by Anna Marie Catoir
VitaIron it proclaimed in bold letters. The jar had been left by her stepmother on the bathroom counter. Vitamins and beauty aids were always placed on the cool white marble. No note. Just another bottle silently proclaiming, “You should really do something about how pale you are.” Fizzy stared at the red and white label with disgust.
Doc said she was anemic, so the stepmother went out and bought her iron. Fizzy didn’t even pick it up. She grabbed a towel and used it to push the still sealed jar into her white plastic garbage can. It landed with a thunk. She threw the towel in on top, set the garbage can down, and left for school. All without looking in the mirror.
“Iron. Yeesh,” she said to herself carefully stepping over the manhole cover in the middle of Seelie Lane and Broad Court.
Today she could feel the wire in the concrete making her toes tingle. Normally, Fizzy didn’t pay that much attention to it on the theory that if she didn’t think about it, she wouldn’t feel it. It wasn’t working. All she could see was the VitaIron jar and the picture of the little red pills. They reminded her of the red-hot shoes at the end of Snow White and that brought her back to what her own wicked stepmother thought she was doing.
“I’m not pale,” she declared, stopping on the crack in the sidewalk. “Ok well, I’m not anemic,” she said in a smaller voice.
“Who you talking to Filease?” someone called out.
Fizzy looked around and saw Jack hanging upside down in Mr. North’s oak tree. He was so tall and skinny that his head almost scraped the ground and his t-shirt slid to his armpits. He planted his palms in the grass and swung his legs off the branch. She walked on.
“Hey, Fizzy wait-up!” Jack said and caught up to her in a few strides.
She glanced at his boots as they fell instep beside her and imagined what would happen if the steel toes were pure iron. Is that where iron-shoes came from? Safety first.
“Earth to Fizzy. You’re not flaking on me are you girl?”
“Old man North is going to shoot you down from that tree one day.”
“Nah, he’s cool. Get it? Cool?”
“Har-har-hardy-har-har. Like I haven’t heard that one before.”
“Damn, Fizzy, maybe you’re the one that needs to cool. Coming up the road mumbling like the bag lady, stomping on cracks. You trying to kill the wicked-witch again?”
They’d just crossed onto the school lot and Fizzy stopped to look around. The great yellow sardine cans slowly pushed forward, conveyor-style, pausing briefly to let their school of smelly fish exit into the tank. Ms. ‘Just-call-me-Trina’ was on duty making sure no one felt the need to worry about things like dress codes or chewing gum rules. She was on her cell phone. Welcome to another day at Wyor High.
She’d done this so many times that Jack just waited for them and the conversation to get moving again. Today she was dressed in a small green t-shirt that said Lives: a dime a dozen in black sharpie across her chest and blue jeans. Fizzy wrote on her t-shirts, but they didn’t always make sense. People had stopped asking her to explain them around about the seventh grade. Finally, she took a deep breath and they were moving again. Jack kept pace beside her, just as he did every morning.
“Stepmother left a bottle of iron next to the sink,” she said by way of answering his last question. “She’s trying to poison me.”
Jack groaned. The waiting he could handle. The ‘I’m-allergic-to-iron’ bit was wearing thin. The last time she’d started with this he’d been left to break into Broad Court Estate alone, all because there was an iron gate. He figured she’d just chickened out. But, what was so scary about a bottle of vitamins?
“Iron, really? The little red vitamins?” He shook his head. “Aren’t you being a little harsh on the lady? She does buy you a new pack of T’s every week.”
“You know that has been your reason for me to accept her since the fifth grade. Is she good for anything else? I don’t care. I’m allergic to Iron!”
People were staring. He watched as Fizzy blew across her palm, like one great big kiss-off. He shrugged as the kids went back to whatever they’d been doing.
“I’ve got to go to class. It was nice talking with you,” Jack said and rolled his eyes.
Fizzy watched his receding back and cursed. She’d done it again. She’d let the stepmother put her in an awful mood. Now she’d have to go to English like that and it was the only version of ‘fifty-minutes-in-hell’ she enjoyed.
Maybe I should just sit this one out in the bathroom, she thought. After all, they haven’t changed the ending to Midsummer Night’s Dream in the past couple of years give or take a hundred. The bathroom presented a new problem. Mirrors. This time she decided to look.
There she was, oval shaped face, chocolaty-brown hair she’d glitzed with purple for Mardi Gras fading in the post-Bacchanalian after glow, and full pink lips. Her complexion wasn’t pale. It was just washed out by the florescent lighting. Yeah right, she thought. Maybe she’d go to English after all.
