Whip-Smart

by Erik Trilk

I can hear what sounds like a ping-pong ball being thrown against a classroom door from my seat in the hallway.  I’m trying to silently read The Odyssey for my 9th grade English teacher, a teacher that seems to hate everything about English.  All I can hear though is the pop of the ball, and every time it emanates from inside of Mr. Kincaid’s classroom he glances over his shoulder, away from whatever sports website he’s scouring on his computer, and furls his face into some kind of twisted and disgusting knot.  I lick the back of my hand and slide it across my right eye in an attempt to smear the heavy mascara I put on this morning. I don’t have a mirror, but also, I don’t really care.

Recently my life seems to be divided up into two distinct areas: kissing and not kissing.

  • Kissing Jacob under the stairwell near the art rooms/reading in my English class.

  • Kissing Jacob at the park after school/throwing red rubber balls at people in a gross gymnasium.

  • Kissing Jacob in the backseat of his brother’s car in the church parking lot at the top of my street/doing homework on my bed… usually while thinking about kissing Jacob.

Jacob Jackson has given me life and subsequently ruined it at the same time.

I tear a small hangnail off with my teeth from the index finger on my left hand.  A tiny, warm pinch occurs and then a small drop of blood appears from underneath my skin near the base of the fingernail.  I press the blood out, squeezing my finger, turning the tip of it bright red, flooding my nail with blood, and then I place the finger in my mouth.  

The kitchen in my house smells strongly of vinegar.  My little sister, Victoria and my mom are dying Easter eggs.  Blue. Green. Pink. “Purple! Purple!” my sister shouts.

“Sweetie?  Is that you?” my mom calls.  I always forget to open the door quietly when coming home from school.  “Honey?” I ease it shut and tiptoe past them. “Ang-e-lahhh…” my mom says in a sing-songy kind of way.  

“Ye-es,” I reply.

“So you are home.  How was school?”

I shrug.

My mom mimics me and pushes a smelly hand onto my forehead, her fingers dark orange and pointed straight upwards as to not muss my tawny and wiry hair.  

I hate my hair.

Jacob thinks I should dye it blue.

I might.

Mr. Harris, my eighth grade Health teacher, was forced to teach us a unit on sex last year.  It was very uncomfortable for him. It wasn’t that uncomfortable for us. We all know about sex.  Kids know about sex. Mr. Harris told us that if we had sex we would get an STD, or worse, pregnant.

I’m not sure what the real threat is for boys.

Maybe I want to have sex with Jacob.  

I know I want to kiss him.  

I know I want to be kissing him right now.  

For Christmas last year, dad bought me a stereo.  Like, a real stereo.  I have fourteen CDs.  I am sure that someday I will own a thousand more.

I figured out why I love Liz Phair so much.  It’s because when I listen to her sing, it gives me the same feeling as when I’m with Jacob.  I don’t think Liz Phair and Jacob have ever met, although we are all from Chicago.

Last September, sitting on this beanbag chair in my school’s library, I read Rolling Stone magazine.  There was a picture of Whip-Smart in it and for whatever reason I felt the need to buy it.  I didn’t know who Liz Phair was. I liked her picture though.

Sometimes when I listen to Whip-Smart, I dance.

Sometimes I cry.  

Sometimes I hum along.

Sometimes I think about sex.

Sometimes I stare at the ceiling.

Sometimes I sway my head from side to side with my eyes closed.

Sometimes I fall asleep.

It’s cold outside.  There is a pretty serious wind coming off of the lake and walking to school is horrible.  I should get a ride tomorrow. My right hand is frozen but I can’t let Jacob’s hand go. The frostbite is worth his touch.  

“Do you wanna hang out after school?”

“Sure.”  

I smile.

“What do you want to do?” he asks.

I smile.

Jacob’s lips are cracked and broken.  It’s probably from the wind.

After school I wait by his locker.  I have my headphones in and am listening to “X-Ray Man.”  Kids walk by and look at me. Some whisper. Some don’t. I hide my eyes and tap my foot and anxiously wait for him to appear around the corner ahead.  When he does, he smiles. I smile. I always smile when I see him.

Tonight his lips taste like strawberries.  

“I had a popsicle,” he says.  

“In the middle of winter?”

He smiles and kisses me again.  

I am fifteen-years-old.  

I’m sure I kiss like it.  

A few months ago, I was at a party and a senior told me that I kissed my age.  I’m not sure I understood what he meant. He must have liked kissing fifteen-year-olds, because he didn’t stop kissing me after he said it.  

He didn’t stop when I opened my eyes and stopped moving my lips.  

He didn’t stop when the only sounds in the bathroom came from the thump thump thump pumping through speakers in the basement.

He didn’t stop when I pretended I wasn’t there.

So I broke his nose with a porcelain toothbrush holder.

Since then, boys don’t really try and kiss me anymore.

