Running out of Air
K.T. Swift © 2018
All Rights Reserved
(Scratched in a worn notebook)
I am a self-admitted fool, which probably jettisons me out of the category by virtue of the self-admission. Foolishness, to me, always seemed to be a want of realisation more than anything else, but I am still foolish, and foolishness always leads to trouble. That is why I’m writing this all down. Maybe someone can help me if I can show them that it started here or perhaps there, later on.
Anyway. To the point. I don’t think I can finish school, not here, not under these circumstances. I mean, well, I’d really rather not. After two weeks of nerve-racking, nail-biting stress, I am about to reach the end of my rope. Why, you may ask. Why is this straitlaced, straight-A mathlete about to toss herself into the nearest lake with stones in her pockets? (Oh, poor Virginia Woolf) A boy, that’s who. How damn trite.
And I’ll try to warn you before I drown you in allusions (if you will forgive me the pun).
He’s just so damn annoying. He refuses to leave me alone, insists on talking to me, tries to insinuate himself into my life. What on God’s green earth is he doing? Is he trying to badger me to death?
I mean, I do like people, but not when said people are parading themselves before me so incessantly that I would rather die than see another sickeningly false-friendly face. I like my space, thank you very much. Perhaps I should start at the beginning, so you may fully comprehend this boy’s single-minded quest to bother me to death.
All right, the first day of school is usually more uninspiring than sugar-free fudge unless the senior class plays an opening prank, which they did not because my class is full of washed-out ne’er-do-wells without a handful of brain cells to share amongst them. At least, when it comes to actually breaking rules and sowing chaos like proper teenagers.
So life goes on the way it always does. The smooches from boyfriends to girlfriends who haven’t made out in school since, like, the end of summer school; the fist-pumps and giggly hugs from the jocks and fashionistas respectively; the loners gravitating to the new loners transferred in from other schools to impart their invaluable knowledge of where to best hide when “expressing your sorrow” (i.e.: whining under a stairwell listening to loud “musak” and writing insufferably angsty poetry about the colour black and the joys of leaving their confining mansions/obscenely wealthy but damningly inattentive parents behind).
Losers, the lot of them. I can’t wait to escape this chasm of anti-intellectualism for the greener pastures of university. That is where I shall go far, where I can correct the teachers and have them respect me for it, not give me a detention or send a letter home. I shall be an award-winning essayist whilst teaching at Harvard, my future alma mater. I’ll show those idiotic “teachers” when I have my PhD in the time it took to finish their sissy education licence… Anyway, I digress.
The only thing really interesting in those moments, because trust me the AP classes were not riveting in the least, was watching the new students flounder in our labyrinth of a school. I swear the thing is built to pen in a Minotaur—
Let’s just head off that digression before it can fully mature, because believe me, I can ramble about Greek myths for ages.
First period had some sniffling girl who arrived earlier than me. Which I had thought was patently impossible until that moment, I assure you. Second period had some new student from Dubai with a smartly be-suited translator in tow (Health, why must I take you?). Third period was absolutely soulless, very little surprise there. When has anything interesting happened in a sociology class? Fourth period was where the action was. That was where I met my first and only enemy in all of high school.
“Please, Miss Roughy, call me Hade.”
He was leaning back in his chair, languid and sure like a cat in a room of exceptionally fat and stupid mice, which it might as well have been. I disliked him instantly. Well, maybe not exactly instant of course, but it sounds dramatic, and thus must not be scratched out. Ms. Fish, as I secretly call her, softened her brows, hardened by years of public school teaching (She only transferred here on the good graces of her second cousin, Mr. Collins, the principal of Jackson Academy of the Sciences), and shocked the rest of us to actual quiet.
“All right, Hade.” What the flipping heck. I just stared at her for a minute, but…she was just the very image of a lovesick teenager, two seconds away from spouting love poetry she didn’t understand to impress a boy so out of her league as to be pitiful.
