Authors: Elaine Wolf
“Take it, loser. It's the only time I'll ever give you anything.”
Liz takes the gum. Tina watches until she puts it in her mouth.
Ann tells me she separates Liz from Tina and Jen in basketball. Ann knows what's up. She's known all along. But she can't force Liz to squeal. Ann has rules too.
Richardson's rule number one:
Be discreet. Or the kids won't trust you. And they'll make your life miserable.
Ann doesn't tell anyone trouble's brewing in the locker room. Not the teachers. Not the counselors. Not the administrators. That would only make it worse. Bob and Peter would call Tina to the office. They would listen to her story, then be nowhere to be found when she attacks Liz.
But Ann stays visible. She lingers by the locker room, listening to sex talk, to put-downs, to laughter. She protects Liz now, stands inside the door to stem the abuse from Tina and Jen.
Richardson's rule number two:
When you smell trouble, stay close to the garbage.
Or they'll hurt Liz even more, which is what they'll do if they get the slightest chance. They'll hurt Liz if she talks. And they'll hurt her if Ann says anything to anyone. Because somehow they'll find out. And they'll say that Liz snitched.
I picture Liz in the locker room, trying to be invisible. She speaks only when spoken to, and always answers when Tina asks, “How's it goin'?” Liz doesn't wear jewelry on gym days. She doesn't talk when kids make fun of Ms. Richardson, who's one of Liz's favorite teachers, who actually seems to care. Liz doesn't comment even when they say, “Ms. Richardson's a dyke.” Even when they announce, “Homos shouldn't be allowed to teach.”
And they joke about Ann's name. It starts when Ann comes into the locker room after softball.
“Let's get a move on, ladies,” she says. “Wouldn't want to be late for your next class.”
Liz thinks Ms. Richardson's checking on Linda Marshall, who fell at first base when Tina stretched to catch the ball, blocking the bag with her arm.
“God, that teacher's so annoying,” Tina says. “She's really starting to creep me out.” Tina looks straight at Ann and tugs at her panties. Ann turns away.
“Didya see what Richardson just did?” Tina asks Jen. “She wouldn't look. Well, fuck her! Like I'm not good enough, not her type maybe. Or maybe I turn her on. Whaddaya think, Jen?”
“If she's into women,” Jen says, “she's gotta be turned on by you, Tina. You got it where it counts.”
“Yeah, well whatever. I just can't stand Miss Girlie-Eyes watching us dress. I mean, fuck it! We're entitled to some privacy.”
“You're right, Tina. This sucks.”
“Yeah, big time. And I was just thinking: I wonder if Richardson's parents know about her being a homo and all. I
mean, I wonder if they even think of her as a girl, or if she's more like a son. You know, with all her sports and stuff.”
“Yeah. And you know what would be so funny? What if Richardson's father's first name is Richard? Then she'd be, like, Richard's son.”
“That's great. Richard's son. Mr. Richard's Son.”
I hear about the laughter. They laugh in the locker room all the time. “Poor Richard,” Tina chuckles when Ann's around. “Always wanted a son, and look what he got. A fucking dyke. Mr. Richard's Son.”
Everyone calls her that now. In the locker room, they all say
Mr. Richard's Son this
Mr. Richard's Son that.
Everyone thinks it's funny. Or they pretend to. Or they pretend not to hear.
Then one night at dinner when Mary doesn't have a date and Liz doesn't run to her room, Mary asks about school. The way I picture it, Liz stares at her spinach and cries.
“What's wrong, Lizzie?” her mother asks. Liz can't tell her about the watch or the volleyball game or the meeting in the hall. She can't talk about the hurt or the threats or the fear. She can't tell her mother. She can't tell anyone, really. Tina will kill her if she does.
But when tears come, Liz has to say something. So she spills the one thing she thinks can't get her in trouble because it's not about anything Tina's done to her. She tells Mary about Mr. Richard's Son, and how that makes her sad because Ms. Richardson's such a nice teacher.
“I bet it's Tina Roland who started this, isn't it?” Mary asks.
“Oh, Mom. It's just everyone.” Liz warns herself to be careful, not to say much—just enough to explain the tears. “It's no big deal. It's just that they're all so mean to Ms. Richardson.”
“But it's Tina who started it, right? Tina and that one who follows her around. Jen Scotto. Am I right? Those two are just mean. Been that way ever since I've known them. So you stay away from those girls. If you ignore them, they won't bother you.”
