by Peter C. Conrad
Maggie sits at the front of the room in her desk and looks out the window, feeling a sharp regret as she and notices how many leaves have been blown away; the trees are looking so skeletal and the field beyond has an empty cold feeling. Maggie stops and looks around the room and realizes that this is how it always starts: she would look outside and her mind would wander, creating her own stories about what was out there, what could happen, not paying attention to where she was, who was around, and what is happening. A fake would have to know all of those things, realizes Maggie. You have to be ready to appear completely involved and interested.
Maggie thinks about how strange her morning has already been; her Dad offered to drive her to school on his way to work. That was strange, but the conversation was just weird, they had barely got into the car when he started. …
“You’re in Grade seven, no eight,” said her father.
“Yeah,” said Maggie.
“That was my worse year in school, I think it’s that way for everyone,” he said slowly turning his head from side to side.
“It just feels the same to me,” said Maggie. “It’s the same Special Needs class, with the same teacher, same kid, same old things.”
“I really don’t care what they say about you, I know that the truth is something else,” said Maggie’s father.
“You think I’m shouldn’t even be in Special Needs?” asked Maggie.
“It’s the opposite of that,” said her father. “I’ve seen you do things, take care of other kids in the park, make things, no I think they got you wrong,” said her father.
“Thanks,” said Maggie.
“I hope they figure it out and make some changes,” said her father.
“I do too,” said Maggie, feeling strange by her father’s confidence.
“Grade eight is the worse year in school, and everything gets better each year after that,” said Maggie’s father. Maggie thought it was very strange how her father had any opinion about school at all.
“I’m sure looking forward to that,” said Maggie.
“You know, I’ve seen a lot of people go through those years and at the time it sure didn’t look good for them, but life is really forgiving. No matter how awful things are, especially in Middle School, life won’t be that bad,” said her father.
“That’s good to know,” said Maggie.
“Here we are,” said Maggie’s Dad as he pulled into the student drop off lane.
“Thanks for the ride,” said Maggie.
“Have a really good day,” said her Dad.
In a moment he was gone and Maggie was walking into the school …
Maggie looked around the classroom and Stephen is already sitting in his seat with his book reading, which wasn’t a put-on, Maggie thinks, because he is obviously working too hard at each word. Eunice is dabbing, who-knows-what on her face, and Sammie walks in. Sammie sits down beside Maggie and looks at her with a smile. She’s wearing that cute purple-pink jump suit again, thinks Maggie.
“What are you doing?” asks Sammie.
“What do you mean?” asks Maggie.
“You are almost always staring outside, but you aren’t now,” replies Sammie.
Maggie leans close to Sammie, who leans toward her to hear the secret. “I’m going to try the fake thing for fun,” says Maggie.
“Why?” asks Sammie, feeling alarm by the news.
“I’m bored,” says Maggie.
“I couldn’t do that,” says Sammie.
“That would be too hard,” replies Sammie.
“I don’t think it will be,” says Maggie.
Sammie looks at her with her usual tired and sorrowful look that is so well practiced. Maggie feels irritated at Sammie again; why couldn’t she just say, sure, let’s try something different? But there she is with the same old expression of poor me, thinks Maggie.
“What are you talking about over there?” says Eunice. “You know Ms Ulrich doesn’t let us whisper to each other in class.”
“I bet Maggie is going to go fake,” says Mufasta.
“She can’t do anything,” says Stephen. “She can’t fake either.”
“Why?” asks Eunice, “You think you’re the only one that can pretend to be smart?”
“I don’t have to pretend,” says Stephen triumphantly.
“That’s why you’re sitting in here with us?” asks Eunice.
“I won’t be here in a few days,” says Stephen
“Right,” says Eunice.
“I’ll remind you that you said that when I’ve moved out of here,” says Stephen.
“I can’t wait,” says Eunice.
“You can’t wait to be told who’s better?” asks Stephen.
“I can’t wait to see your desk empty, and not hearing your voice every day,” replies Eunice.
“Enough,” says Ms Ulrich as she walks into the room. “I don’t want to hear you two going at it all day long.”