Ms. Fish, one of the nastiest, cruellest teachers I have had the misfortune to pretend to learn from, had bestowed the fainted glimmer of a smile on a student. A student who had only said, what, six words to her, and she was already wrapped around his finger. What kind of child is that adept at manipulation? I had no idea, but I surely did not approve. I should be that child, not this impudent upstart! I have forgotten more psychology than he will ever learn, I am sure.
Ms. Fish shook herself and returned to the roll. I returned to my book. It was new, a promising doorstopper about a poor Victorian girl picked by some sadistic count to play Pygmalion, (otherwise known as My Fair Lady for the film and musical lovers out there) only to rip her apart, bit by bit. At least, that was my guess. Sometimes, good books surprise you.
In any case, I was finishing up the introduction by a modern author when the lesson began. God, math is so tedious when your father’s a mathematician. Class finally ground to a halt, and I waltzed to the only class I cared a modicum about, drama.
I may not seem it, but I have an incredible soft spot for the arts. The only reason anyone in the student body knows my name is because I played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year. I’m rather proud of it, actually. It took two years to prove that I was good enough for a role that didn’t also double as a techie.
In any case, our teacher always tells us the fall and spring lineup on the first day so that we may prepare for the roles and pick out parts to practice. I had sent in a request for a Shakespeare play I like (Merchant of Venice) and a musical no one would understand, let alone recognise. Acting is the only thing outside of books that really gets me excited about school anymore. Everything else is excess.
That smooth talker from statistics had to go and ruin it all by winding his way to the front row of the auditorium, smiling and winking through the crowd of giggling no-talent prima donnas. I sighed and rolled my eyes, waiting for Mr. Tucker—part drama teacher, part wrestling coach—to make an appearance. He did not disappoint. In he stalked from stage right, looking outright menacing and sending the entire audience into a dead silence.
“Most all of y’all know the rules, but for those that forgot: No fu[dge]ing around (I patently refuse to swear in this volume). This is my theatre, and I’ll throw you in my workouts as tackling dummies for the team if you stop payin’ attention. You get me?”
“Yes, sir,” we chorused. Some people were cringing and regretting their decisions, but those in his good graces just enjoyed their discomfort (myself and Araz, really). I looked for the self-possessed jerk in front, to see if he was wetting himself in terror and sprinting toward the doors. I couldn’t see his face, but it didn’t seem like he was ready to bolt at any second. Drat.
“Good, the fall play sheet is in the scene shop. Be back in four minutes.”
I made the arduous journey four yards to the door from my seat (the closest chair to the shop from the auditorium). On the other side of said door, a slip of paper:
Twelfth Night (Ah, well. Yay-worthy, still)
Phantom of the Opera (Dammit)
Dracula (Spectacularly unimpressed)
That last one deserved a little concern and attention. When had Tucker ever written TBA or changed his mind about a play? Never, that’s when. I slipped away before I ended up trampled by the stampede and ventured forward to find my teacher sitting on the stage, reading the paper.
“You’re wondering what the spring musical’s gonna be, right?” He hadn’t even bothered to look up.
“Yes, sir. I’m on tenterhooks of anticipation.”
“I really liked your idea,” he admitted. “If you can translate it and get the music, we’ll do it.”
I nearly fainted with joy.
“Mind, if you don’t get it in before winter break, we’ll do High School Musical.”
Oh, double hell. If that isn’t an incentive, I’ve no clue what is. Even the utterance of such a foul creation of Disney sent shudders of disgust down my spine.
“It will be in your hands before October, I promise!”
He granted me a rare half-smile before whistling the rest of the group back to their seats. “Here are the parts for Shakespeare. I expect them to be memorised and ready by tomorrow. Start practising.” He slapped down a pile of papers and walked back to the black curtains. He was pretending to give the group privacy while they practised to see if they actually used the time wisely, as always. I sequestered myself in a corner with all the audition pieces. I already knew Viola’s bit, the ring soliloquy, but trying out Sebastian’s part could have proven fun. I memorised the part (all five lines of it) before lunch bell (Honestly, Shakespeare was so damn lyrical, it’s child’s play to remember his works).
