2002 draft - all chapters 1-60
WTH (May 31, 1999/Ag 21, 2002)
By Eric Nakao
The wheat in the fields was growing mighty fine…but enough about that. For in the hallways of Schlicter Valley High, discontent grew. Discontent and malaise. Discontent and bad feelings. Discontent and 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 of that mostly American of past times, trying to do something about something.
"Good idea," said someone when told of the plan.
"Great!" said someone else. "Let's do it! Let's make Schlicter a great school."
Not that they were bad people. But, to paraphrase something a great mind once said about our canine friends, sometimes good people do bad things. And when people think of you as a pot of semi-cooked lentils, then clearly something has to be done. And that they could embark with such enthusiasm, such optimism, such pride, well, it's rather touching, isn't it? I mean you just hafta root for them.
"We could be as great as East Nareen!"
East Nareen, needless to say, was the great school in the district. Maybe the universe. Its students won all the awards: Best Student, Student of the Year, Best Dresser, Best Kisser. Its teachers were involved, enlightened, brilliant, like lamps unto the darkness. Never too busy, always there. In each and every way, for each and every student. Always there. Really. And the parents? Well, you can't have such wonderful teachers and students without having fabulous, outstanding parents as well. They were supportive without being intrusive. Caring, but not needy. And, boy, were they attractive. You could see where little Suzie and Robbie 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 be.
"No," said another. "Better."
"Better than East Nareen? Is that possible?"
"If you can imagine it, it can happen."
"I couldn't imagine."
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 a school 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 wistfully.
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 an East Nareen High, before there was an East Nareen, there was Schlicter. Home of the once mighty Schlicter Emus, lords of the gridiron, fast, graceful. They couldn't fly, but boy could they run. Academically sound, too. Impressive even. Good kissers. At least for Schlicter Valley. But back then that's all there was. Schlicter Valley High was Schlicter Valley. The hopes, the dreams, the future of the kingdom. Then came the people, the divisions, the subdivisions, the incorporations, the new, the modern. Suddenly, it wasn't Schlicter Valley anymore. It was Naperville and Kindrake and St. Halperin. At the top was Nareen. And when it divided, East Nareen. The new hope, the new dream. East Nareen was the future and Schlicter Valley was the past. East Nareen was progress. Schlicter Valley was history.
Or 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 fancy designer beer, but big boozy sudsy beer, the kind of beer that people in flannel drank.
"Then why don't you just move to Nareen," said Amelia Abladoglio.
"East Nareen," said Tsu.
"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. Why couldn't Juney see the potential of her ideas, how they would make things better for everyone?
"Because East Nareen is the standard," said Amelia. "East Nareen is the top."
"It's the future," said Tsu.
"And Schlicter is…. Schlicter is…." Amelia searched for the right word. The bottom? The crack beneath the bottom? Nothing seemed adequate. She would try a new tact. "And they're gonna tear down Schlicter," she said looking her friend square in the eye.
"Not if it's better," said Juney, meeting her friend halfway. "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 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," she continued, "they need me here."
"It's nice to be needed," said Tsu with a smile at Juney.
"Yeah, they need me here," said Amelia, digging her finely manicured nails into the dull formica table. "The students need their favorite counselor."
(bgn: th ag 22, 02)
Counselors can be a good thing, I do believe. Of course it depends on the counselor. And the student, I suppose. Juney was a counselor like Amelia. Except that she was nice. In fact, that's how many of the students divided up members of the faculty: the mean and the nice.
"So, how've you been, Mavis?" said Juney, the nice counselor, to the thin young girl seated before her.
"Fine," said Mavis after a moment. She didn't look fine though. She looked thin. She looked worried. She looked disturbed.
"Fine?" said Juney.
"Yes," said Mavis. "I don't like it here."
Juney could believe that. Mavis didn't look fine. She looked worried. She looked…preoccupied.
"Now by here, do you mean here with me or here at Schlicter?"
Juney was easing into it.
"Schlicter," said Mavis. "I like being here with you."
"Oh," said Juney.
"I want to go to East Nareen though."
"East Nareen," thought Juney. That school. Amelia's dream job.
"Well," said Juney. "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," Juney said again. "But Schlicter's a nice school, too, don't you think?"
Mavis shook her head. "I heard they were going to tear Schlicter down," she said.
"This wasn't fair," thought Juney. Having to defend a place that may not even be here tomorrow.
"And what do you think about that," said Juney. "About Schlicter being torn down possibly."
"Good," said Mavis.
"Good?" said Juney. "But why?"
Nobody cared. Everybody was happy. But happy about a negative thing. That's what bothered her.
"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, emphasizing the so. "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.
"Well," 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 sigh and a little laugh.
Mavis thought for a moment, but appeared to be stuck.
"Well, what about you?" said Juney.
"Yes, you," said Juney.
"Me," said Mavis, like the thought had never occurred to her. "Why me?"
"Well, why not you?" said Juney. "You're, you're young and smart and, and…"
"Not bad?" said Mavis.
"No," said Juney. "Better than not bad. You're good and caring and wonderful and, and…I like you!"
She had said that last part a little louder than she would have liked, but it was too late to take it back.
"Really?" said Mavis.
(bgn ag 23, 02)
"Yes," said Juney. "I like you. Very much." She was beginning to feel a little tired. She didn't know how Schlicter High would end up or how she or Amelia or Tsu would end up, but she was happy, at least, to see a little life in the unremarkable girl seated before her.
"Oh," said Mavis. "I guess I can stay then."
(end ag 21 & 22, 02)
The counselor - student relation can be a tricky thing sometimes. The student comes, or is sent, to the counselor with a problem, sometimes academic, sometimes personal. The academic problems can sometimes flow into the personal and the personal into the academic. A good counselor can spot this and offer various good-headed solutions. But the personal can also flow into the too personal sometimes and this was something that a good counselor should be able to spot and handle as well.
Mavis sat in the back of her civics class. "Ms. Frackle was so pretty," she thought. Ms. Ablodoglio was pretty, too, but in a different way. There was a softness to Ms. Frackle, a warmth. Not that Ms. Ablodoglio wasn't warm as well. Or maybe she was more, like, hot. No, not hot. Heated? Sizzling? No, no, that's not what Mavis meant either. And she certainly wasn't soft. Not like Ms. Frackle. Not like Mavis herself. At least that's how she thought of herself. Maybe other people didn't. Come out of your shell, they would say. But shells were hard. Like ice. Like granite. And they protected, like an egg protecting its hidden charge. 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 analytical 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 sound of laughter surrounded Mavis, like a shell, like an ocean.
"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?" she said.
"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. But was she there as a student or a teacher? 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 with my attorney. I want to speak with Ms. Frackle."
The class let out a final whooping laugh as the noon bell rang.
"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."
Lunchtime is a nice time if you're in school. That is, if you had no alternative. If you could decrease the amount of time you had to spend in school by skipping lunch, but they wouldn't allow you to skip lunch, then lunch would not be a good thing. It would be a burden. A penalty. An elongation of time served. But if you had to spend the same amount of hours in school no matter what, then lunch could be a nice time, especially if you had a nice place to go.
Eppie sat in her usual spot with a can of soda by her side and a notepad in her lap. "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. But she was beginning to feel bad about making fun of that girl, Mavis. She seemed OK, Mavis, and had never done anything to hurt Eppie. And Eppie certainly wasn't the type of person who needed to step on other people to feel good about themselves. Maybe they could be friends, that girl and her. 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, whatever that was.
"What does living in a civil society mean to you," thought Eppie. She began to write. "Civil, civilian: not a soldier, not a war. Civil, civility: not an asshole, not a bore." "It's like poetry," thought Eppie, pleased with the rhyme. She crossed out "bore" (b-o-r-e, meaning boring person) and wrote "boar" (b-o-a-r, meaning hairy pig with tusks). Eppie looked up and saw that girl, Mavis, going into the counselor building. "Probably to talk to Ms. Frackle, my attorney" thought Eppie. Counselor is another word for attorney. If Ms. Frackle had been an attorney than calling her a counselor would not be wrong, but it would not have been funny. It would have been boorish. It would have been ass holy uncivil if you asked Eppie. She wondered what Mavis and Ms. Frackle would talk about. Would she tell her about what had happened in class? Probably. But maybe not. Mavis had seemed a little out of it. She might not have even heard what Eppie had said. But the other students probably would have made fun of her after class. Eppie's fault, partly. And Mavis didn't seem to have any friends, except for Ms. Frackle, if that counted, which it didn't. If Eppie were her friend though, she would have supported her. She would have told her how terrible that new girl was to have made fun of her, how assholy of her, how East Nareen of her to have treated Mavis like that. And she would have meant it. Even though she herself was the girl who had made fun of Mavis, Eppie would have meant it. After all, she wasn't the type of person who needed to step on other people to feel good about herself. She was ass holy sorry for what she had done. She felt like hell and would willingly burn in said location for what she had done, for what she had thought, for what she had felt.
"Society. Social? The study of ice cream socials?" Eppie thought some more. Five pages. It didn't seem fair. Where was the poetry in that? 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. Mousey soft. Like Mavis. "That's why she likes her," thought Eppie. Mousey Mavis and Mousey Ms. Frackle, huddled together in that little office, talking about cheese and holes in the wall. But there she went again. Making fun of poor Mavis. She had just vowed to be nice to Mavis, to be her supportive friend and here she was making fun of her again. And of Ms. Frackle too. What had Ms. Frackle ever done to her?
"Oh, what a pain," thought Eppie as a group of whooping students rushed passed her. She had too much responsibility. Too much to think about: Mavis, Ms. Frackle, civil society. And this school was just too crowded. She couldn't concentrate. Should she go to the library? But the library was one of the noisiest places on the planet. Should she go back to East Nareen? Though not problem-free, at least there were quiet places you could study there. Not like this school. Schlicter Valley (sigh). She had transferred here because she had heard that it was going to be torn down. Graduate, then blow it up. That would suit Eppie just fine. No records, no fingerprints, no class reunions. But in the meantime, look what was here, look what Eppie had to put up with. Nothing and everything. Boredom and chaos. Maybe she should have stayed at East Nareen, with all its problems. But East Nareen would always be there, mocking her, taunting her, at least until
(bgn ag 24, 02)
something came along to take its place. No, she was better off at Schlicter, with all its problems. At least they were problems she could handle. Or so she thought.
(end ag 23, 02)
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, she could feel them softening underneath 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 narrow opening 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, for they were friends and that's what friends did. Mavis began to pull her head back.
"Mavis, wait," said Ms. Frackle, letting out one more laughing sound 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 doorknob when Ms. Ablodoglio reached over and yanked the door open from her side.
"Get on in here, Mavis," she said. "There's always room for one more."
Mavis stood in the doorway and took in the scene.
"I can come back later," she said.
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 my lair and stir the cauldron."
Juney tossed a slightly disapproving look at Amelia.
"Uh, could you close the door on your way out?"
"Oh," said Amelia as she exited, but did as she was told.
Mavis looked at Ms. Frackle. Their chairs were closer than last time. Mavis could have touched her with her knee if she had swung her legs just a little to the right. Ms. Frackle had a plastic container on her lap. It was filled with different types of fruit, diced and covered in a sweet-smelling white cream. Ambrosia, she thought they called it. She was holding a small plastic fork in her hand. It was stained slightly 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 for the mouth. 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.
"So Mavis, how have you been?" she said. "Weren't you just here? Did something happen?"
Mavis wouldn't look up. She could still feel where Ms. Ablodoglio had touched her shoulders to guide her into this chair. Ms. Ablodoglio's chair. And it was still a little warm, like Ms. Ablodoglio had left a part of her behind. Her essence. Her aura. Mavis tried to slide to a cooler spot, 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," she said, still not looking up.
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 if you need me, though."
"I've been thinking about what we talked about last time. Do you
"Yes," said Mavis in her thin voice. In her mind, she did remember. But something had happened between then and now, something unpleasant, that made the memory somehow unpleasant.
"Did you want to talk about that again?"
Mavis shook her head. Why would she want to talk about that again? She was just here, wasn't she? That's what Ms. Frackle had said: Weren't you just here? She should leave, she thought. She should transfer to East Nareen. Not because they were going to tear down Schlicter, but because it was a better school. They would have better counselors there. Counselors who wouldn't ask, weren't you just here, when so clearly, you were just here. Being nice wasn't enough sometimes. You had to be good, too.
On the other side of school, the bad side, a small gang of girls sat, mulling over the events of the day. Though they weren't criminals, they were bad enough. They were tough, they were slovenly, and people tended to stay out of their way. Especially from Lulu, the self-proclaimed leader who harbored an ability to find fault in others, take offense at the slightest provocation and hold a grudge till any semblance to reason had long since vanished.
"Who does she think she is?" said Lulu picking at a scab. "That wasn't funny."
The other girls nodded in agreement, except Barelle (accent on the "relle"). Barelle had known Lulu since second grade and they often disagreed. She was like a lieutenant in Lulu's imaginary army.
"They laughed," said Barelle referring to their classmates in Ms. Min's civics class.
"They laughed because she's from East Nareen, because they think she's cool, but she's not."
"You laughed," said Barelle.
"I was laughing at Frackle, at Frackle's expense," said Lulu. "Not at what East Nareen said."
The other girls began throwing little bits of paper at Barelle.
"We all laughed because it was funny," said Barelle. "What did you think, Wendy?"
Wendy stopped throwing paper and shrugged, a silly smile dancing across her face. Of the four girls, Wendy looked the most out of place. She was pretty, sort of delicate, with big green eyes and straight arrow red hair. Her only problem was that she was a little insane, given to wild laughing fits and other forms of inappropriate behavior that made people want to avoid her, except for Lulu, of course.
"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, the big, hulking fourth and final member of their group, 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." Lulu leaned in close to her reluctant friend and spoke in a knowing, confidential tone. "It's not her place, Barelle. You know that as well as I."
"I don't know," said Barelle.
"Agh, I don't pay you to know," said Lulu, disgusted at Barelle's intransigence. She took another dollar from her pocket and attempted to give it to her stubborn friend. "Here, go to the candy machine and buy yourself something stupid."
"I'm not Wendy," said Barelle, her hands remaining at her sides.
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 piece of the hollow, tube-like confection.
"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 East Nareen 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 it here."
Lulu looked away. "I hate her more," she said, 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. Lulu calmed down a little, trying to contain her rage in order to be understood. "Listen, she has to be taught a lesson, OK?"
"Maybe she can teach us something," said Barelle with a shrug.
Lulu gave out an involuntary snort and looked away.
"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 usually gesticulating hand into a tight little fist. "The next time East Nareen tries to say something funny, we're gonna squeeze her Ho Ho till it just ain't funny no more."
Tsu and Juney sat in Juney's office, Juney in the chair behind her desk and Tsu in the visitor's chair.
"I'm not sure what happened," said Juney. "She came in this morning and she was talking about wanting to transfer to East Nareen, then she came in again during lunch and, I don't know, she seemed kind of distant."
"It's early," said Tsu. "You know."
"Yeah," said Juney. "But you say she said my name in class today." Tsu nodded. "The class between the time she came to see me in the morning and lunch when she saw me again."
"Right," said Tsu. "I think she thought I was you. That my voice was coming from you, I mean. She was in like kind of a daze."
"And then that other girl…"
"She said what?"
"That she wanted to make an appointment with you because she was having emotional problems."
"But she was mocking Mavis when she said it."
"Uh, not really mocking, more of a joke."
"Mm. And does this girl do this kind of thing often?"
"Not really," said Tsu. "She hasn't really said that much this year."
"So why do you think she said it?"
Tsu thought for a moment, then shrugged.
"I don't know. A joke, I think."
"After three weeks?"
"I don't know. I think she's new. From East Nareen."
"Oh really. What's her last name?"
"Uh, Lemuel? Lambly? I don't quite remember. Something French. 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."
"Why would she say that?"
"I don't know. Another joke?"
"After 3 weeks?"
"Yes, but she's new, maybe she's starting to feel comfortable."
(end ag 24, 02)
(bgn ag 25 & 26, 02)
The next day, Tsu stood in front of her class once again. Same room, same student, same teacher, but everyone had changed just a little bit. Everyone had their personal little experiences that pushed them forward or backward in their life's journey. Everybody was different. Nobody was the same.
"Hi, Ms. Min," said a cheery voice.
"Tami," said Tsu. "You're here bright and early."
Tami sat next to her friend, Tamika, near the window.
"It's that paper you assigned," said Tami. "I need more time."
"More time?" said Tsu. "But you have three more days."
"I know, I know," said Tami. "But, you know, I can tell already that I'll be needing more time."
"But you have three more days."
"I know, but the third day is like Friday and Friday is kind of my day off."
"Yeah," said Miguel, another student. "We need more time. It's not fair."
The other students voiced their support for Tami and Miguel's proposition.
"Well, everybody seems to want more time," said Tsu. "Should we take a vote?"
"Yeah, yeah," came the reply.
"I'll have to make the paper longer though."
"No no," came the reply.
"All right," said Tsu. The vote will be a five-page paper due on Friday versus a seven-page paper due on…"
"Tuesday," said a small voice from the back.
"…Monday," said Tsu. "Now, all in favor of five pages on Friday raise your hands."
Half the class raised their hands with Tsu counting.
"OK, now all those in favor of seven pages on Monday raise your hands."
Tsu counted the hands once again, but didn't see Mavis or her hand. Or Eppie either.
"Well, I regret to inform you that we have a tie," said Tsu.
"Kill the opposition!" cried someone.
"No no, there are other ways to respond to differing opinions," said Tsu as Eppie made her entrance, notebook in hand.
"Eppie," said Ms. Min. "We just took a vote on whether to extend the deadline for our first paper but with the length increased or to retain paper's original length and deadline. How do you vote?"
Eppie slowed down slightly on her way to a desk near the back.
"I'm, uh, too young to vote," she said as she slumped into her chair.
"You have to vote," said Lulu who, unfortunately, Eppie had chosen to sit in front of. "Everyone else voted, so you have to vote, too. Or isn't that how they do things at East Nareen?"
She kicked the back of Eppie's chair.
"Oh, East Nareen is a fine school," said Tsu. "Eppie. What does living in a civil society mean to you?"
"Oh, uh, I haven't started yet," said Eppie flipping through her notebook.
"No shit," said Lulu under her breath.
"I think I'm noting some tension here," said Tsu. "Lulu. What does living in a civil society mean to you."
"Oh, uh, I'm not sure," said Lulu in a mock retarded voice.
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," said Wendy in her squeaky, high-pitched voice before flinging her face onto her desk with a shower of giggles.
"Miguel. Do you say hi in the hallways?" said Tsu.
"Miguel is high in the hallways," said one of his friends.
The class let out a burst of laughter.
"Oh, man," said Miguel. "Yeah, I say hi if I know them. Why not?"
Lulu kicked the back of Eppie's chair.
"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 Tsu.
