a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
On the table was a vase of roses. Big, fat roses with coffee cream petals, just about dripping onto cloth. They sank into baby’s breath, all of it blooming through the glass.
Beside it was a cloth-covered basket.
Around this, little saucers formed a ring, each displaying a rose-shaped pat of butter. One for each of us.
The whole table was a pearly, silver-studded array of about ten thousand forks. Even water goblets wore diamonds, glinting in chandelier light. Every table was the same. Only a skewed piece of parchment, ‘table eleven’ inked in calligraphy, distinguished ours from everyone else’s.
So I guess I’ll introduce us now. It’s only polite.
To my right was Tray, this kid who wore funny ties to class. Cotillion class, that is. He’d had some with labradors, rubber ducks, the kind old guys wear when they work with kids. Not that night, though. Not for the real deal. He wore just a solid bowtie and a suit that fit too tight.
On my left was Nick. Nick had a full head of hair, too much cologne, and he kind of thought he owned the place. He wasn’t so bad, though. Not mean or anything, just kind of cocky.
Susanna couldn’t stand him. Slouched on his left, her arms crossed over a skin-tight dress, she looked like a living eye roll. I couldn’t blame her. She was big into feminism, so you knew she’d been dragged here like a sack of rocks. We all had.
The only one who might’ve been liking this was River. On Tray’s right, she perched tall like she wanted to be the Eiffel Tower when she grew up. Sporting space buns and an upbeat grin, she’d come in this bright blue gown, almost like a true river. If true rivers had been anything like blue cotton candy. She tried for conversation, but it always fizzled out.
On her right, Landon struggled with the whole ordeal. He hunched across from me, hair limply framing his face. His suit hung off him strangely. Poor kid. It was like he tried to speak, but his words were peanut butter stuck to his mouth. I’d ask him a question, and he’d just shrug.
Which brings us to me. Thea with the frilly sleeves, and heels that kept on killing her.
So I guess that’s all of us. Now where was I?
Ah yes, so we’d all slogged through cotillion class to get here.
As we’d stepped into the room, our fates had been sprawled on a table in the smallest envelopes. We took the ones with our names, all six of us, cards telling we’d been tucked into a corner. ‘You have been seated at table eleven’.
It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. A lavish labyrinth unfolded before us, starlight oozing from chandeliers. Mrs. Everson didn’t get back here much, which was something.
That woman was crocodilian. You’d prick your finger if you touched her nose. She wore this forest green get-up, hair slicked into a bun, kitten heels clicking on the carpet somehow. She was our instructor. The P.T Barnum of this outdated little circus act, if you will. At that moment, she’d been reprimanding some kid for his posture, and he looked like he’d rather be stoned to death.
This led to a train of thought, so just bear with me here.
For some reason, I recalled a toy I’d had.
This plush alligator I’d dragged everywhere, even calling him Morty. I distinctly remember him helping me choose a cereal from the grocery store. I mean this thing came to church, my bed, the post office, everywhere. By the time I was eight or so, the stuffing had worn thin. His tail wouldn’t straighten. His legs wobbled, and his head always bobbed like a Funko Pop. I think I gave him to a cousin. Funny how you grow older and you think that those things never mattered. I hadn’t thought of Morty in years.
So what reminded me? It might’ve been the light on Mrs. Everson’s pencil skirt. Her fake, crocodile smile, or the green-gray shade of her eyes. I’m sure I’ll never know.
. . .
So shall we return to table eleven?
By the time I snapped back, we were picking off salad dregs, our plates soaked in vinaigrette. Susanna, Tray, and I had rolled our tomatoes to the side. Nick had eaten only green leaves. None of the dark, plummy purple ones. Our forks were more conversational, musical even, than we were. Somewhere, a string quartet played Vivaldi, his melodies piercing through chatter.
Soon, the waitstaff came around. Replacing empty plates with entrees, they worked fast and left even faster. I tried to just be human. Full eye contact, I thanked them like they’d saved my life cause it all felt wrong as hell. If you couldn’t tell, I’d yearned so badly for home.
At least the food looked good. Garlic chicken, charred asparagus, and steaming balls of rice, all soaked in buttery pools. Before I forgot, I asked someone to pass the rolls.
It was then that Nick asked a question. The million-dollar question, fingernails clicking off his glass.
“So, umm… The weather? I guess?”
Susanna shoved rice into her mouth. “What about it, Dream Boy?”
Other than that, no one had an answer. We prepared to let it drop, fade into nothing with the others. And that’s what would’ve happened had I not spoken up:
“My friend Morty says it’s not a matter of whether. It’s a matter of when.”
