Lori thought they should call him Rape Face. She slid the article across the table to me and laughed. Some guy the paper nicknamed “The Forest Flasher” had tackled a jogger in the woods, mashed his dick against her face, and run off. She was his fifth victim.
I’d slept over the night before and we were eating breakfast at noon. Lori dumped sugar into her bowl of frosted corn flakes, then snatched the front page and scribbled a halo of hearts and stars on the police sketch. I plucked an eyelash from the puddle of butter on my bread. Even toasted and smothered with jam, it tasted stale. Lori’s mom hardly ever bought groceries.
“Sarah,” Lori lisped, a lock of her dark hair coiled around the tip of her tongue. She twirled it loose and pointed at me. “I know what we’re doing today.”
After we got dressed, Lori grabbed the bottle of vodka she kept hidden in her closet and tossed it into a backpack.
“What if your mom puts your clothes away,” I said.
“As if. Ready?”
I smudged one more line of black pencil around my eyes, like Lori taught me. She was right- they looked even bigger and bluer.
Cutting across the muddy drainage basin, we headed to the woods. When we were little, we lived on the same street of boxy, aluminum-sided houses, but after her parents split, Lori and her mom moved to the other side of the small forest bordering our neighborhood. Before, the land belonged to a corn farmer, and in summertime I’d dreaded the growing stalks; the taller they reached, the sooner school began.
“Remember the corn?” I said, mud sucking at my sneakers. “It’d be over our shoulders by now.”
Lori took the bottle from her bag and slugged it. She didn’t even make a face. “St. Goretti’s is gonna blow for you.” She passed me the bottle.
Wincing, I took a tiny sip. I didn’t want to think about St. Goretti’s. Earlier that week, my mom bought my uniform but I’d kept the tags on, hoping my parents would let me start 9th grade in the public high school after all. Lori had gone there for a year already, and it sounded incredible- naps during study hall, cigarettes in the locker room, romps in boys’ cars at lunch hour.
“Know why they’re sending me?” I asked, knowing she didn’t. I’d kept the reason a secret, as payback for the time she gave Brian Ramsey a hand job and didn’t tell me for three months. “I was on the phone one day with Jason Hunter,” I said, “and my mom picked up, I guess to make a call or something. And right when she did, Jason was saying crazy stuff about his cock, like how big and thick it was. He was timing me to see how fast I could get myself off. My mom freaked.”
“Holy shit!” Lori shoved my shoulder. “I knew you weren’t going ’cause of enriched academics, or whatever. Why didn’t you tell me?”
I shrugged, hiding my pleasure at having impressed her. See, I thought, you’re not the only one with secrets. But, really, I just didn’t like to talk about it – it kind of made me want to puke, that my mom had heard me panting into the phone like that. It hadn’t worked, anyway. Listening to Jason only distracted me.
“Did you guys ever get to third?” she asked.
“We would’ve if my stupid parents let me go to his junior prom last year.” I stepped over a puddle and sighed. “Anyway, high school together would have been fun.”
She took the bottle from my hand. “Cheers to that,” she said, an expression I’d never heard from her before.
The rest of the afternoon, Lori ran around the trees drunk and shirtless, shouting for Rape Face to come and get her. I was too slow a drinker.
Once school started, Lori met Chris, a senior, and only called me to brag about the amazing sex they had in the auditorium’s orchestra pit, or in the pine grove. That was her favorite spot, she said- it was soft enough to lie on naked and didn’t leave green stains on her back, like the grasses near the creek. St. Goretti’s was all-girls, and I worried I’d graduate high school without ever having a guy go down my pants. In homeroom, girls recited the morning prayer without muttering or even rolling their eyes. I ate lunch with Beth Foley, who I’d known forever from the neighborhood. She was okay, but her friends giggled too much.
One day after school in late October, I examined my pores in the mirror above my dresser as my parents argued about money. Their voices cracked through the house, hollow and sharp as two woodblocks smacking together. Money was all they ever talked about. Why’d they send me to a school that charged tuition then?
