Posted in Random, Writing

Me and Mags, Episode 1: My Friend the Witch

Nothing like starting a new school in a new town in the middle of September on a Wednesday. I leaned on the bus window and breathed through my mouth to escape the aroma of vinyl and exhaust, trying to memorize the route to school. It was no use. I’d be helplessly lost without GPS, so I prayed my phone would have enough service to guide me home if I decided to skip out early.

My vintage Jansport with the rainbow patch occupied the seat next to me. I gripped its strap protectively. Who needs a friend when you have a backpack that smells like your childhood? Charcoal burgers and chlorine. Cinnamon sticks and attic dust. Our new house didn’t have an attic. It didn’t even have a garage.

A tall guy with a baseball cap got on the bus. He looked like trouble. I opened my backpack and rummaged around inside like I lost something important—my home? my life? my sanity?—and hoped he’d walk on by. He did. When I looked up again, a girl was standing next to my seat. Short blond hair, pink hairclip, retro 80’s t-shirt. She had a cell phone in one hand and a yogurt in the other. We locked eyes, and I made a move to pull my backpack aside, offer her a seat, but then her gaze drifted to the back of the bus, and she said, “There you are!” in a relieved voice. Later, when I looked back, I saw her sitting alone looking at her phone.

IMG_20190722_120159840We were stopped at a red light when I heard, “Watch this!” I turned around and saw Baseball Cap with an apple in his hand. He was lowering one of the windows. Outside, a girl with crazy curly brown hair and a small round Band-Aid on her nose was walking down the sidewalk. She had a leather satchel slung across her body and wore a long skirt and black combat boots. She was reading a book as she walked. With no warning, Baseball Cap threw the apple at her. Before I could hold my breath and hope it didn’t hit her, she caught the apple one-handed, took a large bite, then hurled it back at the bus. It smashed to pieces on the side. The light turned green. The boys around Baseball Cap hooted and hollered. The girl never took her eyes off her book.

*

It turns out, navigating a new school isn’t as hard as you might think. Looking for the library? Tail someone with a lot of books. Need the restroom? Follow the smell of perfume and vapes. Trying to get to the gym? Just swim against the stream of kids carrying violin cases. Math is math no matter what color the fake wood desks are, and the art of evasion is consistent across time zones: don’t engage, don’t make eye contact, look bored.

I kept my head down through my morning classes and spoke as little as possible, observing my new classmates from a wall of body language that I hoped said, “Leave me alone.” In English, a girl argued with the teacher about her grade in front of the entire room, then muttered “Freaking Communist” as she stomped back to her desk. A guy with smooth tawny skin and dark curly hair whispered, “Calm down, Shay,” but she shot back, “Shut up, Vik” and sneered at him.

For the most part, life went on around me, and no one paid me much attention until lunch, when Operation: Avoidance came to a screeching halt.

I’d been expecting a cavernous room of long, prison-like tables where I could slip into a vacant seat and eat my chicken salad and Cheetos unnoticed. Instead, this school’s cafeteria looked more like a coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon. Small tables of different sizes and shapes crowded into a space that wasn’t designed to accommodate them. Students filled most of the chairs and stools, while some lounged on the tile floor, picnic-style. Every table with an empty chair filled quickly as more students arrived, fist-bumping each other and sliding into seats they’d obviously claimed weeks ago.

Every table but one.

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At a small round table near the recycling bins sat the girl who caught Baseball Cap’s apple. Next to her were two empty chairs. I tightened my grip on my lunch bag and walked over. The girl was eating a bowl of noodles and reading a book, but she looked up when I approached. The Band-Aid on her nose was gone, but now there was one on her chin.

“Hi,” I said. “Is this seat taken?” I gestured to the chair on her left.

“Yes,” she said, “but the other one’s not. Care to join me?”

“Sure. Thanks.” I sat down in the vacant seat just as an empty Coke can went flying over the table. It hit the rim of one of the recycle bins, then bounced inside.

“Yes!” Baseball Cap high-fived a fellow cap-wearer, then smirked in our direction. “What happened, Maggot? Nick yourself shaving this morning?”

The girl turned a page in her book, then said, “Better a nick than a celery stick, Mr. Brand.”

He rolled his eyes. “Freak.” On his way back to his table, his foot slid out from under him. To avoid falling, he grabbed the shoulder of a girl seated nearby, spilling her Smart Water all over her and himself.

