Telling Stories

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.