Someone slammed the storm door shut, and my glass jewelry box rattled. Probably my dad, going to smoke in the garage. A series of slams answered in the kitchen- cabinet doors, canned goods on the counter. This is how my parents fought, by making mundane tasks contemptuous and harsh. I could hear my mother rummage through the utensil drawer, likely fishing for the can opener. I bet it gave her a jolt of satisfaction, to pierce its blade through a tin lid and crank.
I was out of there- I snagged two cigarettes from the pack on my dad’s dresser, then slipped down the stairs and out the front door.
I reached the bottom of our sloping yard when my mom called to me from the porch:
“Sarah! Your dumb old mom likes to know where you’re going.”
I kicked at a tuft of crabgrass. “Just a walk.”
My mom looked at the grey sky, holding out her palm. “It’s spitting,” she said. “And how about homework?”
I lifted the hood on my sweatshirt. “Already did it.”
“That pervert’s still out there.” She crossed her arms over the shelf of her breasts. “Don’t go into those woods.”
I said I wouldn’t, but of course I did. I’d been there dozens of times since Rape Face had come around and never saw him. Those women had probably made him up to get their husbands’ attention.
By the time I reached the path, the drizzle had turned to rain. The drops fell onto the canopy of leaves with a hushed patter, and I felt sealed away, like I’d entered some ancient place. I struggled to light a cigarette and walked deeper, to the creek, loving how the smoke looked if not how it tasted. I loved how lonely I felt, how sullen I must have looked, smoking my cigarette under my dark hood.
I noticed a log on the other side of the creek I could picture myself sulking on, so I headed to it, grasping the trunks of thin trees as I trudged down the embankment. To cross the water, I needed to hop from rock to rock, and bent my knees for the first leap. As I did, I glimpsed a small mound of fur, a sandy shape near my feet. I straightened up and froze- if it was an animal, I didn’t want to startle it. I realized it was a baby deer, and I held my breath, waiting to see what he did. When he didn’t move, I crouched, seeing he was dead, the creek foaming around him. I’d never touched a deer or any other wild animal before, and ran my fingers over his coat. Its coarse strands surprised me. I examined him for bullet wounds or bite marks but didn’t find any. His eyes looked glassy and solid though I was pretty sure they’d give like plums if I pressed on them. He had simply died; I couldn’t see a reason, which made my breath quick and noisy in my head like I was wearing a mask. I stayed there beside the water and stroked his spotted fur, wishing I could bury him, or somehow mark a grave.
The rain had grown heavier, and my mom would interrogate me if I was gone too long. I headed home. It felt wrong to leave him like that.
For weeks, I thought about the fawn all the time. He interrupted my daydreams of Jason Hunter, his frozen face and crumpled legs flashing in my mind as I zoned-out in Chem Lab or Religion class. My fingers held the memory of touching him. I hoped he hadn’t been frightened when he died, or in pain.
Finally, on a Saturday afternoon, Lori called. I couldn’t wait for her and Chris to break up. It didn’t make sense: talking to Lori had become the most boring thing ever-all she did was gush about screwing her boyfriend. Still, I wanted her to call.
“Wait till you see what I got,” Lori said. “You gotta come out.”
I paced the pink carpet in my bedroom, switched the phone from ear to ear. “What, is Chris busy or something?” I said, then wished I hadn’t. What if she got angry and hung up?
“He’s not busy, he’s just at his dad’s. C’mon, meet me in the woods.”
I met Lori at the Shatter Tree, a thick old oak we used to hurl glass bottles against, the base of its trunk still scattered with blue and green shards. She was already there when I arrived, squatting to trace an anarchy sign into the dirt with a twig and smoking a Merit, her mom’s brand.
“Hey,” I said and squeezed my hands together in my sweatshirt’s kangaroo pocket. She looked up at me with a slanted smile, her eyes painted like Cleopatra’s, a line extending across her temple.
“C’mere,” she said.
I sat beside her in the crushed leaves. She pulled my hand from its pocket and placed a small white tablet on my palm.
“What is it?” I asked.
She stood up, shrugging. “I dunno.” She lifted her arms at her sides and twirled around in circles. “Some kinda painkiller I think. Chris gave â€˜em to me.”
