Scene From "Sugar Dealer"

February 26, 2012
Claire awoke feeling guilty. She had fallen asleep just after Jeff, her boyfriend, had gone. Her need for rest had overcome any planning, any worry or thought of the future. It was a black sleep that left her guilty and empty upon waking. She dragged herself into motion, through her morning routine, and onto her morning bus to school. 12 pills felt like lead in her pocket. The weight of what she had done bore down unbearably on her shoulders. She would hand over the pills and wait and see.
“It’s all I have,” Claire said dully facing Danielle’s gang.
“You f***in’ cheapskate!” hissed Danielle, snatching them brutally from her hand. “I told you to get 50! Where are the rest? Girls! Go through her pockets!”
Tiff, Daphne, Ashley, and Mary closed in on Claire. Mary said gently, “Just turn your pockets out, Claire, it’s no big deal.”
Claire meekly did as she was told. She was tired, and she was out of ideas.
Danielle continued, “I think maybe Claire didn’t hear me when I said 50, do you, girls? I think she needs to get her ears washed out.”
As if they were soldiers taking direct orders, the girls seized Claire, pushed her into a stall, and forced her to her knees facing the toilet. Danielle kicked her hard between the shoulder blades. The force of the kick sent Claire’s whole upper body smashing into the front of the toilet. Her head whiplashed forward from the force. Before Claire could recover, someone had her by the hair and was shoving her face into the toilet water. Claire didn’t even struggle. She held her breath as the water soaked the front of her hair. She waited for them to flush and finish, but they didn’t. They weren’t letting go. Claire still waited, a tightness growing in her throat from fear. She still waited, her full face still submerged, unbreathing. The tightness grew. Claire’s lungs started to burn. Her heart started to pound in her ears. Panic took her. She began to struggle, to grab with her arms and kick with her legs. She was screaming underwater and gulping toilet water in panic. The gurgling sound of Claire’s breathless screams made Danielle laugh. Claire stopped pawing at the hands holding her neck and head. She grasped the toilet seat and pushed away with all her might. She had to get air. Up came her head for a split, gasping second, then down it went again, this time smacking so hard on the porcelain that Claire saw stars and went limp. Echoing through the darkness of Claire’s near-unconsciousness, Claire heard Danielle’s exiting voice: “Smart girl like you should learn to count to 50. We’ll try again Monday morning. Be here, or we’ll go straight to Jeff.”
Claire lay still as the sound of the retreating gang faded. She felt the cool, smooth, glassy porcelain against her cheek. She thought of the blackness behind her closed eyes. She thought of breathing, resting. She answered the part of herself that just wanted to lie there and give up. “Three minutes,” she said. “Three minutes is all you get. Then you have to get up.” She was scared that if she didn’t truly count the time, she would slip into unconsciousness. Her mind drifted: “Great, scandal, investigation, another girl passed out on the school floor, ambulance, Kiki. Oh, man, I gotta get up.”
She exhaled and tried to move ... an arm ... a leg ... a foot ... nothing wanted to respond. “Claire,” she said to herself, “you’ve gotta get up. You’ve got to push yourself up off this floor and get up. There’s no other choice.” She lay motionless. “Push,” she urged herself. “Come on, you’ve gotta get up. Class is starting.” She pushed with arms and legs and back. She was on her knees. She pushed on the toilet with both hands and managed to lift herself to her feet. She lost balance and slammed against the stall wall, but she caught herself and wouldn’t let herself fall again. Gripping the wall, Claire eased herself out of the stall. Slowly, she regained her balance, and using the sinks that lined the wall for help, she moved toward the bathroom door, through it, and out into the hallway. Homeroom was to the right. She turned and walked to class.

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