and teachers weren't here. But was a school a school without students and teachers? If you lived there, it wasn't your school, it was your home. And which was more important? Technita was right. There were lots of places to sleep besides a locker in the girls' locker room. There was the boys' locker room. The gymnasium. The nurse's office. The cafeteria. But would Roland be safe? Maybe with Technita. For after all, she was an awfully big girl. Could she have protected Roland from the three thuggies who stripped him of his dignity? Would she even want to? And besides, he kind of liked living in Tami and Tamika's lockers. If only he could talk Tami into leaving her bra for him again, it would be almost perfect.
There was Principal Nolo's office. A mean guy. A warlord. But if he had little weiners and Cheez Whiz in his refrigerator, what could you do? Roland and Technita entered.
"You get the Cheez Whiz and little weiners," said Technita, "and I'll get the crackers."
Roland went to the refrigerator and there they were: Cheez Whiz and little weiners. Enough to feed a small army. It must be all Principal Nolo ate. And crackers, of course.
"Got 'em," said Roland. "Get the crackers and let's get out of here."
"Can't," said Technita.
"Can't or won't?"
"Can't find 'em. We'll just have to put Cheez Whiz on the little weiners for tonight."
"I am not putting Cheez Whiz on my little weiner," said Roland. "Look some more."
Roland and Technita looked around the office. They found toy soldiers behind the bookshelves, little mousetraps lining the walls, eighty-seven cents and a used condom beneath the cushions of the couch, but no crackers.
"It must be in there," said Roland.
"In the safe? No way," said Technita.
"Yes. It makes sense," said Roland. "Safe. Safe cracker. Safe crackers. It's a clue."
"You're insane, but OK, but how do we get in?"
"Ah, you forget where I live," said Roland, kneeling down and pressing his ear against the cold metal door. He blew on his sensitive fingertips, placed them lightly on the rounded knob and began to twirl. Twenty-seven left, sixteen right, eighty-two left. Click.
"We're in," said Roland.
"Wonderful. Get the crackers and let's get out of here."
"Wait a minute," said Roland, handing a package of round crackers to Technita. "Look at this."
Roland reached into the stacks of round and square cracker packages and pulled out a cardboard tube.
"What's that?" said Technita.
Roland opened up the tube and pulled out some papers.
"OK," said Technita. "Get some more crackers and let's blow."
"No, wait," said Roland unrolling the prints. "It's blueprints of the school, but look. There seem to be passageways underneath some of the buildings. Look. Here's the girls' locker room and here's toilet number three and look, here's a passageway underneath. Now where does it lead?"
Roland began tracing along the dotted line with his finger.
"OK OK," said Technita. "Get some more crackers, bring the blueprints and we'll look them over in the cafeteria. I'm getting hungry."
"All right," said Roland. "I'll need some more time to figure this out anyway." Roland began handing Technita round and square packages of crackers. "Wait a minute. I think I see some sort of book or ledger underneath here. Here, hold this."
Roland handed Technita the blueprints and reached for the book at the bottom of the safe. But as he began to pull, a big, hairy pair of hands burst through the stack of crackers, grabbed Roland by the wrists and yanked him from off his knees, through the crackers and down into another world below.
Eppie entered the Owl's Nest Café. She had promised to meet Mavis for breakfast before school to discuss Mavis's campaign. There she was. Mavis turned around and waved excitedly. Eppie waved back and went over to Mavis's table. Mavis always seemed happy to see Eppie. She didn't understand that about her. She liked Mavis and wanted to be her friend and all, but she was hardly ever happy to see her.
"Hi," said Eppie sitting down. "I hope I'm not late."
"No, your not late. I'm early," said Mavis, then leaned forward conspiratorially. "I got us a good table."
"Oh yeah," said Eppie looking around.
Mavis smiled at Eppie.
"I'm gonna have a cup of hot chocolate and a waffle. What are you gonna have?"
Eppie looked over the menu.
"Uh, I think just coffee."
"Uh yeah. I'm not really hungry."
"I had ice cream last night."
"Oh," said Mavis nodding.
Eppie began to wonder if she should have invited Mavis over for some ice cream. Should she order a waffle? For although Mavis always seemed happy to see Eppie, she had trouble sustaining it. Did Eppie bring her down? Maybe Mavis was a naturally happy person and Eppie brought her down. But Mavis didn't really seem to strike Eppie as a naturally happy person. She seemed like the type of person who required some sort of outside stimulant. Her natural state seemed to be one more of pensiveness, or distractiveness. But be that as it may, Eppie liked to think she brought Mavis up. For Eppie could be entertaining when she wanted to be.
"I have an idea for your campaign," said Eppie. "Should I order a waffle?"
"Oh really," said Mavis suddenly interested.
"Yeah. I call it the Anti-Party."
Mavis looked quizzically at Eppie.
"Yeah," said Eppie. "Do you remember Ms. Min's homework assignment?"
Mavis thought for a moment. She hadn't been to class for a few days. The last thing she remembered was people laughing. Were they laughing at her or Eppie?
"A little," she said.
"Well, instead of saying this or that, I was thinking of writing an anti-paper."
"What's an anti-paper?"
"You know, it says that a paper can't be written because the question itself is not valid."
"Oh," said Mavis beginning to screw up her mouth, then popping it back into shape. "What was the question again?"
"What does living in a civil society mean to you."
"Oh, that's right," said Mavis. "Why is that not valid?"
"It's not valid because it means nothing to me."
"Hm," said Mavis. "So if she had asked, What does living in a civil society mean, rather than, What does living in a civil society mean to you, then the question would have been OK."
"So you've obliterated the self."
"No. I've obliterated living and a civil society."
"So you're saying that everything revolves around you?"
"No. I'm saying that nothing revolves around me."
"So you're saying that living and a civil society exist, but that when you enter the picture, they disappear."
"Only when they try revolving around me."
"What if you try revolving around them."
"I would never do that."
"But what if you did? What would happen?"
"Same thing, I suppose."
"I think so."
"Hm," said Mavis pensive. This was the first time Eppie had seen Mavis both pensive and communicative. She wondered what that meant.
"So what's an Anti-Party then?" said Mavis.
"Well, it's kind of the same thing, except instead of me, it would be anybody else and instead of living and a civil society, it would be anything else."
Mavis looked pensive for a little while longer, then threw up her hands and broke into a smile.
"So we're covered."
"I think so," said Eppie nodding, beginning to feel a little more connected to Mavis. "Should I order a waffle?"
Tamika rapped softly on her locker door.
"Rise and shine," she said. "I've got a surprise for someone."
There was no answer.
"Maybe he's not home," said Tamika to Tami.
"That's not his home," said Tami. "It's just the place he's staying until we can find him someplace better. Try again."
"Roland," sang Tamika. "Omelet."
Tamika opened the cover of her plastic container and fanned the tantalizing steam of her homemade recipe Eggs Tamika through the slots of the metal door. She had softened her opinion of Roland from yesterday and promised herself to make amends.
"Roland," she continued. "It's Tamika. With breakfast. We love you."
They heard some rustling inside the locker.
"He's just being difficult," said Tami. She banged on the door with her fist. "Hey Roland, open up in there!"
"Maybe something's the matter."
"Nothing's the matter. He's just mad at us because we made him guard Technita's tampon." She banged on the locker again. "Roland! Open up this instant or we're coming in!"
There was some more rustling and some sniffling sounds.
"He's crying," said Tamika.
"He's not crying, the big baby," said Tami. She twirled her combination. "OK Roland, we're coming in."
Tami swung open the door and saw two enormous feet where Roland's tiny feet were usually planted. Tami stuck her head in her locker and looked inside.
Technita started to blubber.
"Technita, what are you doing in there? Where's Roland? Are you sitting on Roland?"
Technita shook her head, the tears rolling down her enormous cheeks like whales over the Pacific Ocean.
"Tamika, open up your side of the locker."
Tamika set down her plastic container and twirled open her side of the box. Technita sat hunched up in the tiny space, half eaten cans of Cheez Whiz and weiners and packages of crackers covering her ample bosom.
"Wow Technita, did you eat all these?"
Technita nodded, ashamed.
"I only ate half of them," she stammered. "I was saving the other half for Roland."
Technita broke down again. Tamika took out a little weiner out of one of the half eaten cans and held it up to Tami.
"So what," said Tami. "You and Roland had a party last night?"
Technita shook her head.
"You were supposed to have a party and he stood you up," said Tamika, gently stroking one of Technita's muscular forearms.
"No," said Technita, choking back the tears and spraying a dollop of Cheez Whiz on Tamika's little weiner. "They took him."
"Who took him?" said Tami.
Tamika looked at her Cheez-Whiz-covered little weiner and showed it to Tami.
"Hands," sputtered Technita.
"Hans? Hans who?"
"No no," said Technita, taking Tamika's cheezy weenie and sticking it in Tamika's mouth. "Hands. Hands. Like Hands Across America."
Tamika chewed the weenie.
"I need a cracker," she said, reaching for one of the half eaten cracker packs.
Technita broke down again, her massive shoulders heaving up and down like hippopotamuses in a storm-tossed swamp.
"That's what Roland said just before the hands…hands…"
Technita began to wail.
Tamika took a little weiner and stuck it in Technita's mouth.
"Hands. Who's this Hands person?" said Tami.
"No no," said Technita. "Not Hands the person. Real hands. Big hands. Hairy hands."
"OK OK," said Tami. "What did these big, hairy hands do?"
"They, they grabbed Roland by the lapels," said Technita, clutching her own enormous hands in front of her to demonstrate, "and yanked him through the crackers."
"Crackers? What crackers?" said Tami.
"In Principal Nolo's office," said Technita.
"Ah, Principal Nolo," said Tami giving Tamika a significant look. "So do these crackers belong to Principal Nolo?"
"Yes," she said. "He kept them in a safe, in his office."
"And these hands, were they in Principal Nolo's office, too?"
"Yes," said Technita, sniffling. "Roland opened the safe to get the crackers and there were these blueprints of the school. Roland said there were tunnels or something underneath some of the buildings."
Tami and Tamika exchanged significant looks again.
"Then Roland said he saw a book or something at the bottom of the safe, he started to get it and then the hands, the hands…"
Technita started trembling.
"Were there arms attached to these hands?"
"I don't know," wailed Technita. "All I know is these two enormous hands came bursting out of the safe and the last thing I remember are the bottoms of Roland's little shoes flying through a wall of cracker packages before he disappeared forever."
Technita started blubbering again and began tossing back the cans of half eaten weiners into her wailing mouth.
"I might as well eat these now, I might as well eat these now," she cried, stuffing little weiners into her mouth, followed by long, streaming bands of Cheez Whiz. "Roland's never gonna getta chance to eat 'em!"
"Don't say that," said Tamika, trying to stop Technita's cheesy baccanal. "We'll get him back, won't we, Tami."
"Yes," said Tami. "The People First Party will not rest until Roland is back in this locker room and putting Cheez Whiz on his little weiner."
"And eating omelets," said Tamika patting the top of her now closed plastic container.
(2004 note: Ms. Frapple and Junie Frackle are the same character.)
Amelia stood at the front of Tsu's civics class and prepared to speak. Tsu had agreed to let her talk to her students about the Engagement Party as long as she didn't abuse them or make them cry.
Amelia looked fondly over the sea of bright shiny faces. She wondered who would be the first among them to join her crusade. Would it be that lad slumped sullenly in the corner? That skinny girl with the pretty face giggling with her pleasant looking boyfriend? Sure, they seemed uninterested at the moment, but give them a purpose in life, fill their bellies with the fire of truth and rightness and there's no telling how far they could go.
"So," said Amelia, "looking out at you I am reminded of my own time spent as a high school student. I would think to myself, Why am I here? I'm wasting away with people who are either useless or irritating and if I don't get out of here soon I know I'm gonna die. But then I went off to college where there were at least a few people of interest and worth. I got my degree and returned to high school as a counselor."
"Why?" said a girl with long, stringy hair.
"Why did I become a counselor?"
"No. Why did you return to high school if it made you so unhappy before?"
"Well," said Amelia, "first, I was getting paid to come here, so that was an incentive. And second, I came back in a position of authority. I thought I had a vocation for helping others, and I found that rewarding, at first."
"What about now?"
"Well," said Amelia, "to be honest with you, not very."
"It's not rewarding to help people?"
"I think you have to be a certain type of person to achieve continual satisfaction out of helping individual people. Do you know the other counselor, Ms. Frapple? I think she's that type of person. She really gets involved with her counselees, it's almost a personal thing with her, so she can derive a sense of purpose despite the limitations.
"Why don't you switch jobs then?" said the girl with the stringy hair. There was a murmur of general agreement throughout the class.
"Well, I did, in a way. I tried to get a job at East Nareen as a counselor."
"Why, if being a counselor here makes you so unhappy?"
"Well, because at East Nareen, students with problems are aberrations. When you help that person, you truly are helping that person to continue on their wonderful, fulfilling life path. But here, students with problems are kind of the norm. I can help individual students, sure, but it's kind of like pulling a person out of a pool filled with crap, cleaning them up and then tossing them back into the pool.
"Don't toss them back into the pool."
"I have to. The pool is the school."
"Keep them with you then."
"I can't. It's not in my make-up. That's the kind of thing Ms. Frapple would do and even she can only keep so many students at one time."
"So what are you saying, that we're crap?" said a surly girl with ragged teeth.
"No," said Amelia. "I said you're covered with crap."
"Maybe you're the crap."
The skinny girl with the pleasant looking boyfriend giggled.
"No," said Amelia. "I clean off the crap, but I'm getting tired of it, you
"Then why don't you do something about it?" said the giggly girl in an excited, high pitched sqeak.
"I am," said Amelia brightening up.
"You're gonna kill yourself?" said the surly girl.
"No," said Amelia trying to maintain her composure. "I'm going to try and do something constructive, that's why I'm here."
"Take off your clothes," shouted someone in the back.
"Would you shut up?" said the girl with the stringy hair.
