:: Article


By Kelly Shriver.

The flush partially drowned the screams. I remember choking noises, then more water churning. The grunting laughter of the football players holding Jackity upside-down. My bare feet gripping the seat of the handicap toilet. I didn’t pray. I didn’t do anything.

We belonged to the Refugees, an ignominious subset of West Nowhere High School. All the usual groups existed every year, never changing despite new faces. Dramaramas, Alphas, Techies, Jackasses, Pinks: They all spat hatred our way. Without any effort at all, I became a Refugee on my first day of ninth grade. Hand-knit acrylic sweater. Free lunch. Greasy hair. We were all guys except one that year, five of us.

Firenzo was born with one stubby finger sticking out from his shoulder. He walked around in clogs. Kicked them off, wrote with his feet. Told everyone it was his middle finger. At lunch we’d escape to his joystick van. Coke bottles dented the doors. Dog shit splattered the windshield.

Byron (Master) Bates lived up to his nickname; even the guidance counselors disowned him. I’d guard the bathroom door for him five times a day, when I could. Sometimes I couldn’t. We knew he’d never function in the real world. He’d failed eleventh grade three times before my time.

The androgynous one was Jesse, creepy sloe-eyed reader: Vonnegut, then Austen, then the Bible, then the Book of the Dead. Gym teacher checked Jesse’s health record, sent her into the girls’ locker room. That’s when the Fashionistas took her on, arranged a makeover party. Burned her lips and cheeks with bleach cream. Nothing she hadn’t already done to herself.

When Byron sealed himself in his landlord’s garage, nobody came to his funeral, just his mother and us. She never stopped sucking on her flask. Spiked the Kool-Aid in her kitchen. Firenzo danced, kicking and spinning, perfectly balanced, an armless Baryshnikov. I clapped for him, then stopped. He’d never be able to clap for anyone.

Jackity, the only black kid in three counties, told us his missing dad was a hoodoo doctor. I brought him red pepper so he could make hot foot powder. Because I was invisible, I also spooned dirt straight up from the jocks’ fresh footprints. Recipe for the curse: Write the names of Byron’s tormentors nine times, then throw the list into running water. But there was no river. We flushed it instead, and that’s when they caught him.

Sunday nights after that, Jackity performed his rituals. Candles burning, wax dripping. Tiny effigies with pins sticking out all over. Clown makeup he stole from CVS making his face into a zombie mask. I knit a teeny-tiny varsity letter jacket for him. Stepped into the shadows.

kelly-shriverABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Shriver
lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her short fiction has appeared online in Pindeldyboz, Juked and Opium magazines. Her story The Ethical Dilemma of a Sandwich Down the Pants was named a Top Ten Story of 2007 in StorySouth’s Million Writers Competition. She also co-edits Bound Off, a monthly podcast of short stories. Her website is kellyshriver.com.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, July 16th, 2009.