by Josie Levin
I tried to avoid Alicia at school. It was easy, considering we were in different classes, except lunch. But we had to eat lunch together for two days because Alicia ate a weird gray and pink meat called vetesan.
“What’s vetesan?” I had asked, leaning over her shoulder to look in her lunch box. “Do you mean veteran or veterinarian? Because you can’t eat those, they’re occu-patients.” I was a bit of a know-it-all.
She got mad at me (for being a know-it-all.)
“I know what a veterinarian is! This is vet-a-san.”
I noticed that she didn’t mention knowing what a veteran was. Nobody else in our grade knew either, that’s why I brought it up whenever I could. I overheard my mother use it on the phone once and I made her pause the call to tell me what it meant. In addition to being a know-it-all, I was also kind of a brat.
“Ali, a veteran is-”
She punched me.
I kicked her.
She scratched me.
I pulled on her arm hair.
She growled at me.
The custodians pulled us apart.
We got detention.
In the library, which was a nice enough place for detention, we had to write out ten sentences on why we were there. I wrote Alicia is crazy ten times. I don’t know what Alicia wrote, but I know I got two more days of detention.
She got five.
We sat together on the way home, like always. And when she was looking out the window, I took out the permanent marker and drew a smiley face on the seat in front of Alicia.
“Alicia,” I said, “Alicia, look.”
“What,” Alicia said, looking up from a library book she swiped (without checking out) during detention.
I pointed at the lumps.
“Look, they’re watching you.”
(That was Alicia’s biggest fear, that someone was watching her. As a consequence she didn’t like being looked at for very long, so I looked at her as much as I could, to annoy her.)
She hit me.
I shoulder checked her.
She stepped on my foot.
I jabbed her in the side.
She curled her lip.
The bus driver told us to knock it off.
We got kicked off the bus a block early.
The thing to know about Alicia is that she used to eat dirt. When she was little she’d paw it into clumps and stick her face in it. She said sometimes she’d have to skip dinner because she was already full on it.
Alicia also said there’s more to it than that, that I’m simplifying too much. She didn’t just eat dirt. She prepared it. She’d spread her clumps thin to weed out the rocks and worms. She’d warm it on boulders in the sun, flipping it to heat evenly. She made it a delicacy. And she savored it.
There is good dirt and bad dirt, she said. Good dirt like the kind under the tomato plants in my backyard. Bad dirt like the dry kind my mom had me leave around the garden to throw off the coyotes. Alicia liked eating bad dirt the most. She said she hadn’t done it in a long time though, at least a year, but most days she could still taste it.
Alicia told me this when we were exchanging ugly secrets.
In return, I told her my full name.
“Drulissa?” Her nose wrinkled, “That’s kind of ugly.”
I shoved her.
She kicked me.
I threw dirt at her.
She gnashed her teeth.
When we played at being people we weren’t, Alicia was an important business woman who lived in a big apartment in a bigger city.
And I was Alicia.
Real-Alicia would say something like “I am very busy, I’m waiting for an email.”
And Pretend-Alicia would be quiet until Real-Alicia would get impatient and say, “Well?”
And then Pretend-Alicia would get impatient too and say something like “What’s an email? I’m going to eat you.” And then Pretend-Alicia would laugh, high and barking.
“I don’t sound like that,” Real-Alicia would say, sounding exactly like that.
And because I was being Pretend-Alicia, I’d say “I don’t sound like that,” until she showed me her teeth and wrestled me to the ground.
The next day I stared at the vetesan in Alicia’s lunch box. We weren’t supposed to eat in the library but detention took up our lunch period so we did anyway.
“Do you want some?”
“I’m a vegetarian.” I wasn’t. Or I hadn’t been, until just then.
She looked at my baloney sandwich, doubtfully.
“No talking,” said the librarian, “finish your writing.”
Today we had to write ten sentences on how we felt about what we’d done. I wrote: I feel very sad that I cannot eat in the loud cafeteria that smells like wet dog, and instead I am being forced to eat lunch in the newly renovated library with my best friend. This is all very bad for me and I regret my actions that led to this very bad punishment that I hate.
It wasn’t ten sentences but when I looked over at Alicia’s paper I saw that she had only written one. She turned it over before I could read it properly and copy it to my paper.
When the bell rang and we handed our papers over to the librarian, she looked pleased, which is how I know she didn’t actually read them.
I think she mostly just checked to make sure I hadn’t written Alicia is crazy ten times and Alicia hadn’t written whatever it was that got her three more days of detention than me.
As we were leaving, I think I saw the librarian throw them in the trash.
Alicia and I walked down to the basement and down further to my classroom door.
“Am I your best friend?” She asked.
My ears burned. “You read my paper?”
“Yeah, I had to write something down so I read yours for something to copy. Am I your best friend?”
“You didn’t let me copy down anything from your paper!”
“That’s because I didn’t have anything and you spent the whole period staring at my lunch.”
I glared at her.
She looked away.
Then I felt bad so I looked away too.
“Dru,” she said, “Am I your best friend?”
“What did you copy from my paper?”
I didn’t look at her, to be nice.
I maybe should have though, because then she punched me.
I hit her.
She elbowed me.
I head butted her.
She grabbed my hair.
I tried to bite her.
A teacher came down the hallway.
We went to class.
On the bus, three blocks from our stop, the only people left were the bus driver, Alicia, and me.
“Alicia,” I said, “Alicia where do you get a deer’s heart from?”
She looked at me for longer than I, let alone she, was comfortable.
“From a deer.”
That night I had a dream I was running on the track in gym class with Alicia (which was already wrong because Alicia wasn’t in gym class at all because she had a doctor’s note that excused her for the whole year), when the librarian came out and said I had to write my ten lines. But then the bus driver was there and picked us up and my aunt Jean was on the bus so I had to get her off and the other kids on. And then the librarian said I failed detention so I had to do it for another decade.
And then Alicia came up to me on the track.
And she looked into my eyes.
(And I didn’t know what color her eyes were so instead of irises there were just question marks.)
And she stood toe to toe with me.
And she leaned in.
And she parted her lips, just a bit, just so I could see white against pink.
And she bit me on the mouth.
I woke up suddenly, feeling a very real, not dreamlike at all pain in my mouth. When I lifted my hand up to touch, it stung worse and came away bloody.
I sat there for a moment, breathing. Then took my lip between my teeth and sucked on the wound until the metallic taste faded away.
I went back to sleep to the sound of the coyotes in the woods laughing.
I didn’t dream.
The next morning Alicia was late walking out of the woods. The bus and the driver and the other kids and I were already there when she finally emerged. She had her backpack open over one shoulder but wasn’t carrying her lunch box.
“Overslept,” she said breathlessly, before sitting down next to me. There was a stick in her hair.
“Alicia,” I said, “Alicia there’s a stick in your hair.”
“Leave it,” she said and turned away from me, towards the window.
The ride was quiet except for the occasional grunt from the driver. None of the other kids talked on the bus, or ever as far as I could tell. But even they seemed uncomfortable with our silence. I know I was.
When we got to school and the door at the front opened, Alicia climbed over my legs and ran off the bus.
“No running” said the bus driver, after Alicia was already gone.
The other kids walked off the bus single file – except me.
“Everyone off the bus,” the driver said, but she was just talking to me now.
I got off the bus.
During detention I ripped my paper in half and wrote:
are you mad at me???
on the bottom half before crumpling it up and throwing it underhand (and more importantly out of the librarian’s sight) at Alicia.
Alicia opened it and left it there for a minute.
I turned back to the top half of my paper. Today we were writing ten sentences on everything we had learned from this experience.
I learned that detention is awful.
I learned that just because the library is new doesn’t mean it doesn’t smell like mildew.
I learned that the librarian will only glance at this paper before throwing it out.
I learned that I don’t want to be in detention.
I learned that Alicia isn’t my best friend.
I learned that I don’t want her to be.
I learned that vetesan is a deer’s heart.
I learned what blood tastes like.
I learned what a coyote sounds like when it laughs.
I didn’t learn what Alicia wrote.
It was the first time I wrote all ten lines. I left my paper face up for Alicia to see.
The librarian got up and said “I’m going on a break, no talking while I’m gone.” She smoothed out her dress shirt and walked out the door.
Immediately afterwards a paper ball hit me in the head.
I glared at Alicia.
She rolled her eyes.
When I unrolled the paper it said:
are you mad at me???
Underneath that I wrote:
then what’s your problem???
and lobbed it back at Alicia’s head.
We went back and forth, trying to give each other paper cuts or maybe concussions.
I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM. YOU DO.
what’s that supposed to mean???
DO YOU EVER GET TIRED OF ASKING ME QUESTIONS.
After reading that one Alicia slammed her hands down on the desk.
I looked her in the eye. She didn’t turn away.
“You know what, Drulissa?” She knew nobody but my mom called me Drulissa.
“What, Alicia?” It wasn’t as cutting as Drulissa, but we were still making eye contact so at least it was something.
“I forgot my lunch!” She all but screamed, motioning to the empty space in front of her.
“Here!” I said, throwing my baloney sandwich at her, “eat this!”
We stared at each other for another minute before she turned away, opened the ziplock bag with Drulissa <3 written on the front in cursive letters and took a bite of my baloney sandwich.
She puffed out her cheeks.
“This is good.”
“My mom made it!” I kind of yelled because I was still worked up but it wasn’t really an insult so mainly I just sounded enthused about my mom, which was embarrassing.
Alicia must have thought so too because she started laughing at me.
She had to stop to take the next bite but when she swallowed that one she said, “What are you going to eat?”
“I still have my pretzels and capri sun. I’m a vegetarian, anyways,” which wasn’t a lie because I hadn’t eaten meat since the first time I told her that I was one. I held my food up to show her. The capri sun was fruit punch which was not my favorite but the pretzels were sticks which were my favorite so it was okay.
I think Alicia knew this too, because her frown at the capri sun leveled into a mixed expression at the pretzel sticks.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
We went back to eating.
The librarian came back in a minute later.
“Were you girls quiet while I was gone?” She asked.
“Yes.” We said.
She looked surprised, like she was expecting a different answer. But she looked pleased regardless.
When the bell rang I handed in the top half of my paper and Alicia handed in the bottom half.
The librarian didn’t even pretend to look before throwing them out. Good riddance.
“Have a nice day, girls,” she said and smiled too. Which was weird because I’d never seen the librarian smile before. It was too sharp for my liking.
When we got off the bus Alicia said “Bye.”
I turned to say it back but she was already in the woods. I was kind of relieved.
That night I didn’t fall asleep for a long time. I kept biting the inside of my lip.
If I swallow the skin, I wondered, am I still a vegetarian?
When I did sleep I dreamed of sitting on the porch, staring at the woods, and a metallic taste in my mouth.
Sometimes when we pretended to be people we weren’t, I’d tell Real-Alicia that my mom said she had to go home, even though she didn’t. Sometimes when we played pretend, I’d start to forget that it wasn’t real and think that maybe I’d go into the woods and the New York business woman would stay and eat dinner with my mom. That’s when Real-Alicia had to leave so I knew which one she was.
In the morning I held the bus up for fifteen minutes before admitting Alicia wasn’t coming.
The bus driver said, “Come on girl. You’re messing with my schedule,” so I sat down alone and looked out the window. The bus was quiet.
When I went to detention, the librarian said, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for detention.”
“You’re done,” she waved her hand dismissively. “Where’s the other one?”
“Alicia didn’t come to school today.”
The librarian rolled her eyes. It looked the same as when she did it yesterday but for some reason I didn’t like it as much this time.
“Go back to lunch.”
When I got off the bus. Alicia was waiting on the sidewalk.
“Do you want to come to my house?” She asked me.
I’d never been to Alicia’s house before.
“Sure.” I said.
We walked down the dirt road and into the woods.
As we walked, I was looking at the ground so I didn’t trip and I heard Alicia laughing.
I looked up and she stopped.
“What?” She said.
“What?” I said.
“You were looking at me.”
“You were laughing at me.”
“No I wasn’t.”
Our eyes met, I saw her irises were big and almond brown.
She looked away first.
“I guess it was a coyote.” I said.
Alicia flinched and stopped walking.
“I have something to ask you,” she said.
We both looked away.
A coyote laughed in the distance.
I asked “are you going to eat me?”
Alicia asked “are you in love with me?”
“Oh,” I said.
“Oh,” she said.
The coyote stopped laughing.
I bit my lip.
Alicia swallowed the skin.
Author Bio: Josie Levin is a visual artist and writer. She splits her time between Indianapolis and Chicago, reads large volumes of books, and occasionally writes her own. She has been published in several publications, including The Wayne Literary Review, The 2River View, and Slaughterhouse Magazine.