"Then everyone would just do what they wanted," said Miguel. "There'd be fighting and tension and nobody would get anything done."
"Ah," said Tsu. "If everybody did what they wanted, then nobody would get anything done. Now there's a thought."
"Is this a new paper?" said Tami.
"No. Same paper," said Tsu. "OK, here's my decision."
"What about our vote?" said a small voice from the back.
"In the U. S. Senate, when there is a tie vote, the President pro tem gets to cast the deciding vote. So, as President pro tem of this Senate, my decision is to not cast a vote and that those of you who want to turn in a five-page paper on Friday may do so and those of you who want to turn in a seven-page paper on Monday may do so as well."
"What about East Nareen?" said Lulu.
Tsu was beginning to get a little impatient with Lulu.
"As I said, East Nareen is a fine school. And if you're referring to any particular person in this class, that person may turn in his or her paper on Friday or Monday as per the decision, as you may all. Now, let us turn our thoughts away from papers and deadlines and towards the topic of today's discussion."
(end ag 25, 02)
Eppie wandered through the streets of Schlicter Valley that surrounded the embattled little high school. "Surprisingly leafy," she thought. Borderline serene. Nice houses. Nice lawns. Like East Nareen, but bigger, like a cemetary. And the houses weren't houses, but mausoleums wherein lay the mouldering remains of a bygone era. And up ahead, a park. And in that park, a bench, whereupon a weary traveller may seat herself in comfort and repose, the sole reflection of the living, to rest among the many dead.
(Je 7) Eppie set herself upon the bench with her can of soda by her side. She had purchased a newspaper with her soda today and opened the paper to catch up on the events of the day. Threats of war in the Middle East, a shooting downtown. "A house awaits you," thought Eppie and set the paper down to concentrate on more urgent matters. Like her own paper. So Eppie set the paper down and opened her notebook to take another shot.
"What does living in a civil society mean to you?" Ms. Min had asked. Eppie had said she didn't know. And that was true. For after all, what does living in a civil society mean anyway? It means nothing. She wondered if Ms. Min would accept that. A nothing paper. 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. Mavis? Was that really her name? And that scruffy girl who was giving her a hard time in class. 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 - to be bequeathed 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. The type of girl you never noticed, but was always there. But if that were the case, 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 either. For Eppie had noticed her yesterday. Had made fun of her (not really) with her Ms. Frackle remark. And had felt sorry for her and wanted to…what? Apologize? 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?), 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? Where was her partner, her superhero partner? Eppie had never even spoken to her yet, had not apologized, did not even know her last name. How could they be partners if she didn't even know that? Eppie looked off into the distance. 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, East Nareen," said the scruffy-looking girl.
"Hey, Lulu," said Eppie. "Hey, Barrel."
"Barelle," said Barelle (accent on the "relle").
"Oh. Sorry. Is that French?"
"Shut up," said Lulu, her doughy face scrunched up tight and angry. 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, moving in even closer. "Say something funny."
Eppie thought, but nothing funny came to mind.
"She's from East Nareen where everyone likes to be funny," squealed an excited Wendy.
"Well, uh, let's see…Barrel!" shot out Eppie suddenly, causing the skinny excited girl to whoop with delight and giggle helplessly against the hulking girl who stood 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 another whoop and rolled to the ground.
"She did," said Barelle gloomily. "Let's go."
"No. That wasn't funny. She cut you down, she cut us all down and now she's gonna pay." Lulu 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 green eyes rimmed pink with laughter.
Eppie didn't know what to do. The big hulking girl was quickly descending on her and her backup, Mavis, nowhere in sight. She would need a plan. A fast plan. Lulu? No. There'd be no help there. Barrel? Barelle? But Eppie had made fun of her and she didn't appear to be someone who could make things happen right away. Eppie took a step back. Technita continued to press ever closer, she raised her massive arms and let out a mighty roar. What about Technita? If she could just turn her somehow.
(bgn tu ag 27, 02)
"Wait!" cried Eppie, holding up her hand, then turning quickly to Barelle. "Barrel! Help! Save me!" And from down below, Wendy let out another delighted whoop and rolling over, buried her face in the green, green grass, her thin, frail body shaking with excitement.
Technita stopped suddenly. She looked down at her friend, then at Eppie who held up her palms, shrugged and smiled. She looked at Wendy again who peered at her from over her shoulder, her pretty young face flushed pink and glowing, her emerald-green eyes sparkling through the shadows. Technita looked back at the smiling Eppie, then at the scowling Lulu, then at the sullen, silent Barelle, then suddenly, a deep, gutteral sound began rising from her throat and her massive body began to tremor. She opened her thick-rimmed mouth and from within the cavernous depths, a sharp barking sound shot forth. Her mighty shoulders began to shake, her enormous head to bobble, then she fell to the ground and hugged her friend as the two rolled through the grass, convulsed with laughter.
Eppie looked down at the two laughing girls as they rolled through the grass, then 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, then fell to the ground as she felt a sharp pain in the back of her head.
A civil society can mean different things to different people. To some, it may mean the ability for everyone to get along, to others, the right to be left alone. But how is it possible for two seemingly contradictory positions to exist simultaneously? Is a civil society only possible when all its members share a similar world view? And if so, how wide (or narrow) must this world view be to be acceptable to all of its members?
(end ag 26, 02/bgn ag 27, 02)
(Je 8) "Oh, look," said Tami. "Student elections.
Tamika looked at the brightly colored sheet of paper. "Student elections. Sign up now. Make a difference," it said chattily.
"Should I run?"
Tamika was Tami'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. It felt right. 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 friend.
"I should," said Tamika, but without Tami's optimistic enthusiasm.
"For your resume," said Tami. She nodded encouragingly at her friend.
Tamika studied the flier again. Somehow the thought of putting herself out there, even to fatten up her college app, did not fill her with glee. "Make a difference?" She was already swamped with schoolwork. Did she really have the time?
"So which one do you want?" said Tami.
Tamika studied the list of possible candidacies. Council member, Secretary, Treasurer. Strange titles. She wasn't even sure what they were for. Was she even qualified? Did she have the time? Would the colleges she planned to apply to really be that impressed?
"President," she said suddenly. President? Tamika was a little surprised at her choice. Totally involuntary. For despite her misgivings and despite the knowledge that Tami had probably planned to run for that office, the word felt right as it passed through her sensitive, yet vivacious 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, always supportive, if with varying degrees of enthusiasm. "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.
Tami's mind seemed to be made up. But council member seemed like a step down to Tamika, especially after President. Maybe she should let Tami run for President and she would run for student council.
"Are you sure you don't want to be President?"
"No," said Tami. "Council member is fine. Representative of the people. Champion of the oppressed and downtrodden."
"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."
"But 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, mentally raising her pom poms to waist level, back straight, eyes focused. "No."
She saw her Tamika 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."
(Je 9) "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 (like Tamika) 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 (i.e. blacks, Native Americans, etc.) came second and you saw what happened to them."
"Nice guys finish last."
"Correct," said Tami. "People First, People First, People First. Remember that and you shall not go wrong."
(bgn ag 29, 02.c/ag 30, 02)
People First, an interesting idea. Not original, mind you, but interesting nonetheless. But what does it mean exactly? Tami had said that people should come before ideas because if people came second, then anything could happen to them. But a related and equally important point could be that People First assumes that all people deserve to come first, which is an assumption that many people, including Lulu, may not agree with.
Back in the little off-campus park, Lulu stood over Eppie, her not unmassive fist still clenched tightly.
"Why did you have to do that?" said Barelle to her friend.
"Agh, she was asking for it."
Wendy and Technita had since stopped their rolling laughter. Wendy got up and bent down over Eppie for a closer look.
"She wasn't asking for it," said Barelle.
"Yes she was," said Lulu. "She cut you down. She cut us all down. She got what she deserved." Lulu signaled to Wendy and Technita. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
Technita got up from the green, green grass and joined her friend at Lulu's side.
"We can't just leave her here," said Barelle.
(end ag 29, 02.c)
"Why not?" said Lulu. "She cut us down. We cut her down. She's where she deserves to be."
"She didn't deserve this."
"She cut us down," said Lulu beginning to get upset at her friend's stubborness.
"She cut me down and I said it was OK."
"That's right," said Lulu. "She cut you down and I defended you. I defended you and look how you repay me."
Barelle gave out a little disbelieving laugh.
"Don't put this on me, Lulu," she said.
"Don't laugh at me," said Lulu.
"I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing at what you're saying."
"What I'm saying! She cut you down and I defended you! You should be grateful, you should be happy, you should be standing next to me like Wendy and Technita instead of with that stuck up little East Nareen chick!"
"I go where I'm needed," said Barelle.
"Fine," said Lulu. "You just stay here with your precious little girl, but after you've nursed her back to health and she drops you like the shit that you are, you remember who your real friends are." She turned to Wendy and Technita. "Come on, Barelle doesn't want us here anymore. Let's leave her with her newfound calling in life and go back to where people know how to deal in the real world."
Lulu stormed off with Wendy and Technita in attendance as Barelle knelt beside the fallen Eppie to make sure she was OK.
Friends can be funny people. More than acquaintances, less than family. Friends are there for you, or there with you, in your moments of greatest joy and your hours of darkest need. They can come alone or in groups, bidden or unbidden, wanted or unwanted, because they are your friends, and you, theirs, in the greater scheme of things.
"Hey," said a voice somewhere in the night. "Hey."
"Hey, yourself," thought Eppie. She just wanted to sleep. But she wasn't sleeping. She was like dead. No. Less than dead, more than alive. She was unconscious. And the night was her unconscious mind.
"Hey," said the voice again. "Hey."
(bgn ag 31, 02.a)
Someone wanted her. She felt someone touch her shoulder. This was not good. She could not have someone touching her shoulder like that. She would have to regain her conscious state to protect the sanctity of her shoulder and whatever else this person might be after.
"Hey, don't touch me, OK?" said Eppie as she reconnected her mind to the living world. She would take an aggressive stance with this person who would take advantage of her body as it lay there without the protection of a conscious mind. "Ow," she then said as she tried to get up. She remembered now. Someone or something had hit her as she had turned to leave that rude girl and her strange friends. Maybe that was her now. The rude girl. Touching her shoulder as she lay there in an unprotected state.
"Oh, hey, Barrel. I mean Barelle," said Eppie as she opened her eyes and saw the person she had made fun of when that hulking girl was coming down upon her. "What happened?"
"Barelle was OK," thought Eppie. She was sure it wasn't Barelle who had struck her. Barelle had wanted to leave after Eppie had made fun of her the first time. Though maybe the second time was one time too many.
"Lulu hit you," said Barelle.
"Ah," said Eppie.
"She doesn't like you."
"Mm," said Eppie. "Does she like anybody?"
"Oh, sure," said Barelle. "She likes anybody who likes her back, who does what she tells them to."
"Sounds like," said Eppie, sitting up with no small effort, "she doesn't have many friends then."
"You should probably try and stay out of her way," said Barelle, not wishing to pursue that line of inquiry at this particular time.
"But I came to this park to be by myself," said Eppie.
"Maybe you shouldn't come to this park anymore."
"And in class…"
"Maybe you shouldn't come to class anymore."
"Well, I have to come to class," said Eppie, trying to bring Barelle's way of thinking to a more practical level. "I have to graduate. I'm not spending any more time in this place than I have to."
"Maybe you shouldn't put out any more of those negative vibrations."
"But I thought nobody liked it here," said Eppie.
"They don't. But they belong here and you don't. They don't have a choice and you did. And your coming from East Nareen doesn't help any. That's something we can all agree on."
"But I don't like East Nareen either."
"It doesn't matter."
"That's why I came here."
"It doesn't matter."
"So what do you think I should I do then?"
"Well," said Barelle. She chewed on her inner lip a little as she thought. "Maybe it would help if you weren't so by yourself all the time. Maybe you should try hooking up with somebody."
"I don't do that," said Eppie.
"Join a group. Join a club. You say you came to this park to be by yourself, but that doesn't help you much, especially where Lulu is concerned."
"I'm not much of a joiner," said Eppie.
"Then hook up with somebody."
Eppie thought for a moment. Hooking up with one person seemed not as bad as hooking up with a big glob of people.
"What about you?" said Eppie.
"What about me?"
"What if I hook up with you?" she said. For Eppie could maybe see herself saying that Barelle was her friend for the next year or two even if she really wasn't.
"But I'm friends with Lulu," said Barelle after considering the possibility. "Is that really such a good idea?"
"But if you're friends with Lulu and I'm friends with you then that means that I'm friends with Lulu, too, right?"
Barelle shook her head and had a kind of sour expression on her face.
"Lulu doesn't like you," she said. "It wouldn't matter if you were friends with me or not. And besides, I'm already on the outs with her a little for staying here with you."
"Oh," said Eppie. "Sorry."
"That's OK," said Barelle who had split and reconciled with Lulu on many occasions in the past. "But remember what I said. Try and stay out of Lulu's way as much as possible if you're really gonna stay here. And try to hook up with somebody if you can and maybe you'll be OK, too."
(bgn sp 13, 14, 21, 02)
Mavis stood in front of the food machine by the counselors' building. She was still upset at how Ms. Frackle had treated her the other day. She had gotten Mavis to talk about personal things, but then when Mavis came to see her again, Ms. Frackle had acted like she barely remembered her. And who was that woman she was with? The one who had acted so familiar with Mavis, who had called her by her name and then honey. But why would she do that. Mavis wasn't her honey. Mavis had come to see Ms. Frackle, not her. But there she was again, walking briskly down the hall in a short skirt towards the counselors' building. No, passed it. That would mean Ms. Frackle would be alone. Mavis wondered if she should go see her again. Give her another chance. For she had made Mavis feel so good at their first meeting, had told her how much she liked her. And even at their second meeting, after having been so unthoughtful, she had told Mavis that she was always there for her, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, just sitting and waiting for Mavis to come.
Mavis stood outside of Ms. Frackle's office and listened. All was quiet. All was peaceful. But maybe she wasn't even there. Mavis opened the door and there she was, Ms. Frackle, alone. So far, so good. But she was eating a sandwich. Not so good. Mavis wondered if she had been sitting there all night waiting for her to return. That would have been strange. That would have been eerie.
Ms. Frackle looked up.
"Oh, Mavis," she said laughing. "I didn't see you there. Come in."
"What was so funny?" thought Mavis as she entered Ms. Frackle's office. Why was it so funny that she had come to see her again? Maybe it was because she had been caught eating again. Maybe it was an embarrassed laugh, not an unthoughtful one.
"Have a seat," said Ms. Frackle.
Mavis studied the chair. It still looked warm. Like someone with a short skirt had just been sitting there.
"Uh, no thanks. I'll stand," she said.
"Oh," said Ms. Frackle.
"And would you mind not eating for awhile?" said Mavis.
Juney wasn't sure what to make of all this. She had been thinking of Mavis's last visit. How strangely she had behaved. She was hoping Mavis would come back, was even thinking of calling for her. And now here she was, on her own, so soon, but making strange requests and declinations, even before they had begun talking about anything of importance. But Juney decided to honor Mavis's no-eating request, even though she was hungry.
"So, how have you been, Mavis?" she said. She wanted to be careful about what she said and how she said it to avoid yesterday's reaction.
"All right," said Mavis in a noncommittal tone.
Juney wasn't sure how to proceed. Maybe a question of concern would be appropriate.
"I heard there was something that happened in Ms. Min's class yesterday?" she said.
Mavis started swaying her body slightly from side to side, but said nothing.
"You said my name or thought Ms. Min was me?"
"Really," said Mavis dreamily.
"And a girl made fun of you or made a joke about it?"
Mavis kept swaying back and forth, but didn't say anything. She thought about the girl who had made the remark. Eppie was her name, she thought. From East Nareen. "But why would a girl from East Nareen want to come here?" she thought to herself.
"Oh, she's from East Nareen," said Mavis at last.
"Yes," said Juney, remembering that Tsu had said something about that. "And you wanted to go there before, too, right?"
"But why would a girl leave East Nareen to come here?" said Mavis ignoring Juney's question.
(bgn sp 17, 02)
"Oh. Well, I'm not sure," said Juney. "East Nareen's a fine school, but Schlicter Valley has its fine points as well."
"But I don't like it here," said Mavis.
Juney was a little surprised. She thought Mavis had changed her mind about that. But then, Mavis had only said that after Juney had told her that she liked her. Maybe she hadn't changed her mind, but had just found a reason for staying. But staying at a particular school just because your counselor said she liked you didn't seem like the best of reasons. She would have to find another, better, reason for Mavis.
"Yes. We spoke of that yesterday," said Juney, choosing not to bring up the liking thing again. "But the thing is, East Nareen is very difficult to get into and I don't think I can get you in, at least not this year."
"Oh," said Mavis.
"And, well, I was thinking that if we could come up with some way for you to like being at Schlicter Valley a little better, then maybe it wouldn't be so bad for you."
"Like what?" said Mavis seeming at least a little interested now.
"Oh, I don't know," said Juney. "Something that you like doing or something that you've always wanted to do. Think of this as an opportunity for you to turn something you feel is negative into something more positive."
She waited for a response.
"Mm…maybe," said Mavis after awhile. And she seemed sincere.
(end sp 13, 14, 17, 02)
(end sp 21, 02/bgn ag 28, 02)
Tamika walked through the hallways of Schlicter High. It was her study period and things were usually pretty quiet outside the classrooms now, especially in this corner of the school. It was a nice time of the day for her. She could use the time to catch up on her studies or wander the hallways thinking about things that needed to be thought about. On this particular morning, she was thinking about what Tami had said to her yesterday about running for office. Was she really going to do it? It would be so much extra work. And those things Tami said about their party, the People First Party. Were she really going to do that, too? Did she even agree with the ideas behind it? She wondered if she could use any of it in her paper. What does it mean to live in a civil society? Does it mean people first? Because civil meant nice to Tamika. And if you were civil to someone then you were nice to them, right? Why not the Nice Party? It had a nice ring to it. The Nice Party. The NP. But if it was going to be the Nice Party, then what did being nice, itself, mean? Making people feel good? Making them not feel bad? Isn't that nice? Or is it People First?
(end ag 30, 02/ag 31, 02.a)
Tamika saw a guy sitting alone on a bench. She would test out her ideas on him.
"Hi," said Tamika. "Mind if I sit here?"
The guy shrugged. At least it appeared he shrugged because he didn't really look up or acknowledge her presence in any clear way. He wore dark-rimmed glasses, a bit on the thick side. His hair…well, his hair was arranged in a very creative manner. But his shirt, though slightly rumpled, appeared to be clean with an attractive plaid design. He appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be a geek. But that wasn't nice. "He was a, a…mathematics enthusiast," thought Tamika. "A thinker of deep thoughts, living in his own world, sitting on his own bench."
