Fiction / T. E. Wilderson
:: Telling Stories ::
Everything is all my fault. Because she got yelled at by her boss yesterday for being late, today––since she’s decided to be on time––she wants to yell at me like I’m keeping her behind. Whatever. She makes me sick. I’m trying to curl my bangs, and I’ve got to listen to her yelling up the stairs. So, I close the bathroom door. I hear her stomping up the stairs, still yelling. That’s okay. I lock the bathroom door before she can get to me. Now she’s banging on the door. So, I hurry up. A bit. But first, I take her toothbrush from the holder, and swirl it around in the toilet a few times before I put it back. Now I’m ready to unlock the door and go to school.
“P’Mona,” she says. “Are you trying to make me lose my job?” Then she pinches me all hard on the arm as I’m going down the stairs.
I say “Ouch,” and remind her that I’ve got the number to Child Protective Services written inside my shoe.
“You need to take those damn tap shoes off!” She spits as she’s talking. “I don’t know why you gotta wear them all over everywhere, anyway.”
I make a point of dramatically wiping her spit spray from my cheek. “My tap teacher says I have potential, and that I should let the shoes become a natural extension of myself.” I pick up my knapsack and wait patiently by the door for Mama to find her house keys.
“That’s bullshit, P’Mona. That woman ain’t never said that. What have I told you about always telling stories?” Now she’s dumped out her entire purse on the hall table. I open the door, and step outside, to emphasize who’s exactly waiting for who. “Besides, that tapping is annoying as shit.” Besides, her house keys are sitting on the kitchen counter next to the coffee pot. She keeps yapping on and on, until she finally figures out where she left her keys. When she comes out and locks the door, she wants to look at me like it’s still my fault.
“Shotgun!” I say, as we head for the car.
“P’Mona, I don’t know why you always insist on yelling ‘Shotgun’ when there ain’t never but the two of us,” Mama says.
“It’s called sarcasm,” I say. When I climb into the car, she pops me one in the mouth.
“It’s called smarting off, and you need to watch yourself,” she says. It’s not my fault she doesn’t have even a basic sense of humor. It’s not my fault I’m already smarter in the eighth grade than she is, and it’s not my fault she knows a eighth grader is smarter than her. She chooses to be bitter about it, and that leaves me no choice but to write her off as a simpleton. Besides. She’s bitter about a lot of stuff, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Most of the rest of the world is on my side. So, if her boss cussed her out, my guess––she had it coming. My dad had the right idea slipping out on her first chance he got. I don’t blame him for not being here. Really, I don’t. I’m glad he never came back around. It shows good judgment, and I admire that. How could he know whether or not I’d be just like Mama? Or, the polar opposite, which I am. He wouldn’t, so why take the chance? If I ever do meet him––or not even meet him, just if I come across him in life––like if I’m a check-in clerk at a hotel, and he shows up at the desk to register. I wouldn’t even tell him who I was, I’d just ask him if I could shake his hand. Mama says I’m a lot like him. Sometimes she says too much like him. I don’t care when she says that. Actually, I take it as a compliment.
When she drops me off in front of school, I don’t say good-bye to her when I get out. I just close the door smoothly, to emphasize that I’m not the emotionally out of control one. Then she yells through the car window, “Don’t forget I bowl tonight. Remind Mrs. Hickman I’ll be late. You hear?” I just flash her the peace sign, and never look back. But now, I’ve got to make a quick detour to catch a smoke before first period. That’s how much she got on my nerves.
Vicky and Kim are huddled at the bottom of the stairs behind the lunchroom, puffing away. They have their backs to me. As I go down the steps, they don’t even turn around. So when I get to them I say, “Damn, you guys. I coulda been a teacher or something, and you guys would be so busted.”
Vicky turns around first. “Hey, P’Mona,” she says. “We knew it was you.” She reaches out her pack of smokes, so I can take one. That’s what I like about Vicky and Kim. We all share our smokes automatically without keeping tabs. Kim’s mom is always finding her stash and throwing them out. So, she probably bums more than Vicky or me. But I guess, in the end, it evens out.