"Thank you," said Amelia. "Now, if the problem is not so much the individual students, but rather the crap filled pool, the solution would be to concentrate on the pool. So to that end, I've come here with the prospect a new political party for the upcoming student elections."
There was a general groan from the class.
"Student elections are for wimps, losers and ass kissers," shouted someone from the back.
"Maybe, maybe not," said Amelia as she began to pace the room.
"The clothes are about to go, I can feel it in pants!"
"No," said Amelia. "The reason everyone's so down about student elections is because they don't feel connected to the candidates and their ideas…"
"We got no power!"
"I wanna go home!"
"I'm gonna take off my clothes!" cried the giggly girl followed by a hail of hysterical laughter.
"No," said Amelia, raising her voice to be heard over the increasing din. "You don't have to take off your clothes, you don't have to go home and you can have power, if you know what to do!"
"Then tell us! Tell us!"
"Let her speak!" cried the girl with the stringy hair.
"I can't tell you what to do!" cried Amelia. "Join my party and you can do it yourselves!"
"Let me engage you!"
"Let us kill you! We hate you! We despise you!"
"Throw off your petty associations! You don't know love! You don't know death! There's only engagement! You and engagement!"
"Marry us then! Marry us!"
"Engage me! Engage yourselves in whatever you feel the most strongly about and you'll set the world on fire!"
"We love you! We can't live without you!"
"Sign ups are in my office in the counselor's building, room 27B!" cried Amelia making her way to the door. "I'll be waiting! I'll be waiting! I love you all!"
"Well, that went well," said Amelia as she ate lunch in her office with Tsu.
"Went well!" cried Tsu. "Half the class wanted to tear your clothes off, the other half wanted to kill you!"
"Hey, at least they were interested. When's the last time your class really wanted to kill you?"
"I'm not there to be killed, I'm there to teach."
"You can't teach if they're not engaged."
"My class is engaged."
"Oh sure, they're engaged in a kind of student-teacher, namby-pamby kind of way."
"That's what we are! That's why we're here!"
"That's why you’re here, doing the breast stroke in a pool of crap. Didn't you hear that part of my lecture? That was one of my favorite parts."
"I think that's what set them off."
"Hey, then it's my favorite part."
"Which one was Lulu?"
"The girl who said you were saying that they were crap."
"Ah. And who was the hysterical girl who offered to take off her clothes?"
"That was Connie. And the guy who kept yelling at you to take off your clothes was Jeff."
"Ah. Didn't that bother you? I mean wasn't that sexual harassment?"
"Hey, whatever lights their fuse. I don't discriminate," said Amelia. "Hey, who was that girl with the stringy hair, by the way? I liked her."
"Your only defender? That was Kinney."
"Ah. Well, I liked her the best. I hope she joins."
"There, did you hear that?"
"You say you're into the Engagement Party, but you say you like Kinney the best. If you really believed what you said you would like Jeff or Lulu the best, they were the most engaged."
"Jeff and Lulu were engaged physically and emotionally, respectively. That was fine. We can use that. But Kinney was engaged intellectually and at this point, we can use her the most."
There was a knock at the door.
"Oh boy," said Amelia, jumping up from her desk. "Maybe that's her."
Amelia went skipping to the door. Her heart was light and filled with a newly sprouted kind of love. It was Kinney, she just knew it. Kinney and her would lay the foundation of her new movement. They would stay up late at night, hashing and rehashing new thoughts, new ideas, analyzing, formulating, mixing, matching, stirring, feeling, doing, being. It would be wonderful.
Amelia threw open the door.
"Uh, hi," said a mumbly, nondescript boy with oily hair and bad skin. "I'm here for your party?"
(2004 note: Ms. Mackinoggy and Amelia Ablogdoglio are the same character.)
"She wants to die," said Lulu, gnashing her ragged teeth.
"Who wants to die?" said Barelle.
"That counselor, Ms. Mackinoggy."
"She does not want to die."
"I wanna take off my clothes!" squeaked Connie.
"Look. She got Connie all excited. Miguel, calm your girlfriend down."
Miguel whispered something into Connie's ear. Connie smiled and suppressed a giggle.
"Why does she want to die?" said Barelle.
Lulu grumbled darkly for a few moments.
"I don't like it," she said.
"That new party of hers. That Engagement Party. She called us crap and people wanted to marry her. I don't like it."
"She called the school crap and said she loved us."
"And people believed her."
"Mm. She did get them excited," said Barelle.
"She's a threat."
"To us. To the Pie Theory Party."
"But we haven't told anybody about the Pie Theory Party yet," said Barelle with a shrug.
"And why should we? What chance do we have when we're dealing them cold, hard facts and Ms. Engagement is giving them pie in the sky?"
"I wanna take off my clothes!" squeaked Connie.
"And people want Mackinoggy to take off her clothes, too," said Lulu shaking her head. "Do you think people are gonna want that from us?"
"Is that what you want?" said Barelle.
Lulu let out a heavy sigh.
"Where's Technita," she said.
"You alienated her," said Barelle.
"Technita's got the curse," croaked Connie.
"She'll be back," said Lulu. "Unless Mackinoggy lures her in."
"I heard she's hangin' with the cheerleaders," said Barelle.
"Wonderful," said Lulu darkly. "Miguel, how's the Pie Theory Party coming?"
Miguel shifted his weight slightly. Connie found a new place against his body to lean against and nuzzled in.
"Why's that my responsibility?" he said.
Lulu took a dollar bill out of her pocket and held it in front of Miguel's face.
"Because this is you," she said. "Remember?"
"Miguel's the president," croaked Connie, eyeing the bill as she wrapped her arms around Miguel, a lascivious smile snaking its way across her cartoon mouth.
"So what does that mean?" said Miguel.
"It means," said Lulu, trying to maintain her composure, "that you have to come up with a plan to win the election."
"Uh uh," said Miguel. "It means I'm in charge." He slipped the dollar bill from between Lulu's stubby fingers and handed it to Connie. "Me and Connie are gonna take a break. You and Barelle figure something out and let us know what you come up with when we get back."
Connie suppressed a giggle as she and Miguel began lolling their way to the candy machine.
Lulu ground her ragged teeth and tightened her gnarly fingers into hammy fist.
"He wants to die," she muttered.
"What party?" said Amelia, eyeing the nondescript boy in her doorway.
"Why, the Engagement Party, isn't that right, Wally?"
Wally ran his fingers through his oily hair and nodded.
"You know this person?"
"Sure," said Tsu. "This is Wally, one of my favorite students. Come on in, Wally."
Wally shuffled his way into the Amelia's office. Amelia took a look into the hallway.
"Was there anybody else with you?"
Wally shook his head.
"Nope, just me," he said pallidly.
"I was hoping there'd be more," she said.
"Why, you don't need more when you have Wally," said Tsu. "Have a seat Wally." Wally sat. "So, what was it that drew you to Ms. Mackinoggy's party?"
Wally ran his fingers through his oily hair, then started poking at the blemishes that covered his craggy, nondescript face.
"Ms. Mackinoggy," he said.
"Did you hear that, Ms. Mackinoggy? Ms. Mackinoggy drew Wally to Ms. Mackinoggy's party." Tsu pulled Wally's hand away from his face. "Wally, stop that."
Amelia sighed and leaned against her desk in front of Wally.
"So, Wally, what was it about me that you liked?"
Wally shrugged and looked at the floor.
"Was it my ideas?"
"Was it the way I presented my ideas?"
Wally shrugged again.
"Was it my dress?"
Wally tapped his knee with an oil covered finger and looked away.
"So you felt engaged by Ms. Mackinoggy's dress," said Tsu. "Ms. Mackinoggy likes that. Pooh Bah likes that, don't you Pooh Bah."
Amelia made a face at Tsu.
"Listen Wally, I really appreciate your coming down here, but I don't think just you and me are going to get much accomplished, you know?"
Wally looked down at the floor.
"So, I'll tell you what. Why don't you leave your name and number and when more people start coming I'll give you a call. What do you say?"
"I can bring other people," he said.
Amelia furrowed her brow. She didn't know how many more Wallys her party could handle.
"Oh really," she said.
"Sure," said Tsu. "Wally has lots of friends. Tell Pooh Bah who you'd bring."
Amelia forced a small smile and waited for Wally's reply.
"Kinney," he said.
"Kinney?" said Amelia, suddenly perking up. "You know Kinney?"
"Sure," said Tsu. "Wally and Kinney are brother and sister, aren't you
Amelia regarded Wally skeptically, recalling the seemingly well balanced girl from Tsu's class who had defended her.
"No," said Tsu. "Kinney is Wally's baby sister. She skipped a grade or two and Wally, well, let's just say that Wally and I have seen each other before."
"Well," said Amelia, trying to suppress her growing sense of joy, "if you can bring in Kinney. I mean if you can bring in another person, then maybe we would have enough people to get this party rocking. I mean we could get the Engagement Party off to a credible beginning." Amelia had flashes of her and Kinney debating the merits of Engagement Theory, putting up posters, polishing the silverware for the victory party. "So," she continued to Wally, "do you think she'd come?"
Wally rubbed the side of his puffy face with an oily hand.
"I don't know," he said pallidly. "I'd have to ask her."
Amelia nodded, then nodded some more. It seemed that Wally would need some help here.
"Would you?" she said finally, forcing a pleasant smile.
"I don't know," said Wally in a nondescript manner.
"Wally doesn't like putting pressure on other people, do you Wally," said Tsu, walking behind Wally and putting her hands on his shoulders.
Wally pursed his lips and shrugged.
"Well, asking your own sister if she wants to join a party, not even join, but just come to a meeting, isn't pressure, is it, Wally?" said Amelia with a slight air of desperation. "I mean, come on, it's no big deal, right? You ask her and she either comes or she doesn't come, right?"
Amelia looked into Wally's puffy, blotchy face for an answer, but was not rewarded for her effort.
"I mean, I've got another dress," said Amelia trying another approach. "It's really nice."
She smiled winsomely at Wally.
"Amelia," said Tsu with mild disapproval.
"The Engagement Party," said Amelia.
"All right," said Wally.
"Are you sure that's what you want, Wally?" said Tsu.
Amelia looked at Wally, then at Tsu for an answer.
"She'll be here," said Tsu.
"So what's wrong with planning the Pie Theory strategy on your own," said Barelle. "I thought that's what you wanted."
"I wanted it in terms of creating my own vision," said Lulu, "of creating my own pie, a pie to which everyone could hope and aspire, if not today, then tomorrow, if not tomorrow, then through their children. Or someone else's children."
"But aren't you doing that by planning the strategy?"
"If I was confident that my strategies would be carried out by my worthy minions, then yes. But I don't feel that."
"But Miguel said you could plan the strategy."
"Miguel said, Miguel said," said Lulu in a mocking tone. "Miguel shouldn't be the one saying. I should be the one saying. What good is the Pie Theory Party if I have to bake the entire pie by myself! Lulu think up the idea! Lulu go get all the ingredients! Lulu wear a funny hat and apron and mix and roll and stir and stand next to a hot oven till it's done and tell us when it's fucking finished! That ain't no Pie Theory Party! It's the Shit On Lulu Party! Open wide and we'll fill your head with shit, toss you in the oven and when you're done, we'll shit-toss you into the fucking sewer!"
"But if you're planning the strategy, it's still your party, isn't it?"
Lulu shook her head.
"You can't have a party with just one person," she said. "It's pathetic. You can't have a pie with just one person either."
"Why not? Can't a pie be sliced for one person? One slice for Monday morning, one slice for Tuesday afternoon..."
"Well you could and that would be fine, but we want to expand the Individual Pie Theory into a Societal Pie Theory. That's why we're here. That's why we're throwing the party."
"So everyone's invited."
"Everyone's invited, but not everyone can take a bite."
"Because," said Lulu, "there's only one pie and there are innumerable pie eaters. The pie establishes boundaries in order to distinguish the deserving pie eaters from the undeserving pie eaters. We'll call them the pie biters.That's basic pie theory. Take a slice and call me in the morning."
"Why not bake a bigger pie so everyone can have a slice?"
"The pie is already as big as it can get. There are only bigger or smaller slices, not bigger or smaller pies."
"Why not bake more pies?"
"There's only one pie. There may be innumerable parties, but there's only one pie. Each party gets a slice and each slice gets sliced again for the pie eaters within each party."
"So you're saying there's nothing new."
"No," said Lulu. "New areas of the pie may arise, but they push out the old. Remember, the Pie Theory is a theory of boundaries."
"But what if somebody could bake a pie big enough to give everyone a
"Hey, if somebody could do that, then they can take my Pie Theory, shove it up my ass and I'd say thank you very much. But that ain't gonna happen and I ain't gonna waste my time worrying about it."
"So why are you worried," said Barelle.
"I'm worried," said Lulu heaving a heavy sigh, "because Miguel, and Connie to a lesser extent, aren't being very good pie eaters. I say, Miguel, how's the Pie Theory Party coming along and he says, Hey, fuck you, Lulu, you figure it out. Very bad manners."
Lulu began to shake her heavy head once again when Miguel and Connie lolled their way back into the scene.
"Hey, how's it goin'?" said Miguel.
"How's what goin"?" said Lulu narrowing her eyes.
Miguel shrugged as Connie chewed on a licorice whip.
"Hey Miguel, what does the Pie Theory Party say about that package of licorice whips?" said Lulu.
Miguel looked at Connie chewing happily on the licorice whip, then at Lulu.
"The Pie Theory Party says it tastes good," he said.
He smiled at Connie as she happily chewed away.
"Hey Connie," said Lulu. "What are you, a pie eater or a pie biter?"
Connie thought a moment, looked at Miguel, looked at her licorice whip, then looked at Lulu.
"Both," she croaked, then suppressed a giggle.
Lulu shook her head.
"You can't be both, Cons. You gotta choose. Which one?"
Connie stopped chewing and tried to think.
"Sure she can," said Miguel. "She bites off a piece of licorice, then she eats it. We're all biters and eaters, right?"
"Wrong!" said Lulu. "The Pie Theory Party says the biters are shit and get tossed and the eaters stay. So which one are you, Connie?"
