They’re supposed to be by your side all the time not behind your back. Who are they? Are they as disposable as a piece of Kleenex? Easily washed away with a bit of Clorox? Do they have an expiration date? Suppose we were all at a spelling bee.
Announcer: Spell friend.
Girl: May I have the definition please?
Announcer: Friend, a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affections, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.
Girl: Friend, F-R-I-E-N-D, friend.
Announcer: That is correct.
And the crowd goes wild; she’s done it again. She’s spelt her way to become the national spelling bee champion.
Good for her. One word made her the national spelling bee champion but that one word had no meaning in that time or place. What if the jitters made her stumble and forget the “r.” It would’ve become F-I-E-N-D. Fiend. One letter away from friend. In the real world, outside the spelling bee auditorium, it’s not as black and white. It could be a friend, or a fiend, a fiendish friend, or a friendly fiend. As comfortable as it would be to be omniscient, we are human. Webbed together by the words, blind to the meaning.
Words that identify people have lost their meaning but the utterance might mean something to others. Jessica. Not the Alba, or the Biel, or the Lange, or, although it might crush some of your dreams, or the Simpson. Yes, a girl in all respect, but not as innocent as ignorance might report. Although world domination was not on her agenda, Jessica had many of the characteristics of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond’s arch nemesis. The cunning. The manipulation. Evil. Although she was not as brilliant as Professor Moriarty, she was just as convincing as the stray cat, who always makes sure he leaves fuller than he came. Her persuasion was as sharp as the knife she used to stab you in the back, as sharp as the pain that never goes away, and as sharp as the truth that slaps you in the face as you wake up from that dream.
We were friends. At least, I had a dream that we were friends. We had shared each other’s beds, put make-up on each other’s faces, and of course, we would be each other’s counterparts in a prank call. I would say, “Hello, you seem to have ordered a bra from our store but the payment has not been made.” The victim would reply, “What?
“Would you like to speak to the manager, sir?”
“Yes, I think there’s been a mistake.”
Jessica would come on with her British accent: “Yea, here’s the manager. What seems to be the problem, sir?
“Hello? Hello? Is there anybody there?”
At which point, would cue the crumpling of the potato chip bag and making wooshing sounds before we hung up. Those were the days with Star 67. And before a chilly autumn evening, we were the best of pals, cheery old chums. We had been together so long it was as if she were a part of me. Then one day, I lost that part of me. She had cut herself away from me with a butcher knife. She sliced away our memories together like the head of a cow. She left me hanging naked in the freezer room of a meat shop with all my skin ripped off, thinking what was there before that used to shelter me, and waiting to be eaten by the cold world. That day, I stared in the eyes of evil, a small girl whose greatest weapon was surprise.
As usual, the day rolled on with a schoolbag on its back. When lunchtime came, a new meaning filled everybody’s lives: getting the skinny on the best deserts, establishing a trading negotiation, and debating with colleagues what species Mrs. Herman was. Everyone was separated by circular tables and a hierarchy. Different grades dominated different areas but causing turmoil in other areas was always an option. Jessica and I were sitting at our table talking about God knows what. I thought I was sitting on a circular table but of course I was strapped into a rollercoaster as the wheels of fate slowly clicked against the rails up the slope. Click. Click. Click. Click.
If you had told me beware of oranges that morning, I would’ve laughed in your face. Maybe if it came as a fortune cookie, I might take heart to it but I received no warnings that day. So, Jessica had received her amazingly appetizing lunch tray from the ladies of the order Hairnets. She had begun devouring different sections of the lunch tray as we both spoke to each other. Until she came to the final section of her lunch tray. An orange. It looked like a normal orange. Orange in color. Orange in name. A bit stout but all and all, an orange. She picked it up and put it down.
To her actions, she replied, “Yuck, it’s squishy.”
I retorted, “Throw it out then.”