(end ag 27, 02)
"My name's Tamika," said Tamika. "What's yours?" She sat next to him, knees together, with one hand on her lap, the other on the bench between her and him. It would show him that she was open to him, a hand across the divide, held out in the spirit of friendship and understanding. She nodded encouragingly when her fellow bench sitter seemed reluctant to open up to her.
"Roland," he said at last.
"Ahhhh," said Tamika. "Roland. Ro-o-o-o-land." She liked it. It rolled off the tongue. It r-o-o-o-o-o-o-lled off the ton-n-n-n-n-n-n-gueeeeeeeee. R-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-l-a-n-n-n-n-n-n-d. Tamika smiled at Roland, then leaned forward. "I'm a cheerleader," she said.
(bgn ag 29, 02.a)
"I know," said Roland. "The pom-poms."
"Of course," thought Tamika. She had forgotten that she had brought her pom-poms with her. "The thing is," she said, "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?"
(end ag 29, 02.a)
Tamika nodded encouragingly.
"The Nice People Party?"
Roland appeared to be thinking.
"It was an honor to be in his presence," thought Tamika. Those glasses, those books. Those books were like his pom-poms. Go, Einstein. Go, Sophocles. Rah, rah, rah, rah…
"I don't think so," said Roland.
"Oh?" said Tamika surprised.
"The thing is," said Roland, "is that I'm not really into politics, people, or being nice, so if you would be so kind…"
"Oh," said Tamika. She gathered up her pom-poms and continued on her way. "Not really into politics, people, or being nice," she thought. Where would someone like Roland fit into her newly acquired world view? Could a person who didn't like people or being nice be included in the Nice People Party? Would he be their enemy? Should people like Roland be stamped out? Or would stamping people out be something that the Nice People Party just wouldn't do?
Tamika continued down the hallway until she heard some scuffling noises behind her. She turned around and saw two big guys and a little guy descending on Roland. One big guy yanked Roland's shirt up, exposing Roland's pale hairless torso, but was having trouble pulling it over his head because the top button was fastened so securely. He pulled and tugged and swung Roland around by his inside-out shirttails, but the seemingly headless Roland somehow managed to keep his balance until the other big guy hoisted Roland by his legs and popped off his shoes like bottle caps. Then the little guy unfastened poor Roland's too-short black trousers and yanked them off with a gleeful hoot as the first big guy succeeded in taking possession of Roland's shirt by ripping through the top button and the second big guy plucked off Roland's socks from his pale hairless feet.
Tamika couldn't believe her eyes. She watched in horror as the little guy gleefully gripped the sides of Roland's underwear and was about to commit the penultimate of boy-on-boy desecrations.
"Hey, stop that!" yelled Tamika as she threw down her pom-poms and rushed to Roland's aid. "Shoo! Shoo! Go away!" she yelled, waving her hands and making as angry a face as she could. The two big guys and the one little guy looked up at Tamika, their faces still red, their eyes still glowing, and gave her a little smirk. Then one of the big guys gave a signal to his big and small companions and they scooped up Roland's clothing and ran down the hallway, screeching and hooting with their latest acquisitions.
How does one take back a thought, a feeling? Tamika was faced with that question as she knelt next to pale, broken, shell of a boy. It was her thoughts of stamping Roland out, her feelings that he was not quite right, not quite good enough to be included in her world that caused the horrible events that followed. So he didn't like people, didn't like being nice, so what? She liked people, she liked being nice. She would be nice enough for the both of them. That's what the Nice People Party meant, should mean. She understood that now. But was it too late? She reached out and touched Roland's creatively arranged hair.
"Oh, Roland," she said.
(Je 11) "Hey, what's up?" said a voice from behind. It was Tami.
"Not Roland," said Tamika as she continued to stroke his creatively arranged hair.
Tami looked over the situation and frowned.
"This school is falling apart," she said at last. "I feel the need to run for office now more than ever."
"But what about Roland?" said Tamika.
"Yes. People First. Roland first. Pardon me, Tamika." Tamika reluctantly backed away as Tami bent her body forward so that her face hovered about a foot and a half over Roland's, but in the opposite direction. "Roland. Roland," she said firmly. "Can you hear me?"
"Maybe you should give him mouth-to-mouth," said Tamika.
Tami made a face at Tamika. She knelt 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 gaining a little. 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 grateful to be included in Roland's resusitation. She knelt down and began to run her hands up and down Roland's soft, noodle-like legs. Up and down she went, kneeding, stroking, feeling his pain, his anguish.
"Roland. Roland. This is Tami again. If you can hear me, do not be alarmed." Tami slid her limber body to the top of Roland's head and leaned forward to work on Roland's pale hairless 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. Please respond," whispered Tamika, warm salty tears beginning to fill the petal-soft crevices of her lower lids.
Suddenly, Roland's eyelids began to flutter. Tami bent forward and put her face close to his, 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. "What happened to my clothes?"
Tami smiled at Tamika.
"Those guys took them. Remember?" said Tamika gently.
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, Roland?" She looked at Tamika. "What were their names?"
Tamika shrugged. Tami returned her attentions to Roland.
"We don't know their names, Roland, 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?"
(bgn ag 29, 02.b)
Tami thought for a moment.
"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. "And maybe something to eat."
(end ag 28, 02)
(Je 13) 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 and began to tread more lightly.
"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 that familiar with the boys' locker room. Besides, I have a plan."
A plan. Tami always had a plan. "That's why she should be President, not me," thought Tamika. She was feeling a little shaky after her series of recent missteps. "But then what about the Nice People Party?" she thought. If she were President, she would have more influence in that area, wouldn't she? And she was sure that she could bring Tami around to her way of thinking over time. She would tell her about the revelation she had after the shooing away Roland's antagonizers. She would make her friend understand, she would make her friend see the reason, the rightness in her position. But not now. For as Tami had so rightly pointed out, they had more immediate concerns to attend to.
"Wait here," said Tami as the three arrived at their destination. She entered the locker room as Tamika and Roland stood outside. Tamika glanced at the pale hairless figure standing beside her and felt a sudden wave of concern wash over her again.
"Are you in pain, Roland?"
Roland thought for a moment, then began to undulate his scrawny hairless frame.
"I feel OK," said Roland after completing his undulations. "Maybe a little stiff."
"Oh," said Tamika. "Would you like me to rub your legs again?"
Roland thought it over.
"No, that's all right," he said. "Maybe later."
Tamika nodded. At least he was starting to feel more comfortable with her. Not like in the beginning. They would become close. She could feel it. She was about to ask Roland another question when 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 flashed confidently beneath the skimpy powder blue skirt, her lustrous crown of jet black hair cascaded 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 like a cheerleader.
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."
"Mascot," said Roland taking the costume. "I don't think so."
"Oh, come on, Roland," said Tami impatiently. "It's only temporary until we get you home. Besides, what other choice do you have?"
"The Schlicter Valley Emu," thought Tamika. It had been awhile since anyone had donned the beak and feathers, not since the last mascot had to leave town after the merciless tauntings of the Schlicter Valley faithful. She felt concerned again for Roland, but she could see the logic in Tami's position and kept silent.
"Put on your cheerleader costume," said Tami to Tamika. "Roland won't stand out as much if he's surrounded by cheerleaders."
"And Roland…" said Tami sharply.
"I'll get dressed back here," said Roland glumly and went behind a row of lockers.
"Oh, thanks Roland," said Tamika as she began to undress. Not that it would have been so bad if Roland had seen her undress after everything she'd seen of his. And she had rubbed his legs, too. That must count for something. She and Roland wouldn't become close sometime in the future. They were close. At least that's the way she felt. She wondered if Roland felt the same.
"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. Almost meaty. Tamika wondered if Roland felt meaty. She hoped so. It was something that she couldn't help but notice about Roland, his lack of meat, as he had laid before her 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 body with his feathered wings.
"Yeah, I guess meaty. At least on 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."
"Why female?" said Tamika.
"Well, just in case someone catches him in the girls' locker room, he won't arouse suspicion 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.
"No," said Tami. "The Schlicter Valley Emu has a troubled history. You need the protection of cheerleaders to make it through the day."
"But emus can run fast, can't they?" said Roland.
"Roland, now listen to me," said Tami. "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 her feathered friend.
"OK," said Tami. "Now give me your books."
"Well, you're not going to be able to carry them around 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 impatiently. "Oh, never mind. Just put on your head and let's get out of here. I don't want to be late for class."
(end ag 29, 02.b)
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."
(bgn ag 31, 02.b)
The three costumed students made a beeline 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 to go around 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 much licorice 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 who 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 an unpleasant manner.
"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 threatening look in Eppie's direction.
"So what Lulu is saying 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 feathers in her hand and yanked off his mask like the KGB in the 1950's. "Roland!" she said sharply.
The class went wild with laughter.
"Ms. Min," said Roland nodding. "We meet at last."
"Ms. Min, I can explain," said Tami.
"Asshole, assholes," said Lulu under her breath.
"Go ahead," said Ms. Min.
(Je 15) 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 lectured, 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," said Tami. "At least Roland was the victim. We were the saviors, the Good Samaritans."
"At least they know about it now," said Tamika.
Tami shook her raven-tressed head. "They're not gonna do anything," she said.
"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. We don't need to talk to counselors. I don't need to talk to counselors, do you?"
Tamika shook her head.
"That Ms. Ablodoglio's pretty hot, though" said Roland.
Tami looked over at Roland. Maybe they had rubbed his body a little too long. "Shut up, Roland," she said.
"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.
"The Nice People Party. What's the Nice People Party?" said Tami.
"I mean the People First Party."
"Oh, so you're running for office?" said Roland.
"Yes," said Tami curtly.
"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 issue a signed confession."
Tami shook her head.
"That's not gonna happen either."
"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 in thought, then spoke.
"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.
"The brown," he said, not very convincingly.
"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.
(bgn sp 1, 02/sp 2, 02/sp 3, 02)
Eppie sat at what was becoming her favorite bench in her little sanctuary of a park. But maybe not so much a sanctuary since yesterday's violation. And why had she let herself get dragged into that discussion about the Pie Theory in her civics class, especially after what Barelle had told her? Not that Eppie planned to avoid speaking her mind in order to avoid a confrontation with Lulu. After all, she had hit Eppie when her back was turned. Eppie's freedom of speech clearly held the upper hand in that debate. Ms. Min had asked Eppie a topic-related question and Eppie had answered it. There was no controversy in that. And what had she said again? Something about allocation and cooperation? No. Cooperation was Ms. Min's word. Then Eppie had shrugged, so it became her word. But cooperation was such a personal thing. It meant you had to spend your time with people you might not want to. And Eppie wasn't sure, sitting on this bench, in this park, if she was in favor of that. So did this mean that Eppie agreed with Lulu since Lulu, the hitter of heads, had said that she was not in favor of cooperation either? But their respective reactions to cooperation's drawbacks were different. While Lulu's reaction was to seek out and destroy the unwanted participant, Eppie's was to try and keep her's and the unwanted's interactions at a minimal, professional level. Eppie and Lulu agreed on the problem, but not the solution. At least that's how Eppie saw it.
(end sp 1, 02)
Eppie looked up and noticed someone entering her domain. Was it Lulu again? No. This person was alone and Eppie had never seen Lulu alone. Who was it then? Barelle maybe? Wendy? Technita? Who else did she know and wasn't it pathetic that the only people she knew were people who had wanted to beat her into the ground? It looked like a girl. Not Technita. Not Barelle. Maybe Wendy, but without the red hair and flashing green eyes.
The girl sat on a nearby bench with an apple. It looked like Mavis. Was it Mavis? Eppie looked more closely. It was Mavis.
"Mavis, Mavis," thought Eppie. "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 in her hour of greatest need, that was her affair. She would still leave things for her in her will, for damages incurred. But wasn't there something Eppie had wanted to say to her? She thought for a moment, then got up and made her way over to Mavis's bench.
Eppie had wanted to be her friend, she remembered that now. But was that really it? For if Eppie had truly wanted to be Mavis's friend, then why, when Barelle had suggested she hook up with somebody, had Eppie not thought of Mavis? In fact, Eppie had not thought of Mavis since Lulu and her band of stranglings had come upon her the other day. Was it because Eppie was preoccupied with the Lulu problem that she had not thought of Mavis or was it something else? Eppie arrived at Mavis's bench and stood over the girl with the apple and waited for the proper moment to begin.
(end ag 31, 02)
"I'm sorry," she said.
Eppie had wanted to apologize. That was it. To tell Mavis she was sorry for what she had said about her in class the other day. Eppie had distinguished herself from Lulu's seek and destroy attitude, but she had done the same thing to Mavis in a way.
She waited for Mavis to respond, but she did not. She sat like a statue. Or a painting. Girl with Apple. Eppie would need something more to engage the silent girl that she had wronged.
"I got beat up yesterday," said Eppie.
Mavis lowered her eyes.
"I came here yesterday by myself, then some other girls came. One of them didn't 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 thought it was over. But when I turned to leave, the girl who didn't like me, hit me in the back of the head and I fell to the ground."
Mavis looked up and held the apple out to Eppie.
"Oh, no," said Eppie. "I just wanted to say that I was sorry for what I said in class. That was…"
Eppie's voice trailed off. She wasn't sure if she should continue or leave Mavis alone? Would Eppie have wanted Lulu to continue or leave her alone?
(Je 17) "I'm not mad at you," said Mavis.
Mavis placed the apple in her lap and held out her hand to Eppie.
Eppie wasn't sure if she should, but she took Mavis's hand and let herself be drawn down. She had never noticed how beautiful Mavis was. In class, distant and distracted, Mavis had seemed ordinary, at least in her physical appearance. But now, in this park, on this bench, she seemed beautiful. Mavis drew her hand away and Eppie felt a softness slipping away from her. But a good kind of 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 had she come here? Why had she really come here?
"I don't know," she said with a shrug. "It was a place."
"Mm," said Mavis beginning to trace rings around the apple again.
Why had Eppie come here? Her initial reason was to get away from East Nareen. But after a few weeks, this new school wasn't quite what she had hoped it would be either. It was like this park. She had come to this park to get away from school, but then Lulu and the others had come, bringing the problems of school with them in a concentrated form. And now Mavis was here, the girl Eppie had felt bad about for another school-related problem. But this time Eppie had been forgiven, as though it were never even really a problem in the first place. What did that mean?
Eppie looked at Mavis again who was looking back at her. How long had Eppie been lost in thought? It was kind of like what Mavis had been doing when Eppie had made fun of her. But Mavis wasn't making fun of Eppie. She was better than her, Eppie was sure of that. The kind of person you'd want to have in your life. And yet if that were the case, then why did Mavis always seem to be alone? Why had no one stuck up for Mavis when Eppie had made fun of her? But then again, Lulu had stuck up for Mavis, in a way. But Lulu and Mavis didn't seem to be friends. And Mavis's name never came up during the altercation or after. And yet, in a way, Lulu had stuck up for Mavis, even if that had not been her intent.
"Do you like me?" said Mavis.
Eppie was a little surprised at the question. Even though Eppie herself had just thought that Mavis might be the type of person she'd want in her life, the question, spoken out loud, struck Eppie as a little too direct. Maybe that was why Mavis was always alone.
"Sure, I like you," said Eppie. She would see where this was going.
"Good," said Mavis. "Because I like you, too."
"Good," said Eppie.
The two girls sat silently and smiled at each other. "Where was this going?" thought Eppie. "Should we embrace?"
(bgn sp 21, 02)
"Will you meet me here at the park tomorrow morning?" said Mavis.
Eppie didn't really want to. Her little park had gone from sanctuary to boxing ring to clubhouse in a matter of 24 hours. But she didn't want to hurt Mavis's feelings again. She had hurt her out of thoughtlessness before, but if she hurt her now, it would be more of a planned thing. And they liked each other, too, her and Mavis. That must mean something.
"Sure," said Eppie. "I'll meet you here tomorrow."
(end sp 2, 21, 02)
(bgn sp 4, 02/sp 5, 02)
Lulu, Wendy and Technita walked down the hallways of Schlicter Valley High. Barelle was not with them. She had been banished from the group by Lulu for treason and insubordination. And Lulu? She was feeling good. For though they were now one member short, she had maintained discipline, had set the boundaries between a smooth running operation and anarchy. Barelle would never be allowed back into the group as far as Lulu was concerned. She couldn't be trusted, couldn't be tolerated. For she had proved herself disloyal to her leader, her friend, and was thus relegated to the unenviable status of enemy alien outsider.
Yet at the same time, it was kind of quiet without Barelle around. She and Lulu had been friends since the second grade and had always stuck up for each other when things got rough. Wendy and Technita were her friends, too. Loyal, trustworthy, did what they were told, but they weren't quite all there when you needed to bounce an idea or two off of someone. That was Barelle's job. They hadn't always agreed, mind you, but that was OK. For a strong leader, even a self-proclaimed one, needed someone like that to keep things in perspective, to keep things fresh.
"Whadaya say, Wendy?" said Lulu after awhile.
Wendy shrugged, giggled and kept on walking.
"Yeah, gonna miss that Barelle," thought Lulu. "But it had to be done."
The three friends walked a little while longer, then Lulu stopped. She had an idea. She took a dollar out of her pocket and handed it to Wendy.
"Hey Wendy, why don't you and Technita go to the candy machine and buy yourselves something good. I got business to take care of."
Wendy's bright green eyes lit up even more and she took her big hulking friend by the hand to go on their latest mission.
Lulu watched the two go happily off to candy land. It gave her such joy to bring pleasure to others. Why couldn't others see that in her? "Oh well," thought Lulu. "Thems that got, got. And thems that don't, don't." But she had a plan to change all that. Soon, it wouldn't just be Wendy and Technita who would appreciate her for her kind and generous spirit. Soon, everyone would see, would appreciate. And all Lulu had to do was convince that young boy reading the flier taped to the wall to play along. Actually, he wasn't that young. He was Lulu's age. It was Miguel, from civics class. But whenever Lulu thought of bringing someone into her world, she had a tendency to think of them as being younger than her, more innocent, impressionable, in need of guidance and a steady hand. And now Lulu saw Miguel as someone worthy of being brought into her world and he would thank her for it some day.
Lulu sidled up next to Miguel, looked at the flier for awhile, then spoke.
"Hey Miguel, whadaya say?" she said.
"Oh, hey Lulu," said Miguel. "Nothin' much."
"Sure you do," said Lulu appearing to read the text more closely. "Student elections. You gonna do it?"
"Nah," said Miguel, a little embarassed.
"You should. You'd be good," said Lulu with her version of a smile. "You know, I really liked what you said in class today. About the Pie Theory."
Miguel nodded and smiled back. What did Lulu want? She had never really talked to him before and now here she was being all chatty and friendly. He would have to be careful.
"Hey, you said some nice things, too. Maybe you should run."
"Me? I don't think so," said Lulu making a little face. "No one would vote for me. You, though. They'd vote for you."
She nodded encouragingly.