Liz clears the table and goes to her room. She thinks she's safe now. She didn't really snitch, so why should they get her?
But Mary tells me about Mr. Richard's Son when I see her after Liz collapses on the track. She tells me Liz is stressed about school and anxious about what's happening in gym.
I meet with Tina and Jen separately. Jen freaks out. “That fuckin' skinny moron!” she cries. “If this gets me in trouble, I swear I'll kill her!”
I speak with Ann, who says she's on to them. Has been for a long time.
“Why didn't you tell me everything's that's been going on?” I ask. “Maybe I could've helped. Liz talks to me all the time, but she never said anything about this.”
“She can't, Beth. It's her private war. The minute Liz makes it public, she loses. She's a smart one. She knows silence is her only defense. And I respect that. I understand it.”
But Liz's defense isn't working. She knows they're after her again, even though she hasn't said anything to anyone—except that one night at dinner when she told her mother about Mr. Richard's Son. But why would her mother say anything about that? Her mother doesn't blab much, except maybe to Callie and me. Liz hopes I don't know, and that if I do, I haven't said anything to Tina and Jen. She looks for me in the cafeteria.
Ann tells me about guarding the locker room. But Tina knows that Ann can't stand there forever. Tina has a plan. She asks Liz, “How's it goin'? And how's poor Mrs. Maller doin'? What a pity her son died. And just how old was he, anyhow?” And while Liz answers— because she knows she has to—Jen snatches Liz's lock from the inside corner of her locker, where she puts it while she changes. Tina's sure Liz won't say anything. And the whole period while they're out at softball, Liz knows her locker's open. But there's nothing worth stealing. No jewelry, at least.
What Liz doesn't know is that Tina told Fred Morris to pull the fire alarm at exactly 9:22, when the gym class always comes in.
Fred will do anything for Tina. Anything for that blow job she's promised him. And everyone will listen to Ann when she hurries the class back outside. Everyone but Tina, who'll dally just long enough to take the clothing from Liz's locker.
Fred knows to call the gym office as soon as the “all clear” sounds. And when it does, Ann shepherds the girls in and hears the phone. So she doesn't stay in the locker room. Instead, she sits in the gym office and talks with a man who says he's Linda Marshall's father, and he wants to know how his daughter got hurt in a softball game and what Ms. Richardson's going to do to prevent future accidents.
And while Ann's on the phone, Liz pulls off her sneakers and T-shirt, looks in her locker, and finds only her backpack. No clothes. Tina and Jen corner her. Tina swipes Liz's T-shirt off the bench. “Want your clothes back, Liz?”
If she answers, she'll cry. So Liz simply nods as other girls grab what they need from their lockers and move away.
“Okay then,” Tina says. “We'll trade you. Take off your sweatpants, and we'll give you your clothes.”
“And don't even think of calling for help,” Jen adds. “'Cause if you do, we'll strip you butt naked. Bet Mr. Richard's Son would love to see your skinny little ass.”
“But don't you worry,” Tina says, “'cause we always play fair. All you have to do is give up your smelly sweatpants and you get all your stuff back.”
“Sounds fair to me,” Jen says.
“Please give me my clothes,” Liz pleads.
“Sure thing,” Tina says. “Just take off your sweatpants and they're yours.” Liz doesn't move.
“Hey, come on!” Jen says. “We haven't got all day here. Just listen to Tina, and you'll get your things back. Tina doesn't lie.”
“Maybe she needs help,” Tina says. “How 'bout we give her a hand, Jen?”
“Yeah. Put our hands there. Get it? See how it is for Mr. Richard's Son.”
“Wanna see how it feels, Liz? Feel what it's like for a fuckin' dyke? Or you wanna take your pants off yourself?”
Liz pulls off her sweats.
“Okay, give.” Tina grabs the pants from Liz's hands. “Now just be patient, Liz. As soon as Jen and I are dressed, you'll get your clothes back.”
I picture Liz sitting, knees to chest, on the bench. The locker room's silent. Everyone's already gone to third period.
“Oh no you don't,” Tina says. “No sitting. You stand right where you were and let us have a good look while we finish getting dressed. See if we can feel what it's like to be a homo. Come on now. Hands at your sides. That's good. Stand still. Give us a view.” Tina looks at Jen. “Hey, I don't feel anything. Do you?”
“Nope. Don't know how Mr. Richard's Son gets off on that.”
“Well, maybe we need to see more. Whaddaya say, Liz? Maybe butt naked's the way to go, after all.” Tina unhooks Liz's bra and flicks it off her shoulders. It falls to the floor. “Now can you get out of your panties yourself, or do you need help with that too?”
The door opens. The next class straggles in. Tina and Jen rush out. Liz darts to the toilet and vomits. She hears Ann in the locker room. “Let's go, girls. Hustle! Quick change and out for softball.”
Liz is silent in the stall. I imagine her running her hands over the goose bumps on her arms, deciding what she'll do. She'll wait for the locker room to empty. If she can't find her clothes while the third period class is out on the field, she'll call for help when they come back in.
Her bra's on the floor, where Tina dropped it. The way I picture it, Liz shivers when she touches the straps. She looks under the bench, scans the aisle. No clothes. She searches by the toilets,
under the sinks, around the radiators. Then she lifts the top of the black metal garbage can. The glint of a belt buckle catches her eye. She pushes the can on its side and pulls out her jeans and cotton sweater.
Liz throws on her clothes and runs from the locker room. She races to my office.
drove home with the radio blasting that day, trying to get locker room images out of my mind and hoping to drown out what Peter had said, the words Steve shared with me in his office. They played over and over in my head:
Maybe it's not a good idea for you to be working with teenagers now.
Hunger pulled me to an empty parking spot in front of Kregel's Ice Cream Shoppe on Main Street. I hadn't eaten lunch that day. When Callie found me in my office after I'd seen Ann, I was more eager to tell Callie about Liz than to join the lunch group in the faculty room.
“I don't need Denise and her rat now, Cal. This school's crawling with rodents.”
“But you still have to eat. How 'bout I see if Hilda can make you a sandwich?” She put a hand on my shoulder.
“No. But you want to be a really great friend? I'll take more coffee.” I tossed my empty cup in the trash. “Just coffee. And please don't give me a hard time about that.”
Callie came back with her paper bag lunch and a half-filled, unlidded cup for me. “Sorry. Spilled a little. You know what a klutz I am.”
“No problem.” I took a slow sip. “What would I ever do without you?”
Callie pushed a chair in front of my desk and settled in to face me. “Regards from the lunch group, by the way. I told them you're having a hard day. And you know what Joanne said?”
I shook my head.
Callie unwrapped a squashed bologna sandwich with heavy fingerprints. “Mollie made lunch today,” she explained as she pushed half the sandwich toward me.
“No thanks. And what did Joanne say?”
“Oh, right. She said something about a hard day being tolerable if it follows a night of something hard.”
I must have smiled.
“Come on, Beth. It's not even funny.”
Now Kregel's mocha chip dripped down my cone as I read the sign in the window of Arnie's Athletics: Y
! A memory pulled me into the past: the first time Danny and I shopped at Arnie's. Fall of first grade. Cleats and shin guards for his soccer league.
“We'll take Moose to the games, right Mommy?” I hear Danny's six-year-old voice. “'Cause he'll like the big field.”
“I don't know, honey. We'd have to keep him on a leash. Maybe he'd be happier at home.”
“No, Mommy. That's silly.”
“Moose won't be happier at home.
won't be there.”
The first pair of cleats is too big. “Hmm … his feet are really small,” Arnie Rosen tells me. He smiles at Danny. “Let's see if I have something that'll fit you better, champ. Be back in a jiff.”
Danny studies his feet, which dangle from the red leather chair. “Mommy, remember you said Moose will be big 'cause he has big feet?”
“Uh-huh. Big paws. I think he'll be huge.”
“Mommy?” Danny pumps his legs as if on a swing.
“Will I be little 'cause I have little feet?”
“Oh no, Danny. You'll grow up to be big and strong.”
Arnie comes back with two boxes. He squats on a stool in front of Danny. “Okay, sport. Let's try these.” He pulls out a pair of cleats, threads the laces with hands that look too big for the task. Then he holds Danny's ankles and slips his feet in.
“Mommy, they're gr-r-reat!”
Arnie smiles at Danny's Tony the Tiger imitation. “On your feet, champ. Let's see if they feel as good as they look.” Arnie presses the toecaps. “Hold on, sport. Stand still for a minute so I can see if they fit.”