I admit, I was a bit harsh but nothing too cruel. She abruptly stood up, orange in hand. She looked as though she were in a trance. One foot stalked the other to the bathroom. I should’ve known then. Something was wrong. I quickly made my way through the pandemonium. Years in an institution can dull down your senses, I couldn’t hear all the noise anymore but I was able to see the edge of her dark blue shirt disappear. I quickly caught up and opened the bathroom doors. Each one banged open until I found Jessica in the second-to-last stall. She was standing above a white toilet. The light green walls of the stall seemed to melt into the floor like the 70’s. She swiveled around and stared at me. Her eyes had a crazed look about her. She seemed rueful and at the same time relieved. Her hand stretched outright, a fist floating above a toilet. I had forgotten but in the same hand, she was holding an orange orange. In a split second, she dropped the orange into the toilet. Soon, the fruit found itself where no man has gone before. One small drop for that orange, one giant splash back for WO-mankind. The water had dashed across our pants and left its mark on tomorrow’s laundry. I was astonished, speechless, and most of all befuddled. Most of the questions that raced through my mind began with “What?!” The water had been a cold reminder of my surroundings and my situation. I managed to choke out: “What’s happening?” She said with ease, “You never saw this remember?” Woosh. Down, down, down the orange went. Bye bye little orange; it was going to spend the rest of his life with all the dead goldfish of New York. One flush had changed the course of my destiny, clockwise.
She shuffled quickly out of the bathroom. I stood slumped wondering what in the world had just happened. A little girl came in and looked at me standing there. I suddenly felt a sense of shame, so, I raced out of the john turned newest Seaworld show splasher. Jessica was sitting calmly at our table. I headed towards her puzzled. When I slowly climbed onto the seat next to her, a nearby girl said, “Is something the matter?” I looked at her crossly and wished her red pigtails would catch on fire. They began giggling as Jessica used the back of her palm to force my chin upwards. My gaping mouth had been closed for the day. Come back from 9 to 4.
Unfortunately, my mind had closed early today. I was unaware of what had just happened but I decided it best if I just pretended nothing ever happened. However, the stain on my pants was easier to get out than the memories of that afternoon. We always had math after lunch but not today. Ms. Feller, our teacher, solemnly led us into the room. Her high-strung voice bellowed,
“Class. I’ve received a very disturbing memo from the principal’s office.”
This sent the class into a murmur. We sounded like a morning at the Forum. Ms. Feller’s message could mean one of two things: a) someone was suspended and they were making an example of it or b) there was no school tomorrow due to weather conditions. The latter was very unlikely but it was neither. What Ms. Feller said was as shocking as it was disturbing.
“Ms. Hammer has informed me of an incident–an incident involving an orange, of which has flooded our entire pipe system. The bathrooms have been shut down until further notice. We are still trying to figure out the exact details of what happened but we suspect a student of this grade has flushed an orange down the toilet. If anyone should have any knowledge of who the culprit may be, head to the principal’s office.”
Quickly, silence draped over us in a single swoop. Not a peep was heard. Then, the slow squeaking of the chair released Jessica from its hold. I was sort of proud of her. She was taking responsibility for her actions. She trudged out the door to the principal’s office. I figured it wasn’t much of a yellow brick road for her right now, so, I decided I would take neater notes. I wanted her to be able to read them. Math trekked along the minute hand until time was interrupted. Over the loud speaker, Ms. Hammer voiced,
“Priscilla. Priscilla Guo. Please come to the principal’s office.”
WHAT? WHAT WHAT WHAT? Am I going deaf or did that message just come out of the loud speaker? My classmates were as confused as I was but it didn’t change the fact that I was to be heading towards the principal’s office at that minute. In all my life, I had never done anything wrong, which is an overstatement but still. I had never gotten in trouble for anything that called for the principal’s office. My kind of crime was cookie jar small but this was big. I managed to muster myself to push the chair backwards but the rate at which I was doing so could not be helped. If I was delivering mail, people would prefer the snail to me but no one seemed to want to rush me either. Time was sliding by like molasses and everyone’s gaze was affixed upon my steps.
I had made it to the door more and less and the creaking of the door seemed to snap everyone out of the trance. I dragged myself down the hall and the stairs, where a bench was staring back at me. Many visitors frequented the bench yet it had always stayed cold . I sat down and felt a sudden chill travel up and twist around my heart. It was sliding across my lungs like a slow trickle of water. I shivered a bit as I waited. I didn’t mind sitting here forever, as long as I didn’t have to go into that dreaded room.
I stared ahead. Silver bars encased the large clock. It was growing louder and louder. Tick. Tick. Tick. I started tapping my foot a bit. Tick. Tap. Tap. Tick. Tap. Tap. Tick. Tap. Tap. Occasionally, I scratched my neck. Tick. Tap. Tap. Tick. Scratch. Tap. Scratch. Tick. Move around a bit. Tick. Tap. Tap. Tick. Tap. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. “Priscilla.” A nasally voice called out.