"Me? No. Same thing," said Miguel. "I'm just looking."
"Yeah, yeah," said Lulu. "Same thing. Just looking."
Lulu was beginning to get a little impatient. This wasn't working out quite as she hoped and she was beginning to tire from the strain of being pleasant.
The two stood silently for awhile. Miguel was wondering if he should leave when he heard two girls giggling their way towards him. Miguel looked to his left and saw two laughing girls stumbling in his direction, the pretty skinny one leaning hilariously against the big hulking one for support. Miguel recognized them. They were from his civics class, too, and they always hung out with Lulu and some other girl.
"Hey," Lulu called out to her friends. "What's so funny? Where's your candy? Technita, show me your Ho Ho."
The two girls renewed their laughter, Wendy her high-pitched giggle and Technita her low-pitched husky imitation of a giggle.
"Can't," said Wendy between breaths. "Candy machine got busted."
(end sp 3, 02)
"Oh, really," said Lulu, momentarily forgetting about Miguel. "Well, why didn't you go to one of the other ones instead?"
"Because Technita had to go potty," said Wendy with a squeak, then lowered her voice. "Technita's got the curse," she said in a semi-ominous croak, then burst out in another fit of high-pitched laughter.
"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," croaked Wendy, then burst into laughter, burying her delighted face in the crook of her hulking friend's rollicking shoulder.
"Well, why doesn't she just use one of those disposable tampons?" said Miguel suddenly feeling that he wanted to become part of this discussion.
"Can't," said Wendy, eyeing Miguel with interest. "Technita needs the special-made, super duper pads you can't flush."
"Oh," said Miguel, letting his eye linger a little on the bewitching green-eyed girl.
Lulu noticed this little exchange between Wendy and Miguel and got another idea.
"Yeah, this world ain't never seen a woman quite like Technita before," said Lulu to Miguel, then leaning in a little closer, "pretty, isn't she," she said.
Miguel shrugged. Sure, she was pretty. He assumed she was talking about Wendy. A little thin, slight, but with just the right amount of curves to make her interesting.
Wendy became aware that she was being discussed and turned solemn. Lulu went over to her, whispered something in her ear and brought her back to stand next to Miguel.
"OK, let's try this again," said Lulu. She took a worn out dollar bill from her pocket and held it up. "Wendy, who's this?"
Wendy examined the old green man with the funny hair..
"George Washington," said Wendy with a giggle.
"Right," said Lulu proudly. "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 happily. "And what's this?"
Lulu traced her finger around the oval frame of George's familiar portrait. Wendy studied the lines and came up empty. She slipped her hand in Miguel's and leaned her head against his shoulder, a little sad.
Lulu turned her attention to Miguel.
"Miguel, what's this?"
"I don't know," he said, feeling Wendy's cool soft hand in his. "A line? A border?"
"No," said Lulu growing excited. "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.
Lulu leaned in real close to Miguel. "Sure it is," she said in an almost cooing manner, but there was nothing soothing about it. In fact, Miguel was beginning to feel a little threatened. He instinctively tightened his grip on Wendy's hand and she let out a little yelp. Miguel tried to relaxed.
"You brought it up, so it's your theory," Lulu continued. "And this," she said pointing to the green-tinted portrait on the dollar bill, "is you."
"I'm George Washington?"
Wendy buried her face in Miguel's shoulder, her own slender shoulders shaking with laughter.
"No," said Lulu, tightening her own grip, though she held no one's hand. "President. Of the Pie Theory Party."
"President of the Pie Theory Party," said Miguel, a little confused.
"Right," said Lulu. "President of the Pie Theory Party. President of Schlicter Valley High."
Miguel was beginning to see where this was leading and wasn't sure he liked what he saw.
"But why me?" he said, attempting a deflection. "Why not you? Or Wendy?"
Wendy smiled and began tracing her finger up Miguel's arm.
"Because nobody likes us," said Lulu.
Wendy smiled, then frowned.
"Sure they do. Everybody likes you," said Miguel.
"No they don't," said Lulu. "Everybody likes you though."
"No no no," said Miguel. "Everybody does not like me."
"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, and you could feel the temperature 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, you're right," said Lulu. "I'm scary, but you're not. So…"
"No no, I can be scary," said Miguel.
"No, Miguel, you could never be scary," said Lulu. "That's why we need you. Someone everyone can relate to, can feel good about. But when you're running for office you need something more. You need strategy. You need focus. You need ambition. And that's where we come in. You put your big friendly face out there and shake people's hands and me and Wendy…" Technita waved to Lulu. "…and Technita will do whatever it takes to drive you and the Pie Theory Party to the top of the Schlicter Valley Student Government display case. What do you say, Miguel?"
Miguel wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't seriously considering running for office, let alone having someone driving him there in a potentially scary kind of way. On the other hand, it might be kind of fun and it would certainly look good on his college applications. And there was Wendy, too, of course, even though she didn't seem to be quite all there. And Lulu? Well, it seemed to Miguel that she needed him more than he needed her, so maybe that wouldn't turn out so badly either.
Miguel took a breath and assumed a thoughtful expression.
"Well, Lulu," he said. "Your offer is certainly intriguing, but can I have some more time to think about it? I kind of have a lot on my plate right now."
Lulu glared at Miguel in disbelief. People usually accepted or rejected her right away. But here was Miguel saying that he needed more time, to think, no less.
"Come on, Miguel, don't play hard to get. We both know what you want," said Lulu, cocking her strangely shaped head in Wendy's direction.
"I want more time," said Miguel.
Wendy giggled again.
"No you don't," said Lulu.
"Yes I do," said Miguel.
"No you don't," said Lulu.
"All right. What do I want then?" said Miguel.
"You want, you want a girl!" sputtered Lulu. "You want Wendy! Wendy! Am I right?"
Wendy looked expectantly from side to side with her big green eyes.
"Well, I like Wendy. That's true," said Miguel. Wendy relaxed a little. "But Wendy's her own person. You can't just pass her around like a, like a…" Wendy whispered in Miguel's ear. "…bag of licorice whips."
Wendy wrapped her skinny arms around Miguel's neck and peered out at Lulu with a mischievous smile on her big cartoony mouth.
"I don't!" cried Lulu. "Wendy makes her own decisions and she's decided to do whatever I tell her for the good of the group, isn't that right, Wendy?"
Wendy's face turned pensive as she thought over what Lulu had just said. She shifted her weight from leg to leg, putting a bony-thin finger to the side of her mouth and furrowing her brow in concentration. Then, in a moment of clarity, her face turned alluringly knowing and shrewd and she whispered something to Miguel.
"Are you sure?" said Miguel. Wendy giggled and nodded.
"What? What? What did she say?" cried Lulu.
(bgn sp 21, 02)
"Wendy says I should run," said Miguel. "So I guess I'm in."
Wendy giggled again. Lulu calmed down.
"Oh, all right," she said, looking a little deflated.
(end sp 4, 02)
Friendship can be a precarious thing sometimes. You can be sailing happily along when suddenly, your ship hits a rock and starts filling with water. You start to panic, then realize that your crew is counting on you to lead them to safety. "Man the life-boats!" you cry as your ship slowly begins to sink. But as you, yourself, enter a lifeboat, you notice that your crew is happily boarding another ship. "Hey, what about me?" you cry. "Oh," they say, looking down on you in your little lifeboat. "Sorry." And they throw you a line and haul you on board the new ship, still their captain, but not quite the same as before.
(end sp 21, 02)
"So, how's your plan to change the social and academic fiber of Schlicter Valley High coming along?" said Tsu as she ate lunch with Amelia in Amelia's office.
"Well, I've given it a lot of thought," said Amelia, "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 the school to take and why?"
"The direction is up and the why is because I'm sick of this place, that's why."
"Why don't you just leave?" said Tsu.
" I already told you that East Nareen wouldn't take me."
"Go to some other school."
"Other schools aren't much better than Schlicter," said Amelia. "I've got seniority here. I've 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 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 burden of 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 dose of the aforementioned."
"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, emphasizing the if.
"Yes. If they did, they would," said Amelia.
Tsu looked skeptically at her friend.
"OK, look. Forget the fire hydrant," said Amelia. "Now, suppose a person is in an unhappy relationship. Why is this?"
"Because they're not engaged?"
"Yes. Now suppose another person comes along and this person is charming, attractive and spiritual."
"Yes. So does the person in the unengaging relationship remain with 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 and is out of town a lot."
"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 merely out of a societal paradigm that requires 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. And that's just a rumor."
"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," said Amelia. "By the way, Engagement Party is a catchy name. 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 political direction they should take and you're teaching them about 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 would wish to use it for their own personal ends."
Tsu looked at her friend skeptically again.
"So, are you in?" said Amelia.
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 gonna look good," said Tami shaking her head as she began unlocking her locker.
"What. Brown top with white shoes?"
"No," said Tami annoyed. "Our suspension yesterday. On our records. The worm of iniquity nibbles quietly along the borders 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, remember?"
"People First," said Tami, not at all pleased. "People First freely. People First willingly, 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's not a soul to speak!" And with that, Tami flung open her locker and let out a bloodcurdling 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. "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 a 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 far 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," said Roland. "they're not really my parents."
"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 in an attempt to calm down her friend.
Tami took a deep breath and continued.
"So. Roland. Wandering soul. Babe in the woods. Why didn't you tell us?"
"Yes, Roland, why didn't you tell us?" said Tamika. "Remember, People First. Nice People First."
She 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, tears beginning to glisten.
"I'm sitting right here, Tamika. OK, Roland, now that was very nice of you not to want to get me and Tamika in trouble, but then why did you come back 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 grasping her friend's arm for emphasis. "I might have done the same thing were I in Roland's position."
She nodded sympathetically at Tami who gave her a funny look.
"But it's daylight now," said Roland. "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, upset at his pathetic situation.
"No no," said Roland. "I've caused you enough trouble. I'll always think kindly of you. Here." Roland handed Tami a familiar looking article of clothing. "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. No, Roland, wait" said Tamika, holding out her hand to stop him. "Stay in my locker."
"What???" said Tami again.
"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 to show that she saw no other way.
"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 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 corner.
"Oh, everything's 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.
And the two girls followed Mrs. Dooley into her office to help her unpack.
(bgn sp 6, 14, 17, 02)
Eppie walked towards the park. It was still fairly early, about a half an hour before school started. Mavis had said to meet her here in the morning. Would she even be there? She seemed like a flighty sort of person. Good-intentioned, well mannered, but not reliable. Eppie saw the park. And at a bench, her bench, sat a girl. It was Mavis. She had made it. She was there. She was reliable, after all. 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 looked at Eppie as if she didn't understand.
"I mean I wasn't sure how early in the morning you meant," said Eppie.
"Oh, 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?"
Mavis nodded excitedly.
"Yes. And a surprise."
"Oh?" said Eppie
"Well," said Mavis. "I…am running…for class…president!"
She clapped her hands and looked into Eppie's face for a reaction.
"Oh well, that's…wonderful!" said Eppie trying not to disappoint. "And what's the surprise?"
Mavis fixed Eppie with an expectant gaze.
"You're…running…with me!" she squealed and threw her arms around Eppie who struggled to maintain her equilibrium.
"Oh Mavis, no," she practically gasped.
"Yes!" squealed Mavis.
"But why? Why me?"
Mavis stopped hugging Eppie and looked fondly into her running mate's whirling eyes.
"Because it was meant to be," she explained. "Mavis and Eppie. Eppie and Mavis. Can'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," she said.
"But why not?" said Mavis.
"Because…" Eppie searched for the right words. "…I 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 waited for a reply, but Mavis seemed lost in thought.
"I mean I think it's wonderful you're running and I'll do anything I can to help, but I'd rather not run myself, all right?"
Eppie studied Mavis's face for some sign of understanding, but couldn't quite get a fix on her. This seemed to be Mavis's natural state. The excited happy Mavis was nice to see, but a little scary. Eppie wasn't sure she wanted that. But she would at least need part of it if she was going to form some sort of relation with Mavis.
(bgn sp 21, 02)
"Well, it's getting late. We'd better get going," said Eppie. "We'll talk more about this in class."
(end sp 5, 14, 17, 02)
Eppie approached Ms. Min's class, her head in a cloud of pensive distraction. The way things had gone that morning was upsetting to her. She felt she had hurt Mavis again. Mavis's announcement of running for office had seemed to make Mavis happy and Eppie was happy for her. But then came the surprise that Mavis expected Eppie to run with her. And Mavis seemed even happier about this than she seemed at the thought of running herself. She had thrown her arms around Eppie and given her a hug. But then Eppie had had to turn her down and that's where Eppie's feeling that she had hurt Mavis came into play.
Eppie entered Ms. Min's class. Mavis was not there.
"Oh Mavis, Mavis, why aren't you here?" thought Eppie as she sat at a desk near the back.
Eppie had even thought up some ideas for Mavis's campaign since early this morning. And shouldn't that be enough? She was going to help Mavis with her campaign. Friends help friends and Eppie was going to help Mavis. That seemed like enough.
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 so 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? It didn't seem like her. And President, no less. Someone else must have given her the idea.
"Frackle," thought Eppie. For she was Mavis's counselor. An agent of influence.
"Did you say something, Eppie?" came a voice.
"Oh no," thought Eppie, hoping 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 character. I was trying out different 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. She had gotten back in the group easily enough, mostly by just showing up and putting up with Lulu's abuse for a little while.
"But she wants to die," said Lulu.
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 bench next to Technita and Barelle. Technita lifted her enormous cotton head from Barelle's shoulder and placed it on Connie's giggly shoulder.
"OK. Miguel. What did you think about what was said in class today?"
Miguel leaned against a pole and shrugged.
"Don't know," he said. "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.
"Not now," said Lulu. "We have to focus."
Connie brightly animated face grew still and silent as Technita heaved a heavy sigh.
"Now Miguel, what you said is just not acceptable," said Lulu sharply. "You're our Presidential candidate and it's imperative that you be up on everything. Don't know. Wasn't paying attention. Those are loser answers."
Miguel shrugged. Technita yawned.
"What about the Pie Theory?" said Barelle.
"Hey, everything flows from the Pie Theory," said Lulu. "Candy machine? A, B and C are in. D, E and F are out. School spirit? Good students and cheerleaders are in. Bad students and assholes are out."
"How do you get rid of an asshole?" said Barelle.
"Shut it down," said Lulu.
"How do you shut down an asshole?" said Miguel.
"By not feeding it."
"How do you feed an asshole?" said Connie with a giggle.
"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?" said Barelle.
"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?" said Technita.
"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 the mouth has other functions also, like speech."
"And kissing," said Connie, pushing away from Technita and casting a loving gaze at Miguel.
"Well, speech's supply is thought," said Lulu.
"Food for thought."
"So we plug up the ears, pinch down the nose and shutter up the eyes."
"What about the brain?" said Miguel.
"We kill the brain."
"What about the heart?" said Connie.
"The heart goes, too."
"And that's the Pie Theory?" said Miguel.
"Only for assholes," said Lulu.
Technita tried to put her head on Connie's shoulder again, but Connie pushed her away and went over to Miguel.
"I don't know if I like that," said Miguel.
"Me neither," said Connie.
"It's not for you to like or not like. You're the candidate. I'm the brains. I think. You act. Got that?"
"I thought we killed the brains," said Barelle.
Lulu whirled quickly around.
"Only for assholes, asshole," she said angrily.
Technita, saddened by rejection, got up from the bench and slowly began to lumber down the hallway.
"Technita! Where are you going?" shouted Lulu.
But Technita didn't answer.
"Agh, let her go," said Lulu with a wave of her hand. "We don't need her."
(bgn sp 14, 15, 16, 18, 21, 02)
Eppie walked down the hallways of the counselors' building. She had never been in here before. There was Ms. Ablodoglio's office. If Eppie was ever going to talk with a counselor she thought it would be her, but apparently not. She had come to talk about Mavis and since Ms. Frackle was Mavis's counselor, she would be the one to speak with.
There was Ms. Frackle's office. Eppie approached, stood outside and listened like a spy. Nothing. She opened the door slightly and peered in, again like a spy, and there she was, Ms. Frackle. She was younger than Eppie had expected. She could have been Eppie's older sister or younger mother, her young mom. She had an attractive face. Lovely to look at, lovely to behold. But her most attractive feature was her seeming aura of optimism, the kind of optimism where you felt that practically anything was possible as long as there was someone who cared.
(end sp 6, 02)
Juney 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 no. I was just looking for someone," said Eppie.
"Oh really? Who? I know practically everyone."
"Knows practically everyone," thought Eppie. She didn't like the sound of that.
"Uh, Mavis," she said in a noncommital manner.
(bgn sp 12, 02)
"Ah," said Juney smiling to herself. For Mavis seemed to be returning to her old, sort of normal self, after their strange interlude a couple of days ago. And though there were still concerns, to have another student stop by who cared enough about Mavis to come looking for her seemed like another step in the right direction.
"Well, come on in," she said.
(end sp 12, 02)
Eppie hesitated. Maybe she had made a mistake coming here. "Just passing through," she would say with a laugh, then go on her merry way.
"Oh, I was just passing through," said Eppie. "Maybe some other time."
Eppie laughed and started to exit.
"But I'd really like to talk with you," said Juney. "About Mavis, I mean."
Eppie stopped. Wasn't that why she had come here in the first place? To talk about Mavis?
"All right," said Eppie and shuffled her body into Juney's office. "Should I shut the door?"
"If you'd like."
Eppie shut it half way.
"Should I sit?"
"If you'd like."
Ms. Frackle wasn't going to make this easy. She was going to make Eppie work. She was gonna draw her out like a shrink, make her talk about herself, deep dark personal things that even Eppie herself didn't know about. Eppie sat in the chair opposite Ms. Frackle and looked around her office. Neat, yet cluttered. Books lined the shelves. A diploma from a semi-famous university. No pictures though. "No one to call your own?" thought Eppie. "Or just a private person."
Juney sat smiling warmly at Eppie like she already knew her. Eppie felt like she was going to give her a hug like Mavis had done. And the funny thing was, Eppie felt like a hug. "What am I doing here?" she thought, beginning to panic a little. She looked over Juney's desk. If she saw Kleenex and box of bon-bons she was leaving.
"So," said Juney. "You know Mavis."
"It's kind of warm in here, isn't it?"
"Is it?" said Juney. "Let me open a window."
Juney got up and opened a nearby window. She was graceful, like a dancer. Strong clean lines. Soft supple edges. Music filled the air when Ms. Frackle opened a window. Was it springtime in Paris? Autumn in July? Juney sat back down and smiled at Eppie.
"So where do you know Mavis from?" she said.
"Uh, we have a class together. Ms. Min."
"Ah," said Juney.
"And we talked together. In the park."
"Ah," said Juney. "Are you Eppie?"
Eppie almost jumped out of her chair. Not really. But on the inside, she almost did.