I felt my cheeks set fire as I wondered why I’d said that.
Nick was befuddled. Breath streaming in through his nose, he pursed his lips, nodded, and cleared his throat for a question:
“So...What...What school does he go to, then?”
“Well...Does your friend Morty live near here?”
“No, he’s farsighted.”
A chuckle. Then another. What kind of roll was I on?
Regardless, laughter passed about the table like butter, or salt and pepper shakers. It went on like this, eyes alight, glancing at the people beside us, until I took a bite of food. Everyone else did too.
The conversation lulled.
. . .
Our chatter wasn’t coming back. Not until halfway through the course, anyway.
Tray adjusted his cufflinks, gold glinting as he cleared his throat. We glanced up from our plates.
“So, Thea, um…” He gazed at the carpet, a burgundy sea of florals. Intently, like maybe they’d tell him what to say. “Where does your friend Morty live? If not near here?”
I pressed a finger to my chin. “Hmm…Timbuktu? Yeah, that’s right. Timbuktu.”
Everyone nodded, seeming to think this made sense. Everyone but River, who truly looked concerned.
“Timbuktu?” She asked, “Well... what happened to the first one?”
I nodded thoughtfully. “Stellar question. Somebody ate it, I think.”
Nick began to question, but Susanna interjected.
“Somebody ate it? Well, God, then I hope they used the right fork. Cause if they used the wrong fork-”
“Then hide the children. Geez. Am I right, Landon?” I tried to rope him in. He’d been the only one not talking, but he only shrugged and nodded. I went on.
“Well in Timbuktu, there’s just two forks. One for eating and one to save for a rainy day.”
River tilted her head. “A rainy day?”
“What happens when it rains?” Tray asked.
I scrunched my forehead, all confused-like. “Who reigns?”
“Your friend, Morty.”
“Oh! Well every time he reigns, it rains...Pennies from heaven.”
All at once, the table erupted into a chorus of: “Shooby! Dooby!”
And just as we slumped over laughing, our mirth was cut tragically short.
Surprise! It was Mrs. Everson.
She’d been circling table eight, a shark toying with prey. It was like those spy movies where the villains tie the heroes over pits of lava. She turned to face us, much to table eight’s relief. Her eyes were narrow knife slits, back a rigid ruler, with her hands held before her in a ball. She spoke to us once more: “Excuse you, table eleven!”
And we fell silent.
Well, Susanna mocked her first (“Excuse you, table eleven!”)
But then we fell silent.
. . .
The meal neared its close.
We’d foxtrot our hearts out, but then we’d be free.
The waiters returned, sporting slacks with matching vests. They scooped up our plates, changing them out for glassy platters. I thanked them the best I knew how.
In front of us now were these hulks of chocolate cake. Each layer was thick, decadent, and slathered in fudgy frosting. I prepared to dig in as River sort of cursed.
I startled, eyes shooting up from my dessert. “What’s the matter?”
She slapped her head like she’d made a huge mistake. Like she’d poured herself orange juice, then realized it’d slipped her mind to get a glass. “I forgot my roll.”
I shrugged. “That’s okay, just have it now.”
“You’re right.” She let out a breath, then shook her head. “Overreacted. Can someone please pass the-”
“I got you, Sweetheart”, Nick chimed in, “Batter up!”
“Uh, oh…” Susanna rolled her eyes, pretending not to smile.
Nick swung his fork back, snatched the last roll from its basket, and tossed it in the air. He smacked golden bread with his fork, and it flew in an arc towards River. By some miracle, she actually caught it. She just couldn’t eat it with her mouth frozen in that ‘o’ shape.
A clamor of excited “ooooohs” went up around the group, some even slapping the table. Landon looked impressed, too. So brilliantly gob smacked were we, that we failed to see Mrs. Everson, kitten heels clicking on the carpet, tearing towards us from across the room.
And the room stood still.
“What in the world do you think you’re doing?!” She screeched to a halt between Landon and River. We stared, wide-eyed, into the napkins on our laps. All except Landon. “That is NOT how you behave in a public place! Do you know how-”
She took pause. Her crocodile eyes went wider than the moon.
Landon gazed at her, fist enclosed around his cake. He grabbed a handful and shoved it in his face. Gasps and whispers flitted through the room, though he didn’t seem to care. He held up one frosted finger, lips a chocolatey smear as he swallowed.
We waited. He and Mrs. Everson were chess pieces, one a pawn and one the queen, and so we braced ourselves. We waited till a smile crawled onto his face.
“Sometimes, you just gotta roll with it.”
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.