I looked up. Tick. It was Ms. Schneider. She looked gaudy as usual. The plump woman took one step towards me. Tick. Her tomato cheeks seemed squished by her make-up as she pursed her lips. Tick. “Come with me.” Her beehive hairdo shook as she spoke. Tick. Tick. Tick. I moved into the general office and the caged beast quieted down as the door closed behind me. We went through the office and into another room. A pine smell shot me in the nose as the large American flag undermined my height. Now, not only did I feel like I had done something wrong but that anything I said would be speculated by the star-spangled banner, which made my palms sort of sweaty.
I looked down from the flag and saw Mrs. Hammer sitting behind her desk in an overly large swivel chair. The chair made her seem smaller than she truly is but not a bit less intimidating. Jessica was sitting in one of the two chairs in front of the desk. The sunlight was bouncing off the maple colored desktop.
“Welcome, Priscilla. Within the past hour, I have acquiesced some very disturbing news about the integrity of one of our students in particular. I have been informed that the student is you.”
At this mere thought that had translated into an accusation, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. That same person had robbed me of my words and implanted tadpole thoughts in the pool of my head that made me challenge my hearing.
“Am I to be under the impression that the information is correct? That, it is you in fact who flushed the orange down the drain?”
Mrs. Hammer’s eyes were always a calm sea blue but at that very moment, her eyes were mounting to a tsunami determined to drown me. Silence trapped my throat for a brief moment before I fought out a response.
“N-n-n-no. I would never do that.”
“But, Jessica here, has told me otherwise. What do you have to say to that?”
“I can’t understand why she would say so. I mean we-I didn’t do it. I was there when it happened but I didn’t flush the orange. In fact, it was-it was Jessica. She was the one who flushed the orange. I simply followed her into the bathroom.”
The cat was out of the bag but I’m afraid it had claws. Jessica turned her head and tore my words asunder with her response.
“She’s lying! I never did such a thing. What reason do I have? I saw her. I saw her flush that orange!”
I was in complete shock. Our friendship slowly began to sink from that moment on. Minus the romantic story, our ship went down like the Titanic. Amazingly I was at a loss of salt water. Ms. Hammer, seeing the conflict in the situation, spoke up:
“I know you both are excellent students. I find it hard to believe that either one of you would flush oranges down the drain. I can’t make a decision without any other witnesses. You both will suffer the punishment so as to set examples to your classmates. Now you both will help clean up the lunchroom after lunch and there will be no recess for the both of you until the end of the year. If there’s nothing more, go back to your classes.”
We both arose from our seats and drifted towards the door. Suddenly, Ms. Schneider and a little girl burst the door open. We all looked up. Ms. Schneider answered the questions on our faces.
“Mrs. Hammer, this little girl has something very important to say.”
“Well, go on.” Mrs. Hammer replied.
The little girl looked around the room as if she was about to make history. She raised her index finger to point at Jessica.
“She did it.”
Although, I was not at all enthralled with the fact that my friend ship had sunken in the Atlantic Ocean just now, I was joyous to have my name cleared. At the moment, I didn’t care who or what saved me from my punishment but I turned to look who my savior was. The little girl I had seen in the bathroom was now standing in Mrs. Hammer’s doorway. Hallelujah! Mrs. Hammer’s face was contorted into a mixture of stun and disapproval. She cocked her head towards Jessica’s direction.
“Jessica. Stay in my office please. I want a word about your disreputable behavior. Priscilla, you may leave. I am sorry for ever having doubted you.”
I was so happy to be out of that office. After that, I didn’t know what happened to Jessica in there. I do know that she had to clean up the lunchroom, she didn’t get recess, AND she had to write out apology letters to me, Mrs. Hammer, the people fixing the pipes, and the whole school for making the bathroom inaccessible. Although there was divine retribution, it was bittersweet. I had lost my best friend and I came out a different person. I’m not as carefree as I used to be and I’m a little scared to make new friends. I don’t hate her for what she did but I don’t love her for it either. I never spoke to Jessica again. That day, she had sunk our friend ship and she reminded how much of an orange she was. Sweet in the beginning but a tangy surprise in the end. This surprise was one I never wanted to meet.
Oranges. They had weighed Gary Soto’s pockets down and a particular three of them were loved by Carlo Gozzi and later Sergei Prokofiev. And they would always be my citrus mementos of a best friend. To think, I used to mix up clementines and oranges but now I can tell the difference. Personally, I prefer clementines.
Priscilla Guo, Age 16, Grade 11, Hunter College High School, Gold Key