Chapter 5: Jane embattled
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
It’s Thursday afternoon, and I’m in the principal’s office again. I’m holding an ice pack to the left side of my face, which is all swollen up.
The principal, Ms. Duncan, comes in. She gives me the hairy eyeball, and sits down behind her desk. She’s got a neutral expression on her face as she says, “It doesn’t take you long to get into trouble, Jane Harris.”
I observe, “I wasn’t in here yesterday, at least.”
Ms. Duncan nods. “There is that. I’ve spoken to most of the other people involved. Want to tell me what happened?”
I work my mouth. It seems to be okay. So I start. “I was at lunch with Cindy, Cindy Van Schacht. We’ve been eating by ourselves. No one bothered us until today. We were eating lunch when these two guys sat down beside us. I think both of them are named Tom.”
“Tom Smith and Tom Kelly,” Ms. Duncan supplies the names.
“Well, Tom the brown-haired buzz cut . . .”
“Okay, Tom Smith, he was sitting beside me. He and the other Tom started telling rude jokes about Cindy and me being lesbians. I was tempted to ask them how they knew so much about lesbian sex, but I could see Cindy was getting upset, and I didn’t want to encourage these two jerks . . . guys, sorry, ma’am.”
Ms. Duncan sighs and waves it off. “Go on.”
“Then Tom Smith decided we were virgins instead. According to them, Cindy’s a virgin because she’s ugly, and I’m one because I haven’t bled yet. And they both made it clear they’d be happy to ‘break us in,’ as one of them put it, I don’t remember which one.”
Ms. Duncan is looking less and less happy as I speak. I hope this means she’s unhappy with the guys, not me. I continue, “I could see Cindy was getting very angry and I was afraid she’d do something wrong, like hit the other Tom guy. So to forestall her, I stood up and made fun of Tom Smith to the whole room. Maybe I went a little overboard, because I told people he was lousy at sex. He didn’t like that so he hit me.”
Ms. Duncan interjects, “People tell me you were singing . . . um, naughty songs.”
Gad, this place really is inhabited by Philistines. “No, ma’am. I was cataloguing Tom’s sexual failings in rhymed couplets. It may have sounded like singing to some, but it wasn’t.”
Ms. Duncan sounds incredulous as she asks, “You were composing rhymed couplets making fun of Tom Smith’s sexuality as you went along?”
Oh, I wish I were that good. “No, ma’am. I’d worked out the rhymes with some friends a year and a half ago when we were having some similar trouble with guys in Boston.”
Ms. Duncan shakes her head and waves her hands. “Please continue. This is unexpectedly illuminating.”
“Well, I don’t remember exactly all the lines I used, but I’d just finished a couplet with the line ‘That’s dog shit on his dick,’ pardon the vulgarity, Ms. Duncan, when he stood up and punched me in the face. I wasn’t expecting that. It hadn’t happened in Boston with that line. So I just automatically reached for the pepper spray I keep in my pocket and sprayed Tom in the face.” I figure I should express some contrition. “Is he going to be okay, ma’am?”
Ms. Duncan tartly observes, “The school nurse says he’ll live. You do know that carrying any weapons on school grounds is against the rules.”
“No, ma’am, I didn’t, though to be honest I should have. It was against the rules in Boston, too, but we all violated them anyhow.” I begin to add that I will accept whatever punishment Ms. Duncan hands out, and then decide that would make me look too much of a brown nose.
Ms. Duncan’s face takes on a severe expression. “You should also realize that you’ve not just broken school rules, but the law as well. You’re too young to legally carry pepper spray at all in this state.”
Gulp. “I didn’t know that, ma’am. But I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Am I going to be arrested?”
Ms. Duncan ignores my question. “Where did you get the pepper spray?”
I think of saying several things, but don’t know which one will get me into the least amount of trouble. So I settle for the truth. “My mother bought it for me a few years ago. She says a woman should never be without protection.”
It isn’t until I finish talking that I realize how that sounds, and feel my face turn red. Ms. Duncan apparently makes the same connection, because she quickly covers her mouth with her hand to keep me from seeing that she is smiling. (That doesn’t work, by the way.)
Once she gets over the unintended joke, Ms. Duncan asks, “Anything else you wish to add, Jane Harris?”
“Not really, ma’am. Between being hit and being ready to spray Tom there again if he got up, I didn’t see what happened across the table until people were dragging Cindy away. Is she going to be okay, Ms. Duncan?”
Ms. Duncan is back to a neutral-to-judgmental expression. “She’s upset, but otherwise all right. In fact, she’s in better shape than Tom Kelly. She gave him a concussion.” She stands up. “I can’t pass over this incident lightly, Jane. If you have trouble with another student, you report it to a teacher. You do not take matters into your own hands. You do not engage in fighting. And you do not denigrate or disparage another student’s sexuality in public, especially not in front of younger children. There were first graders in that cafeteria, Jane. Did you think of that?”
I can feel my face turning red again. “No, ma’am. Although . . .” Nope, Jane, bad idea to keep talking.