“What’s it do?”
She stopped spinning and collapsed onto the ground, her stringy hair puffing softly up and down over her mouth as she panted. “Dunno. Hasn’t kicked in yet. It’ll be fun, take it and let’s go to the creek.”
I put the pill under my tongue then stood up and extended my hand to help Lori to her feet. She charged ahead, leading the way, and I spit the pill into the dirt.
We sat by the creek for about twenty minutes, tossing leaves and sticks into the water to see how far the current carried them.
“This sucks,” Lori said and stood up. “That pill didn’t do shit.”
“What do you wanna do?”
“I’m going home.”
“Wait a sec,” I said quickly. “Wanna see something cool?”
We walked along the creek to the spot where I’d found the fawn. I didn’t know what I expected – it hadn’t occurred to me that in just a few weeks his fur would be gone, his bones cracked and mangled. On the embankment, all I could recognize was part of a ribcage and his skull.
I sank to my knees beside his remains.
Lori looked from over my shoulder. “What was that?”
“A deer. Some sicko must’ve taken his skin and organs. What the fuck?”
“Nah.” She hocked a thick glob of phlegm into the water. “Bugs and animals ate it.” She stooped down and picked up the skull. “This’ll look cool painted black,” she said. “I can put flowers in the nose holes.”
“Leave it,” I said, and grabbed her wrist. I made her promise she wouldn’t take it. I made her say it twice.
In French class the next week, I daydreamed about Rape Face. He was running after me through the forest, shouting about my little pussy, how he could smell it, how he was going to rip it wide with his massive cock. I was panting, trying to get away from him, plowing through thorny shrubs that tore at my skin and clothing. He was too fast, and he lifted me from the waist and threw me onto the ground. I imagined him young, beefily muscled like a football player. Groaning, he mounted me, unzipped his pants as I thrashed and kicked beneath him. He reached up my skirt, and just as he gripped my underwear, something smashed into the side of his head, sending him face-first into the dirt. Standing there was Jason Hunter, holding an aluminum baseball bat, smiling down at me as he dropped to his knees and made love to me, long passionate love to celebrate that I hadn’t been raped.
“Claudette!” Soeur Josephine snapped, clapping her hands beside my ear.
The other girls laughed when I jumped. I still wasn’t used to my assigned name.
“Je regrette, ” I said, one of the only phrases I’d mastered; that and Je ne comprends pas.
At the end of the day, Beth Foley bounced up to me in the parking lot as I was about to board my bus. Her yellow hair sprang like she slept in curlers.
“Why don’t you stay for pageant practice then come over after?” She gripped my elbow.
I asked what pageant practice was, though it didn’t sound like anything I’d be into.
“It’s for the pageant we do in June. You know, to celebrate Maria Goretti becoming a saint? They might let us act-out the attack this year and I so want to be Maria! Someone from St. Matt’s will play Alessandro.”
She giggled when I didn’t know what she was talking about, then explained how, when Maria Goretti was a kid, some guy named Alessandro tried to force her to have sex with him, but she let him stab her instead to protect her chastity.
“And she forgave him before she died,” Beth said. “Why do you think we say all that stuff about everlasting virtue and all in morning prayer? It’s pretty cool. I mean, she was like, twelve years-old and got to be a saint.”
“That’s creepy,” I said.
“You think? Well, anyway, you should stay, or you’ll get stuck doing spotlight.”
“Spotlight’s fine with me,” I said. “I have plans already.”
I took the bus to my stop and waited for it to rumble away before entering the woods. The path to Lori’s house sank beneath my feet and smelled of worms and standing puddles. Walking deeper into the trees, I began to feel nervous, even though the street was still in sight. What was that white flash there? And there? I jerked my head, turning to look over one shoulder and then the other. That was a man wasn’t it? In a white jacket, following me, creeping behind the trees.
I knew the white jacket was just the bark of birches spotting the forest, that no one was really there. Still, panic crackled through me like electricity I needed to burn. I started to run, and didn’t stop by the creek to see the bones again, like I’d intended. I didn’t stop until I emerged on the other side of the woods, down the street from Lori’s.