Hadrian spent his time laughing and chattering with the many and varied girls of the drama department: those that dyed their hair fabulous colours, those that looked utterly meek unless placed in the limelight and fed after midnight, those that simply must be excellent in everything, and those that thought their calling was to strut upon the stage, all sound and no fury.
Needless to say, I did not participate in the meet-and-greet.
Instead of eating, I exited the school and pulled out my cell phone. The thing is a lifesaver, always there when I need it most. Now with unlimited international minutes! I looked up a few numbers on the internet and then called a few proprietors and middlemen (I’ll spare you the mind-numbing details). Thus, I secured myself a quick Skype meeting with the actual writer and copyright carrier of my current musical obsession, Traum (Dreams in English).
Five minutes before the next bell (to send some people back to class and some to lunch because we believe in intimate dining experiences at Jackson Academy of the Sciences), I finished my final call. My tasks done, I ended up leaning against the brick wall for a moment. I was smiling in relief. That’s important, because it was wiped off my face not a second later.
“So, you’re bilingual?” The new kid was leaning all cool-like with his shoulder against the brick facing me, arms crossed. Was he trying to channel James Dean? Please. James Dean impersonations were so 2009. He smiled faux-charmingly and continued, “I’ve always respected those who could master multiple languages.”
I rolled my eyes and walked back to class.
“Wait. Inanna, isn’t it?”
“Was? Ich sprechen nicht so gut Englishe. Entschuldigung.” Feeling quite proud of myself for the quick retort, I stalked back to the stage. I turned before entering the building to find him looking quite uninjured by my snark until he caught my ill-advised glance. Then he smiled and waved. Damn, so much for the dramatic exit. I still have to work on that.
“Anyone ready to audition today?” Tucker was glaring down at them from behind his Clipboard of Judgement.
“I am.” It was like clockwork. For the last three years, he would ask, I would answer, then audition and whatnot, and I would pay absolutely no attention to anything until rehearsals started.
“Then get up and read Viola’s soliloquy.”
I jumped upon the stage and turned, stared down my captive audience, then began. I finished to vague applause, really just from the new boy. Was he trying to be nice or trying very hard to start a trend of positive reinforcement for the moment he popped on stage?
Everyone knew I would earn a substantial role because I am the only one left on campus with the patience and grasp of language for big Shakespeare parts. Our last Intense Shakespeare Lovers had left when I was a sophomore. Coupled with seniority and commitment, I was sure to get all the best roles regardless of gender this year. I made to exit the stage, but Tucker stopped me.
“No, stay there. The fresh meat’s next.”
Did I not notice that he raised his hand with mine? Well, I must have had a rather intense case of tunnel vision. I sighed and sat on the edge with legs dangling, waiting for the strutting peacock to waltz on stage. He performed Sebastian’s part flawlessly and without prompt. Well, beat me with a self-effacing stick; he was actually good at something (even if that talent is hoodwinking others into believing him talented).
Well, you can guess what such a performance yielded; Tucker threw us together with a fresh audition piece and had us play off of each other. Please let him end up as Malvolio (i.e.: unimportant and unloved), regardless of his acting chops. I don’t want to pretend to be anything but indifferent at best or cruel at worst to him. That’s what I hoped at the time—in vain, of course. I always have the darnedest luck with this kind of thing.
In any case, the bell rang, and I was out to sixth period, mercifully free of any new students, then seventh, which was infested with infantile intellectuals who thought they understood the English language. The fools wouldn’t understand Chaucer if the book pranced across the floor in a NASCAR jersey and nothing else.
