Toes blanketed in warm sand, face turned upward absorbing the energy of the sun, a gentle breeze whispered this is heaven. The sentiment was echoed by the melodic voices of the gulls overhead, harmonizing with the distant hush of waves against shore. The faint taste of salt on lips and hair made wild by the wind closed the separation between body and environment.
This was heaven on earth.
Heaven on earth was now a heaven that existed only in memory. Summer vacation had come and gone as if it had never been more than a wish. Back in the wasteland of first semester, nothing remained except patches of peeling skin, souvenirs from days spent with too much sun and too little sunscreen.
The cold gray prison block euphemistically referred to as “school” had thoroughly eradicated any sensation of heaven–or freedom for that matter. With its humid classrooms that smelled of sweat, dust, bleach and the occasional fart, this was either hell or at least purgatory.
High school is such a magical time someone once had said.
Magic? Maybe dark magic.
High school did have a certain power. It had the power to make time itself slow to a sickening pace, each tick of the clock on the wall smirking at its own laziness. This dark magic manifested as the slow droning of the chemistry teacher’s voice, invisibly closing eyelids and setting hands to doodling. It was the instigator of tapping feet under tabletops, nails chewed to the skin and contagious yawns. It was the wandering attention, the tears secretly shed in bathroom stalls and the smoke rising from cigarettes in that one corner everyone called “the pit.”
It was the mechanical pencil that had run out of lead.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Eyes silently counted.
Dark magic was channeled by the jarring emittance of the bell and the resulting rush for the door. It was the cacophony of chairs thrust backward, zippers yanked shut and voices breaking out into nervous chatter. Dark magic was embedded in the rush for a door that did not spell freedom.
It spelled lunch.
Dark magic weaved its way through the narrow hallway of competing elbows and toes and spread itself throughout the large space occupied by slabs of compressed wood generously called tables. It sank into the cold metal bars attached to benches and chewed into the cold gum stuck underneath. It was the smell different from all other smells. It was the merging of the aroma of cheap pizza, chicken nuggets and sweaty socks. It was the clinging of sticky floors to soles of sneakers as bodies made their way to unspoken assigned seats.
Dark magic coerced soggy-breaded sandwiches into grudging mouths. It traded bags of crushed Cheetos for broken pretzels, celery sticks for carrots and sweaty juice boxes for cartons of lukewarm strawberry milk. It inspired rushed conversations, flirtatious encounters and hurt feelings hidden behind folded arms. It wove its insecurities and fixations on imperfections into developing brains.
Dark magic was–
(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author.