“I so could’ve been the principal,” I say. “Not like any of us can afford to get busted again this semester.”
“How could we not know it was you,” Vicky says. “Not like the whole world can’t hear you in those shoes from a mile away.” Vicky is the first one of us to get her period. So now, she gets to be bitchy and blame it on PMS. “Why do you wear those all the time, anyway?”
“It’s totally my mom’s idea,” I say. “She thinks I’ll be, like, discovered or something, so she can become a stage mom and totally live off my dancing money. Or something. Like Brooke Shields and her mom.”
“Brooke Shields is a model. They earn way more than dancers,” Vicky says.
“I know,” I say.
“That’s so lame,” Kim adds.
“I know. My mom’s so lazy, she’ll find any way not to have to, like, work herself,” I say, and roll my eyes for emphasis.
“She should be like my mom,” Kim says, “and just keep dating men with money who take care of everything for her.” Kim’s mom looks like a Vogue model. Plus, she looks like she could be in high school, and her hair is super long. I think Vicky’s just jealous. My mom looks like an amphibian. She’s got these bug eyes, and on top of it she has these really thick glasses. And these big weird lips. I made a joke one day, when she had on this head-to-toe lime green outfit, that she looked like Kermit the Frog on crack. She popped me in the mouth and told me she had plenty more of that crack if I didn’t watch out. Either way, counting on her to snag a man to set us up is a major waste of time. I don’t even know how she snagged my dad. The last time I asked her about him, she said he didn’t want to know shit about me, so what do I care about him for? I never said I cared. I just wanted to see what she’d say. Besides, I found out his name anyway, and I wrote it down. It’s Wayne Henry Turner. And he lives at 1717 Live Oak Drive in Silver Spring, Maryland. One day, when I was looking in Mama’s purse for smokes, I found a check folded in her wallet. It was for three hundred and sixty-six dollars and fifty cents. And, it was super big––bigger than Mama’s checks, and it was all typed except for the signature. It said, “Pay to the order of P’Mona Denise Turner Trust.” At the bottom on the “Memo” line, it said “By Court Order.” I wrote down everything that I could, before I heard Mama coming down the stairs. The next time I looked for the check, it was gone.
The homeroom bell rings, so we have to finish our smokes real quick so we’re not late. Kim and Vicky both have homeroom with Mrs. Anderson––skinny Anderson––that everybody likes. I’ve got Fat Anderson, who nobody likes. She’s always smirking at people, like she knows something funny. The only thing funny about her is her breath, which always stinks. So today, after she calls roll, how come she has to say, “P’Mona, come up to my desk, please.” She gives me that dumb smirk of hers the whole way I’m walking up to her desk. Then she hands me a note from the office. I don’t give her the pleasure of looking at the slip right then. I don’t even look at it at all during homeroom. She calls my name when the bell rings, but I totally make it out the back door before she can catch me. And, once I’m in the hall, I never look back. I showed her. I look at the slip during my first period Social Studies class. It says I have to see the guidance counselor during my study hall. I’m thinking it could have been worse. Besides, my study hall is right after lunch, so I can go have a quick smoke to cool my nerves before I go and meet The Freak. My guidance counselor, Mr. Piekarski, is such a freak. He thinks he’s all hip and cool and tries to talk and act like he’s everybody’s friend, but he’s not. He’s just a freak. Like when he’s trying to talk to you all serious, it’s hard not to laugh. He’s got these huge Mr. Ed buck teeth, and glasses with a fade tint that are twice the size of his face. Like some mad scientist who thinks he’s a rock star. And as obviously damaged as he is, if he had an eye patch, a wooden leg, and a kickstand, my mom still wouldn’t be able to snag him. So now you see what my life is like. And why, even if it wasn’t Thursday and I had to stay late at Mrs. Hickman’s, I’d be hating this day.
