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I Had a Bad Time MAG
I’m looking at the floor while five girls are talking loudly around me, and looking at each other. I sneak a look at a pair of sneakers lying discarded and forgotten beside my leg. I slide my eyes to the right like a detective. I don’t turn my head though, I don’t want to attract attention. When you can’t look anyone in the eye, you assume everyone else is looking you in the eye and feel out of place. It is a shock when you realize a whole lot of people spend a whole lot of time talking to one another while looking away.
But I’m not listening to their conversations, although I do hear them and some of their excited energy seeps through the air into me. I’m twisting the rough fibers of the red shag rug around the first knuckle of my fingers, twisting it tight until the tips of my fingers are light pink berries that complement the screaming red of the rug. My back is curved in a comfortable c shape, I’m sitting cross-legged resting my chin on my hands. My long brown hair hides the sides of my face.
The house is dirty. There are small hills of clothes and toys and magazines lying on the floor. There is a sweater hiding a small radio in this bedroom, and only one dingy flat sheet lying twisted on the bed. The windows are covered with a strange, fine yellow dust, in which patterns and pictures have been traced with fingers of the children. The low ceiling is spotted with watermarks. There is an odd smell in the air, at times pleasant, like fabric softener or detergent, and at times pervaded with the much more intense smells of children and poverty. The children I have seen, and there are several who quickly become indistinguishable from one another in my mind, are quiet and wide-eyed. They follow me from room to room in an eerily quiet pack, sucking on bits of blankets and their fingers or hair. I smile at them and pick them up but they wrestle free from me with surprising strength. Still, they stay silent.
The girls, however, can’t seem to stop chattering. I’m listening not to what they are saying, but to how they are saying it. Each girl seems to be having her own conversation with the others in the room, throwing out an endless stream of words and giggles and quick pauses for breath or maybe thought. Every girl is going on, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone listening to the garble of voices, except maybe me.
But their words aren’t intended for me. I can’t understand why Debby, whom I don’t really know, invited me to her party or why she wanted me here at all. I feel awkward and homesick, and in the same detective way I search for a clock with my eyes. If I could only know what time it is, I think, I could count the hours until I’m going home. If I have something concrete to count and think about, time goes by faster. Right now, the girls are ignoring me, and that leaves me sitting here silent, burning with a sort of sad anger and resentment toward them for being able to socialize and speak so easily.
In a few minutes the air in the room is thick with the smell of hair spray, the aerosol kind. Someone opens a window. I turn my face toward it and the low sun scars blue streaks across my vision that hover, ghostlike, against the black back of my eyelids when I shut my eyes.
It is when I have my eyes shut that Debby finally turns around in the plastic chair to me to ask me if I’m having a fun time.
“Yeah,” I say, my voice quiet and my tone too high. My throat is dry so I swallow hard and smile at her what I think must look like a genuine grin. Debby studies me for a moment.
“She hates it here.” She pauses and glances back to me as if I would confirm that.
“She either hates it here or she hates us. One or the other.”
I open my eyes wide like I’ve seen the other girls do and shake my head from side to side violently, my hair sweeping back and forth across my face.
“No,” I lie, laughing, “I’m having fun, but you guys are all talking about people I don’t know, so I can’t really join in.”
Debby straightens her lips into a thin line and looks away from me at another girl. I look around from face to face and they all seem to be looking back at me expectantly, as if they have just asked me a question that I haven’t answered. My tongue feels thick and immobile in my mouth, I know there is no way I will be able to say another word. I begin twisting the rug again and sit tense until the feeling of five pairs of eyes on me fades away.