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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

old farts and accordions

I pull E's hair into a fresh ponytail, realizing I have forgotten a comb. The room is cold. Other children sit with their hands folded in their laps, guitars propped up against the backs of chairs. The door swings open and Roman stomps into the room, waving his hands. 

We make our way through the dark hallway with the flickering florescent light and then into the miniature concert hall. An old man sits in a chair in front of the stage, a haphazard collection of medals dangling from his blue suit jacket. His eyes are wet. A woman takes flash photographs of him as he looks half asleep then suddenly waves one giant, rough hand in the air until an old woman joins him. There are a few more pictures.

Everyone sits. The man and the old woman are right in front of us. I stare at her thin silver hair, wetted down and pulled across the back of her head. The pink skin of her scalp shines beneath it. He leans to one side and produces a long, quiet fart. E turns to look at me, half annoyed, half amused.

A girl plays piano first. There is light applause as she finishes.

Next, a boy with a giant red accordion. He plays methodically, chin nodding in tempo. At one point he gets lost, and replays a section, then stops. He starts again, fighting the clicking keys. He stops once more, a long pause. The old man whispers something to the old woman. He repeats it, louder. The boy tries once more and erupts in tears, leaping from the stage with the accordion thumping against his chest. He goes straight out the door. Everyone claps, making sweet noises, sympathetic words jumping from mouths but he is already gone.
"They were clapping a lot to make him feel better." E whispers to me.
I nod.
"But maybe he thought they were clapping to be mean." She adds.
"Then he is very silly." I whisper back.
She nods, wrinkling her nose up and pointing at the old man.
I roll my eyes and she tries not to laugh too loud.

A boy plays the flute and then it is E's turn.

She plays fine, not as loud as she could, hesitating just once. She bows with her chin to her chest and skips back to her seat.

The old man is whispering louder and louder. I think the old woman cannot hear him, even when his mouth is right next to her ear. The fidgeting room disintegrates into people talking on phones in low voices.






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