Still breathing hard, I pushed down my knee-socks and knocked on the door. Lori’s mom answered wearing a slim-waisted skirt suit and smoking a cigarette.
“Hi, Mrs. Matthews.”
“Sarah, you know I hate that Mrs. crap,” she said. “It’s Pam.” She opened the door wider and waved me in. “Lori’s out, but come. Maybe you can help me with something.”
I followed her through the foyer, figuring she wanted an opinion on a dress or pair of heels. She probably had a date later. She stubbed out her cigarette in a silver ashtray; beside it, a bouquet of flowers wilted in a matching silver vase and smelled of moldy water.
“So,” she said as we started up the stairs, “you must miss Lori at school, huh?”
“Really, Sarah, your legs are incredible in that skirt! Crazy, those nuns actually want you in that get-up. Don’t they know?”
I laughed a little and tugged at the pleats.
She pushed open Lori’s bedroom door. “Maybe that’s what I oughta do, send Lori to the goddamn nuns.”
Lori’s room was cluttered as always, strewn with crumby plates and CD cases, but looked different without her in it, almost fake, like a movie set. Pam pointed to the bed, told me to take a look and left the room. On it sat strips of condoms, a baggie of weed and papers to smoke it, cigarettes, vials of Pam’s Valium and Klonopin and something else I couldn’t pronounce. There were things I’d never seen before, too- a straw like from a juice-box and a small film canister I wanted to open, but didn’t. I felt like I was at a museum, like I shouldn’t touch the exhibit. For a second I wished Lori was there so I could say I told you so. I’d known the closet was an obvious hiding spot.
Pam returned holding a can of Tab I could smell she’d spiked with whiskey. Touched up she called this. She stood behind me and rested her chin on my shoulder. “So,” she said, “what do we do?”
I flinched at her touch, opened my mouth and closed it again. Why didn’t Pam think I was in on this? Everything I did, my mom thought Lori was wrapped up in.
I was about to tell her I didn’t know what to do, and then I saw it, sitting on Lori’s nightstand- a skull with a black candle sticking out of its eye socket. I gasped. That bitch took my skull after promising she wouldn’t. I wanted to reach out and grab it but felt like I shouldn’t move with Pam hanging on me, which was weird. I wished she’d stop. It seemed like the wrong time to say Lori stole this from me and take it back.
I sighed, digging my fingernails into my palms. “I better go. Tons of homework.”
At the door, Pam told me to find out what was going on and call her. She reached out and rubbed my stiff, white blouse between her fingers. “Yep,” she said, “nuns is what I oughta do.”
“Maybe it’s all that guy,” I said. “You know, Chris?”
She nodded. “Stay on the road, hon- they haven’t caught that creep yet.”
When I got to my house, my dad was sitting on a beach chair he’d dragged from the garage to the driveway, clinking ice-cubes in a cocktail glass and smoking.
“Aren’t you cold?” I asked walking toward him.
He smacked his lips, like he was trying to taste the individual flavors of a complex delicacy. In a poorly imitated British accent he said, “You see child, mommy dearest prefers I smoke out of doors.” He inhaled hard on his cigarette and widened his eyes, then tilted his head to study me, and laughed. Smoke stuttered from his nostrils in shapeless puffs. “Hey kid,” he said. “Anyone ever tell you you got a big butt and skinny legs?”
“Jesus, dad. Gross.” I charged past him.
“C’mon, Sarah!” He called after me. “I’m teasing! Why don’t you grab the basketball and shoot some hoops? You could really box someone out with that thing.”
Inside, a note sat on the kitchen counter:
S- Went to store. Dinner when I’m back. Ignore your father. Mom
In my bedroom, I stared at my Algebra homework for a minute before lying on the floor and getting myself off three times. As usual, I made a game out of racing to see how fast I could finish. The last time Jason timed me it took 19 seconds, but we’d only done it once since my mom caught us. She didn’t talk to me for a week after that happened and broke her silence by announcing, “That was the last straw,” and that I’d start ninth grade at an all-girls school. I was so angry, I kicked a dent in the wall and screamed she was an ugly bitch, then cried until I broke a blood vessel in my eye. My dad took my bedroom door off its hinges. For privacy, I tacked a bed sheet to the doorframe.
