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Short story assignment, English I. The places apathy can carry you.
I leaned back against the school's brick wall, blending in naturally with the inch-thick graffiti. The ground was cold and wet, and the dampness of the asphalt was sinking through my pants and jacket. I rested a black-painted hand on the torn fabric over my knee, admiring the long, dark nails, and then looked out at the empty parking lot. There were a few dead cars nearby, and a green pickup truck that still had the indoor and headlights on, penetrating the muggy night. I could hear two people yelling at each other, and I couldn't help wondering what sort of problems the idiots had gotten themselves in to.
I reached in to my messenger bag, digging through papers and wrappers and a few makeup cases, until I pulled out a Dr. Pepper. Taking a swig, I figured that a long day in a constantly moving and bumping bag hadn't done much for the taste. I also pulled out a CD player and a purple folder, and let the loud music drown out the angry, muffled shouts behind the single street light, opening the folder on my knees. On the front page were a few words in important-looking text:
Level I Chemistry
I had found this particular set of papers in a desk drawer belonging to a certain science teacher of mine. A friend of mine had used a thick black marker and scratched out the words, “Answer Document,” replacing them in her messy handwriting with the words, “Study Guide.” I turned the page, and started memorizing the sets of ACBCDAs.
When I had gone through the packet at least five times, I noticed that the one lamp in the place was flickering on and off. Looking up, I also noticed that the argument going on across the small parking lot had escalated. I slid the headphones off for a second, letting the booming of the drums and wailing lyrics to stop echoing in my head. The screaming voices had gotten louder, and more intense. One was a guy, of course, who seemed to be absolutely furious about something. His rough tone of voice was low, and edged with violence. The other was a girl. But although she sounded mad, her own yells were fringed with fear. I had no idea what they were saying, but the broken sounds seemed almost like crying, though I wouldn't have been able to tell you for sure. It was unnerving, and I started picking up my things, stuffing the cheat sheet between my French binder and my book of poems. I swallowed the last of my stale soda, and left the bottle on the wet sidewalk.
Trying to shut the angry wails out, I put my headphones on again, turning the volume all the way up. The banging guitar outdid the conflict in the green pickup, and I started walking back up to the road, ready to go home. As I was about to turn the corner of the school building, the flickering street light finally went out, coating the place in a thick, clammy black. I looked over my shoulder as the light in my path disappeared, and saw that truck again, one last time before rounding the corner. With the overhead light on inside, I could make out the outlines of the pair; particularly the outline of a large hand, raised above the cowering face of the passenger. Shaking the image out of my mind, I kept walking towards the road. There wasn't exactly anything I could do, and it wasn't exactly
my problem to do anything about. And with the harsh music beating in my ears, I didn't
even have the chance to imagine the resounding cries. I walked around the corner of the brick wall, leaving the darkened parking lot behind as I came up to the well-lit street.
The walk home was longer than I would normally have liked, but I took the chance to think about things I generally didn't have the time to think about. For one, the test I would be having the next week in chemistry; the one to which I had the contraband answers. It gave me a cold sense of pride, knowing that my teachers, with their college degrees and life experiences, had unanimously labeled me as a dull underachiever, yet I had outsmarted them all. The proof was in my grungy messenger bag, tucked away between a collection of smutty writings and a failed French test my mom would have been chewing me out for if she had been there.
My mother, however, wasn't at home, and would most likely not find out about that particular test. She had gone on another business trip, not giving an exact date as to when she would be back, and leaving behind maybe $20 for my sister and me to live on until then. Neither my sister nor I ever had believed that our mom went on business trips. We weren't even sure if she had a job. As it was, my older sister's job was our main source of income, during these periods. Needless to say, a house run by two quarreling sisters doesn't run well, and we usually went for a few days with nothing to eat but peanut butter and stale crackers. We would have had more money, if she didn't spend what extra we had on her new clothes and ever-changing boyfriends. She seemed to have a new one every week or so, and I never met them. I thought that the best idea. I just referred to them all as Frank, and moved on with the conversation.
Flash! I looked up from the road in front of me, noticing I was in the middle of a crosswalk. Further down the road, heading straight towards me was a blast of blazing blue and red lights. I slid my headphones off, letting them droop around my neck. The wailing music was replaced by wailing sirens. I jumped back, tripping over the curb as my heel crashed in to the cement. The ambulance sped past me in a rush of blinding lights and sound, turning to go down the road I had just come. Sitting up again, I looked at my hands. The skin was red and raw, and the dark polish on my left fingers had nearly all been scraped off against the coarse sidewalk.
I picked up my CD player, which had fallen from my hands when I fell. The headphones had snapped in half, but it otherwise seemed OK. I brushed off my smarting hands on my further torn jeans, and continued the walk. My house was close, and I was ready to get there and go to sleep. I didn't have a watch, but guessed it to be nearly midnight, if the empty street was anything to go by. Even though my sister was known to be out this late, chances were she would be home, fast asleep with an awaiting hangover.
I turned in to my driveway, feeling the strap of my bag starting to slip heavily off of my shoulder. No lights were on in the windows, but my sister's old car was parked in front of the garage, so I was surprised when I found the door locked. I had to dig in my pockets for a key, and ended up pulling out more gum wrappers and broken pieces of jewelry than anything else. I opened the door, and found that none of the lights in the small house were on.
“Catherine?” I couldn't even see the glow of her TV from underneath her bedroom door. I shrugged, dropping my heavy messenger bag behind the lumpy sofa, before closing the door. I fumbled around in the dark, hunting by the light of a street lamp outside the front window, until I found the remote control for the large TV in the living room. I turned it on, filling the room with an eerie blue luminescence. I had caught a late-night newscaster in mid-sentence.
“…beating at the local high school just now. A witness said that the abuser, identified as Joshua Hernando, was driving a dark green pickup truck. The girl, Catherine Collins, is described to be in critical, yet stable…”
I shut out the reporter's words with a click of a button just as a photo of the victim flashed on to the screen, hardly noticing that my thumb had moved to turn the TV off. Collins? Catherine Collins? That couldn't be right. My Catherine was hung over in her room, too tired when she got home to do anything but lock the front door and go to sleep.
I stood awkwardly, working my through the dark towards my sister's door.
I knocked. No answer.
“Catherine?” No answer.
Buzzing flies filled my ears, and I steeled myself to open the door. At first I squinted desperately, trying to see through the darkness. She might have been there, or was it blankets piled on the sheets? My chipped left hand hit the light switch, and my heart dropped in to my gut as I saw her empty bed. Buzzing turned to ringing, and I slapped the switch frantically, my sight thrown in to utter black.
The girl in the truck. The young man. Frank had done this to her? No, not Frank. The anchor had called him Joshua. And he had been a hundred feet from me.
My feet carried me to my own room, and my arms threw the door closed behind me. I slid down it until I curled on the floor. Black-painted nails dug in to my scalp, as my wails echoed like discordant noise in my ears.
Cyndi Conner 4/5/05 8
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