Monday, 17 December 2018

F Fic, Non-fic

Coward

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by Celeste Miller

 

 

“God, what is she wearing?”

“I know,right? What a loser.”

The snide comments from the girls sitting in the two desks behind mine are not uncommon. I know exactly who they’re talking about even before I turn my head just enough to peek at the classroom’s doorway over my shoulder.

It’s only the first day of our Grade 8 school year, but like it is for everyone in our little Val Caron township, our school is small enough that we’ve all grown up together. This means that even though we’ve all changed to some degree as we’ve gotten older, the main ‘outcast’ of our age-group – labeled as such years ago – has never had the chance to be anything else. Her name is Catherine. She’s pretty, with her blonde hair, pale skin and round, dark eyes, but she’s gangly and awkward and speaks with a noticeable lisp, so she’s always kept mostly to herself to try to avoid ridicule. It’s never worked – she gets made fun of anyway. Classmates pick on everything about her in turn, from one day to the next. Today, it looks like it’s going to be about her clothes, which single her out as much as they ever have: a plastic-banded cartoon-character watch like the ones you can pull out of cereal boxes, an aqua-blue t-shirt with Sailor Moon erupting from a colourful design at its center, bright pink cargo pants with the pull-cord at the waist tied in a neat bow and pink-laced, white sneakers.

Catherine walks in and halts in front of the cupboards behind the teacher’s desk at the back of the class. Shifting from foot to foot on the linoleum, her eyes skitter around the fluorescently-lit space in search of the right place to sit, her hands clutching her binder and pencil case in front of her. She takes brief stock of the row of cheap plastic chairs and metal, compressed-wood-topped desks lined up closest to the wall on her far left, where all the windows allow for the best view of a sunny, Northern-fall day. All of the most popular kids are sitting there, and she looks quickly away. She looks next at the rows in the back half of the class, the furthest away from the chalkboards. But those are full too; the bad-asses of our generation are already slouching there in their hoodies and torn jeans, rolling their eyes, swearing as much as they can and launching spit-wads at each other through plastic drinking straws. No room for an outcast girl. Slowly, her eyes settle on the desks at the front that are centered with the chalkboards a few rows ahead of mine, and after a moment of staring, she dares to start walking toward them.

“Oh God, she’s coming over here. She better not sit next to me, I swear.”

“I know – no way am I sitting beside her all year, no way. I mean, can you imagine?”

Shut up, I want to snap at them. Just shut up.

But I don’t say anything. I just watch Catherine cross into spit-ball territory, cringing for her when she takes a few direct hits from laughing assailants. Their spit-soaked wads of torn paper stick to the back of her Sailor Moon shirt, and she moves slowly but doesn’t stop as she walks on through the middle rows.

Sit next to me – that seat’s open. Those are the words that cling to the tip of my tongue, and I almost say them aloud. I purse my lips at the last moment and quickly return my attention to the notebook I have open on my desk before she can notice me watching. A part of me reminds myself that I’m happy with the slot I’ve got, being buddy-buddy with a good enough variety and number of people so as not to be the target – a hard thing to convince myself to give up.

I reread the quote I’ve been tracing over with my pen since I got here as I see her shuffling past from the corner of my eye. It’s from a movie I saw for the first time a while back, and many times since. The most recent time I watched it, though, the line jumped out at me from the screen: “Real peace is not just the absence of conflict – it is the presence of justice.” A brave line, recited with the intent to act. I wanted to be brave like that, when I scribbled it into my notebook to bring with me to class, and I want to again now, tracing it over and over again until my hand’s smeared with black ink where it touches the letters on the page.

I look up as Catherine falls to the ground, the boy she’s just passed pulling his foot back under his desk with a grin at his friend while the girls behind me start giggling. The trip knocks the spit-balls off her shirt, and she stays down only long enough to snatch up the things she’s dropped before quickly finding her seat at the front amidst louder laughing. I hate them in that moment, but I can’t bring myself to tell them so.

I duck my head, cheeks burning, and shut my notebook with a snap.

Coward, I call myself, and I’m the only one to hear it.


 

Celeste Miller was born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario. She is currently living in Toronto, where she is completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Professional Writing and working on her first novel. This is her first publication.

http://millers-corner-life-and-times.blogspot.ca/

 

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