July 11, 2008
By Mara Flanagan, Pittsburgh, PA

Rupert writhed on the floor, each fingertip dripping static on the wood. They flexed and shook with intensity and concentration as his body coiled up, fighting its way into the fetal position. His teeth beat out a song to punctuate the madness. He rocked back and forth, harder and faster with each change of direction. His eyes flew to each of our faces wildly as he gripped his knees maniacally and… froze.
A fit of excited applause erupted to meet his twitching ears. Slowly, he unraveled himself and rose to his feet. His bow came out as smoothly as if he’d just been ballet dancing, with the sweep of a true professional.
“Now that was acting!” clucked Mrs. Belleview. Her fake nails clicked together with each short clap of her hands. Rupert smirked self-aggrandizing. Our whole Theater class would hate him if he wasn’t so talented.

“Now,” said Mrs. Belleview, “who wants to go next?” Each pupil squirmed in their sweats. “Michael! How about you?” My sandy-haired friend leaped when she called his name.

“How about someone else?” he asked.

“Now, I’ll have none of that!” said Mrs. Belleview. “Get out there and show us how you physically interpret shock.”

“Can I be struck by the same bolt of lightening that hit Rupert?” said Michael, gaining composure. Getting a laugh made him comfortable.

“No repeats!” screeched Mrs. Belleview. “Now go!” Michael looked down and let his hair flop over his forehead as he thought.

“Hurry it up!” yelled Rupert. I shot him a glare. Michael had it under control. He always lowered his head when he was thinking. It had been happening for years.

Michael’s eyes shot up, crinkling with mischief. His mouth set in a perfectly straight line, he shifted onto his left foot. He extended his hand out in front of him, as if bidding someone to shake it. With an encouraging smile, he attempted to coax the imaginary person to grab his hand. Quickly, he shifted to his right foot and looked down at the place the greeter’s hand had been with a wary expression. He reached out to meet the palm of the greeter and drew it back with a squeak. His hand crumpled into a ball and he rubbed it, bewildered. A wave of laughter rose up from his audience. Almost falling out of character in his glee, he switched back to his left foot and cracked up, pointing a finger at his victim. Then, he clapped his hands together satisfactorily, “forgetting” that the “joy buzzer” was strapped to him, flooding the room with a crazed yelp. He took a quick bow, encouraged by the guffaws of his classmates. He sidled back to his place, goofily winking at me. I giggled.

“Wonderful, wonderful!” said Mrs. Belleview. “A truly hilarious performance! Now how about…Kathy?” I tensed. Of course I’d known that I was going to have to go sometime, but I didn’t want to go third.

I trembled my way to the front of the room, the stage lights trickling over my eyelashes. I wanted nothing more than to release my tight ponytail and let my hair flood my face and protect me from scrutiny, but Mrs. Belleview wanted us to speak with our eyes. I drew my head up to face the class, my mind moving numbingly fast. I looked over at Michael. He nodded, willing me to have a shot of inspiration. Feeling the pressure, I did the only thing I could think of: I let my mouth drop open.

I felt the other students eye my stagnant position, watching for any kind of deviation from this simplistic attempt at shock. Their mouths threatened smiles. Mrs. Belleview stared.
“Kathy!” I shut my mouth when she spoke. “What was that?”

“Shock” I replied quietly.

“That was it?” she asked.

“Did you need more?”

“Well, I…” She kneaded the hem of her dress. “It’s just…that was shock?”

“That was shock.”

“But where was the power, Kathy? You didn’t reach the essence of the word.”

“I think she did.” Michael stepped out from his position in the crowd.

“And why is that, Michael?” asked Mrs. Belleview. He took a few steps toward me. His mouth was set but his eyes were soft. It reminded me of the times when, in Kindergarten, he’d look at the snack with such delicacy, willing it to his mouth. The look had the same effect on me.

Before I knew what was happening, he was pressed against me, his lip dancing on mine. It stopped. The class inhaled as he pulled away. And there I was, my mouth perfectly shaped into an oval.


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