Set Play!

“Make way, make way! The star is coming through!” The broad shouldered youth bruised his way through the crowd of his peers, huddled in clusters back stage in the auditorium at their school.

“Pfft, I don’t know where he gets off.” One child thought, scowling. “All his brains are in his shoulders. That’s why he’s so short.” 

It was true. Jamal was the shortest boy in all the class, but that never slowed him down (except in gym class. It’s hard to run fast when your legs are only an inch long). He never acknowledged his shortness; seemed entirely oblivious to the fact quite honestly, but subconsciously it pushed him all the more to strive for achievement. Which he did.

“Miss Greece, Miss Greece,” Jamal said, occupying the teacher in charge of the annual school play (whose opening night it just so happened to be). “I will be the tree in the front, right?” He said confidently, hands on hips.

“Yes, you will.” Miss Greece turned from her clip board, passion ablaze in her eyes. “You’ve worked very hard to get here, it is only right you should be rewarded. You will be center stage, a grand sage of wisdom whose branches reach into the very heavens!” They exchanged a quick handshake known only to them (the results of many late night rehearsals) before Jamal strutted away to makeup.

“Honestly, he doesn’t even have lines…” Another child thought, overhearing the conversation. “What’s the big deal?” 

A little bit away sat Darrel on the floor, seemingly without a care in the world. “Darrel,” Miss Greece approached the boy. “I know you’re nervous, I can see it in your eyes. This is a big night for you. This is opening night. Your big debut as a leading man. The audience will be watching your every move, listening to every syllable. But I have the utmost confidence in you. Is that a mouse?”

“Yes,” Darrel held up his pet mouse, whom he’d been petting quite contently. “His name is Jasper, on account of my favorite band. Wanna pet him?” Darrel. Indeed, leading man material. Average in regards to height and weight, he stood a few inches taller than his classmates owning to his well maintained fohawk. He was quite unique in many ways but very much liked, the result of a wonderful house and home with his grandmother, whom he and Jasper adored very much.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t time for petting Jasper.” Miss Greece said. “Hurry into costume! Everyone hurry! Time is ticking!” 

“I have to admit: I feel a bit silly.” One girl commented to another, gesturing to her sequence tulle.

“Alright class. This is it.” Miss Greece began, gathering the children to her. “All your hard work this past week, no, your entire lives, has lead to this very moment. I want you to know, regardless of what happens out there, I’m proud of every single one of you, and I only hope! you’ll look back on this night the same way I will: with pride and a sense of victory. Now, are you ready you fools?”

“What’s this play even about?” One child asked no one in particular.

“Beats me.” The girl next to him replied, shrugging.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the announcer began. “Please welcome this year’s fifth grade class, lead by Miss Greece, and their production—”

You Can’t Pick Your Family (Based On A True Story)

“Listen Alley,” Wendy tried to sound stern as she straightened her sister’s shirt collar. “Mom had to work really hard to get us into our new school, so don’t screw this up. I’m not changing schools again because you can’t control your attitude.”

“That teacher was asking for it.” Alley pouted.

“And what about the school before that? Do all teachers deserve black eyes?” Alley raised her eyebrows, wondering if an answer was really asked for.

Wendy struggled with life ─ which is to say she struggled with the people in her life. Namely her younger sister, who had a knack for finding trouble where none existed. Thirty detentions, five suspensions, two expulsions, and one assault charge (later dropped) tickled just the tip of the iceberg. “When you get in trouble I get in trouble.” Wendy said. “This is a private school, which means they have even stricter rules than public ones. Just try to behave, ok?”

“What for?”

“For sanity’s sake.” Wendy snapped. “If you last a week without fighting anyone I’ll give you my ice cream money.”

“Deal.” Alley nodded soundly. Shaking hands they departed their room for the kitchen in search of their mother for their ride to school. Unfortunately due to their mom’s infatuation with the “bonafied” garbage man, who always seemed to visit every week for an extended period of time, the sisters arrived late.