“You were saying?”
Oh, hell, might as well say it. “I’m not excusing my behavior, Ms. Duncan, but I think most of it went right over the heads of the little kids. If anything, their parents are going to be more upset than their kids are. Sorry, ma’am.” I wince as I finish saying this. It’s a perfectly reasonable, adult-like observation to make. And somehow that makes it offensive to adults, hearing it from a teenager like me.
Ms. Duncan doesn’t explode, though her voice has a lot of tension in it when she replies, “Probably true, but as you say, no excuse.” She looks up at the ceiling, and I can imagine her counting to ten in her head before she faces me again. “After considering all the accounts I have received, I have decided that all four of you students are getting a suspension of one week for fighting. And you alone are suspended an additional week for carrying a weapon on school grounds. You will be responsible for making up all the work you miss to Ms. Hiller’s satisfaction. Your suspension begins immediately, so you should go directly home from here. I’ll arrange with your mother to get your books to you.”
I am going to catch it at home, that much I can be sure of. And I still don’t know how much trouble I’m in. “About the pepper spray, am I going to be in trouble with the police, Ms. Duncan?”
Ms. Duncan’s face relaxes into a tired expression. “Probably not. I’m going to talk to the parents of all the students involved. I think after I do that, no one is going to want to press any charges. But I don’t want to hear of you carrying pepper spray here again.” She gives me a searching look. “Or any other kind of weapon you took to school in Boston. Understand?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I make a mental exception: technically, I would not be breaking my word if I carried a knife, since I never carried a knife to school in Boston.
“Do you realize what sort of trouble you’ve caused, Jane?” My mother speaking in full parental lecture mode. “I had to explain to my boss that I had to leave to pick up school books because my daughter was thrown out of school for fighting.”
“He hit me first!”
“That’s no excuse. I will not have my children brawling like, like hooligans.”
“He hit me first!”
“I’ve just told you . . .”
I can’t help it. I just scream at my mother and run to my room, slamming the door behind me, and flopping on my bed, in tears. My own mother, and all she’s concerned about is her job and how she looks. What about me? The guy hit me! I’m sitting there, half my face bruised, and all I get from her is a lecture?
Once I finally stop crying, I get the tissue papers out. And I have to go to the bathroom to see what a mess I’ve made of my face. Donna sees me in the hallway, but knows I’m not interested in hearing her, so she goes into her room.
I get into the bathroom and look in the mirror. My face is a mess. How many times did Tom Whatever hit me? The whole left side from my eyebrow to my chin is swollen. My eyes are red, and my one achievement in the make-up department, good-looking eye shadow, is giving me the raccoon look so popular among zombies. I could go goth! That reminds me of Miranda Milan, and I shudder. No way. If it takes an ocean to wash this off, I will get an ocean.
I strip off my clothes, get into the shower, and just let the water play on my face. Lukewarm seems to feel the best. Soap, and I use Donna’s moisturizer to follow up. Have to tell her I did that, don’t want everyone in the family mad at me. I get out of the shower, dry myself off, wrap the towel around me in case Freddie comes charging in, and look in the mirror. All I see is a foggy blur. And suddenly I’m laughing. I’m a foggy blur, I’m a foggy blur. It’s funny. I probably look better as a foggy blur, too. And that sends me into another round of helpless laughter.
I wipe the mirror clear and look. Eh, it’s not so bad. All I have to do is tell people I’m part of a women’s wrestling league and my arch-rival couldn’t stand being defeated, so she punched me in the face. And thinking that, I want to cry again, looking at my face, but I hold it in. I take my clothes, go back to my room, and go look for a good movie on the TV. I find a sad one, I cry, and I sleep.
It’s dark. How long have I slept? I look at the clock. 7:39? I get up, throw on some clothes, go out into the hall. The residual smell of hamburger is in the air. I have missed dinner. Hope they saved some for me.
Everyone else is in the living room. My mom gives me a stern look and says, “In the kitchen. Now.” Fine by me. As I head to the kitchen, I can hear my mother get up to follow. Everyone else is staying very quiet.
I sit down at the kitchen table. So does my mother. I tell her, “I’m starved.” I know it’s a bad idea, but I’m kind of beyond caring.
My mother ignores what I say. In a tense voice, she says to me, “We came here to make a good life for ourselves and be respectable people, Jane. That means no fighting, period. Just to show me you’re sorry for what you did, you are going to do all the make-up schoolwork to perfection. Do you hear me? Perfection. And since you’re suspended for two weeks, you’re grounded for four weeks, and your allowance is cut off for the same period. Understand?”
“Yes, mother.” I understand better than you think. You always double the punishments. I can manage without the allowance, it’s a new thing. And if you think I’m going to stay grounded for four weeks, you’ve got another think coming.
Her duty done, my mother relaxes and smiles at me. “Come here, let me see those bruises. My God, how many times did he hit you?”
“I thought only once, Mom, but it looks like I’m wrong, doesn’t it?”
