Later that morning I had biology class which is one of my favorites mostly because James is there and Chloe isn’t and also because I like the teacher Mr. Spellman. Which is not to say that I like biology at all, in fact I hate it like I hate most of my subjects. If I couldn’t be more clear, know this, that I hate school. Perhaps this may seem a contradiction, given my predilection for reading as I described earlier. But it was precisely this fondness for actual learning that made me hate school to begin with. High school isn’t about expanding one’s mind with the fruits of the past and present world. It’s about society covering its own ass, making sure that all the little human units matriculating toward functionality obtain a minimum of operating efficiency, just enough to land everyone in a job to keep the machine going. Now I’m not going to get all political on you, I’m not a communist or a socialist or a conspiracist and I don’t care about leading some diatribe against “the man,” hell, I’m not even a feminist. I just don’t like anyone telling me what I have to learn. Unlike the rest of the great unwashed of this school, I actually have intellectual curiosity, I actually crack a book of my own volition, I choose to learn.
Everyone else here gets dragged through the curriculum kicking and screaming. Well I choose not to be dragged.
That’s why instead of listening to Mr. Spellman lecture us on the biology of frogs, I was busy still educating myself on the historical and ethical considerations of the history of Vodou, by continuing my book from the morning. I was still interested in the specifics of spell- mongering with an eye on using personal effects as a gateway into a love object’s soul, hence my discreet sideways glances toward James across the room from me. I read a little, glanced a little, read a little, glanced a little, being careful never to let James discover my mini-ritual. Thinking back upon it now, these moments were probably amongst my most happy of my Griffin Hills career. There I was, beholding my own personal dream lover, whilst reading words in the hope of subjugating him to my dreams. Dreams upon dreams. It really was magic.
My reverie got complicated when James caught me glancing at him. My muscles involuntarily twitched, and while trying to be cool at the same time all I could do was fumble my book onto my desk, losing my page completely as the book closed itself. I picked it up in an instant, pretending that the James glance never happened, humming a spontaneously composed ditty in my head, trying to maintain a semblance of dignity. I couldn’t see James at this point but in my mind he was laughing at me because I was such a dork. I flipped through the book quickly, for the sooner I started reading again the better. It was just a moment after this that one of the students who was assisting Mr. Spellman slammed a large wooden board onto my lab desk, and onto this board was tacked what was so obviously a crucified dead frog, “crucified” being the operative word. I nearly vomited at the sight. That’s when I first registered what Mr. Spellman was saying to the class.
“Look for the opening to the frog’s cloaca,” he said, “located between the hind legs. “You’ll use forceps to lift the skin, and use scissors to cut along the center of the body from the cloaca to the lip. Then you’ll turn back the skin, cut toward the side at each leg, and pin the skin flat.”
You have got to be kidding me.
Meanwhile, amidst this unholy jolt, somehow James had taken it upon himself to sneak over to my desk, I mean, holy shit he was walking right up to me. This did not make any sense. In no reality whatsoever did this make any sense. James had never done this before. I don’t know why I reacted with such panic, and even, dare I say, revulsion. Wasn’t this what I wanted? I wasn’t ready, I told myself. There was still reading to be done, a foundation to be laid, dreams to remain unacted upon. This had to remain in the fantasy realm a bit longer, it was all premature, it was all… Too late. He was standing there over me, opening his magnificent mouth to speak…
“Hey, I talked with Chloe, and she still wants you to come to the falls with us after school. You up for it?”
James was asking me a question. There would eternally be only one answer for whatever James would ever ask me, eternally.
Great, done, now, leave! But James did not return to his seat. He kept right on talking. “And... I want you to come too.”
I now know what it’s like to be paralyzed from the neck down. I froze like a statue. Hopefully a cool statue, but I felt like a drooler. James just smiled a little, perfectly of course. For a second he looked as if to leave, but then he told me something more.
“You know, that was pretty sweet, your fight with Chloe. You totally kicked her ass!”
The funny thing was then, I felt such a stereotypical twinge of pride, like my inner voice was saying to me, “damn right I kicked her ass, and thank you for noticing!” But then a very odd feeling came over me. Something I had never felt before. It was as if I had no control over what I was about to say, but I had to say it, it was compulsive, necessary, as if my physical being demanded it. I leaned over toward James, drew my breath inward so as to speak, but then paused on the ledge of trepidation. James saw this (it was so obvious!), and he uttered these horrible words to me:
“What is it?”