Rushing into the building their mom hustled them to the principal’s office. Formalities where quickly swept aside and Wendy waved down the hall as Alley was led in a different direction to a different class. She hoped and prayed for an uneventful first day.

By lunch Wendy had a favorite everything picked out. Her favorite teacher, her favorite subject, her favorite kid she sat next to. She looked around the lunch room and allowed her usual a-little-too-manic-mature self a sigh of relief. Maybe she’d finally found a place she could settle and grow some roots.

A ruckus over her shoulder drew her attention. There it was. The principal she’d only met that morning and who she judged to be a relative stand-up guy clutched her sister’s shirt as she struggled to run away and pummel anyone within arm’s reach at the same time.

He yelled, she yelled back. Wendy sat too dejected to move as the students around her rushed to the scene. She was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her sister swinging around and socking the principle right between the eyes, knocking his glasses clean off his nose, before heads blocked her view. Calmly, fighting tears of frustration, Wendy stood and threw her lunch away before heading to the office. Goodbye favorite everything.

By the time their mother was on speaker phone Alley had calmed down and the principal had on a spare pair of glasses. “Miss, I’m sorry, but we cannot have someone with your daughter’s behavior at our school. With her record it was a miracle we even let her in,” he trailed off, glaring across the desk at the young girl. Alley stuck her tongue out. The conversation went on a bit longer but the outcome was unavoidable.         

Their mom made them walk home as punishment. “I am never giving you money for ice cream. Ever.” Wendy cursed her luck for having a sister such as Alley.

“Could be worse,” she argued. “Mom could always marry that garbage man she’s in love with.”

Wendy had to agree. Thank god that would never happen. (The official dating between Mother and the garbage man began about a month later. Marriage followed shortly after.)

Show and Tell Pt. 2

The walk to the principal’s office was the longest walk Matt had ever taken. His teacher’s heels echoes in the halls of his school as she dragged him behind her. He could tell she couldn’t quite decide what to do with what he’d brought to show and tell that day. One step she held it loosely at her side, the next she tucked it under her arm, the next she made to hand it back to Matt only to snatch it back against her chest in fear.

“Marissa?” Matt recognized his math teacher. His expression at the scene hurrying past any other time would have Matt smiling. 

“Not now Randal.” His teacher moved even faster to the point that Matt had trouble keeping his feet on the ground.

Entering the main office, Matt’s teacher rushed to the secretary. “I need to see the principal. It is very important.” She stressed.

“I think he’s on the phone at the moment. What’s the emergency?”

She held up the bag. The woman behind the desk narrowed her eyes. “Is that…?”

Matt’s teacher nodded. “I’ll go get him,” The receptionist pulled herself up from her chair and flew across the room, not pausing for the courtesy of knocking before entering the Big Man’s office. That’s how the teachers described him. “You best behave before I send you to the Big Man!” They always threatened. Matt had never been sent to the office once until now.  

Voices could be heard from behind the door. Matt’s face flushed. Was he really doing the right thing? He knew what he had was a deal, he just didn’t know how big. He felt a hand rest on his shoulder. His teacher smiled down on him. “It’s going to be ok,” She said. “We’ll take care of you.”  

Matt felt bad for putting her in this position, using her really, but he hadn’t seen any other choice. He wanted to smile back, but before he could move the secretary reemerged and ushered them inside.

Behind a faux expensive desk sat the principal. He was a grave man who looked particularly dead today. The room looked somber and dim, the lights themselves hiding from the coming conversation.

His teacher sat him down in one of two chairs. She sat down next to him, then sprung back up to awkwardly set the package she still held on the desk.

The principal looked at the bag with awe. He hadn’t believed what the secretary had told him at first and even now needed confirmation. He looked across the table at the only woman in the room. She didn’t say a thing.