So, all through first and second periods, I’m trying not to sweat it. There ain’t nothing I’ve done lately to get me called into the guidance office. But by third period music class, it’s starting to bug me. We’ve been practicing “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and I can play my part in my sleep. But today, I keep messing up, and it’s pissing me off because I know I know it. Then, Mrs. Bigelow has to go and rub it in, saying, “Concentrate, P’Mona. You know this piece.” I know I do, ya heifer. Why’d she have to call me out in front of the whole class like that? Then I made the mistake of looking over at Claude. Sometimes I think he’s secretly in love with me. For the most part I just ignore him when he looks all googly at me. He’s not so bad, he’s just not super cool. Anyway, when I look over at Claude, he’s all bugged out like I just stripped naked and danced a jig. I don’t look at him again for the whole class.
Finally, the stupid bell rings, and I bolt. I can hear Claude running to catch up to me. “P’Mona. Hey, P’Mona, wait up!” he calls.
“Hey Claude,” I say, cutting my way through the hall to my locker. “What’s up?”
“Man, I can’t believe Mrs. Bigelow cracked on you in class.” His eyes are so big, I’m afraid he might be having some kinda attack. Claude’s body is always letting him down over simple things, so I’m not making this up. Like, he’s allergic to wool. And grass. Which makes winter and summer two of his worst seasons. Plus, he has asthma.
“Don’t sweat it, Claude,” I say. “Even Monk had his off days.”
“Skip it,” I say. Like I said, Claude’s not super cool. “If you don’t know, you’ll have to wait until you’re ready to learn.” He just stands there, staring at me like a guppy, while I spin the combination on my lock. I open the locker door wide enough to dig in my knapsack for a smoke, which I tuck up the sleeve of my shirt. I shut the locker, and Claude is still standing there.
“Listen,” I say. “No big whoop, alright. Thursdays always suck. Why should today be any different?”
“Ohhh, yeah. Thursday.” Claude starts shaking his head, like I’ve just explained how the world almost came to an end but missed. Now I’m beelining to the lunchroom, ’cause if I’m gonna have a real good smoke before study hall, I can’t get stuck at the end of the lunch line. This means Claude, who is like a foot shorter than me, is nearly running to keep up.
“Hey,” he says. “I brought Scrabble with me today, because I was going to play at the library after school. But I could play with you over at Mrs. Hickman’s. Okay?”
Claude lives only a couple of blocks from Mrs. Hickman.
“Listen, Claude.” I stop just inside the lunchroom. “I so can’t think about that right now, okay? I’ll totally see you after school.” Claude says that I can think about it, so I flash him the peace sign, and make it to be twelfth in line. Claude is smart enough to be president one day. He has these complete hippy parents who don’t believe in TV, so he reads all the time. He’ll read anything, including the dictionary. The library near his house has a Scrabble club that meets once a week, and he is like the undisputed champ. So, the fact that he’d offer to give up the one day of the week where he’s like a rock star to ease my hell is totally cool. So when I say I think he’s in love with me, you know I’m for real.
Lunch today is chipped beef, which means Thursday’s also crappy food day, since Mrs. Hickman gives me frozen pot pies on Thursdays. At least I get my pick between chicken, turkey, and beef. She always makes sure I have a choice, and she carves P, apostrophe, M in the crust on top. So more or less she’s not the worst. Aside from the fact that her house smells like dead rodent. And, she’s always farting, and blaming it on the dog. And, she doesn’t have a color TV, just this tiny black-and-white one you have to be almost on top of to see, so what’s the point? Basically her house is boring as shit, and smells like it, too. She smokes Salems, though, and has like ten packs lying around the house ’cause she forgets where she puts them once she opens them. So, I can palm as many as I want when I’m there, and she never knows the difference.