“What did he slip on?” the curly-haired girl asked.

“Huh?”

“What made him fall? Can you see?” She was standing up, craning her neck.

I squinted in the direction of the chaos. “It looks like a squished grape.”

The girl looked thoughtful. “Green or red?”

“Um… green.”

“Hmm.” She sat down and made a note in the book, which I realized now was actually a journal. Then she closed it and turned her gold-brown eyes on me. “I’m Magdalena,” she said. “People I like call me Mags.”

“Hi Mags,” I said. “I’m Hadley.”

I took my plastic container of chicken salad out of my lunch bag. Mags went back to slurping her noodles. No one ever sat down in the other seat.

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A few minutes before lunch ended, Mags shoved her empty bowl into a pocket of her satchel and closed her journal. “You’re new,” she said.

“Yep.” I licked Cheeto dust from my fingers. “Got any advice for me?”

Mags’ eyes lit up. “Tons,” she said. “For starters, never confuse nightshade with wolfsbane. Also, avoid the girls bathroom outside the library. It’s haunted.”

“Noted,” I said. The bell rang.

*

I didn’t see Mags again until 8th period AP Biology. The teacher, Ms. Archer, gave a pop quiz. She said I could take it “just to see how you do.” My last school was obviously ahead of this one because the questions were easy. I breezed through them, then went back and marked two answers wrong on purpose. Pretending I was still working, I snuck peeks over my cardboard privacy screen, scanning the room. Everyone had their heads down, working, until I got to Mags. Over her privacy screen, her eyes were fixed on me. She raised her quiz paper, as if to study it closely. On the back, in large, loopy, capital letters, it read “LUNCH TOMORROW?” I gave a quick nod, then went back to pretending to work.

*

After school, I got utterly, helplessly lost. I couldn’t find my locker because I was upstairs when I was supposed to be downstairs, and then I accidentally exited out the back of the school, instead of the side where the buses pick up. By the time, I got to where I was supposed to be, bus #313 was gone. I collapsed on a bench, dug out my phone and opened my map app. I was still sitting there, trying to figure out which direction I was supposed to walk when Mags appeared before me.

“Not a bus rider?” she asked.

“Not today.” I showed her my phone. “Can you point me the right way? I have a terrible sense of direction.”

Mags peered at the screen without touching it. “That’s where you live?”

I nodded.

“That’s close to me. I’ll walk with you.”

Mags walked fast and talked faster. She covered everything from politics to plant species to the perils of popularity in the span of a block. I tried to keep up.

“The biggest problem with teenagers today,” she said as we rounded a corner, “is that they don’t think for themselves anymore. Bunch of guppies, all of them.”

“You mean sheep?”

She shook her head. “Sheep don’t eat each other.”

I didn’t know what to say to that.

“Someday,” Mags said, “I’m going to turn this school into a fish tank. Can you imagine how awesome that will be? Standing outside, tapping on the glass, while all these wide-eyed mouth-breathers swim around in each other’s poop fighting for the crumbs we throw on top?”

“Um, yeah,” I said. “That does sound pretty awesome.”

When we got to my street, Mags pointed out my house and said, “Think you can make it from here?”

“Yeah, thanks. For everything—walking me home, letting me sit with you at lunch, the advice about wolfsbane.”

Mags tilted her head and raised one eyebrow. “Of course. After all, what are complete strangers for?”

*

“So, how was it?” Mom opened the pizza box and set down three plates.

Justin stuffed a slice in his mouth and gave a thumbs-up sign. Mom cracked open her sparkling water and gave me a sideways glance. “How about you? Did you talk to anyone?”

“It was ok,” I said. “I sat with a girl named Mags at lunch.”

Justin huffed, and a dot of tomato-sauce-spit flew out of his mouth. “Magdalena DeVille? She’s a witch.”

It didn’t bother me that after one day in a new town, my little brother already knew the ins and outs of not only his social circle but mine too. He’d always been plugged in to the gossip superhighway in a way I hadn’t, even at my most popular. I thought about what he’d said. Maybe Mags was a witch. I realized I didn’t care.

“Yeah,” I said. “She’s got some crazy idea about turning the high school into a fish tank.”

Mom and Justin froze, looking at me strangely. That’s when I heard it. That sound. That high, staccato sound that had been missing from my life for months.