I spent the night writing up a lovely little speech for Mr. Leitmotif (writer and producer of Traum), which I ended up tossing before I made a fool of myself with flowery words and sycophantic grovelling. I had added him to my contact list using the name his assistant read me and spent the time I should have used to slog through some James Joyce staring blankly, yet earnestly, at the computer screen. He wasn’t even calling until the morning, at 5:00 a.m. to be exact. Right before lunch. For him, at least.
I wanted to be early, so I woke up at an ungodly hour to get ready. I actually prettied myself up a bit, in the strictly professional sense. I riffled through the YouTube to divine how to make a “professional eye look,” so dedicated was I to making a good impression. He had a red wine stain on his shirt. I just wanted to shoot myself during the entire interview. He asked me who would translate the play from German to English, and I told him the honour was mine. He laughed at me, so I corrected the English translations in the Special Edition DVD of one of their performances.
I promised that I was perfectly capable of writing within the meter and scope of the play and would send him any changes I felt necessary to make without detracting from the whole experience. I spent an hour and a half wheedling him, before he granted rights on the grounds that I hand over my translation of the lyrics only to him. I managed to get him to split potential publishing rights with me (Note to my readers: never try to out-weasel the scion of an academic and athlete, for we know our way around confounding and swindling contracts). We made another appointment for December, where we would touch base, and he would give the final green light.
Why am I telling you? Well, I was almost late for school because of this meeting. Thus I had no time to change or imbibe a healthy breakfast. I blame my behaviour on that. I actually skipped part of drama, but I’ll explain that in a moment.
In the morning, the plaza that exists within the three wings of our beloved institution is always filled with ambling students, enjoying the last hot days before autumn forced us all into sweatshirts and rain jackets. I passed the garish science wing, striding quickly across the lawn to the entrance of the humanities wing. Between the two, sitting across from one another, are the offices, which are separate from the main building, and the gymnasiums and theatre. Sara Jane, an old acquaintance, was sitting with Regina, another former acquaintance, and Hadrian on one of the wrought-iron benches lining the plaza.
“No, no.” Sara Jane smiled, blindingly bright. “This one’s even better!” She scrolled through her laptop, and the others burst into laughter.
“‘My skin is a scale of teeth.’ Are you serious? Who writes this shi[z]?” Hadrian’s voice carried far and wide.
I couldn’t help to overhear even as I kept my head down and rushed my steps. Realising, of course, what they were reading made my heart sink.
He put on an overwrought tone. “Bones rattle and burn; Chimes out of my innards; Music out of my guts!”
“Let me,” Regina cut in, pulling the laptop onto her legs. “Streaming notes like banners.” She giggled. “My castle is a…forge?”
“Let Hade. He’s much better,” Sara Jane said gently, pulling them all closer to the screen. “Read the rest?”
Horrible little girl. I sprinted out of the plaza. How dare they mock my poetry. Granted, it wasn’t very good, but that gave them no right to laugh and jeer like some Greek chorus twisted out of its proper configuration. And why did Sara Jane have to trot it out whenever she added a new member to her clique? I tried to put it out of my mind, not to remind myself how she’d found that poetry in the first place as I walked to class.
First and third period were homework hours and second was “reading room.” Fourth period should have been another hour in that same vein, but the newest addition distracted me. The entire class had reconfigured itself. Every girl (all four of them) had crowded about “Hade.” They simpered and smiled as he nonchalantly told some sort of story that involved long measured arm swinging, as if he held, in both hands, conductor’s batons.
There was a ring of empty desks buffering that group from the rest of the boys (who kept on shooting nervous glances at the quintet) and myself. I officially hated my gender. Why did girls have to pretend to care about “hunky” guys? Feminism really needs to get its bum in gear and burn some more brassieres, because I’m getting tired of all this wishy-washy behaviour.
Whatever. He spotted me and called me over with the same measured motions that accompanied his story, as if he wasn’t really motioning me but continuing his tale of mystery and woe. I ignored him. When we were supposed to be correcting homework with partners, he just walked away from his gaggle of girls to sit next to me.
