This edge of the city wasn't growing any more. Lisa squatted in the grass, sticking her fingers into the earth. Dry sand, even her roots could make their way through it, but the buildings of the rich couldn't live here. They were growing north, tearing away the forests, but leaving Lisa's valley alone. Lisa glanced up. She couldn't help it, whenever she was reminded that her valley was really a floodplain she looked into the sky, remembering all the children that had been carried away in the flash floods.
Grass didn't bother her. Lisa liked the feel of it's edges and ends prodding her skin. She never moved so the grass would cut her, never ran through it like a fool, she moved with the grass, but not today. Today she would be still with the grass. She curled up on the grass, pulling the book out of her knapsack. It was beaten up now, having been outside for a few months in the crook of tree. Lisa hadn't wanted to risk taking it into the house. She turned to the last page. It wasn't marked, or at least any marks that might have been there were gone now, obscured by the damage of the rain. Lisa didn't read the page any more. She knew the words, knew the story, knew everything about the book, but today was special.
She couldn't hear the subdivision. The lip of the valley protected her from the noise of the kids playing at the playground, leaving her alone at the edge of the wilderness. She found herself staring past the river. She could see a long way from here. Not technically wilderness, grain farms, but no-one would ever come there, except maybe farmers. They didn't count though, sealed in the tractors with the music cranked and their eyes glued to the plants, they wouldn't care what happened here today.
The trees came back almost at the horizon, a thin wave of grey-green before the blue took over the scene. That was the limit of man's dominance, beyond it was only true wilderness. At least, Lisa liked to imagine that to be the limit of man's dominance. She knew, when she thought about it, that the fields would start on the other side of that woodlot. The forests were gone, and even the woodlots were shrinking, man had conquered everything, or he would soon. Everything they wanted they would take, which left just Lisa and the floodplains.
Lisa forced herself to uncurl. She arched her legs into the dirt, feeling the muscles make six distinct points of contact, then letting them become two lines again. Reaching out she blotted the sun with the book so she could stare at the clouds. They were sparse today, a few hillocks out over the farmlands, scoffing reminders of man's impotence.
Sometimes Lisa hated herself. Hated the fact that she thought the way she thought and couldn't go play with the others. There was nothing wrong with her, she wasn't underdeveloped, she wasn't ugly, she wasn't anything that would make her an outcaste except herself. She didn't have to make fun of the boys when they tried to talk to her, she didn't have to lord their density over them, she could just be quiet while they talked about their computers or their sports or whatever they happened to care about, but she wasn't, she just couldn't pretend to be interested in something that didn't matter. She should be happy just listening to them talk and walking with her hand in theirs, and necking on the make-out bench. She wasn't.
Lisa did not want to become one of them. She didn't want to give up the thing that made her herself, but at the same time, she wanted to feel arms wrapped around her, and a voice talking about things that meant something in her ear. The closest she could get was Mr. Davis. Gods, he was coming here. What was she thinking? Hell, what was he thinking, if they were caught he'd lose his job, especially if they found the book. Why was she here? Lisa shoved the book in the bag, pulling herself to her feet. He wasn't here yet. He'd just arive and think she'd forgotten, she'd apologise on Monday. Better he waste a trip out here than lose his job.
Lisa set back toward her house, the grass lacerating her skin as she swung the pack to her shoulder. She felt her chest relax under the strain, he hadn't even come. He'd realised how stupid it would be. He'd have been here long before this if he were coming.
"Lisa." He was there as soon as the topped the crest, his old trenchcoat flapping as he walked, in full view of the playground, toward her valley. He reached her an instant later, his face flushed from some exertion. "Sorry I'm late, couldn't find my sketchbook."
"Mr. Davis, I . . ."
"Karl, please, you know no-one calls me mister." He smiled, but then he was always smiling, she'd watched him the day they discussed suicide and depression, he'd grinned all the way through it, but his words had sounded firsthand.
"We shouldn't . . ."
