Summer in the Lab | Christine Simokaitis

The thing about scientific experiments is that you have to follow directions. You have to know the terminology and pay attention to detail. You have to pay attention. I don’t understand much about how to do the experiments in this class because I am not paying attention.

I don’t really know that I am not paying attention, though, because I look right at the teacher when he’s talking, which is what you do when you’re paying attention, but it’s like all the information just slides right off the sides of my brain instead of getting inside it.

There are certain places within the classroom that you have to go to get the lab materials, and if you haven’t paid attention to know where the different materials are, you will get it wrong. You can ask people, but sometimes everybody else is so busy paying attention and getting materials from the appropriate places in the classroom that they will not answer you. Besides, I don’t know anybody here, and these days I’m really not in the mood to “make an effort.”

This is not my regular school. During the year, I go to a private school on the North Shore. This is the public school down the street. I am only here because if I take Advanced Biology II in the summer, I’ll be able to cram in more credits to put on my transcript. I can get ahead, which is what I’m supposed to want to do, so I can go to a good college, and I’m supposed to want to go to a good college. I’m supposed to care.

I ride my bike here in the mornings and wonder what it would be like to go here all the time. This is the school I always thought I would go to, but then things happened, so now I go to the private school. Since I can’t drive yet and my regular school and friends are far away, I feel like I’m living this completely different life. I could be anybody.

I don’t have to wear a uniform here, so instead I wear camouflage pants with a ripped tank top and a leather bracelet with one-inch spikes, or I can wear my neon orange mini skirt and 15 rubber bracelets and one of my brother’s t-shirts with the ribbing around the neck hole torn so the shirt hangs off one shoulder. My hair is short in the back and on the sides, and longer on top. Some days I spike it, and some days I curl it. Most days, I wear black eye-liner, and when I feel like it, I wear black nail polish too.

The other kids ignore me, which is fine since I’m not here to make friends. There is one guy, though, who kind of teases me about my clothes and calls me Madonna or Scary Punk Chick, depending on which outfit I’m wearing. I ignore him – his name is Eddie – because he clearly doesn’t get it, what the clothes are all about. Besides, he’s obviously here because he failed the class.

I guess at this school Eddie is like Mr. Popular and all the girls want to go out with him, which is funny to me because he doesn’t listen to Euro imports and has never heard of Haircut 100 or Souixee and the Banshees, and he really doesn’t seem to be interested in how much things cost. He drives this old Camero and listens to Led Zepplin. He’s funny in this goofy way that makes me laugh. Plus, he’s a good kisser, which I found out when went to see “Sixteen Candles” at the second-run theater, and we made out in the lobby.

One time, we stop by his house so he can get some money before we go out. There’s a big plaster fountain on the front lawn with swans. His sister is retarded, and he introduces me to her like she’s a normal kid. I say hi and Eddie chases her around the yard and then runs real slow when she chases him. When we leave he gives her a hug and does this thing that’s like a secret handshake that makes her laugh. She waves at us when we’re in the car and I wave back. I look over at Eddie, thinking he might say something or explain but he’s just driving.

Sometimes, I think about what it would be like to actually date him, about how easy it would be to just be this, all the time, and I think about what my friends from school would say. In some ways, Eddie is who I’m really supposed to be going out with. He’s more like the guys I grew up with, the public school kids who are not Super Rich. People around here are here are maybe a little rich, but everyone at my new school is Super Rich, and I always thought I wanted to be one of them, because who doesn’t want to be Super Rich, but I’m so clearly not one of them, and it’s a lot of work trying to figure out what’s what. Being with Eddie is like where I’m supposed to be, which is maybe why it seems easy, but I’m still not sure it’s really what I want.

There is an aide in the class. I don’t know what to make of her because she is a kind of woman I have never seen before. In some ways, she is almost invisible, but at the same time, I feel like I can’t stop looking at her. It’s not that she’s ugly – she just wears ugly shoes. But she’s not like girls who don’t know their shoes are ugly or the ones who have no choice but to wear ugly shoes. It’s more like she chose these shoes, knowing that they are ugly. I can’t get over that. And she has long blond hair, but it’s not “long blond hair” in the way that usually sounds. Her hair just happens to be blond and it’s long because she doesn’t get it cut. Sometimes it’s in a braid but it often hangs down her back in thick clumps. When she bends down to look in someone’s microscope, she has to straighten part of the way back up again and kind of toss her hair back so it won’t be in her face. In those moments, it almost seems like she’s aware that she has “long blond hair.” But if she knows she has “long blond hair,” why not get it styled? And there are girls who don’t wear makeup, especially to school, but it’s all girls so what’s the point. But I don’t get why she’s wouldn’t just put on a little mascara or some lip-gloss or something so that someone might notice that her eyes are a pretty blue. It’s like she’s totally fine with everything just the way it is.

