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01/09/2014

Natural Selection

Cathy Davies

There was a bullet-hole in my school. They didn’t even try to cover it up with educational posters. The perfectly circular hole exposed the brown plaster underneath, white paint peeled around the edges. I suppose they assumed none of us would guess what it was. The teacher, Miss Jones, didn’t address the issue. She must have been terrified. I’d been at that school a few years and she’d always taught in the same classroom; I knew that because I had her last year, there wasn’t a bullet-hole then, and I wondered if she’d been shot at. I worried about her. She was nice to me; sometimes she asked me to read aloud in class.

I usually waited till halfway through lunchtime to eat because at that point the canteen had started to empty and I could eat in peace without everyone staring at me, throwing food, tripping me up, or laughing obnoxiously loudly while I had to pretend I didn’t know it was at my expense. Until then, I just waited in the toilet cubicles with my feet pressed against the wall so no one would see them and my back on the other side, the exposed brick would scratch through my polo-shirt and irritate my skin. Sometimes, if I was really hungry, I would eat my lunch in there. I tried not to do that too often though because the bacteria could kill you. When

I first started school and people didn’t like me, I used to bring a book to read while I waited, but I found it harder and harder to keep doing that with people walking in all the time. You had to be vigilant. I held my breath and prayed that my stomach wouldn’t grumble at the wrong moment. Most of the time they left without noticing the door was locked. Other times they’d bang on it and laugh, hoping there’d be some response and I’d just stay quiet. At least I wasn’t a girl. I’ve heard they socialise in there.

One time it was bad though. I was in there and a group of guys came in to smoke since you weren’t allowed to leave the site during the day and you couldn’t smoke on grounds. They were talking loudly and swearing more than they needed to. I inhaled their smoke the wrong way and coughed accidentally. They all started knocking on the door and shouting in falsetto voices, asking if I was taking a shit and I started to panic and my breathing got heavy, like it sometimes does. One of them, Harry Bowes, got on his knees to look under the door. I can still see that expression when I try to get to sleep. He looked so happy; his smile was vertical because of the angle of his head. His hair was short, blond, and cropped at the sides. He had bad acne, and the toilet light was making everything that sickly yellow colour, his hair, his teeth, his skin.

‘It’s that freak from our English class,’ he said. Without really thinking I kicked him in the face, I’m not even sure why I did it. His nose started bleeding pretty heavily though and his other friends starting talking all at once to console him and to threaten me. They weren’t scared at all but I could tell they were pissed off because they kept calling me names. One of them stood on the toilet in the next cubical to climb over, I tried to run out and got nearly to the door but one of them caught me and dragged me back and they all started hitting me. I didn’t get as hurt as the guy I’d kicked in the face though, because I held my arms up and they sort of just went for my stomach and you could tell they didn’t want me to look too badly beat up. When the head-teacher found out and called us in, everyone but me agreed that I’d started the fight. Only two of us were hurt, but all four of us got suspended for smoking.

After that, I didn’t want to eat lunch in there. I asked Miss Jones if I could eat in her classroom and she said I could as long as she was in there, which she usually was, marking work. This gave me an opportunity to eat in peace and to protect her from the people that were trying to shoot her. The teachers wouldn’t admit it but the students in my school were all bastards. I got some satisfaction from knowing they’d fail later when it mattered, but only some. The boys were all chavs that laughed at things that weren’t funny, and the girls were sluts. They wore layers of make-up and skirts riding up their thighs but then they’d laugh at you and act offended if you were looking. Everyone knew they all did it just to humiliate you but people still kept trying because sometimes the pretty boys succeeded. Miss Jones was different. She didn’t wear suits like the other teachers, she wore jeans and boots; she drank coffee and had lots of books on her shelf that she said we were too young to read yet. Everyone laughed because there was one called ‘The Naked Lunch’. Someone asked if it was about naked people. She said it was in some parts. A girl in our class said she had a copy at home and had tried to read it, but I didn’t believe her because every time anyone asked what it was really about she said she didn’t know. A lot of people in our school were liars.

