The power lines draped themselves from one pole to the next, and, heavenward, the bitter breath of the polar night sky was shattered by the earliest bursts of sun. Still, the stars glowed softly, while all the things under the leaves gasped for breath as the rain escaped to the sewers to converse with the alligators and rats in rhythms and tongues oppressed and forgotten by the human race. The cricket sounds washed the lost landscape with lonely violin echoes. The dew delivered itself to the emaciated patches of grass that would be eaten the following afternoon by bovine that would, eventually, be slaughtered without prayer and by machine. The windows rapped as the wind rattled as the wonderful returned. The wonderful one, Lauren P. Alexandra, returned.
The girls all thought it was a shame that she didn't care too much about cheap things, and she'd always say something that made sense out loud and during the moment, but she would always wonder what she even meant afterwards. She'd listened to others with untainted care and would delay her response. She liked it when people talked to her.
Diane Swanson understood Lauren P. Alexandra, but Kelly Adamsen didn't, and Margaret Bloom was never entirely sure. Samantha Jennings, the leader of the girls, thought Lauren to be a mere trifling, while Morgan Daniels, Samantha's best friend, and the only girl amongst them who didn't have to put make-up on in the school bathroom, always plugged her nose when Lauren got her lunch out.
Lauren, who had come to school solitary of companions, sat in the cafeteria during lunch. That was where she was supposed to sit. The girls, standing in the doorway, turned around, as Lauren sat down. Walking out in front, Samantha said:
† – Lauren, you're going to the dance, right?
† – Ummm . . . I hope I can. I need to ask my parents, and, ummm . . .
† – Lauren, you still need to ask your parents?!
This caused the girls to burst into a deadly fit of giggles. Shocks of voices began to state that they didn't need to ask their parents. Desperately, Lauren cried:
† – They'll let me go. I mean they'd let me go. They wouldn't even care if I went. They let me do what I want. I don't even have to ask. I could go if I want.
† – Oh my God, Lauren, we were just kidding, calm down.
Styrofoam faces smiled facetiously. Lauren wanted to say that she knew all along and that she was just kidding too and that she was just being stupid or funny or both, but she just giggled along with them as her cheeks melted. She didn't know what was going on, but she quickly concluded that these girls were much more experienced in life than she was. After all, they didn't have to ask their parents permission for anything and she'd heard that Kelly Adamsen had made out with Joel Macgyver for 20 minutes in Joel's older brother's car and all the girls said they'd been drunk before but Lauren didn't know if it was true and had made an awful fool of herself in the middle of class when she gave an innocent giggle after having said:
† – I don't think kids our age get drunk.
And, afterwards, the girls surrounded her outside her locker and stared nasty at her and said things like:
† – You're like fucking stupid, you know, right?
† – I got drunk just last Sunday.
† – I got drunk just last night.
† – Yeah, me too.
Lauren's parents said it was a nasty thing to do, but Lauren made sure they didn't go and talk to the school counselors or principal. Lauren said:
† – I wasn't even scared. They didn't even beat me up.
That's what bullying was. Lauren didn't think they were awful. If they were awful they would've hit her.
She walked home, cloaked in a static anonymity, blurred into a spill of students. She stayed off the grass and off the road, and made sure not to look at the people smoking in the middle of the road because Sylvia Patches had said that she'd get beaten up if she looked at them. The left sleeve of her calico jacket was starting to fray and her t-shirt was too long. Light shone through the trees and fluttered on her freckled cheeks and she smiled when she saw a dog run by. She had her red mittens on because it was foggy out when she'd walked to school in the morning and she had no room for them in her backpack. Justin Rasinsky, who adored her because he thought she was very pretty, walked with her because his house came after hers. Lauren thought Justin was fine but annoying. Justin said:
† – Did you know that Devon made fun of Travis?
† – Really? Did he get in trouble?
Lauren didn't ever feign interest but she listened nicely without her heart. However, she was actually interested in Travis. Travis was the best-looking boy in the entire eighth grade; all the girls had said so. Justin knew that he had said the right thing and tried to ease a way into conversation:
† – No, but I would fucking nail Devon if I was Travis, seriously.
† – You would get suspended.
† – Yeah, but he deserves it. You know, Travis is dating Katelyn Serras, right?
