Today’s story for Story A Day in May shows a typical incident from Connie Phelan’s high school years. Connie is the main character in SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING, a science fiction comedy of bad manners.
Tomorrow is the last day of Story A Day in May. In June, we return to our regularly scheduled programming: writing, food, Thursday Doors, recommendations, cats, and Sunday Samples.
Best Years of Your Life
by Marian Allen
I can’t say I always knew I’d be a star, “Connie Phelan, the Queen of TerraNet Holovision”, as the entertainment ‘casts call me. I didn’t even have a particular ambition. I just grew up feeling like a wolf in a world of sheep in armor – sheep who walked around saying, “Mmmmm, I taste sooo goood. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to rip into some of these succulent muscles? But you can’t. You’re just not good enough.”
That was what it felt like, growing up poor in the shadow of a high-priced condominium.
Yeah, remember when everybody thought this change or that change was going to even the playing field and lift all boats high? Like that ever happens.
So I didn’t have any particular ambition except to one-up everybody else in the world in some way – any way. The only asset I had was a quick wit and a smart mouth, so that’s what I used.
Aunt Bootsie caught me skipping school to stand on a downtown street corner, telling jokes and tossing out insult humor. My Aunt Bootsie was generous, especially considering she didn’t have much to begin with, but I wanted more than she could give, and certainly more than I made walking dogs for rich people. When I look back now, I’m sorry I gave her so much trouble, especially when I can remember how grateful I was to her for taking me away from my worthless folks and raising me with love and actual adult supervision.
“Enjoy ’em while you’re in ’em,” Aunt Bootsie said, when we got home after a silent ride into our shabbily respectable neighborhood. “Your high school years are the best years of your life.”
“God, I hope not,” I said, pulling my head back to avoid the face-tap I knew was coming.
“Don’t blaspheme,” she said, the caution weak from overuse. “Connie, Connie, what am I gonna do with you?”
I shrugged, sullen with shame and resentment, blaming the world for getting me in trouble with my aunt.
The next day was another one of those best years of my life days, and I had another reason to wish I hadn’t cut school.
A new kid had started the week before, a transfer from Who-Remembers-Where, recruited by our band director. The history teachers tell me schools used to be all about contact sports, until the safety regulations passed to protect kids got so tough that school sports were banned. Then everything was about who had the best band.
So this kid was a trumpet whiz. “Carnival of Venice” was his showpiece, and the poor geek had to play it at every school assembly. Sometimes I think they scheduled assemblies just so they could show off how good he was.
The name of our school was Central Overton Secondary, COS, so naturally I now rehydrated COS to Carnival of Stupid. Every time the new guy, Benton DeHaven, played his piece, I would say, “Oh, listen! They’re playing our song!” Everybody who knew my joke would laugh, and of course the in-joke spread until the whole school first snickered and then got all school-spirit up in arms.
I came back from my afternoon off to find Benton with two black eyes and a swollen nose. One of our dear little schoolmates, unable to take out his aggressions on the playing field, had decided to register his displeasure with Benton’s mockery of our alma mater by punching him in the nose.
“You’re not a truth-teller,” I said, crowding the personal space of the beef-fed mountain in designer clothes who was bragging about his defense of school honor. “You did not punch a guy for a joke he never made. I made the joke, Ainsley, I did. Me. I, who stand now before you. Not Benton, not whoever it is who wrote that goofy song they make Benton play. It’s just a song about some party in some town in some country. I’m the one who calls this school Carnival of Stupid. Guess why.”
You might think I was flirting with danger, but there you’d be wrong. I had a concealed carry permit, like everybody else, and Aunt Bootsie had found me a top-of-the-line stun gun at the Army/Navy store. But more than that, I was always locked and loaded with insults, and I wasn’t afraid to use them. Since Ainsley would have to grow up, rise through the ranks of his mother’s business, and hire somebody to think of a comeback for anything I said to him during the best years of his life, he always tried to stay on my good side.
Now he just sneered at me. His friends gave that sly, throaty, haw-haw chuckle that means their team scored a good one on somebody – it didn’t matter that the chuckle was inappropriate to the situation; to them, the chuckle itself willed a non-existant victory into being.
There’s no help for stupid. Luckily for stupid, it doesn’t know that.
I touched in the code for rare steak and raw eggs into the food printer and pulled out a plate of medium steak and over-easy eggs out, along with an edible note warning against consuming undercooked food. Never mind that it wasn’t real steak or real eggs. I’m sighing and shaking my head, here.
Benton looked up as I slid into the seat across from him. He dodged his head sideways before he saw it was me.
“Get away,” he said. “I only have one nose. I don’t even know you. Why are you doing this to me?”
“I’m not doing anything to you.” Inside, part of me was saying, He’s right. You did this to him. Another part was jumping up and down with its fingers in its ears, yelling, La, la, la, I can’t hear you. “Why didn’t you taze him or something? He doesn’t just telegraph his punches, he sends them by pony express. You should have seen that punch coming hours ahead of time.”
“I could see he was thinking about something – ”
“It is so rare, it stands out.”
“And it was obvious he was mad, and he kept glaring at me with this shiny kind of look.” He seemed to have given up on not talking to me, maybe because he was intelligent enough to realize that not knowing me hadn’t been much of a defense. “I tried avoiding him, but he made that impossible. I wish I never had to play Carnival of Venice again. I was sick of it, even before this. At least I won’t have to play it until my nose heals.”
“So why didn’t you taze him?”
“I don’t carry a weapon.”
“They have some in the office for kids whose folks can’t afford them. The PTO buys them with their bake sale money.”
“No, I don’t carry a weapon. I could, but I don’t.”
I stopped cutting my steak. “You don’t? Deliberately? What are you, some kind of Amish or something?”
“I don’t believe in it. ‘An eye for an eye makes both half-blind.’ What if nobody went armed?”
“Then everybody but Ainsley and his crew would have noses the size of their heads and eyes like raccoons.”
“Be the change you want to see in the world,” Benton said.
High school is like that.
It barely skimmed the surface of my vast well of sarcasm for me to turn Ainsley’s attack on Benton into something Ainsley would always regret. I never once wondered how either of them felt about it, or how it affected them then or in later years. I never once considered what kind of boss Ainsley would grow up to be, with a couple of years’ worth of systematic humiliation under his belt. I was teaching that bully a lesson, with no thought given to exactly what lesson I was teaching him.
I just hope Aunt Bootsie was wrong. If those were the best years of his life, I actually feel sorry for him.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: ashamed, popular, unnatural, Amish, nose