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Thread: Week 4: Post entries here!

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  1. #1
    wishes you happiness JennaGlatzer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Week 4: Post entries here!

    Okay, finalists, the next challenge has arrived!

    This week, your story element is:

    The 7th grade.

    This can be a first-person story about you in the 7th grade, an article about 7th graders, a short story starring a 7th grader, etc.

    Word count: No more than 1000 words.

    Deadline: Tuesday, May 17, 11:59 ET.

    Good luck!
    I am no longer here. If you'd like to visit me, please find me at or on Facebook. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Troubled-Talks with animals. jdkiggins's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    The "Dead Zone" in PA. (The state.) All lit up and nowhere to go.

    From One Side of the Tracks to the Other (929 words)

    From One Side of the Tracks to the Other

    By Joanne D. Kiggins

    His seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Kennedy, told him, “You are without a doubt the dumbest kid I have ever had in my class. You will never amount to anything.” He got up from his desk and walked out the door ignoring her screams for him to come back.

    Going home was no comfort. His mother was mean and domineering and when frustrated about anything she lashed out at him with a bullwhip. When he arrived home she intended to do just that, but didn’t get the chance. He gathered his clothes, cut up the bullwhip--leaving it where his mother would find it, and he left.

    With swift determination, in the middle of seventh grade, at age 13, he decided to search the world and fulfill his dream to be a cowboy or, anything really, as long as he could get away from school and his miserable home life.

    He went to the railroad tracks in town, climbed into a boxcar, and began his journey to worlds unknown. He stopped in various towns across the western part of the United States only long enough to work for meals and be on his way to the next town, putting miles between him and his troubled life.

    Fate would have it that he ran smack into problems during his freight train jumps. He once found himself faced with a tramp who tried to molest him. He jumped from the boxcar, brushed himself off, ran beside the train, grabbed a ladder on another boxcar and climbed to the roof. For a few minutes he felt safe until he climbed inside, the crew came by, closed the hatch, and he found himself in a refrigerated car. Cramped and cold he wondered why me? Why can’t I do things right? How will I get out of this mess? Several hours later the train stopped, he was pulled out of the boxcar by the railroad police and given a beating he never forgot.

    For five years he jumped train after train, traveled from town to town, worked at rodeos, farms and ranches, and cut wood to earn meals, never asking for a handout. Sheer determination kept him moving forward.

    He worked in canneries, drove trucks, sold cars, and with no education he passed the exam to be an insurance agent, entered into real estate sales and became an entrepreneur in manufacturing products for the amateur (ham) radio and commercial radio market.

    When I asked him what was the one thought that motivated him to continue, he answered, “I kept saying to myself why can’t I do things right? I am not stupid, I will show the world one day.”

    And he did!

    A number of years ago I purchased his book, From a 13 year old Hobo to an Entrepreneur, at a local library book sale. The title and book jacket intrigued me. His story was moving; one of perseverance and courage, and left an impression on my heart.

    From 1935 to 1939 he hopped freight trains trying to find a better life. At the age of 17 he joined the CCC camp. He married in 1940, at age 18, and is still married to Dorothy after 64 years. He was in the infantry in Germany during World War II and received the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

    When Jenna announced that the “7th grade” was this week’s theme, I knew immediately whom my story would be about. But my story had to have a special touch, because he had left such an impression on me. I contacted Mr. Gracey by e-mail asking him if he’d be so kind to answer a few questions for me, then I held my breath waiting for a response. Within a few hours he answered my questions and asked for my address so he could send me an autographed copy of the 3rd edition of his book.

    When asked what he’d like to say to his seventh grade teacher, Gracey said, “Mrs. Kennedy, I am sorry that I caused you lots of stress, however I feel that I could have done much better if I had better training when I first started school in the first grade. By the time I reached your class, I was a lost cause. Possibly you could have done better by understanding my problems.”

    His book will be one that I retain on my bookshelf for the rest of my life and Everett L. Gracey will be in my heart for that long as well.

    Everett L. Gracey’s book is now in its third printing under the title From Freight Trains to Airplanes and has been written into a movie script and picked up by a well known producer. “I am holding my breath while waiting,” he said.

    Everett L. Gracey

    Gracey has two other books published as well.

    My 20 Years of RV Adventuresis a practical guide of what to look for when purchasing a new RV. If you’re planning to sell your home and head for the highway, Gracey’s book is a must read, full of unbelievable but true adventures and advice that will help you avoid costly mistakes.