The girls sighed, the boys tried to relocate away from him, and Ms. Fish reprimanded them but not Mr. I’m-so-cool over here. What spell had he cast on this school? Something powerful. That is the only way he could get such a misanthropic old curmudgeon to let his disregard for classroom etiquette slide.
“Guten Morgen. I don’t think we were formally introduced. I’m Hade.” He stuck out the smooth pampered fingers of a favoured child in my personal space with a small grin. I took the slip of notepaper on top of his notebook instead of acknowledging his irritating presence. “You look really nice today. Some special occasion?”
I blinked and glanced down at my apparel. Oh. Yes. I was wearing a dress. Darn.
“No occasion, just all-purpose stupidity.” I generally practice the tactic of self-deprecation. It has saved me from having to spend my life doing other people’s homework. No matter what grade I earned on a test, I always announced that it was “simply atrocious,” making other help-hungry students leave me be. Let them think I am an awful test taker. It is their loss if they don’t wish to be my friend because they actually like me. Forgive the particularly dark scribbling there. I’m just bitter distracted.
Anyway, he laughed and said, “Really? You seem so smart I can’t imagine you doing anything stupid.”
“Yet, you know nothing about me.” It was scandalising really, how familiar he was being. I may be old-fashioned, but really, such action is unbecoming even in this modern day and age. He touched his temples and closed his eyes melodramatically.
“Your name is…Inanna, like banana…” He said it in a ridiculous English accent. “You are a senior at…just a moment, it’s becoming clearer. Jackson Academy of the Sciences in ‘Music City’, and you are a devoted student. I have never seen such dedication in any of my other clients, my dear. I wonder if you would be so dedicated in all parts of your life… Hmm, What else do I see?… You shall, in the near future, see the latest last-of-the-summer blockbusters with a handsome stranger. Looks very nice, if my inner eye isn’t on the fritz.”
He leaned forward and held out his hand for me to shake. It was kind of sweet, to put on such an elaborate act to enlist my affection instead of relying on the legion behind him. For such an ingenious line as that, he really wasted it on a girl like me.
“Your inner eye isn’t on the fritz. It’s completely obfuscated, I’m afraid.” I am completely unimpressed. He even seemed surprised I wasn’t on my knees begging for the honour to lick his polished Italian leather derbys.
Why, I don’t know; if he really knew anything about me, he would know I have no interest in romantic inclinations of any sort. Mostly since they don’t interest me, but that’s also how you keep out of trouble in high school; shun attachment like Buddha in a glue factory (Isn’t that mental image fantastic?).
“Really?” he asked.
“I don’t even know you,” I pointed out.
He shrugged and answered, “I’m an actor, well-liked by most everyone around. You know, I bet you do this to all the new boys. Scare them away so they won’t bother you. I don’t scare, though.” He smiled flirtatiously, retracting his hand oh so surreptitiously.
I saw red, and then I tamped it down to a smoulder. It wasn’t his fault that I already knew him to be most likely just another bully roaming the halls.
“Really, I’m so glad that you know my mind so well. Otherwise, I would think you an insufferable, hebetudinous blowhard.”
Really, the more I talked with him, the more I disliked him. The feeling is not reciprocated, unfortunately. I would have much preferred it if he would have gone after me to bully me instead of this mock-flirting. Then I could fight back. Even if I could just hide away in the crowd, that would be fine.
“I wonder why you use such multisyllabic sentences in your everyday life. Are you just pretending to defend a literature thesis every time you open your mouth?” he asked as he handed back my proofed homework.
Why he was insulting me so, I had no clue. Maybe because I was being cruel, but I didn’t think so at the time. So I just ignored him, like my mother always says. “Ignore, ignore, ignore, Inanna.” The words bounced in my head as Ms. Fish began her lesson on simple probability, and that prick slipped a note on top of my book. I never read it (for it went straight into the trash the moment class was over), but he was wearing on my nerves.
