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In the Space Where They Meet

In the Space Where They Meet

JENNIFER FLISS

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When I’m not avoiding the cafeteria at lunchtime, I’m in the far stall of the girls’ second-floor bathroom making diagrams and graphs and pie charts. My favorite are Venn diagrams. You know, the ones where there are two (sometimes more) circles and they cross over for a certain amount of space and that space means something important?

In that overlap is where the things—where the intangibles meet the tangible circles—are the answers to questions. The reasons things happen. I like making those.

Trying to figure out answers and things.

Things like the number of times I cheated on a test versus the number of times I was cheated off of; maybe they cancel each other out. Girls in school who’d say they like Christina Aguilera and girls in school who say they like Britney. I made a third circle for Destiny’s Child and that circle only overlapped with the others the tiniest amount. The girls in school who don’t know I exist versus those who just know my name versus Yeah, I’ve seen you around. The middle of that one was “me maybe not invisible.” Etc., etc., etc.

The soap in the school bathrooms is this powdery stuff you have to push up on this metal contraption to get out. I’ve never seen it anywhere but in a school. I tasted it once—Leanne Powers and her posse said I dissed her mom and so made me eat the soap. I didn’t diss her mother. I said, “Yeah, your mom,” which I’d heard on SNL and from kids in school and I was just trying it out. The soap was gritty on my tongue but dissolved quickly, leaving behind the taste of roses and rubbing alcohol. It’s good, I told Leanne and Brianne and Rebecca. And then I took more into my palm, push, push, push, and licked it real slow. Gross, they said, and walked out. I counted to ten before I threw up.

That was the first day of the school year and I knew it wasn’t going to get better from there.

After that Tuesday, they left me alone, but I often caught them looking over their shoulders and pointing at me. I made more Venn diagrams in the weeks that followed. Kids who had parents killed in the Twin Towers versus parents who escaped. Parents who were gone versus those who exist in some real way; that was an interesting one because I hadn’t defined what “gone” meant.

I moved in with my father; my parents had been divorced since I was three. My father lived outside the school district lines by .48 miles. They set it up so I’d stay in the same school. They told me I was lucky.

And under the stained glass–like light that hung above the kitchen table, I marched my socked feet on the sticky floor so I could hear the ssssssssssssuccccck of the ghost of something sticky. I sat at that table until late in the night, long after my dad came home from his job at Lowe’s. And in the night I diagrammed: amount of paper that could fly out a window versus float versus paper used by the printer everyone gets to use in the school library. Missing person signs with smiling faces versus not smiling faces and the space in the intersection was missing persons in front of Christmas trees.

I kind of know these intersections don’t mean anything. They aren’t measuring anything.

A big one: the time it takes for a man to fall a hundred stories versus the time it takes to sharpen a pencil. In that intersection I wrote: The time it took for me to understand. So, you see, it didn’t take long for the paper in front of me to explain things. No wings ever appeared and the pencil was so sharp; I pushed it against the soft skin of my neck until I felt the tiny puncture and I felt all the air go out of me. The wound was so small you wouldn’t even know it was there.

I used to use a protractor but realized there was quite a margin for error with the circles, so I got a compass. One of those metal things that holds a pencil and has a really sharp edge you place in the middle. You turn, turn, turn, and the pencil makes a perfect circle. A compass punctures skin faster than a number-two pencil, you should know.

A compass can be so many things. Also: a navigational compass, a moral compass. Maybe my mom needed a compass to see which way was up.

Circles are so perfect. You can predict what will happen in a circle. Radius, circumference: a pie a moon a sun a face the iris of an eye a wheel an orange the turbine engine of a plane.

My diagrams are where geometry and life meet and I don’t care if I’m doing them right or not. Anyway, that’s what I tell my teacher when she finds one mistakenly stuck to a ditto I handed in for homework. She just smiles all lopsided, hands it back with my C+ essay about The Tempest, and says nice work. She puts her hand on my shoulder and I think her eyes tear up a little, but it’s hard to tell because she wears these thick, wide-rimmed glasses. The diagram that got stuck was this one:

 
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Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, Hobart, The Rumpus, Gigantic Sequins, and elsewhere, and she is the current Pen Parentis fellow. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.

Illustration by Carson McNamara.

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