I rolled onto my back and wondered if Lori was home yet. How could she take my skull? I tugged fibers from the carpet and hoped she was really getting it. I hoped Pam would send her to the nuns, like she said, that the phone would ring and I’d pick it up and Lori’d be on the other end wailing My mom is such a cunt, can you believe she’s sending me to St. Goretti’s? But Pam would never do that.
I sat at my desk and wrote on a sheet of paper: What to Say When Lori Calls.
Lori, about the fawn skullâ€¦
I looked at the phrase for a few minutes, then scribbled it out with my pen. I scrawled all over the paper, my hand heavy enough to scratch the wood beneath. I wished I could put the skull back where it belonged. I wished I’d never shown it to her.
When my mom came home we ate baked chicken at the kitchen table while my dad snored in the den. Lori never called.
My mom smiled, cracking the dried make-up along her mouth and eyes. “School fun today?”
I pushed my food around. “How can it be fun? I don’t know anybody.”
“You know Beth from down the street.”
I stared at her over the rim of my water glass as I drank.
“Well, isn’t it nice”- she stabbed at a piece of meat-“not having to pick out an outfit every morning?”
From the other room, my dad gurgled in his sleep and woke up hacking. My mom closed her eyes.
“When’s my door gonna get fixed?” I said.
She opened her eyes and let her fork clatter onto her plate. “You tracked mud all over the house, Sarah. I told you not to go to the woods.” She wiped her mouth and wadded up her napkin.
After school the next day, I walked to Lori’s again, determined to get my skull back. She answered the door wearing a snug black T-shirt and jeans with worn-out knees and I immediately felt dweeby in my navy sweater vest. Her hair hung loose, falling over her heavily shadowed eyes, those charcoal smudges the only make-up on her pale, high-cheeked face. At some point, I’d grown taller than her, but even when I was shorter I always felt bigger, broader in the hips and shoulders. She looked to me like her bones would easily break. It bothered me, how sturdy I seemed beside her.
I followed her up to her room where she was playing music I’d never heard before. It sounded angrier than the other stuff we listened to, the vocals snarled over thrashing guitars and shattering cymbals.
“What’s he saying?” I sat on the floor and leaned against her bed.
She stood before her mirror, playing with her bangs. “Splintered thorn-land of my heart,” she said and continued primping, didn’t hold her brush to her mouth and pretend to sing, as I would have.
I looked around for the skull but didn’t see it. I’d planned to snatch it up and tell her what a shit she was for taking it, for lying to my face.
I asked her instead where her mom was.
“Drinks with Glenn, the latest loser.” She pretended to barf into her cupped hands. “Hey!” She spun around and faced me. “Check this out.” She tugged down the waist of her jeans to reveal a blue-black smudge, the size of a quarter. “India ink,” she said.
I was about to ask what it was, but a car horn honked outside and Lori rushed to the window.
“Chris is here,” she said and grabbed a packed duffle bag from the floor.
I looked at her as if I didn’t know what that meant.
“He can give you a ride.” She shrugged, then widened her eyes. “Wait! I’ll have him pick up Jason!”
“Sure. I mean, they’re in the same class.”
I pointed to my uniform. “What about this?”
Lori lunged into her closet, snatched-up a pair of clunky, green-laced boots and tossed them to me. “It’ll actually look cool with these.”
They were more than a size too small. “Perfect,” I said.
We picked up Jason and headed to Chris’s house because his bedroom was in the basement and we could come and go without having to deal with his mom. It felt like forever since I’d seen Jason. His black hair had grown almost long enough for a ponytail and he wore thick sideburns. He rubbed his hand against my thigh the entire car ride.