Fifth period was torture. I listened to everyone caterwauling their lines like toms in heat. It made me want to cry. Why did they twist their pitch and tone so when they read Shakespeare? Was it that hard to just read it like real language instead of some impenetrable foreign tongue? I pleaded sickness and fled at lunchtime. I would have gladly stuck my fingers down my throat if it meant getting out of the incompetence…and away from him, of course.
Yes, he made it all the worse. Every ten minutes or so, I would have to move because he followed me over to my seat, asked me questions, and badgered me incessantly. Why did he have to invade my sacred personal space? Why couldn’t he just pick a normal pretty girl to fuss over? I’m not even pretty, I’ll readily admit to that. I’m obscenely short. My jaw is too strong and my eyes too “piercingly judgemental”. I’ll pick you apart before I even speak to you. That’s what an old friend had said. My hair is never fashionable; it’s too long for that. I’m an old schoolmarm in form and affectation, and I like it that way. No one expects me to be anything else, and I don’t want them to.
But him. And it makes me want to heave.
I returned from hiding for sixth period, but not because I wanted to. My already stellar attendance would not be blighted by an annoyance of little consequence.
At home, I collapsed into bed for what felt like a few hours. Waking up with the golden afternoon sun on your face just does wonders for your disposition. I pulled out my computer and checked my mail. Just as promised, two fat files waited for me attached to a friendly generic greeting in German. I busied myself with translating the prologue until bed.
I dragged my feet going to school the next morning. Why wasn’t everything going like normal? Normal was classes, learning, and leaving to do better things with my time; there is no skipping of classes or sniping conversations in front of teachers in “normal.” Just because Ms. Fish was busy being human at another student does not make my behaviour in any way acceptable. Ugh. Again my morning was peaceful, allowing me to prepare for that idiot by fourth period.
“Can I borrow your notes from yesterday? I left mine at home.” A likely story from you-know-who.
“What about your friends over there? Don’t they have acceptable notes?” I looked down on him, regardless of the fact that he was taller than me even while seated. I made it work after years of long practice.
“I’m afraid I’m in a bit of a jam. Seems the girls get angry here if you leave them without a goodbye.” He shrugged, and I sighed in a put-upon fashion.
“Be my guest.” I handed over my notebook. It was filled with numbers and shorthand, not really user-friendly. He frowned at my notes for a long moment.
“Ahh, yeah, I know this code. I use it too.” Was that supposed to impress me? I used the simplest shorthand possible; a monkey could write in that style.
“Grand, now scoot. I have to do my work, and I can’t unless I have my book…” I sent him an imperious look, but he took no heed. With care and grace, he took the book to his desk beside mine (The girls were now evenly distributed). He carefully copied out a few lines on a borrowed sheet of notebook paper, and then handed it back to me.
“Whatever,” I replied cautiously. No need to make him think you like him in any sense of the word. Yep, so I sent him a mild glare for good measure. “You should have brought your own notes.”
He just smiled, satisfied, then turned back to his nearest friend. I rolled my eyes, glad he had finally gotten over vying for my attention.
But drama was dramatic, to say the least. The list was posted outside the door of the theatre. I was up there somewhere, probably Viola, but maybe Tucker decided to “gender bend” again, who knew? Yup, near the bottom, in alphabetical order is “Viola” connected ever so delicately to my name. So excited, so surprised, I’m just jumping, hopping in place in joy and enthusiasm. Couldn’t you tell?
Now that you have survived that sarcasm overdose, I looked for my love interest. The count was to be played by the student who was Lysander last year. Good. He’s the first to learn his lines in any performance. I slipped inside to tell Tucker about the musical rights and costs and the like. Leitmotif demanded I pay in euros, which I was happy to accept. The euro had fallen sharply in the last few years do