The two stop talking and Maggie watches Ms Ulrich: she has straight black hair, olive skin, black blouse, and black slacks; it’s like her clothes are colour coordinated with her hair colour, thinks Maggie. She’s pretty, thinks Maggie; she’s a teacher who’s pretty. Maggie realizes that she has been so out of it that she didn’t even really see what Ms Ulrich looks like.
“How did you do with Mr. Edwards?” she asks.
“He just told stupid stories again,” says Eunice.
“It was a weird story about smart kids,” says Stephen.
Ms. Ulrich looks at the two silently for a moment. “What was the story about?”
“I think he believes we can all be smart too, if we listen to his stories about smart kids,” says Eunice.
“Mr Edwards just waists our time with stories,” says Stephen.
“So he stopped you from working all morning?” asks Ms Ulrich.
“I like his stories and they didn’t take much time,” says Sammie.
“How did you do with the Focus Question?” asks Ms Ulrich. “Why should we care about Holden Caulfield’s phonies?”
Maggie’s classmates stare expressionless at Ms Ulrich; that’s not abnormal, thought Maggie as she looked around. She looked down at her response and the fake questions she wrote.
“That’s because, it’s the main part of the book,” says Maggie. Ms Ulrich glances at Maggie, surprised, as Maggie always sat silently wanting to avoid conflict with the rest.
“Oh, here she goes,” says Eunice.
“I want to hear this,” says Stephen.
“Yes, that would be nice,” says Ms Ulrich looking at Maggie with anticipation. Maggie looks at Ms Ulrich and feels a strange surprise herself; she has the same slight build as Maggie, the defined eyes that made them look bigger, that Maggie has. That’s not ugly, its kind of good looking, thinks Maggie.
“It is like Holden Caulfield is the only guy in the book, from what I’ve read so far who is real. The phonies are all those other people who are pretening to be something else. That’s why we have to know what a phonie is and why Holden is kind of comparing himself to them. That guy, the football play, Stradlater, is a jerk, and dumb, and he gets Holdens old girl friend Jane, but doesn’t care enough to relize that is her name and calls her Jean,” says Maggie.
“Who’s pretending to be someone they aren’t now?” asks Stephen.
Maggie feels a sharp stabbing, like the tip of a knife is cutting into her right side between the ribs. She has had that feeling so many times before. I hate that, thinks Maggie, that’s why I don’t talk in class.
“That was really good,” says Ms Ulrich.
“I wrote down a question while I was reading,” says Maggie.
“Well, if you’re going to be a pretender, than why not go all the way,” says Eunice.
Ms Ulrich turns and looks at Eunice angrily. Eunice puts both her hands up and shacks her head, “Just saying …”
“What’s the question?” asks Ms Ulrich.
“It’s maybe too much,” says Maggie. “I wrote, Doesn’t it really seem like its all too much, too one sided”
“Girl, you said it,” says Eunice.
“You mean it’s all Holden’s point of view?” asks Ms Ulrich ignoring Eunice.
“I get that part, it’s his story, he’s writing it from a hospital bed, but …” says Maggie.
“What? I didn’t get that part,” says Stephen.
“That’s very good, but what’s the question?” asks Ms. Ulrich.
“It’s just that everyone else is a phonie, or a creep, or a jerk. Isn’t there anyone who is just okay for this guy?” asks Maggie.
“Wow, that’s an amazing observation,” says Ms Ulrich.
“Yep, she’s going all the way on this one,” says Eunice.
Ms Ulrich’s expression turns to disgust as she looks at Eunice. “But is that entirely true?” asks Ms Ulrich.
Maggie looks as Ms Ulrich and shakes her head, “No, but even when he tells Sally Hayes that she’s a pain in the butt, he is the only one that seems real in the novel.” Maggie’s heart jumped, she wasn’t supposed to read that far ahead. She watches, as Ms Ulrich looks at her with an expression that was a mixture of surprise something like glee.
“You’re ahead of the class,” says Ms Ulrich.
“It just happened,” says Maggie.
“That’s fine,” says Ms Ulrich. “We’ve covered everything for today. Could everyone catch up to where Maggie is?” says Ms Ulrich. “Does anyone have anymore questions?”
There were a few shaking heads. Maggie looks at Sammie expecting that same old boring helpless expression, but instead there is genuine fear. Maggie felt sorry for Sammie for the first time in eons. She thinks I going to be out of this class, thinks Maggie. She’s going to alone in here, and that’s not good, Maggie concludes.