She talks about these things in class, the cross-sections and specimens and cells, and you can tell she is really into all of it. Like being here in this class is what she has always wanted.

You can tell there is something that she wanted.

The other thing about the aide is the way she looks at people. Sometimes I think she’s not really looking, or seeing, because one day she saw me copying answers off someone else’s test and she didn’t say anything. But at the same time, it’s like she sees everything, because the way she looked into my face, it was like she was looking right at ME. Or, like the day she saw Eddie and me making out in the hall way, and I felt strange the whole rest of the day. If the teacher had seen us, I wouldn’t have cared, but with the aide, it’s like she’s looking right at my bones and organs or something. But it’s not like she’s busting me or telling me to shape up or not be slutty. It’s more like she’s studying me, like I’m a specimen.

She says she remembers me. I came to this school for an open house once, back when I was still making choices and before everything else happened. She says it took her a while because I look so different now but she remembers that she talked to me at the open house and that she told me that I seemed to have a lot of promise. I tell her I don’t remember anything like that when she brings it up right in the middle of class when she’s making her rounds during a lab.

Later, when we’re driving around in his Camaro, Eddie says he thinks I showed a lot of promise too. He’s reaching his hand up my mini-skirt as he says this and I tell him to just shut up, but I let him keep his hand going where it’s going.

During the last week of class we take a field trip. We go to the Dunes. There is sand and tall grass and we ride the bus and on the bus Eddie has a cooler full of beer. He starts passing around the cans as soon as we are on the highway.

It’s hot. The grass is itchy on my legs. There may be swimming or not. What we are doing here is very unclear. We might be gathering specimens or looking at the way the earth changes from lake to land to dune. Or we might be talking about things that can grow in sand. What matters is that we have gotten drunk on a bus, and now we’re in the hot sun. My head is full with alcohol and with the not knowing what is going on or what I’m supposed to be doing. I am ready for this class to be over. I have to pee from drinking so much beer, and when I go to the bathroom I realize I have started my period. I don’t have any tampons. When we are all back on the path together, I ask one of the other girls if she has any tampons but she doesn’t. Everyone is starting to branch off into separate groups to conduct whatever the field work is that we are supposed to be doing. Kids have notebooks and pens. I’m walking up a small hill in the woods and I’m actually kind of stumbling from the beer, and the aide is coming up the other side of the hill and we meet at the top. She looks at me and I ask her if she has a tampon, and I can smell beer on my own breath. She digs into the outside pocket of her backpack and hands me a small bullet in plastic. I’ve never known anyone who uses this kind, but it’s all there is and I say thank you.

She looks right at me like she is trying to tell me something but I don’t know what it is. I want to know what it is now, but she just gives me this sad kind of smile and says, “Careful.”

On the way home, I am stretched out on the back seat of the bus, my arm hanging into the aisle. I am sick from more beer on the beach and the sun. “King of Pain” is playing on Eddie’s boom box. I’m so sick of this song. It’s putting me in a mood. I want to tell everyone about how I liked The Police a long time ago, before they became popular with this song that they play all the time on the radio. This isn’t really them anymore. They have sold out. I want to tell everyone, but I don’t because I’m so tired, and besides, it doesn’t matter.



4478996_origChristine Simokaitis‘ work has appeared in Calyx, Natural Bridge, and other print journals, FRiGG, and the anthologies, Are We Feeling Better Yet?  Women Speak about Healthcare in America and Mourning Sickness. She earned her MFA from Goddard College and composed much of her current manuscript at Ragdale. Her work has been shortlisted for, most recently, the Ropewalk Press 2014 Fiction Chapbook Prize. She currently teaches at Northeastern Illinois University and Wright College in Chicago.

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