When we got to Chris’s room, the four of us sat on the carpet, which felt cold and hard because of the concrete beneath. Beside me, a pile of laundry reeked like an old hoagie. There was a poster on the wall with an evil-looking serpent holding a mushroom between its fangs that Chris said would look wicked under a black-light, but he didn’t have one. The three of them passed around a bong. I said I couldn’t because I had to go home soon but then Jason tackled me after taking a hit and clamped his mouth over mine, forcing the smoke into my lungs. Chris and Lori laughed as my legs flailed and I shoved Jason off of me, coughing and sputtering. Jason laughed too, then stroked my cheek as if he were really laughing at an intimate joke shared only by us. He reached behind my head and unclipped the barrette holding back my hair. It fell limply to my shoulders, probably looking darker than usual because I hadn’t washed it in a while. He mouthed the word “pretty” at me. I took the bong, and the others cheered quietly as it bubbled.
When Lori and Chris started kissing and moved onto his bed, Jason led me to the other side of the room and guided me to the floor until I was lying on my back. He got on top of me, leaned so his face hovered over mine, his hands roaming my breasts and stomach like he didn’t know which he should touch more. It was strange; this was what I daydreamed about and now it was happening, and I couldn’t feel anything. It was too immediate. I tried to focus by narrating to myself: Jason’s hand is on my belly-but by the time I formed the sentence and understood it, his hand had moved on.
“Hey.” He came up from my neck, where he’d been nibbling. His dark eyes held a grin in them, like he knew a secret, and he slid his torso down my body, pushed my legs apart, then put his face under my skirt and started kissing me there like it was my mouth.
The room was dark. I heard Lori whimper. The little animals, hamsters or gerbils that Chris kept on his dresser scurried around in their cage.
After a few minutes Jason stopped and asked me if I was there yet.
“There,” he said. “Finished. I want a turn too, you know.”
“Oh, finished.” I somehow hadn’t realized that was the point. “Not really.”
“Well you should have said something.” He wiped his mouth on my skirt.
I told him I needed to go, and did. It was after eight o’clock and I had to walk the two miles between my house and Chris’s. “You better go then,” Jason said. He didn’t try to kiss me.
The road I took had no sidewalks and was lined with ranch houses with sharply vaulted roofs and huge, bare windows I ordinarily would look into. I didn’t that night. My limbs seemed buoyant and heavy at the same time, like the night air was liquid, blue-black liquid that made me wonder about the tattoo on Lori’s hip. Cars sped past in the dark, and I wondered if I was silhouetted in their headlights, a sudden figure on the side of the road.
I entered my house through the side door into the kitchen, where my dad was leaning out a window, smoking. He’d turned the ceiling fan on, and the hair he kept long to cover his bald spot blew around.
“Don’t tell your mother.” He sipped his Manhattan then held a fat, dry finger to his lips.
I asked where she was and he grunted, placed his cigarette on the sill and tried to fish out the cherry.
I told him I had homework to do and rushed to my room, where I immediately sat on the floor and pulled Lori’s boots off my pinched feet. They’d rubbed my pinkie-toes raw and the blisters on my heels were oozing, but I didn’t care; the boots were mine. If she could steal my skull, she could forget about seeing her shoes again.
When my mother came home she hollered for me from the hallway, but I claimed I wasn’t decent, and fell asleep in my uniform.
The next morning, I slumped in my seat, waiting blankly for first-period to begin. Soeur Josephine entered the room frowning and approached me. I straightened up, expecting a controlled scolding, but she only handed me a hall pass and told me to go to the guidance counselor’s office. She shrugged when I asked her why.
I knocked on the frosted window in Dr. Leidner’s door and she sang for me to come in. She was sitting behind a desk crammed with knick-knacks: a Magic Eight Ball, a Rubik’s Cube, a calendar of “Metaphysical Affirmations”: Nov 23rd: I surrender to whatever the powers-that-be have in store for me. I figured they were conversation starters, that she would watch to see what my eyes fell on then ask me a question about it that was really a question about me.
I said, “Okay” when she asked how I was doing that morning.
“You’re probably wondering why you’re here,” she said, “and I don’t want you to worry, you’re not in trouble. In fact, I have a project for you that’s quite an honor.”