“Put your reading books away,” says Ms Ulrich. “We have to move onto Social Studies. The Current Affairs booklets are on the back table, so get one and complete sections B and D for tomorrow,” says Ms Ulrich. There is a groan from several in the back roll. Ms Ulrich quickly walked out of the room.
“That Sally girl in the novel isn’t the only pain in the butt,” says Eunice as she stands up to go get her copy of the Current Affairs booklet. “Just how far along is it in the book to read about Sally?”
Maggie looks at Eunice and shrugs, and looks at Sammie who is looking pale and tired.
“Sammie, if they are yapping at me, they’ll leave you alone,” says Maggie. Sammie looked at her annoyed; gets up and walks to the back table.
Maggie sits in her desk looking at her response and questions thinking that is so easy to fake out Ms Ulrich. It feel, like the best days in elementary school before anyone was taking notice and she could say what she wanted in class. It was strange how seriously Ms Ulrich took her, maybe she should back off, but Maggie already knows how boring that is. This game is better than that feeling of being asleep all day.
Maggie snaps back to where she is as Sammie throws a copy of the Current Affairs booklet down in front of her.
“Oh, thank you,” says Maggie as Sammie sits down and looks at the booklet in front of her.
“That whole thing was frightening,” says Sammie to Maggie. “I thought either Eunice or Steve would jump up run over here right in front Ms Ulrich and whack you.”
Maggie looks across the room and sees Eunice and Stephen leaning towards each other whispering. If they do that, they would be suspended and it would be a lot better in here, thinks Maggie.
“Oh,” says Maggie to Sammie.
“Don’t you care about that?” asks Sammie.
“No, I really don’t,” says Maggie.
“It’s like you changed over night,” says Sammie shaking her head.
Maggie shrugs and looks at the booklet, flipping through the pages and noticing that the articles that have to read are one page each, and the questions are so simple, they can’t be anything, but boring. What would a fake do with this? she thinks. Fakes would do everything in the booklet and they would something extra off the Internet.
“No way,” says Eunice loudly so everyone in the class can hear. “Maggie is the ugliest in class,” she says turning to Stephen and gesturing with a wide sweep of her hand toward Maggie.
“Sammie has to wear those weird clothes to cover how ugly she is,” replies Stephen.
“Man, look at Maggie, no matter what she wears, it looks like skinny jean gone all wrong,” replies Eunice.
Maggie looks at Sammie who is starting to shrink into her, poor me look. Maggie feels an intense irritation like a stinging pain in her stomach toward Sammie. Why can’t she just straight out look right at them and smile, look angry, insulted, something, just anything except that annoying poor me look?
“Oh, look at that, Maggie is actually looking mad,” says Eunice.
“It would sure be nice if you tried to fake being decent,” says Maggie, “We all know you’re incapable of the real thing.”
Eunice turned pale and stared in disbelief at Maggie.
“What?” screeches Eunice as she stands up facing Maggie. Maggie feels sudden exhilaration at the reaction and more amusement than fear.
“Enough,” says Ms Ulrich as she steps into the classroom and looks at Eunice. “Take your Social Studies booklet to the Study Hall now,” continues Ms Ulrich looking at Eunice. “Steve, move to the study carol at the back.”
“I didn’t do anything,” protests Stephen.
“Now,” says Ms Ulrich.
Eunice picks her pack up off the floor beside her desk and slams it onto the seat of her desk. She picks up her binder and books one at a time dramatically sweeping them in wide arc’s into her pack. Eunice walks to the door, stops, turns and looks at Maggie angrily. Maggie smiles back to the horror of Eunice.
“Just another day in Special Needs,” says Maggie.
Maggie looks at Sammie who is now leaning back in her desk, arms folding, with a childish pout. How in the world did I ever get in here? thinks Maggie as she looks at the booklet in front of her. She begins reading the article in the A section. Sammie looks at what Maggie is doing and shakes her head.