    Buying and Selling Real Estate by Owner is an absolute wonderful tool for anyone who wants to know what to look for when purchasing a home, or how to sell a home with or without a Real Estate agent.

    Permission granted by Everett L. Gracey for use of excerpts and photo for this story.
    Thank you, Everett.

  3. #3
    Slave to the metal Rhush's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    The town that dreads sundown, Texas

    My entry... based somewhat on a funny true story. Exactly 1000 wc.

    “What happened?” I asked my best friend, unable to take my eyes off her bleached blond hair. It looked like she had dunked her head in a bucket of chicken fat.

    “Oh….” Joleene gave a nervous giggle. “I read in YM that Vaseline will bring out the shine.”

    “To the max!” I snorted.

    “Shut up!”

    “Mom says she looks like a prosti-tot!” Joleene’s brat brother Jeremy squawked from the back seat.

    “Butt Brain!” She twisted over the front seat, punching him. Jeremy stuck out his tongue.

    “You’re just mad ‘cause you‘re on the rag!”

    “Chill out!” Mary ordered in a throaty, smokes-way-too-much voice. Mary was the kind of single mom who tacked up black velvet pictures of unicorns, owned Harley Davidson mugs, and threw afghans boasting Marlboro cigarettes over her sofa.

    Right now, she was barreling us down the residential street in her black Toreno on the way to the dance. Joleene joked the rusty junker was held together by bumper stickers. Catch phrases like Where’s the beef? and Don’t have a cow, man! plastered the entire trunk. The inside wasn’t much better, the dash sporting pink shag carpet and troll dolls. I didn’t ask.

    “Oh no!” Joleene gasped, sliding down in the seat.


    “Look!” Her view just tipped the dash shag. Brian, Joleene’s crush, was walking across the parking lot.

    “What?” Mary rasped, pulling in.

    “Nothing!” Joleene sunk further, leaving a Vaseline smudge on the vinyl seat.

    “Is that the boy you’re always singing your Debbie Gibson songs about?” I watched Joleene’s eyes bulge at the sudden bobbing of Mary’s shoulder as she rolled down the window. “Hey! Cutie!” She croaked, a cloud of smoke puffing out with her words. “Got a girlfriend?” Joleene whimpered, melting into the floorboard.

    “Let’s bail!” I grabbed her arm, whipping the door open and yanking us into freedom. Darting into the gym, the smell of Electric Youth perfume assaulted us along with the vibration of Duran Duran’s Rio.

    “Think he saw me?” Joleene asked, begging me to lie.

    “He totally didn’t. He was too busy freaking!” Joleene laughed, and aside of her greasy hair, she looked better.

    “Oh, gag!”

    “What?” I turned. “Oh no….” My words dropped off as I spotted the preppy girls talking to Brian.


    “Don’t they just think they’re so cool?” I glared. “With their neon jelly shoes and crimped hair.”

    “Why are rich girls always so pretty?” Joleene paused. “And how do their bangs poof up so perfect?” She traced a finger through her own limp bangs. I palmed mine to make certain they were a firm poofball above my eyebrows.


    “And boobs! Why do they get boobs?”

    “It’s not like you can’t buy toilet paper, too.” I snickered.

    “For sure!”

    “Oh no.” My wicked grin dropped. I stood frozen as Brian and the cool girls approached.

    “Hi girls.” Miss Perfect Amanda sang.

    “Hi.” We grumbled in unison.

    “Brian tells me your mom like, has a crush on him.” Amanda eyeballed Joleene.

    “What?” Joleene went silent. What else could she say? Her mom had just screamed cutie across the parking lot.

    “I heard she’s like, a drug addict.” One of the girls said.

    “A slut!”

    “Like, I heard she just got out of prison.” Another added. Joleene looked like she was about to cry.

    “So?” I snapped.

    “So what?” Amanda asked, purposely grabbing Brian’s hand in front of Joleene.

    “Yeah, she just got out of prison.” I said as cool as possible. “Like five years ago she snapped. Killed some teenager, or something.“ Joleene looked stunned, but finally caught on.

    “Whatever!” Barbie number two said. “If she killed somebody she’d still be in jail!”

    “Yeah, except for like, technicalities and stuff.” I said, feeling Joleene nudge my ribs. “What?” I asked under my breath.

    “Let’s go!” She whispered.

    “Hang on!“ I looked back to Amanda. “Some rich girl thought she was better than Mary, so Mary just took her out.”