† – Oh, I think I know who that is. Does she have long hair?
† – She used to. She was in the principal's office today, you know?
† – How come?
† – She wouldn't stop talking in class.
† – That's so mean. How come teachers have to do that?
† – Yeah, I totally hate Mr. Malkmus! He's so gay!
† – I know. Everyone hates him.
† – Hey, what did you think of the story in English?
† – I really liked it.
† – Oh . . . Yeah, so did I . . .
† – Oops!
And, just then, Lauren's right mitten fell preciously to the ground because she'd been shaking it and twisting it off unconsciously. Justin took this as a cue to be a gentleman and attempted to retrieve the mitten. Lauren, who still attached too much meaning to the things her parents purchased, outstripped Justin's speed, hindered by the leftover excesses of childhood, and let fall her hands onto the mitten. Her virgin soul could not detect Justin's adoration, and Justin kept his heart in a bunker. They walked together with all the space between them until Lauren broke off and branched up the way that went home.
Of course she did her homework. Of course she greeted both parents. Of course she fed the dog, and then thought of the dance. She was sure it was something all teenagers did, that's what she'd tell her parents. She would even offer to pay. They could not possibly refuse her then. Of course she had no idea that her parents would let her go. Of course she had no idea that her mother would be thrilled, and her father would be hushed and proud. Of course she had no idea that her parents would not only pay but also insist on driving her, as well give her small money for chips and a pop.
Cautiously, Lauren descended down the stairs. Carefully, Lauren's parents set the table for supper. Lauren, noticing the luminous mood of her parents, began her verbal excursion to the dance:
† – Hey, do you guys know what I got on my math quiz?
† – No, Lauren, how could we? her mother said, Tell us.
† – Well, guess, it was out of ten.
† – Ten out of ten?
† – Oh . . . No, I got seven and a half, but that was, like, the fourth highest mark in the class. Like, everyone else got five or six.
† – Lauren, started her dad, it's a bit strange that you didn't get nine, or even eight. Didn't you study?
† – Huh? Oh, yeah, I studied, of course. It's, just, math is really hard.
† – But, you spend so much time working on your other classes. I mean, last night you spent two and a half hours working on your poster for science. I guess your mother and I are a bit puzzled.
Lauren recoiled. Why were they making such a big deal out of this? Lauren never liked math, and it was really hard. All the rest of the kids had even said it was; even Terry Johnson, who had the highest mark in the class didn't get full marks on it. However, if she tried to explain that to them they would respond with something like, "Well, we're talking about you, not the rest of the class." Lauren looked down at the floor, her father continued:
† – I'm not trying to be heavy on you Lauren, it's just you're really bright, and I think you can get into a pattern of working half as hard as you could. Anyhow, I'll stop. How are the rest of your classes?
The tense breath she'd been holding onto, broke from her lungs, and, full of hurry, she answered:
† – English is really good. I have, like, the third or second highest mark in the class, and we read a really good story, too, and Mr. Mealy is a really good teacher. He's really funny.
† – I'm glad, her mother said, Yeah, you seem more like a Humanities type, like me.
† – What are Humanities?
† – Courses like English and Social Studies. There are others you can take, as well, though, like Political Science, or Literature, although, you may have to wait 'til university to take those.
† – Yeah, I totally love English!
Although Lauren had been transitorily sidetracked from her objective, she made quick her move:
† – Hey, uh, I was wondering, I mean, only if it's okay with you guys, if I could go to the MTV dance? I mean, you can say no.
† – Oh, of course. What is an MTV dance though? When is it? Where is it? How much?
Everything afraid in Lauren exited abroad in light.
† – Thank you! Yes! I can pay! Yes!
† – You don't have to pay. We don't expect you to pay.
† – But, I have money! I really want to.
† – Lauren, you don't even have a job. You get a small weekly allowance. We will pay.
† – What if we split the cost halfway?
† – How much does it cost to get in?
† – It's fifteen dollars.
† – Listen, Lauren, we want to pay for you to get in.
† – Thank you so much. Aah! Yes!
† – When is it? Where is it?
† – Tomorrow night at the Multiplex.
† – What time does it start?
† – Nine o' clock, I think.
† – Oh. What times does it end?
† – Eleven or twelve, I think.