"She knows who I am," thought Eppie. "She knew who I was all along. She lured me in with her bon-bons and diploma, then hit me over the head with an open window."
"Yes I am," said Eppie with a smile. Two could play this game.
"Ah," said Juney. "I thought so."
"Why does she keep saying ah," thought Eppie.
"Mavis seems to be curious about you."
"Oh really," said Eppie nodding her head. "We just met."
Ms. Frackle nodded.
Ms. Frackle smiled.
"But I like her."
Ms. Frackle leaned forward a little.
"You used to go to East Nareen?" she said.
"Why is she asking me that?" thought Eppie. She thought she had come here to talk about Mavis.
"Uh, yes," she said.
"Oh, that's a very fine school," said Juney. "Mavis said she wanted to go there."
"Really," said Eppie, beginning to feel strangely about the direction Ms. Frackle was taking this.
"Yes, but I didn't think I could get Mavis in. They're very…" Juney searched for the right word. "…exclusive over there?"
"No, not at all," said Eppie, not wanting this to be about her again.
"Is that why you left?" said Juney. "Because they were too exclusive to you or for you in some way?"
Eppie sat silently for a moment. If Ms. Frackle were her attorney, she would have fired her on the spot. If she were her counselor, she would have fired her as well. But she was neither, so all Eppie could do was sit.
"No, not at all," she said.
"A school like Schlicter Valley must be kind of a let down after East Nareen."
"Not at all," said Eppie.
"You like your classes?"
"Of course," said Eppie. "But you know, I think I should be going now."
Eppie got up to leave. She wasn't going to give Ms. Frackle any more opportunities.
"Oh, of course," said Juney. "But I'd really like to see you and Mavis here together sometime, if that's OK with you."
Eppie sat back down. Mavis and her together? Where did that come from?
"Why?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't know," said Juney. "Mavis seems to like you and you seem to like her. It's just something I do to facilitate sometimes."
"Facilitate. Facilitate what?" thought Eppie. But she didn't want to take another trip through Frackle City right now and resumed her previous plan of dignified retreat.
"Oh sure, let me think about it," said Eppie rising and beginning her exit once again.
"Oh, and Eppie," said Ms. Frackle, stopping Eppie in her tracks. "My door is always open, not for just you and Mavis together, but for you alone, too."
Eppie took another look at the mysterious Ms. Frackle, smiled, nodded slightly, then turned and exited out the door.
(end sp 18, 21, 02)
"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."
"Oh, 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, already in love with the idea that was forming in her mind. "You say something like, 'and now, without further ado, I'd like to introduce that tireless bewitching pooh-bah of that engaging new phenomenon that's sweeping the nation, my dear 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, then you respectfully back off, still applauding and maybe wiping away a tear." Amelia leaned down and pressed her hot little cheek against her Tsu's cooler medium-sized cheek. "Do you think you can do that, Tsu-Tsu?"
"No," said Tsu, trying not to smile at her friend's Amelia-like antics. "And don't call me Tsu-Tsu."
"Oh, whatever you say," said Amelia sliding her cheek from Tsu's and standing upright again. "So can I come to your class?"
"I'll think about it," said Tsu.
"And talk about the Engagement Party?"
Tsu looked at her good friend's smiling bulldozer of a face.
"I'll think about it," she said.
(bgn sp 21, 02)
(end sp 21, 02)
Back in the cheerleader section of the locker room, Tami tapped on her locker door with a 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. Listen, 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 your being seen. You can understand that, can't you?"
"I'm cracking her open," said Tami.
"But 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 everything she had seen or almost seen of Roland's. "All right," she said.
Tami placed her fingers on the lock's round little knob and gave it a few cheerleader twirls till it clicked into place, obedient as always. She then swung open the door with a quick jerk, but her locker was empty.
"Roland?" she said.
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?" said Tamika.
"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 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 live 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 don't think so."
"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 were you saying about seeing something last night?"
(Je 28) "Well," said Roland, "you remember those three guys who jumped me 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 he left," said Tamika.
"Oh, I thought about it," said Roland. "But then I sez to myself, I sez, hey I ain't a-scared-a you. Sure, when there was three-a youse guys I was maybe a little fershmuggened…"
"OK OK," said Tami. "So what was he doing in here?"
"That's what I was thinking. 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 fershmuggy?"
"Did you check?"
"Yuh 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 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 Tamika.
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.
"Yes," 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, made a deposit, looked in the bowl and said no way, no way is that goin' 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? Tell me."
"I don't know," said Tami. "You must have passed out from the stress or something."
"Were you stressed, Roland?" said Tamika, placing a hand on his arm. "Have you eaten lately? Do you want a Ho Ho?"
Tamika began looking through her bag.
"No," said Roland. "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?"
"Well, 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.
(end sp 10, 02)
(bgn sp 11, 02)
"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 stall number three for an examination.
It was a regular looking toilet. White and shapely with an open-mouthed bulby top. Lips of curved porcelein, topped with a friendly black 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 bowl's tapered bottom.
"No way," said Tami.
"It is kind of small, Roland," said Tamika.
"Maybe it stretches," said Roland, "like when babies are born."
"Toilets don't stretch," 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 and upon reaching its destination, turned upright and spun quickly round the inner rim of the hole, sinking slowly down the tapered hole until it was gone.
"You see?" said Roland.
"That 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'll go down for the cause."
"He's not going down," said Tami. "We're just bringing him back to reality. An OK kind of 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 clear clean waters came rushing in and swirled ferociously around Roland's pale thin ankles.
"Bombs away!" cried Roland as the turbulent waters formed a mighty funnel around his lower extremeties, a vortex of unstoppable suction, pulling all that dared float and bobble within its awful whirl down into the dreaded passageway that lie at bowl's tubular bottom.
"Is he gone?" said Tamika from behind trembling fingers. "Is Roland gone?"
"See for yourself," said Tami.
Tamika slowly parted her still tremblin 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!" cried Tami. "Roland, get out of there."
Roland stood erect in the bowl, one hand stiffly at his side, the other clutching Tamika's cell phone.
"Two out of three."
Tami shook her head.
Roland sighed, unstiffened his pale thin body and climbed out of the bowl.
"I'm sorry you had to see that," he said.
"Are you sure you had the right bowl?" said Tamika.
"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 that 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 dive in.
"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 mimicking the actions of a stuck baby. "And besides," he continued, pointing to his lower extremeties, "I was wearing shoes."
"But even if babies get stuck, they come out a little, don't they?" said Tamika. "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.
(bgn sp 16, 02)
Isn't it frustrating when you know something is true, but can't prove it? You've seen something with your own eyes. Or at least you've seen the surrounding circumstances that would appear to point to that big important something. And yet when it comes time to share your revelation with the world, you are met with only skepticism, condescension or derision. Some respond to these disappointments by questioning their own convictions or falling into an unwavering silence. While others continue in their pursuit, certain in the truth of their knowledge, unstinting against the face of the opposing viewpoint, in all its various guises.
(end sp 16, 02/bgn sp 12, 02)
"The Head First Party. What does that even mean?" said Tami.
"It means, you know, use your head, the old cantaloupe," 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 though? It's too general. Remember what I said about ideas getting in the way of people?"
"But you should think before you act."
"Yes," said Tami. "But only after you've put people first."
"You told me stand in the toilet," said Roland. "What was so people first about that?"
"I told you stand in the toilet to show you how wrong you were."
"Aha," said Roland. "So it was a Head First kind of thing."
"For you, not us, which is fine since it involved you and nobody else." said Tami. "If I had told you to stand in the toilet to prove my own idea or if it had involved some coercion or subterfuge, it would have been wrong…"
"But you just said you did it to show me how wrong I was."
"How wrong your idea was, not mine."
"But your action was still based on an idea."
"My idea was based on your idea!" cried Tami. "Without your idea, my idea would never have existed!"
"The Nice People Party wouldn't have told him to do that," said Tamika.
"But you let him do it, too," said Tami.
"I let him, but I didn't tell him," said Tamika. "And I issued a protest."
"That's right," said Roland. "And furthermore, you didn't let me stick my head in the toilet. Wasn't that my own idea that didn't involve anybody else?"
"Sticking your head in the toilet would have caused you harm, so I couldn't stand idly by and allow you do that," said Tami beginning to doubt the continuity of her actions.
"But if it was my idea…"
"All right," said Tami exasperated. "If you really want to stick your head in the toilet, then go ahead. I'm not your keeper."
"I can go?"
"And you won't stop me?"
"My feet are welded to the floor."
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 him to rid himself of his head first obsession. But then Tamika thought she saw a large lumbering figure entering the girls' restroom.
"Roland, did you see that?" whispered Tamika.
"No. What?" whispered Roland.
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 into the restroom and 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 bony hand for support. When they reached the mystery cube, Tamika peered 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 creep back out with him to the locker room.
"What is it?" whispered Tamika after they were out of the restroom.
"One of us is going to have to look inside that stall," whispered Roland.
"We can't," whispered Tamika. "He'll see us."
Roland thought for a moment.
"Not if we look down at him from above."
"How are we going to do that?"
"Well, one of us is going to have to get on the other one's shoulders and then we'll sneak back in and take a look." Roland made a pushing motion with his hand towards the floor. "Squat down," he whispered.
"Roland!" whispered Tamika.
"But you're bigger than me!"
"I don't care! I'm not going to let you sit on top of my shoulders like that," whispered Tamika.
"But People First."
"I'm a people, too, Roland."
"All right, all right. You, me." whispered Roland, squatting down.
Tamika still wasn't sure if she liked this. Roland wasn't exactly shoulder chair material. But they had to get to find out who was in there and this was the only way. She placed a hand on top of Roland's oily head and swung a finely toned leg over Roland's spindly frame. So far, so good. Then she swung the other around so that she sat on top of Roland, his oily head wedged firmly between her legs for support. But now came the hard part. Roland grasped Tamika's velvety knees with his fingers and in a miracle of epic proportions, he began to rise. Lips pursed, eyes bulging, veins popping, Roland was determined. Sweat poured from his oily scalp, blending with the sweet nectar flowing from Tamika's velvety thighs. Higher and higher they rose, a two-person flower pushing its way towards the sun until Roland's tiny feet began to slip beneath him on the sweat-stained tiles below. But they were determined to complete their mission. Weaving and wavering, left and right, Roland and Tamika swayed like a palm tree as they slowly made their way forward. Tamika tried to maintain her center of gravity, but was having trouble 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 a 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 against increasingly impossible odds. Tamika squeezed her muscular legs together more tightly, clasping Roland's oily head in a vice-like grip of sweaty determination. Sweet showers of perspiration poured from Tamika like nectar as the oily sweat flowed from Roland's cheeks as he huffed and billowed and undulated against the heated flesh of Tamika's grasping thighs. Then Tamika hunched forward, wrapping her lovely cheerleader arms around her faltering steed, cradling him in a warm embrace of womanly palpitations, filling his hairy nostrils with the passion of her desire, engulfing him like a flame. But like a top spinning crazily towards the table's edge, the end was near. "Bombs awa-a-a-a-y!" cried Roland as he heaved 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 stem to Tamika's trembling flower, went crashing through the door of the 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 metal bar above, 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 waistline 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 explain, Tami turned quickly around and went after the weeping giant.
"Well, did you see anything? said Roland to Tamika 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.
(end sp 11, 02)
(bgn sp 16, 17, 02)
Looks can be deceiving, sometimes even a little scary. This is why investigation is so important. For without investigation there would only be speculation. And while speculation may be valuable when the alternative does not exist, it can also lead to misinterpretation on the one hand or misinformation on the other. Both of which are to be avoided if, indeed, an unfractured reality is your goal.
(Jy 6) "So what do you think was in the pamphlet?" said Roland as he and Tamika made their way out of the girls' bathroom.
"I don't know," said Tamika rubbing her hand across her stomach. Hurtling into that bar had hurt, though she supposed it could have been worse if she'd fallen to the floor. Or hit a wall. "I'm not even sure it was a pamphlet. It could have been, you know, anything."
"But it looked like papers," Roland queried further.
"Then it must have been some sort of message to her cohorts in the underworld," said Roland nodding 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.
"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, but he seemed to be awfully sure of his opinions. Would this be consistent with the Nice People Party? Tamika had said that she would be nice enough for the both of them, but did this mean that she would have to be twice as nice to Tami after Roland's insinuating remark? For it seemed to Tamika that she was already as nice to Tami as she could be. Should she give Tami's nice to someone else and make up for Roland's not nice in that way? But then what about Tami who had been the victim in the exchange? Where was the niceness in that? Tamika racked her brain, but couldn't come up with an acceptable answer. So instead, she decided to give Roland the benefit of the doubt for now, even though she wished he wouldn't be so negative about people. Especially the people she cared for.
"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 Tami's locker 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, Roland," 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 was sure she was right, but before she could answer, Tami looked up and motioned towards Tamika's bag. Tamika opened her bag, 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.
"So, are you feeling any better?" said Tami.
"Did they scare you?"
"Scare her!" cried 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."
Technita looked at Tami, then at Tamika who nodded supportively.
"I…I've got the curse," said Technita at last, 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 as she nodded woefully with her enormous head hung low in shame.
Then 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 god damn 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!" cried Roland.
"No," said Tami. "The pipes are beginning to clog from Technita's big tampon."
Technita began to cry again.
"You know you're not supposed to flush them down the toilet if they're not disposable, don't you?"
Technita let out a piercing howl. Roland almost jumped out of his skin.
"Oh God, look what you've done! We're goners now!"
(end sp 16, 02)
"Technita," said Tami again. "You know you're not supposed to flush them down the toilet if they're not disposable, don't you?"
Technita hung her head even lower and nodded.
"Technita's bad. Very bad," she said.
"No, you're not bad, Technita," said Tami. "But why did you do it if you knew you weren't supposed to?"
"Well," said Technita between 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 went to see what all the commotion was about 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 just stood there, not knowing what to do, until someone came bursting through the crowd."
"Satan," hissed Roland in a loud stage whisper.
"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!" she said. "You think this is funny? If I ever find out who did this, I'm coming over, beating the crap out of her, then 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."
"Who?" said Tami.
"Lulu. Barelle. Wendy," said Technita, looking as if she might start to cry, but didn't.
"But why?" said Tami. "Why do you say they don't like you anymore?"
"Oh, they found someone they liked better. Miguel."
"Miguel," said Tami racking her brain. "Miguel of the Pie Theory?"
"Yes," said Technita. "Lulu likes Miguel for president. Wendy likes Miguel for boyfriend. 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, the whole sorry backstabbing story."
"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?"
"Anyway," said Tami. "The People First Party 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 for that."
"Well, we like you first best," said Tamika with a reassuring smile.
"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. "And the day you're covered with hair will be the day I give up cheerleading."
"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.
"Don’t worry, little man," said Technita with a chuckle. "Technita can take care of herself."
(end sp 17, 02/bgn sp 16, 22, 02)
Eppie had walked passed the park on her way home. Mavis hadn't been there. She hadn't said she would be, but Eppie was just checking. And that Ms. Frackle! Was East Nareen too exclusive for you, is that why you left? What was that all about? Eppie would have to be more careful around her. And Mavis? Even though she made her a little uneasy sometimes, Eppie decided she still liked her, still wanted to be her friend. It was more a question of how to proceed.
Eppie entered her house. She half expected to see her mother, even though she knew she wasn't there. She was at work, as usual. Paying the bills, living her life. Things that Eppie herself might do someday. Eppie looked at the 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. I give you credit because you are a winner. Eppie opened the refrigerator. It was partially full. 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. Or pizza. But 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 took the leftover lasagna and stuck it in the microwave. Five minutes and voila, you are a winner!
What was it that Ms. Frackle had said again? 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, to which Ms. Frackle had calmly replied, because I want you to. That was cold. That was nefarious. Ms. Frackle could use a few minutes in the how-to-be-nice-to-Eppie microwave. And why did she want to see Eppie again? At first, she said that she wanted to see her and Mavis together. But then, when Eppie's guard was down, she had added, shrink-like, that Eppie could come in by herself, alone. But why would Ms. Frackle want to see her alone? Did she want to hug her? Did she want to run for office with her? Ms. Lemieux, I would be honored to have you as my running mate in the annual Counselor-Student competition, the Most Huggable Couple category. Or was it Eppie, herself, who wanted to hug Ms. Frackle? Oh, I'd be delighted, Ms. Frackle. But first, let's have a little practice session. Ya ha! Did Ms. Frackle think that she was in need of counseling? Eppie shook her head and laughed. "Ridiculous," she thought. For Eppie Lemieux helped others, 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. Eppie placed a finger on the phone's digit pad, picked up the receiver and dialed Mavis. The phone rang, a click, then a voice at the other end. Hello?
Eppie took a beat, then spoke.
"Hi Mavis, it's Eppie. Wanna come over?"
(bgn sp 17, 18, 02)
Eppie walked down Maple Street. It was late afternoon and the leaves were swirling. A pile of them would suddenly 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). And Eppie had accepted. "All right," she had said and was now making her way down Maple Street to the house of Mavis.
"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. Though Eppie had invited Mavis to her abode first, 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 sconces lining the walls, shades drawn, of course, and maybe a fireplace. Or no. Mavis seemed more like the girly type. Frilly, with a canopy over the bed and a stuffed poodle with a rhinestone necklace around its neck.
There it was. 828 Maple Street. Mavis's place. It was brown. But a light brown. Almost white. Kind of creamy. Like Mavis.
Mavis had declined Eppie's invitation in her creamy dreamy voice, but that was all right. For the purpose of Eppie's call was to see Mavis, not to get her into her own home. The house of Mavis would be fine. Mavis had said she was alone. That would be fine, too.
Eppie rang the bell.
Ding dong it went. Like Mavis. No. Like a 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 in.
Eppie stood there for a moment, smiling and wondered if she should hug Mavis. Hi! Eppie would say 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-bon liqueuers.
Should she have brought a gift? A bottle of Snapple? A stuffed rodent? But no, people didn't do that nowadays. At least not while they were 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.
"I'm so glad you called," said Mavis.
"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.
"So this is Mavis's room," thought Eppie. It looked 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, and Eppie obligingly lowered herself onto the designated area.
"So, tell me why you called," said Mavis, looking patient and expectant.
Eppie hadn't told her why during their telephone conversation. She had just asked Mavis if she wanted to come over. Then Mavis had asked Eppie the same question and now here she was, sitting on Mavis's bed and wondering why, in fact, she had called. She could say she had called about the campaign or about not seeing her in class today or about Ms. Frackle. It seems like they had so much to talk about.
"Well, I wanted to see if you were all right," said Eppie.
"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, I guess. A little," said Mavis furrowing her brow. "More disappointed."
"I guess I wanted, you know, I kind of saw the two of us…"
"Me, too," said Eppie, nodding with some enthusiasm. "Not yesterday though. But before, when those people were giving me a hard time, I thought of you."
"Really? In what way?"
