By the time Shannon finishes her presentation on the Puritans, she has said the word “like” a total of seventy-two times. Mrs. Levy stares at her grimly. If Mrs. Levy ever had any warmth or color, the New Jersey public school system beat it out of her a long time ago, and now her mouth is set in a thin straight line as Shannon squirms. Shannon shifts from one foot to the other, gripping her handwritten pages and giggling. Finally Mrs. Levy opens her mouth just a little and says, “Thank you, Shannon. That was very illuminating.” It’s not clear what’s been illuminated—the Puritans, or Shannon’s stupidity.
Shannon sits down at the desk in front of mine. She runs her hands through her thick mahogany hair, twisting it up as if to pin it into a bun at the top of her head, and then letting it fall down her back, a gesture she does all the time. I once asked her what the point was and she said, “OMG (she said the letters), I don’t even know, it’s like, crazy right? What am I even doing?” and giggled. But that’s a lie. I’m sure she does it because of the climax—the hair falling down her back, thick and heavy. It’s so beautiful. She’s the worst.
Suddenly Shannon whirls around and catches me staring. I jerk awkwardly, then say, “Nice presentation! I really learned a lot.” She blinks but says nothing. Her eyelashes are amazing, super long and dark. They look like falsies but they’re not. “Um…” I falter. “What kind of name is Increase Mather anyway? How can a name be like, a verb?” Shannon’s forehead furrows. I don’t know if she thinks this is a dumb joke, or if she genuinely does not understand what a verb is. It’s anyone’s guess. She once went on vacation to Australia, and after she came back I overheard her in the cafeteria telling her friends that she was shocked Australians spoke English. When one of them asked her why, she said, “Oh, that commercial goes, like, Fosters: Australian For Beer. So I thought they spoke like, a different language, you know?” So that’s who I’m dealing with here.
I hold still and finally Shannon goes, “Okay Linda,” and whirls around, the tip of her hair smacking my nose. My name is Molly, but I know why she calls me that. It’s one of my school nicknames: Linda, Demon, Beelzebub, Satan, Devil Girl, etc. Linda is Linda Blair, from The Exorcist. It’s because I have epilepsy. Once last June I had a full-on seizure in the cafeteria, twitching and convulsing from a bench onto the floor, kicking the leg of the table over and over. I had a bruise on my shin so dark and ugly I couldn’t wear shorts till August. Other times I get what’s called complex partial-onset seizures, where I totally check out inside my brain but go on talking and moving in bizarre ways. Once I shouted nonsense words in the otherwise silent school library, then walked over to Shannon and her friends at another table and tried to climb onto her lap. That was actually the worst thing, the thing that made me a social pariah. Speaking in tongues and mounting a beauty queen. Not exactly the behavior that gets you invited to the good parties.
The bell rings, and we all jump up from our desks. I bump into Ryan, who sits beside me and who’s dying to bang Shannon. “Ew!” he shouts, backing away dramatically. “Don’t touch me, demon!” He holds up two fingers in the sign of the cross. Shannon busts out laughing, and I can see Ryan swell up with pride like a gibbon. Idiot. I’m stuck behind them, unable to get out and go to my next class. They’re just giggling stupidly at each other. Either they don’t care I’m stuck, or they’ve forgotten all about me; either way, they’re trash humans. I clench my jaw and look down at my desk. Each one has a drawer with supplies—pens, paper, scissors, etc. I slink it open and pull out the scissors. They’re sharp, I know; just last week I cut my finger trying to cut the frayed loops on the edge of my binder paper, leading to a few days of “She bleeds! The demon bleeds!” in the hallways. Quiet as death I open the scissors and slide them up Shannon’s back, not touching, until I get to her neck, to the right side of her hair. I snap the scissors closed once and then Shannon and Ryan take off. He’s ahead of her, looking back, but my hand is lowered. He can’t see her hair, but I can: a sheet of mahogany brown that falls to the small of her back from left to right, and three inches of awful, jagged short hair on the right. I smile, then clench my jaw again. I’m alone in the classroom, holding the open scissors. The bell rings for the next class, but I don’t move.