Allister put his hand up and waited to be called upon. He had a question about the vas deferens. This was Algebra and so he anticipated his question would be poorly received but the school board cut funding for sex ed, so how else was he supposed to learn what ‘fetish’ meant or why some people were lesbians and some people preferred to never get married and teach piano lessons to impertinent youth.
“If this is another question about human genitalia forget it, Allister,” said Ms. Pope preemptively.
Allister put his hand down and continued to draw the side view of a penis like he had seen in an old anatomy book in the library. The picture in the book was that of the male penis cut in half, lengthwise. Allister imagined a cadaver lying on a cold metal table cleaved right down the middle. He would like to be a doctor one day, or maybe go to medical school and cut up a cadaver for a few months and then work at the Kum & Go up the street from his house. He liked the way the employees at the Kum & Go knew what kind of cigarettes people smoked and would join in celebrating when a customer won a scratch off ticket.
“Pass your homework to up to the front please. I’ll grade them tonight and we will review tomorrow,” said Ms. Pope as the bell rang. Allister handed his paper over the shoulder of Courtney Mears who recoiled in disgust at his crude drawing of an anatomically correct penis and testicles.
“That’s gross, Allister,” Courtney chastised. “You’re seriously going to hand this in?”
Allister didn’t respond. He was busy putting his book in his hunter green Jansport backpack handed down from his older Robert. The stitching holding the left strap to the top of the bag had come loose and he reattached it with staples. Robert had drawn a peace sign and Guns N’ Roses logo of pistols wrapped in roses with a sharpie on the fabric of the bag. It used to be a nice backpack but now the zippers were busted, the Jansport patch was falling off, and Guns N’ Roses was no longer cool primarily due to the confounding 1993 album “The Spaghetti Incident.”
Allister opened his locker – 36, 24, 36 – the dimensions of the perfect woman Robert had told him. Allister wasn’t sure what the dimensions were in reference to; the 36’s were probably the circumference of the perfect woman’s breasts. He’d have to ask Ms. Pope tomorrow in Algebra.
“Your shoes are untied,” said Travis Potts.
Allister looked down. His shoes were not untied. He always double knotted them even after the shoelace broke on the right shoe and he joined the two broken pieces with scotch tape. The shoes were hand me downs from Robert. A pair of Vans a half size too big but he wasn’t done growing his Mom said so they should fit by the end of first semester
“Made you look. Dipshit,” chided Travis Potts.
Allister put his Algebra book in his locker and took out his Geography text. He never understood why geography needed a whole textbook. There was already a map on the wall of the classroom.
He had covered his books in paper bags from Hy Vee. His sister Allison had showed him how to do it after watching Allister struggle for an hour at the kitchen table. He was lousy at approximating the size of objects which is why his Mom yelled at him for tearing off too large of pieces of Seran wrap to cover leftovers.
“The stuff is not cheap, Allister,” she reminded him. “Geez, you used half the roll for a little bit of spaghetti.”
Money doesn’t grow on trees he’d whisper under his breath anticipating the tired cliché.
“Hey Al, you wanna get high before class?” asked Vern. He and Allister had made a habit of sneaking out to the parking lot, squatting between cars and huffing black spray paint out of a plastic bag. Their go to was Rust-Oleum but on special occasions they’d spring for Krylon.
Allister said yes and crept out a side door they propped open with Vern’s laminated lunch card.
Both Allister and Vern received free lunches because their families didn’t have a pot to piss according to Vern’s Mom. Kids who paid for their lunches got yellow cards and the free lunch kids got blue cards. No matter how hard he tried to forget, the world kept reminding him that he was poor. Dirt poor, a filthy poor kid with hand me down Levi’s and oversized shoes who just wanted to know the mechanics of sex but teachers insisted it was more important to read the “Great Gatsby” and calculate velocity. Poverty hung to him like the smell of a campfire.
Vern passed him the bag and he filled his lungs, the fumes burning his eyes and lips. His head began to spin and his thoughts crumbled like the corners of the steps leading up to his single-wide trailer. His Mom always said things would get better but by his calculation things hadn’t changed one bit in his 15-years of life and there was no indication that a scratch off boondoggle was going to deliver him from his destiny of Big Gulps and Newports.
Vern and Allister stashed the paint behind the back tire of a Ford Taurus and snuck back into the school. The period bell rang as Allister strolled into Mr. Sell’s geography class. He set his backpack down, struggled with the zipper and removed his textbook. On the cover he had drawn an eagle with laser eyes laying waste to his Mom’s boyfriend’s auto-shop. The lesson on the arid deserts of the Southwest swirled in and round Allister’s woozy brain. He envisioned himself trudging through the Sonoran, his toes poking out of his now undersized shoes, his backpack dragging behind him creating tracks in the sand like a rattlesnake.