Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Fire in the Gym


*First published in Pen & Palette, the literary magazine of Mount Vernon High School, Alexandria, VA, 1994; written at age 14.

Hey. Heard the latest? Someone set fire to our high school gym. Can you imagine? Whatever would possess someone to--

Oh, look. There goes Anna. Nice girl, that Anna. Bit on the quiet side, though. Always looks deep in thought. Pity she doesn't have the guts to speak her mind. Strange thoughts rattling around in that head of hers, I'll bet. Nice girl, that Anna, though.

I just know it was those boys who live on Piney Road. They're always back there, behind the bleachers, smoking those cigarettes and God knows what else. Complete losers, those boys from Piney Road. Total losers. Not like Anna. Nice, respectable Anna. Well, one thing's certain. We know that it couldn't have been Anna.

Did ya see what Mary Smith is wearing today?

***

Pep rally in the high school gym. Bright lights cast their light downward, making everything look nakedly candid. The acoustics make every sound echo a hundred times. Students seated on the bleachers. Basketball players down front and Kassia leading the cheerleaders as usual.

Students stomping and cheering, clapping and whistling. All this noise is giving Kassia a headache. Her body is here at school, hollering cheers at the top of her voice and going through the routines, being spirited Kassia, but her mind is elsewhere. Kassia the prom queen. Kassia who would never do anything to harm the general welfare of her school.

Glee Club breaks into a rendition of The School Song. Students and all join in. Anna religiously sings the song with everyone else. Nope, it couldn't have been Anna.

***

Monday morning. Monday Monday. Same old scenario. Losers standing apart in their corner, waiting for the bell to ring so they can waltz into first period "fashionably late." Jocks and their girls and a few hangers-on rule the hall, the jerks. All losers kindly step to the side. God's gift and his friend are approaching.

And Anna hates them. She's wary of strangers, and they are wary right back at her. Always ready to ridicule, prepared to point their fingers at the hideous, the less fortunate, and the weird. Always watching when you wish they weren't. Never there for you when you wish they were.

And Kassia ought to be in hog heaven right now. Look at all those silly boys at her feet. And the girl pretends not to care. She must not be quite all right in the head.

***

Wednesday afternoon after school. Kassia at cheerleading practice. Anna having missed the bus, waiting for Mom. Piney Road boys smoking everything except their shoes. Anna sidling past the bleachers shyly, heading for the door that leads to the parking lot and Mom must be here by now.

One of the Piney boys calls her. He knows my name. How does he know my--

"Pity what happened to those bleachers over there. You know, the fire?"

Ordinarily Anna would not waste her time talking with such trash. But the Piney boy has such sad, gentle eyes. Nice green eyes.

"Yeah," Anna replies. "Pity." She starts to dash for the door, but stops. "Pity the whole school didn't burn down when I set fire to the bleachers." Anna doesn't break eye contact, but she does hold her breath.

Between the two is understanding. Anna knows he will not tell. She turns toward the door. The moment shared between the two is gone. Now they are strangers again.

Anna dashes out the door. The Piney Road boy lifts the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and exhales. "Let's go watch the cheerleader-bimbos," he says to his friends.

***

Hey. Did ya hear the latest? Those good-fer-nothin' Piney boys -- all four of 'em -- got suspended for setting fire to the gym. And they still won't outright admit it was them who did it. Can you imagine? That green-eyed one, kinda cute but a loser anyhow, said maybe he did it and maybe he didn't.

Guess what Kassia had to say about the matter? She said God bless whoever did it and too bad the whole damn school didn't burn down.
Can you imagine?

Can you believe it? Mary Smith shaved her head.

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