"Oh, you know, when they were coming at me, I was thinking that you and I could have maybe 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. Technita." said Mavis laughing. "Maybe I could hold my own with the skinny one. But the others, I don't know."
"The skinny one!" cried Eppie. "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 this mean you've changed your mind? You're gonna run with me?"
Eppie calmed down quickly. She had briefly considered maybe running with Mavis, but had decided against it.
"Uh, no," she said. "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."
It seemed to Eppie that they had gone over this before. She thought about leaving, but that would have left them where they were before. And if Eppie came here for any reason, it was to not have that happen again.
"So you really don't want to run with me then?" said Mavis.
"Not not with you, but not run at all," said Eppie. "If I ran with anybody, it would be with you."
Eppie waited for a reply, but she could see that Mavis was falling into that distant distracted world of hers again. Eppie had said she wanted one friend, but Mavis seemed a little too strange sometimes. And yet Eppie still felt a connection to Mavis, the only person in her present sphere that she felt it with, except for maybe Ms. Frackle. So should she stay or should she 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. Ms. Frackle? No, not Ms. Frackle. She was too old. It was Mavis, but older.
"Hi honey, I'm home."
It was Mavis's mom.
"Oh, hi, Mommy," said Mavis. "Where's Daddy?"
Eppie was surprised at how normal Mavis sounded again, except for the Mommy and Daddy part, of course.
"Oh, he's in the garage doing something with the car," said Mavis's mother. "Who's your friend?"
Mavis looked at Eppie and Eppie looked back. "Did Mavis think of me as her friend?" Eppie wondered. And did Eppie think of Mavis as her friend? How would she have answered if Mavis had come over to her house and her mother had popped her head in and asked Eppie the same question?
"Oh, this is Eppie," said Mavis, not taking her eyes off Eppie.
"Oh, what a wonderful name!" said Mavis's mother clapping her hands together. "Will she be staying for dinner?"
(end sp 18, 02)
(bgn sp 19, 02)
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, herself, was somebody's child. 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?" said 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."
"Oh really. 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…"
"It's in Chicago," said Eppie nodding. Why was this woman asking her all these questions? Maybe Eppie was a little quick with the normal judgment. And Mavis's dad sure was quiet. He worked for an insurance company like her father, but he was nothing like him. At least what she remembered of him. Her father was always happy and joking. That's where Eppie had gotten 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.
"Mom, can we go now?" said Mavis.
"Oh, sure, honey. You and Eppie go along," said Mrs. Googie.
"Uh, should we help you clean up?" said Eppie. She would help them even though they were strange.
"Oh, that's very sweet, Eppie. But you go along with Mavis, 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?" said Eppie, a little surprised. "So you're running then."
"With your help," she said.
Eppie felt like she had missed something. Mavis had never actually said she was still running. And it seemed to Eppie that friends should know everything about one another. 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 food was not friendship. You feed the animals at the zoo, but they're not your friends. You feed prisoners in a prison, but they're not your friends either. You have to share more than food: thoughts, feelings, these were the important things. And though Eppie felt that she had feelings for Mavis and that Mavis had feelings for her, 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 to have a closer look.
"What's this?" she asked, holding up the picture of a little girl, about six or seven, who 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. "I thought you wanted to talk about my campaign."
Eppie shook her head.
"Why? What's the matter?"
Mavis looked, concerned and expectant, at Eppie who felt herself burning up inside. She felt she wanted to tell Mavis something. She felt she wanted to know Mavis more, to know something about her, something so wonderful that it would change everything between them.
Mavis came over to Eppie and 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."
(end sp 22, 02)
Roland sat in the dark, waiting. A few shafts of moonlight were shining through the slats of the converted lockers. It was a comfortable place, 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 domain and vanishing mysteriously in stall 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. And he was getting a little hungry, too. Tamika had promised him an omelet in the morning. 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 outside. "Roland, it's me."
Roland waited some more. He didn't recognize the whisper. Though whispers were harder to distinguish than normal voices. And it seemed that people usually usually yelled at him, too.
"Roland, it's me. Technita."
"Oh no. Technita. Here with the 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," said the shadow 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.
"No no," said Technita with a chuckle. "You must be tired from carrying cheerleaders on your shoulders all day."
"No no," said Roland. "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, laughing softly. "I know what it smells like."
"Oh really? How's that?"
Technita shook her head and let a snorty little laugh blow out of her nostrils.
"Say, why do you live in that locker anyway?" she said changing the subject. "There's a whole school out here just waiting to be slept in."
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?" said 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."
"So what's it like in there?"
"Oh, it's nice. It's has a couch…"
"A little refrigerator…"
"Mmm," said Roland, still a little hungry.
"Oh ho. And what's in the safe?"
"I don't know," said Technita.
"What's in the refrigerator?"
"Little weiners and Cheez Whiz," said Technita.
"Little weiners and Cheez Whiz," said Roland hungrily. "And crackers?"
"In his drawer."
"In the cafeteria."
"OK," said Technita, helping Roland out of his little metal box and the two went to Principal Nolo's office for a little late night snack.
(bgn sp 22, 02)
Eppie walked along Maple Street, by herself, in the moonlight. It was a good meal, even though Mavis's parents were a little strange. And she had not accomplished much with Mavis either. Mavis of the soft hands. Mavis in the moonlight. Mavis in the moonlight and you. So the question was, was that going to be it? Would Eppie be going 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. And Eppie wasn't sure if that was acceptable for a friend. For a counselor maybe, but not a friend. The one thing Eppie was sure of was that being with Mavis felt good. It felt bad, but it felt good because she felt that Mavis wanted to be with her, too. And wasn't that enough? For a two-year friend as opposed to a lifelong friend or a no friend? It seemed like a possibility.
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. Frackle thing. And there was Mavis, of course. 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 Mavis in the moonlight talking? For no one was anything forever. 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, which was tragic. Or maybe with Eppie as her friend, she would turn out different. Better. Maybe that's what friends were for, to make sure you didn't turn out like your parents. Or was it the other way around? But what if Eppie turned out to be like Mavis? For after all, it worked both ways. Eppie liked Mavis, but didn't want to be 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. That seemed like a definite possibility.
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 as a matter of fact. Hard and soft. Cold and creamy. Sweet and delicious. The perfect ending to a wonderful meal. Maybe she would work up 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.
(end sp 22, 02)
Roland and Technita walked down the hallways together. It wasn't such a bad place when the students and teachers weren't there. 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, a school or a home? Technita was right. As the two walked down the hallways, Roland could see that there were lots of places he could sleep besides a locker in the girls' locker room. There was the gymnasium. The nurse's office. The cafeteria. But would he be safe? Maybe with Technita who, after all, was an awfully big girl. But could she have protected him from the three thuggies who stripped him of his dignity? Would she even want to? And besides, Roland 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 pointing to the safe.
"No way," said Technita shaking her enormous head.
"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," said Technita who was getting a bad feeling about this. "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. I was right! I knew it!"
"Shh! Shh!" said Technita in a loud whisper, even though they were alone.
"Now where does it lead?"
Roland began tracing along the dotted line with his finger.
"OK OK," said Technita hurriedly. "Get some more crackers, bring the blueprints and we'll look them over in the cafeteria."
"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 pair of big hairy hands burst through, grabbed Roland by the wrists, yanked him off his knees, through the stacks of crackers and down into the vast unknown that lie below.
(end sp 19, 02)
(bgn sp 20, 22, 02)
Is there anything more intriguing, more frightening, than the vast unknown? The very fact of its being unknown would seem to preclude an affirmative answer. And where exactly does this vast unknown come from? Is it always there, lurking beneath us like demons, waiting for the chance to snatch us down? Or is it something that we ourselves summon up in times of greatest fear and uncertainty, the demonic snatching being a kind of release from the hell that is but our daily lives?
(end sp 20, 02/bgn sp 19, 02)
Eppie entered the Owl's Nest Café. She had promised to meet Mavis for breakfast before school to discuss Mavis's campaign. And there she was, seated at a table near a window. Mavis turned around and waved excitedly. Eppie waved back and went over to her. Mavis always seemed happy to see Eppie. She didn't understand that about her. For she liked Mavis and wanted to be her friend, but she was hardly ever happy to see her.
"Hi," said Eppie sitting down. "I hope I'm not late."
"No, you're not late. I'm early," said Mavis, then leaned forward. "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."
"Yeah. I'm not really hungry."
"I had ice cream last night."
"Oh," said Mavis nodding, growing quiet.
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.
"I have an idea for your campaign," said Eppie. "Should I order a waffle?"
"Oh really?" said Mavis suddenly perking up again.
(Jy 16) "Yes. I call it the Anti-Party."
Mavis gave Eppie a quizzical look.
"Yes," 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.
"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 assignment 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, instead of, 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 tried revolving around them?"
"I would never do that."
"But what if you did? What would happen?"
"The same thing, I suppose."
"I think so."
"Hm," said Mavis, pensively, but not in a bad way.
"So what's an Anti-Party then?" she said.
"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?"
(end sp 22, 02)
Tamika rapped softly on her locker door.
"Rise and shine," she said in her sweetest voice. "I've got a surprise for someone."
There was no answer. She turned to Tami.
"Maybe he's not home," she said.
"That's not his home," said Tami. "It's just the place he's staying until we can find him something better. Try again."
"Roland," sang Tamika. "Omelet."
Tamika opened the cover of her plastic container and fanned the tantalizing steam of her special homemade recipe, Eggs Tamika, through the slots of the metal door. She had felt bad about having critical thoughts of Roland 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 or Tamika's giving your omelet to Mrs. Dooley!"
There was some more rustling and some sniffling sounds.
"He's crying," said Tamika.
"He's not crying," said Tami. She twirled her combination. "OK Roland, you had your chance!"
Tami swung open the door and saw two enormous feet sitting sideways where Roland's two tiny feet were usually planted. Tami stuck her head in her locker and looked to the right.
Technita started to blubber.
"Technita, what are you doing in there? Where's Roland?" Tami looked around Technita's side of the locker some more. "Are you sitting on Roland?"
Technita shook her head, the enormous tears gliding down her cheeks like whales.
"Tamika, open up your side of the locker," said Tami.
Tamika set down her plastic container and twirled open her side of the locker to reveal Technita hunched up sideways in the tiny space, half eaten cans of Cheez Whiz and little weiners and packages of crackers covering her hulking bosom.
"Wow Technita, did you eat all these?"
Technita nodded, ashamed.
"B-b-but I only ate half of them," she stammered. "I-I-I was saving the other half for R-R-Roland."
Technita broke down again. Tamika plucked a little weiner from one of the half eaten cans and held it up to Tami.
"So what," said Tami, then to Technita, "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 sympathetically, 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 weiner and showed it to Tami.
"H-H-Hands," sputtered Technita.
"Hans? Hans who?" said Tami.
"No, no!" cried Technita, taking Tamika's cheesy weenie and sticking it in Tamika's surprised little 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 packages.
Technita broke down again, her massive shoulders heaving up and down like hippopotamuses.
"That's what R-R-Roland said just before the hands…the 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!" cried Technita. "Not Hands the person! Hands the hands! Real hands! Big hands! Hairy hands!"
"Remember Roland said something about hands when we first found him?" said Tamika.
"That's right," said Tami, then to Technita, "OK, so what did these big hands do next?"
"Th-Th-They grabbed Roland by the lapels," stammered Technita, clutching her own enormous hands in front of her to demonstrate, "and y-y-yanked him through the crackers."
"Crackers? You mean these crackers?" said Tami picking up a half-eaten package of crackers.
"No!" wailed Technita. "In Principal Nolo's office!"
"Principal Nolo," said Tami giving Tamika a significant look, then to Technita, "So do these crackers belong to Principal Nolo?"
Tamika stroked Technita's massive shoulders and Technita appeared to calm down a little.
"Yes," said Technita, blinking back the tears. "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 found these blueprints of the school inside. 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 ledger 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?" cried Tami.
"I don't know!" wailed Technita. "All I know is that these two enormous hands came bursting through the safe and the last thing I remember are the bottoms of Roland's precious little shoes flying through a wall of cracker packages before he disappeared forever!"
Technita started crying uncontrollably again, tossing handfuls of little weiners into her enormous mouth.
"I might as well eat these now, I might as well eat these now!" she cried, chasing the little weiners down with 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 from her self-destructive behavior. "We'll get him back, won't we, Tami."
"That's right," said Tami. "The People First Party will not rest until Roland is back in this locker room, Cheez Whizzing his little weiner like before."
"Next to his good friend, Technita," sniffled Technita.
"And eating omelets," said Tamika patting the top of her now closed plastic container.
(end sp 19, 02)
(bgn sp 22, 02)
Would you like to be rescued? Would you like to be saved? I ask these questions because it seems to me that quite a lot of human activity is devoted to these three endeavors, saving, being saved, and causing someone to be in need of saving. Life and death situations may be the first examples that come to mind, perhaps because they are the most dramatic. And there is also the religious saving which I'm not really going to get into. But there are also other acts of saving, non-religious in nature, and less dramatic, but more pervasive, than the life and death situations. And it is probably these acts that I had in mind when I raised the questions at the beginning of this paragraph.
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 brightly 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 a bunch of useless irritating people and if I don't get out soon, I know I'm gonna die." But then I went off to college where there were at least a few interesting people, got my degree and returned to high school as a counselor."
"Why?" said a girl with 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, they were going to pay me, so that was an incentive. Second, I came back in a position of authority, which was also an incentive. And third, I believed that I had a vocation for helping others and I found that rewarding at first."
"What about now?"
"Well, to be honest with you," said Amelia. "Not very."
"It's not rewarding to help people?"
"I think you have to be a certain type of person to achieve continual
satisfaction from helping individual people. Do you know the other counselor, Ms. Frackle? I think she's that type of person. She really gets involved with her students. So it's almost a personal thing with her and she can derive a sense of purpose from her chosen profession, despite its limitations.
"Why don't you switch jobs then?" said the girl with the stringy hair.
"Well, I did, in a way. I tried to get a job at East Nareen as a counselor."
"Why, if being a counselor makes you so unhappy?"
"Well, because at East Nareen, students with problems are aberrations. When you help that person, you are helping that person to continue on their wonderful, fulfilling, East Nareen-produced path in life. A path which I, as an East Nareen counselor, would have been an important part of. 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 crap-filled pool, cleaning them up and 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."
"I can't. It's not in my make-up. That's the kind of thing Ms. Frackle 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. I don't want to be part of the crap factory anymore."
"Then why don't you do something about it?" said the skinny girl in an excited high-pitched squeak.
"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 of 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 lickers," shouted someone from the back.
"Maybe, maybe not," said Amelia as she began to pace the room.
"The clothes are about to go! I'm so glad I came today!"
"But if what you say is true," said Amelia, ignoring the heckler, "then the reason it's true is because most students don't feel connected to the candidates or their ideas."
"We got no power!"
"I hate it here!"
"I'm gonna take off all my clothes!" cried the skinny girl.
"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 hate it here and you can have power, if you know what to do!"
"Then tell us! Tell us!" cried the class.
"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! You're the cause of all our problems, not the school!"
"Throw off your petty associations! You don't know hate! You don't know friendship! There's only engagement! You and engagement!"
"Marry us then! Marry us!"
"No! Don't marry me! 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 counselors' building, room 27B!" cried Amelia making her way to the door. "I'll be waiting! I'll be waiting! I love you all!"
(2004 note: Tiki, Connie and Wendy are the same character.)
"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."
"It's not namby-pamby. I'm the teacher. They're the students. That's why I'm here," said Tsu.
"Right," said Amelia. "That's why you are here. Filling their brains with your clear pure water, then tossing them back into a crap-filled pool. Didn't you hear that part of my presentation? That was one of my favorite parts."
"I think that's what set them off."
"Hey, then it is my favorite part."
"So does that mean that Lulu was your favorite student then?"
"Which one was Lulu?"
"The girl who said you were crap."
"Maybe," said Amelia. "And who was the skinny girl who said she wanted to take off all her clothes?"
"That was Tiki. And the guy who kept telling you to take off your clothes was Jeff."
"Ah," said Amelia.
"Ah? Wasn't that insulting? Didn't that bother you?"
"Hey, whatever lights their fuse. I don't discriminate," said Amelia. "And who was that girl with the stringy hair? I kind of liked her."
"That was Kinney. Your only defender."
"Kinney," said Amelia thoughtfully. "Well, I think I liked her best. I hope she signs up. And the skinny one, too."
"There, did you hear that?"
"You say you're into the Engagement Party, then you say you like Kinney best. If you really believed what you said, you'd like Jeff or Lulu the best. They were the most engaged."
"Jeff and Lulu were the most vocally engaged. That was fine. We can use that. But Kinney was the most intellectually engaged and at this point, we can use her the most."
"Then what about Tiki? Outside of wanting to take off her clothes, she was hardly engaged at all. Why would you choose her over Jeff and Lulu?"
"No, she was engaged," said Amelia. "In her own way."
"You just like the pretty ones," said Tsu.
"Not true," said Amelia. "I value all my acolytes."
"But you prize the pretty ones and the ones who aren't…What was the word you used to describe your ex-high school classmates?"
Amelia made a face.
"Irritating," she said.
"That's right," said Tsu. "You prize the pretty ones and the ones who aren't irritating to you. That was my favorite part of your presentation."
"Hey, if non-irritation and prettiness are what engages me, fine. I never claimed to be a saint," said Amelia. "That's the beauty of the Engagement Party. You don't have to be a saint to join. In fact, that's the whole point of the Engagement Party, to be whatever or whoever you are and engage that part of yourself to the fullest. Don't you see that, Tsu Tsu?"
"Don't call me Tsu Tsu."
"But it engages me," said Amelia.
"Then your party is full of crap."
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.
"Oh good," said Amelia. "Maybe it's Kinney."
Amelia jumped up from her desk and 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. The one who would help her lay the foundation of her new movement. The one with whom Amelia would stay up late with, hashing and rehashing new thoughts, new ideas, analyzing, formulating, mixing, matching, stirring, feeling, doing, being. It would be wonderful. A dream come true.
Amelia took a deep breath, then threw open the door.
"Welcome to the dawning of a new era!" she cried.
"Oh, thanks," said a mumbly nondescript boy with oily hair and bad skin. "I'm here for your party?"
(end sp 22, 02)
If there was ever such a thing as a non-Engagement Party moment for Amelia, this would have been it. Her heart had been so full of hope and happiness that she had practically danced herself to the doorway. And then to open that same doorway and have this, this thing on the other side, mumbling his low octane, low engagement thanks for something that wasn't even supposed to be his. It was almost too much for Amelia to bear.
"What party?" she said calmly. Maybe she could get rid of this oily adolescent with a quick display of incomprehension.
Unfortunately, Tsu was there to make her life more comprehensible to the oily youth.
"Why, the Engagement Party," said Tsu brightly. "Isn't that right, Wally?"