I liked sitting in Miss Jones’ classroom at lunch. I stopped having dreams where I coughed up my teeth. We didn’t really talk, she just drank coffee and marked work and I would eat and then pretend to do homework. Sometimes I’d doodle. On Fridays, at the end of lunch she always told me to have a good weekend and I told her to too. Eventually, I felt safe enough to bring books in again and read through lunch. I also started to bring in a gun. It wasn’t hard to get. It was important because I needed to stop Miss Jones getting shot at since she was so nice to me and let me eat lunch in her classroom. My dad collected antique guns and would fix them up to start working again. It was illegal because he didn’t have a licence, but he always said that they’d be stupid if they expected him to buy a rifle for £400 and not shoot with it. He never did shoot with them though, except for about three times a year if he went clay pigeon shooting or hunting. I always thought that was a waste of ammo. He showed me an M1849 Pocket Old West Revolver he’d bought at an auction for £157. They marketed it as a model, but like the rest he’d got it working again, sawing and cutting the bits he shouldn’t. My dad never liked to talk to me much because he was always busy, but when it was about guns he sat there for hours. He taught me how to load and unload, but said he wasn’t going to teach me how to shoot ‘because an idiot like you would end up shooting someone.’ He showed me a lot of guns: The Marushin M1 Carbine 8mm for £300 that he used for hunting, the Edison Giocattoli 65380/24 Montecarlo Shotgun Cap Gun Rifle he got for £100 that he said he liked for show, but really he’d just never been able to fix it. My favourite was still the M1849 Pocket Old West Revolver. My dad woke up early to go to work and didn’t come back till around dinner, so it was easy to sneak it out before I went to school and sneak it back before he came home. I probably would’ve felt guilty for stealing and breaking school rules, but Miss Jones needed protecting, and no one else cared enough.

I thought I could trust her. It was lunchtime, and like always I was heading to her classroom. I was finally going to ask her about the bullet-hole. I’d planned it all out, I’d ask her who did it and when she told me, she’d cry and I’d hug her, and then I’d track down the person that did it and shoot at them back. I wouldn’t kill them, but I’d scare them. But then I saw her. I looked through the glass window in the door and there was Harry Bowes. He looked as though he was crying and she was leaning forwards, all big eyed, nodding her head. She handed him a tissue and then she, the slut, she leant forward and rubbed his elbow. He smiled and my chest starting aching. I barged in to tell them everything, how he was a scumbag and how she was a bitch backstabber, but I couldn’t talk. I opened my mouth but nothing happened, my throat had closed up. The guy whose nose I’d nearly broken, he brushed his hand under his eyes really quickly as though I hadn’t already seen him crying.

‘I’m with another student right now, can you come back later?’ she asked me sharply because she was angry I’d come in without knocking. I stood there perplexed for a while and even began turning around but the words eventually found themselves and I remembered why I came in.

‘Why are you with him? He’s just like the rest of them! He shouldn’t even cry, what’s he got to cry about? Everything’s easy for him.’ She tried to get me to calm down. ‘No! You’re a traitor, I mean I looked after you and I made sure that no one would kill you, I thought you actually cared about me and now you don’t even care at all ’cause you like him more, no wonder people shoot at you, no wonder people want you dead!’ I was crying pretty heavily, it was choking my words and I couldn’t get them out right, I would’ve given anything for her not to have seen me. But she was crouched down in front of me now.

‘What do you mean people shoot at me? Who told you that? Is that why you come here at lunchtimes?’

‘No one told me but I saw the bullet-hole.’ I gasped through that sentence, like my throat was made of treacle and the words were trying to swim their way out. I pointed at the bullet-hole, she followed my finger.

‘That? There? A student tripped over when he was holding the chair above his head to move it and lodged it into the wall. No one’s trying to shoot me. Now come on, calm down.’ I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t believe anything she said anymore. She just didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth. She probably told Harry. I rushed out the room as quickly as I could; I needed to get away from her. I looked back through the door. Miss Jones looked confused. Harry Bowes looked like he’d cheered up a bit. I hated both of them intensely.

You can’t really describe how awful it is to feel powerless. You feel like you don’t qualify to be the sole of someone’s shoe. I definitely didn’t qualify to be the soles of Miss Jones’ knee-high boots. I suppose she liked teasing the students. They were probably in there laughing at me together. It’s awful to feel powerless. But it’s difficult to feel powerless with a gun in your rucksack.

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