First place finisher in Kingdom Pen’s inaugural short story contest: “I was captivated by this story from the first sentenceby its strong voice and quirky narrator. The scenario of misunderstood social outcast surviving in a harsh school environment is one that is often used and easily abused, but this writer’s story easily stands out above the status quo. I really enjoyed reading Of Parallels and Perpendiculars, and hope to read more by this author in the future.” ~ Braden Russell, contest judge
Originally published in the September/October issue of 2012.
By: Erynn Besse
It is impossible for ordinary people to understand the concept of parallels. The teacher, a sub today, draws two lines on the blackboard and tries to explain parallels. But he does not get it. These two lines may not have intersected in the space of the blackboard, but extended to some unknown distance, these lines would continuously inch closer together until they intersected. In the case of these two lines, I estimate their point of intersection to be about ten feet above the blackboard. That is contradictory to the definition of parallel.
Parallel [par-uh-lel, -luh] adjective, noun, verb, –leled, -lelling: extending in the same direction, equidistant from all points, and never converging or diverging.
The lines on his blackboard, while he says they are parallel, are simply not extending in the same direction, equidistant from all points! They tell me that normal people do not think like this. For the twenty-two other students in this class, the two not parallel lines on the blackboard pose no problem. I place no trust in the caliber of these students. They, the doctors, therapists, counselors, and Miss Derringer, tell me that my “unique viewpoint originates from a highly developed mental disorder.” They call it obsessivecompulsive-disorder. I call it an opinion. I also call it hell. Both names fit my condition.
No one gets it. The teacher draws lines on the blackboard and calls them parallel when they are not. The teacher draws lines on the blackboard and calls them perpendicular when they do not meet at a precise, ninety-degree angle. It is all lies! No one else sees the lies. When I mention the lies, I get stared at and shot down. I have learned not to mention how everybody lies. I see people hiding behind their lies; lies that they do not even realize themselves.
Their illegible, scrawling handwriting is a defense mechanism. They do not take the time to perfect their neatness; their spelling leaves much to be desired. It is another lie. People no longer dare to take the time to learn how to achieve. They sit behind their sloppy handwriting, poor spelling, and parallel lines that are never parallel!
Nothing is ever as they say it is. Nothing. That is a sentence fragment, just one word, but my therapist says that fragments can be acceptable in certain circumstances. I disagree. I disagree with my therapist more than the doctors deem healthy. There has been more talk about hospitalizing me lately.
“Is there a problem?” The sub stands above me. He looks at me, quizzical, confused. Has my body language said something? I was unaware of any alarms my body language was blaring. Behind me, the whole class moans; they all hate me.
“Don’t talk to her!” Dylan Carpenter cries mockingly. “It only gets worse!”
The sub turns to one of the worst liars in the school. “Mr. Carpenter!” Dylan only snickers and slumps back into his seat. “Didn’t you have a question?” He was talking to me again. I hate subs. I hate them. I look over at Dylan; he raises an eyebrow and offers a jeering, challenging smile. He issues a nonverbal challenge for me to confront the sub about his poor line drawing abilities, or whatever he has decided bugged me. Experience has taught me to not place confidence in the abilities of Dylan Carpenter’s brain.
“Your lines are not parallel.” I look down at the perfectly neat desk in front of me. My notebook is open and fits into the lower left hand corner of the desk. Two identical pencils rest in the cavity at the top of the desk, erasers touching.
The sub’s confusion deepens.
“Parallel.” I talk into the desk, not daring to look at the class around me. They would laugh. They always laugh. “Extending in the same direction, equidistant from all points, and never converging or diverging.” The class snickers. “Those lines would meet,” I manage to grit my teeth and ignore the whispers. I have to. The whispers never go away. I must force the whispers to be irrelevant. “With an extension of approximately ten feet, those lines would cross.”
Dylan sits up, his size ten shoes kicking over his backpack. He acts intentionally, knowing that the organization of his backpack is nothing. He is one of those ordinary people who cannot see the lies of his own life. Folders and papers spill out, covering the floor in a horrible, disorganized pile of unfinished school work.
“Just ignore Essie, Mr. Griggs, she’s OCD.” His sneer speaks of condescending, mocking, evil pity. That pity is the one thing I cannot leave behind. Horrid, suffocating pity is the only thing that parallels my life. I cannot get rid of pity, no matter how hard I try. I cannot reach into the pity and thrust it away, because someone, somewhere will always pity me.
How dare they pity me? How dare they pity me when it is they who should be pitied for their sloppiness and their lies? How dare they?
I stand. It is a calculated movement. I close my notebook, unzip my backpack, place the notebook in its proper place, and put the pencils in their holders. The class stares, but does nothing to stop me. They may pity me, but they do not dare interfere. I zip my backpack and take exactly 3.4 seconds to place my backpack on my back. I turn and walk from the room, my paces slow and even.
I walk with regular paces in a straight line. There is no other way to move. Ten paces to the back of the classroom, turn left, five paces to the door, and exit into the hallway. Whispers break out behind me, but I do not look back. Why would I?
In the hallway, turn right, sixty paces straight, turn right, two hundred and fourteen paces straight, and stop. I stand in the central foyer of the high school. The foyer is empty, but the cafeteria teems with the three-hundred and twenty-seven students that have lunch fifth period. Today, there are three-hundred and thirty-two students: four are missing, nine are cutting class. I do not know who, I never know who: I just know the simple, hard numbers. The students in the cafeteria scream, laugh, joke, gossip, and stab each other in the back, twisting the lines of life into a complicated mess. They do not see what I learned ages ago. They do not see the deadly trap they have woven of their lives.
To be continued…