There is an unusual silence in the room with Stephen in the carol at the back of the room and Eunice gone. Maggie pays no attention to Sammie beside her who is obviously shuffling her paper too much. Maggie concentrates on the readings and is finishing section C as the bell rings for lunch. Maggie looks at her work thinking that it is so lame, so easy, it made her feel stupid, as it is only a small part of what other students did. She feel embarrassed that this is all others thought she could do. She quickly closes her book and looks around to see everyone gone, except Ms Ulrich.
“I have my lunch in my pack here; can I just stay here and finish this booklet?” asks Maggie.
Ms Ulrich looks at Maggie and the embarrassed look on her face. She’s struggling with it, thinks Ms Ulrich.
“Sure,” Ms Ulrich says. “I’m on supervision in the hallway, so if you have any questions about the work, just ask.”
Maggie’s cheeks burned hot as she listens to the offer of help. “Thank you,” replies Maggie. “Can I use the computer if I need extra information?”
“As long as that is what you’re doing on it.”
“Okay,” replies Maggie.
Maggie opens her pack and pulls her lunch bag out and looks inside; the same old sandwich her mother made her, juice box, cookies. She lays them out in front of her on the desk and looks at it all: nothing has changed since Grade four. Maggie eats the sandwich and thinks about what it looks like to everyone else: boring, tired, just gross. Maggie decides she is making her own lunch and it will be different. Glancing up at the white board she notices that there is a math test tomorrow. She quickly pulls out her agenda and as she flips the pages, Maggie realizes that ever page is empty. She’s never bothered to write a thing down, a top student would never do that. Maggie writes down the math test and Social Studies, Current Affairs booklet, and Novel Study. She looks at what she has written and places check marks by the Social and English assignments. Maggie thinks for a minute and decides that the empty white pages will not fit with the image a top student would have; she is going to spend as much time as possible writing the assignments she has completed already during the year with extra notes and check marks. It would be the perfect stage play-like prop to leave open on her desk like she has seen other students do; they’re making a statement, thinks Maggie.
Maggie reads the article for section D and completes the questions and then moves to the computer. She finishes her cookies as the computer boots up; these school computers are so slow, thinks Maggie. She notices Ms Ulrich glancing into the room with concern as she walks by. In a moment Maggie is looking at the search engine and types in World Health Organization and finds a definition of epidemic that looks good so she copies it into the booklet in quotation marks, and copies the URL, web location in beside it. Soon, there are several entries for each page. This is such a good fake, thinks Maggie as she glances through the work she has completed. This has to be a big part of the picture, thinks Maggie, top student do spend a lot of time having their assignment look just right. I have to make all my binders look like this, she thinks. Tanya spends hours after school putting those tags on each section in her binder and labelling them. She made cover pages and would add special notes for other assignment that were in red ink, or highlighted in pink, neon hot pink that may even glow in the dark, so anyone walking by her desk would notice; no, anyone on the other side of the room would notice, thinks Maggie.
“Are you all right?” asks Ms Ulrich as she walks in and Maggie hasn’t noticed. Maggie feels shocked; as if she has been caught doing something she would rather keep a secret. This is all too obvious and Ms Ulrich has already seen her Current Events booklet.
What would a total fake say? Thinks Maggie.
“There just wasn’t enough in these short articles,” says Maggie.
“What?” asks Ms Ulrich. Maggie feels her cheeks burn, she had been caught, she is going to be called out already, and I haven’t had a chance to complete the whole deception, thinks Maggie. “Most in class can’t get that much read and finish the questions.”
Ms. Ulrich takes the booklet from Maggie and flips to the front. “You were suppose to only do sections B and D,” says Ms Ulrich shaking her head.
Maggie knew that is true, but thought she could make some kind of story up by tomorrow when it would have to be handed in, like her mom insisted she try them all.
“I have to look at this more carefully,” Ms Ulrich says as she flips forward and back noticing the additions from the Internet.
Stephen walks into the classroom and looks at Maggie with Ms Ulrich standing beside her holding the Social Studies booklet.
“Did you hand that in already?” he asks.
“Yes, she did,” say Ms Ulrich.
“It’s all fake, you know,” says Stephen.
“What?” asks Ms Ulrich.
“Maggie is just a fake; she’s pretending to be into her school work,” says Stephen.
“I watched her do this,” says Ms Ulrich, irritated.
Stephen sits in his seat shaking his head. “Maggie is up to something, and we all know it.”
