Take My Test
short story, fiction
Her stomach rumbled. At her desk, Stacy shifted, holding her middle, trying to mask the noise, but when she moved, the groans inside of her only became louder, turning into a sleepy, constant growl. For a moment, she wondered if the sounds would break a rib. She reached up, each hand gripping a blond braid, and she gave them a gentle tug. Her stomach churned, and she cleared her throat, hoping to hide the acidity inside.
She looked at the clock. In about five minutes, the bell would ring. She watched the second hand tick, tick, and then her eyes darted down to the blank paper on the desk in front of her. She glanced at the boy to her right. Will. Repeatedly, she blinked. When her gut was loud, she didn't sleep much.
With saucer-like, big, brown eyes, Will stared back. What? he mouthed at her. An early riser, he was tall for fifth grade. What’s wrong? You look like a sad dog.
Nothing, Stacy mouthed back, looking down at the blurry maze of unanswered math problems. Her stomach raged on, and she hugged herself, moving her small hips side to side in the hard chair, nearly slipping out of it. She leaned toward him. Ever so quietly, she whispered, I’m no dog, dummy.
Your face looks like my puppy though. Didn't you study any? Will wrote on the side of his desk.
Yes, LOTS, Stacy wrote on the edge of a small, spiral notebook. Mom made me.
You sick? he wrote back, blinking his long, dark lashes, then sniffling. Man, I am.
NO, she wrote in bubble, block letters. She thought about Pop Tarts. Strawberry. Hungry, see.
Yer gonna flunk, Will etched into the wooden surface of his desk. It wasn't hard. It wasn't hard at all, and he was happy about this.
Aren't you worried about your desk? Stacy wrote, and her body jerked when her pen sank into the hole of the spiral. She pulled it out, fixing the accident.
Shrugging, Will looked down, studying his graffiti. Then he reached for a small, black book, writing, I like your braids. No breakfast for you? Lucky Charms rock, don’t they?
Stacy wrote, They do. I like the purple horseshoes.
Will scribbled, You didn’t have anything?
Stacy shook her head. With the pen, she dug into the paper. There wasn't enough.
Will nodded, staring down his long nose, studying her. He mouthed, I get it.
The bell rang.
"Okay, everyone, time to turn the tests in. Bring them on up," the teacher, Miss Markistan, announced in a cheery, light voice.
Will handed his test to Stacy, whispering, "Here, take my test. I didn’t even put my name on it yet. I always do that last. Some kind of superstitious thing. Take it. Put your name on it, turn it in. She won't be able to tell the handwriting's wrong. It's just numbers. And I think I got most of them right too." Grinning, he nodded at her. "It's all right."
Miss Markistan yelled, "Come on now, enough of this chatter! Let's turn them in, folks."
"But what will you do?" Stacy asked Will, taking the test from him, sliding the blank one into her book bag.
Will shrugged, licking his lips. "Hm…well…I'll tell her I'm sick, or I’ll tell her that when she passed out the tests she forgot me, or I’ll kill her, I dunno. Hey, Stacy, just so you know, I think you're like some kind of movie star. You are, aren’t you? You’re special, like the purple horseshoe. Hey, your eyes are so blue, they actually look purple, it’s weird.”
Stacy smiled, looking down. She hooked her book bag on her shoulders, feeling her stomach, feeling the growl. Then she glanced back up at Will and said, "I think you're like one of those guys who wears hats and shoots guns...yeah...a gangster. My brother makes me watch those movies. I mean, I like them, but he makes me."
"A gangster, I like that," Will said, smiling wide, puffing out his small chest.
"Will! Stacy! Turn in your tests or you’ll be late for Science, and no one wants to be late for Mr. Usher. You know he'll make you sit next to the snake," Miss Markistan shouted.
"Yes, Miss Markistan," Will and Stacy said in unison.
Swinging her braids, Stacy turned and walked to the front of the room, moving lightly, like she always did, like a newly violet butterfly.
Whistling, hand on the side of his corduroys, Will followed close behind.
Lightheaded, hanging on to the chalkboard, Stacy turned in her test.
"Finally! Now have a good day, you two troublemakers," Miss Markistan said, shaking her head.
Will approached Miss Markistan – sizing up her round face, her thick smile, and her body mass -- her height and her curves. The possible weight of it. He opened his hands, showing white, empty palms.
"Where’s your test?" Miss Markistan asked him, hands planted on her wide hips. “That’s not like you to be difficult. You’re usually such a good kid.”
From the door, Stacy glanced back at Will with bloodshot, round eyes. She ran a hand across her middle, feeling the life there. The life. She knew it was only one hour until lunch. She could make it.
Will sniffled. Maybe he’d keep quiet, say nothing. No, the sickness story might work. And then he thought about the hunting knife taped to his leg. The week before, he’d taken it from his Dad’s dresser drawer, just in case there was some enemy out there, some enemy like Dad or Miss Markistan. Will hadn’t used it yet, but he liked knowing it was there. Like Stacy, his stomach rumbled some too. Only one hour until lunch. If he breathed slowly, the pangs weren't as harsh, and he knew his house wasn’t as bad as Stacy’s. He’d heard.
"The test, the test," Miss Markistan asked, raising her voice.
Will glanced down, studying the smooth, grey floor. For sure, Stacy was like some kind of movie star. He wasn't sure about much in fifth grade, but he was sure that Stacy was like a movie star. Nobody had purple eyes like that. Nobody but her. He stared up at Miss Markistan, his brown eyes peering intently into her hazel ones. He stood as tall as he could and muttered, "When you passed out the tests, there weren't enough.” Suddenly, he was empty-handed and fearless. He was a boxer, a pit bull, a monster from the deep. Like Jaws. He was a man.
Startled, Miss Markistan said, “It’s just not like you. You’re such a good kid.” Then she shook her head and asked, “What’s that sticking out of your pants leg?” She grabbed Will by the arm, and then she reached down, lifted the cuff of his corduroys, pulled at the tattered pants leg, and ripped at the tape hard and fast, scratching at it, tearing off half of Will's sock and some of his skin. Revealing the knife, she studied the dried blood on the serrated edge, and then she backed away from him, holding up the weapon. “Oh my god,” she said. “Where did you get this?”
Looking at the doorway, Will smiled over at Stacy.
Stacy mouthed, You're a gangster, before she disappeared out the door, heading to Science.
Still gripping the knife, Miss Markistan dragged Will down the hall toward the Principal's office.
Will had never felt so full.
-- C.A. MacConnell