"Hey hey," said Miguel. "Don't yell at Connie. As President of the Pie Theory Party, I say she's both and can stay."
Connie smiled a snaky cartoon smile and leaned her head against Miguel's shoulder.
"Why?" said Lulu.
"Why is she both and why can she stay?"
"I already said why she's both and why she can stay. What do you say?"
"I say there are the deserving and the undeserving, the deserving stay and the undeserving get tossed."
"Well, I say everybody stays, especially Connie," said Miguel.
"Everybody can't stay," said Lulu becoming increasingly agitated.
"Because," she said, "there's only so much pie. If the undeserving stay, that leaves less for the deserving."
"Everybody stays. Everybody's deserving. Everybody gets an equal share," said Miguel.
"No no no no," said Lulu. "Everybody can not stay. Everybody is not deserving. Everybody gets a fair share. That's basic pie theory."
"No, it's not," said Miguel.
"Yes it is! You said yourself that people are always fighting because there's only so much of the pie to go around."
"Did I?" Miguel looked at Connie. Connie shrugged. "Well, I don't think that anymore."
"Since I met Connie."
Connie held out a licorice whip to Lulu.
"So what you're saying is that you and Connie never fight."
"Never," said Miguel.
"But you and I are fighting."
"So, you're saying now that people never fight over the limited amount of pie, but that's what we're doing now, right?"
"Oh," said Miguel. He took the licorice whip from Connie and held it out to Lulu. "Here."
"I'm not talking licorice whips!" cried Lulu, knocking the whip out of Miguel's hand. "I'm talking ideas! You say everybody's included, I say everybody's not! Who's right? If you choose one, then the other gets tossed! You can't have it both ways and if you can't have it both ways then I'm right, right?"
Miguel looked into Connie's pretty, chewing face for a moment.
"No," he said.
"Yes!" cried Lulu.
"No," said Miguel.
"Choose one! You have to pick one, damn it!"
Miguel looked into Connie's pretty, chewing face again.
"You choose one," he said. "I've already made my choice."
"Hey Roland," said a voice through the haze.
Roland couldn't see anything. The last thing he remembered was reaching for some sort of book at the bottom of Principal Nolo's safe, then being yanked through some sort of tunnel. He must have been unconscious till now, asleep or drugged maybe. But was wakefulness any better? For now all was darkness around him. All was mystery. Except that voice overhead which provided the only light in his now hazy world.
"Hey Roland, open your eyes," it said.
"I must be dreaming," said Roland.
"You're not dreaming," said the voice.
"I'm blind. It's a nightmare," said Roland.
"You're not blind."
"I'm blind. I can't see."
"Open your eyes, Roland," said the voice, getting a little annoyed.
Roland slowly opened his eyes. A cold light filled his head, then the face of a beautiful girl.
"Hi," said Roland, rubbing his face with his hand. "Who are you?"
"I'm Annie, a friend."
"I have no friends."
"Yes you do," said Annie. "Now you do."
A large male came into view. It was one of the thugs who had stripped Roland of his dignity a few days ago. Roland became agitated, but Annie put a soft hand on his arm.
"Shh shh shh," she whispered. "It's OK. He's with us."
"Yes, I know," Annie whispered. "He won't hurt you now." She turned to the large thuggish male. "Yes Byron. What do you want?"
"Uh, Rina wants to see you," Byron grunted.
"OK," said Annie. "Tell Rina I'm with Roland now, OK?"
Byron shuffled his big feet against the gravely floor.
"She said now."
"I know," said Annie. "But tell her I'm with Roland now. I'll see her as soon as I can, OK?"
Byron chewed his fleshy lower lip for a few moments, working his beefy hands together like a serial killer.
"OK," he said finally. He regarded Roland coldly for a little while, then exited.
"Is that your boyfriend?" said Roland nervously.
"Oh, no no," said Annie, laughing softly. "He works here. For Rina."
"Hm," said Roland, falling back into his pillow. This was not such a bad place, physically at least. The bed was nice, clean sheets, warm blankets, soft mattress. The lighting was a little harsh, but that could be fixed. Maybe he was in a hospital or something. Maybe Annie was his nurse.
"Where am I?" he said.
"With friends. With me," said Annie putting her hand on his.
"Where are you?" said Roland.
Annie laughed softly.
"What's the last thing you remember?"
"Well," said Roland. "Me and Technita were in Principal Nolo's office getting Cheez Whiz and little weiners and we needed some crackers. So I cracked the safe, got some crackers, saw some blueprints and now I'm here."
"But I don't know where here is."
"Mm," she said. "It takes a little getting used to, doesn't it. Do you like it here?"
Roland looked around and shrugged.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm not dead. Am I?"
Annie squeezed Roland's hand slightly.
"No," she said in a low voice. "You're with friends."
She nodded slightly, as much to herself as to Roland.
"So I'm under the school," said Roland. "I'm somewhere under the toilet."
Annie came back to life.
"Right!" she said with a bright laugh, clapping her hands together. "Though more under the chemistry lab."
"But why. Why am I here? Who are you?"
"Hm," said Annie, her brow slightly furrowed. "You're safe."
"I went through the safe, but I don't know that I am safe," said Roland. "I mean I went through the crackers, too. Does that mean I'm crackers also?"
Annie laughed sympathetically.
"No," she said. "You're not crackers. Maybe safe wasn't the best word."
Roland began feeling a little tense again. Annie put Roland's hand in hers again and held it lightly, but securely.
"You're safe with me," she said with a little nod of her head.
"Was I in danger before?"
"Well," said Annie. "Some people, you know, aren't very understanding, you know what I mean?"
Annie looked deeply into Roland's pale face, but Roland wasn't quite sure what she meant.
"Let me put it this way," she continued. "There are some people in this world, everywhere, who want to help you."
"Like Tami and Tamika."
"Yes," said Annie gravely. "And there are others who see you as something of a, a…"
"No. Not quite a threat. An obstacle. A resistance. You know how a stream flows down a mountain?"
"I've seen pictures."
"Well, at the top of the mountain, the rain falls from the sky and it's pure. The snow melts with the coming of spring and it's pure, also. But as the waters run down the side of the mountain, they begin to pick up various
"I'm an impurity?"
"No," she said. "Not exactly."
"I try to keep clean. When I was living in the girls' locker room, I would take three or four showers a day. I was clean. I was very clean."
"I'm sure you were," said Annie. "That's one of the things we noticed about you, you're desire for cleanliness."
"Yes," said Annie. "The, uh, people down here."
"Oh, me and Byron and Rina and you and…"
"Why are you down here?"
"We're, uh, monitoring the situation."
"Up there," said Annie pointing towards the ceiling. "The school."
Roland looked at Annie suspiciously.
"You're not with the Board of Ed, are you?"
"No," she said. "We're not connected with the Board of Ed."
"But you are connected with Principal Nolo," said Roland.
"Well," said Annie. She rocked an outstretched hand from side to side. "A little."
"You're in his safe."
"We have a passageway there, yes."
"You have access to his crackers."
Annie smiled at Roland.
"So, what does that mean?"
"It means," said Annie. "that when we need him, we can get to him."
"Can he get to you, too?"
"Uh, he can contact us, but he can't come down here unless we bring him down."
"Hm," said Roland. The thought of Principal Nolo down here left him feeling a little queasy. If he was going to be cut off from the world, one of the last people he'd want to meet was Principal Nolo.
"So does he know I'm down here?"
"Uh, yeah," said Annie. "The crackers and everything you left in his office. It'd be hard not to tell him."
"And it's OK with him?"
"Well, he said that, uh, you were kind of alone and that maybe it wouldn't be so bad, you being down here and all."
"Hm," said Roland who supposed that was kind of true in a way. Though he knew Tami and Tamika. And Technita, too.
"So you talk to him?"
"Principal Nolo?" said Annie turning away slightly. "We've met. Rina usually talks to him. They seem to get along."
Annie nodded to herself.
"Do you like him?"
"Principal Nolo?" said Annie. "Well, I don't really know him that well. Like I said, Rina's the one who usually talks to him down here. But I guess he's OK."
"Hm," said Roland. "Nolo sent me down here, didn't he."
"No no," said Annie. "Principal Nolo didn't have anything to do with this."
"So why am I down here?"
"Well," said Annie getting up from the bed and wandering the room a little. "You're probably not going to like me very much after I tell you this, but I brought you down here."
"You?" said Roland.
Roland thought of the big, hairy hands that pulled him through the wall of cracker packages. He looked at Annie's soft, girly-looking hands and had his doubts.
"You pulled me down here?"
"No," said Annie. "I didn't physically pull you down here. That was Ilgo."
"Ilgo," said Roland remembering the big thuggie that just left the room. "Ilgo Byron?"
"No no," said Annie with a laugh. "Byron and Ilgo are two different people. Byron would never do that for me."
"And Ilgo would."
Annie smiled and nodded.
"Yes," she said. "You can trust Ilgo. I'll introduce you to him later."
Roland wasn't sure he wanted to do that. Grab you by the lapels and yank you through a wall of cracker packages. There's no telling what a person like that would do to you once he got you alone.
"So you and Ilgo wanted me down here?"
"Eventually," said Annie sitting back down on the bed. "You see, every four years or so, we bring a new person down here to be with us."
"Well, you know, fresh blood and all."
Fresh blood, thought Roland. It was all starting to make sense now. Byron, fresh blood, the late night attacks.
"Well, maybe fresh blood isn't the right way to put it. We're not vampires."
"You're not vampires, you're not with the Board of Ed. What are you, then?"
"We're, uh, former students, like you."
"Former students," said Roland suspiciously. "How old are you?"
"Oh. Sixteen. Sweet sixteen, like you," said Annie putting her hand on his.
"Sixteen," said Roland. "How long have you been down here?"
"Oh," said Annie. "We don't age. That's one of the benefits of living down here. You won't age either. You'll always be as you are now, physically at least. In all other ways you can grow and change in as many ways and as far as you may feel inclined."
"What if I just wanna lie here."
"Roland," said Annie. "You're just gonna lie there?"
"What if I did? What then?"
"Well, then you'd just lie there, I guess. If that's what you really wanted."
"And what if I wanted to go back to school. Up there." Roland pointed to the ceiling.
"Oh," said Annie. "I thought you didn't like it up there. I thought you were unhappy."
"Well, I was," said Roland. "At least before I met Tami and Tamika. I kind of liked living in their locker."
"Roland," said Annie, "you liked living in a locker?"
"Yeah," said Roland. "It was safe and warm and you know, until Tami took away my pillow then. And then they wanted me to guard Technita's womanly discharge. But it was OK. It was nice."
"But it's safe and warm down here, too," said Annie. "And you've got this nice pillow." She patted the big, fluffy pillow beneath Roland's head. "Don't you think you could like it here?"
"Well, maybe I could," said Roland settling his little head into the big, soft pillow. "But why am I here again?"
"Well, like I said, every four years or so, we bring another person down here, you know, for a fresh perspective, new ideas, a new face even."
"So why me?"
"Well, it wasn't just you. You were one of several candidates that we were considering."
"You and Ilgo."
"Me and Ilgo and Rina and everyone else."
"And I was in the lead."
"Mm, you were in the running."
"What was my platform?"
"Uh, your platform was that, um, you were selected. By me."
"And why did you select me?"
"Well, like I said before, you seemed kind of unhappy up there."
Roland thought this over for a few moments. He supposed that was kind of nice of Annie. To be concerned for his welfare and all.
"So everyone else thought the same thing?"
"Well, some people did. Ilgo did."
"Ilgo. Is he your boyfriend?"
"We're just friends. It's not important."
"So you and Ilgo thought I was unhappy. And what about the others."
"Well, they were concentrating on their own candidates."
"Were they unhappy, too?"
"Maybe. They were unhappy, I suppose, in their own way. But that wasn't their main feature. Some were, you know, very smart or talented or beautiful. Just, you know, different things to make them attractive candidates."
"But I won."
Annie made a face of noncommitted thought.
"You weren't exactly winning."
"I was losing. It was the bag of used tampons, wasn't it."
"You weren't losing either. Just being nominated is, well, never mind."
"So if I was under consideration, why did those guys strip me of my dignity that moonless night in the hallways? Was that some sort of initiation ritual or something? To see if I measured up, so to speak?"
"Well," said Annie, "you know how when you have elections up above, it can get very competitive? Like certain candidates may do things that aren't quite nice to make the other candidates look bad?"
"I'm familiar with that concept," said Roland.
"Well, it's the same thing down here, sort of," said Annie. "Especially with some of the nominators."
"So everyone plays dirty tricks on everyone else."
"Not everyone. Just some. Sometimes."
"And this nominator played a dirty trick on me because this nominator didn't like me."
"Mm, more didn't like me."
"Ah," said Roland.
"Yes. Rina and I don't really get along. So when I nominated you, she decided to give you a hard time."
"To make you look bad."
"Look bad, feel bad, retaliate. I don't know. That's just how she is sometimes."
"But you wouldn't let her get away with it."
"The thing is, we're not really allowed to interfere with an action that one of us initiates above ground. At least not directly."
"So, they stripped me of my dignity, Tami and Tamika saved me. But I still don't understand why I'm down here."
"Well, I'm getting to that," said Annie. "You see, when you were living in the girls' locker room and saw Byron go into stall #3, you became something of a concern."
"So he did go down the toilet! I knew it!" cried Roland. "How did he do that anyway? He took of his shoes, didn't he."
Annie waved her hand through the air.
"That's not important," she said. "Then when you insisted on making an issue of it with the cheerleaders."
"Tami and Tamika."
"Yes. And tried to investigate, you became more of a concern."
"But we didn't find anything at the time. It was Technita, flushing a tampon, remember?"
"Yes," said Annie. "That's another concern of ours."
"But you knew I was living in the girls' locker room at the time, didn't you? And you knew I knew what Byron looked like from our previous encounter. So if you knew those things, why did Byron use that entrance? Why not the Principal Nolo entrance or one of the others I saw on that blueprint?"
"Well, that's a good question," said Annie.
"Uh, I'd rather not say that until I have stronger evidence."