    “How‘d she do it?” Brian asked.

    “Well-” I felt another nudge from Joleene.

    “Bathroom, now!” She hissed, but I shooed at her, determined to scare off these preps once and for all.


    “Whoa!” Brian groaned out in glee. Joleene jerked my elbow, her eyes desperate.


    “Ok.” I said, uncertain of what the big emergency was. Glaring at Amanda and her minions, we passed through. “Excuse me!”

    “Oh no….” Joleene mumbled, her face flushing red. All of a sudden, Amanda’s voice rang out.

    “Omigawd!” I swung around to find all the preps pointing. Following their stares, my jaw dropped. A red stained maxi pad was peeping out from under the cuff of Joleene’s jean shorts. A rumble of laughter broke out. Joleene stood mortified.



    “Get a tampon!” Everyone was laughing. Worst of all, Brian was laughing. Joleene erupted into tears, and as she launched into a run, the pad spun out into the floor. I flitted my eyes between the bloody pad and the witchy prep cloans. Fed up with the Hell known as Middle School, I decided to give these girls what they had coming. Bending over, I peeled the pad up and walked over to Amanda.

    “What are you laughing at?“ I asked, watching her eyes go wide. In front of the entire seventh grade, I flicked that bloody pad right into Amanda’s perfect hair.

    Because there is a God, the sticky side got stuck, tangling the maxi pad into the hair of the most popular girl in school! The whole gym erupted in laughter, and for once, it was aimed at Amanda Wingate. She went into hysterics, batting at her head, messing up her flawless poofball bangs. Joleene wandered out of the bathroom just in time to see Brian laughing so hard at Amanda that he was crying. Amanda burst into sobs and took her turn running to the bathroom, all her teen disciples chasing behind. From that day on, no one even seemed to remember Joleene’s part in the fiasco, but Amanda's new nickname was Maxi Pad Face!



    Signs Of The Secret paperback

    Signs Of The Secret Kindle version

  4. #4
    pounding away at the piano.. DJP's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Saskatchewan, Canada

    908 words

    Racing Mr. Brown

    I’d only known David for two days when he came up with the deal. David and Terrence had lived on Mallard Street in this tiny town their whole lives. I’d just moved in to house number 1101. The three of us were riding our bikes when an old car drove towards us. David pulled up, so we stopped.

    “What’s up?” I asked, since they were grinning at each other like secretive girls.

    “How bad do you want my Gretzky rookie card?” David asked. Wow, Gretzky’s rookie card. I had a whole page in my collectors’ binder empty and waiting. I’d been saving my allowance for months, but didn’t have near enough. I’d begged, pleaded and guilt tripped my parents with no luck. Yea, I wanted it bad.


    “See that car over there?” Terrence pointed to the rusted out Buick sputtering up the street. The front tires were low, and the beater reminded me of a grasshopper after my cousin had ripped its back legs off. Limping along, chugging and struggling, I thought it would crash to the pavement any second.


    “That’s Mr. Brown. If you can beat him in a race, you can have my Gretzky rookie.”

    “What’s the catch?”

    “If you lose, we trade bikes.” David eyed my new mountain bike. I hesitated, glancing at the car.

    “I have to run?” I tried to make myself sound uncertain. These guys had no idea.

    “Yep. Two blocks.”

    Two blocks, what a joke! I was the best runner at my old school. On track and field day, I got first in every race, sprinting and distance. I would’ve had the gold in relay too, if our lead guy hadn’t done a face plant. David didn’t have a clue what he was getting into. I glanced down at my bike. Dad had just bought it for me, he’d be p*ssed if I came home with a beat up BMX. I heard the car backfire behind me.

    “Ok, I guess so.” I tried to look reluctant getting off my bike.

    “Great! Ok, we’ll ride with you so we can judge. If you wipe out, too bad, the bike’s still mine.”

    “No riding in front of me, though. If one of you messes me up, the deal’s off.” I retied my shoes while trying to secretly stretch out my legs. The car was getting closer.

    “You have to wait until I say go.” David said. While the guys rode around me, I focused on my breathing, psyching myself up. The car was right behind us now.

    “GO!” David’s voice was like a whip to my legs. I blew past them, and quickly settled into a fast pace. Arms pumping, I focused on the yield sign down the street, two blocks away. Nothing was going to keep me from that card.

    “Pretty fast,” Terrence pulled up beside me, “not fast enough, though!”

