Early January, 2017
Damper Pedal draft 4
Exhaustive dedication to grooming couldn’t stop each dark strand of Elodie’s hair from snarling around the other, coiling to a single firm matte by the start of homeroom. This was her fate.
Early in the week, ripping a pocket brush through the crapheap on her head in the bathroom stall, she cracked the wooden handle from its hinges (again). She sighed, easing herself onto the toilet. She needed a moment to calm down, but if she didn’t get back to the classroom soon she’d be in big trouble. Fate wasn’t worth fighting; this was hers and it could’ve been worse, she guessed. It wasn’t great. She was grotesque, maybe vile, but ruminating on her fortune wouldn’t change anything and frankly, she didn’t care anymore. Elodie yanked the Conair paddle from her head and returned to class.
By Thursday Elodie’d racked up her third consecutive tardy, fifteen minutes into her teacher’s clicking and squawking at the chalkboard. He was disgusted. Elodie knew he was miserable whether or not she was on time; he was the kind of teacher who was easily disgusted by thirteen-year-olds. She figured he was disappointed broadly, with the way things had gone for him.
Her backpack had barely touched the floor beside her desk when she realized the room had been overwhelmed with silence, a pause, the really heavy pause of waiting. He locked his eyes on her as she turned toward the front of the room and he didn’t need to tell her, but being a dismal and disappointed man, told her just the same, “Elodie, this sort of interruption is absolutely unacceptable. It is inconsiderate to me,” then with a calculated drop in tone, “and to your classmates.”
He directed Elodie to the stool in the corner beside the windows where the playground met the mostly empty parking lot and reached on to telephone wires wrapping the freeway.
There were students who’d already become accustomed to and expecting of such punishments, had integrated misbehavior into their personas, and at times even sought it (whether ’it’ refers to the discipline referred to in this specific sentence, discipline in general, or public shame doesn’t really matter) merely to feel like themselves. The teacher, whose primary task was to discipline the twenty-nine students, knew those who sought it didn’t require the same fiery tone as the quieter students. She didn’t know why he needed to take this tone with her and thought maybe he’d woken up to a text message from his ex-wife that just said “Frank, you’re a shit.”
But as she walked from the back of the room, una corda static – my best attempt to describe the sound that plays in movies when the protagonist learns he’s caught it in stage four and the rapidly advancing cancer is moving just slow enough for the suffering to hit – filled the room.
Not having heard the instructions she approached the stool and faced the wall: a blatantly reasonable, innocent instinct to avoid the full-bodied sting of embarrassment that one knows, even before they have the proper words to reason with or against the feeling itself, is not the finite pinch of a booster shot, but a quick bite on the interior of the stomach, (her stomach was empty) and although there’s nothing in the stomach to ravel nor ravel around, the expanding and painful sensation is undeniably one of twofold raveling: a relatively non-restrictive encasing along the exterior of the outer longitudinal layer, and within the inner oblique layer, a tightly wound, gyrating thing, a pit, so-to-speak.
Just before the corduroy of her hazelnut bellbottoms grazed the stool, from the back of the classroom a fan of sunlight reaching under and curling around her rear: “Face the class this second. I won’t waste time to repeat myself. Turn, Elodie, now!” She’d spun with time to spare and her cheeks were, as usual, quite pale. But the clicking chalk was red. The air between her gnarled hair and the cap, which had until then appeared, well, probably a deep blue although she wasn’t sure as she’d ever thought about it, was flooded by red. Each sound became louder and much, much redder: the clicking, the squawking, every breath she couldn’t hear.
It’s not possible to know how much time has passed now, but each red blanches together like the timbres of a siren and Elodie becomes aware of her dark brown hair, each strand within the steadfast matte, still below the white paper cap. Elodie looks out the window. When she was in the fourth grade her father scooped her out of bed and cupped her nape in his palm, her forehead drooping into his shoulder. His lips hovered very close, eager to graze the gossamer along her ear. She wouldn’t be allowed to fall asleep in bed with him and her mother anymore, he whispered into her daze, but he’d wait beside her until the good dreams came. Elodie continues to watch the parking lot, which expands and contracts at an increasingly irregular rate until she notices a blurry reflection in the glass, which she assumes is just her eyelashes getting in the way of her seeing until, risking a rebuke from the teacher, she rubs her eyes and traces the reflection across the room where Jason’s hand moves up and down under the desk; she follows the movement of his hand to meet his eyes, which are beginning to fade out and the una corda static sound is gone and the windows are gone, but she can feel the follicles on her eyelids and the gossamer between her eyelashes as they flutter more and more quickly.