"Well, what did Byron say. You asked him didn't you?"
"Uh, he was questioned about that, yes."
"Well, what did he say?"
"He, uh, said he forgot about you."
"Forgot about me! Lies! Lies! I know it's a lie because I use that excuse all the time myself!"
"Well, whatever the reason, the issue remained that you were aware of a possible passageway into our world and seemed obstinate in your beliefs."
"Ya gotta have faith."
"Yes. Well, anyway, on the night of your descent, when you found the blueprints in Principal Nolo's safe."
"Pretty good, huh? I'll bet none of the other candidates were able to get that far."
"Yes," said Annie. "But that wasn't your criteria."
"What was my criteria again?"
"That you were unhappy."
"Oh, that's right. So when I found the blueprints and that book or whatever that was, my standing fell because my discovery made me less happy?"
"No. No," said Annie. "Your standing fell because you were zeroing in on us without our consent."
"So you yanked me down here and now you're holding me prisoner."
"No no," said Annie. "When you were looking around in the safe, Rina sent Byron and his friends up to your world to find you."
"And bring me down?"
"In a way."
"In what way?"
"Oh, in the way you said before."
"In the prisoner way. Or worse."
"Mm," said Roland. "But you got me first. Or Ilgo did. So now I'm not a prisoner, or worse."
"In a way."
"In what way?"
"In the way you're not really a prisoner, but you're not really a full member either."
"What am I then?"
"Well, you're somewhere between a student and an invalid."
"But I can just lie here if I want."
"Sure," said Annie. "If you want to be an invalid."
"What happens to invalids?"
"I'm not sure," said Annie. "We've never had one before."
"So I'm the first."
"If that's what you really want."
"Hey," said Roland. "What happened to Technita? Is she down here, too?"
"Oh no. She ran out after you got yanked and before Byron and his friends came."
"So she's OK."
"Uh, for now."
"So what, she might be in danger later? I mean she knows about the safe entrance too, right?"
"Yes, yes," said Annie. "We're discussing that now."
"Well, why don't we bring her down here, too?"
"Uh, it's not that simple."
"Well, shouldn't we at least warn her? Send me back up. I'll tell her."
"I don't know if that's such a good idea. I mean you're kind of safe here with me. If you go up there, Rina's gonna try something."
"You come with me then."
"Mm," said Annie. "I don't really like going up there."
"Send Ilgo then."
"Uh, we're kind of in a complicated situation now. I mean, you're not supposed to really be down here, you know? And if we start doing other things now, it's just gonna get more complicated." Annie shook her head. "Besides, I'm sure she'll be all right for now. She saw what happened to you, so she knows she's in some sort of situation where vigilance is required. And she seems pretty much able to take care of herself."
"But that's not certain."
"No," said Annie. "I can't guarantee that…"
"And what about Tami and Tamika. I'm sure Technita's going to tell them what happened."
"Yes, yes," said Annie. "That's another complication that we're monitoring."
"I don't like the sound of this."
"Oh, try not to worry too much," said Annie. "This should be a new beginning for you, your new life as an, uh, invalid."
"It just seems like we should be able to send them a message or something."
"I'll watch out for your friends, don't worry," said Annie patting Roland on the arm. "You just try and get better for now and we'll see what happens."
"Do you think this is such a good idea?" said Tamika. "I mean you know what happened to us the last time we were here."
"We have no choice," said Tami. "I mean, we couldn't get the toilet thing to work. We don’t know the combination to the safe. The best way is the direct approach. We'll confront Principal Nolo with what we know and threaten to turn him in or go to the media if he doesn't help us get Roland back."
"I don't know," said Tamika. "He seems like kind of a mean guy. Maybe we should go to the cops or the Board of Ed or something."
"And tell them what? That a guy who was living in our locker was yanked through a safe by a pair of big, hairy hands? No way. Don't worry. We have truth on our side. We'll wear him down with our sincerity."
"I should have brought cookies."
They approached Principal Nolo's office and stopped in front of his door.
"Cookies won't solve this," said Tami. "Think sincerity. Think conviction. Think…"
"Right," said Tami giving Tamika's hand a quick squeeze. "Ready?"
Tamika nodded and the two cheerleaders marched into the principal's office.
Principal Nolo sat hunched over his desk, an arrangement of papers and documents spread out before him. A ghastly looking man. Thin, colorless lips the size of rubber bands lined a cruel, dark mouth. A pair of pale soulless eyes peered out vacantly from behind the twin coverlets of hairless lids. His eyes appeared not to be round, but flat, like they sheets of clear plastic, with large saucers of pale grey, pupilless irises peering out from their centers. And he never seemed to blink. Always watching. Always open. Unblinking. Vacantly taking in all that came before it. A scary guy. A monster.
"Come in," he intoned, slowly lifting his large, misshapen head from its downcast position. "I've been expecting you."
"I don't like this," whispered Tamika to Tami, taking her friend's hand in hers.
"Remember Roland," whispered Tami.
Tamika swallowed hard and nodded.
Tami and Tamika stood in front of Principal Nolo's desk.
"Have you," said Tami, summoning up an even, business-like demeanor.
"Yes," hissed the Principal. "You're here to clear your consciences, aren't you."
"What do you mean?" said Tami.
Principal Nolo let out a deep, gravely laugh.
"For that little friend of yours…"
"Roland," whispered Tamika to Tami.
"Yes," intoned Principal Nolo. "Roland. The small one."
A picture of Roland lying on the ground in his meatless underwear flashed through Tamika's mind.
"What about Roland?" said Tami.
"For your transgression."
Tami looked into Principal Nolo's pupilless eyes for a sign of what he was getting at, but saw none.
"You have no pupils," said Tami.
Principal Nolo laughed.
"How can you be a principal and have no pupils?"
Principal Nolo stretched his thin lips into a ghastly grin.
"I have no pupils. You have no principles. We're even."
"I have principles," said Tami, gaining in her confidence.
"Oh? Then tell me, what are these principles of yours?"
Tami regarded Principal Nolo again. She wasn't as afraid of him as she thought she'd be. He was large and ghastly, but she had right on her side and felt she could hold her ground.
Tamika nudged her with her elbow.
"Tell him," she whispered.
"We feel that people, all people have supreme value and when a choice has to be made between the welfare of a person and the perpetuation of an idea or goal, that the person's welfare should prevail."
Tamika squeezed Tami's arm in support.
"People First," Principal Nolo hissed.
"Nice People First."
Tamika took a step back as Principal Nolo fixed her with a ghastly grin.
"All People First," said Tami reaching down for Tamika's hand.
"And if you had to choose between a nice person like Roland and a mean person like me, who would you choose?"
Tami thought for a moment. Tamika leaned in.
"Pick Roland," she whispered behind her outstretched hand.
"All People First," she repeated.
Principal Nolo smiled.
"So you're saying that I'm not a person?" he said in a disconcertingly even tone.
"No," said Tami holding her ground.
Principal Nolo leaned forward.
"Come on," he said. "You'd choose Roland first, wouldn't you. He's your friend. He's a nice guy. Why, only a monster would choose otherwise, right?"
"Pick Roland and let's get out of here," whispered Tamika.
"No," whispered Tami. She turned back to Principal Nolo. "It's not my decision to make. All people deserve to be choosen first, equally, without forethought, without favor. I do what I can, when I can. And right now, Roland is the one who needs our help, not you."
"So you would choose Roland," said Principal Nolo.
"No," said Tami. "I'd do what needed to be done. It's not a matter of choosing, of favoring, one over the other."
"I see," said Principal Nolo, his large pale eyes going vacant. He sat there, behind his desk, looking straight ahead at the two girls before him, but seeming not to notice them.
Tamika nudged Tami. Tami shook her head.
"So," said Tami finally, "are you going to tell us where Roland is?"
"Our friend," said Tamika.
"Ah, your friend. The one you choose," said Principal Nolo tapping the tips of his tiny fingers together. "And what would you do to find out where your friend is?"
Tami and Tamika looked at one another.
"Anything," said Tamika.
"What did you have in mind?" said Tami.
Principal Nolo stretched his thin lips into a ghastly smile and peered intently at the two winsome cheerleaders.
"Community service," he said and rose to shut the door.
Eppie made her way to the counselor's building. She thought that the breakfast this morning at the Owl's Nest Café had gone well. Mavis seemed chipper and receptive to her idea about the Anti-Party. Eppie herself felt satisfied. Nothing had really gone wrong. She had even ordered a waffle, like Mavis. It seemed like this was the beginning of a smoothly arcing curve for the two of them. They would work together some more on Mavis's campaign, Mavis would put her name on the ballot, she would get a few votes, maybe even win, then she and Mavis could go on with their lives.
Eppie turned into the building. Mavis had wanted to meet her in Ms. Frapple's office. She wondered what that was all about. Meetings with counselors were never a good idea. She remembered her last encounter with Ms. Frapple, how she had come to talk about Mavis, but how the cunning Ms. Frapple had somehow turned the conversation around to Eppie. She wouldn't let her get away with something like that this time. And yet, her last meeting with Mavis had gone well, so maybe this meeting would be OK, too.
She entered Ms. Frapple's office. There they were. Eppie and the mysterious Ms. Frapple, sitting knee to knee, cackling over some papers on the cunning counselor's shabby wooden desk. Eppie stood in the doorway for a few moments. Should she leave and come back? Not leave and come back. Leave and never come back, she meant. They didn't need her. Look at them, so close, so buddy-buddy palsy-walsy. They even looked alike, Mavis and Ms. Frapple. Even more so than Mavis and her mom, the nosy, dessert-skipping Mrs. Googy. Eppie had noted that before, the physical similarity between Mavis and her beloved counselor. Maybe Mavis was her illegitimate daughter or her illegitimate younger sister. Though that wasn't nice to say that. Her bastard daughter. That was better. Her demon seed sprung up like witch hazel beneath the rotting carcass of a slithy toad. Now the two of them seated together, knee to knee, cackling like chickens over some mysterious documents.
She should just leave. Why stick around for the punishment? The penalty? Those papers? They were probably her medical file. Now they knew she had a potassium allergy and were plotting ways of slipping bananas into her eating regimen. Banana nut bread. Have a sandwich, Eppie. Have a snack. Take a bite and blow up like a balloon. And when you've reached a certain circumference, we'll stick you with a hat pin and pop you like a blowfish. Ho ho ho.
No, thank you, said Eppie to herself and turned to leave. But as she did, she heard someone call her name.
"Eppie," said the voice laughing.
Which one was that, Ms. Frapple or her demon seed? They sounded so alike, Eppie could hardly tell the difference anymore. They were like clones, copies, twins, twins in sin, twins in sync, copy kittens in crime, pea pods, pea pods peeing piddily into the poo poo.
"Eppie, wait. Where are you going?" said the voice again. It was Ms. Frapple. The witch elder.
Eppie turned and smiled.
"Oh, I didn't want to disturb you," she said.
"You're not disturbing us, you're not disturbing us," said Mavis in her breathy, encouraging, little girl voice. "Come on, come on."
Mavis waved Eppie over. It was the Owl's Nest Café all over again. Except this time it was Ms. Frapple instead of waffles.
"I could come back," she said with a glancing tilt of the head. "It's not an issue with me."
Mavis sprung up from her chair.
"No no no no no no no," said Mavis pulling Eppie by the arm and depositing her in the chair opposite Ms. Frapple. "We want you here. We want you always."
Eppie sat in Mavis's chair and thought that it sure sounded nice when Mavis said it. We want you always, said Mavis. Mavis in the Morning. Mavis in the Moonlight. Mavis, will you crave us in the morning? Mavis, will you crave us in the dawn? But who was this Ms. Frapple? She didn't like Eppie, did she. She, Eppie, had come into her office yesterday afternoon and Ms. Frapple had sized her up, sized her down, dissed her, dismissed her and now wanted to eat her for breakfast. Is that what people like Ms. Frapple did? Eat people like Eppie for breakfast? She wondered if she had already eaten Mavis for breakfast. Chewed her up and spit her out into the chair that Eppie presently sat in. Funny, she had never noticed what sharp, fang-like teeth Ms. Frapple had. They glistened like scythes. She meant razor blades. Cruel, colorless, white icy, gleaming cold razor blades. As quick as a snow leopard, unstoppable as a glacier, Ms. Frapple would creep up on you, float down on you like a snowflake, charming you with her delicacy, enticing you with her freshness, her patterns, her angles, her curves. Floating down from an ice blue sky, she would land on the tip of your eyelashes, melt like a lover, flow passed your sinuses, freeze your brain, break your heart, then pass through your fingertips in the form of music as you played the piano.
Who was this woman? Who is Mavis? Why are they so similar? Why are they so different? Why did Eppie want Mavis so much and Ms. Frapple so little? For after all, they were the same person, were they not? They were the same person, the same face, the same figure, the same voice, the same lips, the same music? They were the same, and yet Eppie wanted one and not the other.
"I'm so glad you came back," said Ms. Frapple cruelly grasping Eppie by the hands. Eppie felt the talons sinking deep into her own soft, yielding flesh and tried not to blush.
"I, I said I would and…"
Her voice trailed off.
"And here you are!" said Mavis wrapping her arms around Eppie's softly rising clavicle and giving her a warm squeeze.
Ms. Frapple smiled.
"Yes," she said. "And here you are. And here's Mavis, too."
"Yes," said Eppie weakly. She could feel Mavis hot cheek pressed against her own and felt like she would die.
They had known she was here. Had made her wait. Had made her watch as the two of them made complicit love to one another. To seduce her, not as one seduces another, but as two seduce a third, to draw her into a way of life, a way of living, of looking, of feeling everything you wanted to feel, but without the intimacy of a one-on-one relation. Eppie wanted Mavis, not Ms. Frapple. Mavis with Ms. Frapple was not Mavis anymore. She was Frapple Jr. Mavis in the Moonbeam, bearing down on her like a headlight, hitting her across the face like a 2 by 4. She was no longer something that could be separate. She was no longer pure. And how could Eppie take something into herself that was no longer pure and still remain pure herself?
"I'd better go," she said beginning to rise from her chair.