    What? The old geezer was already half a block behind me, and didn’t sound like he was getting any closer. I risked glancing back, and saw David riding beside the driver’s window. My breath turned to ice when I heard his voice.

    “WE’RE RACING YOU, MR. BROWN!” Before the words faded away, the car hit second gear. Oh, crap. Terrence was laughing as the car gained on me. I imagined the wind was energy, and gulped it down to bursting point. My lungs were on fire; my throat felt like it was swelling shut. I concentrated on my legs, faster, FASTER, step, reach, go, go, RUN!

    “He’s pulling ahead!” Terrence yelled to me from the finish line. I focused on my target; the yield sign was my salvation. Pushing harder, I saw the hood surge up beside me. The window came into view. The old guy driving looked seriously ticked off, and clenched the steering wheel in his spotted hands. Those white knuckles gave me the strength I needed. Digging deep, I found my sprint and climbed up past the car. Inch by inch, I fought the roaring engine. My legs felt ten feet long as I stretched them to the limit, urging my muscles to carry me past the line first. I held my breath, clenched my teeth and seemed to fly by the sign. I did it! I beat him!

    “He won.” Terrence said, “he won.” Amazement painted his face.

    “Impossible!” David sprayed gravel as he skidded up to us. I was panting hard, walking it off, and grinning like the Cheshire cat. Victory! Nothing had ever been so sweet. I could already picture my new card, filling its page of honor.

    “He did. Sorry David, but he won. Wow, nobody’s ever beaten old Mr. Brown.” Terrence slapped me on the back, and I almost lost my breath again. We walked back to my bike together, reliving the race.

    “I couldn’t believe how fast you took off! I guess I should’ve bet my second season instead.” David was shaking his head, but smiling. “Let’s go to my place so you can pick up our card.”

    “Our card?”

    “Yea, you have to give me a chance to win it back before it’s yours. Town rules.”

    “What else do I need to know about living here?” My question made them laugh, but I knew that when they called me a city boy now, it would be with respect. I had earned that today. I’d be starting out grade seven as a hero... a hero with Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card.

  5. #5
    Back from self-exile land. BlueTexas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Aledo, TX

    Felicia of my dreams....

    Felicia of my Dreams
    987 words

    I can still smell the dankness of early morning hallways in a public school if I close my eyes and think of Felicia. Life was never the same after I met her.

    Seventh grade meant a new school for me; my family had moved to a new state over the summer. I spent that summer camped in front of the air conditioner, my New England genes refusing to tolerate the Florida heat outside. There were other kids in the neighborhood, they congregated in the afternoons, but the cool comfort of canned air and a book were safer than being new.

    I dreamt more that summer than before or since. One dream recurred: I walked down a long hallway, dingy linoleum lining the floors, the painted cement block walls sweating condensation. Entering a classroom, I saw the girl in the cornflower blue dress. The desks were arranged in a horseshoe, open end facing the chalkboard. I chose a desk across the horseshoe from her, my shyness dictating a safe distance.

    Her dress was pleated at the waist, rumpled thick cotton billowing over her bony knees. Her small black shoes seemed stark against her pale white skin. Wavy brown hair fell over her shoulders, framing a face new enough to makeup that the bold brush strokes above her eyes stood out in pink stripes. Her lips shone with shiny pink lip-gloss.

    The dream continued with us two sitting across the room from one another, the ticks of the wall clock echoing against our silence. We tried not to look at each other, and I thought she might be new, too. Minutes ticked past; still we remained alone. I always awoke when the dream clock struck 7:45 AM.

    The oddness of the dream was not its vividness or recurrence, but the fact that I could never remember her eye color. I recalled the pale pinks and blues of her, the institutional green of the walls, the smell of public school disinfectant, but never her eyes. Each night I would sink into sleep murmuring that this time I would see her eyes; each morning I’d awake wondering.

    August faded into September, and I awoke that first day not nervous about the start of a new school, but uneasy because I hadn’t had the dream the night before.

    By lunchtime that first day the dream was forgotten in the hurriedness of rushing hallways and the search for the right classroom. My first class after lunch was English. I stopped in my tracks as I entered the room.

    It was the scene of my dream brought to life. The horseshoe of desks, the emptiness of the room, the clock on the wall, all were the dream turned reality. The girl turned her face to me as I entered, but quickly cast her head toward the floor, denying me her eyes. The only thing wrong was her seat. She should have been halfway round the bend; instead, she sat at the very last desk on the far side of the room.