Once you’ve left a lonely rage on its own, it grows.

And dynamite stuffed in a mailbox doesn’t smoke until it blows.

And, oh, all the fears in four tiny years;

Well, look at me, I’m frightening my friends.

“Did you bring your geometry homework home?” Jacob asks.

“No, I finished it at school today in class.”

“We only had like five minutes to do it though?”

“I know.”

“You’re the smartest kid in the class.  You know that?”

I slide my hair behind my ears, and Jacob kisses me.  Jacob makes me love getting my geometry homework done, because it gives me more time to kiss him when we meet to study.

Jacob is an okay student.  

I am a good student.

“Do you want a beer?” I ask.

“I have to go home after this.”

“I know.”  

I get up and walk to the fridge in my basement.  My dad always has cans of beer inside of it. He stores them upside down for some reason.  I count seventeen cans. I grab two and sit back down. Mom is upstairs with Victoria. She’s probably brushing her hair or painting her nails or watching Oprah.

“One month until spring break,” Jacob says.  I crash my can into his and beer spills on my jeans.  Jacob rubs it into my skin and licks his fingers; not in a sexy way, just… in a way.  But it still makes me think about kissing him, so I do. Now his lips taste like beer.

I still haven’t become accustomed to the taste of beer, but I know I like it.  Or I know that I will like it eventually.

When I was seven years old my parents caught me finishing off cans of beer strewn about our house during a Christmas party for their work friends.  Everyone had red and green sweaters on. They laughed at me. I wasn’t sure if I liked the taste of beer but I kept picking up silver cans and shaking them, feeling liquid slosh about inside of them before drinking it.  

Warm at times.

Stale at times.  

Foamy at times.

My head felt funny, and I  laughed.

“Angela, don’t!” my mom said with a grin on her face.  I retreated to my bedroom and listened to the radio play Madonna.

I have drunk from hundreds of silver cans since then.  

The first time that I heard Whip-Smart I was in my bedroom.  I didn’t understand many of the songs on it, at least not how Liz understands them.  I still don’t understand them to a certain extent.

I think I get them.  

I think I understand them, but I also know that I don’t have to know what they are really about, because each song reminds me of something in my own life.  When Liz sings: “It’s harder to swallow, it’s harder to breathe. So many opals, nobody knows what to believe,” I know that she isn’t talking about me.  But when I walk around my school and see everyone wearing the same clothes and everyone talking out of the same mouth and everyone flipping their hair and walking with a limp and pulling their pants up and high-fiving…

Mr. Howard is the only teacher I have that likes his job.  I can tell he likes it because he jumps around the room a lot.  He puts his hands in the pockets of his corduroys and jumps up and down on the balls of his feet.  He says he has too much energy because he has ADD. He walks around the room holding the textbook in one hand, his fingertips white from the weight of the book.  He waves his other hand around and around and around and sometimes almost accidentally smacks kids with his outstretched fingers.

Mr. Howard wears loud ties and bad denim shirts.

He talks about a civilization buried in stone.  These people covered in ash, with an appearance of being unmoving and frozen in mid-step or mid-sentence or even mid-kiss.  

“Angie.”  I hate my name.  “Tell me about Pompeii.”

“What do you want to know?” I answer quietly and glance at Jacob sitting across the room from me.

“Anything.”

I sit silently and bite my lower lip.

“Anything at all, Angela.  What do you think would happen if there was a massive volcanic eruption in Illinois and we all became stuck for thousands of years?”

“Stuck?” I chuckle, “I don’t think that would be much of a change from right now.”

Mr. Howard smirks at me and closes one eye.  

There is a small coffee stain on his yellow tie.  

I listen to “Chopsticks” and smear green die on my hair.  My fingernails will be green for days. Avocado cuticles. Mom will yell at me.  She will be more concerned with the nails than the hair. Dad will like it.

Dad likes me.

Jacob buys me flowers for no reason at all.  

Jacob likes my hair.  

So does Mr. Howard.  “If a volcano erupted today would you be fine with forever being green?” he asks.

I pick at a green hangnail.  

“I think I would.”

“Strong convictions are the only thing that truly matter in this life, Angie.”

Jacob shakes Mr. Howard’s hand and nods.  I look at Jacob, holding flowers and smiling.  Green hair in my eyes. Green hair reflecting back at me from Jacob’s eyes.

“You wanna skip fifth period and go to my house?” I ask.  “Nobody is there.”

Jacob smiles.

“Have you ever listened to the lyrics of “Supernova” by Liz Phair?”

“I think so.  I remember seeing the video.”

“I want to find out if they’re true.”

—————-

Erik Trilk is a high school English teacher who lives in Marion, Iowa with his wife, his ten-going-on-eighteen-year-old daughter, and his seven-year-old son/human wrecking ball. Erik has attempted to write three books, all of which are available on Amazon.com.