"Beautiful place, you were right." He grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around, impelling her toward the valley. "Look at that view, reminds me of Nebraska. Never been to Nebraska, but this reminds me of Nebraska."
Hell, he could lose his liscense just for grabbing her that way. The school board didn't look too kindly on male teachers manhandling female students. "I've got to go." She put as much ice as possible into the words.
"Of course, thanks for the tip." He let her go. She felt the warmth of his hand linger in her jacket as he resumed his forward march into the valley. Lisa stood for a second, watching the vent on his jacket opening and closing with every step. She ran after him.
"You can't stay, they've seen you." She pulled him up short, half turning him from the valley.
"Lisa, you've got to stop being ashamed of art, it's alright to let people know that you like drawing and writing, just because these close-minded bigots don't appreciate literature shouldn't force you away from it." He continued his descent into the valley. Lisa let him go. She walked home as fast as she could.
Monday he trapped her in class. He just walked over during the consultation session and started talking to her about Friday. Lisa refused to listen. She got up from her seat and walked past him to the bathroom. Everyone in the class knew. She felt their eyes on her as she forced herself to walk.
The bathroom was empty in the middle of classes. Lisa took one of the stalls and sat down fully clothed on the seat. She leaned awkwardly against the wall. The metal was cold, rough with scraped graffitee, and was clearly never designed to support a woman when she sought shelter. Lisa leaned over, resting her chest on her knees. He was a fool, didn't he realise that what they had been about to do was wrong? That if they had gone through with it there would have been nothing they could do to stop him from being fired? Even if she pleaded with the school that she'd initiated everything, they would still fire him, if not arrest him, and then everyone would know what Lisa had done.
She jumped at the knocking on the door. She hadn't heard anyone come in. He wouldn't. She checked, no, girl's shoes. "Occupied."
"Lisa?" It was Amber's voice. "Lisa, yo 'kay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, I just, just needed a breather. I'm fine. Thanks." Even Lisa didn't believe that.
"Are you sick? I cn get the nurse." Amber was a good sort, if not exactly brilliant.
"Thanks Amber, no, I'm alright now. Just a spell. I'll be out in a moment." Lisa stood, straightening her clothing. She'd worn her most conservative outfit today, which, considering that all of her outfits were conservative, was a rather severe look. She unlatched the door. She smiled at Amber. "Good as new."
"Fine, really, let's go." Lisa led the way before Amber could question her.
The class didn't even look up when they walked in. A few glanced up as the crossed the room, but most pretended very hard to be reading or writing rather than seem nosey. Lisa sat at her desk. Amber returned to the popular girl's table and pretended to work on an assignment. Lisa caught herself wondering if maybe Amber was just trying to set herself up as a mother figure in the eyes of the class.
Lisa opened her book, somehow it had been closed while she was gone. She flipped through slowly, not really that eager to return to work, just wanting to pass the time until she could escape. She hadn't closed the book, there would be a note on the page, she was sure of it. It was short. "Please stay after class. Lisa." The bell rang as she picked the paper up. The rest of the class was gone in seconds. Karl was at her shoulder. She stood. He grabbed her. Lisa almost screamed. He pulled her into him. Lisa tried to pull back. His hand came to her hair, stroking it.
"What did they do to you? Oh gods, I'm sorry, I should have realised that was why you wanted to talk. Who was it? It's okay, you can cry, it's alright, you're alive, we'll get them. No-one's going to get you again, don't worry." Lisa smelled his cologne, some sort of spices and surf mix. She felt hard muscles pinning her to him, and she heard the sounds of meaningless reassurances drifting over her, and she laughed. He apparently took it for crying or hysteria. He continued consoling her, promising vengeance and security with every breath. She tried to push away. He held her tighter. She laughed harder. Stupid, blind man. The laughter slowly died. She let herself enjoy the stolen comfort of his embrace. He continued stroking her, his hand pressing her head into his chest. Finally she pushed away and he let her draw away. She looked up into his face. He was radiating concern.
Lisa couldn't help herself, she laughed.
Please link, don't copy.
This work is Copyright (c) Mike Fletcher 1992