I sit next to Missy and Muffy, ’cause they’re the least stuck up of the girls in my lunch period. If I could be anybody else in the world, it would be Muffy. First of all, she can wear makeup to school. Not only that, her mom buys her makeup for her––and I mean the super expensive stuff at the department store. One day, she was touching up her eye shadow in the bathroom, and she told me her mom bought it for her one day when they got makeovers together downtown. It was a kinda shimmery, princess blue color, and it came in a little case that looked like a gold clamshell. She even let me put some on. The color was Desert Twilight, and on Muffy it looked just like it did on the model in the ad in Cosmo. I wouldn’t call Muffy pretty, but she’s tall, and kinda exotic looking. She could totally make it as a model, except for the fact that she wears her hair in a ’fro. Her mom has her enrolled in this modeling school uptown, and one day she brought her “test photos” in to show everybody. She explained that these were the pictures she was going to put in her portfolio, for when she was ready to go on “go sees,” which are basically what you call model auditions. Mama said no way in hell was she was gonna pay for modeling lessons––even if I grew a foot overnight and woke up pretty. Mama also says that the only reason Muffy’s in modeling school is because she’s adopted by these white folks that wouldn’t know black beauty if it slapped them in the face. Maybe so, but last summer Muffy and her mom went to New York with some of her pictures and met with a bunch of agents. Muffy said that the lady at the top agency in New York said to call her when she grew to be five-nine, because she might be able to start in their runway division. Mama didn’t have nothing to say after that. Anyway, I decided to take matters in my own hands. I went downtown to this funky store that has one of those photo booths in it. I took a bunch of pictures of myself, posing like they do in fashion magazines. I had to go a few times before I had enough pictures that I thought were as good as Muffy’s, but the good thing is you get six to a strip. So, I had enough to choose from. I cut the best ones out and sent them to these modeling agencies I read about in Seventeen. That was a few weeks ago, so I’m still waiting to hear. I figure I can model during summer vacations until I’m out of high school. Then, who knows?
Missy reaches into her purse, and hands these Avon catalogs to Muffy and me, announcing she’s now an Avon lady. I cannot believe I didn’t think of that shit first. Missy’s going on and on about all the samples she’s ordered, and how much she’s already sold, but I’m stuck on the nail polish page. I’m trying to figure if I have enough money for the Cotton Candy and the Candy Apple. But more than that, I’m thinking how much I could make if I sold my own damn Avon.
“I was gonna sell Avon,” I say. “But I heard it was run by the Hare Krishna.”
“No way,” says Missy. “You’re totally making that up.”
“I’m not,” I say. “It was on 60 Minutes, and they showed how they have like all of the Krishna kids working in the factory.” Now both of them are looking at me instead of the catalog. “Plus, they all have to work like twenty hours a day, and sleep in one room about the size of this lunch room, and sleep two to a sleeping bag.” I look up from them to see my freak of a guidance counselor pass by, and I realize I better smoke while the smoking was good. I gather all of my trash on my tray and get up to leave. But not before adding that if a new product doesn’t make it to stores, it’s because some Hare Krishna babies went blind from the product testing done on them.
“No way,” Missy says again. “I’m gonna ask my mom.”
“That sounds so sad,” adds Muffy.
“Okay,” I say, as I get ready to leave. “It may not be the Hare Krishnas, but it was somebody just like them. I mean, it was on TV. Not like a bazillion other people didn’t see it, too. Anyway, I’ll catch you guys later.” As I walk away, I hear Missy say, “No way. Hare Krishna people don’t even wear makeup.” But, I never look back to let her know I heard her.
By the coat closet in the band room is a fire door with a disconnected alarm, so I head there for a smoke before my guidance counseling freakfest. I’m halfway to the coat closet, when I see Belinda Buckner digging around in a knapsack. It totally looks like a theft-in-progress, but like I care. When she looks up at me, I just give her a silent nod, and keep stepping. I’m lighting up, sitting with my back to the door, when it busts open and almost knocks me over.
“Damn,” I say, when I realize Belinda has followed me. I finish lighting my cigarette and scoot onto a step clear of the doorway. Belinda leans toward me, pointing her crooked finger close to my face.
“If you tell anybody you saw me up in here, I’ma kick your skinny ass,” she says. I just roll my eyes. So, she steps closer and says, “I’ma kick your ass after school, you little cross-eyed snot. Don’t let me catch you after school, I swear!” And then she lets the door slam shut behind her. I don’t know who she’s calling cross-eyed, with those bowlegs of hers. Now my knee is bouncing up and down a mile a minute. Plus, this cigarette is old and tastes like the bottom of my shoe. So, my plan to cool out a bit is shot, plus I’ve got to dodge Belinda after school, because she is known to keep her butt-kicking word. I decide to cut my losses, and just head for the guidance office.
