This story originally appeared in 2004 in Apalachee Review.
By Chris Evans
Calida say easy. You ask the lady, she do it.
The lady know ’bout me. Calida told her ‘bout me. Calida say the lady talk to me today, no problem, but I got to go today. I go tomorrow, the other lady she there, and Calida don’t know the other lady. Don’t know about her, and she there the rest the week. Today’s Tuesday, and the lady who say she talk to me only be there on Monday and Tuesday, but even she don’t say she gonna do it. She only say she talk to me. That’s all she say to Calida. She ain’t even say she do it, but Calida say—Calida say no problem.
“What?” Calida turn all the way round in her desk.. “You think she tell everybody what she do. She ain’t supposed to, you know. Man, you stupid.”
Calida done it twice, and she say I got to do it quick. I wait too long and everybody know.
“You go,” Calida say. “You feel better.”
Miss standing at the front, talking. Vowels and shit. I listening, but Miss giving me the eye. Calida turning round in her desk, but Miss looking at me anyway. She know something, but I don’t care. Miss all right. Miss might help me, if she know. Yesterday I try to tell her, but she don’t understand. She got no Spanish. Don’t know how she make it out there, got no Spanish, but she do it.
I told what I got to do, but she think I tell her I got to go to Boston. I tell Calida and she bust out laughing, right in class. “To Boston!” she say, bust out laughing. Miss looked over then, too. “That stupid puta,” Calida say. And then she say the rest so Miss don’t understand. But I think Miss understand me later. Looking at me the way she look now, I know she know. Miss like that. She worry. She America-core.
I nod my head up and Calida turn around, then she smile at Miss and wave too. Miss shake her head like she do and her mouth get tight and straight. I look at my book. Miss don’t like it when you get fresh. She new. She say it hurt her feeling and shit. One time, Angel get fresh with Miss. She getting her drink at the fountain and Angel walk up and say in his low voice, grumbling in the bed kinda voice, say, “You thirsty, Miss?” She understand what he mean, and she say, “What you say?” So Angel just smile. Angel got a smile makes you feel hot. Angel look her up and down, say it again, slow. “You thirsty, Miss? You look real thirsty. Like you need a nice, long drink.” Funniest shit.
Later, Angel tell everybody. She walk him down to the office and tell everybody what he say, tell Mr. Treadlowe. All the other teachers, they just smile, say Angel a shit but say America-core need to calm down. Everybody but Mr. Treadlowe. He get all serious and say how don’t Angel know he get his ass kicked out for getting fresh and shit. So Angel tell him, “But, Mister, all I did was ask her was she thirsty. Can’t kick me out for asking is she thirsty. Just a fucking question.” So they call the social worker, get his parents on the phone, and that’s it. Social worker talk about how Angel got trouble in school, got trouble at home, all that bullshit. Talk about how he at risk, how if he get kicked out again how he wind up in jail, all that shit, and his mama start begging Miss not file no report. So she don’t. Angel’s mama and the social worker standing there, Miss say maybe she heard it wrong. Maybe. No trouble for Angel. Same all the time.
And now, all the boys all the time ask Miss, “Hey, Miss, you thirsty? You need a drink, Miss?”
Funniest shit ever.
But they all gone today. Angel, Jose, Carlos, all they. Security done a big sweep yesterday and today too. Fifth floor had three Security on it, going down the hall together, like they marching to gangbang or someshit like that. All the floor had three Security on it at once, and most days we don’t got that much Security in the whole school, and Angel and Jose and Carlos and all them out there, walking around, talking, doing nothing but talking, get pick up and took out. Angel, Carlos nearly got back to the room before they got caught. Fat D almost every time woulda let them back into the room if they that close, but yesterday and the day before Fat D and other Security don’t listen to nobody. So they catch Carlos and Angel and Jose and all the rest and they gone. Suspended.
They out three days, but nobody going to get expelled. Carlos come over last night to do our thing and he tell me later that nobody going to get kicked out. This suspension ain’t like the others, he say. President’s wife coming to town, he say, so they want troublemaker out the school. They got most them, too. Hardly a one left in class. Hardly even a boy left in the class, ’cept maybe half of them. All for some lady who going to visit the school who we don’t even know. We don’t know any of them, but hardly seems fair somebody we don’t know could get Carlos and Angel and Jose kicked out when they ain’t done nothing. He ask me if I all right and I get sick in his toilet, but I say I fine. Carlos tell me I got to see a doctor. That nigga love me.