“It’s called school work,” says Ms Ulrich. “Make sure you two have your math books, because we are reviewing for the test tomorrow. Did you write that down in your agendas?”
Maggie flips her agenda open and points to it as Ms Ulrich looked down. Stephen sighs and shakes his head. Soon all the rest of the students arrive in class.
* * *
Maggie squints in the bright sun shine as she steps out of the school doors; she would have known exactly what to expect a day ago when she would watch out the window in class until the final bell rang, but today she had been concentrating on he work and didn’t see the clouds clearing in the afternoon. She feels irritated as she sees Alicia hurrying to catch up with her. Maggie wouldn’t have cared a couple of days ago, but right now she doesn’t want to hear whatever Alicia is about to share.
“How’s it going in Special Needs?” Alicia asks with the final “s” held a bit too long, thinks Maggie.
“The same as every day,” replies Maggie. She wants to look at Alicia and frown, but stops herself, because she wants to find out if Alicia is faking it.
“It’s never the same thing in my class. Science is really interesting this year,” says Alicia.
“Oh,” says Maggie, deciding she should say exactly what Alicia would expect her to say.
“We do labs every week and I write them up.” Alicia watches carefully, maybe to see a dull look from me, thinks Maggie.
“That’s cool, I guess,” says Maggie.
“Of course I know your group can’t do things like that.”
“No, the Special Needs students get hand outs that describe the labs you’re doing.”
“That’s what I thought,” replies Alicia. She grins and a glances to the side as if she is trying to hide it, thinks Maggie.
“Of course I was asked to record the data and write the lab up for our group, because I’m just that good at it,” says Alicia.
“I bet you are,” says Maggie.
Alicia glances quickly at Maggie, uncertain; she is expecting something like, Really? Or, I wish I could do stuff like that, but there is something different, and Alicia is uncomfortable, a little nervous. She sees an expression of indifference and slight irritation on Maggie’s face.
“Well, I really have to hurry and get to work, I have a lot of home work,” says Alicia as she turns right, one street too soon to go home.
Maggie watches as Alicia hurries along the wrong street, not looking back, but continuing as if she was going exactly where she wanted to. Maggie remembers the conversations since the year began, and realizes that have all been like this one; Alicia is putting on such a show. Maybe there is something else going on, thinks Maggie, she may not be all that great.
* * *
Maggie doesn’t want to play video games or watch television; she goes to her room, because the list of fake things she has to complete is going to take time. She closes her door and looks at her books and decides she is going to review her math. She opens her binder and looks at the last math tests that lay on the top of all the other papers. The last has a 73% written on it, then the one before was 69%, and the first test for the year was 58%. No wonder they think I should be in Special Needs, thinks Maggie. She hasn’t done any assignments, except those she half slept through in class, but there were her marks, which are not that bad considering she did nearly nothing in math. The problem is that math is too boring, too easy; she remembers not even reading some of the questions before just circling an answer.
Maggie opens her binder of handouts to the first page on the unit they were having the test tomorrow and looks at it. Finding the outcome for basic exponents and the square roots, using a calculator? That is so lame, thinks Maggie, but this is perfect, as they had reviewed these functions so many times she could do every questions easily. It is in fact irritating, because she would finish her work, help Sammie, and still wait for the rest to finish the introductory section. That’s when it gets really annoying, remembers Maggie as she looks at the work in front of her, because that is the moment Ms. Ulrich calls everyone’s attention to the whiteboard to review the basics, one, more, time.
“You’re doing home work?” asks Tanya standing in the door of Maggie’s room. “It must be getting hard, and it’s only the first months of the year. Well, don’t work too hard, it’ll give you a head ache.”
Maggie feels more surprised than irritated; how had she gotten away with saying things like that so long? Maggie had never said anything, but with Tanya still standing there grinning Maggie says, “Don’t worry, I’m not like you.”
“Your such a brat,” blurts out Tanya. It’s Tanya’s turn to be irritated, thinks Maggie, as she watches her sister turn and walk away shaking her head.
I’m going to really put it on during the test, thinks Maggie. I’ll read, maybe reread every equation and answer carefully and correctly each question. This is one test that is going to be easy, thinks Maggie. I am going to take 100% on this one, thinks Maggie as she reads through the last example on her review page.