"Don't go," said Mavis with a slightly pleading quality in her voice. "We've come so far, we've worked so hard."
"Let her go if that's what she wants," said Ms. Frapple.
"But she doesn't want," said Mavis with a sigh, slowly releasing her grip and letting Eppie slip away.
"Maybe some other time," said Eppie as she tumbled her way out of Ms. Frapple's office and back into the hall. "I really couldn't. Not now. Not like this."
"So, I think that went very well," said Amelia happily.
"You were just lucky," said Tsu.
"No," said Amelia. "I was engaging. I was engaging to Willie…"
"Whatever. And he's engaging to his sister, Kinney, who will help me plan foundations of my new party."
"She'll come, but there's no guarantee that she'll help you the way you want her to."
"She will," said Amelia with a confident tilt of the head. "I know she will. She's got what it takes. I could feel it in class. We were really together."
"In the beginning maybe. But not near the end."
"Always. Kinney and I. I could feel it. I can feel it now."
Suddenly, Tsu jumped up from her chair and went out into the hall.
"Eppie?" she said.
Eppie turned around, thoughts of what just went on in Ms. Frapple's office still sinking into her head.
"Hi," she said smiling.
"I haven't seen you in class the past few days. Is everything OK?"
"Oh, everything's fine," said Eppie.
"Is that Kinney?" came a voice from inside the office. A very attractive woman stuck her head out the door. "Oh, hi."
It was that other counselor. Ms. Agoglia. Her shrink. The one Eppie felt closer to of the two. But Ms. Agoglia didn't seem very happy to see her. That wasn't a very professional way to treat one of your clients, was it? She probably didn't like her. They hadn't even met and already she didn't like her. Eppie must be giving off some sort of loser vibe or something. A Frapple-Googly rejection vibe. Who would want to see her now? She didn't want to see herself. She couldn't see herself. Not clearly anyway.
"Well, why don't you come on in?" said Ms. Min.
"Oh, I don't want to disturb your lunch, your meeting," said Eppie.
"Oh, you're not disturbing anything," said Ms. Min. "We were just talking."
She grabbed Eppie by the arm and pulled her into Amelia's office.
"Oh, nothing important."
Amelia gave a derisive snort and closed the door behind Eppie.
"So how's your paper going?"
"Yes. What does living in a civil society mean to you?"
"Oh right," said Eppie. She shook her head and let out a breath. "Fine. It's coming fine."
"Do you need any help?"
Eppie thought for a moment. Did she need any help? She shook her head.
"I don't think so," she said.
"So, what does living in a civil society mean to you?" said Ms. Agoglia.
She said it, thought Eppie. She's started. Her shrink wants to know something about her. How should she handle this? What should she say?
"So you do need help," said Amelia, her voice firm, almost sharp.
"Now, if Eppie says she's doing fine, she's doing fine," said Tsu. "She's one of my best students."
"Then why did you call her in here?" said Amelia.
"Just to see how she's doing?" said Tsu. "A teacher interested in one of her best pupils. That's something you can understand, can't you, Ms. Agoglia?"
Amelia gave Tsu a sarcastic little smirk.
Eppie hated it when adults acted this way around her. It reminded her of her parents before her dad took off. Why couldn't they just act like adults? So it was just acting? So it wasn't real? She didn't mind. Pass the salt, please.
"Well, I'd better be going now," said Eppie planning her escape.
"Wait," said Amelia. "You haven't answered my question."
"Eppie doesn't have to answer your question if she doesn't want to," said Tsu. "Besides it was my question."
"It sounds better when I say it," said Amelia. "So what do you say, kid. What does living in a civil society mean to you?"
Eppie thought for a moment. Why had she thought that she and Ms. Agoglia were so alike? There was little physical resemblance, surely, except around the legs. And personality-wise? Eppie wasn't that mean she hoped. Kid? Nobody had called her a kid since she was at least a foot shorter. A miniature version of her present self. And here was this person, who she had no personal or professional relationship with to speak of calling her that name. How should she react?
"It means nothing to me," said Eppie. "And apparently little to you as well."
Amelia clapped her hands together and let out a whoop.
"She knows you, Amelia," said Ms. Min. "You'd better watch it."
"She doesn't know me," said Amelia. "She doesn't even know herself." Then to Eppie. "Hey kid."
"Eppie," said Ms. Min.
"Eppie? Eppie Touche?"
"Lemieux," said Eppie.
"Well, Ms. Lemieux, how would you like to get in on the ground floor of a new movement?"
That sounded like the last thing Eppie wanted to do. She would tell this rude person so and be done with her.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Why would you want to know that?"
"Oh, Eppie has lots of boyfriends," said Tsu.
Eppie wished Ms. Min would stop making excuses for her.
"No, I don't have any boyfriends as you call them. In fact, I don't have any friends, boy, girl or otherwise."
"Oh really," said Amelia crossing her arms across her flat stomach and sizing Eppie up like a new hat. "I'll be your friend."
This woman was too strange.
"Why would I want to be your friend?" said Eppie.
"Yeah, why would anyone want to be your friend?" said Tsu.
"You don't have to," said Amelia with a shrug. "I said that I would be your friend. If you don't want to be my friend in return, I don't mind."
Amelia smiled like a cat at Eppie. She was very beautful, this Ms. Agoglia, with sparkling green eyes and a mischievous mouth. Or was it a cruel mouth? A mischievous, cruel mouth with two rows of perfectly sharpened white teeth and a moist little tongue the color of cotton candy. How far would she go, this Ms. Agoglia. Beautiful women could go far, couldn't they? If you let them. Though Eppie supposed anyone could go far, if you let them.
"Can I call you Amelia?" she said.
"You can call me anything you'd like, my sweet nothing."
"Call her Pooh Bah," said Tsu.
"All right," said Eppie. "You can be my friend if you want. Just don't call me kid."
"All right, my dear, darling Eppie," said Amelia leaning forward with a sweet looking smile on her mischievous lips, "So are we agreed?"
"Well that was easy," said Amelia. "If I was a smoker I'd be puffing away right now."
"But you didn't get anything out of her," said Tsu.
"Sure I did," said Amelia. "She said I could be her friend, that was a big thing for someone like Bippy."
"Whatever. You see, this comes from years of experience as a counselor. You get so you can figure out what people want pretty quick."
"And what did Eppie want?"
"Why, me, of course."
"You think everyone wants you."
"Everyone does want me in one way or another."
"And in what way does Eppie want you."
"The same way that every young girl wants me," she said. "She wants to be my friend."
"But she didn't say she wanted to be your friend," said Tsu. "She said that you could be her friend, right?"
"She me, me her. What's the difference? It's all the same. The thing is is that she wants a connection with me. She likes me. She's intrigued by me and everything I stand for."
"But she didn't agree to join your party."
"Later, later," said Amelia.
"As a matter of fact, nobody's agreed to join your party yet."
"Details. Technicalities," said Amelia. "As long as they're interested, as long as they're intrigued, they're a part of my party whether they formally declare themselves or not."
"So you don't make them sign a contract in blood anymore?"
"Agh! That's so passe," said Amelia with a wave of her hand. "We scan their brain wave patterns now and store it in our whatevers."
"So you've got two whole people in your party now."
"Plus Kinney," said Amelia brightening up. "When Kinney comes, that's when things really get started."
"Why not start things with Eppie? She's as smart as Kinney."
"Agh, that black hole. She'd suck all the life out of the brightest light on Broadway. We'll use her to run errands or something."
"And what if Kinney doesn't come."
"How do you know?"
"Because her brother came. And when the brother comes, the sister is soon to follow."
"What if she doesn't like you though?"
"She'll like me," said Amelia with a mischievous curl to her alluring mouth.
"I think I'm beginning to detect a pattern here," said Tsu. "Does this Engagement Party mean that everyone is going to be engaged by you personally?"
"In the beginning, maybe," she said.
"And then what?"
"And then they're engaged by whatever they're engaged in. Remember, we're the vehicle, not the driver."
"And what makes your vehicle more attractive than all the other vehicles out there?"
"Because my vehicle is just that, a vehicle pure and simple. All the other vehicles say that they're vehicles, but what they really are is a driver pretending to be a vehicle."
"If you will."
"A goal, an idea, a reason for being."
"So what's your point?"
"No, what's your point?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what's the point of having a party with no goals, no purpose?"
"Our goal is for everyone to be engaged."
"In anything they want."
"But wouldn't it be better to have them engaged in something positive, like improving the school?"
"If that's what they want, then that's fine."
"I thought that's what you wanted."
"I did. I do. I think. Maybe my goal is changing, I don't know. But the point is for everyone to be engaged."
"So you're like the human potential movement or something."
"I guess. I don't know what that is. If they're motives are as pure as mine then maybe it is."
"But what if their potential is to destroy the school?"
"If that's their potential then that's their potential. I don't judge."
"And that's your idea of a good thing."
"Destroying the school is not my idea of a good thing. Having someone who's potential is to destroy the school and then to actually destroy the school is."
Tsu shook her head.
"I think you're insane."
Amelia shook her head also.
"I don't judge."
"Well, maybe you should."
"I don't judge," said Amelia. "Maybe being a judge is your potential."
"I'm a teacher, not a judge," said Tsu.
"Well there you have it," said Amelia. "Everybody wants to be a teacher, nobody wants to be a judge. Besides, I'm getting tired of using this word potential. I'm gonna stick with engagement. Maybe a person's potential is not what truly engages a person and if that's the case, then that's fine, too."
"So you're a fantasy party."
"If fantasy truly engages a person then yes, I'm a fantasy party, but only for that particular person."
"You're a liberterian!" cried Tsu.
"Why do you insist on putting these other labels on my party? We may be liberterians, but that misses the point. We're the Engagement Party. We engage."
"You mean you actively engage?"
"Hm. I'm not sure yet," said Amelia turning away from Tsu. "I wish Kinney would get here. You're no fun to talk to."
Eppie walked towards the park. Her park. Her oasis from the whatever, the desert. Her watering hole. At least in the beginning. It seemed that lately her oasis was causing other camels to dip their fleshy lips into her cooling waters. First Lulu. Then Mavis. And now who was this seated at her favorite bench? It was a girl, (of course), seated alone, (why not?), reading a newspaper and drinking a can of soda. It was her! It was her doppelganger! Should she approach her doppelganger and see what she had to say or just sit back and observe? She decided on the former.
"Hi," said Eppie to her doppelganger.
Her doppelganger looked up from her newspaper. She was pretty, (of course), with an intelligent face and stringy hair (you can't have everything).
"Hey," said her doppelganger.
"Mind if I sit here?" said Eppie.
Eppie's doppelganger looked around and saw there were other empty benches around. She shrugged. Eppie sat. Her doppelganger looked so much like her that she was surprised she never noticed her before.
"So, what are you reading?" said Eppie.
"Um, paper," said her doppelganger, not looking up.
Her doppelganger was not much of a talker it seemed. That was OK though. Sometimes Eppie herself didn't feel like talking much, especially if the person trying to talk to her was a pest. She would try to draw her doppelganger out.
"If there's nothing interesting in there, then why are you reading it?" she said nodding her head with a slight smile on her lips.
Her doppelganger shrugged again and made a little noncommittal noise.
"Is that soda good?" said Eppie nodding and smiling again.
Her doppelganger put down her paper.
"Did you want something?" she said.
"No. No," said Eppie smiling affably at her doppelganger. "Just making small talk."
"Hm," said her doppelganger and went back to her paper.
Eppie thought some more. Apparently her doppelganger didn't want to engage her in small talk. That was good though. A sign of intelligence, she supposed. She didn't want her doppelganger to get involved with just anybody, after all. But still, it was her. She meant that if her doppelganger was her doppelganger, then she, Eppie, was her doppelganger's original. And if that were the case then it seemed to Eppie that her doppelganger should be interested in some sort of communication with her. Eppie would try another approach.
"What does living in a civil society mean to you?"
"Nothing," said her doppelganger without a second thought.
Good answer, thought Eppie. She wondered if her doppelganger wanted to join her and Mavis's Anti-Party, assuming that she and Mavis were still together. Maybe her doppelganger would replace Mavis as her one chosen friend. But would that count? That would be like being friends with yourself, wouldn't it? Where was the fun in that?
Eppie leaned closer to her doppelganger.
"Hey, what's your name?" she said.
"Kinney," said her doppelganger without looking up.
Good name, thought Eppie. Kinney and Eppie. Eppie and Kinney. Mavis and Kinney. Mavis and Kinney and Eppie and Amelia. Eppie was beginning to accumulate quite a collection of names, it seemed.
"Hey Kinney. You wanna join my party?" said Eppie.
"I don't know. What's your party?" said Kinney without looking up from her paper.
"It's the Anti-Party," she said.
Kinney didn't look up from her paper, but she stopped reading. Eppie could tell.
"What's that?" said Kinney.
"It's a party that says that anything that tries to revolve around you doesn't exist. Sound familiar?"
Eppie sat there smiling at Kinney. This would be the start of something big. Kinney put down her paper and looked at Eppie for the first time. She was pretty. Stringy hair, straight little nose, clear intelligent eyes. Actually, she didn't look at all like Eppie, but Eppie felt close to her nonetheless. She seemed younger than Eppie, too. Eppie would be like her big sister, so Mavis could still count as her one chosen friend.
"No," said Kinney and began reading her paper again. "Besides, I'm maybe gonna join another party."
"Oh really?" said Eppie.
(Ag11)"Yeah. Something my brother wanted me to join," said Kinney. "We're supposed to meet that Ms. Agoglia about it."
A brother. Eppie didn't know if she wanted a brother.
"You have a brother?"
"Yeah," said Kinney.
"What's his name?"
Wally, thought Eppie. This wasn't working out at all.
"Do you like him?" she asked.
"He's OK, I guess," she said.
Hm, an OK brother named Wally, thought Eppie. She didn't know if she liked that at all. Eppie got up.
"OK, see ya," she said to the newspaper reading Kinney and left the park.