Wally ran his fingers through his oily hair and nodded.
"Wally. Of course it's Wally," thought Amelia grudgily, then to her tormentor, "You know this person?"
Tsu shook her head as if Amelia had not bestowed the proper respect on the slumpy boy before her. "Why, this is not just any person. This is Wally, one of my favorite, most engaging students. Come on in, Wally."
Wally shuffled his way into the Amelia's office. Amelia stuck her too lovely head into the hallway for a quick look.
"Was there anybody else with you?"
Wally shook his head.
"Nope, just me," he said, perhaps attempting to be charming, perhaps not.
"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. Ablodoglio's exciting new party anyway?"
Wally ran his fingers through his oily hair, then started poking at the blemishes that covered his craggy, kind of ugly face.
"Ms. Ablodoglio," he said.
Tsu looked admiringly at Amelia.
"Did you hear that, Ms. Ablodoglio? You, yourself, were what drew Wally to your exciting new party. How flattering for you." Tsu pulled Wally's hand away from his face. "Wally, stop that."
Amelia sighed again and leaned against the wall that faced Wally (no relation).
"So, Wally," she said, emphasizing his name maybe more than she should have. "What was it about me that you liked so much?"
Wally shrugged and looked at the floor.
"Was it my ideas?"
"Was it the way I presented my ideas?"
Wally shrugged again. Amelia looked at Tsu who also shrugged, then back to Wally.
"Well, was it my dress?"
Amelia opened her hands at the sides of her flashy outfit and even intimated the beginnings of a fashion model pose. Wally tapped his knee with an oily finger and looked away.
"So, you felt engaged by Ms. Ablodoglio's dress," said Tsu, always helpful. "Oh, Ms. Ablodoglio is so pleased. Pooh Bah is so pleased, aren't you, Pooh Bah."
Amelia made a face at Tsu, then turned back to Wally.
"Listen Wally," she said, attempting to be earnest. "I truly appreciate your coming down here. But I really don't think that just you and I alone would be able to get that much done, you know what I mean?"
Amelia nodded earnestly. 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 and we can all start together. How 'bout that?"
Amelia smiled a supportive, though phony, counselor smile. Wally shrugged.
"I can bring other people," he said after awhile.
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 Wally."
Amelia regarded Wally skeptically, trying to place him in the same gene pool as the attractive, well-balanced girl from Tsu's class. The only thing that could possibly connect them was Kinney's stringy hair.
"Really," said Amelia, trying to not sound too incredulous. "Are they like twins?"
"No," said Tsu. "Kinney is Wally's baby sister. Kinney skipped a grade or two and Wally, well, let's just say that Wally and I have seen each other before."
"Well Wally," said Amelia, trying to suppress her growing sense of joy, "if you really can bring in Kinney, then maybe we would have enough people to get this party rocking. I mean, then maybe we could get the Engagement Party off to a credible beginning." Amelia had flashes of her and Kinney debating the merits of various Engagement Party theories, putting up posters, polishing the silverware for the victory party. "So," she continued, "do you think she'd come?"
Wally rubbed the side of his puffy face with an oily hand.
"I'm not sure," he said in an approximation of thoughtfulness. "I'd have to ask her."
Amelia nodded, then nodded some more. It seemed that Wally would need a little push about now.
"Would you?" she said, a note of exasperation sneaking its way passed her forced counselor smile.
"I don't know," said Wally, shaking his head in a dull nondescript manner.
Tsu walked behind Wally and put her hands on his grease stained shoulders.
"Wally doesn't like putting pressure on other people, do you Wally," she said.
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. 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.
"You know, Wally, 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.
Amelia turned away from Wally and pumped her fist in the air.
"Yes!" she said to herself in a victorious whisper.
"Are you sure that's what you want, Wally?" said Tsu. "Because you can see Ms. Ablodoglio in her nice dress whether you ask Kinney or not."
Amelia looked at Wally again, then at Tsu for the final verdict.
"She'll be here," said Tsu.
(2004 note: Carlos and Miguel are the same character.)
(bgn sp 22, 23, 02)
Isn't it funny how things work out sometimes? You do something and think you've done it well, but then comes the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor and, woe betides, you find that this year's harvest is somewhat less than hoped for. But then, like a rainbow after the storm, something wonderful begins to gently assert itself and you are sent hurtling back to your former state of glory, celebrating the sheer joy of hoped for promise, a baneful vexation to all those who would wish you harm.
"She wants to die," said Lulu, sitting in the bad part of school with Barelle, Tiki and Carlos.
"Who wants to die?" said Barelle.
"That counselor, Doggy-O or whatever her name is."
"She doesn't want to die," said Barelle. "And I think her name's Ablodoglio."
"I wanna take off all my clothes!" cried Tiki in her high-pitched squeak.
"Look. She got Tiki all excited. Carlos, calm your girlfriend down."
Carlos whispered something into Tiki's ear. Tiki 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."
"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.
"And why should we? What chance do we have when Miss Engagement Party is promising them the moon and the stars and…"
"I wanna take off all my clothes!" cried Tiki.
"And that," said Lulu shaking her head. "Do you think people are gonna want that from you and me?"
"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 Tiki.
"She'll be back," said Lulu. "Unless Ablodoglio lures her in."
"I heard she's hangin' with the cheerleaders," said Barelle.
"Wonderful," said Lulu. "Carlos, how's the Pie Theory Party coming?"
Carlos shifted his weight slightly.
"Why's that my responsibility?" he said.
Lulu took a dollar bill out of her pocket and held it in front of Carlos's face.
"Because this is you," she said. "Remember?"
"Carlos's the president," croaked Tiki, eyeing the bill as she wrapped her arms around her excellent new boyfriend.
"I thought you were going to handle that?" said Carlos.
"I am handling it," said Lulu. "We have a new threat from Abo-dog, so we need some new ideas. Whadaya say?"
"Uh uh," said Carlos. "You said you were gonna handle it, so you handle it." He slipped the dollar bill from between Lulu's stubby fingers and handed it to Tiki. "Me and Tiki are gonna take a break. You and Barelle figure something out and let us know what you come up with when we get back."
Tiki suppressed a giggle as she and Carlos began strolling down the hallway to the candy machine.
Lulu ground her ragged teeth and tightened her fingers into hammy fist.
"He wants to die," she muttered.
"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 sometime in the future."
"But aren't you doing that by planning the strategy?"
"It's more than planning the strategy. It's having your strategy carried out by your worthy minions. It's being in charge."
"But Carlos said…"
"Carlos said, Carlos said," said Lulu in a mocking tone. "Carlos 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 fucking finished! That ain't no Pie Theory Party! It's the Shit On Lulu Party!"
"But if you're planning the strategy, it's still your party, right?"
Lulu shook her head.
"It's not just the strategy, Barelle," she said. "It's having your strategy carried out. It's getting help when you need it. You can't have a party with just one person. It doesn't work like that. Just like a pie for just one person won't work either."
"Why not? Can't a pie be sliced for one person? One slice for Monday's dessert, one slice for a Tuesday afternoon snack…"
"If it was just one person, 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 this 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 numerous 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."
"So 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 Carlos, and Tiki to a lesser extent, aren't being very good pie eaters. I say, "Carlos, 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 Carlos and Tiki strolled their way back into the scene.
"Hey, how's it goin'?" said Carlos.
"How's what goin"?" said Lulu narrowing her eyes.
Carlos shrugged as Tiki chewed on a licorice whip.
"Hey Carlos, what does the Pie Theory Party say about that package of licorice whips?" said Lulu.
Carlos looked at Tiki chewing happily on the licorice whip, then at Lulu.
"The Pie Theory Party says it tastes good," he said.
He smiled at Tiki as she happily chewed away.
"Hey Tiki," said Lulu. "What are you, a pie eater or a pie biter?"
Tiki thought a moment, looked at Carlos, 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, Tiks. You gotta choose. Which one?"
Tiki stopped chewing and tried to think.
"Sure she can," said Carlos. "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 out and the eaters get to stay. So which one are you, Tiki?"
"Hey hey," said Carlos. "Don't yell at Tiki. As President of the Pie Theory Party, I say she's both and can stay."
Tiki smiled a snaky cartoon smile and leaned her head against Carlos'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 Tiki," said Carlos.
"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 Carlos.
"No no no no," said Lulu. "Everybody can not stay. Everybody is not deserving. Everybody gets a fair share, not an equal share. And for some, that means no share. That's basic pie theory."
"No, it's not," said Carlos.
"Yes it is!" cried Lulu. "You said yourself that people are always fighting because there's only so much of the pie to go around."
"Did I?" Carlos looked at Tiki. Tiki shrugged. "Well, I don't think that anymore."
"Since I met Tiki."
Tiki held out a licorice whip to Lulu.
"So what you're saying is that you and Tiki never fight."
"Never," said Carlos.
"But you and I are fighting."
Lulu couldn't believe that this was the same person who had inspired her in the beginning. Or maybe he was just playing with her.
"Listen, Carlos," she said, trying to retain her composure. You just said right now that people don't fight over the limited amount of pie, right?"
"But that's what we're doing right now, isn't it? If what you just said was true, then we wouldn't be fighting. We'd be happy. We'd be hugging. We'd be congratulating each other on what a fine party we have and how we're gonna give everybody whatever they want."
"Oh," said Carlos. He took the licorice whip from Tiki and held it out to Lulu. "Here."
"I'm not talking licorice whips!" cried Lulu, knocking the whip out of Carlos'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?"
Carlos looked into Tiki's pretty chewing face for a moment.
"No," he said.
"Yes!" cried Lulu.
"No," said Carlos.
"Choose one! You have to pick one, damn it!"
Carlos looked into Tiki's pretty chewing face again.
"You choose one," he said. "I've already made my choice."
(end sp 22, 02)
"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. 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 becoming agitated.
"You're not blind."
"I'm blind. I can't see."
"Open your eyes, Roland," said the voice, soothing and supportive.
Roland slowly opened his eyes. A cold light filled his head, then the face of a beautiful girl filled his vision.
"Hi Roland," she said.
"Hi," said Roland, rubbing his face with his hand. "Who are you?"
"I'm Annie, a friend."
"I have no friends," said Roland, feeling miserable.
"Yes you do," said Annie. "Now you do."
A large male came into view. It was one of the thuggies who had attacked Roland a few days ago. Roland became agitated again, 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 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 and relaxing a little for the first time. Maybe this wasn't such a bad place, after all. 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.
"And 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, but we needed some crackers. So I cracked the safe, got the crackers, saw some blueprints and now I'm here."
"But I don't know where here is."
"Yes," 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, myself, 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. "And there are others who see you as something of
"No. Not quite a threat. An obstacle. A resistance." Annie thought of how she could explain this better. "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…"
"But why are you down here?" said Roland. "What are you doing down here?"
"Oh, good question," said Annie, a little evasive. "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 the Board of Ed."
"But you are with Principal Nolo," said Roland.
"Well," said Annie, considering the prospect. "A little, I suppose."
"You're in his safe."
"We have a passageway there, yes."
"You have access to his crackers."
Annie smiled at Roland.
"That's true," she said.
"So what does that mean?"
"It means," said Annie. "that when we need him, we can get to him."
"Does that mean 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 be with was Principal Nolo.
"So does he know I'm down here?"
"Oh, yes," 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 true in a way. Though Tami and Tamika knew him. 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?"
"Well, I don't really know him that well. Like I said, Rina's the one who usually talks to him. But he's OK, I guess."
"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. At least the first part."
"So why am I down here then?"
"Well, you're probably not going to like me very much after I tell you this," said Annie getting up from the bed and wandering the room a little. "But I brought you down here."
"You?" said Roland.
Roland thought of the big hairy hands that pulled him through the wall of crackers, then looked at Annie's soft smallish 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 that. Grab you by the lapels and yank you through a wall of crackers. There's no telling what a person like that would do to you if he got another chance.
"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 becoming agitated again. It was all starting to make sense now. Byron, fresh blood, the late night attacks.
"Well, maybe fresh blood isn't the best way of putting it," said Annie seeing Roland's agitation. "We're not vampires."
Roland relaxed again.
"So you're not vampires, you're not with the Board of Ed. What are you then?"
Annie began looking a little evasive again, but tried to answer Roland's question.
"We're, uh, former students, like you," she said.
"Former students," said Roland suspiciously to the youthful-looking girl. "How old are you anyway?"
"Oh. Sixteen. Sweet sixteen. Like you, Roland," said Annie putting her hand on his.
"Sixteen," said Roland. "How long have you been down here?"
"Oh, we don't age," said Annie. "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 as you'd like."
"What if I just wanna lie here," said Roland.
"You're just gonna lie there?" said Annie bemused.
"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, very comfortable. And then they wanted me to guard Technita's womanly discharge, of course. But on the whole, it was OK. It was nice."
Roland nodded to himself, pretty sure that what he had just said was true.
"But it's safe and warm down here, too," said Annie. "And you don't have to guard anything. And you've got this nice big pillow, too." She patted the fluffy pillow beneath Roland's head. "Don't you think you could like it here as
"Well, maybe I could," said Roland settling his 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," said Annie.
"What was my platform?" said Roland starting to get into this.
"Well," said Annie feeling her way along. "Your platform was that 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 he was kind of unhappy up there sometimes. And he also supposed that it 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."
"Not exactly winning…" said Annie in a noncommittal voice.
"So I was losing," said Roland. "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, then why did those guys attack me? Was that some sort of initiation ritual? To see if I measured up, so to speak?"
"Well," said Annie. "You know how when you have elections up there, 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 attacked me, 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 off his shoes, didn't he."
"That's not important," said Annie. "The important thing is when you kept making an issue of it with the cheerleaders."
"Tami and Tamika."
"Yes. And then when you tried to investigate, you became even more of a concern."
"But we didn't find anything. The first time, I couldn't go down. And the second 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. And you also knew I knew what Byron looked like since he attacked me before. So if this was the case, 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 a chance to look into it some more."
"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!" cried Roland. "I know it's a lie because I use that excuse all the time!"
"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 had found the blueprints in Principal Nolo's safe…"
"Pretty good, huh?" said Roland. "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, not a prisoner. Not now," said Annie becoming a little agitated. "It's just that when you were looking around in the safe, Rina sent Byron and his friends up to your world to find you."
"To bring me down."
"In a way."
"In what way?"
"Uh, in the way you said before."
"Mm," said Roland. "But you got to 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."
"So 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," said Annie with a shrug.
Roland considered this over for awhile, then had a new thought.
"Hey! What happened to Technita?" he said. "Is she down here, too?"
"Oh no," said Annie. "She ran out after you got yanked and before Byron and his friends came."
"So she's OK."
"Uh, for now," said Annie.
"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 a situation where vigilance is required. And she seems pretty capable of taking care of herself."
"But that's not certain," said Roland.
"No," said Annie. "I can't guarantee that…"
"And what about Tami and Tamika. I'm sure Technita's gonna 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."
Tami and Tamika walked down the hallways of the administration building.
(Ag 1) "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. Two huge soulless eyes peered out vacantly from behind a pair of pale hairless lids. And they appeared to be not round or convex, but flat, like sheets of milky plastic, with large saucers of pale gray pupilless irises peering out from their opaque centers. And stranger still, they never seemed to blink, as if they were always open, always watching, 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 downward sloping 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 trembling mind.
"What about Roland," said Tami.
"You're here for your transgressions," intoned the Principal, ignoring Tami's question.
Tami looked bravely into Principal Nolo's gray pupilless eyes for a sign of what he was getting at, but could not get a reading.
"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 gaunt 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, then the person's welfare should prevail."
Tamika squeezed Tami's arm in support.
"People First," Principal Nolo hissed.
"Nice People First," said Tamika who then took a step back as Principal Nolo fixed her with a ghastly grin.
"All People First," said Tami.
"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 an 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, I'm not saying that," 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 chosen first, equally, without forethought. I do what I can, when I can. And right now, Roland is the one who needs our help, not you."
Principal Nolo smiled a ghastly smile.
(Ag 3) "So you do choose Roland," he hissed.
"No," said Tami. "I'd do what's needed to be done. It's not a matter of choosing one over the other."
"I see," said Principal Nolo, his large pale eyes going even more vacant. Then he just sat there 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 slowly, then smiled gruesomely.
"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 and I do something for you."
"That seems fair," whispered Tamika to her friend.
"All right," said Tami, feeling her way along. "So what kind of community service did you have in mind?"
"You'll come work for me," said Principal Nolo with a smile.
Tami couldn't believe what she just heard.
"No way," she said.
"But if it'll help get Roland out," whispered Tamika.
"By helping the guy who took him in the first place?" whisperedTami. "There must be another way."
Principal Nolo chuckled softly.
"And why do you say that I took Roland?" he said.
"But you just said…" said Tamika.
"Say, said," said Principal Nolo. "They're just words, young lady. I mean look at these hands. Could these hands be responsible for taking 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.
"Roland would never go without saying good-bye," said Tamika, almost in tears.
"We heard he disappeared through your safe," said Tami. "That he was grabbed by a pair of giant 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 canister of Cheez Whiz and little weiners. "Then 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. "Eat one now then."
"I really don't see the point," said Principal Nolo.
"No, really," said Tami. "Show us how much you like them and we'll talk some more about community service. Here."
Tami took a little weiner out of its can, sprayed on some Cheez Whiz and stuck it in Principal Nolo's round little mouth. Principal Nolo let it sit there for a few tense moments, then reluctantly began to chew. Slowly, methodically, his tiny jaws worked up and down, grinding the little tube of meat between his teeth, pulling it slowly into his tiny mouth with each reluctant chew. But then something curious happened. Principal Nolo blinked. His large, pupilless, all-seeing eyes were covered for the briefest of moments causing them to glisten slimily from the blink applied moisture. And then he blinked again. And then again as he continued to chew until something akin to tears began to form along 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 and he began to convulse.
"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 virgin-like 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 only. Only out of cans."
"Oh really?" cried Tami. "Then here, have another!"
She plucked another weiner from its metal container 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, chucking 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. Tamika quickly ran up to him 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.
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. A waffle like Mavis had ordered, not a waffle that resembled Mavis. It seemed like this was the beginning of something good. 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 entered the building. Mavis had wanted to meet her in Ms. Frackle's office. She wondered what that was all about. For she remembered her last encounter with Ms. Frackle, how she had come to talk about Mavis, but then the cunning Ms. Frackle 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 go well also.
She entered Ms. Frackle's office and there they were. Mavis and the mysterious Ms. Frackle, 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? Leave and never come back? They didn't need her. Look at them, so close, so intimate, so buddy-buddy, so palsy-walsy. Why, they even looked alike. 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. Though that wasn't very nice. Her bastard daughter. That was better. Her demon seed sprung up like witch hazel beneath the rotting carcass of a fat slimy toad. Now there were the two of them, seated together, knee to knee, nose to nose, cackling like chickens over some mysterious documents.