Calida ask Miss who coming and Miss say we talk about it later, don’t want us worked up. Then Miss say we all not gonna leave the room all class, even we got to go to the nasty toilet. That’s what Miss say. And Calida say that if I’m going to do what I got to do, I got to do it today. I decided long time ago I’m going to do it, so I got to do it today. Just this one nurse help me out. Calida say she from the clinic, know my problem, want to help me out. Other nurse know what she do, but she don’t touch the girls, Calida say. Just this one from the clinic.
Miss walks over ’cause Calida keep turning around in her desk.
“What’s the problem here, young ladies?”
Cracks my shit up, the way Miss talk. Young ladies. Funniest shit.
“Rosie needs to go see the nurse, Miss.”
I try to kick Calida under the desk, but she too far away.
“She real sick,” Calida say. “She got to see the nurse.”
Miss looks at me. She sighs real hard, looks at her watch, looks at me. “Is that true, Rosie? You need to see the nurse?”
Staring at my book. “I don’t know, Miss.”
“Well,” Miss say, “either you do or you don’t. You feel sick? Something wrong?”
“She don’t have to tell you that, Miss,” say Calida. “She got her right to medical privacy. That’s a Constitutional right, you know, Miss.”
Miss looks at Calida and points at the book on Calida’s desk. “Finish the exercise there, okay?”
“But Miss,” say Calida, “I’m not going to sit here while you vi-o-late my girl’s Constitutional protected right.”
Calida’s English real good when she want to be.
“Turn around, young lady.”
“But Miss,” say Calida.
Miss starts to step up to Calida, get into her face, I say, “I do need to see the nurse,” and Miss stops.
Calida smile, nod her head toward Miss and turn around, leaning over her book, just listening.
“You do?” asks Miss, real impatient. “What exactly do you need to see the nurse for?”
“Just do,” I say.
“Can you speak up?”
“I just do.”
“So tell me what’s wrong.”
I almost don’t want to say it, ’cause I like Miss, but then I say it anyway.
“I got a Constitution right to see the nurse.”
Miss lean at me and say real quiet, “Tell me what’s wrong anyway.”
“She don’t have to tell you nothing,” say Calida, low.
“What’s wrong?” say Miss.
I think, I got to get to Boston. Start to laugh.
“Is something funny, Rosie?”
“Just I got a stomach ache, is all.”
“And you need to go to the nurse for a stomach ache?” Miss look like she’s about to turn around and walk away, like she finished with me.
“I gonna throw up.” I look down at my book to say it, but then I look up at Miss and say it again. I think about it and I say it. “I think I gonna throw up, right now. I feel real sick, Miss.”
Calida staring at her book. Miss looks me up and down, look at her watch. She say nobody going to leave the class, but she got no choice. I got a Constitution right.
“Hang on a minute.”
She go to the front. Calida turn around and say in a real quiet voice, real fast, “When you get there, you tell her you want it today. You don’t need to think about it. You tell her you already thought about it for a week now. You tell her you sure. You tell her you young, you poor, you got no choice. She understand. Just tell her you want it done today.”
“Calida!” say Miss, from the front.
“Today,” say Calida, and she turn back round in her desk.
Miss come back with the pass and give it to me. We get to the door, she find the key on the cord round her neck to make sure she able to get back in, then she come out with me, which surprise me ’cause she ain’t supposed to leave the student alone in the room. She always saying she can’t leave the student alone in the room. But she come out in the hall and tell me I got to be quick. She tell me she wants me back before the end of the period. I tell her I try. She say I need to do better than try. She tells me if I see Mr. Treadlowe or anybody like that I got to show him my pass and tell them to come talk to Miss if they got a problem.
People getting real loud back inside. My hands get real hot and I tell Miss I got something she need to know. Miss look at me and her eyes get tight. I can tell she listening, but she real impatient too. I say I got a decision to make, I want to know what she think. People in the class yelling and somebody knock over one of the desk. Miss looking at me real hard but already she messing with the key around her neck and the other hand messing with the knob on the door. In the class, Calida start yelling at some motherfucker getting in her way. Miss eyes look real tight. She look back through the window and then she look at me, my hands all hot.