Purity was so hard to find these days, thought Eppie as she walked through the hallways of Schlicter Valley High. Everybody was polluted these days, it seemed, especially with people. Polluted with people. People pollution. There oughta be a law. A filter. A strainer that filtered out the bad people from the people's lives that you wanted to be your friend. Mavis had seemed pure in the beginning. Pure to the point of insanity. Despite her parents. But you had to come from somewhere. Was cloning the answer? But then came that Ms. Frapple. The devious Ms. Frapple. Whenever Mavis was with her, she gave her a foundation, a mooring, that made her not quite herself anymore. And that's what Eppie wanted. Mavis herself. And Kinney, her doppelganger, whose purity came from her similarity, had a brother problem so huge that all Eppie had to do was hear his name to recognize it. If she hadn't had a brother, if she had been more like Eppie, she would have recognized the Anti-Party for sure. It would have resonated with her inner fibers as sure as Eppie liked waffles.
But enough of that. For here came another problem. A dark, hulking figure looming on the horizon. It was one of those Lulu girls who had almost beat her up in the park the other day and she was fast approaching.
"Hey Barelle," said Eppie with a nonchalant wave of her hand as the looming figure came within striking distance.
"Technita," said the huge girl.
"Oh, that's right," said Eppie. "You're with that skinny girl, right?"
The dark, hulking figure stopped cold. Eppie wondered if she should make a run for it.
"No," said the hulking figure.
"No," said the hulking figure, her dark, riveting eyes beginning to glisten up with something like tears. "She's with Miguel now."
"Ah, a boyfriend," said Eppie. "Well, see ya."
Eppie began to make her move, but the dark, hulking figure with the glistening eyes grabbed her by the arm.
"Wait," she said. "Can I come with you?"
Now Eppie was the one who stopped cold. Or she was stopped rather and the blood in her veins turned cold at the touch of the glistening giant.
"You want to come with me?" she said, not looking directly at her captor's horrific face.
Technita nodded, her huge head hung low like a slitted whale.
"I saw something," she said.
"What?" said Eppie, relaxing a little, but still ready to bolt at the first opportunity.
"Hands," said the gentle giant. "Feet." Her lower lip trembling horribly.
Hands and feet, thought Eppie. I've got hands and feet. Why does she want to hang out with me?
"What," she said. "The hands hit you and the feet ran away laughing? Or dancing? Or whatever feet do?"
"No," said Technita. "They flew."
"Where did they fly?" said Eppie. "Were they winged feet?"
"No," said Technita wiping away a whale-sized tear with Eppie's slender arm. "They flew down a hole."
"Oh," said Eppie looking unhappily at her teary arm. "And you want me to go down this hole?"
Technita slid her massive mitt down to Eppie's soft white hand held it firm. She looked deeply into Eppie's clear, skeptical eyes and said, "Would you?" as the blood in Eppie's veins turned to ice and the blood in her cheeks turned to fire.
"We don't do community service," said Tami. "At least not under compulsion."
"It's not compulsion," said Principal Nolo. "It's a trade off. You do something for me. I do something for you."
"That seems fair," whispered Tamika to her friend.
"It is compulsion," said Tami, "because you caused the situation by taking Roland. If you didn't take Roland in the first place, then we wouldn't be in a position to have to do anything for you at all."
"Why do you say I took Roland?" said Principal Nolo. "I mean look at these hands. Could these hands be responsible for the taking of anything that didn't want to be taken in the first place?"
Principal Nolo held out his rabbit paw-sized hands for the inspection of the cheerleaders.
"They are small," whispered Tamika to her friend.
"We heard he disappeared through your safe," said Tami. "That he was grabbed by a giant pair of hands and yanked through a wall of cracker packages."
"Really, Miss Tanaka," said Principal Nolo, holding out his tiny hands again. "Doesn't your description of giant hands seem at odds with the reality set here before you?"
"Hm," said Tami. "But they are big enough to hold a cracker, aren't they?"
Principal Nolo shrugged.
"I suppose," he said. "But even a rabbit can hold a carrot between its paws. What's your point?"
Tamika whispered something to her friend. Tami nodded, then went over to Principal Nolo's refrigerator and took out a cannister of Cheez Whiz and little weiners. "And how do you explain these?"
"What's to explain?" said Principal Nolo. "I happen to enjoy a little weiner now and then."
"Really," said Tami. She opened the can of little weiners and held it out to Principal Nolo. "Have one now."
"I really don't see the point," said Principal Nolo.
"No, really," said Tami. "Show us how much you like these little weiners. Here."
Tami took a little weiner out of its can, sprayed some Cheez Whiz on it and stuck it in Principal Nolo's round little mouth. Principal Nolo began to chew. Slowly, methodically, his tiny jaws working up and down, grinding the little tube of meat and cheese between his teeth and it slowly began inserting itself slowly into his mouth with each chew. But then something curious happened. Principal Nolo blinked. His large, pupilless, all-seeing eyes were covered for the briefest of moments by his hairless lids. They began to glisten slightly from moisture inducing wipe. He blinked again as he continued to chew on the cylindrical tube and something akin to tears began to form in the crevices of his lower lids. Then suddenly, he stopped chewing. His tiny shoulders hunched up, his head jerked forward, his pale eyes opened even wider then before and he convulsing.
"There! There! You don't like little weiners at all, do you!" cried Tami. "Or should I say, you do like little weiners, but not the kind that come out of cans!"
"Oh my God!" cried Tamika, covering her own sweet mouth with her soft, dark hands.
"No, no," sputtered Principal Nolo, chunks of Cheez Whiz covered little weiners flying out of his round little mouth. "I love little weiners. Cans. Out of cans only."
"Oh really?" cried Tami. "Then here, have another!"
She plucked another weiner from out of the can and shoved it into Principal Nolo's hacking weiner hole.
"Please! Please!" cried Principal Nolo, grabbing on to the sides of his desk with his tiny hands, his weiner-induced hacks echoing loudly and horribly through the office. "I have a narrow windpipe. This isn't healthy."
"Oh really, really," said Tami, tossing little weiners at the top of Principal Nolo's convulsing head and shoulders. "Well, you should have thought of that before you took Roland away, shouldn't you!"
Tami signaled for Tamika to grab more cans of Cheez Whiz and weiners from the refrigerator.
"I didn't take Roland. I swear. My hands! My hands! You can see for yourselves!"
Principal Nolo tried to hold out his tiny hands for inspection again, but he was overtaken with another coughing fit and needed them to steady himself once again against the top of his desk. Tamika quickly ran up to the principal and began spraying long orange plumes of Cheez Whiz up and down his arms and between his tiny fingers.
"Please, please young lady, take pity on an old man!"
"Take pity on Roland!" cried Tamika and sprayed the convulsing principal with even more force than before.
"Come on, Tamika," said Tami. "He's not changing his story. Let's give him some time to think over what just happened here. And what's gonna happen in the future if he doesn't learn to cooperate."
And the two cheerleaders slowly backed out of the Principal Nolo's office, shaking their cans of Cheez Whiz and weiners like lethal pom poms at the convulsing figure within.
"I don't think I can eat this," said Roland looking down at the rotting piles of garbage on his plate.
"Just eat what you like," said Annie as she took a bite of Baked Slime.
"I don't think I like any of it," said Roland making a face.
"Oh really?" said Annie. She took a bite of Roland's Slime. "Well, maybe it is a little dry. Here. Try some of this."
She took a tureen of grey, lumpy puke and ladled it on Roland's meal.
"What's that?" said Roland.
"Ghastly Gravy," said Annie with an encouraging nod. "Very tasty."
She licked a stray drop of gravy from her thumb and smiled at Roland.
"I don't think so," said Roland. "Don't you have any regular food?"
"What do you mean?" said Annie.
"He means," said a sharp, angry voice from the other end of the table, "that our food isn't good enough for him, don't you, Ro-Land."
It was Rina. Annie's arch rival and not a very nice person.
"He's just not used to it," said Annie.
"Fine. Then he can starve."
"He can't starve," said Annie sharply, then to Roland. "You've got to eat something, Roland. Here." She took a muffin from off a big plate in the middle of the table and handed it to Roland. "Eat this."
Roland looked skeptically at the muffin. It looked all right, smelled OK. He licked the top. OK, OK. He looked skeptically at Annie who nodded back encouragingly. Roland cleared his throat, then took a bite. He chewed a few times, it tasted all right, but then he felt something wet and squishy squirming around inside his mouth. He looked at the rest of the muffin in his hand and quickly spit out the muffin in his mouth.
"What the hell is this?" he cried.
"It's a muffin," said Annie, a little exasperated. "A Maggot muffin."
Roland quickly attempted to spit out all foreign feeling objects from the inside of his mouth.
"Roland, stop that," whispered Annie.
Rina banged the table with her fist.
"That's it!" she cried. "Get that rhubarb away from my table!"
"He's not a rhubarb," said Annie sharply. "And it's not your table." She patted Roland on the back. "Roland, are you OK?"
Annie handed Roland a glass of water.
"Here, drink this."
"Oh, no, I'm not drinking that," said Roland wiping his tongue with his napkin. "I need regular food and regular drink. I'm a person, not a garbage disposal."
"But this is regular food, Roland," said Annie sounding slightly hurt.
"I told you this wouldn't work, Annie," said Rina, twisting her lips into an angry scrawl.
"It will work," said Annie. "He just needs time."
Rina threw up her hands and let out an angry hissing sound from between her clenched teeth.
"Roland, come on," said Annie softly.
Roland shook his head.
"No," he said. "I can't eat this garbage."
"Garbage!" said Rina loudly to the other people seated around the table. "This coming from a pooty who spent his days living in a locker with a bagful of used tampons!"
The others laughed heartily, stuffing their faces with Baked Slime and other assorted indelicacies and tossing bits of Maggot Muffin at Roland's head.
"Well, at least I didn't eat the tampon!" shouted back Roland.
The table quieted.
"Mm, you would've liked to though, wouldn't you," said Annie with a curling smile of her ruby lips. A few titters arose from the assemblage. "Especially if it was attached to one of those dewy cheerleaders you like hanging out with."
A beefy male seated next to Rina gave her a good natured shove.
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Roland.
"Oh, I'm sure you do, Pillow Boy," said Rina. "But don't worry. You won't be alone for long now that you've got Annie as your little girlyfriend."
Rina looked cuttingly at Annie.
"I'm not his girlfriend," said Annie.
"Oh really?" said Annie, then turning to the beefy male next to her and placing her silky hand alluringly on his powerful shoulder and speaking in a simpering, ultra feminine voice, "Oh, Rollie, Rollie, won't you please eat my muffin?"
"All right," said the beefy male (Byron). He took the muffin from Rina's plate, took a bite, then spit it out. "Plagh! Plagh!" he spat. "Is this a muffin or a piece of shit?"
"It's my pussy, Rollie. Don't you like it?"
"Plagh! Plagh! I've tasted better pussy on the back end of a deranged wharf rat!"
Rina and Byron howled with delight.
"Shut up, Rina," spat out Annie. "You, too, Byron."
Rina and Byron let out a whoop and continued their mirthful convulsions.
"I'm not Roland's girlfriend. I'm his sponsor."
"Sponsor!" cried Rina. "This pussy has been brought to you by Annie…"
"That's right," said Annie. "Like you and practically everyone else here has sponsored new people from above."
"Well, sure, Annie Beluga," said Rina, her eyes flashing. "But we all followed the rules when we brought down our choices, didn't we."
There was a general murmur of assent from the table.
"There wasn't time," said Annie in a low voice.
"There wasn't time when you brought him down," said Rina. "And now that he's here he needs more time. When is it going to be the right time with you Annie? Or do you want to control that, too."
"I don't want to control time," said Annie. "I don't want to control anything. I had to bring Roland down when I did because he was going to get hurt." Annie turned to the others at the table. "You all saw that. What could I do? Let one of our candidates become physically injured by Byron and his gang? If it was your candidate you would have done the same." The others looked on, seemingly open to accept the possibility of Annie's proposition. "And why exactly was Byron doing up there to begin with? Was there any discussion of that? Did any of you hear about that? I know I didn't." Some of the others continued to look openly at Annie, while others looked down at their plates.
"They were there to protect us," said Rina. "You all know what's happening up there. It's getting crazy, dangerous. We have to protect ourselves."
"From what? For what?" said Annie. "I thought our job was to watch. Pure and simple. And whatever happens up there happens. We're not supposed to interfere, right?"
The people seated around the table begin to fidget slightly in their seats.
Rina appeared to calm down, the muscles in her finely-toned limbs seemed to relax, the glint in her bewitching eyes seemed to soften.
"That's right," she said, the slightest of tremors shooting through an otherwise calm and business-like tone. "Annie's right. We're here to watch. Pure and simple. That's our purpose. That's our directive. Maybe Byron and the rest of them shouldn't have gone up. If so, we apologize. Annie, your candidate was brought here under unusual circumstances, we understand that now and welcome him here as all the others. Roland, welcome to your new home. We hope you enjoy your time with us. And now if you'll excuse me."
Rina rose and left the room with Byron in close attendance, the others murmurring seemingly chastened words of assent.
"Well, that went well," said Roland to Annie as she watched Rina and Byron sweeping out of the dining hall. "She seems like a nice person, don't you think?"
Roland lie in his bed, a gnawing feeling in the pit of his tiny stomach. Things seemed to be going his way, that Rina and Byron seemed to like him now, he had a comfortable bed that he could just lie in if he chose, they didn't make him eat that putrid glop they called food. He would soon die of starvation, of course, but otherwise, things were going well.
There was a knock at his door.
"Come in," he said.
It was Annie.
"Hi Roland," she said. "How're you feeling?"
Annie was so nice. She always seemed so concerned about him. Had defended him when Rina had seemed so angry. And that Byron guy was so big. He was one of the ones who was going to hurt him up above, was one of the ones who had stripped him of his dignity before, and yet there he had been, at the same dinner table, as it were, just a short time ago. But apparently he had attacked him at the instruction of Rina. Roland wondered if Byron would have done the same on his own. Did he hate him as much as Rina apparently did? Who would it be worse to have as your enemy, a beautiful girl or a big guy? Roland didn't want to find out. Both of them together would probably be the worst. But that was in the past. And beside, he had Annie on his side. She had been quite forceful in her defense of him, quite devoted, unswerving. And she had said that she was his sponsor. That must mean something. It meant she wanted him. Not sexually, of course, but as a person. She had chosen him and now she was here.