I was laughing.

*

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

[Click here to read Episode 2 of Me & Mags!]

Posted in Life, Random

If I Get Eaten By a Chupacabra, Give the Cat His Medicine

Nature gives us gifts every day. Today I’ve already had my share.

It’s summer, which means great bursts of laziness followed by great bursts of creativity, culminating in me keeping vampire hours. I’ve been staying up way too late the past week doing everything and nothing. It’s been great, but I’m determined to get back to a semi-normal schedule. So last night, I promised myself I’d be asleep by 11PM. I went to bed at 10:30. I read my book until 10:59 and turned the light out at 11:00 on the dot.

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The great singer

At 11:15 on the dot, my cat Sneakers began to serenade me.

Ah, nature’s gifts…

It was beautiful really, with low notes and high trills, unexpected breaks and tempo changes. I’m sure some flirty feline out there would have been swept off her paws. Unfortunately, I am not the target audience for this tune, and, sadly, our female cat is deaf, so his song went unanswered, except by me yelling, “Sneakers!!! Kitty kitty kitty! SHUT UP!”

Suffice to say, I was awake until midnight.

As I drifted, finally, into dreamland, I thought, “I hope I can still get up by 7AM. I have things to do…” Then I fell asleep.

Until 4:45AM. When I woke up for no reason whatsoever. Like, REALLY awake. Like, I-have-a-new-idea-for-a-story-and-I-just-remembered-where-I-put-that-thing-I-couldn’t-find-yesterday-and-I-should-clean-out-my-closet-this-summer awake. I tried to ignore it, but there was no ignoring this level of alertness, so I made a few pages of notes for the story (it has potential) and decided to go for a walk.

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The note I left for the hubby

That’s when the real gifts began. While I can appreciate a good cat serenade and a random wake-up call, it was this unexpected morning hour outdoors that I am really grateful for.

I heard doves cooing and saw the shadow of something that might have been a chupacabra but was probably a possum. I saw a roadrunner. I petted dogs and chatted with neighbors about their dogs. I watched the sky lighten so gently that I didn’t see it happen. One moment it was dark; then I turned a corner, and it was light. It felt so delicate, so sudden, that I wondered if I could make the darkness reappear by retracing my steps.

Roadrunners and possums and dogs are common sites in my neighborhood. That doesn’t make them any less delightful, but they don’t cause surprise. What did surprise me was the last gift the morning had to offer. Just before I got home, a pair of bald eagles flew over, low and graceful and… shocking. I didn’t know we had bald eagles in Austin. I’ve certainly never seen any. Before I could doubt myself and wonder if my mind was playing tricks, one of them turned and swooped by again, its large black body, wide wing span, bright white head and white tail. It flew to the top of a big live oak tree and perched for a few moments, sending a squirrel running for cover, before taking off again toward my house. By the time I made the block, both were gone.

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I wouldn’t have seen these beautiful creatures if I hadn’t been nudged awake before sunrise. Their presence definitely felt like a gift.

Now it’s 8:30AM, and I’m yawning in front of my keyboard. I’ve had less than five hours of sleep, but it’s too late to go back to bed. Besides, I’m afraid of what other gifts I might miss.

***

[UPDATE: After doing a little research and talking to some friends, I think the birds I saw might have been caracaras, which look similar to bald eagles and are more common here. However, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife, we do have some bald eagles in Texas. Either way, they were really cool.]

 

Posted in Lists, Random, Reading

Because I’m Feeling Listful

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Every year at this time, I get a little listful. Not listless. Not wistful. LISTFUL. It means that I am full of lists. Overflowing with lists. Lists are bursting forth in every medium—paper, emails, sticky-notes, brain, phone, and now, inevitably, on my blog. I cannot contain them. I list the things I did last year and the things I didn’t. I list the books I read last year and the ones I didn’t. I make to-do lists and to-NOT-do lists (just as important). I make lists of resolutions and then revise them. I make lists of things to buy and then take pictures of them. I list what I need from the grocery store, who to thank for Christmas gifts, and how many pairs of socks I own with animals on them. (Just because.)

With all these lists pouring out of me, it’s only natural that I want to share some of them with you. Here goes…

2018list

2019list

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bestbookslist

bookstoreadlist2

oregontraillist

sockslist

Got any lists you’d like to share?