Our thinly disguised fictional versions of ourselves have become characters on the page. I typed up the final stories my friends in the RS Fiction Factory wrote in after school intervention. And I wrote my own, after a model character the kids named.
What the Others Think
Lizzie is leaning on her desk in Room 22 looking out the window. She daydreams during reading assignments. Mrs. Hues walks by and taps her book. She gives Lizzie the look and walks on.
Lizzie is not the only kid waiting for the lunch bell. The chair is her prison. Her mind is full of sentences. “Will anyone here like me?” she wonders to herself.
Walking in the group to the cafeteria, Lizzie is paler than the other kids. Her thin black hair is pulled into a scraggly ponytail. Skinny white arms stick out of a white blouse and swing against a blue uniform jumper that’s been laundered hundreds of times.
In line with jostling kids, her worried face floats over a sturdy frame held up by strong legs. No one else wears roll down white socks with their running shoes. Some girls secretly talk about her. If they are making fun of her, Lizzie thinks she might agree with their opinion.
Lizzie sits down at the end of one long table by herself in noisy room. Kids are unpacking store bought Lunchables and eating cafeteria burritos. Lizzie opens a small paper bag. The two boys across from her stop to watch her pull out a white bread sandwich she made that morning.
“What’s that?” one boy asks. Lizzie doesn’t speak. She forces herself to take a bite of bologna.
“Hey,” says the other boy in a tie-dye spirit shirt, “It’s a sandwich! Duh!” Both boys laughed and slapped each, other teasing themselves. Lizzie shrugged. She wonders if any of them ever feel lonely.
“It’s bologna,” she says. More laughing that she doesn’t get.
Outside at recess the air is sunny and warm. The wind reminds Lizzie of home. Kansas. She heads for the basketball courts. Those two silly boys follow her, but she doesn’t care.
Without asking, Lizzie trots onto one court and intercepts a rebound off the hoop. She pivots, dribbling and goes around two players to return for a lay up. Several kids are rushing in to take the rebound and Lizzie darts into the swarm to come zigzagging out with the ball. She shoots and scores again.
She doesn’t pass or look at anyone. But those legs and speed are a surprise to the kids on the court. Lizzie has tuned out their comments, mostly in Spanish.
Lizzie exits the court on the other side running out onto the grassy field. She imagines she’s a wild horse and gallops to the farthest edge of the field, running until her lungs ache. She wheels around catching a breath, ready to cross imaginary prairies with a mustang herd when the bell makes her heart sink. “Ugh…” She becomes lonely girl again.
Turning the hallway corner to Room 22 she sees the two boys standing with a group by the door. One kid kind of waves a hand at her.
“Hey! That was good basketball,” said Abner.
“My name is Cristiano,” said the other, the one who had laughed about her sandwich. “I always bring my grandma’s quesadillas or tamales. I’ve never had a white bread sandwich. They look good.”
And because the two funny guys were talking to her, two girls named Hailey and Rocio also said “Hi,” and smiled at her.
Mrs. Hues came walking back and started shooing everyone in the classroom. “Get out your science notebooks, all of you,” she said.
Lizzie stood a moment longer looking at the little group of kids and then felt happy for the first time in a long time. “Thanks,” she nodded.
“It’s hard to be the new kid,” said Abner.
“Yeah,” said Hailey. “I remember.” Hailey rolled her eyes knowingly.
“Maybe you can teach me some Spanish?” she asked looking at the girls. Rocio smiled looking up shyly.
Lizzie felt accepted. Fourth grade was going to be okay.