Wannabe, continued…

Part 1

“Why do you wanna be a fish anyway,” I asked her on the way home.

We both lived on Greenwood Avenue which was only half a mile from school if you cut through the west soccer field. Fiona’s house was at the top of the street near the dead end and mine was at the bottom corner, right where the bus-stop that nobody used was.

Even though no one was waiting, the bus still stopped there every day. Maybe the bus driver felt like someone might show up, but I always thought it was kind of stupid the way he stopped for a bunch of kids that weren’t there and were never gonna be. Fiona used to say he was stopping for ghosts. She told this big story about a girl named Katie who had died on our block because somebody came into her room and slit her throat. Fiona said the bus-driver and Katie were friends so he still stopped out of respect. And I guess that kind of made sense. Or it would have if it wasn’t a total lie.

“I want to be a fish because they’re different,” she said.

She wasn’t making the face anymore but she was still walking all weird–swaying and moving her arms like she was pushing the imaginary water out of her way.

“They even breathe different. It’s all backwards.”

She craned her neck out and pointed at the black lines she had drawn there.

“See?”

They didn’t look like gills because they were straight, not curved. They didn’t look like anything really, just lines. And they were still really bright. They didn’t smear or fade at all even though she had been pouring water over them all day. The pens must have been really good.

“And these are my fins,” she went on, holding out her hands. “When I swim they cut through the water like knives.”

“I have a knife.”

I took it out of my pocket to show her even though she’d seen it before.

“Your knife can’t do what my fins can do.”

“Your fins can’t do what my knife can do.”

I could do a lot with my knife. I was really good at making pointed sticks, and once I even cut an extra notch in a leather belt my mom gave me that was too big.

“My fins help me glide and turn.”

“My knife helps me carve and stab.”

“And file your nails.”

Fiona knew I had never used that knife to stab at anything other than maybe my own thumb. Mostly I liked to take it out and play with the different blades and tools. Other than the knife it had a toothpick, tweezers, a corkscrew, a pair of scissors, and the nail file. When my dad gave it to me all he said was that it was time. It was time. Like I was going to go out into the non-existent wilderness at the top of our street and skin a bear with the nail file.

“Bet your fins can’t file like my knife.”

“They can’t,” she said.

She leaned in close to my face so she could whisper in my ear.

“But I don’t have fingers so it doesn’t matter.”

Before Fiona was a wannabe fish she was a lot of other wannabe things. She was a wannabe private detective, a wannabe bird, a wannabe ghost, a wannabe secret, and a wannabe cloud. One time she was wannabe sun. Another time a wannabe monster. She spent a day as a wannabe spider and almost whole month as a wannabe salesman. You never knew what Fiona was going to wannabe next. It was always different.

When she was a wannabe secret she went around saying nobody could see her, and she didn’t let me say her name out loud. She said I had to think it. And she wouldn’t eat lunch with me for almost three weeks. She said she had to keep to herself. We still walked home together but the only thing she would talk about was what it meant to be a secret.

“Nobody knows me now,” she said. “Not even you.”

She hid in the bushes and walked in the trees next to the sidewalk. When I looked up to find her she yelled at me.

“You can’t see me, so don’t look at me anymore!”

I didn’t like it when Fiona was a wannabe secret but some of the other things weren’t so bad. When she was wannabe sun all she did was smile all the time. She didn’t say anything, she just smiled. Really big and exaggerated. I was the only one that knew that she was supposed to be sun. Everyone else just thought she was nuts. If someone said something about it, Fiona just smiled wider and you couldn’t help but laugh because she looked so weird. Even Jessica Butler thought it was funny–real funny not mean funny. And Jessica Butler was like the girl-version of Jay and Eric so that meant something.

My favorite wannabe was probably when Fiona was a wannabe private detective. She didn’t solve any mysteries but the two of us did sneak into almost every classroom at school. We’d skip lunch and hide behind the lockers by the art room where Mrs. Simon, who was always on lunch duty, almost never checked. Then we’d go find out who wasn’t in their room and have a look around.

Most of what we found was boring. By the end of the week, we knew just about everyone’s grades and about all the junk teachers kept in their desks. I remember Mr. Raleigh’s desk had an old moldy lunch in it that made Fiona gag so loud that I swore we were going to get caught. There were other things too though. We found lots of notes—notes teachers had confiscated from students, notes teachers had written other teachers, notes teachers had written themselves about students, or sometimes notes we couldn’t tell anything about.

We found out that Mr. Matthews was looking for other jobs, that Ms. Thomas was writing a book about people falling in love, and that Derek Meyers really wasn’t an idiot like everyone thought he was.

We found a lot of things we probably weren’t supposed to find, that were probably pretty big secrets, but it didn’t matter. When secrets aren’t about you, it’s pretty hard to figure out what they mean. Most of the time we’d find something and we really wouldn’t know what it was we were looking at. It’s not like if we told someone it’d even make sense.

Like this one time, we found a box in Mrs. Goldman’s desk that was filled with old pictures, all of the same person. And we knew it was something important but we didn’t know why. Sometimes we would open a drawer or pick something up and we could just feel it.

When Fiona took out the first picture, it was of a young girl about our age, smiling next to a bike.

“I think we found something,” Fiona had said real quiet, so I almost couldn’t hear.