    I must have gaped at her for a moment too long, because soft giggles started to fill the room. Blushing, I took my seat, same as my dream seat.

    The teacher believed in adolescent torment; he directed us to introduce ourselves one a time. She spoke last, a small Felicia escaping her over-glossed lips seconds before the teacher turned his back on us and began the lesson.

    At the bell ring an hour later, I looked for her but she had already blended into the mass of bodies in the hallway, lost in a sea of blue jeans.

    The next day, eager for English class, I was the first one in the room. I took the seat next to where Felicia had sat yesterday, hoping to talk to her. The bell rang and she was still not present. It wasn’t until roll call when her name was absent that I began to suspect the truth.

    After classes were over that day, I headed for the school library. I missed the bus home, but walking was worth the mystery of Felicia in a blue dress.

    I roamed the stacks in a futile search until the librarian sought me out so she could leave for the day. I had been looking at history books for two hours, a desperately long time to a twelve year old, and I no longer cared if the librarian thought me crazy.

    I told her about Felicia, present yesterday but not assumed missing today. She grew pale and told me I could have ten minutes with the old yearbooks, which she kept behind her desk.

    There were only seven in all; the school was fairly new. I found Felicia on page forty-five of the book from two years previous. She wasn’t listed in the class pages, but on a page to herself.

    She stared back at me from underneath the title “In Memoriam”.

    She wore the same rumpled dress; the same steaks were visible in black and white above her dark eyes. The blurred quality of the picture dulled her features, but the name Felicia Brownstone underneath was unmistakable.

    I stared back at the eyes I was finally able to see, and slowly, the grainy black and white became fuzz, and then the fuzz rippled. I almost thought one pale lip was crooking into a smile on the page. The slow movement transfixed me until the librarian tapped me on the shoulder. Startled back into reality, I looked blankly at the elderly librarian. She pushed her glasses into her hair, and her eyes watered.

    “It’s no use. She’s gone. That's why I keep the yearbooks back here.”

    I had no reply, and silently, she closed the book, returned it to the shelf and led me out. She locked up, and when we walked into the twilight she returned her glasses to her nose.

    “Get home before dark,” she said. “Now she knows you.”

  6. #6
    Living the Dream firehorse's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Nanaimo, BC


    By the time I enter seventh grade in 1977, I’ve been motherless for two years. I’ve skipped a grade, so I’m eleven years old; my classmates are a year, and occasionally two, older. I tutor some in math; I see others roll their eyes when I answer yet another English or French question correctly.

    I know how to interact with adults – I dress up for cocktail parties with Ivy League presidents and make polite conversation alongside my father – but kids? I fear them as much as I despise them. They seem immature; I withdraw into myself. Regression is how I cope:

    I draw intricate patterns on my hands, using full rainbow boxes of markers (but mostly blue, red and green); when my hands are covered, I start on my arms and sometimes legs. The ink touching my skin, marking me, makes me feel safe. The repetitive patterns soothe me.

    A tic develops in the back of my throat, an intrusive clicking sound I make incessantly and can’t stop. It, too, comforts me. The rhythms calm me. Click. Click. Click.

    Another repetitive comfort is the broken record that runs constantly in my head. Music, rhythm and repetition provide triple solace:

    Knowing me and knowing you, uh-huh
    Knowing me and knowing you, uh-huh
    Knowing me and knowing you, uh-huh

    I add ‘and’ to give the line a prettier rhythm.

    * * *

    A dusting of snow whirls around boys in bell-bottomed corduroy pants and girls in Fair Isle sweaters.

    The first note appears in my locker, scrawled inside a miniature yellow vinyl Snoopy notebook: “I love you.”

    The second appears a few days later, on an orange plastic tray in the cafeteria, between the time I pick up my juice and get to the cash register: “I want you to have my babies.”

    The third is in my locker again, this time with a ring from a bubble-gum machine: “I want to marry you.” It is signed: Alex.

    Alex always has snot hanging from his nose, his fly is forever down, and he smells like he never showers. I avoid Alex the way other kids avoid me. I want the notes to be from Geordie, a cute, popular blond who has a squinting tic.

    The notes continue to show up in private places where only I have access. Sudden. Invasive. Progressively sexual.

    I approach the only teacher I trust. Her office walls are covered with handmade snowflakes and Christmas cards from parents. I’m too embarrassed to show her anything but the first note. “This is sweet. You should be flattered,” she says, tilting her head at me. “You’re too sensitive.”

