July 16, 20117
Sophie’s feet dragged across the floor as she was taken to the principal’s office. The problem was simple and obvious, a boy (who she called, jerk) with a bloody mouth crying to his mother in the nurse’s office. And all the while she was dragged, she was told to pity him and to repent and to regret. And this, and that. And how would you feel if you were standing there with the bloody nose?
She turned to them, one of the security guards who had uttered the words. How would you feel?
“If I was him? Well, I wouldn’t be crying that’s for sure.” Her tone a bit muted from the bruised cheek and swollen gums on her left cheek that made it hard to open her mouth.
They didn’t ask her much after that and were glad when they sat her down in the soft, large leather chair. With the cold-dry air blowing. She had to stand just to see past the horizon of the dark-wood grain desk. She looked around at all the memorabilia strung along the walls: trophies from college ball at Arizona State, pictures of a sword fish (were they even legal to fish?), vignettes of ex-wives. All declarations of achievements for unruly children who did not care. She stretched her neck, it ached. It twisted and by chance, she came to view of the window. A shadow behind the brown curtains struggled, jumping around like a bobble head. She pushed the curtains aside, and by chance, it was her friend Pip.
The principal was not here, she thought. It was cold and quiet and Pip began to speak behind the closed window.
“Sophie.” The voice was dampened. She shot glances at the door. No one here, yet. “Sooo-phie.”
“So-so-Sophie.” His front teeth were missing and he spat with every S he pronounced. “Psst, psst. Sophie.”
Finally, she opened the window, picked up a pen from the large desk and threw it at him. It struck him on the head, marking him red.
“What?” She said.
“You shouldn’t be thanking me.” There was a light-shuffling out the door. She spoke in whispers now. “You should be disappointed in yourself. You can’t even defend yourself and you’re supposed to be a boy.”
“I know. But he was fat and big, I got scared.” His voice quivered.
“I know you did. Wanna know how I know you did? Because I’m here with my hurt face and my busted lips.”
“I’m sorry.” He said.
She breathed deeply and adjusted her mouth, everything seemed mismatched with all the lumps of her bruises. Aligning her teeth was hard, but she managed to conform her face, somewhere between tight-lipped resentment and high-headed pride.
“Do me a favor.” She said. “Make yourself useful, start selling. I’m losing business because of you.”
“At how much a bar?” He asked.
“The same price I’ve always had it at. We’ve been doing this for two years now. Don’t you know?”
He scratched his head. “How much is that?”
“Two-fifty you dunce.”
“Okay. Where do I get the candy from?”
“What do you mean? What happened to your stock?” She walked to the window with her backpack. Her eyes narrowed. He knelt, hoping to disappear under her gaze.
“I lost it.”
She wanted to drag him up to her to face, to swallow him home like those Hollywood-beastmen she had seen in the movies before. She would have too, had she the long arms to reach him. She scratched at the wood frame instead and looked away to stifle an angry scream. There were people walking closer to the office, she heard.
She undid the zipper on her backpack after reflection – It was her fault, she shouldn’t have trusted him – and she dumped three pounds worth of Switzerland’s-finest-process seventy-six-percent chocolate on his forehead. She shut the window. Immediately. The door opened. Pip fell to the floor with a thump.
“Trying to escape, I see.” The Principal said.
“What? No. I was just.” She bit her cheek, she tasted the blood. “Just looking outside at the trees.”
“Sure you were.” The Principal fell atop his chair. The air escaped from the lorn weather, it sounded like a sigh. “I can’t keep one eye off of you without you wandering off and doing god-knows-what in god-knows-where. You’re like a damn imp, girl.”
“You always say that.” She sat and crossed her legs. Her arms were set on her lap.
“And you seem to get worse every time. I keep telling you…” He shuffled paper and found a red note. “You know what your problem is? Too stubborn, it’s like a shield against good advice.”
“Are you going to call my mom?”
Her eyes fell. “I don’t think she’s home.”
“She doesn’t answer it. Not at this time, no. Middle of work, probably. She doesn’t get lunch for another two hours.”
The Principal searched her face, what little he could see past her blond, straw hair. It was just like the other interrogations from before and it felt just as bad. And what was worse, is just like before, he could do nothing but pity. He left her like a stranded castaway on her small hellish island. He wondered if she was even aware of the obvious S.O.S sign on her face. The lonely gaze of downtrodden eyes.
“Your grandpa then?” He put the pencil down and rung up the phone.
“Yeah. Grand paw can pick me up.” She looked up. He turned, said some words in the realm of, emergency, in trouble, pick up now. The message repeated back through the phone and he set it down to look over Sophie again.
“I don’t get it, kid. Why don’t you find a hobby? Join a club, do something with your time. You aren’t dumb. I know that. You know that. But you sure as hell act dumb.”
“How is someone smart if they act dumb. I thought part of being smart was acting smart. Like a scientist or somethin’.”
“You’d be surprised. I know the inverse to be true, plenty of people who act smart without knowing a thing. You can tell who they are, they’re the loudest in the room. It’s like they want to make up what little and cheap opinion they have.” He said. “Turn on the news, the politics channel. You’ll find plenty of them. Loonies, the bunch of ‘em.”
He laughed, though it sounded more of a deep croak in the pit of his big stomach. She decided to laugh too, if only to fit in.
“I wish you’d act for your own self-interest, Sophie. You could do a lot with your life. Mrs. Breyer says you’re good at math. Just make sure you work for NASA though, don’t be one of those scum bags at the IRS.” He groaned, his voice puttering off into an incoherent rant. He was speaking to himself again, talking of how terrible the government is. All the while he wrote, on a pink slip. The brand of justice, she knew it well.
The drag of his pencil made a sharp zip-line as he signed.