This to me was a demand, so when my words came out, they spilled over one another in a clumsy deluge.
“Can I have something of yours?”
Even when I was saying these words, I couldn’t believe I was saying them. James of course looked completely flummoxed, and I wanted to die. Thankfully, before any of this comitragedy could continue, Mr. Spellman finally noticed that James had wandered from his assigned place.
“James!” was all he said, and all he needed to say. Knowing that Mr. Spellman was one of the younger, cool teachers, James started a dialogue.
“Sorry, Mr. S,” he said, “it’s just that Anna is reading the coolest book.” For the briefest moment it felt like James was throwing me under the bus, getting me busted, laying the blame on me, but then of course I realized that me and James and Mr. Spellman formed an unbeatable triumvirate of all that is good and smart and beautiful, that together we could radiate in an enlightened sphere. Mr. Spellman was at least intrigued enough to walk over to investigate the matter. The rest of the students all turned and leaned in. Clearly they were expecting conflict, as is the want of the base class. James and I lingered together, bound together gloriously, as Mr. Spellman arrived and picked up my book to examine it. He read the title aloud for all the class to hear.
“Possession: A History of Voodoo. A bit of light reading?” The stupid class tittered at this. Great, just what I needed to confirm my status as the new Goth queen weirdo. But then I had a sudden brainstorm. I looked at that damn frog again and realized I had the perfect excuse. I became even more timid and meek than usual as I leaned into Mr. Spellman as if to share a confidentiality. I spoke softly.
“I don’t wanna cut the frog.” Genius! And also, conveniently, the truth. Mr. Spellman didn’t miss a beat.
“Anna, relax, it’s okay,” he said. “Your book looks fascinating. Say much about zombies?” Wow. I could feel all the geeks in the class collectively get more interested. Mr. Spellman was a great teacher. I, on the other hand, shunned the spotlight, and of course James was still standing there, so I could only muster a meek nod of a “yes.” Thank goodness Mr.
Spellman took over. He was on one of his typical rolls.
“You know,” he said, “real zombies are nothing like you see in the movies. I mean, why should zombies eat people? It makes no sense! Why don’t they just eat chicken? Probably tastes the same!” The class laughed, as they should. I felt better, and more engaged in what Mr. Spellman was saying, so I asked him the next logical question, even though I already knew the answer.
“So what are they? Zombies?” Mr. Spellman, bless him, leaned into me just a hair more, just enough to indicate that we were having a private conversation, no matter how many of the others could hear.
“Well, in Haiti, where the zombie cults originated, zombies are simply people who have been killed and brought back from the dead. They come back as slaves to their zombie master priest, the one who brings them back. The zombies need guidance from the priest, or else they go insane, since they’ve known the nothingness of death. They say each zombie reacts differently to being brought back, that it’s a sort of rebirth. But it’s just a myth. How did you get so interested?”
Uh oh. Cue awkwardness.
Again I was outside my body, and I have no reason why. I suppose it was a combination of things, James, Mr. Spellman, the frog, the class. But from somewhere deep within me came an unspeakable thing. The truth. And I spoke it.
I wasn’t pausing for effect. It was the paralysis. Mr. Spellman helped me.
“Yes?” he said.
“…chosen.” I whispered.
And before I could utter anything more weird, my body interceded, and I sneezed the mother of all sneezes, my fine nose-mist spraying everywhere. The class erupted in laughter, and chaos momentarily returned to roost. I pretended to be dead. Mr. Spellman did the gallant thing and yelled toward the masses.
“Back to work, clowns!” he barked. He held enough respect that the class followed his command, if begrudgingly. Even James moseyed away. Mr. Spellman knew he had more comforting to do, and he was right. He spoke to me now, truly in private. “Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad you’ve found an interest. And it is science. Tell you what. I’ll accept a short essay on the biology of zombification, instead of the dissection assignment. What do you think?”
Unfortunately a couple nearby students heard this and groaned in protest, I guess thinking that I was getting special treatment or something. I just wanted the whole thing to end, so I gave Mr. Spellman my stock response.
With that Mr. Spellman smiled at me and walked off. Some semblance of order had been restored, but I couldn’t glance at James anymore, not after all that. In front of me still was that poor dead frog, splayed so unceremoniously, its dignity forever stripped.
Then I had an epiphany. My synapses fired and it seemed so painfully obvious. I read my book and waited for just the right moment, before I stuffed the dead frog into my school bag, wooden board and all. Nobody saw.