Miss voice go up real high and she say, “Rosie, I’ve got to go back inside, but can you tell me as soon as you get back? I want to listen, as soon as you get back.”
I look at Miss for a second, then I let it go.
“Sure, Miss,” I say.
Miss won’t remember, anyway.
“Come back as quick as you can,” Miss say, then she goes back in and starts yelling at whoever knocked over the desk, and telling Calida and somebody else they need to sit they ass down, and then nobody’s in the hallway but me.
I put the pass in my pocket. They got the pass on a big piece of wood so you got to carry it around out in the open, so Fat D and them can see it, but my pocket’s big enough I can still push it inside. Nobody else in the hallway. Nobody. Not even Fat D. Shit, man, they always somebody in the hallway, somebody always around with they pass and somebody talking at the window.
All the time, Carlos come to my class and look through the window and smile. He just smile. Angel sit next to me in class and always call me fine and say he always want a piece, but Carlos shut him up, ’cause one time Carlos had a pass in the hallway and start telling Angel through the window he better watch his fucking mouth, not making any noise but just talking real big and pointing and shit, just before Miss come over and ask Carlos his name. Funniest shit. I forget my name, Carlos say. And Angel say it too, I don’t know his name, Miss. He just some wetback nigga out the hallway. I laugh but look at my book. Miss don’t even ask me. She trust me.
And I didn’t lie today. I’m glad nobody else in the hallway, cause I didn’t lie and I do feel a sick, like I really gonna throw up. Nobody around to see it if I do. Noise from the classroom, but nobody out here. Just the windows and the bars and the doors, they all closed. Somebody still shouting back in my room and a whole bunch of people laughing and shouting and shit in the class across the hallway, but I don’t care. I got the pass. Nobody gonna touch me. Not even Fat D. He ain’t nowhere around.
Nobody by the elevator. We ain’t supposed to be in the elevator, but nobody by it. I know that if I got to walk down five floors to the nurse and I feeling sick, nurse want me to take the elevator anyway. Nobody on the floor. Nobody know anyway.
I got spots in my eyes, playing my eyes, and the door open for me to get in. The spots dancing round so much I don’t realize they somebody on the elevator when the door open. A whole lot of somebody. Spots dancing around so much I step into somebody and have to say sorry. Say sorry and feel the hand on my shoulder.
“What are you doing out here?” say a voice, not too angry but loud. I jump when I hear it, then I see who it is, other side the spots, and I know I shouldn’t pressed the button on the elevator.
“Sorry, Mr. Treadlowe,” I say. “Sorry.” I back up and trip, ’cause somebody behind me already.
“Hey, hey, you all right?” say a lady behind me. Quiet, kinda soft.
I can’t tell how the lady got behind me already. I’m in the elevator. Some way got turned around and the spots still going and somehow I already in the elevator, and some lady—she white—looking at me real hard and smiling big and asking am I all right.
“Are you all right, young lady?” Young lady.
I’m fine and I’m real sorry and I didn’t mean to bump into her, but all she does is smile and smile and tell me everything all right. She got big teeth and blonde hair, short and cut, don’t wear too much makeup, look a little like Miss. Older, but a little like Miss. She got big teeth, though, and no matter what she say, I know everything ain’t all right. I’m starting to feel a little better, and I look around, and I see nothing all right. Mr. Treadlowe standing behind me, got his hands on my shoulders, and a couple of Security at the back of the elevator I never seen before, and this lady, and other white people all dressed up. One got a notebook, a small-size notebook, and he writing real fast, looking me up and down, writing real fast. A lot of white people, can’t all be America-core.
Got to be the president wife.
“What’s your name, young lady?”
They ain’t supposed to let the elevator get full. Carlos say Fat D say yesterday, after they caught Carlos and Angel and Jose and everybody, that he had too many juvenile delinquent on the elevator and they was lucky the rope didn’t break but he say he never knew he be taking so many people to get suspended at one time. But they got to be more people on the elevator now than that.
“Speak up,” I hear Mr. Treadlowe say behind me. “The First Lady asked you a question.”
I only see one lady, so I don’t know who first and who second. But at least she still smiling. Most of my spots gone now. The doors closed, and we moving.
“No need to be so bashful,” the lady say. “I was just curious to know your name.”
I’m in trouble. “My name is Rosie Norales, Miss.” I put my hand in my pocket to pull out the pass, but Mr. Treadlowe squeeze both my shoulders real hard. I gonna get suspended for sure.
“Mrs. Clinton, young Rose here is in our English as a Second Language program,” Mr. Treadlowe say, squeezing hard. “The advanced special education class. Isn’t that right, Rose?”
I nod my head. Mr. Treadlowe put his face down next to mine, smell like the front office. I gonna get suspended. I got the hall pass right in my pocket. I got my hand on the hall pass. But he don’t care. Hall pass don’t say I can go on the elevator.
“Junior class, isn’t it, Rose?”
I nod my head. He’s wrong but I nod my head. I hope he don’t call my mama at work. She told me she never want to get another call like that. She not going to care if this ain’t no real suspension, no matter what Carlos say.
“So,” say the lady, “I’m looking around your school here, and I really like what I’m seeing.”
The man with the notebook keeps writing. I’m keeping my eyes on the ground, but I can see he still writing, real fast. Mr. Treadlowe behind me laughs about something. Maybe he think the lady telling some kinda joke.
“What can you tell me about going to school here, Rose?”
Mr. Treadlowe squeeze my shoulders.
“It’s fine, Miss.”
Mr. Treadlowe, he ease up a little.
“Well, that’s excellent to hear, Rose. Just excellent.” The lady leans down to try to make me look at her, so I look up. I feel like I gonna throw up. I don’t want to throw up on the lady. “What, uh . . .” she say. “What do you think is your favorite subject?”
I don’t say anything, but Mr. Treadlowe, he squeeze me harder.
“I don’t know,” I say. “English, maybe. I got a real nice teacher in English.”
The people in the elevator all laugh a little. Mr. Treadlowe especially. I don’t know what I said so funny.
The lady smiles again. Smiles big. “Wonderful,” she say. “Is she a good teacher? Do you learn a lot from her?”
“She fine,” I say.
The white lady keeps on smiling big, and she laughs too, like I telling a joke, and then the elevator door go open. We on the first floor.
“Excellent,” say the lady.
Mr. Treadlowe push me out the elevator a little bit, and I got a feeling I want to run. Everybody push me out. The lady ain’t talking to me now. She say something to a man in a suit. Mr. Treadlowe don’t let go. I hear the elevator door close behind me.
“Rose,” say the lady. She turn around again, looking at me. “One last question.” She ain’t smiling now. I feel sick in my stomach.
“Just one last question,” she say. “And this is sensitive, I know, especially because your assistant principal is standing right here with you.”
Everybody smile and laugh. All but the white lady. Suddenly she look real serious.
“But I want you to be honest with me. What, exactly, do you think is the biggest problem you’re facing today, as a student at this school?”
I look at her. I look at everybody. Suddenly everybody’s serious as her. Everybody looking at me, everybody’s serious.
“It’s okay, Rose. You can feel free to speak here. Can’t she, Dick?”
“Absolutely,” say Mr. Treadlowe, giving my shoulders a squeeze. Everybody around is nodding and frowning. Nobody laughing.
“What troubles you in your life?” the lady ask. “What needs to be fixed around here? If I’m elected, what can I do for you?”
I look at everybody looking at me. I’m not sure what I’m suppose to say. I don’t know what she, what Mr. Treadlowe want me to say.
“I don’t know,” I say. I shrug my shoulders, and Mr. Treadlowe lets go a little.
“But if you had to name one thing, Rose?”
Mr. Treadlowe lets go all the way. He takes his hands off my shoulders. Everybody’s looking at me. Nobody smiling or frowning or nodding or writing or anything. Just looking.
“What would you like to see fixed?”
I think I got to answer. Miss in class always say I got to answer. The spots coming back to my eyes, and my hands sweating real bad.
“Well,” I say. The man with the notebook has his pen right up to the paper, like he waiting for me to say something, smiling. “I suppose,” I say, “I suppose you can tell them . . .”
“I suppose you could tell them to fix the nasty toilet.”
Half the people around me bust out laughing. The white lady don’t. She keep looking right at me, in my eyes. Mr. Treadlowe don’t laugh neither.
“The restrooms, Rose?”
“Yeah,” I say. Everybody looking at me. “That ain’t no joke, neither. On the fifth floor, they smell real bad, and nothing never go down, unless you flush it a whole bunch of times just for . . .” I’m not sure I should say it. Not to this white lady with Mr. Treadlowe and Security and all that.
“Just for what, Rose?”
“Just for, you know, just for the tampon to go down, when you got to put that in there.”
Security up there laughing at me. The man with the pen and paper keep on writing and laughing too. Everybody think I’m making some kind of joke. Even Mr. Treadlowe, I look, he smiling now, looking around. Everybody but the white lady. She keep looking at me. She bent over at me and looking at me, even though she not much taller than I am.
“It ain’t no joke, Miss. It’s fucking disgusting, what it is. You go in there, and you have some chica in there who’s left her nasty shit all up in there, and then you gotta pee—”
Mr. Treadlowe’s hands down on my shoulders again. Like I done something wrong.
“Thanks Rose,” say the lady, nodding and smiling, but her mouth closed. “That’s important to know.”
“Mrs. Clinton,” say Mr. Treadlowe, standing behind me, his hands starting to hurt real bad on my shoulders, “we really should get down to the computer lab. The lab tech will be expecting us.”
“Of course, Dick,” say the lady, straightening up. “You lead the way.”
Mr. Treadlowe let go of my shoulders and step past me, away from the elevator. But when he do, he turn around and look me straight in the eye, not smiling even a little bit now. The lady looking away.
“I assume you have a superior reason for being out of class, Rose?” he say, all serious, frowning at me.
My name’s Rosie, not Rose. He don’t know.
“Going to the nurse,” I tell him. “I feel real sick. I have a pass. It’s in my pocket.”
I start to reach in.
“I’m sure you do, Rose,” he say. “Who’s your teacher this period?”
I tell him who. At first I think maybe I shouldn’t tell, but she told me to tell if anyone ask. She told me to. It’s on the pass.
Mr. Treadlowe lean into me and hold my shoulder hard. “You let your teacher know when you get back that we are on lockdown right now, okay, Rose?”
I nod at him.
“Make sure you tell her that I will want to talk to her about what lockdown means, okay, Rose? And moreover would you please tell her that this is not a normal lockdown. We are dealing with the wife of the president of the United States. Do you think you can tell your teacher that, Rose?”
I wince so he take his hand off me.
“I will, Mister.”
“Fine, Rose.” He brushes at my shoulder. “Now I want you to go directly to the nurse, you understand me?”
I nod but that ain’t good enough for Mr. Treadlowe.
“Do you understand me, Rose?”
“I understand,” I say.
Mr. Treadlowe brushes at my shoulder and starts to turn away. Then he sees the white lady, stepping up and reaching her hand out to me, so he stops and waits, standing real tall.
“I want to say what a pleasure it has been to meet you today, Rose.” The lady reaches out and grabs my hand. “Believe it or not, you really have given me something to think about. I want to thank you for that. The physical state of our schools should never be undervalued.”
“It’s okay,” I say, and she shakes my hand up and down, soft.
“A real pleasure, Rose. You’re obviously an intelligent young woman.”
The white lady lets go of my hand and she smile and turn around and she starts to walk off, with Security and the man with the notebook and the other white people in the suits following after her. Except Mr. Treadlowe.
“Straight to the nurse’s office, Rose,” he say, “and tell your teacher I need to talk to her about what we do during a lockdown.”
And then he walk away too.
The spots ain’t so bad now, but I still feel sick. I know the nurse office is off down the hall to the left, by one of the door we can’t use unless we got a fire drill. Sometimes I forget where the office is, but Calida she tell me just where to go, so I feel stupid I forget, once I get there. It say real big on the door, SCHOOL NURSE. Right there. Big red letters. SCHOOL NURSE.
The door locked, like all them all the time. The knob turn but then the door don’t open. You think the door to the school nurse shouldn’t be locked. What if I had an emergency or someshit like that? So I knock.
I hear her get up from a chair. A creaky wooden old chair. I hope Calida’s right. I want the nice nurse to be in there today. I know what I need to say.
I need it right now, I gonna tell her. I need it today.