Bitch. The word hissed out of Patty’s mouth like the air escaping from the pop bottle Lacey opened to use as mix. Not that Patty really thought Mrs. Simperson was a bitch. Really, Mrs. Simperson was smart and passionate and kind. But she was also a total weirdo who talked about things like the patriarchy and always had crusty eye boogers and once she said she wished she were a tree so she could pray all day. That kind of weird was fair game, really. Besides, she should have known better than to take on Shannon.
It was a January evening (2014). My husband came home from day shift at 6pm, and we chatted about our day in front of the evening news before I went upstairs to dish supper. On the way out of the room, a news story made me stop: a woman on the television, crying, angry. The remains of her daughter vandalized, spilled into the street, by three malicious teens in the middle of the night.
My heart broke for this woman, but also for the girls. The news said the girls seemed unfeeling about what they did, and I wondered if that was true. It was chilling, how easily I could have done such a thing in my teenage years, if spurred on by friends, alcohol, the bravery of a dark night. I rushed through dinner and set this story on the page.
- This story is the first in a collection of linked fiction I’m completing. Other stories from this collection have appeared in Punchnel’s, Bare Fiction, and A Cappella Zoo. Probably the easiest for the reader to link to this story at this point is “Tell Me What You Want” (Punchnel’s). 15 year old Patty of “But For the Stars…” becomes Al’s wife Patricia, later.
- Mrs. Simperson was partly inspired by a hippy-esque college professor I once had who lectured that she “wished she were a tree so she could pray all day.”
- In the story you’ll notice the tendency to list three adjectives in a row like: pretty, beautiful, ethereal. The last adjective, the one italicized, is a new word for Patty, pulled from the vocabulary sheets Mrs. Simperson had assigned them earlier that day.
- Words are very important to young Patty: to be assigned a word, like Jamie, is an act of love – the only thing that separates us from dust.
- This story was about finding the magnificent in the mortal: that we are more than dust, less than stars, and yet utterly whole. Jamie.