This story is by Val Goorha and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
They call it the glass hallway. Windows that stretch from the ceiling to floor serve as the walls, and a network of piping and stuttering lights trail the arched roof. It rests on the second floor of my school and serves as a sort of passageway between the English and Math buildings.
In the winter when I arrive twenty minutes before class and sit on the surprisingly soft floor, sketchbook and newly sharpened pencil resting in my lap, my back feels cool against the broken radiator, the only ounce of warmth in my body radiating from the steaming cup of coffee entwined in my fingers. In the winter the glass hallway is painted with the soft blue hue of falling snow and obscured sunlight. The stuttering lights fall silent, just to be entranced by the remarkable colour.
I remember it was on the first snowfall of my freshman year that Carol told me that our school bell sounded like a shrieking monkey. I remember I asked her how she knew what a shrieking monkey sounded like. I don’t know, she had said, but at least I know what our bell sounds like.
In the spring I used to imagine that the flowers sprang back onto their branches, but that’s not what they do, do they? New flowers bloom and the old ones die forgotten in the coldness of a past winter. The glass hallway doesn’t have glass in the spring; the stream of early sunlight melts away the barrier of nature. When I sit with my back clamped to the stiff radiator and I stare down at my sketchbook, rays of sunlight illuminate the pages as if telling me to just draw.
I wait in these twenty-minute mornings and I watch as one, two, three people slouch through the hallway, backpacks pressed against their curling spines, fingers thumbing at the screens in front of them. Nobody knows me up here, not when the season’s colour paints my face into another’s.
In the few weeks of summer before school ends, my hands ride up and down the smooth surface of my sketchbook, enthused by the golden colour of the morning. Condensation slides down the curved surface of my milkshake and splatters onto the floor. In the summer I know I have weeks, days, hours until I can sit beneath the willow tree in my backyard, completely exposed to the humid breeze of the outside.
Carol once asked me if I had heard the new Taylor Swift song. I stared at her until she realized her mistake, covered her mouth with her hands and whispered a quiet sorry. Each time I remember that moment, I look back on it and wish she had been apologizing because she’d forgotten I didn’t like Taylor Swift.
It’s autumn now. I always reminisce in autumn. It just feels like the sort of season where you contemplate things. Or perhaps I am perpetually contemplating things and I just contemplate that I contemplate things in autumn.
I watch the flight of a gold and orange leaf. It soars through the wind before slamming into glass of the hallway. The janitor cleaned the windows just yesterday so the glass must’ve looked pretty spotless to it. The leaf slides down onto the ground and crumples like a sad paper doll.
I look down at my watch. It’s stopped again. I made the mistake of swimming with it so now it just sits on my bony wrist, stopping and starting as it pleases. I tilt my head down the length of the hallway, my back arches, bumping gently against the radiator. I wait for someone to come and when someone does; I tilt my head back and pretend to absorb myself in my sketchbook. As they shuffle by me I glance up at their face. Do they look in a hurry? Are they walking faster because the bell has rung?
I try to count the minutes in my head, but soon get tired of the numbers. I tap my watch attempting to give the hands a burst of energy but they blink up at me in silent refusal.
I end up going to my first class ten minutes early. I sit in the corner of the band room, my instrument case biting into my thighs, heavy on my knees. I wait for the rest of my classmates to flood into the room, assemble their instruments: four trumpets, one clarinet, one tenor and baritone saxophone, one drum set, two guitars and a bass. They talk and blow into their instruments and I string my saxophone around my neck, run my finger down the keys and blow tentatively into the mouthpiece. I glance around. No one pays attention to me. I blow harder and fell the vibration of the brass against my bare skin.
We sit down and listen to Mrs Barry talk. I watch her lips that she moves slowly and precisely, making sure to face me. We play our first piece; the one we’re practising for the upcoming jazz brunch. Tenor saxophone Sam smiles at me widely once we’ve finished and I know I’ve played it right.
I eat snack in the glass hallway. Surrounded by the autumn light, my teeth bite into the juicy apple, succulent liquid fills my mouth, slides down my chin. I close my eyes, lean my head against the radiator and relish in my piece of autumn.
I remember to set a timer on my phone. Fifteen minutes until my next class. I walk amongst the other students and pretend that I heard it too. That like everyone else, my life depends on the sound of shrieking monkeys.
It’s winter and the glass hallway smells like water. Not the chlorinated kind or the rich summer lake kind. It smells like melted snow. I stare down at my sketchbook. There are two blank pages left.
A shadow stops in front of me and winter’s blue hue is blocked from my field of vision. I look up. Carol stares down at me. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her. We used to be friends in our freshman year. I press my back against the radiator, wishing it could swallow me up.
“Hi,” she says. I read her lips, as they mouth at me slowly in what I can tell to be a condescending manner.
I stare up at her. Three years since I’ve seen her face; since she left me alone to survive this school.
“Look, I need to borrow some money. I blew a ton on my last party and now I’m broke. I know you have a lot saved up, so…”
Her face tilts to a side and I miss the last couple of words. She raises her eyebrows, hands sealing around her hips.
“So can you?” she asks her mouth forming wider. She’s speaking louder.
“What?” I ask and make sure that my voice exits strongly.
“Give me some money?” Carol says rolling he eyes.
My eyes crinkle. I shake my head and pick up my sketchbook, stuff it into my book bag and drag myself to my feet.
“I need money Elodie,” she says. I try to walk away but she grabs my wrist, hand clamping around the watch on my bony wrist. I try to pry her hands off, but they grow stronger. The stuttering lights on the arched roof blink out. My book bag slides off my right shoulder and onto the floor. There’s another person, and another, and one more: Carol’s friends – her wingmen. I look away.
“I need the money Elodie,” she says again and her fingers wrap around my chin, nails digging tightly into my skin. They force me to stare into to her face – to read her words. “I know you have it. Just give me some. We’re friends. That’s what friends do.”
“We aren’t,” I say and I know my voice is trembling because my body is too. One of her friends comes right up next to my face; he’s so close I can read the minute hand of his watch. My first class has started. I think about Mrs Barry in the band room and my classmates talking and assembling their instruments.
Carol’s friend pushes me up against the glass of the hallway. My blood is searing beneath my skin. He punches my face and his fist scrapes my cheek, colliding with my nose and jaw. He kicks me in my stomach and I slide to the surprisingly soft ground crumpling like a sad paper doll. Carol’s friends are shaking open my bag, spilling out the contents.
My sketchbook and newly sharpened pencil tumble out. They open the pockets until they find a twenty-dollar bill, then they leave me on the ground of the glass hallway bleeding from my mouth and nose – bleeding onto the two blank pages of my sketchbook.