I noticed from your masthead that you must be a family run rag since your names end the same way, and I’ll bet that at least two of you are married to each other and the third one is your father or brother or maybe just some third wheel. I like most of your stories, except for the short ones that have no conversation or characters or plot in them. And your poems are pretty nice, except for the ones about cranberry bogs, which I must admit generally don’t excite me, even when the subject comes up during daily interactions—which is hardly ever.
This is my first teen story, as my type of writing has so far been aimed at mature literate types only, like for instance my recent story about an old woman who made it her business to free a sad looking ape from the zoo. It is a gut-retching tale to say the least, but I’m still not finished with the end. In my first try at the story the ape escapes the grasp of the old woman and scoots away, leaving her sitting alone and learning an important lesson, which is either not to try freeing apes in the first place or simply deciding to bring a leash next time. I’m still working on it.
Anyway, without any further to-do, here is my teen story, a subtle tale about the perils of teen life—which I know all about, having barely escaped mine—and I hope you like it and that your mag does leather binding.
“A Teen Tale”
Arnold, a shy sophomore, was a real loser. Everyone hated him, even his guidance counselor; meanwhile, he was crazy for Julie, a senior cheerleader whose father drank and whose mother was having an affair with a dairy farmer. But since Julie was the most popular senior in the school, no one knew about her crummy home life except her best friend Suzie, who everyone in school hated because she was the most popular girl’s best friend and therefore thought she was all that.
Anyway, Julie didn’t know that Arnold, the loser, was even alive. Then one night some of Julie’s friends called her to go out for a ride, but her father beat her before she could get out of the house. The friends, all twelve of them, had decided to drive Suzie’s mom’s Toyota down Bell Hill, which had black ice all over it. Arnold the loser lived near the top of Bell Hill, and he was outside looking up at the stars when the twelve of them stopped to ask if he wanted to ride with them or go on being such a miserable dud. He almost climbed into the car, so he’d stop feeling like such a dud, but his dead grandmother whispered in his ear, “Don’t be an idiot,” and he backed away. All twelve joy riders gave him the finger and then tore down the hill on the black ice.
Julie limped over to the top of the hill where Arnold was, cursing a blue streak because she’d just missed the fun. But then they heard the screeching brakes and some awful laughing and screaming, followed by a distant boom. Julie gave a blood-curdling shriek and started bawling, but when Arnold tried to drape a comforting arm around her shoulder, she shook him off. “Get lost, creep,” she said.
Later Arnold slumped at the kitchen table, cringing over the memory of Julie’s angry face.
“What the hell’s that?” his father asked, overhearing the many sirens.
“I don’t know. A crash,” Arnold answered, annoyed, moping over Julie’s “get lost creep”, which rang in his ears.
All twelve teens, in the hospital with concussions and broken legs and arms, had been bullies who’d picked on kids in their school, so everyone cried a blue streak over them. The teachers cried blue streaks too, but one young female teacher suffered the conniption fits of her students when she said, “Oh well,” to a class, and chuckled. There was a general uproar and some gnashing of teeth that abruptly ended when the bell rang for the next class.
Meanwhile Arnold’s father, who worked as a guard at Riker’s Island, didn’t know why his son was such a scrawny loser. “You should’ve been in that car—like a man,” grumped his father, but Arnold’s dead grandma whispered in his ear, “Don’t listen to him; he’s an ass.”
“All right, Grandma,” Arnold blurted, and his father took it to heart and beat him.
Bruised purple the next day, Arnold went to the library instead of going to math class. Miss Shrump, the teacher who’d said “Oh well”, told him he looked good with his face all battered like that, and Arnold bowed his head in shame.
“You too, Julie,” Arnold heard her say, and he looked over to find Julie near a stack of century old encyclopedias. Her face was even more beaten up than his face, and so he ached for her; but when she looked over at him she mouthed two words that aren’t appropriate for teen audiences but which all teens probably say to each other every day, at least once.