“I am acting for my own self in-te-rest.” She said.
“Doesn’t seem like it. You’re like those daredevils, headstrong and always shooting yourself out of a god damn cannon. The problem is, girl,” He sniffed. “I’m afraid you don’t even realize you’re flying straight into a dumpster fire. Have some sense. Don’t be so brash.”
“You keep calling me the senseless one, but have you ever thought that maybe it’s the world that acts a little dumb.” She said. “Everyone’s too selfish if you ask me. Too demanding. I had to fight that fat kid-”
“Big boned.” He interrupted.”
“I had to fight that fat kid because he kept picking on Pip and stealing his s***-”
“Stuff.” He interrupted.
“Stuff.” She repeated with finality. Her head nodded down.
“Sophie.” He rubbed his nose bridge. “You punched a kid.”
Her cheeks flared red. She stood tall in her seat.
“And pushed him too. I brought him to the floor and got him three good times in the eye before he got me. Just like I did with Clarice. And guess what? They both deserved it just as well, I don’t hurt nobody that doesn’t deserve it you know that.”
“What I’m worried about is what you qualify as having had deserved it. It’s not good to have a vigilante attitude, it’s bad for society.”
“And you want me to stand still while my friends get hurt?” She crossed her hands and blew the hair from her mouth. The Principal raised his finger and all a sudden came the grandfather like a rogue white-strawed tumbleweed. He blew in, went across, looked around and spun in his excitement.
“Where is she?” He said. Sophie raised her hand. “What’d she do this time?”
“She got into a fight.” The Principal handed out the slip.
“Whatever she did she can explain. She’s responsible and I trust her.” The Old Man said. It was a trained response, like a parrot.
“I know. You do this every time too. I’ve gotten to know the both of you pretty well. You’re frequent customers, after all.” They both looked simple and stern and with eyes laser-focused on the Principal. He sighed. “I’m not even going to bother. She knows what she did wrong. Don’t you Sophie?”
“I’m Mr. Colefield to you. Show some respect.”
“Yes, Mr. Colefield.” She said.
“Alright Sophie, alright.” He massaged his eyes. “Let me ask you. What kind of punishment do you think you deserve? Be honest.”
She looked at her Grandfather and the dazed face he had, she looked outside to where she imagined Pip crawling on the floor looking for chocolate gold. Her face still stung where she was punched. She winced.
“A week suspension. I think I must’ve broken that prick’s nose.”
“Don’t curse.” They both shouted.
“I’m not giving you a week. You might enjoy that too much. You’re getting three days instead.” He said. She scoffed. “And don’t be so proud of that fact, for God’s sake Sophie.”
He pointed them her out the door but withheld the grandfather for a bit.
“Have you considered sending Sophie to therapy? She seems depressed, doesn’t know how to handle her anger either.” He said. “I know a guy, he’s local too. I have a teacher who goes to him, she’s even recommended me before.”
The old man pried the Principal’s hand off.
“This Molyneaux family has never seen a quack doctor and never will. Good day, Nicholas.” The Old man pried his hand off.
The Principal sighed. The Old man left and out they went out to the car. Not a word was spoken as they drove. The radio provided white noise as they toured the city. On the corners of streets were the laid out purple and yellow flowers, white-waxy candles. They were set around pictures of the dead. Sophie kept her eye on the offerings, she did not want to forget their faces. She felt that maybe, that she was the only one who’d remember them and it meant that much more being the chronicler.
She always felt terribly wronged at the sight of unfairness and injustice. Though she didn’t know how to think or articulate, only how to feel it, and it felt like churning entrails, like tingling fingers, like a numb face.
The pictures became more frequent as she approached home, the seedy part of town as it was. It looked like a garden of death, an ever-growing graveyard. There weren’t many police here. There were only the lonely men and women on the squeaking-porches, sitting and scratching away at lottery tickets. Perhaps a stray pit bull who barked at every miserable person that walked by. She was pushed forward, the car stopped.
The grass in front of her, on the sidewalk and on the front yard was dried and brown.
“I’m sorry.” She said.
“That’s good. Remember how sorry you are and behave next time.” The Old man said.
“You aren’t staying?”
“No, I got the store to run.”
“Let me help.” She tried closing the door but the grandfather would not allow it.
“If I let you help this wouldn’t be much of a punishment. Stay home. Behave. Play nice.”
“No one’s here.”
“Good, God knows your mother can’t handle you. Lock the doors and study you hear me? Behave.” He said.
She dragged herself out of the car and stood on the sidewalk. The Old man waved at her. And eventually, she waved back.
She turned around and the sound of engine roared before it died into a distant howling. This was home. The chain link fence, torn and bent. The ruined, rusted lock. Home. She pulled the fence door, it would not budge. She hopped over it, opened it from behind and started for the back of the house where the trash was collecting into an overstuffed black container, the pizza boxes and beer cans fell like ornaments as she dragged the trash out to the front.
Ah, this was home.
Grimy, unpleasant. She walked into the house and found the phone on the side of the wall. Looking around she frowned at the dirty floors, the broken glass face of the dinner table, the clock ticking away. She dialed faster.
“Who’s this?” The voice asked.
“Pip. We’re going to work.”
“Right now?” He asked.
“When else? Have you seen those nuts at the market? The loonies in the black dress with the money baskets? We can hang around them.”
“Ain’t they preachers?”
“Doesn’t matter.” She smiled. “They always bring a crowd.”
“I don’t know if that’s the kind of crowd we want.”
“It’s the only crowd that’s around. Everyones too scared to get out and my pockets are dry. I’ve got bills to pay, you know that.”
“I don’t know…” Pip said, his voice uneasy and cracking.
“You can think about it all the way there, get ready. I’m coming over.”