By Amanda Pearson
Gum stretched across the seat I was in as girls around me chattered about school. A fading fart filled the bus with a stale stink, and the girls made gagging noises, pinching their noses and waving their hands through the air. A sudden jolt reminded me that it was my stop and I made my way up the aisle, following a girl who was a year older.
When the bus slowly pulled away, she and I stood in silence, watching the wheels kick up rocks. Dirt found its way between my toes and rubbed against my little toe as I began walking. I looked over my shoulder to see the older girl drop her book bag to the ground and stoop over the gravel road. She started to tunnel through the shallow dirt with her fingers as she picked up rocks and examined them, sticking a few into her pocket.
The houses in the neighborhood were close, and she had lived two houses away for four years. The day I saw her picking rocks was also the day I saw her in the cul-de-sac throwing the pebbles at crows that filled an empty lot. I watched from my window as she pulled out rocks, one by one, and threw them across the road at the birds. She watched the sky as they flew away and spread her own arms as if longing to follow them.
After school got out that year, I spent my summer watching her. She turned eighteen and celebrated by cutting off her long black hair. Some boys watched her as she returned home on a rusty yellow bike with hair shorter than their own, a long cigarette tucked in front of her short curls. This cigarette remained on her ear all summer long. It seemed to play the role of a bobby pin, holding back one rogue, chopped strand. She sat on a plastic chair all summer, and I could see from my front lawn that the blue and white strips that held her up were beginning to form to her body as she reclined with a book in one hand and the cigarette behind her left ear.
Her life was a pattern but I saw her do many things just once. The first weekend in July, I saw her smell her book. She lifted the book slowly to her face and, only for a second, held it there with her nose in the spine and her fingers on her cigarette. After that day, I watched to see how many other pages would touch her nose, but none did.
By the end of the summer the cigarette was old and wilting. The day before school started again, I sat in my window watching her. Night started to fall around her and her growing hair. The cigarette fell to the ground as she watched the birds across the street flutter across the exposed limbs of a house that had not yet been completed. She bent to pick up the cigarette but never looked away from the birds. She put the cigarette in her mouth and lit the end.
I only saw two clouds of smoke before she started to kick the dirt with bare feet. She leaned over once again. This time fully consumed by the ground and placing the butt of the cigarette in a shallow grave that she covered with a fresh pile of dirt.
For homecoming we had a week of stupid dress up days. For “Dress Like Your Favorite Historical Character” day, she wore a black top hat that had burn marks along the rim.
“The bells, bells, bells, bells,” she said. She continued to walk down the hall, reciting the lines.
She walked through the halls, repeating the words. I followed. I was awestruck by the lines as she quoted them from a poem everyone was forced to read in tenth grade. But she was a senior and had heard plenty of poetry written by the deceased since then. These lines were simple, and she said them in time with the bells that rang out through the halls to signal another meaningless hour.
Students fled, dashing into the nearest classroom in attempts to find their seats. She walked slowly through the halls after the warning bell chirped tardiness. “To the moaning and the groaning of the bells,” she said, walking to a door.
The last bell chimed.
I stood in the abandoned hallway, staring at the door and listening to her voice in my head as she repeated the simple lines written by Edgar.
I sat in study hall writing a paper. As my hand started to cramp, I looked around the room. An old bookshelf lined one wall with spineless and tattered books. They looked forgotten, and one book started to slouch as I watched until it lay flat on the shelf.
Other students stared into the mold-colored carpet. It was easy to get lost within the maze of yellow flecks that littered the floor. She sat two seats to my right at a desk that was black from all of the conversations and pictures that were doodled over the once-tan top. She sat erasing something, and her hand soon became smudged with the old conversations as they lifted off the desk.
Her pencil jumped between her right and left hand. She wrote one word with her right, then the next with her left. Soon she gave up on the desk and started writing this way on the back of her frayed notebook. The cover matched the desk, the once-red cover hidden somewhere below a year’s worth of drawings and words.
I noticed that she wrote well with her right hand. Her pencil flew across the page as I tried to make out what she was writing from my vantage point. Whatever it was, it curved across the cover never stopping, one endless motion.
As she switched to her left hand, the markings became more forced. The sweet curls turned into jagged wiggles. She was right-handed. It was clear from two desks away. But she continued to write with her left hand.
Amanda Pearson graduates from BSU this spring and plans to move closer to her dogs Lucy, Linus, and Xander. She will continue writing and pursue an MFA degree at Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine.