March 14, 2008
By Blair Hartman, Chester, NJ

Columbia sat in the fourth desk from the front in the last row on the left side of her homeroom class, just barely in the dusty corner. The only object stopping her from sitting completely in the back left-hand corner of the cramped classroom was a large, brick-faced boy by the name of Wade, who had the approximate size, build, and structure of an adult hippopotamus.

On the rainy morning of April the 19th, Columbia was upright and straight in her wooden, standard-school-model seat, chewing on a wad of bubblegum as her right knee bounced up and down nervously, causing the bright color of her neon green tights to flash rapidly. Her small feet were enclosed in sneakers barely kept together by colored duct tape, and her short, pink skirt was patched and threadbare. Columbia’s impressive head of hair was thick, black, and shaggy, hanging in unruly waves around her pointed face.

She was reading a thin book which was held close to her face, and if someone were to measure the distance between the book and Columbia’s sharp nose, there would hardly be any room to fit the ruler. Her nails were painted lemon-yellow.

“Morris!” her toad-like teacher croaked loudly from the front of the classroom, and the eighth-grade girl slowly lowered her novel. Her green eyes, clouded by elegant glasses, squinted as she regarded her proctor with relaxed impatience as her bright leg stopped moving.

“Yes, Miss?” Columbia muffled a sly grin as she replied to her teacher, who could only be called a “Miss” under the strictest of pretenses. If it wasn’t for the sagging bosom, the garish pink lip rouge, or the fact that the warty thing that was plopped behind the desk at the front of the room was wearing a dress, Columbia would have questioned the orientation of her ancient, wrinkly, scowling governess.

“What are you reading now, Morris?” the old woman croaked, as the class turned in unison to watch the showdown between frog and odd classmate.

“A book, Miss,” Columbia answered with a solemn face. “Did I miss the announcement that books were now banned in homeroom?”

A piggy snort of amusement spouted from Wade, who sat behind her, and she felt warm specks of spittle hit the back of her bare neck. The colorful girl winced and grimaced, and reached a slender hand back to clean her porcelain skin.

“Watch your tongue, Morris,” the toad said, leaning forward with arthritic hips, “Or you’ll be sitting in detention for the second time this week.”

Columbia Morris shrugged. “Excuse me, Miss,” she rebutted with a slick smile of practiced politeness on her face, “But tell me; how am I supposed to watch my tongue with mine own eyes when it is so safely nestled inside my mouth?”

She spent the afternoon scraping bits of chewing gum, most of them placed by her own fingers, from the undersides of students’ desks.

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