"OK, I guess," said Roland. "Maybe a little hungry." He patted his stomach with his hand. Annie smiled and sat on the edge of his bed.
"Look," she said, "I have a surprise." She held out a package of crackers.
"Wow, Principal Nolo brand crackers," said Roland, taking the package and opening it up.
"Yeah," said Annie laughing. "Some packages fell down through the hole when Ilgo pulled you through."
"Great," said Roland stuffing one in his mouth. He held the package out to Annie. "Want one?"
"Oh, OK," said Annie taking one and snapping off a corner with her pearly white teeth.
"How is it?" said Roland, hoping for a positive response.
Annie chewed for awhile.
"Mm, it's OK," she said. "A little dry maybe. Maybe a little Ghastly Gravy would help."
Roland made a face.
"You know, you'd think that the name alone would clue you in about the culinary merits of that glop."
Annie shrugged and let out a little laugh.
"You wouldn't have any Cheez Whiz, would you?" said Roland.
Annie shook her head.
"You know, Roland, you put down Ghastly Gravy and then want to spray that orange stuff on your cracker. Maybe if we called it Gravy Whiz and sprayed it out of a can you'd like it better."
"No no, it's more than packaging," said Roland, taking another cracker. "It's the product itself. Cheese in, cheese out. Ghastly in, ghastly out."
"Well, you may have a point there, Roland. But don't worry, I sent Ilgo up above to get some more food for you, so you won't have to worry about that."
"Oh good," said Roland. "And something to drink. My throat's getting a little chalky here."
"Oh, here," said Annie, handing Roland a glass of water.
"Oh no, not this again."
"It's just water, Roland."
Annie shook her head.
"It's the same water you drank up there, Roland. It's good. Look." She took a sip. "See?"
Roland took the glass reluctantly.
"This isn't toilet water, is it? I'm not a cat, you know."
"It's not toilet water, Roland. My God, are you always this picky?"
"Do you have a filtration system?"
"Did you have a filtration system up there?"
"Well, no," said Roland. "But we could've. And we don't use our toilets as a transportation device either."
"Well, neither do we, Roland."
"Oh really? Then why did I see hunka-hunka boy go down the toilet the other night?"
"Really," said Annie. "That's strange. You actually saw him?"
"Well, I didn't technically see him. But I saw him with my ears. He went in, flush, then zippo," said Roland. "Do you have bathrooms down, by the way? I got the hot tamale down here."
"Yeah, I'll show you later," said Annie. "So you say that Byron went into a stall, then disappeared?"
"Like the shit that he is," said Roland.
"How do you know he ended up down here?"
"I don't," said Roland. "Maybe he went to the sewer to get your next meal."
"Hm," said Annie. "I'll have to ask around about that."
"Yeah, you do that," said Roland. "But in the meantime, bathroom?"
"Oh right, sorry. Come on. It's down the hall."
Annie got up from the bed and exited with Roland in attendance.
"You know, it would be nice if I could have my own private bathroom," said Roland.
"I'm working on it. I put your name on the list," said Annie.
"A list? That could take forever. Do you have a private bathroom?"
"Well, I have been here for awhile."
"Hm," said Roland. "Hey, I have an idea. Why don't we switch rooms?"
"Roland," said Annie with exasperated amusement.
"OK OK. I'm happy with my room," said Roland. "I just wish I had some Cheez Whiz and a filtration system, then I'd be really happy."
"So you say Roland went down here?"
"Yeah. In there. Over there."
Technita pushed Eppie forward towards Principal Nolo's safe. Eppie turned around to face the hulking girl.
"Don't push me, Technita."
Eppie knelt down in front of the safe.
"Do you remember the combination?"
Technita shook her head.
"How did Roland open it?"
"With his fingers. You use your fingers, too."
"I'm not a safecracker, Technita."
"Yes you are. I can tell," said Technita gently pushing Eppie against the safe.
"Don't push me," said Eppie.
"Sorry," said Technita, then gently navigated Eppie's head so her ear lay against the door of the safe and gently positioned Eppie's hand on the big, twirling knob. "Do it," she said.
"Do you want me to blow on your fingers?"
"That's OK," said Eppie. She shifted her body a little to get comfortable, then slowly began to twirl the big, metal knob. What was she doing here? she thought, kneeling on the floor of her principal's office and trying to break into his safe? She would have shook her head right now if it wasn't pressed up against the cold, hard metal of the safe door. Was that a click? Eppie stopped and tried to concentrate over the beating of her own heart.
"Blow on your fingers," whispered Technita.
"Shh, shh," said Eppie. She twirled the knob back and forth a few times, wiped the perspiration off her fingertips, then tried again. She meant that she didn't have anything against Principal Nolo. She'd heard that he was a scary guy, sure. But what principal wasn't a victim of inherent bad publicity of having to fulfill the role of authority figure. And those large, unblinking eyes and the tiny, rabbit-like hands? Eppie didn't want to judge. Maybe he was in a boating accident or something. His hands got caught up in the propeller and his eyes, well, he was so shocked by what was happening to his hands, that they remained stuck in a permanent position of wide-open unblinkingness. It could happen.
Eppie reached her third number, but she wasn't sure if she had it.
"Try it," said Technita bent down close.
"You try it," said Eppie.
"No, you try it."
Technita placed Eppie's hand on the cool metal handle of the safe and gently tried pushing it down, but it wouldn't go.
Eppie shook her head.
"I can't do this," she said.
"Yes you can. Yes you can," said Technita. "Blow on your fingers, like Roland. Like this."
Technita proceeded to blow on her own massive, yet stubby fingers, looking over encouragingly at Eppie.
"Do you want me to do it for you?"
Technita began to reach for Eppie's twirling fingers, but Eppie pulled them back.
"Uh, that's OK," she said. "I'll do it."
Eppie wiped the perspiration from her fingertips, then looking up at Technita, blew softly. Technita nodded excitedly.
"Yeah, that's it," she said. "Now blow on my fingertips."
Technita held out her hand for Eppie to blow on, but Eppie declined and instead lay her head back against the cold steel door. Technita withdrew her hand and blew on her fingertips herself.
Eppie thought back to her first attempt. She thought she had a couple of the numbers right, but wasn't sure. She felt it though. Not only in her head, but in the tips of her fingers. They buzzed with anticipation as she had slowly spun the large numbered wheel and then a slow cessation of feeling and a solid, secure feeling of locking into place when she felt she had arrived at just the right location on the dial. She would listen more closely to her fingers this time. They would tell her what to do. Nothing against her ears, of course, which were helpful as well. They would work together, in fact, her ears and her fingers. Now if only her heart and her head would cooperate, she'd be OK.
Eppie slowly twirled the dial. What was that that Mavis had said in Ms. Frapple's office? We want you here? We want you always? How could that be? How could you want someone always? It was impossible. For wasn't always was a romantic notion? Always, in all ways, at all times, always and forever. The notion made her head spin. We want you in all ways, at all times, always. Why would a sane person say such a thing? Unless she was speaking in hyperbole. But Mavis didn't strike Eppie as the hyperbolic type. Sure, there was that time when she said she had a secret for Eppie, that she was running for president. But it was the way Mavis had said it, like it was a big, wonderful secret, that caused the suspicion of hyperbole. Then came the announcement that she had chosen Eppie as her running mate. That was a surprise, Mavis had said. So maybe running for president was as big a thing in Mavis's mind as choosing Eppie as her running mate had been for Eppie. So then what did Mavis mean when she had said that she wanted her always? She couldn't have meant it literally. What did she mean? What did Mavis want from her?
Eppie was nearing the third number on the dial. She felt she had gotten the first two numbers. Her fingers had told her so and her ears had said they agreed. Now all she needed was the last one and she'd be in. The safe would no longer be safe. At least not from Eppie the safecracker. Eppie had to keep her concentration up, the last number was always the hardest. Or at least it was the most dramatic. I had the first two, but oh, that last one! Eppie slowed her twirling. For if you went all the way round the dial on your last go round, it meant that you blew it and would never know for sure if you had gotten the first two numbers right. You'd never know if you were a safe cracker or a lip smacker or whatever. A weed whacker. So slow she went. Slow like the ocean current circling the globe at its deepest regions. Light as a feather, clear as a bell, her fingers, her brain, her very breath slowly seeped their way into the deepest secrets of the cold metal box. Slower she went, she felt she was near, then click went her fingers, click went her heart. She had either discovered the combination or she was having a heart attack.
Eppie put her warm moistened hand on the cool metal handle and slowly pressed down. And down it went, smooth and easy like butter. Now all she had to do was open the door and she was in. Eppie slowly back away from the once cool metal door that had become as warm as her cheek and began to pull.
But then: "You did it!" came a booming voice from above and soon after, two muscular arms came swooping around her thin, cool shoulders and pushing her body back towards the safe. She saw the door beginning to close again, but quick as a flash she stuck her hand into the open crack to prevent its re-closing. Not a smart move in some respects.
"Aghh!" she screamed as the pain from the heavy metal door squeezing the life out of her precious fingertips shot into her brain and out of her mouth.
"Get off!" she cried and bracing herself against the bottom frame of the heavy safe, pushed the hulking giant from off her with a deftly leveraged full-body power shove.
"What are you doing? Are you insane?" she whispered sharply to the heavily breathing Technita who lay flat on her back several yards away.
Technita shook the mothballs out of her massive head and propped herself up on her sturdily built elbows.
"Whew! Good move," she said. "I haven't flown that far since I took a plane to visit my great aunt Myrtle in Baton Rouge."
"Forget it," said Eppie, still a little annoyed and feeling the pain on her poor little hand. "Let's take a look and get out of here."
Eppie opened the door and looked inside.
"Is this it?" she said.
Technita gamboled up to Eppie's side and peered in.
"Yep, that's the one. Little Rollie's feet went flying through those crackers like a fat man through a candy store."
"Hm," said Eppie. "And you say a pair of hands came through here and got him?"
"Yep. Big hairy hands. Like this."
Technita held up her own two massive hands and held them in front of her in a grappling position.
"Hm," said Eppie, clearing away the stacks of crackers and pushing against the inner walls of the safe. "Seems pretty solid from in here."
"Yeah," said Technita. "We're on the wrong side of the tracks here."
Eppie rapped on the metal walls and they felt pretty solid to her as well. Though they were metal, so who could tell.
"You said there was some sort of book in here, too?"
"Yeah," said Technita ruffling through the pile of cracker packages. "Here it is." She held up a thin, plain-looking blue bound book. "And look." She pulled out one of the cracker packages and popped open one of the ends. "Blueprints. It's a tube, not a cracker pack. See?" Technita playfully bounced one end of the tube against the top of Eppie's head.
Eppie wished she wouldn't do things like that. Technita seemed to be getting a little too familiar with her for the short time they'd known each other.
"OK," she said. "Let's clean up this mess and get out of here."
"Why?" said Technita holding the book and blueprint tube in one hand and a couple of packs of crackers in the other. "Roland and I left a mess here the last time and they seemed to clean it up themselves."
That was strange, thought Eppie. Why would Principal Nolo leave the book and blueprints in the safe if he had known someone had been there before?
"Well, that was before," said Eppie. "When you're with me we clean up our messes, OK?"
Technita shrugged and began to help Eppie put the pile of cracker packages back into the hard metal safe when a voice was heard from behind.
(Ag23) "Well, what have we here," it said.
Eppie looked up. It was Principal Nolo with two beefy security guards wearing badges that read No. 1 and No. 2.
"Oh no, it's The Man!" cried Technita and pushed Eppie into the safe where Eppie fell and fell like there was no tomorrow.
"So what do you think?" said Amelia.
"I don't know."
Amelia got up and walked over to where the stringy haired girl sat.
"Oh, you must know," said Amelia. "Are you happy to be here? Are you glad you came?"
"I came because my brother asked me to come," said Kinney.
Amelia felt a little disappointed, but tried not to show it.
"Your brother seems like a nice person," she said. "I've always liked Willy."
"Wally," said Tsu.
"Willy, Wally. He likes me to call him Willy sometimes."
"And she likes him to call her Pooh Bah."
"What do you need me for then?" said Kinney.
"Well first, I do not like him calling me Pooh Bah. Let's get that straight. And second, we need you because we want you. Do you understand?"
Kinney shook her head.
Amelia tried another angle.
"Remember what we were talking about in Ms. Min's class the other day?"
"About the Engagement Party?"
"Yes," said Amelia building in confidence. "About how engagement is everything?"
Kinney shook her head again.
Amelia was becoming increasingly disappointed. If only she could combine Kinney's brain with Willy's tractability. She considered flashing a little upper thigh, but Kinney didn't seem the type.
"Remember how you defended me?" she said instead.
"You looked like you were getting beat up pretty bad."
"Oh, I was. I was," said Amelia. "Speaking in front of large groups of people isn't really my thing. It's usually more one on one, you know?"
"But then you came along and helped me out, you know? You gave me the time, no, you gave me the confidence to keep going. Do you understand what I'm saying here?"
Amelia looked expectantly at the stringy haired girl. She didn't know why she liked her so much. Or why she wanted her to like her so much, but she did.
"I helped you," said Kinney. "Like I'm helping my brother now."
"Yes! Yes!" cried Amelia.
"Careful, Pooh Bah," said Tsu.
"You help people. You're a helper. You help me. You help your brother."
"Wally said he'd like the purple dress next time."
"But wouldn't you like to help yourself, too?"
"I don't need any help."
Amelia put her hands together and leaned in closer.
"None?" she said.
"Not that I know of."
"Kinney's a very self contained person," said Tsu.
Amelia thought for a moment, then she had an idea.
"You need help to help your brother, don't you?"
"Well, what do you want me to do then?"
"I want you to join my party."
"The Engagement Party."
"Even though my engagement is for my brother and not for the party."