I’m waiting for my guidance counselor to go over my file and get to the point of this moment in hell, when I realize he’s an even bigger freak than I remember. He’s wearing this gold chain around his neck, and this polka dot shirt––which looks just as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s like this morning he got dressed to go to the roller rink, and instead came to work. He hasn’t said a word since he told me to make myself comfortable when I came in about forever ago. As if making myself comfortable was possible. I’m hoping I’m here because he has to check in with all of his new transfer students, to see how we’re adjusting. He’s looking through my file, eating a Whopper and some onion rings, and his eyebrows are moving almost as much as his jaw. I kinda think he might be trying to hypnotize me. This goes on like forever. Anyway, he finally stops reading and puts his elbows on the edge of his desk with his two fingers pointed up like a steeple. So, I’m guessing he’s being serious with me.
“Well, I see here that your grades are okay––they could be better––but they’re passing.” He stops to suck his teeth a coupla times. “What concerns me, is that your teachers––every last one of them––says that you could do better if you didn’t spend so much time in class flirting with the boys.”
His eyebrows go up, and he just holds them there. Which I guess means he’s waiting for a response, but I can’t move. I think I’m not old enough to have a heart attack, but I’m sure that right now I’m dying. I want to tell him that I need to go to the hospital, really, but I can’t move. At all. I can see that he’s talking to me. But all I can hear is this whoosh noise in my head like when I swim underwater in the pool at the Y. I’m thinking about what Mama is gonna do when she hears this, and I start to feel a little shaky. My eyes fill up with hot water. Mr. Piekarski folds his hands on the desk and leans over his Whopper.
“Andrea, is there anything you’d like to say about this?” he asks.
I know my lips are moving, but it takes a few seconds before I hear myself say “I’m P’Mona.”
“Oh. Oh! Excuse me,” he says, looking down at the file. “Let’s see now. Just one second.” He licks his fingers, closes the file, then pulls mine from the heap under his hamburger. He opens it, and his eyebrows do their thing. Then he starts over.
“Okay, P’Mona. Sorry ’bout that. Here’s what we’ve really got.” I can barely hear him over the whooshing and Mama’s cussing in my head. “So, while your grades are admirable, there are still some issues.” He raises one eyebrow, then the other. “The feeling is, P’Mona, that expectations of enrolling you in a Magnet arts school where there is an emphasis on creative output would alleviate your need to express yourself by …” He pauses for a long time, making these rolling gestures with his hands, like he’s forgotten what he was going to say. I just look at him. I’m not a mind reader. “There were hopes that you would, you know, that it would alleviate, you know, your need for … fibbing.” He folds his hands into a steeple again. “How do you feel about that?”
I just shrug at him.
“Is there something about the transition that’s been particularly difficult for you, P’Mona?” This time I don’t even bother to shrug. “The feeling, P’Mona, is that if you can’t get this … tale-telling … under control, well …” Now his eyebrows shrug at me. “The feeling is that, perhaps, you should start to talk to someone on a regular basis. To kind of sort this out, you know? Get to the bottom of this … need to fib.”
I don’t know what my face did, but it must have been something, because he adds all quick, “Oh, not me. The suggestion has been made that, perhaps, seeing a counselor outside of school might be a next step. As opposed to transferring you to another school again.” He licks his thumb, sticks them in onion ring crumbs, then licks them off before he focuses back on me. “What do you think, P’Mona?”
I think I’d like to break his big, buck teeth and watch him swallow them. But, I’m also thinking I can’t say that.
“Is there anyone that maybe you might be comfortable enough to talk to about things?” he continues. “A favorite teacher maybe? Or a relative? Anyone? I’m just thinking if you test it out with someone you trust first, it might help. Just see if opening up a little bit seems helpful to you. Would that be, you know, cool with you?”
Now I’m thinking he’s not trying to put me on about anything. They’re really thinking about signing me up with a shrink. Then I’m thinking Mama must know all about this, and that it was probably even her idea. I’ve been framed.