She paused, maybe expecting me to seem excited, but I just stared at the Eight Ball, thinking of the time in grade school when I threw one against a wall because I didn’t like its prediction.
Dr. Leidner went on to say Mr. Matthews had called to inquire about sending his daughter to St. Goretti’s. “He mentioned you and that you’re a friend of Lori’s,” she said. “How would you like to be a school ambassador, and share your Goretti Girl experiences with the Matthews family?”
“Mr. Matthews?” I asked.
Since the divorce, Lori’s dad rarely came around, surfacing only when a situation arose that, as Lori put it, gave her mom a breakdown, like the previous summer, when Lori got drunk and took her mom’s car for a joyride and crashed it into a fire hydrant. She stayed with her dad for two weeks after that.
Dr. Leidner opened a drawer and produced an assortment of leaflets and brochures she piled before me. On their covers, girls sang in the choir or leaned over chemistry sets, blouses tucked-in, hair in tidy braids.
“You’ll share these with Lori?”
There was a snow-globe on Dr. Leidner’s desk too, a plastic one like from a rest stop, that had either a guitar or a giraffe in it. I nodded to it. “What’s in there?” I said.
“Hmm?” She tilted her head, confused.
“The globe. Where’s it from?”
“Oh, that thing. Graceland, maybe? So,” she tapped the glossy papers, “you’ll share these?”
Out in the hallway, I dumped the pamphlets into a garbage can.
On my way back to class, I paused before an alcove that housed a statue of our patron saint, a young girl holding a candle and a lily. Beside it, a bulletin board displayed drawings by kids in the grammar school: Maria Goretti smiling on a cloud; Maria Goretti with angel wings, smiling as she wept heart-shaped tears over a man in a hospital bed. I didn’t get why she was always smiling. I’d learned more about her in Religion class and that’s what the teacher said- she never asked for anything, she did what she was told and never complained. I dipped my fingers into a small font attached to the wall and thought how dumb that was of her, to sew and clean and watch all her siblings and not ask for anything. I flicked a smatter of water at the pictures, the drops making their colors blur and run.
When I returned to class, Soeur was standing at the blackboard, but pivoted around when she heard the door latch behind me.
“Claudette. Perfect timing,” she said, but I was gazing at my feet and continued to my desk, not realizing she was speaking to me.
Beth Foley tapped my thigh as I passed her desk. “Psst, Sarah.”
I lifted my face; Soeur stared at me expectantly. “Come, complete the sentence on the board.” She extended her arm, offering a piece of chalk, and held it there as I shuffled toward her.
“Vite, vite,” she urged.
I took the chalk and read the board, trying to understand what she had written on it: Je (désirer)___ ___.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked
“What have we done all week? Write the correct imparfait conjugation of désirer followed by un objet.”
“Fine,” I said, and scribbled désires onto the board, which was probably wrong, but at least it was something. I placed the chalk above the next blank line and froze, staring at it. What did I want? I shifted my weight from foot to foot. My stomach twisted.
Soeur sucked her teeth. “You’re wasting time, Claudette.”
I lowered my arm from the board, then raised it again. I wanted a door on my bedroom. I wanted Jason to feel like shit for being such a jerk. I wanted him to apologize, then not give him the satisfaction of accepting it. But that wasn’t all, I could feel it-an ache of wanting something I couldn’t name. It was maddening, to not see what it was. Maybe that’s what I wanted, to know what tugged from the other side of that feeling.
“Je regrette,” I said, my breath catching as my stomach cramped. “I can’t say it in French.”
I skulked to my desk and collapsed onto the chair. Soeur Josephine drew a large X over my misspelling and called other girls to the board. My guts roiled as they filled-in their blank lines with kittens and yellow dresses and salades nicoises. Hunching forward, I wrapped my arm around my middle and forced my mind to wander, to distract myself from the discomfort. I pictured the fawn as I’d first encountered him, then imagined him before he died, scampering, lapping water from the creek with his skinny tongue. I pictured myself in the forest, Rape Face hurling me to ground, his hand on my throat. I saw a string of spit drool from his mouth, his face contorted and red above my stiffened body. He was so strong, and the woods were empty.