Issue #16 |

You Little Me

God please forgive please. Athena was a lot slimmer than me in those days but still could pack a punch. At first I thought she took out my left front tooth but when I put my hand there to feel, it was only blood.

Reasons for needing my tooth included Shanelle’s Big Homecoming Party where in a couple of hours I’d be in charge of ladling non-alcoholic/alcoholic lemonade into suspecting/unsuspecting cups; scatting away Shanelle’s Persians (Dr. Zhivago and Miss Lara) from the crab and collard green dip; and breaking up love if it got too rowdy on sofas and armchairs. God please forgive please. Just the day before I helped Shanelle and her mother drape Pomegranate High banners and holiday skeletons along the basement walls (think Homecoming meets All-American Ghoul) and fill bowls with candy corn and butterscotch discs—candy we recognized from Everybody’s Down South (as opposed to the wack candy up here in Nobody’s Long Island). Yesterday—when I was young. What I didn’t know TODAY was that Athena had cut TYPING 201 with a fake period and snuck back home, the plan all along being to pack her bags and hitchhike her way to freedom, away from all us retards (Athena’s words). If Mom’s car actually caught up with her below the Mason-Dixon line, my sister would use her fists to liberate herself the hard way. My sister was born a fight and today would be no different.

She had the timing all figured out: Mom would be stuck on her second double-shift in CUSTODIAL, Antwan would be stuck in his faraway classroom with all the other slow secret-genius children. Me—she didn’t actually give a damn about me. Main thing: she’d sneak home, pack her things, and book. What was I? Ever hear the term persona non grata? Times that by a thousand and you have the way Athena did think about me. And the funny/not funny/utterly ironical thing was that she hadn’t planned on finding ME there in the kitchen that morning when she got home (me feeling nauseous as hell, more later).

There I was. Accidentally SNIFFING the baggie I’d accidentally found in our closet. She hadn’t planned.

Weed, plain and simple.

I’d brought the baggie down into the kitchen, mesmerized by the tiny buddy beads that swept from my palm into my nostril—was this what being high was? Could these buddy beads function as my secret weapon at Shanelle’s party? That girl was my shining light, but I knew most everyone else in her circle considered me as non-entical as Rice A Roni. As in: Shanelle why you always got to hang with Nubia? She dumber than my cousin Down South.

If I brought the buddy beads into the fray, people might finally see me as the relevant personage I was. Worth a shot, I was thinking.

Eyes completely closed in fantasy—but then Athena grabbed me awake, a sisterly claw of love. First of all, this shit doesn’t belong to you. Second, prepare to meet your maker, bitch. It was painful to hear her say these things to me but it wasn’t like I hadn’t already had fifteen years of practice.

She reached for the weed; I dodged; she caught my cheek with her bangle; the baggie parachuted open and tiny buddy beads dotted the air, falling to the ground like hand grenades. My sister’s weekly sale. Naked like that on the floor, the weed actually looked like oregano. God please forgive please.

That’s good money, idiot! Now what I’m supposed to do?

(Twelfth graders having such a way with rhetorical questions.)

She slapped me. Pummeled me—on the neck, the shoulders, my scared-shitless arm meat. As previously stated, I’d never thought of weed as a way into things, not for myself. Who would have believed me a drug person? Goody-two-shoes Nubia: I was one for obeying the SCHOOL LAWS that proclaimed:

  1. drug people hang with drug people,
  2. wood shop with wood shop,
  3. Future Secretaries Club Members with nobody,
  4. brainiacs with brainiacs (file Shanelle into that category, btw),
  5. popular wannabees with other popular wannabees (a.k.a. Ree and Shani from around the block; me).

Athena had tried to fit in a few places, always without luck: ninth grade she started hanging with the white potheads and the Led Zeppelin acolytes; in tenth it was the IQ-deficient girl jocks. Last September, Athena hung with the fake Wicca girls—and then right away forsook them, due to the witches’ demand that she “relinquish her energies and weekly allowance to the good of the craft”—to which my sister replied, Ain’t no way I’m giving myself up to anybody but Me Myself and I, bitches.

On a normal day, Athena wandered the halls, lonely as a cloud; drifting past Remedial Math where tenth grade left-backs tried to make up for third grade mistakes; past the chem lab where unrequited girls learned the hard way that casting love spells on high school boys was one of the biggest myths known to mankind. One time she passed by the gym, where I was trying to get my splits better for the cheerleader sub-team tryouts. Coach Mary had told me that all I had to do was get my back leg straight and my tushie flat on the floor and not two feet in the air like you some kind of wagon wheel.  Athena laughed out loud from the hallway. The only split you have going for you, she shouted, is the one in your brain.


To read this story in its entirety, please purchase a copy of our spring 2023 issue or subscribe to the magazine.

Carolyn Ferrell is the author of the short-story collection, “Don’t Erase Me”, which was first published in Story in 1996. She released her debut novel, Dear Miss Metropolitan, in July of 2021. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, the bestselling author of The Mountains Sing, writes “A daring and powerful first novel. Carolyn Ferrell is masterful in …

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