This piece of fiction was in response to an assessment in my first year for Writing Craft: Place as an Encounter. I received one of the highest marks I’ve had so far for it: 86% – a high distinction. It’s inspired by the recent demolition of my former high school.
Insults rained like spitballs, aimed with precision to sting and humiliate. I don’t even know why I cared about their opinions, but that’s easy to say in retrospect, I suppose. Each hurtful word echoed in my head, matching the clatter of my footsteps as I roamed the not-so-hallowed halls, wishing I’d worn my old tennis shoes.
The grey speckled linoleum under my feet was cracked and peeling at the edges, the walls marked with sticky tape residue and the talentless tagging of teenage vandals. Here and there a window was broken, the stray slivers of glass still scattered across the floor. Just getting from one end of the hall to the other was like traversing a minefield.
The green door to the right was familiar. Glancing through the window pane I recognized Mr. Coffee’s old science lab, looking lonely and forlorn without its cabinets full of Earlemeyer flasks and test tubes. They may have been packed and removed, but I was willing to bet at least some had been stolen by kids looking to start their own meth lab, like on Breaking Bad. One of the glass sliding doors on the equipment cabinet across the room had been smashed. I shook my head, chuckled to myself and moved on. Kids!
My next stop was the art and science storage room, the scene of many a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven or a sneaky cigarette break. Someone – usually me, because I could never draw back properly without launching into a coughing fit – would stand guard outside the door, ready to give the signal if a teacher approached. Smokes would hastily be butted out and disposed of in old margarine containers or paint-stained glass jars.
Impulse would be sprayed around hastily to hide the smell, and the offenders would emerge, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.
But I remembered that room mostly because it was the scene of my very first kiss, at the age of fourteen. It was supposed to have been a good memory, or so I was led to believe, but like so many others in this God-forsaken place, it was tainted.
Pushed through the door by my so-called friends, their laughter at my back, I was face-to-face with the boy version of me – a sickly looking kid whose thin frame even I could have snapped in half, if I had a mind to.
‘We don’t have to kiss, do we?’ he had asked, and I remember feeling more than mildly offended, which was odd, since I could barely remember his name. Sean? Simon? It was something along those lines. I went immediately on the defensive.
‘What makes you think I want to kiss you, either?’ I’d snapped.
His face fell. ‘I didn’t mean it like that.’
‘Well how else could you mean it?’
‘I just meant… I’ve never kissed a girl before. I’m kind of freaking out, if you must know.’
‘Well, me too,’ I admitted. ‘So, do you want to just get this over with, or what?’
Sean – it was Sean, after all – shrugged, feigning nonchalance even as his teeth chattered. ‘Yeah. Okay. Whatever.’
Not-so-long story short, the kiss was wet and awkward, Sean was claustrophobic, and when he realized we’d been locked in, he raised merry hell, banging on the door until it burst open and he fell at the feet of none other than Lisa, the most popular girl in our year level, and the bane of my existence. Naturally.
‘Wow, you must have been a lousy kisser,’ Lisa chortled. ‘Lover Boy here can’t wait to get away from you.’
Sighing, I shook the scene from my memory bank and forged on.
A quick wander through B-block – which housed the principal’s office, reception, sick bay and library – evoked a fresh set of memories, both good and bad. Mostly I just felt a tinge of sadness that the bookshelves I used to hide between were gone, along with the stories that helped me escape real life. It was the only part of the school in which I ever truly felt I belonged.
Moving on, I found myself pushing aside feelings of dread and inadequacy along with the heavy double doors of the cavernous gymnasium. A basketball court stood between me and the stage at the far end.
…and on that court stood Lisa, again, flanked by her two best friends. Just like old times.
‘Catch,’ she said.
I threw up my hands to protect my glasses, and then flinched. I don’t even wear glasses anymore! Was I finally losing it?
Lisa and her minions laughed. She leaned forward and picked up the basketball, which had rolled back to her like an obedient dog.
I seethed. I might have been a pushover back then, but these days, I was damned if I was going to be humiliated by a mere memory!
‘I don’t know why you’re looking so proud of yourself,’ I hit back. ‘You didn’t exactly cover yourself in glory after high school did you?’
The smirk turned upside down.
‘Yeah, I heard the rumors. You slept with your boss. Got busted for drugs. And now you’re doing community service, picking up rubbish in the park.’
The strangest thing happened. As I watched, wrinkles appeared around her eyes. Her hair was suddenly shorter, shot with grey; her figure wider and frumpier, and the yellow t-shirt and netball skirt were replaced by a green jumpsuit. The basketball, like Cinderella’s pumpkin, had turned into a large garbage bag. She wore oversized rubber gloves on her hands.
I smiled, serenely. ‘Ain’t karma a bitch?’
‘Who are you talking to?’
I whirled around, to find my assistant staring at me as if I was an exhibit at the zoo. ‘What?’
He held out a clipboard. ‘Everything’s ready to go, Boss. You just have to sign off.’
I risked a glance over my shoulder. Lisa’s ghost was gone. So were her minions. With any luck, so was their legacy. It was twenty years too late, but at last I’d stood up to them…after a fashion.
Wincing from the embarrassment of being caught talking to myself, I took the clipboard and added my signature to the consent form. ‘It’s all empty,’ I told him. ‘We’re good to go.’
‘We’d better get out of here, then,’ he said, and I followed him outside, to a safe distance beyond the bulldozers and bobcats. Tipping my hard hat forward on my head, I lifted my whistle, and watched as the high school I hated so fiercely for so many years was reduced to rubble.