Breathing exaggeratedly the principal rubbed his legs and folded his hands together. “This is an… unusual situation to say the least. Matt,”

Matt was not feeling ashamed except that he was disappointed he was here. His father had let him down, no two ways about it. But he could set things straight, could right the wrong. For that he knew he had had to be strong, so he steadied his gaze and sat up straight.   

“Matt, do you know what this is?” Matt nodded. “Where did you get this?”

The moment of truth, no pun intended. Matt didn’t know all the consequences of his actions or what his future, no, even tomorrow would hold for him. Matt saw his father as he used to be. It hurt; Matt understood that things would never, ever, be the same. They would never be able to return to what they used to be. It wasn’t fair, but it was the way it was.

“It’s my dad’s. I found it in our basement.” 

His teacher reached over and squeezed his shoulder. The swallowed and picked up his phone to make a call.

I’m sorry daddy, but I don’t know what else to do.

Show and Tell

I’m sorry daddy, but I don’t know what else to do.

Matt didn’t lead a difficult life. He’d never known his mother, but then again that could be said for most around him. All he had when not in school, in limbo between days, was his father. At first it had been good. At first he had been a good father, working a stiff eight to six Monday through Friday in order to provide. To provide was all he knew how to do.

So when things changed, and really you can’t prevent it nor stop it when it happens, Matt had little thought about what to do. By all statistics and stereotypes he should have been the one. The one to start missing work. The one to start staying out late at night. The one to get moody.

So when his father left one night, without a word or sound, Matt went exploring. His father had been spending long hours in the basement lately he knew. Matt found the door easily enough and tried the handle. Even in his current state Matt’s father was smarter than that. The door was locked. Getting down on hands and knees Matt craned his eyes under the sliver of a crack between the wooden floor and door. A dim light helped reveal the situation little. He could just make out the feet of tables and chairs against the far wall. Try as he might, moving his face this way and that, pressing it up against the edge of the door until it left an imprint on his forehead, he could see nothing of much use. Matt sighed and took at deep breath. There was something there. It was faint but very distinct. Matt heard the front door open. Rushed, he bolted back into the living room where cartoons were the night’s entertainment for him.    

His father was back but still didn’t say anything. Matt missed the nights they would sit and watch cartoons together. He couldn’t help but wonder what his mother would do if she were here. It didn’t take much to know she’d left, abandoned is how most people worded it. Still, what would she do?

Matt knew what he had to do. His father was his father, but that didn’t make him perfect. Matt kept watch, waiting for the best moment. A mere week later it came. His father left every night now, hardly speaking a word when home. Every night Matt checked the door. One night his father made the fatal mistake of not checking twice.

Matt heard the initial click and stopped. Swallowing his fear, he turned the knob the rest of the way and swung the door open. It wasn’t an impressive sight. Most home made equipment, the dim light still illuminating. The more he explored the more his heart stopped beating. Matt was not an overly smart kid, his age prohibiting him the most at this point, but nor was he stupid. He knew what he looked at for what it was. He knew with the utmost certainty.

The next day just so happened to be show and tell at his school. Normally Matt did not participate, having nothing he wished to show and tell about. Not today. With gravity he carried his backpack into school past teachers and peers. In class the minutes passed by. He watched the clock religiously. Finally his teacher called for it. All the students grabbed their objects and headed to the back of the room. Solemnly Matt clutched his backpack and sat between two others, one with a teddy bear, the other with a watch. Round Robin it went until attention settled on Matt, his teacher having noticed how he held his pack this time.

No turning back now. Matt stood and pulled what he’d stolen from his father out between a pair of zipper teeth. “This is my dads,” He said. His peers looked curiously on as his teacher’s jaw dropped. He guessed a few moments later her shock wore off as she jetted across the room and grabbed his shoulder. “Where did you get this?” She whispered anxiously. Without much chance to answer she dragged him out of the room.

Yes, no turning back now. 



