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It Is Written

Full Short Story excerpted in Fall '13 Prism:

 

"It Is Written"

Allison Mermelstein 

 

Cathy Landowe remembered when the men had come into the classroom. They wore brightly colored suits, like circus clowns who worked in offices. The thought had made her giggle.

                  One man, with a severe center part and a red suit, walked to the front of the classroom. He looked down his nose at the twenty or so children that made up Mrs. Fitz’s kindergarten class. Cathy had thought how odd it was that someone besides Mrs. Fitz was at the front of the classroom, but when she looked around for her teacher, she saw that Mrs. Fitz had left the room.

                  He motioned toward his colleagues, who at his signal all pulled strange identical objects from their jackets’ inner pockets. The men, in suits of every color, pulled the left hands of the children closest to them. A man in a yellow suit grabbed Tommy. Tommy hated to be touched, and he was almost whimpering as the man in the front of the class said, “This shouldn’t hurt too much.”

                  A strange whirring noise filled the air. A couple of the children gasped, but Tommy screamed.

 

saleswoman

 

                  Years later Cathy stood in a black field of polyester robes with a mortarboard on her head. Looking around, she knew exactly what her fellow graduates were going to do with their lives, and so did they. Curly lettering ran down the length of each person’s forefinger on his or her non-dominant hand. People in her row were accepting their degrees for teaching. Her line turned and walked towards the stage. One by one they walked across the platform and shook hands with prominent faculty members most of them had never encountered before. Prior to handing each candidate a certificate, they read the mark on each person’s forefinger. This was a ceremonial consideration rather than a real double check, but Cathy saw each graduate looking down at his or her own hand, as if to make sure that the degree wouldn’t be withheld.

 

                  Her own finger had a delicate line through the writing where the word “saleswoman” had been crossed out due to a mistake during the Marking. Mrs. Fitz had not remembered to point out the one left-handed child in her class, and so the mark was not binding because it was on her dominant hand. She clenched her fist and watched the line curve.

                  When it was her turn, an elderly woman with a grey bob looked down at her hand. She pursed her lips and nodded. She had congratulated the other graduates, but to Cathy she said nothing.

 

saleswoman

 

                  She was assigned to a kindergarten classroom on the other side of the country. At first she had been given third grade, but there was a mix up in the paperwork and she ended up with the youngest children in the school. Cathy was frustrated, but then grateful after a time. Kindergarteners hadn’t stopped saying, “I love you” to people outside their families, and it was nice to be loved by an entire class. They depended on her for support, whereas the third graders would have depended on her to teach science.

                  Erica had drawn her a picture, which she hung up on the small bulletin board near her desk. It was a scribbly work of art depicting a tall blonde woman with extremely large feet, clearly not meant to be representational. The smile was red and extra large, and in the same red crayon were the words “MS. L IS NICE.” Cathy was very proud of this assessment.

 

saleswoman

 

                  The night before the first Marking in her classroom, Cathy cried. She called her friend, Patricia, who taught fifth grade at the school.

                  “Patti, you have to come over.”

                  “What’s wrong?”

                  “The ceremony tomorrow—I just can’t take it. I can’t let them do that to my kids.”

                  “I don’t even remember getting it done,” said Patricia, “and the kids in my class aren’t any worse for it. You should relax.”

                  Cathy thought how nice it would be to have no memory of the events. “I just don’t want them to get hurt. I’m supposed to protect them. I bandage them up on the playground. But there’s nothing I can do to help them…”

                  “They don’t need protection. It’s perfectly safe. It’s not like a messy cut, it’s clean.”

                  “Patti—I need a drink.”

                  “Well, why didn’t you say so? I’ll be there in ten.” Cathy felt grateful that Patricia was always up for a good time.

saleswoman

 

Cathy remembered that Mrs. Fitz had left the room that day, and that afterwards she looked at them with sympathy, dried their tears, gave them gold stars for good behavior. Tommy was not given a gold star because he had not behaved well. He was ordered to sit in the corner, his back to the class. Cathy didn’t feel like the screaming was his fault, but she wished that he would stop moaning now that it was over. Mrs. Fitz had to call his parents when he didn’t stop for over an hour. He had been picked up quickly, his mother looking embarrassed, and Mrs. Fitz calmed everyone else by reading a story.

 Cathy’s eyes had burned with tears as she cradled her left hand, unable to color or fill out number worksheets. She swung her legs back and forth at her desk, her eyebrows knitted together in pain. She caught Mrs. Fitz’s eye; Cathy’s hurt evident.

 

saleswoman

 

                  Cathy was paged to go out of her classroom and out into the hall to meet with the men in the colored suits. The man in red seemed to be the manager, as he was the one who stepped forward. He wore his hair in an archaic pompadour, the kind that had been popularized recently by young entertainers two decades younger than him. He had dark circles under his eyes, and he hadn’t been careful shaving, there were uneven patches around his face.

                  “First time?” he asked.

                  “Yes,” said Cathy.

                  “It gets easier. For us, for you.”

                  “Not for the kids.”

                  “They’ve had no opportunity to anticipate this. Anticipation creates anxiety. We come in, and before they know what’s happening—it’s over.” The man’s face was hard to read. His eyes seemed blank.

                  Cathy wished that she had been able to tell the children—to make them run away so they couldn’t be caught and branded like cattle. But she had a contract. She didn’t say anything.

                  “Well I guess you have more experience than I do,” she said.

                  He nodded.

                  “And will there be a lot of pain?”

                  He shrugged. “They haven’t made it painless yet.”

                  “I see.”

                  “You can wait out here,” said the man, gesturing to the empty hallway.

                  “I’d rather be inside.”

                  “Suit yourself.”

                  Cathy followed the men into the classroom and watched. She didn’t cry, and she didn’t close her eyes. She didn’t tell the children that everything was going to be all right, but she stood there. She was the foundation of the classroom’s authority, and under her gaze the children were quiet. They submitted to the men, and after the first round of students, they held out their hands without being asked.

 

saleswoman

 

                  Tommy had not come back to class after the Marking. Cathy heard conflicting rumors during recess. Some children said that Tommy was being homeschooled, forced to stay alone because of the shame. Others suggested that his parents had beaten him so hard he died, but this was rejected because the children would have been invited to the funeral. One girl thought that the government had arrested him, but no one took her seriously because her parents had odd ideas.

                  Cathy didn’t know what to think. Tommy had been a nice boy, a little weird because he hated to be touched and didn’t always understand what the other kids were doing, but he knew a lot about dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist. Cathy didn’t even know what that was, but she thought Tommy was really cool.

                  A couple weeks before the incident, and before Tommy had stopped coming to class, she had asked her mother what a paleontologist was. Her mother had laughed, and said a paleontologist was a person who studied fossils. Cathy had a fossilized leaf in her room.

                  “It’s a leaf,” she had said. “What does that have to do with dinosaurs?”

                  “There are fossils other than leaves, Cathy.”

                  “Oh.”

                  “Some of the fossils are dinosaur bones.”

                  “Oh.”

                  “There aren’t very many people who study them anymore.”

                  “Why not?”

                  “There aren’t very many chosen.”

                  “Chosen?”

                  Cathy’s mother had looked scared. The blood had drained from her face. She had refused to say anything else, and so Cathy had to come to her own conclusions.

 

saleswoman

 

The Markings had never become any easier for Cathy. A few years had gone by and every year she had gone out drink with Patti. Last year she had met her current boyfriend, Alex. He was a well-built man with a handsome face and a personality that many would have found dog-like—dependable and uncomplicated. Patti had told her she thought Alex was boring, and perhaps he was, but he made Cathy feel safe. He was very concerned about protecting her, even when she could do things herself. He was a lawyer employed with the city government, and he called her every night, unwittingly lulling her to sleep with detailed reports on the permits and contracts he had negotiated that day. He didn’t seem to mind that she fell asleep, and he had become so used to it that he joked about permits being lullabies.

                  Tonight was the night before another Marking, and it represented a break from tradition in that Alex met Cathy and Patricia at the bar.

                  “Hey, Babe,” said Alex, pulling Cathy close so that he could kiss her gloved hand. He wanted to show how progressive he was—dating someone they’d made a mistake with. Cathy thought this was sweet, but she wished he wouldn’t do it in public. She also didn’t like him calling her “babe.” She wasn’t an infant.

                  “What are you drinking?” he asked her.

                  “Rum and coke,” Cathy said.

                  “You know,” Alex said, “you should really watch all the sugar in that coke.”

                  “Leave her alone,” said Patti.

                  “I’m just trying to look out for her.” Alex said. He turned to Cathy, “I know you’re stressed tonight, babe, but it’ll be okay,” said Alex. “It might hurt for a few minutes, but at least you’re in the room with them. My teacher almost ran out, she was so afraid to see it.”

                  Cathy nodded, folding her arms across her chest. Her finger throbbed, and she wasn’t quite convinced.

 

saleswoman

 

                  The reason that everyone in her class had been so upset about Tommy disappearing was that they had been denied the opportunity to read his hand. They only cared about his mysterious finger.

                  The popular girls had started a master list of everyone’s future profession. Mrs. Fitz had allowed the girls to do this because they couldn’t write very well, and consequently they couldn’t read what they’d written. However, Mrs. Fitz had not accounted for two things—how violent the girls were willing to get (in one case biting a victim’s arm to see his pointer finger) in order to get the information they wanted, and how good the collective memory of the class was.

                  Soon everyone knew that Luke’s destiny was to be a “mechanic,” Sarah was going to be a “dancer,” Leah a “driver,” and Drake a “janitor.” Mrs. Fitz, realizing that many of them didn’t know what those things actually entailed, set up a career day. Each student was to write two sentences about their future job. But Cathy didn’t know what to write.

 

saleswoman

 

                  Parents were becoming more careful about enforcing the right-handed policy, and so Ms. Cathy Landowe had never taught a left-handed child. It wasn’t illegal exactly to raise a left-handed child, but the tax incentives made it so much easier not to. And so, it was surprising for her to hand out pencils on the first day of her sixth year of teaching and have one reached for with a left hand.

                  The hand belonged to a little girl named Claire who had dark hair and light blue eyes. Already she seemed to be one of the most curious students, asking questions the others had never considered. Cathy liked her already. Her left hand felt a slight twinge when she saw the little girl staring at her glove. She only wore it on one hand to prevent the children from seeing the mark. Left-handed people were always considered a bit strange, but a person in her position—with a mistake—was considered highly suspicious. Cathy hoped that Claire didn’t feel too different from the rest of her classmates.

 

saleswoman

 

                  On the day of her own Marking, Cathy went home angry. She shoved her left hand in her mother’s face. “Look.”

                  Her mother accepted the hand with a slightly bemused expression. “It’s on your left hand.”

                  “I know! All the other kids got to still color, but I couldn’t because my arm hurt.”

                  “But they weren’t supposed to do it on your left hand.”

                  “They did everyone else’s left.”

                  “But you’re left-handed, dear. They’re supposed to do the hand you don’t write with so that you can still color.”

                  “Oh,” said Cathy. She thought that this made sense, but suddenly she felt suspicious. “How come you know about it?”

                  Her mother took off the glove she was in the habit of wearing—that most adults were in the habit of wearing, and which they put on their children only when it was snowing. She showed Cathy her own finger. It said “homemaker.”

                  “What’s a homemaker?”

                  “It’s someone who stays at home and spends time with their children and helps the family.”

                  “That’s what you do.”

                  “Yes.”

                  “What does Daddy’s say?”

                  “It says ‘engineer,’ and that’s what he does.”

                  “Does mine say what I’m going to do?”

                  “No, honey.”

                  “Why not?”

                  “Because they did it wrong.”

                  This was the end of the discussion for the day, and Cathy went to bed still confused. She normally went to bed on her right side, and so she drifted off to sleep quickly. She didn’t know that in the other room, her father held her mother in his arms while she cried that her daughter would be an outcast, and that she would be unsuccessful—that her strange ability to choose was dangerous. But most of all, she cried because they had hurt her child, and she hadn’t been able to do anything about it.

 

saleswoman

 

                  Cathy went to the grocery store on Monday nights. While there, she would think about her lesson plans for the week. She thought about reading in the produce aisle, discipline in the meat department, and math while she was picking out canned items and snacks. She did this more or less subconsciously, but nevertheless she was always very distracted in the supermarket, and the chore took quite a bit of time. She was so distracted she never noticed the young man working there as a courtesy clerk.

                  “Evening, ma’am,” the checker said to her, scanning her items. They had decided not to get rid of this system because it had saved jobs and forced interaction.

                  Cathy was startled a little, as though she had forgotten what she was doing. “Good evening.”

                  “Did you find everything you needed?”

                  She looked down at her basket and nodded. “Yes, I think so.”

                  The man at the end of the aisle was loading bags into her cart. She looked up at him to say thank you, but was struck with a feeling of familiarity. She gave him a long look, and he avoided her eye. She decided it couldn’t be him.

 

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                  On the Saturday following the Marking, Cathy’s parents took her on a transport to the city. Normally, the family’s trips to the city were fun excursions with jaunts to the park or to fancy restaurants where Cathy could pretend she was a princess. This day was not like that. It was the kind of boring outing that makes all children want to run around and scream. They had to walk into an imposing stone building with a large, highly polished entryway; Cathy’s shoes clacked across the floor.

                  Her parents went to stand at a window, talking to someone, filling out forms, talking some more, and then they were finally shown to a waiting area. A young woman came in to them.

                  “You must be Mr. and Mrs. Landowe. I’m Destiny. If you don’t mind, we’d like to talk to Cathy.”

                  Mr. and Mrs. Landowe nudged their daughter to take Destiny’s outstretched hand. They stood up to go with her. “We’d like to speak with Cathy alone. You can wait here.” Cathy’s parents sank down in their seats looking weary. The secretary, Grace, brought them something warm to drink, but they left it untouched on the table.

 

saleswoman

 

                  Cathy pushed Alex off of her that night after he had fallen asleep. They had gone out to dinner, and had walked afterwards. They always walked hand in hand, but Alex walked so slowly that Cathy always felt she was being pulled back. Alex thought walking slowly was better for digestion, and he’d squeeze her left hand when she started walking too quickly. They’d gone home and watched an old movie. Alex had fallen asleep, but Cathy had watched the whole thing. She wished that Alex could be more like Fred Astaire—a good dancer and up for a laugh—but all women wished for their boyfriends to be different. She couldn’t expect him to become something he wasn’t.

She pushed him away because she couldn’t forget the face she had seen in the grocery store. She couldn’t think very well with half of Alex’s body weight on her. It was a warm night, and pools of sweat had collected around her. She got out of bed, yanking her nightshirt up over her head, tossing it towards the hamper and missing it. She padded into the bathroom naked and examined herself briefly in the mirror before splashing water on her face and behind her neck.

                  She looked towards the body in the bed and sighed. Part of her wanted to climb into bed next to him and throw her arm around his expansive chest, wanted to play with the small dark hairs, twirl them around her fingers. But she didn’t. She examined the dark circles under her eyes and shivered, suddenly chilled.

                  Alex got up, noticing she wasn’t in bed. He came up behind her and encircled his arms around her waist. He kissed her hair. Cathy tried to pull away, but he caught her and spun her around. He kissed her mouth, and she melted into him—too tired, too scared to be less than grateful for the company.

                  He pulled her into bed, but she thought of the missing boy all night long.

 

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                  Destiny had Cathy sit at a small play table across from her. “Do you know why you’re here, little one?” Cathy remembered thinking that Destiny’s voice didn’t match her face. She spoke very sweetly, but she didn’t shape the words naturally, as though she was accustomed to tart sentences.

                  “I’m here because of my finger,” she said, holding out the offending appendage. Destiny came forward to read Cathy’s proffered finger. Her dark, wavy hair swung forward, partially obscuring her face.

                  “Yes,” said Destiny, looking up, “but do you know why?”

                  “Mommy said they did it wrong.”

                  “Why would she say that?”

                  “Well,” said Cathy. She hesitated for a moment because she thought that Destiny would have to be smart to work in a place like this. She didn’t know why they were asking her things her mother had already said, and why they weren’t asking her mom.

                  “I’m left-handed,” she said. She pressed a finger into her own chest so there would be no confusion. “So they were supposed to hurt my right hand. My— ” Cathy stopped to summon the word, “not dom-nent hand.”

                  “That’s true,” said Destiny. “And do you know why that’s so important?”

                  “Because your finger tells you what you’re going to do forever.”

                  “Yes, and why should they have done your right hand?”

                  “So I could still color,” said Cathy. She thought back to that day when Mrs. Fitz admired everyone’s drawing but her own.

                  Destiny smiled. “I have to give you the official reason, but I like yours better,” she said. Cathy wasn’t really listening as Destiny talked about genetic coding, the two possible career outcomes based on dominance, amendments to the Constitution, and the strict policies that had been put in place to protect jobs and welfare.

                  “Are you going to do the other one?” Cathy asked.

                  Destiny shook her head. “The ceremony only happens at one time, in the classroom. We’re not authorized to do it again for any reason. Even in unfortunate cases like this one. You get one shot.” She started to hand her things to check whether she was, indeed, a lefty. She let Cathy color for over half an hour while her parents waited in the next room.

 

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                  Cathy set out art supplies in the morning before school started. She arranged an equal number of things on each table, and she knew that by the end of the day almost nothing would be where she had put it. She was about to finish when Claire walked into the room.

                  “Good morning, Claire. You’re early today.”

                  “Good morning Ms. L.” Claire set her backpack and coat on the labeled hanger at the back of the classroom and then came over to Cathy’s desk.

                  “Was there something you needed, Claire?”

                  “Yes.”

                  Cathy waited a few seconds for the for the girl to elaborate, but when she didn’t, she said, “Would you like to tell me what that is?”

                  “I’m scared about this week.”

                  “There’s nothing scary happening this week,” said Cathy, even though she was thinking about what was scheduled for a few days from now. “There’s art projects, and math—you’re good at counting—and there won’t be anything that you can’t handle.”

                  “I think someone’s going to hurt me.”

                  “Why would anyone want to hurt you?”

                  “I think they want to hurt everyone.” Claire looked at her teacher, “Will you promise to make them not hurt me?”

                  Cathy didn’t know what to say. Her hand moved unconsciously to the gold necklace she was wearing. She began fiddling with it. “I don’t want to see any of my kids get hurt,” she said finally, which was an honest answer, but not the promise Claire was looking for.

                  The little girl nodded and went over to the window.

 

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Destiny signed the paper calling for the erasure of the mark made by the men in the colored suits. Cathy was happy that the writing on her hand was going away, but when she told her parents that they looked at her sympathetically.

                  “They’re not going to take it off, baby,” said her father.

                  “But she said erase,” said Cathy, thinking of the pretty pink erasers that her mother had given her at the beginning of the school year. They weren’t as pretty now because one of the boys in her class had stabbed them with pencils after she’d said he couldn’t borrow one of them.

                  “Yes,” said her mother, “but it’s an indelible mark—it won’t come off. The best they can do is cross it out.”

                  “So it’s like a pen not a pencil,” said Cathy.

                  “Sort of,” said her father. Cathy could sense that she hadn’t gotten it quite right, but she didn’t know another way to put it.

 

saleswoman

 

                  The next week, Cathy was at the grocery store again. This time she didn’t slip into her normal haze. She kept alert through the entire store, wanting and not wanting to catch a glimpse of Not-Tommy.

                  At the checkout, she looked for the young man that she had seen before. She saw him bagging at the furthest check stand, so she joined that queue. She hardly paid any attention to the checker who was asking her how her day was going. The young man was turned from her, so she couldn’t read his nametag. Her face was flushed, and she was suddenly very warm. Her heart beat quickly, pumping her blood with adrenaline for a man she hadn’t seen since kindergarten.

But he slowly turned toward her, and his nametag read: Matthew. He smiled at her this time, but even though he was certainly not Tommy, he looked familiar.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” she asked.

He seemed to take this as some sort of invitation. His eyes roved over her body. “Would you like to?” he asked.

“Do you know Tommy?” She wasn’t going to let up.

A strange look crossed his face. A muscle in his neck bulged. “Who wants to know?”

“I’m sorry—you just look exactly like him. I went to school with him, and then after…he never came back.”

“He was my brother.”

“Was?”

“He died a few years ago. In a mine collapse. He had a wife—a baby.”

Cathy’s throat went dry. She tried to swallow. “I’m really sorry.”

“All he wanted to do since the time he could talk was study dinosaurs, but he didn’t get to. He was told he had to be a miner. That’s a very different kind of dig.”  Matthew shrugged uncomfortably as Cathy tried to apologize again.

She walked out of the store, feeling exhausted. She got into her car and cried against the steering wheel. She had always wanted to believe that people were put into the most suitable position for them, but now she wasn’t sure. Cathy wondered if Tommy had been left-handed, whether it would have all been different.

 

saleswoman

 

                  Cathy thought that crossing out the line was worse than when they put the mark on her the first time. She already knew what to expect, and it really did make it worse, in her opinion.

                  The line was perfectly straight, like the ones that could be made with a ruler, and she knew then that she could never be a “saleswoman” because they had crossed it out. She knew that at some point she would have to pick out a new job, and she was embarrassed because nobody in her class would pick anything. Cathy knew that on Monday, they would all look at her hand and wonder what was wrong with her. They would wonder what she had done wrong to have her future crossed out.    

 

saleswoman

 

                  Cathy’s sixth Marking was approaching. Well, she supposed it was her seventh if she included the one that had happened to her all those years ago. Her stomach churned. Claire had put her in a terrible position, just by being left-handed. She didn’t want the little girl to be hurt like she was, but it was her job to make sure the process went smoothly. The punishment for not following orders about the Ceremony was severe. No one had ever learned what had happened to Mrs. Fitz.

                  She was paged to go out into the hallway. This year, a man in a yellow suit stepped forward to offer her pleasantries. He shook her hand.

                  “Don’t you ever wonder if we’re doing the right thing?” she asked.

                  “I try not to worry about it.”

                  “But you must think about it sometimes,” Cathy said, insisting on an answer.

                  The man in the yellow suit considered for a moment. “It’s a job for me. And it’s not a job I chose—it’s the one they chose for me.”

                  Cathy swallowed the lump in her throat that threatened to choke her. She wasn’t sure if she felt better. She felt that the Marking was inevitable, and she couldn’t let the little girl be an outcast, even if she didn’t tell the men. Surely it was better for her to fit in, better for her to meet her destiny. But she remembered her almost promise to Claire. There was no way to stop the girl from getting hurt; she’d have to choose the lesser pain.

 

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                  Mrs. Fitz allowed her to go last on career day. She went after all the other students who read their sentences of their note cards, and she dreaded getting up to speak. She dragged her feet to the front of her classroom and looked down at her card, even though there was nothing written on it.

                  “Hi,” she said. “My name is Cathy.” The students look unimpressed by this, although their speeches had all started the same way. “In the Marking, they wrote on my hand.”

                  She held up her hand to illustrate. “But they did it wrong and then crossed it out. So now I have to choose what I’m going to do. I don’t know what that’ll be yet, but I’d like to help someone else so that they know what they want to do.” Cathy looked up at Mrs. Fitz.

                  “I think that was two sentences,” she said.

                  Mrs. Fitz smiled at her. “That was very good, Cathy. You can take a seat now.” The other kids started whispering as she went back to her seat, but Mrs. Fitz demanded that everyone settle down and leave Cathy alone.

 

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                  Cathy followed the men in the suits back into the classroom. She stood at the back of the classroom near the rows of backpacks and lunch bags, watching as the men walked in between the groups of desks.

                  She let them proceed as they normally did, her heart beating faster as they got closer to Claire. She wanted to save her—to make everything go away. The man in the yellow suit reached for her left hand, preparing to mark it.

                  “Wait—” Cathy cried out from the back of the classroom.

                  The man in the yellow suit looked up at her expectantly.

                  Cathy looked at the little girl, asking her, with only a look, to forgive her. “Claire’s left-handed.”

                  The man in the yellow suit nodded and grinned, and Cathy felt her stomach drop. Her brow furrowed with worry, and for the very first time, she turned away from the men and closed her eyes.

                  She didn’t see that Claire was glaring at her. The little girl didn’t utter a single sound as the needle was forced into her skin.

 

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                  A week or so after the career day, Mrs. Fitz was gone. Some of the children whispered that she had gone because she didn’t like them anymore, but Cathy knew that Mrs. Fitz had left because of her—because the men had done her Marking wrong. Even though she had been upset with Mrs. Fitz for letting the men hurt her, she was sad that she had left because she was the one person that had seemed to think that Cathy was still a nice person. All of her friends had stopped talking to her, and her parents looked at her with pity every time she came into the room. They knew how hard everything would be for her now. They weren’t sure yet how they were going to help her decide what to do—they had no advice to offer. It scared them that they didn’t know how to guide her now that her path had become precarious.

 

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                  Cathy felt a little queasy when she thought back on the day’s events. Thinking of Claire made her chew her fingernails. She felt that she hadn’t done something right, even though there was nothing she had done that was against school policy. She changed into pajamas and poured herself a large glass of wine. There was a knock at the door.

                  She opened the door to see Alex with a box of her favorite cookies from the little bakery down the street. He had brought wine too. He looked slightly disappointed when he saw the glass in her hand.

                  “I wanted to be your knight in shining armor tonight,” he said, gesturing towards her glass. He pouted.

                  “We can drink two bottles.”

                  “Well then I’d better start now.” He poured himself a glass from the open bottle. He held up his glass. “Here’s to the most beautiful, kindest, most considerate person I know.”

                  Cathy began to cry, large tears falling down her face. She didn’t want him saying these things to her—not after the day she’d had—maybe not ever. She could taste the salt stinging her tongue, bringing out the acidic taste of the wine she was still holding in her left hand. Alex took her glass from her. He took her hands up in his, caressing her left pointer finger. Cathy tried to pull away.

                  Alex pulled her close, squishing her head against his chest. “It’s going to be okay.” He pulled her to the couch and put on a movie for her. He covered her with a blanket, and wouldn’t let her get up.

                  “It’s better if you sit here. Let me take care of you tonight.”

                  It was easier for Cathy not to argue, even though she didn’t want to be babied right now.  She fell asleep next to him and woke up disoriented. She drew back from Alex, whose body was crushing her leg. When she stood up, she had to hop around to encourage her blood to circulate again. She wrapped herself in a blanket, trying to make herself warm. She’d been so cold when she’d woken up.

                  She walked over to the kitchen and poured herself another glass of wine. They had never opened the second bottle. She smelled the wine, which reminded her of her earlier tears. Water sprang to her eyes, and she didn’t do anything to stem the flow as she slowly finished off the bottle, all by herself.