I grabbed the picture while she started pulling out the others. They were all of the same girl. The girl at the beach. The girl at a desk. The girl smiling with a dog. The girl bent over a book, sitting under a tree.

“She’s always alone,” said Fiona. “Why is she always alone?”

Another time we found a bunch of pills in Mr. Andrews desk. Then we found a shriveled up rose in the cupboard in back of Mrs. Ford’s room. And then there was the piece of paper, pushed way to the back of Mrs. McKensie’s desk, that had the name Alison written all over it. Alison, Alison, Alison, Alison, Alison it said. All over the paper. Over and over again. Alison, Alison, Alison, Alison.

We didn’t know what that meant. We never did figure it out. Same with the pictures of the lonely girl and the pills. We never solved any mysteries, but we never really tried. We were only wannabe private detectives, not the real thing.

Wannabe

Fiona liked to call herself a wannabe. A wannabe artist, a wannabe actress, a wannabe detective and a wannabe guitar player. “I wannabe everything,” she said. And she meant it too.

Once, when we were in the seventh grade, she wanted to be a fish. She used one of the permanent markers they kept in the back of the closet in the art room and drew three lines on each side of her face, right where her neck met her chin. All day long she walked through the halls like a complete freak. She sort of glided while sliding her feet and swaying from side to side. I wouldn’t even call it walking. But Fiona didn’t either. She said she was swimming. She also stuck her head in the drinking fountain and let the water run over the side of her neck where she had drawn her gills.

“What are you doing?” I asked. We were in the middle of C hall and everyone was already staring.

“Breathing.”

“Breathing?”

Water spilled down her chin and the top of her shirt was getting soaked.

“I’m getting oxygen from the water.”

“Right.”

She straightened up, and wiped the water off her chin with the back of her arm.

“I’ve been holding my breath all day.”

When we got to math, Mrs. Howard asked Fiona why her shirt was all wet. Fiona looked down like she was surprised. Like she didn’t even notice her shirt was sticking to her chest.

“I’m always wet,” she said.

In the back of the room Jay Wagner and Eric Moor started laughing. I hoped Mrs. Howard didn’t say anything because then it meant she knew what they were laughing at. And if she knew then everyone could know, and then everyone else had to make the choice whether to laugh or not to laugh. Except me. I didn’t have a choice. Everyone already knew what I’d have to do.

“Aren’t you cold?” Mrs. Howard asked Fiona.

She didn’t even look at Jay and Eric.

“No.”

“Okay, then.”

And that was all she said about it. After that, she just turned back to her desk and asked the rest of the class to get out last night’s homework. Then she turned around, pushed her glasses back on her nose, and looked straight at me.

“Lucas.”

“Yes.”

My seat felt small. Or like the cheap blue plastic had become twisted somehow and now it didn’t fit the desk right.

“What did you get for number one?”

This is why I didn’t like Mrs. Howard. She was one of those teachers who always called on you even though she knew you didn’t know the answer. I hated it when teachers did this. It’s like they thought being embarrassed would somehow inspire you to find the right answer when really, if you knew the right answer, you’d say it right away. You’d already have it and you’d tell everyone so you wouldn’t have to be embarrassed.

“X = 10,” I said.

Mrs. Howard grabbed a piece of chalk from the ledge at the bottom of the chalkboard and held it forward.

“Show us how you did it.”

I got up from my desk and grabbed the chalk then stood in front of the chalkboard with my back to the room.

Having to show your work was the worse. Because then you couldn’t just give some random answer and say, “Oh, oops. I guess I got wrong.” You couldn’t act like you didn’t care. Or like it was just some small mistake. You had to sit there and show everyone, step by step, how stupid you were. How you didn’t get anything. How you didn’t even know where to start.

I lifted the chalk and wrote out the question.

2(X – 5) = 1/2X + 1/2 (X -15)

And then I stopped writing. I looked down at my paper. All it said was X = 10. The chalk didn’t move. It stayed still on the board. Someone shifted in their seat then a small laugh came from the back of the room. I turned around.

“I forgot to show my work.”

“That’s okay,” Mrs. Howard said. “You can show us now.”

“I don’t remember how I did it.”

“Why don’t you just start with the first step?”

“I don’t remember.”

I looked over at Fiona. She was making a fish face at me.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“What part of it don’t you get?”

“All of it.”

“All of it?”

Fiona crossed her eyes. I put the chalk down and wiped the dust off on the tops of my pants.

“Yup, all of it.”

Mrs. Howard sighed. She didn’t even try to hide it.

“Okay, then. You can sit down.”

Jay and Eric were laughing of course. And so were Susy Meyers, Liz Jenson, and a few of the others. Paul, who was my partner in gym, was studying his paper really hard. Mrs. Howard was looking at her grade book and writing something down. Probably something like, Lucas does not get it. Or, Lucas still does not get all of it.

I always thought Mrs. Howard didn’t get it but maybe she did. Maybe if she let Fiona sit there wet and dripping and acted like it was no big deal, she got it at least a little. Maybe she called on me because she really thought I knew the answers. Or maybe she thought that the attention was helping me. Who knows, teachers are weird. She probably just liked Fiona more than me and gave her a break.

When I got back to my seat Fiona was still making the fish face and crossing her eyes. I shook my head and sat down. She looked like a total idiot.