By Aiden Baker
The school counselor’s a loser. His name is David and he’s got a ponytail and thin wire glasses and he always coughs into his fist. “How are we feeling today?” he’ll ask. How do we feel. As if we’re in this together. He taps at his clipboard and waits for an answer. I hate the sound and I hate his question. It’s how he starts every session. I don’t know, dipshit. How do we? He’s got this big, sad grin and I want to spit on his desk. Today, like most days, I don’t. I say nothing. His philosophy, he’s told me, is to let me guide our sessions. These are for you, he’s said. To help you. Dumb move on his part, because when it’s up to me, I choose silence.
“What are you thinking?” he prods. I choose to keep my lips slammed shut. “Nothing,” I say, if anything. We spend the sessions this way, clock ticking, not talking, and then I get to go back to class.
The school pays for this shit. What a waste.
David has this painting on his wall, muted browns and tans. The painting’s of a mountain and in the mountain is the face of a native man. Feathers poke out from his head and shoot into the sky. The native guy has these watery brown eyes that glare at you, real. Like he can really see you, like he’s telling you something. That’s how I spend most of the hour, staring at the painting, trying to read his eyes.
When Mom picks me up from school, she’s either in a bad mood—which means no talking—or she’s all chipper, glimmering, non-stop talking about the new show she’s watching or new dress she’s bought or new guy she’s met, talking and talking all in a rush about whatever’s got her feeling so good. Today’s a good day. She’s going on and on about this guy named Steve. He’s a doctor, she thinks, which means money, she sings. Always, she picks the worst guys. There was one a few months back named Harvey. He had a potbelly and always looked at me funny. Another, Carston, smelled like pickles. I spot the McDonald’s cup in the cupholder, take it and slurp what’s left extra loud to drown her out. She looks at me from the corner of her eye, a sad kind of look.
“How was school, Skye?” she asks, briefly opening the conversational door. It’s rare she invites me to speak like this. I prefer when she doesn’t.
“Fine,” I say, and kick my feet up on the dashboard. I know it pisses her off. She gives me one of her looks and goes on: Steve did this, he’s just so smart, and rich, he took me here, we ate that. I stop listening and look out the window. Watch the trees blur.
We’re in the bathroom, me and Ang, the one in the science wing with the dated pink tile. Ang leans into the mirror, circling her eyes with black liner. I pull out a sharpie and trace lines of grout. A maze through the tile. No way out.
Together we huddle in a stall, pack a one hitter, blow the smoke through a sploof. I do an impression of Ms. Astor, our geometry teacher. We laugh so hard we choke, holding our sides.
Mom has actually made dinner: an attempt at chicken, a vegetable medley. The chicken is tough, dry; the carrots, peas, and cauliflower have been rendered to mush. She sits across the table from me and watches as I push the food around on my plate. It’s horrible, all of it. It feels like a bad stage-play, and we’re the god-awful actors, forced into a scene.
In the mall with Ang we walk by these boys, lanky, limbs like branches in oversized shirts. They grin at us with yellow teeth and I keep on walking.
“Hey, mama,” one of them calls. I tug on Ang’s hand and try to pull her away. But she likes the attention. She entertains them, playing bashful and dumb. They’re older, taller, and I have to crane my neck to get a look at their faces. One of them has these huge nostrils like caverns, hairs poking out all aggressive. No thanks. I tell Ang we should go, but she calls me a buzzkill and lets them drag her off by the wrist. They go hook up behind the dumpsters.
I’m not upset. She’s always running off like that. To be with ugly boys. She needs it, I think. Attention.
While I wait for Ang I slip into Forever 21. Lots of girls are in there, younger, in crop tops and Instagram contour. All that bronzer and highlight is too harsh for daytime. They look undead underneath the buzzing fluorescent store lights. The store’s infested, full of too-young girls with debit cards. They make me sick to look at. Their exposed shoulders, sharp collar bones. I have to look away. I walk through the racks, finger the hanging clothes, the soft cotton fabric. Above me, a mannequin is perched, undressed, all curves and angles. Nausea begins to bubble up in my stomach. I head to the jewelry aisle and slip a choker into my pocket. I look around for security, for any chance I was seen. But among the hordes, I’m invisible. I sneak out with a crowd of laughing, powdered girls.
David’s office smells like dust. Smells like the funeral home. Suffocating. I don’t know how he stands it. Today I ask him to open the window but beyond that, I say nothing. I sit with my arms folded and look at the Native Man. I want to catch him blink.
David looks at his watch. “Time’s up,” he says…
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