Mr. Piekarski is still looking at me all hopeful, and I feel kinda sorry for him, so I say, “Well, there’s Mrs. Hickman, I guess.”
He kinda leaps up in his seat a bit, and he claps his hands together. “Great! Mrs. Hickman!”
“She’s kinda my adopted grandmother,” I add.
“Alright. Alright!” His eyebrows are doing the Mexican hat dance. “And how often do you see Mrs. Hickman?”
“I usually see her once a week. She lives alone, so I usually go and see how she’s doing. Kinda keep her company and stuff. Maybe help her around the house if she needs it … That kinda stuff.”
“Well, excellent, P’Mona. That’s just great. Just great. You see––this is progress.” He points his steeple fingers at me. “It’s wonderful to know that there is somebody you feel you can connect with. This is good. Really good.” He pulls the folders out from under his Whopper and straightens them up while he’s talking. I’m thinking that for all of my trauma, I should get the rest of the day free.
“P’Mona, can we agree that the next time you’re with Mrs. Hickman, you’ll try and share one thing with her? Just one thing that you might have otherwise kept to yourself.” My foot starts to kick the leg of his desk out of reflex.
“It doesn’t have to be anything big, mind you. A disappointing grade, or even just how your day went at school. Can you do that? Just to see how it feels?” I tell him that I guess I could, but I don’t mention that hell’s gotta freeze over first. Finally, the bell rings, which means I can bolt.
“Alright, P’Mona,” he says, walking me to the door. “I look forward to our next meeting. We’ve made some real progress today. Real progress.” I slip free into the hallway. I’m barely ten feet away, when he calls my name. I don’t look at first, but then he calls my name again. I stop, and turn to look at him standing in his office door. He’s kinda bouncing on his heels, and when I look at him, he smiles and raises his hands high to give me a double thumbs up. I disappear into the crowd, but I look back quick and see his thumbs still high above everyone’s heads.
I don’t remember planning on going to the nurse’s office. But, when I get there, and the nurse comes from behind the desk to ask me how I’m feeling instead of rolling her eyes like she usually does, I know I’ve done the right thing. I tell her I didn’t know what for sure was wrong, but I feel a little lightheaded, and my stomach kinda hurts. She brings me back to lie on one of those cots they’ve got for sick kids, and she puts a blanket over me. She shakes the thermometer a few times, then takes my temperature.
“You’ll be alright,” she says, then touches my shoulder before she goes back to her desk. The fact that she’s being super-nice to me means I must really be sick.
The fifth period bell rings, and I realize I’d fallen asleep. I don’t open my eyes. I just listen to the noise in the hallway of everybody changing classes, wondering when the nurse is gonna come and make me go to Algebra. Finally, I hear her footsteps coming close. But then they stop and make a little squeak when she turns to go back to her desk.
I’d almost fallen back asleep when I hear someone sneeze, and the nurse lets out a kinda disgusted shriek. Then I hear Claude say, “I must be allergic to gauze.” I almost laugh out loud. The nurse tells him he can lie down with his head tilted back until his nosebleed stops.
Last period goes by quick, and I’m trying to figure out how to dodge Belinda after school. I’m wondering if there’s any way to incorporate Claude in my getaway plans, when the nurse comes and touches me again on the shoulder. “P’Mona, the bell’s going to ring in a few minutes. Time to get up.” I look over at Claude’s cot, and he’s adjusting his glasses. “It’s close enough to the bell that you can go when you’re ready.” And she disappears back out front. This is the break of a lifetime, as far as I’m concerned, and I whisper to Claude that I’ll see him on the bus. Then I make for the door, waving to the nurse as I go.
“You feeling better, P’Mona?” she asks.
“Yeah, I think so,” I say, hand on the doorknob.
“Well, good. You’re looking a little better.”
As I’m standing at my locker, I decide that I’m not going to Mrs. Hickman’s. I’m just gonna go home. I can watch TV. And I’m gonna watch something other than old people TV. And make pudding. They’ve got a recipe for vanilla pudding on the side of the cornstarch box. It’s easy to make, too.