I opened my locker to find soap covered every inch. A glob rolled out and fell to my feet. My books, my papers, my personal belongings, all ruined. I sighed and closed the door with a click. I would have to explain why I didn’t have my supplies to my teacher.

Walking down the hallway of my school I felt eyes judge my every step. I kept my head down best I could but it did little to protect me.  

Oh God. Here he comes, walking down the hall towards me. Erik. Easily classified as the school bully. I prayed for the ground to turn into quick sand and, with each step, swallow me up whole. Anything would be better than what was sure to come next. Erik had that look in his eyes and that smile on his lips. I dipped my head lower, trying to hide. Nothing doing. Erik walked right up to me, uninhibited.

                “What’s up loser?” I heard before I felt the shove. I’d adapted by now to twisting my body just enough to catch myself before my head hit the ground. Where was a teacher when you needed one? I stayed down and averted my eyes. If you look them in the eyes it only conveys defiance and aggression, both of which Erik hated in everyone except himself.

Erik walked over to me and knelt close to my ear. “How are you doing today?” He asked, turning his head this way and that. He looked a bit like a parrot to me but I dared not laugh. “That mp3 I saw you with the other day was nice. I took the liberty of saving it before I have your locker a bath. It really needed it.” He held his nose in disgust and stood up.

There were others in the hall. But no one stooped so low as to help. I hoped it would be over soon. With Erik you never knew. Some days it could be as little as a point and snicker, other days an hour of physical torture.

Out of the corner of my eye I watched Erik’s shoes slowly pace back and forth, probably deciding whether or not he was done. Unexpectedly they turned to the side and stopped moving. The hall had been quite before, but now it was silent. No one seemed to move. Curiosity got the better of my fear. I looked up and my mouth dropped open.

I instantly recognized the boy who had a hold of Erik’s collar as Skyler. He was just another boy in the school, just like everyone else. So what was he doing?            

“What do you think you’re doing?” Erik mirrored my thoughts. He looked level headed enough, but his eyes had changed. They looked dangerous. As far back as I could remember no one had stood up to Erik. No one.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Skyler retorted. He wasn’t smiling either.

“You better watch it or you’re gonna get hurt,” Erik threatened. Skyler’s grip tightened.

“By who? You? Or one, two, or five of your friends?” Everyone else looked scared an actual fight would break out between the two. Me, I kinda wanted the two to fight. “Let me let you in on a little secret, k? Everyone’s sick of you and your attitude. Yeah, you’re such a grand guy. All that you’ve accomplished, I’d like to see you brag about that. Only, what’s this? It looks like your running out of friends willing to put up with you.”

Erik peeked to the side. No one looked like they wanted in on the conversation. In fact I could have sworn I saw a few shrink back at the very suggestion. Then Erik looked at me. Actually looked down on me still on the ground where he’d shoved me. I looked back, hardly believing what was happening.

“You’re so busy looking down on everyone that you haven’t noticed there is no one below you. Everyone’s already moved on and is looking down on you.” Skyler let go of Erik with a jerk. He stumbled backward against a locker causing a loud crash. In response the bell rang for the next class to start. Like clockwork everyone awoke from their trance and went on their way as if nothing had happened.

Erik straightened his shirt with as much dignity as possible and walked away with the others. Only Skyler and I remained in the deserted hallway. I looked at him but he only stared ahead. Without a word he turned to walk away. I felt I should say something but could think of nothing. Not even a simple “thank you” was exchanged.

I continued to see both Skyler and Erik almost every day for the next few years. An interaction between any of us happened never again. Honestly I preferred it that way. Not having Erik stealing my things anymore was nice, but I didn’t see Skyler as my knight in shining armor. I didn’t feel anymore attached or attracted to him than any other student. To this day I don’t believe what he did he did for me. I believe he was doing it out of sheer selfishness. Everyone was sick of Erik and the way he treated those around him. But the difference between Skyler and everyone, the difference between Skyler and me, was simply that he had a shorter temper.