“I’ll say.” She gives me a look, as if weighing whether she should say something. “I gather from your principal that you nailed the guy with the pepper spray. I know what she thinks, but I’ll tell you, I’m glad you did. A woman’s got to learn to fight back.”
“Did you know it’s illegal for me to carry pepper spray, Mom? Not just against school regulations, but illegal?”
My mother makes a tight face. “That’s men’s stupid rules. When are they going to make fists against the law? I tell you. C’mere, baby.” I get up and walk around and she stands up and takes me in a hug. Once she lets me go, she looks at me as if I’m a surprise and says, “You must be starving by now. How about some hot dogs?”
Barf. “I think all I want is a salad, ma.”
“Don’t be silly. After something like that, you need some meat to build your strength back up, get the blood flowing.” And she dives into the refrigerator for the frankfurters of doom, the brand Stan loves that smell like they’re designed to cause trichinosis.
I’m tempted to tell her my face is going to look like a mess for at least a week thanks to the blood that flowed into the injured areas, the blood that’s already turning purple and should be a nice shade of green or yellow in a few days. Maybe if I applied the hot dogs topically it would help. My mother’s put them on the table and is going over to get the frying pan out of the drying rack. I reach over, pull out a hot dog, and start rubbing it on my face.
My mother turns around and sees me doing this. Her eyes open wide. So does her mouth. I give her a smile and tell her, “I’m trying to get the blood to flow.”
She shakes her head. “Jane Harris, you are the most difficult child I ever heard of.”
I’m standing in the hallway. It’s after midnight. I have no idea how I got here. I went to sleep earlier, but here I am. I hear the sobs, just like the other night. The light isn’t on, but I can see the sobbing thing standing down the hallway past Donna’s door. It’s a child, a girl, maybe four, maybe five, in an old-fashioned dress. The left side of its face is bruised.
There’s something dreadful about her, but I find myself walking toward her, fearing her and feeling sorry for her at the same time. I try to stop, but I just walk on, until I’m standing right in front of her. I kneel down and raise up her face by putting my hand under her chin, so we’re looking eye to eye.
I cannot believe what I see. She’s me. She’s me when I was five.
This is unreal. I don’t want to see this, this thing that looks like me. I pull away and stand up. I want to get away from whatever this is, now. And it’s like I stood up too fast because I feel dizzy. I can’t feel my footing and my vision blurs. And then I realize something’s changed. The person in front of me is now taller than me. And I’m shorter. And I’m facing the wrong way.
I look down and see a dress. It’s an old-fashioned dress. Oh my god. I’m the kid now. No, no, no, no, no. I’m scared. I don’t even have Bunny with me. Mommy told me Bunny would keep me safe. And now I don’t have Bunny. I look up at the person in front of me. I hope it’s Mommy. But I’m scared. I can barely get out her name. “Mommy?”
The person picks me up. She holds me. It’s Mommy. And I smile and I look at her. And then I see it’s not Mommy. It’s a stranger. I almost get scared. She’s smiling at me. Maybe she’s my babysitter. She looks nice.
Blood suddenly pours out of her eyes and mouth. Her eyes turn into holes. I can see her teeth. She’s a skull. I try to get away. She’s too strong. She won’t let go. She’s hurting me. She’s bringing me nearer and nearer her face. I scream. I shout at her, “Let go of me. I’ll tell Mommy.”
A bony finger touches my lips. I try to scream again. I can’t open my mouth. The skull speaks to me. It says, “Why should I let go of you, Jane? I’m you, Jane. I’m what you’re going to become. You’re death, Jane. You’re death and you’re dead.”
Abruptly, I am standing alone in the hallway. I turn about, looking for the dead me, fearing to see it, but there’s nothing there. Nothing at all in the hallway. And I realize with a start that I’m me again, Jane Harris, fourteen. I’m not five-year-old me. I spin around again. There’s still no one and nothing else in the hallway.
I stand there, wondering just what happened to me. I don’t remember getting up and walking into the hallway. For a while there, I really seemed to be myself when I was five. And the strange girl who turned into a skull? That was me, even to my voice, just as I am now. Well, minus the rot.
You’re taking this all very calmly, aren’t you, Jane? Yes, well, that’s because I can’t make any sense of it. And besides, however terrified I was as a five-year-old, it all seems to have vanished the moment I became me again.
Nothing else makes any sense, so I just walk to where I thought I saw the sobbing thing that turned out to be me in an old-fashioned dress that I’ve never worn in my life. And I realize I was wrong. There is something here, on the floor. It’s just too dark to see. I reach down and pick it up. I don’t have to see it to know what it is. I can tell just from the feel of it, the shape of it. It’s an old stuffed toy of mine, that I lost several moves and years ago. It’s Bunny.
End of chapter five
(Woops! I was wrong. I thought at the end of the last chapter that Jane would keep the story going because she didn’t want us to think she just like was a scared little kid. Only this time she actually was a scared little kid. If she wets the bed in the next chapter, I am throwing in the towel.)