Claude and I are heading out, when I say, “Here’s the deal, Claude––I’m not going to Mrs. Hickman’s.” Claude looks at me like I just slapped him. “I’m gonna call her when I get home, and tell her that Mama got sick, and came home early from work. So you should totally go to Scrabble club.”
“Okay,” says Claude. “How are you gonna get home?”
“I’m just gonna walk.” It takes about a half an hour to walk home, which is why taking the bus to Mrs. Hickman’s doesn’t completely suck. “Besides, if I get on the bus, Belinda might catch me.” Claude nods his head in agreement.
“Good plan,” he says.
I wave goodbye to Claude as he heads for the bus, then I start home.
When I get home, I call Mrs. Hickman. I tell her Mama’s lying down, ’cause she came home early from work feeling sick, and I’ll see her tomorrow. I don’t know why Mama won’t let me stay home alone for more than an hour. I’m in the eighth grade, and it’s not like I’m scared. But she says she doesn’t like me being home alone. Whatever.
The first thing I do is turn on the TV. My favorite game show––Match Game––is on, so I lie across the sofa and watch the end. Then I make pudding. I watch TV while it cools. Then the mailman comes, and my Seventeen came! Plus the cat calendar I saved up purchase seals from the cat food box to get! Plus the mini Bonne Bell Lip Smackers that I ordered! I never get mail. Never. Finally, the pudding is cool enough. I eat almost all of it, then I go back to reading Seventeen. The last thing that I remember, I’d finished, and was looking for something other than news on the TV.
I wake up to Mama shouting. “P’Mona! What in the hell? Have you lost your mind? You better have a good reason for not being at Mrs. Hickman’s. Well? What do you have to say?”
“I went to her house, and nobody was home … Maybe the doorbell is broke …”
“That’s bullshit, P’Mona. That woman told me you called her.”
“I wasn’t feeling well. I even spent the last three periods in the nurse’s office. You can check.”
“P’Mona, I can’t believe a word that comes out of your mouth.”
“I’m telling the truth …”
“You don’t know nothing ’bout the truth.” Mama said. She just stands there staring at me hard all hard, with her hands on her hips. I guess I hadn’t thought my plan all the way through. “Go to your room. And don’t come back down,” Mama says.
So I do, and lie down on my bed. I’ve almost forgot about the pudding, the Seventeen, the cat calendar, and the Lip Smackers. Now my eyes are filling up, so I grab on tight to my pillow. She’ll see. I’m gonna be rich and famous, and she’ll be lucky if I ever even talk to her. And, I’m gonna find my dad. He should know how successful his daughter turned out to be. She’ll see. They’ll all see. I’m gonna make it.
And this time––this time––I’m for real.
From the writer
:: Account ::
As a child, I never could tell a good lie. My face is one of those that gives away all my secrets. I had fantasies about “telling stories,” whether it be about going to a friend’s house to really skip out and meet a boy (never happened) or who I was talking to on the phone (invariably, a boy I liked). I’d form my mouth to tell a cover story, but only truth would spill out.
As I grew older and started writing, I thought many times about how I marveled at people who could lie with ease—including a very dear (pathological) friend. She’d concoct whole fairy tales and I never once called her on it. Then I began thinking about what a burden it must be, keeping all those lies straight. That’s when I came up with my protagonist and wrote the bones of this story. I decided that she’d lie as a defense mechanism, as a way to inoculate herself from reality. She felt like a burden to her mother, which made her resentful, and that is why she acted out. Then I decided to top off her misery by giving her a name that was a burden—P’Mona. Unnecessarily difficult for people to get straight and one that could never be spelled without being told how.
The one thing I continue to wonder is if the liars among us believe their lies … or if they just don’t give a damn about their deceitfulness. I want to think they have a reason, like P’Mona. Deep inside, I’m not so sure.
T. E. Wilderson is a New Orleans-born writer currently living in the Midwest. By day, she is an editor and graphic designer. Her short stories have appeared in Crack the Spine Anthology XVII, The Louisville Review, Tishman Review, The Notre Dame Review, and F(r)iction, among others. She holds an MFA in writing from Spalding University, and is a 2019 McKnight Foundation Writing Fellow.