    In the halls, I hang my head, wrap my arms around myself in big, bulky sweaters. The tic in my throat becomes more frantic, the broken Abba record more insistent.


    Knowingmeandknowingyou, Knowingmeandknowingyou, Knowingmeandknowingyou

    One afternoon, I crawl into my mother’s closet, untouched since her death. I stroke her bright polyester dresses and inhale the faint scent of Faberge. I swaddle myself in echoes of my mother’s presence and try to reassure myself it will all be okay.

    * * *

    The phone calls begin as heavy breathing. Three in the first week. Each time I hang up, flushing with shame and humiliation.

    Then: “I want to suck your tits.” A young, raspy voice tries to sound older.

    My father is always out of town; even had he been home, I wouldn’t have bothered to tell him. When I was younger and had trouble with bullies, he would ask: “What have you done to provoke this person?”

    “I want to lick – ”

    I hang up. I’m not supposed to be rude, but I don’t know what to say, and I can’t scream, so I do the next best thing.

    KnowingmeandknowingyouKnowingmeandknowingyouKnowin gmeandknowingyou

    I wrap my arms even more tightly around my oversized Norwegian sweater. I don’t look anybody in the eye. I spend hours in the only place I can be alone: the nurse’s office. After school, I go to the barn, where nobody can reach me; I bury my face in my pony’s warm mahogany winter coat, and he wraps his neck around my shoulder, head nuzzling my back, hugging me.

    * * *

    The phone rings.


    I’m afraid to answer. I make excuses, but Priscilla, the latest in a string of housekeepers, knows something is wrong. I ask her to take a message.

    When I finally confide in her about Alex, she is outraged. Finally, somebody gets it. It’s the first time anyone has taken my side.
    “You have to confront him,” she says. “Tell him off!”
    “I can’t.”
    “It’s the only way he’ll stop. Tell you what – I’ll listen on the other line, okay?”

    It takes days to work up the courage. Finally, with her prodding and support, I answer the phone.

    “I want to suck your tits. I want to lick – ”

    I want to throw up. Good people don’t get angry. I can’t bring myself to yell, but I speak with a loud confidence I didn’t know I had: “Stop calling me, Alex!” I hang up.

    The notes stop. The calls stop. Very, very slowly, I begin to feel safe again.

    I still have intrusive thoughts and a click in my throat, but the broken Abba song slows to its regular rhythm in my mind:

    Knowing me and knowing you, uh-huh
    Knowing me and knowing you, uh-huh
    Knowing me and knowing you, uh-huh

    On the last day of the school year, one girl tells me that another – a strange girl, one I pity – admitted that she’d sent the notes; she’d made the phone calls. This time I’m not afraid to confront her: “Did you?” She says yes, nonchalantly, and when I ask why, she shrugs and skips away. I feel puzzled, hurt, betrayed.

    These feelings are not unfamiliar. For the rest of my childhood, these feelings are not unfamiliar.
    Last edited by firehorse; 05-17-2005 at 04:04 PM. Reason: fix formatting glitch
    Please visit my blog. It likes the company.

  7. #7
    My Name is Sweet Thing trumancoyote's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005

    In the Shower that Mom Kept Spotless (998 words)

    In spring of seventh grade I was pasty and fat, with nipples too big for a boy. No one knew, though, because I hid my rolls in fashionably baggy clothes. Ironically, ‘individuality’ was my generation’s buzz-word, but somehow fatness was neither original nor cool, in spite of the words that Smashmouth inspired at the end of all the cool kids’ tongues:

    And their kids were hippie chicks, all hypocrites,
    because fashion is smashin’ the true meaning of it.

    I’d recently learned of evolution in Science—how, like the beaks of the black and yellow finches in the Galapagos Islands, we were all changing into better things, creatures more suited to their environment, the clunky skulls of apes and protohumans shrinking, their backs straightening, minds expanding; all in all growing more upright. Progressing. As a class, we also endured that gruesome, yawning and hairy Miracle of Life video and Oh!—I found a leather notebook distended with my brother’s collection of cheap and wrinkled titty mags.

    Mine was a Christian household, one of those dogmatic Protestant ones that called itself nondenominational, which I guess meant that there were a whole lot of rules to abide by, and eternal punishments for kids like me. That’s why Dad was so unwavering in the suppression of his sex drive: there wasn’t a magazine, a single video—not even a condom in sight. I know because I looked.

    We had a subscription to National Geographic for a while, but a boy can only imagine the brackish taste of those floppy African breasts for so long.

