She lines three pencils in a neat row next to a blue pen and a black pen and a thick yellow highlighter. A virgin marble notebook sits closed beside them and she lightly taps a tattoo on the black and white speckled cover.
It excites her, new pens, a completely untouched 100 sheets of wide ruled paper. Her classmates start to file in one by one and two by two and sometimes in groups that have to undo themselves in order to make it through the door. She smells change. She smells fear. It all feeds her. She smiles at the summer clean blackboard and sits taller in her chair. Soon the room is almost full and, without looking, she can feel the ring of empty seats around her. The smile doesn't waver, though it wants to.
The bell rings. Textbooks are passed down the rows like a bucket brigade. She has to stand and stretch to take a book and pass it on. Finally, when the book she takes is hers to keep, she stares at the flaws in its facade; the cracks in the corners, the scratches on the cover- some accidental, some deliberately carved. She runs her hand across the face of the book and shudders. She does not like used things.
She looks at her notebook to calm herself, at her three newly sharpened pencils with unblemished pink buds of erasers, at her pens and highlighter, all unspoiled and perfect and waiting. She looks down at herself, at the blouse and skirt and shoes and everything she put on for the first time tat morning, removing tags, taking off protective plastic packaging. Everything is clean and new. She is clean and new. She showered so many times she really ought to be.
Mr. Conroy is pacing and wringing his hands and lecturing about his love of politics and she feels a pull and she wants to be drawn in but instead she slides back ad she thinks that maybe she can slink to the floor and slip out the door and run away from all of this.
She thought she was stronger than this. She told herself that she had won. She believed it when she was alone in her bedroom with her wet hair and clean clothes, placing a marble notebook into a brand new backpack. She thought she had won, had stuffed the secret down her throat and swallowed. But the illusion only lasted when she was at home. As soon as she came back here she knew; no one has any secrets in this place.
She could see it on their faces and in the way that they turned from her. She could feel how she only existed in the corner of their eye now, something to be whispered about but never approached. She saw herself the way she knew they saw her. She saw the dirt pouring out from her skin turning everything she touched a crumbly black.
The dirt was everywhere, dripping down from under her skirt and piling up at her feet in tiny hills. It was running down the side of her face and churning in her stomach. It wasa pushing up, crawling through her, trying to escape. Her eyes were full of it; she could not blink.
She wanted to scream but bit her bottom lip to keep the breaking pieces inside. She had been here before, she knew what to do. She stared at something far away, a photograph on the classroom wall of a place she'd never been. She went there. She left her body and the dirt and screaming need behind and she just kept breathing until the bell rang.