Still, Arnold knew that he and Julie were meant for each other because of their mutually beaten faces, so he talked to his guidance counselor about her and hoped that she could talk to him and Julie together, but the guidance counselor told him to get the hell out of her office. All day long the guidance counselor felt bad for telling Arnold to get the hell out of her office, so she yelled at the next kid who asked for help and forgot all about feeling bad over Arnold.
More determined than ever to put an end to his anguish once and for all, Arnold walked to Julie’s house after dinner that night to share his feelings with her. But her father answered, and when Arnold asked for Julie, her father said she’d run off with a carnival barker and wasn’t available at the moment. Then he slammed the door in Arnold’s face.
Meanwhile, Julie, eavesdropping from upstairs, heard the whole exchange and watched out her bedroom window while Arnold stood outside listening to his dead grandmother tell him not to believe the father, that he was an ass. Julie saw Arnold’s bruised face in the moonlight, and was so moved by his loser-like passion, and the fact that he had no chance with her, that she began to kind of like the guy a little bit. Later, when her father asked who the loser at the door was, she screamed a blue streak at him and he thrashed her to within an inch of her life, stopping just short of killing her because he didn’t want to get in trouble with the law or anything.
Julie saw Arnold at school the next day, and she tried to talk to him, but he avoided her, which was easy because she limped badly, bent way over to one side because of broken ribs, and her face was even puffier and yet more smashed in than it was before. She looked more beautiful to Arnold than ever.
Arnold felt the urge to hurt someone, or hurt himself—or better yet hurt something inanimate, if he could only get hold of an easily breakable item; but he was too much of a wuss to do anything about his sorrow. Miss Shrump saw him sulking in the hallway between classes and told him to relax, that this was only the beginning of his troubles. That cheered Arnold up. He thought of his future, of maybe becoming a forest ranger or something and disappearing into forests, and the rest of the day he wondered what forest rangers even did, so his mind was off Julie for a while.
Weeks went by. It was spring, and Arnold still wouldn’t let Julie come near him, but she kept trying anyway. Soon all the unmaimed popular kids left in the school were calling Julie a loser for chasing after some stupid sophomore. She didn’t care, though, and finally ran away from home after her father conked her over the head with a shovel. The same night, Arnold ran away when his father stuffed him into the clothes dryer after overhearing Arnold sigh.
“You goddamn sissy,” his father seethed, slamming the dryer door closed on him. Arnold’s grandmother’s ghost opened the door for Arnold, though, after his father had gone upstairs to clean his taser, and Arnold squeezed himself out just as his dad came back down the stairs.
“Thanks, Grandma,” Arnold said aloud and luckily beat it out of the house before his father got to him.
So Julie and Arnold had both run away overnight and then skipped school the next day. They roamed through town, turning corners and going into and out of stores at exactly the wrong moments and just missing each other. Back at school, some other losers had been planning to stink bomb the hallways; but they lived in the country and could only think of using cow dung. They did succeed in stinking up the place, much to the student body’s delight, but were later caught with some of it still on them and were arrested for assault.
Julie walked into a coffee shop in town and saw Arnold sitting at a table, preoccupied with picking lint out of his hair. She took a deep breath and sat across from him and they had breakfast together. Arnold wouldn’t say much at first but when she felt at his bruises he loosened up and felt at her bruises too. Pretty soon they were getting along okay, and she told him that even though he was a creep and a loser, she thought that maybe they could be friends.
Arnold smiled a little, and his dead grandmother whispered in his ear, “Kiss her, right now.”
“No, Grandma,” he said aloud.
This caused a serious misunderstanding between him and Julie for a while, but outside, after he told her all about his dead grandmother, she kind of understood. Their squabble had brought them closer, and much to their mutual relief, and mindful of their bruises, they gingerly kissed a blue streak.
Lou Gaglia’s short story collection, Poor Advice, is forthcoming from Aqueous Books (2014). His work has appeared in JMWW, The Cortland Review, Untoward Magazine, Toasted Cheese, Blue Lake Review, and other publications. He lives in upstate New York.