“We can’t have you in here with the other girls.”
The other girls shift skittishly, sensing the storm on the horizon.
Ursula sits on her haunches on the chair of her desk with her muscular brown arms folded on top of her black ashy knees, her back pressed uncomfortably against the bars on the window, her forehead and eyes pointed at us as though pure rage might explode out at us. Her neck swivels menacingly; the vituperation continues as the staff members warily close in. “Bitch! I don’t need your fat-ass face in my face! You want something in your face, go get another cheeseburger!” To another: “Just come at me! I’ll rip your titties off!” To the nurse: “You! Black girl! I’ll kill your baby!” The nurse takes a step backward and sideways, trying to shield herself behind some wall or counter or piece of furniture she wishes were there, letting her hands flutter like birds around her distended belly in their search for the most protective place to alight.
“We need you to walk into Investment.”
The girl has become rigid, barely moving. Her breath is an ursine growl. The last thing she says is “You’ll have to take me. And I promise it will be Prob. Lems.” She punctuates each syllable of that final word with another around-the-world sway of her neck. Her eyes lose their focus, and a roar, guttural and startling, emanates from between her clenched teeth and angrily parted lips.
“Get the other girls out of here.”
The other girls leave their desks, their pens, everything. They funnel through the door in an ovine panic, following the staff to safety. They get jammed in the doorway, rammed into each other in their attempts to simultaneously leave quickly to escape harm and linger to witness the melee. A wispy girl, Rachel, is pushed, misses the doorway, and gets hit in her clean teeth by the wall-mounted pencil sharpener. She is swallowed up by the stampede, bleeding slightly from the corner of her mouth, led down the hall, and into a new classroom. The nurse looks sternly at all of them as she pauses pregnantly, then closes the door and gives them new pens. They strain to hear, quiet for the first time all day. The first sentence they can make out is:
“You have until the count of three to walk on your own. You are going either way.”
The men of the staff close the circle on the animal, hands forward, shuffling apprehensively. It bares its teeth, growls and screams.
Its painted claws clatter dangerously on the desktop.
Saliva pools on its lips.
Two men advance, each grabbing a wrist and a shoulder. The moment it is touched, the animal begins to thrash truculently, kicking, gnashing, jerking its strong arms in an attempt to knock the men off balance. They pull it off of the desk, away from the wall, and two of the women grasp at the flailing legs. It bends at the knees, the hips, the neck, trying to free itself. In a surprising move, it yanks its hand inward instead of out toward the attackers, and is able to catch the back of a man’s manacling hand in its teeth.
“She’s biting me!” he caterwauls madly. Several pairs of hands grasp at its nappy head, its strong jaws. The man doesn’t let go of its arm, though fangs are piercing his skin. Blood vessels are mashed between gnashing teeth and the bones in the back of the hand, causing an instant black and purple ring to shine through. He finally manages to pull the hand away, leaving a bite-sized roll of scraped skin in its mouth. It continues to spasm and scream, shaking its head from side to side in order to drench them all in its slobber. They rustle it into Investment, down to the cold pavement floor, and nimble fingers remove its shoes and belt. The nurse reappears with a hypodermic and doctor’s orders. Heavy hands hold its hips and thighs and head. A flash of brown fleshy buttocks lasts just long enough for the injection. They wait.
After a few minutes, the struggling has stopped. The man with the bloody hand has gone to watch the other girls, a wad of paper towels pressed to the wound. The thin girl, Rachel, shaken and jealous, raises a malnourished arm like a tentative twig growing in time lapse. “May I break chair structure and come ask you a question?” she asks sheepishly. He nods his assent, eyes still on the smashed plum that is the back of his hand. The closeness of her small voice seconds later startles him. “I need to isolate. I feel like I’m going to explode.”
“Sit there in the chair in the hallway, facing the wall, and stay where I can see you,” he instructs impassively. Every other hand in the classroom erupts into the air, each straining to peak above the others. A few girls blurt out. “But!” “Me too!” “I can’t!” The man’s glare successfully conveys his unwillingness to tolerate nonsense this day. Most of the hands have sagged back down even before he says, “We’ve all just been through something stressful. Nobody is in trouble here. Please stay on task. You can’t all isolate at once. Rachel, write me a Feelings Paper and come back to your desk.” They settle back into the work of eavesdropping on whatever might be happening in Investment.
“I think we’re okay to let her go and back out of the room.”
They stand up and start slowly for the door. Without warning, it wheels up and around, punches the heavy-set woman in the face, aims a clumsy kick at a man’s knees. The woman throws her hands to her face. The man pulls the knee to his chest, swearing on one leg. There are still enough of them to grab it again and get it into a submissive position. This time they let it go and bolt for the door, which they close. They can hear it growling and panting, slamming its bulk against the other side of the heavy door. The long string of invective resumes. They exchange glances, wishing they could be anywhere else. Anywhere calmer.
“Rachel. It’s been five minutes. You need to rejoin these girls or face a Natural Consequence.” His voice carries out to her in the hallway, but she pretends not to hear. “Rachel!” he says, not more loudly, but more emphatically. She turns her head, and he sees the wet tears on her face and in the chopped bangs that she parts by pushing them to either side of her plastic-rimmed glasses.
“I did it again,” she bleats.
“What did you do?” he asks, as he cautiously stands up.
“I self-harmed,” comes the pathetic response. As he comes around, he sees the electrical outlet on the wall. She has ripped the face off of it, and a shard of the hard plastic is clutched in her slender right fist. He sees the red viscous droplets on the edge of the weapon, continues around her and sees the bright poison red spreading all across her left forearm, seeping out of a six-inch cherry-pie gash in her pale skin, soaking darkly into the leg of her sweat pants, making sticky scarlet elbow prints on the chair. He cries out in alarm, then grabs for his radio. “Code Nine in Classroom Four!”
The ensuing commotion of staff members and radios and paramedics and craning girls is enough to drown out the commotion the beast is making a few rooms down by banging its head against the door until it tires itself out. “I hope you know what you are responsible for today,” comes the bitter voice of the fat staff lady through the little hole in the door of the animal’s cage. Her voice is muffled a bit by the bag of ice she is holding up to one side of her face. “A lot of good people have been hurt trying to help you, but do you care? No. I hope they press charges. I don’t get paid enough to deal with you.” But the animal doesn’t hear her, and really doesn’t care, and sleeps through the rest of the afternoon’s events.
It sleeps through the fat lady’s attempts to sting it with guilt, in order to assuage her own guilt about her size. It sleeps through a man’s testimony to the police as he gingerly favors one knee. Through the police officers’ assurances that the school won’t have to deal with this one anymore, because she’ll spend some time in Juvie and then she’ll be back to her mother’s, if she’s out of prison herself by then; after all, no other school is going to take her after this one. It sleeps through a frail girl getting stitches up her arm and a reward of all the attention she has been craving today. It sleeps through a nurse’s phone call to her supervisor, saying that she just had to get away, and that she might not come back at all, at least not until the baby comes. It sleeps through the gossip that spreads through the school, and its own elevated status as another rebel who showed the staff what was what. “Oh, I bit a staff member once,” they brag and lie. It sleeps through that, too.
It sleeps through a man’s sobs. The man has pulled over to the side of the road, just as the clouds mockingly burst. He wipes the tears off his glasses on his tee shirt with a bandaged hand, amazed by the catharsis that begins to spread through him. But still he sobs and sobs, for himself, for the girls, for the world, forehead on forearms on the steering wheel. The hail bangs unfeelingly against the roof of his battered old car.
Soon, the animal will be returned to the wild. “Untameable,” they’ll say.
God damn the bastards who raped that little girl.