† – Don't you think that's a bit late? Are you sure you want to stay the whole time?
† – Yeeeeeeeeees!
† – Who are you going with?
† – Ummm . . . Samantha asked me to go with her and her friends?
† – Samantha who?
† – Jennings.
† – Wait now, wasn't that the group of girls who bullied you at school.
† – No, they didn't bully me!
Lauren's mom cut in:
† – Honey, they surrounded you outside your locker. You said you were terrified remember?
† – Well, it was my fault, and, I mean, they've been really nice to me at school.
† – Hold on, it's not your fault at all.
† – Well, I should've known that they'd drank before.
† – Lauren, how would know that? They're too young to be drinking anyhow.
† – Well, they've been really nice to me at school.
Lauren's dad returned to the conversation:
† – Lauren, I'd feel a lot more comfortable if you went with Sylvia or Tara. Are either of them going? You should ask them. You could have a sleepover afterwards.
† – But, uhh, just, but, okay. I could ask, but, like . . .
† – Lauren, it's just that we're your parents, and we love you, and we want you to be with people who we know you're safe with, that's all. But, if what you're saying is that these girls are friends with you now, than I believe you.
† – Oh, thank you! Umm, I was wondering if maybe I could walk there?
† – Walk? It's all the way across town. Why?
† – Okay, I don't have to, sorry, I just thought, sorry, okay.
Lauren's mom said:
† – How 'bout we drop you off at the corner. It'd make sense. That way we don't have to drive in the parking lot.
† – Yeah, I was just worried about the car. It'll be packed. Maybe you could drop me off a little bit before the corner?
† – Okay.
The rest of the dinner was quiet on the outside, but inside it was loud and colorful and Lauren wanted to wear something that was pretty and made her look older and she wanted to put on make-up and maybe her mom would help her with her hair.
† – Lauren, have you thought of what to wear?
† – Oh, no.
† – What about that denim jacket we bought for you, the one with the butterflies on it?
† – Uh, well, I don't know, uh, maybe, yeah, I don't know . . .
† – You don't have to. It was just an idea.
† – I was thinking maybe we could buy something for it.
† – I don't think so, Lauren.
† – Why not?
† – Because you have nice clothes. We're not buying something special for this dance. What about that dress we bought for Aunt Sarah's son's wedding?
† – Noooo, I can't wear a dress.
† – How 'bout we look through your clothes after dinner. It shouldn't be too hard to find something cool.
† – Maybe I could borrow something of yours, Mom?
† – I don't know, Lauren. It's just I don't want you to lose anything.
Lauren's father, always immediately defensive of Lauren, resumed his part of the conversation:
† – Honey, she could wear that purple silk scarf of yours?
† – I don't have a silk scarf.
† – You know, that purple scarf. The one made out of that really light material.
† – I don't think so. That's one of my favorites. What about the green with the blue and gold trim?
† – Oh, Lauren, you would look beautiful in that. What about that?
Lauren's gleaming smile and gratitude answered her father.
The wind was warm while she walked. The wonderful one Lauren returned to the world. She placed her steps and set course and never thought of going anywhere else because she didn't know where else to go and never indulged nearly long enough in a silent mind, even though her mouth was stayed. Not even a whistle was permitted to pass through her lips. It was important for her to soon arrive to where the dance was being held: she didn't want to be swallowed by the street and she didn't want to keep her friends waiting and the ivy green and ivy red leaves dressed the sidewalk and she stopped and looked at them and then behind her and then started to forlornly stumble forward straight ahead again. As she stole nearer the dance center with slight hesitation but definite eagerness, she held onto her thoughts to guarantee she wouldn't disappear down the rabbit hole. She would dodge the tricky boys and the zombie boys and hoped to God to stay enveloped within her friends and hoped to God not to get grabbed or snatched up by harpy girls. All the names of lust she'd heard about would not be confused with sincerity.
Inside, the air was solid and like cement.
† – Lauren, you finally showed up!
† – Yeah! Hey . . . How are you guys?
She didn't recognize some of the girls her friends were with, their eyes thin and artificial. She had a hard time recognizing her friends, smiling like lasers. She hoped to God she would recognize herself. She saw Darren Muloney, who was cute even though he had a crooked smile. Her voice was tinny and tiny because the music was loud, and her nerves were all blue in bundle, all done up tight. Her voice was tinny and tiny and tight when she said:
† – So, good music, yeah?
