She was Marked Absent the Next Day
A Short story by Lex Vex
“No! Don’t even think that! You’re horrible!”
Martha Smote leaned forward on the crisp, immaculate countertop, one hand tucked under her chest for support, the other holding a cordless phone to her ear.
“That’s not something to kid about. After what she—she still probably should be going in but I can’t force her to keep her appointments. No, yeah, I agree; she should be taking this worse.” Martha smiled disdainfully as she listened into the earpiece. She examined her fingernails for dirt; finding none, she turned herself around and leaned her back against the cabinets.
“She seems better, but she won’t go near a car. I can’t say I blame her. The only trouble is, she wont take the bus either, so now, I get calls every other day about how she walks into first period five minutes before the bell rings! Frankly, Alice, I don’t know what to do.”
Martha walked a few feet to the family bulletin board. She studied the dark calendar with mild interest. It had been sent in the mail by Elvington Mortuary and depicted grainy pictures of suburban greens where you could, if you chose to call the 800 number, deposit your remains. She had hung it because it was free. Martha glanced from the picture to a date circled in red sharpie.
“Almost to the day. She has it marked on the calendar, can you believe that?”
Martha scowled into the phone.
“Jesus, why are you so interested? Are you some kind of sadist?” Martha paused to check her yellowing teeth in the hall mirror. “What do you want to know that for anyway?”
She listened for a second and replied, defeated, “Tomorrow. Nothing to worry about. I heard her the other night, on the phone with one of her friends. Heard her say she’d been flirting with some boy at school, and, when I was cleaning her room the other day, I found this love poem under her bed.”
Martha walked over to the entrance of a small bedroom. She peered in before continuing.
“I don’t remember exactly. She hid it somewhere after I picked it up and put it on her bed. Must have been embarrassed because I found it. I know. I’ve done it—I am a snoopy snoopy mother.” Martha smiled, satisfactorily. “It was really gushy though. One line in particular caught my eye—something about a sweet, constricting embrace.”
The woman turned on the lights of the room, then wandered around it, picking up and putting away the things on the floor. A black blouse. A small stuffed dog with only one eye. A pile of folded papers next to the bed.
“I don’t know. Could have been a different word. I think it means he’s an older man. HA. Like older like 16 older.”
Straightening up, she laughed heartily into the receiver, and only stopped after she’d folded the blouse in front of her on the bedspread.
“Not at all. I would more if I wasn’t so relieved she’s finally found a boyfriend. She’s a pretty girl. Get’s calls every Saturday from this boy or that, but she’d turned everyone down. I tell you, I was just waiting for her to tell me she was a queer.” She paused. “I can’t wait to meet him.”
She listened for a second, swept the room with her eyes, turned off the lights and closed the door.
“How are my nieces anyway? Can I speak to them? Hello, sweetums!—”
* * *
Two miles away, the girl in the middle row, on the left side of the classroom, finished organizing the messy papers into a pile, while others continued to scribble frantically on their own sheets. Walking up to the desk at the front, she stapled the mess together and handed the stack to Mrs. Hayford, who took it gently without glancing up from her crossword puzzle. The girl had turned and begun walking back to her desk before hearing Mrs. Hayford call her name.
“You forgot your name,” she said, thrusting it towards the girl, again without looking up. Blushing, the girl picked up the page and quickly scribbled, Sydney at the top before handing it back.
Sydney walked back to her seat and slumped down, pulling the long sleeves of her sweatshirt down over her wrists. She then tucked them under her armpits as if she were cold and looked around the room. Everywhere others were rushing to finish before—
The bell grated. Life stirred around the room; people were handing in papers, running out the door or chatting easily with friends. Some were rushing to finish so they could get in their last two cents.
A few seats down from where Sydney sat, two girls stage-whispered animatedly to one another.
“Yup! Steve drove by when it happened. Saw the whole thing.”
“Ew! Did he get anything on his car? Weren’t he and Russell like, close friends?”
“Yeah- the best. Course at the time, he couldn’t tell who it was. It was worse for-” The girl lowered her voice a granule. “You know…”
“Apparently she saw the whole thing happen right in front of her.”
“Yeah. Steve said that the look on her face is going to haunt him for the rest of his life.”
“Wasn’t he her…”
“Yeah. Since they were in kindergarten.”
Sydney felt eyes boring into the back of her head. She glanced toward the feeling, then stood and began packing up her things. She stared vacantly at the desk as she swung her swollen backpack over her knotted shoulders. Sydney edged her way past a couple of last minute essay writers and started out of the classroom.
“Sydney!” The two girls from class were walking beside her in the hallway. Sydney smiled kindly at them.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“We were just wondering if… if you wanted to hang out before the dance this Saturday—do hair, make-up, that kind of thing,” said the first girl. They waited for a response.
Looking at the carpet, Sydney nodded her head slightly. “That could be fun. You could help pick out my dress and stuff.”
“Oh! Perfect!” cried the second. “My dress is sexy as hell. Dark green with gold trim and this funky urban Africa pattern. They only have it at the specialty store in New York. What are your options?”
“Black. Just black. They’re all a little hard for me to put on by myself though. I bought them especially for the occasion.”
“Ooo, edgy, I like it!” Nodded the first, approvingly. “All the boys will be lookin’ at you!”
The second girl elbowed the first. She rubbed her arm as the second girl interjected, “Do you have a date yet?”
Sydney chuckled mirthlessly.
“Not yet. There’s this one guy I’ve been flirting with for a while now, though. He’s asked me several times but I had to turn him down. Though it’s more like I backed down, really.” She smiled. “If he asks again though, I think I’ll accept. I heard a rumor that he’s going to ask me tonight.”
The other two girls looked at each other in confusion. They had heard no rumor about this at all. They knew everything. The group halted in front of Sydney’s locker, where she started collecting her things.
“Who is he?” They asked, nosily.
Sydney raised and eyebrow and laughed, this time with feeling.
“I’m not telling. If he knows I’ll accept, he might not ask.”
She placed the in the last of her unneeded books before tucking a small, plain envelope between the shelves. Swinging her locker shut, she turned towards the two bewildered girls and said goodbye.
“You’ll be the first to know tomorrow if I get my date.” Sydney smiled and trotted happily out of the door and into a gust of swirling autumn wind before the other two could reply.
* * *
Mrs. Hayford shook the wet umbrella out in the mudroom. The teacher took off her rain boots in one swift motion without disturbing a single globule of water.
“That you, honey?” called a voice from the kitchen.
“Yeah, just got in.” She walked through the door-less entryway to the kitchen and over to the young man standing with his head in the refrigerator. “You?” she asked, pulling out the carton of cider hidden behind a pickle-jar on the door.
“I got in about an hour ago.” He pulled his head out of the fridge long enough to give his wife a fleeting kiss. “How does lasagna sound?”
“As long as it doesn’t take four hours like last time. Do I have to help you?”
“Its probably better if you don’t, Babe.”
“Good. I have to read through the short stories I gave my sophomores.”
“Ah, the head case crowd. Have fun.” Mr. Hayford looked out the window where light raindrops were wetting the parched ground. “When did it start to rain?” he asked his wife.
“About five seconds after I left the school building. It was heavier a little while ago. The weather report says it’s supposed to get worse through the night.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Hayford knowingly. “The calm before the storm.”
Mrs. Hayford rolled her eyes but stuck out her tongue at her husband. He returned the silly face.
“Start cooking, chef. And call me when dinner’s ready.”
Mrs. Hayford walked over to her work desk, spread out her things and began to read.
Each story was more depressing than the last. Some were about war, others about deadly diseases, and more than a few were sad treatises on that bitch who stole my boyfriend. They almost always involved someone’s head exploding or guts flying everywhere. Half of them did not use grammar, punctuation, spelling or even format correctly, and plots or character development was a beautiful dream that never seemed to come to fruition. By the time she got halfway through, she was ready to blow her own brains out. Finally, she reached a story that looked harmless. It was about a dog and a rabbit. Written in a cursive hand, it read:
Billy was a jackrussel. Jessibelle was a jackrabbit. Billy was a carnivore with a quick temper and black fur, while Jessibelle was an herbivore gentle as could be with fur as white as snow. Though they were so different, they found themselves friends faster than the speed of light. Everywhere one went the other one came along. They sometimes brought each other with them, all the time. Sometimes they went alone. They grew up far quicker than they could have imagined and soon all of their rabbit and dog friends were pairing off. Walking around together became more and more the topic of gossip amid the other animals and soon they could not go anywhere without someone suggesting they were together. At first this troubled Jessibelle. But after a time, she too began to wish that they had a special relationship. After they saw a movie one time, while they walked home down a sidewalk, she asked him if he liked the idea. She wouldn’t look at him and waited for him to speak. She waited for a long time but he never said anything. Looking up she was surprised to see him smiling at her. She was happy. Very happy. As she was about to ask again what he thought he leaned foreward and bumped their noses together. He whispered to her, his tail wagging because he was so happy.
“I think its a great idea”
Then he licked her forehead. They snuggled for a little while on the side of the road. It was sunset before thejack Russell realized he had to go. Leaping to his feet he licked her forehead one more time. Then he backed slowly out into the road; his new house was just across the street. Billy smiled at her and ecstatically repeated “I love you”. He stood in the middle of the three way intersection. She, facing the middle road saw it coming before either of them could react. It did not happen in slow motion. The car, moving too quickly down the street to be stopped saw Billy just before it hit. The breaks shrieked as it tried in vein to halt the cars progress. Jessibelle closed her eyes tight and felt warm flecks of something rain over her body. The smell of iron invaded her nose. Opening her eyes, she found her white coat stained with polkadots. To her right, she noticed the empty face of Billy, staring at her from blank opaque eyes. His body was contorted, his flesh ripped open from the inside out. Foam and bile and drool and blood dripped from his mouth but he was not dead quite yet His hand was twitching and in his one eye that hadnt clouded over, you could see red goo oozing from where a scrap of car had punctured it. He was still looking at me and he still whispered I love you I love you I love you.
“What in the hell?” Mrs. Hayford turned the page, her mouth open a little. “Well that escalated quickly…” There was one final paragraph written in constricted handwriting.
Jessibelle wandered aimlessly for the next few years seeing Billy in unexpected places. Every time she did, he would beckon her to come with him but afraide, she would stop herself just short of grabbing his paw. Then one day she was no longer afraid. She swore that the next time he appeared she would follow him. She did.
Mrs. Hayford rubbed her temples. She was done for the night. Flipping to the first page, she reread the heading to see whom it was by. Something clicked when she saw the name at the top of the paper. She paused for a moment. Then, with a quicker and clumsier movement than she had intended she jumped towards the phone fast as a rabbit. Grabbing the directory, she looked through the lists, and when she found the one she sought, dialed the number with numb fingers. The first brrrrrringgg grated when Mrs. Hayford looked again at the paper in her hands. Then she glanced over to the stack of other demented stories, with their gore and mayhem and lack of subtleties. Then back to the paper again.
Mrs. Hayford quietly slammed the phone back into its cradle and set the story on top of the other finished papers. She sat staring.
“Babe?” Questioned a feathery voice from the kitchen.
“Yes?” Mrs. Hayford replied, not dropping her gaze from the phone.
“Be right there.”
* * *
“You are soaked!” Mrs. Smote stared at her daughter dripping on the fresh tile floor. “I mean really, Sydney, I just cleaned.”
Sydney shrugged. “I didn’t have an umbrella.”
Outside the sound of thunder boomed.
Mrs. Smote sighed with resignation “Go get a shower. You’re going to catch your death if you stay out here all wet.”
Again, Sydney just shrugged, but she did as she was told and took a shower while her mother mopped up the flood of water that now covered the floor of the room. Midway through her shower, a particularly close lightening bolt caused the power to go out. Feeling around in the dark, Sydney found her towel. She stood in front of the mirror taking in her nudity as she wrapped herself in a terrycloth robe. Lightening lit the room for a moment, and as it did, Sydney gazed into the mirror and pretended she saw a figure next to her; it leaned its head against hers. A split second later, it was dark again. Sydney finished tying the robe, shook open the door and talked above the storm in the direction of her mother.
“I don’t feel very well.”
“Do you think you’re going to throw up?” The thunder and lightening were taking place at shorter intervals.
“No. It’s more like a headache.”
She heard her mothers exasperated sigh from somewhere by the fireplace in the living room.
“Then take a Tylenol or something—You know where I keep the meds.” With permission, Sydney headed back towards the hallway.
“And get to bed early.”
Sydney darted back into the bathroom. Opening the medicine cabinet, she grabbed a bottle of pills, and carefully picked up the full glass of water she had left out before her shower. She carried them to her room and locked the door as a lightening bolt shook the house next door.
©2014 Lex Vex
AN: My goal was to take four short scenes that, by themselves, have little to no meaning, but when paired together create something subtly disturbing. No clue if I failed or not. Enjoy!