    And that’s where my brother’s folder came in. I was a sneaky kid; if I wasn’t digging through my dad’s drawers, I was picking through my sister’s jewelry box or peeking at her diary; and if I wasn’t doing any of those, I was invariably in my brother’s room, looking for dirt. And oh boy did I find dirt.

    The thickness of the folder, its leather binding—it all told of something good inside. It’s like a grape. The tighter its skin and the plumper its reddish meat: the more juice that’ll spurt on your tongue when you sink in your teeth. It was deep in his closet, shucked beneath a three-foot tall pile of fossilized laundry, rife with pair after pair of his awful plaid underwear that I hoped no girl would ever see.

    Dragging it out, I splayed it open on his bedroom floor, and—the things I found in there! The women were spread on their backs, cameras straddling their hips only inches away from what were those, anyway? I could see inside them, those curtainy things that were far divorced from what was once to me just a calm triangle of curly fur. The men gripped their veiny swellings at the base, stabbing into women with their legs pulled wide apart.

    I’d snipped out a small photo of a snarling blonde chick, her hair billowing in 80’s poofs around her cheeks. She was topless; unwieldy fat breasts with pinkishly soft nipples threatened to swallow up her neck. I stuffed her in my wallet behind a picture of my little brother crying at beach, legs tangled in a mass of grabby seaweed.

    Who knew that a two-by-three inch square of smut could make me cool at school the next day? Like a cop who’s too proud of his badge, I flipped that picture out of my wallet and held it before the noses of almost every boy in every class I had. They met her tits with hoots and grunts, with snarky curls at the sides of their lips.

    And later in Shop Class, I showed it to a friend who’d once been beaten at tic-tac-toe by a chicken that scooted pebbles across the ground with its beak; his name was John:

    “Whoa-hoh! I bet I know what you do with that.”

    “Huh? Whaddya mean?”

    “C’mon,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes, “you know.”

    I didn’t know. But I was a smart kid and the suggestive gyration of his wrist was pretty telling. I’d never done it before… but maybe, just maybe—

    On the playground once in third grade I overheard some boys teasing this girl named Jessica. They kept on calling her masturbator, masturbator. To my third-grade ears it sounded like a character from Star Wars, like Darth Vader, so I joined them and chimed in: “Jessica, you are the Master Bator!”

    The other boys laughed; torment’s more fun in groups. I made the mistake of later saying it in class, though. My teacher called me up to her desk.

    “Zachary! What’d you say?”

    “I called her the Master Bator.”

    “I cannot believe—” she stopped, realizing: “You don’t know what that means, do you?”


    “You… you’d better go talk to your parents about it.”

    Of course I wouldn’t, didn’t. Kids never approach their parents with something they’d better talk to their parents about. It reeked of inappropriateness, so I deferred the question to my surrogate parent, the dictionary.

    John’s swiveling wrist with a bracelet made of hemp had brought it all back to me, and it occupied my every thought on the bus ride home.

    Forty-five minutes later, hot water shot down from the showerhead through a beard of steam and thumped on my chest. My smooth little preteen butt cheeks skidded and jerked along the shower tiles that Mom kept pristinely clean, my hand a blur of movement.

    My first orgasm lasted for 30 minutes. If anything, it was only because the synapse between orgasm and release was not yet sewn in my head. So there I was, aggressively pulling at myself and not knowing for the life of me what that dizzying, ice-cold burning was that throbbed between my hips.

    In a way, it wasn’t about release or sex, not even that nudey porn star in my wallet. It was about taboo and expectations, the only things a twelve year-old fat kid who always wore his shirt in the pool knows.
    "I don't understand," Hans Castorp said. "I don't understand how someone can not be a smoker -- why it's like robbing oneself of the best part of life, so to speak, or at least of an absolutely first-rate pleasure."

    The Magic Mountain - Thomas Mann (John E. Woods, Trnsl.)

  8. #8
    Man vs. Himself

    William Haskins

    I’ve written from the time I could hold a pencil (possibly a crayon… I can’t really remember that far back). It’s not that I was a precocious child or anything. Writing was, to me, as natural as talking. If thoughts are worthy of expressing verbally in the company of others, I figured, how can they not be worth writing down when alone?

    So I retreated into my imagination and wrote—adventure stories, fairy tales, doggerel verse and the crude philosophy of a toe-headed kid who tries to stand on the shoulders of giants, but inevitably crashes to the ground, all skinned-knees and chipped teeth.