"Right," said Amelia, though not as confidently this time.
"All right," said Kinney. "I'm in."
"Great!" said Amelia giving Kinney a squeeze. "I know you'll be very happy here."
"Oh, Pooh Bah, can I let Wally in now?" said Tsu.
"Oh sure," said Amelia. "Let Willy in. Let 'em all in."
Tsu opened the door and stuck her head into the hallway.
"OK, you can come in now, Wally."
"Oh," said Wally. "How did it go?"
(Ag24)"Oh fine," said Tsu.
"Oh good," said Wally. "Can they come in, too?"
Wally motioned with his bulb-shaped head behind him. Juney and Mavis were standing there.
"I suppose. Let me check," said Tsu. She stuck her head back inside Amelia's office. "You want Juney and Mavis, too."
"Sure," said Amelia. "What's a Mavis?" Wally, Juney and Mavis entered. "Wait a minute, I know you, don't I?"
Amelia eyeballed Mavis up and down her willowy form.
"Sure you do," said Juney. "You used to be her counselor, remember?"
"Oh yeah, I remember," said Amelia. "You're the crybaby, aren't you."
"She's not a crybaby," said Juney.
"Whatever," said Amelia. "So are you here to join my party or what. I mean, we've been getting so many people lately I don't know if we have the space."
"Oh, I don't join parties," said Juney. "And I think Mavis already has a party, don't you, Mavis?"
Mavis stood, firm yet willowy. Her dark eyes wide on the people before her, seeming to waver, but having no place to go.
"Doesn't she talk?" said Amelia. "Or is she one of those people you have to scare to get a peep out of?"
Amelia slowly rose and began to make a move towards Mavis. Mavis took a step back.
"Of course she can talk," said Juney.
"Leave her alone," said Kinney.
Amelia stopped. She went over and leaned against her desk, her arms folded loosely over her flat stomach.
"So what's the name of this party of yours, honey?"
Mavis stood half frozen, wavering back and forth slightly.
"Go ahead, Mavis," said Juney.
"It's the, uh…"
"The what?" said Amelia loudly. "I can't understand her. Can anybody else hear her?"
"It's called the Anti-Party, isn't it, Mavis," said Juney.
Mavis looked down at the floor.
"The Anti-Party!" crid Amelia. "Anti to what? This girl doesn't look like she could stand up to a snowman in July."
"It was Eppie's idea," mumbled Mavis.
"Who? Eppie? Do I know that name?" said Amelia.
"She was here earlier," said Tsu. "You said you wanted to be her friend."
"That's right, that's right," said Amelia nodding, then zeroed back in on Mavis. "I know her. I know Eppie. What do you think about that?"
She smiled knowingly at Mavis who continued looking down at the floor. When it appeared she wasn't going to get anything more out of her, Amelia turned back to Juney.
"So what are you doing here? You and the Anti-Party here?"
"Oh, we got your flier," said Juney. "Since Mavis is thinking of starting her own party, we thought we'd come here and see how some other people were doing it. We thought your flier was funny, didn't we, Mavis."
Mavis continued looking at the floor.
"No," she said quietly.
Amelia looked Mavis over again. She had potential. A little quiet, a bit of a crybaby, but there seemed to be something there worth pursuing. She went over and stood next to the silent girl.
(Ag25) "You thought my flier was funny?" she whispered in Mavis's ear.
She could almost feel Mavis shrinking into herself. If Amelia would just bend forward the tiniest bit and touch the rim of Mavis's ear with the edge of a ruby lip, she was sure Mavis would die.
"No," whispered Mavis.
She liked this girl though, liked her next to her like this, liked the quiver of her slender frame, the softness of her dark, silky hair. She could do something with this girl, not like Kinney, but something that anybody, everybody would enjoy doing if they only had the chance.
"No?" she cooed wispily. Just a little closer, the slightest touch and the girl would die, she was sure of it. "Well, what if I told you that I wanted it to be funny. That I consider myself to be an amusing person who delights in her ability to tickle the funny bone of the most recalcitrant of persons, what would you say then?"
Say yes, thought Amelia, and I'll make you my servant, I'll make you my queen, my love, my angel, my pet.
"Leave her alone," said Kinney.
Kinney was talking to her. Should she heed her or not? For what was she, after all, but another student? But no, she was special. Amelia had felt it, had wanted her, had gone to great lengths to insure her participation. She could not afford to alienate her at this time. Amelia would bend. After all, there is no shame in compromise.
"Hm," she said backing away from Mavis and returning to Kinney's side. "Well, you've come to the right place, my dear. Have a seat, have a seat and watch how the big girls do it."
Mavis didn't move, but Juney came over and gently guided her over to a chair in the corner and the two of them sat down to watch as Amelia tried creating the beginnings of how she thought the world ought to be.
"So what's our next move?"
"Well, we've got to get into that safe somehow," said Tami as the two girls walked down the empty hallway.
"After what we did to Principal Nolo should we really go back there?" said Tamika regretting her overly aggressive behavior towards their titular, yet spooky leader.
"We have to go somewhere," said Tami. "I think we softened him up a little. And we said we'd be back, right?"
"Right," said Tamika softly. She didn't really want to go back though. She couldn't let Tami go there alone though. They were friends, after all. And cheerleaders. They had to support each other. "But what about stall #3? Couldn't we get to Roland through there?"
"I'm not standing in a toilet," said Tami.
"I'll do it."
"No. No," said Tami. "We go back to Nolo. We promised."
The plan seemed good. They had begun a relationship with a key player for the opposing team, the right thing to do would be to follow through. He seemed like a weak link, at least to them. They could take him. They knew his weakness now, they could exploit it and make him talk.
There was Principal Nolo's office. The two cheerleaders approached.
"We remain firm," said Tami.
"Like little weiners," said Tamika.
"Forget it," said Tami. "Here it is. Let's see what Prince Nolo has to say."
Tami rapped firmly on the solid oak door. Principal Nolo had the only oak door at the school. It used to be made of maple - sweet maple - like all the other doors, but Principal Nolo had insisted that it be changed because it projected an image of strength that he enjoyed projecting. Joe "The Oak" Nolo was his nickname in high school, he had told the assembled masses at the annual student-principal rally at the beginning of the year. Joe "The Oak" Nolo: star quarterback, student body president, male model. And now he had returned to nurture his little acorns to maturity. They would all be like him someday. Oaks. Nolo's Oaks. Joe's Oaks. In fact, he wanted to change the name of their sports teams from the Emus to the Oaks. Emus were funny-looking birds, he had said. No wonder Schlicter Valley was looked down on. But oaks were mighty. Mighty Oaks. If they would change their name and their attitudes from the Schlicter Valley Emus to the Schlicter Valley Oaks, he was sure they could turn things around.
Tami and Tamika could hear the rustling of papers inside Principal Nolo's office.
"Maybe he didn't hear you," said Tamika. "Try again."
Tami knocked again. Louder this time, but there was still no answer.
"I'm going in," said Tami.
"Are you sure?" said Tamika. "Maybe he's busy. Maybe we should come back later."
"No," said Tami. "Our time is valuable, too. We come all the way out here into enemy territory like we said we would, just to get stiffed by the warrantless neglect of an uncaring potentate. I don't think so."
Tami opened the big oak door a crack and stuck her head through.
"What do you see?" whispered Tamika. "Is he busy?"
"No," whispered back Tami's head.
"What's that noise then?"
"Technita's making that noise?"
"Is Principal Nolo in there?"
"I don't see him. Let's go inside."
Tamika stuck her head in through the crack over Tami's.
"I don't know. She looks busy. Maybe we should come back."
Tami gave her friend a look, then they withdrew their heads from the innards of the office, Tami pushed open the big oak door and the two of them entered.
"Technita, what are you doing?" said Tami.
Technita was sitting at Principal Nolo's desk, hunched over a piles of paperwork. She would take a piece of paper from one pile, look it over, shake her head, write something down in some ledger type book, put the piece of paper in another pile, then repeat the process.
"She looks busy," whispered Tamika. "We'd better come back."
"No. We're not coming back," said Tami with mild disgust. "We're already here. Why come back when we're already here?" She pushed Technita's shoulder. "Technita. Technita, snap out of it!"
Technita shook her massive head without looking up and waved Tami away. She took another piece of paper from the first pile, looked it over, looked it over again, then leaned back in her big oak chair and sighed.
"She really, really looks busy," said Tamika in a low voice. "We'd better come back."
"We are not coming back," said Tami sharply. She grabbed Technita by a massive shoulder and began shaking vigorously.
"Technita! Technita! Snap out of it, damn it! What the hell are you doing? Stop it! Stop it, I say!"
Technita looked up at Tami and frowned.
"I'm really quite busy here, girls. Why don't you run along and comb out your pom-poms or something."
"Busy," said Tami with disgust. "Give me one of those." She grabbed the paper from Technita's hand and began reading.
"Your really not supposed to look at those," said Technita.
"What is it?" said Technita, coming to look over Tami's shoulder.
"I could report you, you know," said Technita.
"They look like attendance records," said Tami.
"What's Technita doing with attendance records?" said Tamika.
"Technita, as you so blithely call her, is recording the records in the ledger and then she will enter them into the computer," said Technita.
"Why doesn't she just enter them straight into the computer?" said Tamika.
"She doesn't doesn't do that because that's just not the way it's done," said Technita. "Now if you'll excuse me." Technita snatched back the paper and began entering more figures into the ledger.
"Why is she doing it at all?" said Tami.
"She's doing it at all," said Technita, "because she is an integral part of the Principal Nolo Fighting Acorn Machine."
"But these records are from 1912!" cried Tami.
"All the more reason," said Technita.
"Look at the dust on these papers." Tami smacked a pile of papers raising a cloud of dust. "Nobody's touched these in years."
"All the more reason," said Technita.
"You're being punished," said Tami.
"I'm being integrated," said Technita.
"Look," said Tamika, pointing to a shackle clamped tightly around Technita's right ankle and linked to an iron ring that was bolted to the floor.
"Slave labor," said Tami.
"Willing participant," said Technita shaking her head and entering another figure. "And the funny thing is that we're doing this all for you."
"How so?" said Tami.
"Attendance is the key to a proper education," said Technita. "If you're not there in body, you're not there in mind."
"But you're here in body and out of your mind. How do you explain that?" said Tami.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand."
"But why from 1912?" said Tamika.
"Because, my dear child, many generations of East Schlicterians have attended this school. Some more successfully than others. We enter the attendance records of each student, match up the current students by heredity and if not heredity, then other distinguishing characteristics and can therefore identify those more likely to fail. Now if you'll excuse me."
"That makes sense," said Tamika.
"If you lived in a police state," said Tami. "Technita, are you living in a police state?"
"I'm just a cog in the machine, little cheerleader," said Technita. "And if you were smart, you'd be, too."
"I'm a person, not a cog," said Tami.
"The machine is people, too," said Technita. "The machine is people and the machine is greater than any individual person would be on his or her own. The sooner you realize that, the better off you'll be."
"Then why are you in chains?" said Tami.
"I'm not," said Technita. She took a key out of a desk drawer and unlocked the shackle from her ankle. "See? Like Betsy Ross after the Revolution. Now if you'll excuse me." She snapped the shackle back in place and returned to her pile.
"What should we do?" whispered Tamika. "Should we slap her?"
"Slap me all you want," said Technita. "There's plenty more where I came from."
Tami and Tamika watched as Technita continued to pour over the dusty stacks of papers, taking one up, shaking her head, entering numbers into the ledger, then going on to the next.
"But they're not our friend," said Tami.
Technita stopped for an instant, not looking up or down, as if waiting for Tami to say something more.
"They're not my friends either," said Technita.
"Then come with us," pleaded Tamika, gently tugging on Technita's massive arm. "We're your friends. We love you for who you are, not what you can do for us. Technita."
But Technita remained unmoved. It seemed as if her jaw trembled slightly, but it was hard to tell.
"No," she said. "I like it here. I like being part of something bigger than myself. I'm not like you. I can't blend in easily with others. I always stick out. I'm always different. Here, I belong. I may not be liked for myself, but I'm liked for what I do and that's fine with me. That's fine with me."
"What should we do?" whispered Tamika to Tami. "Should we call the Board of Ed?"
"Machine, machine," said Technita.
"Should we force her?"
"We can't force her," said Tami. "She's made her choice."
"That's right," said Technita as she entered another number. "Besides, you don't have the key."
"Well, can you at least tell us how to get to Roland," said Tami.
"Can't do it," said Technita.
"Don't know how."
"But you're part of them now, aren't you? Can't you ask one of the other acorns how to get down there?"
"Too busy, too soon. Maybe later."
"Is Roland one of you now, too?" said Tamika in a whisper.
"Don't know. Could be. Maybe the girl, too."
Tami and Tamika looked at one another.
"What girl?" said Tami.
"That new girl. That East Nareen girl."
"She's down there, too?"
"What do you mean you don't know."
"Means I don't know. If I knew I'd tell you. Don't know. Can't tell you."
"But if you knew you'd tell us," said Tami.
Technita shook her head.
"You're asking too many questions. You'd better go now."
"Come on. Let's go," said Tamika, gently tugging at her friend's arm. "Technita said she'd help us get down to Roland later. Maybe we can help the other girl then, too."
"I don’t know," said Tami, but she let herself be led out as Technita continued on with her recordkeeping duties.
1) The dates in parentheses are the beginning writing dates of the
section following up till the next date. All dates are from 1999.
2) Wendy and Connie are the same character. Amelia Ablodoglio and
Ms. Mackinoggy are the same character. Junie Frackle and Ms. Frapple
are the same character. I was trying out different names.
3) Typos, etc. have not been corrected.
4) Based from memory from notes for a possible screenplay written in
Los Angeles sometime between 1987 and 1990 that were lost in
Chicago while fleeing across the country in the summer of 1990.
For general background, see Joseph Yanny letter.
5) The 2002 draft has a copyright pending in 2004 from the U.S.
Copyright Office under the title "WTH and Doctor, My Boy Is
posted: december 18, 2004
web page update: january 1, 2005