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“Hey, can I borrow a pencil?” asks the girl in the coral shirt. She stretches her hand out expectantly, already believing that her request will be fulfilled. The question is merely a formality. She is, of course, the Pencil Queen, and has been known as such since before the first grade, when Julia, an arch-nemesis to this very day, refused to share her feathered, sparkly gel pen. The Pencil Queen, more commonly known as PQ, tackled poor Julia to the ground. Ever since that day, every pencil newly acquired by another student eventually found its way into the clutches of PQ. Oddly enough, pens did nothing for her. It was only the graphite wonder of mass produced pencils that did her in.
PQ asks again. “Well? Can I?”
“Can you what?” replies the owner of the pencil, a girl of the same age as PQ. Her head, encased in dried-out, crispy hair, jerks from its position off the table, leaving behind a smudge of make-up. The impression is more real than the actual face of the girl, hollowed as it is. Her not quite conscious eyes are hidden behind drooping lids and her lids, in turn, shrouded behind brittle plastic glasses.
“Look, just give me the pencil, Abigail,” says PQ in frustration. Her outstretched hand makes grabbing motions, the fingers curling in on themselves repeatedly in the universal gesture for “Gimme.”
Abigail struggles to sit up in her seat, so hindered is she by the trailing mass of scarves around her neck. Her hands work on the tabletop to align the remaining stationary items. One after the other she arranges them into perpendicular, parallel lines. Restlessly, her feet tap the floor in a rhythm not unlike that which is played by the mournful awaiting their sentence. With visible effort, she gathers herself. Once the action has been completed, she turns to face the Pencil Queen. Five deep breaths later, she speaks. “Why do you need it?”
PQ is startled. It has been long that any of her threats have been denied. Students—she does not lower herself to their level by referring to them as classmates—do not speak to her, much less question her authority such as the one before her. In the halls, eye contact is not made. Some days, she begins to feel as if she has no eyes at all, as if her life is nothing more than the delusions of an over-stimulated brain.
She sputters, a movement her lips are unaccustomed to. Finally, after much blabbering and mouth-gulping, she states firmly, without a hint of compassion, “Because I do.”
“That’s not a very good answer. You really can’t come up with a better line than that? What are you, twelve?” says Abigail, suddenly removed from her previous transfixion. PQ can see the muscles in her jaw contracting, forming ridges where they draw the bones together.
“At least I don’t have a tube in my neck.” Upon the instant the words remove themselves from her brain into the air, she wishes to recover them. She opens her lips and inhales in the hope that they will be sucked back in. Maybe she hadn’t hear, thinks PQ .
By the look of Abigail’s face, she did. Her eyebrows seem to have taken up permanent residence in her hairline, while her mouth springs open as if, quite suddenly, someone had cut the attachments holding her mouth together. At once, her feet, which had ceased their persistent tapping during the span of the short interaction, begin anew. Students at neighboring desks begin to glance over, wondering what the source of the force noise is coming from.
“Here’s your pencil,” Abigail whispers in a surprisingly steady voice. She slides the pencil across the surface of the desk, inching the instrument towards PQ.
“Thanks.” Like soup, the silence hangs heavy. After a few moments, the Pencil Queen turns away, and the conversation is abandoned.
The pencil is left on the table.