She should just leave? Why stick around for the punishment? The penalty? And those papers? They were probably her private medical file. Now they knew she had a potassium allergy and were plotting ways of slipping bananas into her eating regimen. Banana nut bread, Eppie dear? Have a sandwich. Have a snack. Take a bite, blow up like a balloon and when you've reached a certain circumference, we'll stick you with a hatpin 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. Frackle or her demon seed? They sounded so alike, Eppie could hardly tell the difference anymore. They were like clones, twins, twins in sin, copy kittens in crime.
"Eppie, wait. Where are you going?" said the voice again. It was Ms. Frackle. 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. Frackle 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. Frackle. "We want you here. We want you always."
Eppie thought how nice that sounded. We want you. We want you always. Except for the we part. Who exactly was we? Mavis and Ms. Frackle? But Ms. Frackle didn't like Eppie, did she? For Eppie had come to her office yesterday and Ms. Frackle had sized her up, sized her down, dissed her, dismissed her and now wanted to eat her for breakfast. She wondered if she had already eaten Mavis for breakfast. Chewed her and spit her into the chair that Eppie presently sat in. Funny, she had never noticed what sharp, fang-like teeth Ms. Frackle had. They glistened like scythes, like razor blades. Cold, cruel, colorless, icy, gleaming, white razor blades. As quick as a snow leopard, as unstoppable as a glacier, Ms. Frackle would creep up on you, float down on you like a snowflake, charming you with her delicacy, enticing you with her freshness, landing on the tips of your eyelashes, melting like a lover, flowing passed your sinuses, freezing your brain, breaking your heart, then passing through your fingertips in the form of music as you sat playing the piano.
Who was this woman? Who was Mavis? Why were they so similar? Why were they so different? Why did Eppie want Mavis so much and Ms. Frackle 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. Frackle 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 and giving her a warm squeeze.
Ms. Frackle smiled.
"Yes," she said. "And here you are. And here's Mavis, too."
"Yes," said Eppie weakly. She could feel Mavis's hot cheek pressed against her own and felt like she would die.
(Ag 5) 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. Frackle. Mavis with Ms. Frackle was not Mavis anymore. She was Frackle Jr., Mavis like a Moonbeam, bearing down on you like a headlight, hitting you across the face like a 2 by 4. She was no longer herself, no longer separate, 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 tone in her voice. "We've come so far, we've worked so hard."
"Let her go if that's what she wants," said Ms. Frackle.
"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 out of Ms. Frackle's office and back out into the hallway.
"So, I think that went very well, don't you?" 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 the foundations of my new party."
"She'll come, but there's no guarantee that she'll help you like 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. I can feel it now."
"In the beginning maybe. But not near the end."
"Always," said Amelia. "Beginning, middle and end. Kinney and I. The dynamic doohickey."
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. Frackle's office still burning in her brain.
"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. Ablodoglio. Her shrink. The one Eppie felt closer to. But her shrink didn't seem very happy to see her. 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. A Frackle-Googie 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 Tsu.
"Oh, I don't want to disturb your lunch, your meeting," said Eppie.
"Oh, you're not disturbing anything," said Tsu. "We were just talking." She grabbed Eppie by the hand and pulled her into Amelia's office. "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 going 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 Amelia with a playful smirk.
"She said something," thought Eppie. Her shrink wants to know something about her. How should she handle this? What should she say?
"So, you do need help?" said Amelia.
"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 with a shrug.
"Just to see how she's doing," said Tsu. "A teacher interested in one of her best pupils. That's something you can get behind, can't you, Ms.
Amelia made a sarcastic little face at Tsu.
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 an act. 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?"
(Ag 7) Eppie thought for a moment. Why had she thought that she and Ms. Ablodoglio were so alike? There was little physical resemblance, surely, except around the legs. And personality-wise? Eppie wasn't that mean she hoped. And kid? Nobody had called her that since she was at least a foot shorter. And here was this person, with whom she had no personal or professional relationship, calling her a kid. 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 Tsu. "You'd better watch it."
"She doesn't know me," said Amelia, still smiling from Eppie's answer. "She doesn't even know herself." Then to Eppie. "Hey kid."
"Eppie," said Tsu.
"Eppie? Eppie Touché?"
"Lemieux," said Eppie.
"Well, Ms. Lemieux, how would you like to get in on the ground floor of a brand spanking new movement?"
That sounded like the last thing Eppie wanted to do. She would tell this rude person just that and be done with her.
"What do you mean?" she said.
"Do you have a boyfriend?" said Amelia.
"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," said Eppie. "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," thought Eppie, but responded anyway. "Why would I want to be your friend?" she said.
"Yeah, why would anyone want to be your friend?" said Tsu.
"Oh, but you don't have to," said Amelia. "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. Ablodoglio, with sparkling green eyes and a mischievous mouth with two rows of perfectly white teeth and a moist little tongue the color of cotton candy. How far would she go, this Ms. Ablodoglio? 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 my 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," Amelia said with a smile. "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 passé," said Amelia with a wave of her hand. "We scan their brain waves 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 gets started."
"Why not start things with Eppie? She's just as smart as Kinney."
"Agh, that black hole. She'd suck 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'll be 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 parties say 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."
"What's your point, Tsu Tsu?"
"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."
"I guess," said Amelia. "If they're motives are as pure as mine, then maybe."
"But what if their potential is to destroy the school?"
"If that's their potential then that's their potential. I don't judge," said Amelia with a shrug.
"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 go out and do it 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 you should be the judge. Maybe that's 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."
"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. 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 had 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 much like talking, especially if the person trying to talk to her was annoying. She would try to draw her doppelganger out.
"If there's nothing interesting in there, then why are you reading it?" she said, indicating the paper with a slight nod of the head.
Her doppelganger shrugged again and made a little noncommittal noise.
"Is that soda good?" said Eppie smiling and nodding 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 conversation. That was good though. A sign of intelligence, she supposed. She didn't want her doppelganger to get involved with just anybody. 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 could 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. Though there still was the Frackle thing. And Amelia now.
"No," said Kinney and began reading her paper again. "Besides, I'm maybe gonna join another party."
"Oh really?" said Eppie.
"Yeah. Something my brother wanted me to join," said Kinney. "We're supposed to meet that Ms. Ablodoglio about it."
A brother. Eppie didn't know if she wanted a brother.
"You have a brother?"
"Yes," 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."
"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 exited her park.
(end sp 23, 02)
(bgn sp 24, 02)
"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. Polluted with people. People pollution. There oughta be a law. 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. Her parents should have been a clue, but you had to come from somewhere. Then came Ms. Frackle. Eppie was unsure about her in the beginning, thought she maybe wanted to hug her, but then when Mavis was with her just now, she seemed different. Maybe Frackle 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, her classmate, 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 surely 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 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 Carlos now."
"Ah, a boyfriend," said Eppie. "Well, see ya."
Eppie began to make her move, but the dark hulking figure 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 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-I saw something," she said, stammering slightly.
"What?" said Eppie, relaxing a little, but still ready to bolt at the first opportunity.
"H-Hands," said the gentle giant. "F-F-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?"
"N-N-No," said Technita. "They flew."
"Where did they fly?" said Eppie becoming interested. "Wait a minute, 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 dripping 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.
"I can't 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.
Roland looked over the contents of his plate.
"I don't think I like any of it," he said 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 gray lumpy puke and ladled it onto 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 all right. He licked the top. So far, so good. He looked skeptically at Annie who nodded back encouragingly. Roland cleared his throat, then bit off a piece. Not bad. He chewed a few times, still not bad, 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 semi-chewed 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 a 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 an angry hissing sound escape 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 young man 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 tossing bits of Maggot Muffin at Roland's head.
"Well, at least I didn't eat the tampon!" shouted back Roland.
The table quieted down.
"Mm, but you would've liked to, wouldn't you," said Rina with a curling smile of her ruby lips. A few titters arose from the assemblage. "Especially if it was attached to one of those tasty cheerleaders you liked 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 tasty new girlfriend."
Rina looked cuttingly at Annie.
"I'm not his girlfriend," said Annie in a low sharp voice.
"Oh really," said Rina, then turning to the beefy male 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 sputtered. "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 and you know that."
"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," 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," said Rina in a mocking cadence. "And now he needs more time. When is there ever going to be enough time for someone like him, Annie? Or do you want to control that, too."
"I don't want to control time," said Annie darkly. "I don't want to control anything. I had to bring Roland down early because he was going to get hurt." Annie turned to the others at the table. "You all saw that. What could I have done? 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 silently, seemingly open to the possibility of Annie's defense. "And what exactly was Byron doing up there to begin with? Was there any discussion about that? Was anyone consulted, even informed? I know I wasn'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 from her end of the table. "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 others 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 swept out of the room with Byron in close attendance, the others murmuring seeming words of assent.
"Well, that went well," said Roland to Annie as she watched Rina and Byron exit 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 now, that Rina and Byron seemed to be warming to him, he had a comfortable bed that he could just lie in if he chose, they didn't make him eat that putrid glop stuff. He would soon die of starvation, of course, but otherwise, things were going well.
There was a knock at his door.
"Enter, if you dare," he said in a mock heroic voice.
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 that Rina girl had seemed so angry. And she had said that she was his sponsor. That must mean something, that she wanted him. Not sexually, but as a person. She had chosen him, above all others, and now she was here.
"OK, I guess," said Roland. "Maybe a little hungry." He patted his stomach. 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 of them fell through when Ilgo pulled you in."
"Great," said Roland stuffing one in his mouth. He held the package out to Annie. "Want one?"
"Oh, OK," said Annie taking one, snapping off a corner and popping it into her mouth.
"How is it?" said Roland, hoping for a positive response.
Annie chewed for awhile.
"Mm, it's OK," she said. "A little dry perhaps. 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 stuff."
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," said Annie. She exited the room briefly and returned with a glass of water. "Here."
"Oh no, not this again," said Roland.
"It's just water, Roland."
"Ghastly water," said Roland with a shudder.
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, not technically. But I saw him with my ears. He went in, flush, then zippo," said Roland. "Do you have bathrooms, by the way? I got the hot tamale down here."
"Yes, I'll show you," said Annie. "But you say that Byron went into a stall, then disappeared?"
"Like a big muscle-bound load of crap," 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."
"Roland," said Annie, mildly chastizing. "But I'll ask around about the Byron thing."
"Yeah, you do that," said Roland. "But in the meantime, bathroom?"
"Oh right, sorry. Come on. It's down the hall," said Annie, getting up from the bed and exiting the room with Roland in attendance.
"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 just as gently positioned Eppie's hand on the big twirling knob.
"Do it," she said.
"But I'm not a safecracker," said Eppie.
"Yes you are. Do you want Technita to blow on your fingers?"
"That's OK," said Eppie coming to the realization that the enormous girl wouldn't be changing her mind anytime soon. So she shifted her body a little to get comfortable and slowly began twirling the big metal knob. "What am I doing here?" she thought. "Kneeling on the floor next to an enormous girl, trying to break into the principal's safe?" She would have shook her head right now if it wasn't pressed up against the safe's cold hard 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," whispered Eppie back. She twirled the knob back and forth a few times, wiped the perspiration off her fingertips, then started again. Eppie wasn't exactly sure why she was doing this though. She didn't really have anything against Principal Nolo. She'd heard that he was a scary guy, sure. But what principal wasn't the victim of bad publicity? And those large unblinking eyes and the tiny rabbit-like hands? Eppie didn't want to judge. Maybe he was in a boating accident, his hands got caught in the propeller and his eyes, well, he had been so badly shocked by what was happening to his hands, that they remained stuck in a permanent state of wide-open unblinkingness. It could happen.
Eppie reached her third number, but wasn't sure if she had it.
"Try it," whispered Technita, breathing down Eppie's neck.
"You try it," whispered Eppie.
"No, you try it."
Technita placed Eppie's hand on the safe's cool metal handle 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 Technita to do it for you?"
Technita began to reach for Eppie's slender 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.
"Yes, that's it," she said. "Now blow on my fingers."
Technita held out her hand for Eppie to blow on, but Eppie declined and lay her head back against the cold steel door. Technita withdrew her hand and blew on her fingers 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 just in her head, but in the tips of her fingers, too. They buzzed with anticipation as she had slowly spun the large numbered wheel and then a slow cessation of feeling followed by a solid feeling of locking into place. She would listen to her fingers more closely 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.
Eppie slowly twirled the dial. What was that that Mavis had said in Ms. Frackle's office? We want you? We want you always? How could that be? How could you want someone always, in all ways, at all times, always and forever? The notion made her head spin. Why would Mavis speak in such terms? Unless she was speaking in hyperbole which Eppie had the feeling she wasn't.
Eppie neared the third number on the dial. She felt she had gotten the first two numbers because her fingers had told her so and her ears had 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 her. But Eppie had to keep her concentration up, the last number was always the hardest. Or at least it was the most dramatic. 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 not. So slow she went. Slow like the ocean at its deepest regions, light as a feather, clear as a bell, her fingers, her ears, 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.
(Ag17) Eppie put her warm moistened hand on the cool metal handle and slowly pressed down. And down it went, smooth and easy. She had done it. Now all she had to do was open it up and she was in. Eppie slowly backed away from the once cool metal door 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 shoulders, pushing her body back towards the temporarily compliant safe. Eppie saw the door beginning to close again as she continued her Technita-assisted descent, but quick as a flash she stuck her hand into the open crack. Not a smart move in many respects.
"Aghh!" she screamed as the pain from the heavy metal door squeezed the life out of her precious fingertips.
"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! Nice 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 fingers. "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 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."
"Yeah," said Technita. "We must be on the wrong side of the tracks."
Eppie rapped on the metal walls and they still felt solid.
"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 last night 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 just been there?
"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 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 she 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," said Tsu.
"What do you need me for then?" said Kinney.
"Well first, I do not like him calling me Pooh Bah. And second, we need you because we want you. Do you understand?"
Kinney shook her head.
This wasn't going at all like Amelia had hoped. She wanted Kinney happy, excited, eager to start their new party together. But it seemed that wasn't to be, at least not in the beginning, so Amelia tried another approach.
"Remember what we were talking about in Ms. Min's class the other day?" she said.
"About the Engagement Party?"
"Yes," said Amelia. "About how engagement is everything?"
Kinney shook her head again.
Amelia was becoming increasingly disappointed. If she could only combine Kinney's brain with Willy's tractability. She considered flashing a little thigh, but Kinney didn't seem up for it.
"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. As a counselor, I'm used to more of a one on one, you know?"
"But then you came along and helped me out. 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 in return so much, but she did.
"I helped you like I'm helping my brother now," said Kinney.
"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 him 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?"
"Oh fine," said Tsu.
"Oh good," said Wally. "Can they come in, too?"
Wally motioned behind him with his bulb-shaped head. 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 slender frame.
"Sure you do," said Juney. "Mavis came into my office the other day while we were eating lunch, remember?"
"Oh yeah, I remember," said Amelia. "You're the strange one, right?"
"Mavis is not strange," said Juney sharply.
"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, 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!" cried 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 of the other people were doing it. We thought your flier was funny, didn't we, Mavis."
Mavis continued looking at the floor.
"No," she said, barely audible.
Amelia looked Mavis over again. She had potential. A little quiet, but a lot of them were quiet at this age and there seemed to be something worth pursuing about this one. 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 her ruby lips, she was sure Mavis would die on the spot.
"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 all right, not like Kinney, of course, 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. "Say yes and I'll make you my servant, I'll make you my slave, 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, another irritation. But no, Kinney 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 if it is in the service of something you really want.
Amelia backed away from Mavis and returned to Kinney's side. "Well, you've come to the right place, my dear Mavis. Have a seat, have a seat and watch how the big girls do it."
Mavis didn't move, but Juney came over, 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 her party, 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, but she couldn't let Tami go there alone either. They were friends, after all. They had to support one another. "But what about stall #3?" she added, hoping to dissuade Tami with an alternative plan. "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 to Tami. They had begun a relationship with a key player for the opposing team, the right thing to do would be to follow through. And he seemed like a weak link, too. 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 like all the other doors, but Principal Nolo had insisted that it be changed because it projected an image of strength. And not just one of general strength, but of specific, personal, heritage-inducing strength. For "The Oak" was Principal Nolo's nickname in high school. He had told this to 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, returned to the site of his former glory to bestow upon his little acorns that self-same glory. They would all be like him someday, bursting through their little shells, sinking their roots into the rich dark earth, pushing their heads through the fertile soil, up up into the brisk morning air, rising tall, strong, muscular, above all the rest. 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.
"He's not in. Let's go," said Tamika.
"He's there," said Tami, knocking again, 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 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 little and stuck her head inside.
"What do you see?" whispered Tamika. "Is he busy?"
"No," whispered the back of 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 through the opening crack just below Tami.
"I don't know," she whispered. "She looks busy. Maybe we should come back."
Tami gave her friend an I-don't-think-so look, then she, then Tamika, withdrew their respective heads from the office and 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 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. "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!" cried 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 Tamika, 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 do that because that's 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 with weary patience, "because she is an integral part of the Principal Nolo Fighting Acorn Brigade."
"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 in her new business-like tone.
"You're being punished," said Tami.
"I'm being integrated," said Technita.
"Look," said Tamika. She pointed 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 is that we're doing this all for you and you girls don't appreciate it."
"Appreciate what?" cried Tami.
"Appreciate that attendance is the key to a proper education," said Technita. "If you're not there in body, then you're not there in mind."
"But you're here in body and you're out of your mind. How do you explain that?" said Tami.
Technita shook her massive head and sighed.
"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. So we therefore enter the attendance records of each student, match up the current students by heredity and/or other distinguishing characteristics and can therefore identify those of you more likely to fail and take appropriate action. 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.
"Well, 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 for what you can do for us. Technita…"
But Technita remained unmoved, though her jaw may have trembled slightly for the briefest of moments.
"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'll always stick out, always be 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."
Tami and Tamika were a little stunned by Technita's explanation. Though they had known her for only a little while, they felt they knew her, they knew they liked her and though what she said might be partially true, they felt it wasn't totally true and that their briefly former friend would be better off with them back in the real world, despite all its flaws.
"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 newly assigned recordkeeping duties.
(end sp 24, 02)
1) The dates in parentheses throughout WTH show when each part
was written. Most of the 2002 dates show when writing began or ended
for the date indicated. The 2002 date next to the title is a begin date.
All 1999 dates are begin dates. The dates without years are 1999 dates
from the original 1999 draft. The content indicated by the 1999 dates
has been revised by the 2002 draft.
2) Wendy, Connie and Tiki are the same character. Miguel and Carlos are
the same character. I was trying out different names.
3) Typos, etc. have not been corrected.
4) The 1999 draft was 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.
WTH copyright (c) 2004 eric nakao (part of the collection "WTH and Doctor, My Boy Is Cracking Up") - pending
posted: december 17, 2004
web page update: december 21, 2004