Dolores County got a new public high school. It aggregated the three existing schools into one and it was supposed to be the future. It smelled like a luxury boutique and radiated light from its white tiles to invigorate and focus the students. The school bells were recordings of Tibetan prayer bells, or was that a real bell? There were grass roofs and solar panels and a track for running made from recycled car tires. In the staff break room, a proper chrome espresso machine gleamed and whirred. The hippest coffee company in town had given it to the school as a gift, and offered to provide staff with fair trade coffee for the first year. On the first day, the students—about 2200 had enrolled—were quiet and bewildered, like ants who had lost their way.
Soon enough though the kids were acting like kids. Liver-colored globs of gnawed-up gum appeared in the elegant native plant garden. The born again Christian kids gathered before school to pray around the flagpole, holding hands. Torment was dispatched from the jocks to Marsha the custodian, who had an uncommonly long forehead and slow-motion way of ambulating, but Nefertiti cheekbones and a dramatic, stunning shape in the back. The colorful and confident basketball girls claimed their bench, ate Doritos. The one French girl sat under a tree and ate raspberries alone. The drama clubbers found each other, a quiver of pale arms. There was even a reputed coven of witches—among the shaggy rockers and trim goths who glowered out from beside the elevator. They liked to draw each other in charcoal during lunch. There were rumors about them—that they sucked each others blood, that three of them were like, in a relationship, and that they were going to do something freaky at Homecoming to protest something? Animal rights?
One of the reputed witches, Alex, is looking at you, with cutoff black shorts, lacy black tights, tall combat boots, and a large black sweater, a fat loose knit, faded from washing. She pulls it over her wrists, tangling her hands in her sleeves. She doesn’t want to sit down. Black and green eye makeup under her oversized glasses, pale skin studded with a smattering of abused blemishes, dyed black hair in a style you don’t understand, is it an accident or is it meant to look like that, tight with lumps, then a little tiny bun like a chopped tail.
You’re in you’re new office, with a shiny wood floor repurposed from an old bowling alley. You have a large window which looks out on a crisply blacked ocean of parking lot.
You say: If there is going to be an intervention at the Homecoming Dance, you must tell us now, Alex.
Alex, who has already told you that she is going to “practice strategic silence” says…nothing. Her hands gnaw at her hands.
I am asking you if you are planning to do something which disrupts sanctioned school activities.
Well, I’m a witch, she says.
And then she gets up and leaves, so quiet, like an eel.
Later, Alex is sitting in her AP Art History class, the lights are off and they’re looking at slides of naked women—colorful, wild, fauve, tropical. Giant white flowers, smooth brown skin. It’s warm and dark and sticky.
Alex, will you illuminate us? the teacher, Ms. Arndt, asks.
Alex rises, turns the lights on. Everyone remains asleep, some with their heads on the desk, others in a normal seated position but with gently closed eyes. It’s a small class, maybe 15 kids. No one moves. Alex and Ms. Arndt look at each other, they smile together. What a weird thing.
Well? Says Ms. Arndt, in a stage whisper. Should we turn the lights back off? Seems like everyone else needs to rest.
Alex clicks the lights back off. For a moment she feels like she is just as much the teacher as the teacher is. Why not? A sharp snap of glee in her belly.
I guess I’ll go get some coffee from the teachers lounge? says Ms. Arndt. Do you want anything?
I’d love an espresso, says Alex.
Alex and Ms. Arndt sip coffee and chat just outside the classroom, on a bench in the pleasant shade. Alex looks at her teacher’s bones, the clean jaw and the clavicle or whatever you call the one that shoots from shoulder to shoulder in the front, it’s very refined.
The bell sweetly dings, the American teens lift and amble dazedly out of the classroom, many of them in bright sweatshirts. They passively enjoy this teenage army drifting by.
Wanna smoke a J? asks Ms. Arndt, in a true whisper.
Sure, giggles Alex. No one she knows says “a J.” Maybe that’s what they said in the eighties?
Let’s get outta here, says Ms. Arndt.
In Ms. Arndt’s silver Toyota Tercel now, wow. She drives to Sweetie’s Grove, but that feels weird because it’s such a teen hangout, so they immediately turn around and drive to the Sports Arena parking lot, which feels more like a general criminal hangout.
The bagel shop is closing. The hot girl who wears tank tops is struggling to carry a large black trash bag to the dumpster, her blonde ponytail swinging tensely.
Then she goes back into the store. Suddenly Alex overwhelmingly craves a toasted bagel with sweet raisin walnut cream cheese. Ms. Arndt swings into the parking lot. Strawberry is what they have left. We’re actually closed, clarifies the hot girl. But I’ll make it for you if you want it. Alex wants it.
Alex and Ms. Arndt split the bagel. The taste is amplified, the smell immense.
I wanted to ask the class, said Ms. Arndt, swallowing, why do you think teeth are so rarely depicted in paintings? And why, when they do appear, do they read as so menacing?
Also, compare and contrast the Venus of Willendorf with what you believe are the ‘Venus’ figures of our time. Discuss body ideals and how you imagine they are formed. Do not worry about substantiating everything. Really just reflect like you would with a friend. Do the best you can to be honest.
Ms. Arndt is so beautiful right now and those are beautiful questions. Alex wants to tell her this, but says something about “je ne sais quoi” and that phrase is suddenly the funniest and most ridiculous thing either of them has ever heard or spoken. Alex is practically gagging up the pink cream cheese she’s laughing so hard. What a dumb thing to say, you are so beautiful, you have this certain….Oh, I don’t know. Nevermind.
Next day in AP Art History class, Alex arrives, glides in, naked. Naked, no clothes, no shoes. Her body is as smooth as a fresh lightbulb right out of the box. Ms. Arndt doesn’t mind that Alex is naked when Alex glides into class, naked. Ms. Arndt is bowled over, actually. The lights are on and everyone is staring at Alex’s nude body naked nude.
Alex, will you please de-light us? asks Ms. Arndt.
Alex, naked, shuts off the lights, and with a bit of rustling and rearranging, the class turns their focus to the screen, where there’s a painting by Cezanne, a sea of cubey roofs which invite the future of painting. Alex settles into a cool plastic chair—which feels weird and tickly against her exposed intimate parts, but soon feels fine actually—and pays close attention.
The Homecoming dance came and went and was free of any sort of intervention, allowing those students with conventional tastes to enjoy themselves without mockery. Alex was not disciplined for being naked at school, and did not do it again.
Image Credits: Victor Björkund