† – This song is so gay.
† – Oh yeah, I know.
† – Like, seriously, the video for this sucks so hard.
† – I know. I hate it.
Most of her friends and their friends were with boys with hats and simple t -shirts and jeans, and they were all holding onto some part of one another. One of the thin-eyed harpy girls spotted someone in the crowd:
† – Oh my God, I can't believe Janice Reynolds is here. She is such a fucking bitch.
Everyone agreed silently. Lauren saw Travis in the crowd, with friends, of course. Another one of the harpies opened her baneful beak saying to Lauren:
† – Weren't you on my soccer team or something? I know you, I think.
† – Ummm . . . Maybe. I was on a green team.
But, the bird was clearly finished with her worm, and Lauren had ended up answering air emptier than the girl in front of her. Samantha looked over at Lauren and said:
† – Hey, sweetie, can I borrow two dollars, please? I swear I'll pay you back on Monday?
† – Oh, sure. Here.
Lauren's dad had given her a five dollar bill. As she, the bait, fished in her mom's old purse for it she listened in on her new friends and their boyfriends:
† – Yeah, I was all like, hey, fuck you, man. It was sooo funny.
† – Man, that guy so wants your girl. You can totally tell.
† – Man, you're such a fag. He doesn't. He's, like, gayer than you are.
This caused all around to laugh and jeer at the receiver.
† – Oh, man, what a burn.
Lauren handed her money to Samantha, and felt a devil was nearby:
† – Oh, thanks babe, we'll all be right back.
Lauren already knew she'd become a discarded rag-doll. Her futile words sounded horrible to her when she said them out loud. Her words were forced and desperate, and sounded like what they were: the regrets of a girl trying to get her friends to stay:
† – Hey, guys, you know what we should do when we're older? We should all go to prom together.
Lauren was just as shocked and disgusted with her words as the ones around her were. Kelly, who'd been kissing a boy ever since Lauren had arrived, broke the silence:
† – Okaaaaay. Riiiight.
Lauren turned around to try and find a way out, but Justin, who'd just walked over to ask Lauren for a dance, stood in her way. He'd just given the girls reason to stay and burn a fire a little longer. Justin was a boy easily offended by rich people and people in brand name clothing and frequently made a fool out of himself for it:
† – Oh my God, is this your boyfriend, or something?
† – What?! No! Of course not! Never!
Morgan took the lead:
† – Oh my God, Justin Rasinsky. You're such a homo. Seriously, get out of here. Don't you dare come closer.
† – What?!
† – You're so gay. I hate people who are mean to my friends, don't you ever talk shit about me and my friends. Oh my God, you guys, let's go, this sucks, seriously.
Lauren felt their shadows tread all over and away from her. Like a kettle at boiling peak, her eyes hot watered over. She wiped the tears onto her hands, she wiped her hands onto her black skirt, having had her night wiped away. She couldn't call home or else her dad would've been right, but she couldn't be seen with Justin either. Heavy her face with tears, the weary one Lauren retreated from the world. The weary one Lauren retreated to the bathroom.
She did come out. She was in the bathroom for ten minutes. She was young and she wiped her sadness onto a paper towel. She heard a song she remembered, and all the vicissitudes only ever experienced in story became real, as life shot through the airwaves to her, creating mellifluous and invisible non-iniquities heard only by rogues and similar pariahs; those who held no Bible, those who sometimes thought of running away, and those who did, knew the notes hanging in the air. The sound waves battered her blue woe, and she could breath; she was no longer a beetle person who'd just been exterminated or stepped on or eaten and shat out by harpy girls. Curious kids gazed at all the light around her face; she was beautiful and not beautiful enough; she refused to be alone. That's why the heat and air circled her when she saw him. That's why she pulled towards him, to try and make a home with him in the lights and music. That's why her dirty nails became shorter as she went alone and slowly, and had no one to talk to about it. That's why the war in her chest culminated as the skinny words waltzed from her lips. The light, all but jagged anymore, felt clean. Air went to her lungs smoothly, and she went in search of flowers.
Ryan Ziegler is 17 years old, and lives in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada.