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II: HER WORDS • Fiction


“Anything new this week?” The chair is hard on my back,


the ground pushing against the soles of my shoes, trying to launch me out of the room. Nine pairs of eyes are too many. I stare at the ground like everything I’ll ever need to know is written into the concrete. The kid to my left raps his rolled up daily itinerary on his knee nervously. From my other side I hear teeth picking at nails and suddenly I am enveloped by noise. Heels clicking, toes tapping, a heavy sigh from the round bald man who hides his pills under his tongue. The drumming fingers of the skinny girl who is a new person every week. This is the first time I have realized these are my peers. Their ticks and nerves and distrustful eyes are the same as mine. It’s hard not to get to know folks


here. There are quite a few people who I would consider acquaintances. Larry sits with me at lunch. Always across the table two seats from the left. He watches his food intently as he eats, as though it’s going to run right off his fork. Mary stands behind me in line because her last name is Yang. Mine is Wood and there are no X’s. We exchange smiles almost every day. Sometimes she says hello. Two eyes behind the clipboard


look worried for me, so I spit out my memorized weekly synopsis and shoot my eyes back down to the floor. A flash of red cuts across the corner of my vision. I whip around looking for the source, but it’s gone as quickly as it was there. Months in this place lead me to believe it wasn’t really there at all. The rest of the fifty minutes pass by without interruption or interest. I stare out the window and watch the sun move slowly through the sky, nodding every once in a while when I think I’m supposed to.


________ 117


“I’m Darby.” I hadn’t imagined it. That flash of


red sits before me in the mane of a tiny, bespectacled woman. Larry looks more nervous than usual. His eyes dart from the untouched plate in front of him to Darby’s bright, infectious smile, and then linger on the chair that sits between them. She doesn’t seem to notice him at all. Larry leaves in a rush of napkins and heavy breaths. I don’t think we’re friends anymore. I’m too busy looking everywhere but Darby’s eyes to really care. Though I guess I don’t know if I would have cared under any circumstances. We eat in silence. I watch the


people around me as I shove the rubbery pasta and green beans into my mouth with satisfactory nods as if they taste like something other than cardboard. This is the first time I have really seen the cafeteria. Larry and I have an unspoken mutual agreement. We eat with our heads down. This new person is strange and confusing. She studies me intently,


completely ignoring her food. I can’t decide what to do with my eyes. I settle on the middle of the wall just behind her. There is a giant crack ripping through the baby blue paint. I’ve never noticed the colors in here before. My eyes find hers on purpose this time and I feel myself smiling. She returns it and starts on her plate of food. ________


“You look really nice today.” I look the same every day. We


wear matching drawstring-free grey sweat pants and navy blue crew necks. My hair is buzzed. Her wild mane and perfectly square glasses are the same too, but I return the compliment. It turns out that Darby is the new person in front of me in line because her name


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