Short story from Bill Tope

Make Believe

i

“Clear a path,” cried Stacy, spreading wide her arms. “Here comes Shamu!” As if by magic, the students in the grade school corridor parted like the Red Sea. Lori, the object of this derision, gritted her teeth and said nothing. She walked past the taunting students, wincing in shame at each smirking face. Some of the children hooted or made other ugly animal sounds.

“Be careful what you say to Shamu,” cautioned Stacy. “She might morph into Carrie!” The girls giggled, and the boys guffawed. Lori passed out of their sight. Stacy smiled contentedly.

ii

“Students,” said Ms. Black, the fifth grade teacher, “today we’re going to get your vital statistics.” The children stared back at her blankly, perplexed.

“I mean,” Ms. Black went on, “that I’m going to measure your height and get your weight.” Lori had a sinking feeling. First, the teacher measured their heights, and that went off without incident, but then came the weighing. The children lined up before the physician’s scales, each taking their turn to step onto the platform while Ms. Black balanced the weights. At length, last in line, Lori stepped on the scale and Stacy didn’t remain idle.

“Hey, Shamu, don’t break the scale,” she barked. Several children chuckled. Lori felt her cheeks burn.

“That’s not polite, Stacy,” scolded Ms. Black. “I mean, how would you like it if…?”

“If I were fat?” Stacy finished the teacher’s sentence.

“Now, that’s enough, students!” Ms. Black spread the guilt over the entire class, inasmuch as Stacy Shelton was the daughter of Bruce Shelton, the superintendent of schools. That made him Ms. Black’s boss. He was known to dote on his daughter. None of the teachers were eager to get her in their class.

As Black maneuvered the weights on the scale, Stacy remarked, “They’ve got a special scale down at the stockyards.” The children erupted in gales of laughter. Even Ms. Black, in spite of herself, chuckled into her fist, then tried to hide it. Lori felt her betrayal keenly.

                                                         iii

At noon, the children scattered for lunch. Although it was a closed campus, Lori ran home, tears of humiliation streaking her eyes. When she arrived, she crept silently through the house and into her father’s den, where she found the gun cabinet, unlocked as usual. Lifting out a heavy, ugly black pistol, she then rummaged through the ammo drawer and extracted a box of bullets she knew would fit the handgun. Her father had instructed her on how to handle firearms safely.

Arriving back in class before the lunchroom let out, Lori sat silently in her seat in the back of the classroom. Students were assigned their seats alphabetically, and Lori felt lucky to be situated in the rear, where she’d garner less notice. Stacy’s keen eye and needling voice always seemed to find her, however. The gun sat hidden under the folds of Lori’s billowing dress.

iv

Finally, students began filing back into the classroom. Stacy, as per usual, was last to enter, making a spectacular entrance, of course, arriving as if onto a stage. The other girls giggled in appreciation. No one dared cross the girl. Lori frowned darkly. She hated that girl! When class commenced, Ms. Black instructed the students in social studies until two o’clock, at which time the children exited the school for the final recess. Lori remained in her seat, the gun cold against her thigh. When class reconvened, Ms. Black told the students there would be a test of their ability to write creative fiction. Pencils were turned up, and blank sheets of paper were passed out. Lori bent to her work, and SNAP! Her pencil broke cleanly in two; she had been pressing on it so hard, in frustration, that she ruined it. That was Lori’s last pencil. She looked up; the teacher had left the room, probably to take another smoke. Everyone else was busily scribbling on their own sheets; besides, no one would help the fat kid. Lori sighed. Then she thought: maybe this is the time to make her move. What did she have to lose?”

Stacy, observing what had transpired with Lori, turned to the girl and said, “Wanna borrow a pencil?” At first, Lori expected her to snatch the pencil out of her reach and taunt her some more. But no. Stacy was serious, and Lori accepted the small token of kindness.

“Thanks,” murmured Lori.

“Sure,” acknowledged the other girl, at last taking pity on her nemesis.

v

By the time Ms. Black collected the papers, the final bell rang, indicating it was time to leave for the day. Soon the classroom was deserted, except for the teacher. Ms. Black rifled through the thirty completed essays and began correcting and grading them. When she came to the last essay, her mouth fell open in surprise. She sat up straight in her chair and murmured, “Oh, my God!”

Here’s what the final essay said:

I almost killed a girl today. She made fun of me one time too many, and I had a gun, and I was going to shoot her dead. My dad taught me how to shoot, and I’m a good shot. But she let me use her pencil when mine broke, so for now she gets to live. This is, naturally, only make-believe fiction, as Ms. Black said.

Lori Belzer

5th Grade

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