    I never saw writing as anything separate from the normal course of life. Not that any of it was really any good. Sure, I’d get occasional praise for a clever rhyme or a story with some accidental narrative cohesion, but I never touched anyone. Never moved anyone.

    That was the magic that real writers practiced, and it had eluded me at every turn.

    After a backwater reading curriculum in elementary school, I entered junior high with no expectation that formal education could offer me any new insights into writing. But that all changed when I met my 7th grade Language Arts teacher, Ms. Koch.

    She was petite, but flinty—with the fiery eyes of a woman who’d spent her career in a school flanked by two of the worst neighborhoods in the city, teaching kids who often came to school hungry, who fought openly in the hallway and despised books. Yet, constantly and unswervingly, she reached out to bridge our life experiences with the vast expanse of literary tradition. She played records to underscore the poetry of contemporary song lyrics and showed us film versions of classic Edgar Allen Poe stories. We read, and discussed, the style and humor of Mark Twain and the claustrophobic horror of Anne Frank’s diary.

    We were only a few weeks into the semester when she gave us our first writing assignment.

    It was fairly run-of-the-mill for a 7th grade English composition class. We were to write a short story that explored one of the three major literary conflicts: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature or Man vs. Himself. Pretty basic stuff.

    But I remember my heartbeat accelerating at the challenge. For the first time, I wasn’t left to my own devices to create a story out of thin air. Now, I had a purpose. An artificially imposed purpose, maybe, but one that would nevertheless govern the story’s structure and tone, one that set a level of expectation that I might meet, or possibly even exceed. Or maybe fall short of.

    I spent that weekend staring at the ceiling and daydreaming over which direction I might take my story. Finally I settled on one of my favorite motifs—a boy and his dog. I had spent the past year devouring the works of Jack London, so I decided to set it in the frozen and hostile terrain of Alaska.

    A week before, I merely would have spewed out a description-heavy snapshot of setting and one-dimensional character, aiming only for style. But now, I turned my ideas over in my head, examining them from all angles, dissecting and analyzing, embracing and rejecting.

    I began to write about an arctic explorer, separated from his group and left to wander a frozen wasteland, accompanied only by his faithful dog.

    Man vs. Nature writ large.

    But as I went back over my class notes, I knew I had to dig deeper. I had begun to fully realize the importance of conflict as the central component of fiction. No longer would picturesque settings and exotic characters suffice. Critical thinking and basic literary theory had transformed me.

    I returned to the story and looked at my character’s circumstances. He was cold and lost and frightened. But it wasn’t enough. I began to starve him. Hunger, surely, would make his struggle against nature even more brutal.

    By page two, his food supply was completely gone.

    Now the wheels were spinning. Cold, lost, frightened and hungry. Left to the mercy of merciless elements, finding comfort only in the loyalty of the wretched beast that trotted alongside him, paws flayed bloody by the edges of cracked ice.

    But it still wasn’t enough. “What would be going through his mind?” I asked myself.

    Fear? Yes, but the pain, the hunger would overpower all else. I went inside his head and found a desperate man seriously contemplating eating his dog. Now there was some conflict—man reduced to animal.

    But he couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it.

    I sat staring at the paper, paralyzed by the confusion I had inflicted on this poor bastard manufactured in my imagination. Morality, biology and logic all conspired against me, pulling my mind in a hundred directions at once.

    I was in heaven, and the rest of the story wrote itself.

    A week later, I watched the faces of my classmates as Ms. Koch returned our stories; some happy, others mortified as they peered at the grade marked neatly in red ink at the top of their paper. But the grade meant nothing to me.

    I had put my protagonist in the worse possible situation, his body racked by pain and cold, his spirit crushed by his desolation, his mind tortured by his temptation to butcher and eat his only companion. And he had emerged with nobility and dignity, a man of compassion.

    That the dog chewed into his throat and devoured him was almost incidental. After all, in the battle of Man vs. Nature, nature always wins.

    Ms. Koch handed me my paper and returned to her desk. I looked in the top corner, unmoved by the neat red “A” written there. It was the five words beneath the grade that hit me like a shot of adrenalin:

    “Must you be so cynical?”

    I looked at her and we shared a smile. We both knew the answer to that.
    Last edited by William Haskins; 05-18-2005 at 08:36 AM. Reason: format fix

    Thorn Forest: A Gift for AW

    My poems on Twitter. Please proceed in an orderly fashion.

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