797 WORDS | 4-MINUTE READ
At approximately thirty-five minutes past noon on February 16th, a #2 Ticonderoga pencil fell from Jenny Larsen’s Jansport backpack. I was pacing down the hallway behind her, calculating the ideal distance between us, close enough to smell whatever glorious potion she soaks her hair with, but far enough away to remain obscure. She smelled so good. Like when a fresh pair of sneakers arrive at the doorstep and I rush the box inside and slice the tape with a knife and open the top flap and throw the layer of tissue paper aside and breathe in. Ah. That’s the good stuff. Jenny Larsen good.
Apparently I was the only person to see the pencil fall through the air and hit the linoleum. It bounced once before rolling along the blue and grey checkered floor and settling under a row of lockers. I bent down to weave through the many hallway-dwellers, then slid my hand into the grimy sub-locker void and grabbed the pencil. I shot up and darted back down the hall, in search of its rightful owner. This could be my chance, I thought, my breath heavy and my backpack flailing as I ran. But she was nowhere to be found. Jenny, Jenny I said in my head as I swiveled around, looking through the classroom doors. Where was the bright red Jansport? She had disappeared. Ethan, where are you supposed to be? Did you hear that bell ring, young man? I hadn’t. I gripped the pencil in my hand and continued down the long hallway, head down, toward math class.
It is now May. Jenny will graduate next month and I will leave ninth grade forever. She doesn’t know that I still have her pencil. I’m not sure she knows who I am, to be honest. But I have her pencil – mine now – and that will have to be good enough. The #2 Ticonderoga is saturated with holes, especially in the top section below the dirty eraser. Holes from Jenny’s teeth, I assume. They are pressed deep into the serrated sides.
Sometimes I watch Jenny while she does her homework in the library during study hall. She reads her textbook and chews on her pen cap. Sometimes she bites her nails. Other times she gnaws on a clump of her silky brown hair. It is so good.
Today, I slide my hand into my backpack and hold onto the pencil while my eyes are glued to Jenny. She bites and chews and gnaws. She is so focused on the tiny words in her textbook. Then she clamps down on the pen cap so hard that it snaps in half. It makes a kind of popping sound, and I feel blood rush to my cheeks. Oh god. It’s better than her scent.
At home after school, I pull the pencil from my bag and examine the bite marks again. I run my hands along the pencil’s textured exterior. Little wood chips have fallen off the yellow sides. I sharpened it during math class. What a satisfying machine, I considered, as I cranked the lever in perfect rotation around the pencil’s tip, around and around. I’m glad to see that, hours later, it has not dulled. I turn the pencil so it’s facing toward me, tip first, and move it toward my ear. I inch it closer, ever so slowly, until the sharpened graphite hovers in the space between the cartilage. I push it further and eventually the tip knocks against something squishy. I jam it faster into the surface. Shit. I pull the pencil out, fast, and throw it on the floor. A swarming pain cries out from my ear canal. The inside of my throat feels as though it’s been pinched. It hurts so bad. I think of the smell of Jenny’s hair to try and calm down.
I wake up the next day and my ear is ringing, like the morning after a school dance, and it continues to make a high-pitched buzz sound throughout the day. During lunch I venture into the senior section in the cafeteria, a place I’ve never been before, and march right up to Jenny Larsen. Her bright red bag was easy to spot. Hovering over her, I extend my hand. She looks down at the pencil, then up at me. I open my mouth but nothing comes out. Shit. Some of Jenny’s friends are snickering. This is yours, I finally say. I figured you’d want it back. She slides the pencil out from between my fingers and drops it onto the table as if it’s contaminated. Thanks? Then she laughs, her mouth open wide. From up close I can see every one of her teeth, and it’s magnificent. They are even sharper than I had imagined.
Anne Strand is a writer from the Maine coast. Her work has appeared in The Metaworker, Westwind and more. Connect with her on twitter @anniestrannie.