The halls were empty by this time and smelled faintly of the lunch menu. Wyor was a big school with three lunch shifts, the first at eleven. Fizzy had that one, so she didn’t bother with breakfast most days, not that she ate much anyway. An occasional salad or carrots were her favorites. Two doctors ago, she’d been diagnosed anorexic. The stepmother bought her new clothes. Oddly enough, it was the one week she didn’t receive any new t-shirts.
She walked slowly to the English Department, enjoying the sound of her shoes on the sour yellow tiles echoing off the walls in the corridor. She tried to imagine all the symbols such a passageway could stand for. Her feet felt heavy and she slowed down. The ideas were random and hard to hold in her mind. She’d lose one every time a new thought crowded into its space. Suddenly, the floor dipped and swayed and there was the sound of a book hitting stone and something cool pressed against her cheek. Fizzy decided to close her eyes, just for a second, to enjoy the cool — to use it to clear her head. Passageway. Corridor. Change of scenery. Escape. New phase. New world. Fairies. Fairies?
It must just be the lights playing along the back of my eyelids, she thought in one coherent moment. She was vaguely aware of someone calling her name, but she couldn’t quite tell where it was coming from. She focused all her energy on the lights, Catherine Wheels of blues and greens with hot spikes of orange and yellow. Yellow again, this school was too fond of yellow.
Then she was somewhere else. It looked like a high school set for Macbeth, an ominous hall housing a dead king and his backstabbing court in their brightest and happiest clothes, all ribbons and gilt. The designer hadn’t actually read the play, not seeing how that could possibly be a necessary requirement for art class.
“Who comes here?” a boy quoted.
He was dressed in some caricature of the pompous steward, with powdered gray hair and a stiff shirt that fell over brown leggings, which ended in his rarely worn Sunday-go-to-meeting shoes. They were too modern and too shiny for this production.
“Dorothy?” she ventured, but from his blank stare he didn’t get the joke. “Filease of Wyor,” she said with a curtsy. “Fizzy for short.”
A woman glided forward and she reminded Fizzy of those department store angels with the fiber optic dresses where the colors kept changing. She was very tall and Fizzy felt a short joke coming on, not that 5’5” wasn’t respectable, but this woman was TALL.
“Whence camest thou, worthy thane?” the woman asked.
Fizzy noticed that her skin too seemed to change color with the dress. She assumed it must be some weird trick of the light.
“I’m going to guess I hit my head. That or I’m insane,” Fizzy said.
When the women had no reaction to that, just as the steward had ignored her joke, she wondered if they weren’t automata. Then again if this really was a high school play they just might be. It was widely rumored that Mr. Bomtar gave out F’s for adlibbing. Something to do with spoiling the sanctity of the text.
“We hold a solemn supper,” said another girl, she was made-up to look the crone. She extended a hand full of red berries. “Here, eat these.”
In the way that dreams jump from image to image, Fizzy thought at first she had a hand full of iron tablets and the woman in front of her was the junior candy-striper that masqueraded as the school nurse. Then just as she was about to hurl the pills back they resolved into berries again. She ate without thought, suddenly more hungry then she’d been all year. The juice from the berries stained her hands red, and Lady Macbeth flashed to mind. However, when she looked it was still the three bad actors watching her.
Something was wrong. She gripped her belly and tried to retch away from her shoes. Her mouth and throat burned, and no amount of spitting or heaving could stop the fire that threatened to consume her from the inside.
“Help me,” she gasped.
The automata did not move. Though she seemed to catch a smirk on the fiber lady’s face. Fizzy fell to her knees and the wood was as cool as the tile in the hall. She tried to focus on that cool. She tried to imagine it flowing up through her knees, quenching the fire that had landed in her belly. She was burning. She wasn’t sure how she knew it, but she felt herself disappearing from the inside out. Her stomach dissolved first and with it the pain, and then her intestines, followed by her esophagus, tongue, teeth, and lips. Then the outside of her started. Her hands. Arms.
She’d imagined disappearing before, but it was always a serene and blue process of simply not existing. This was a red and tense atomizing. For a few seconds her particles, though invisible, held shape. Then, as if forced through the nozzle of some generic glass cleaner, she exploded.
Jack was confused when they’d called him to the office. He’d shone up for English on time. He’d ignored the jeers of his classmates (though it had taken about all the self-control allotted for today), and he’d even done his homework. What more could they reasonably want from him?
“Jackson Pooka?” asked the guidance counselor.
“Just call me Harvey,” he said.
She smiled and Jack nodded. Every year fewer and fewer ‘adults’ got that joke. It was a real shame, he thought. Praise be for little old ladies, what else was he going to do with that last name.
“Come with me please,” she said.
Oh, crap. When it was so bad they couldn’t tell you in the lobby, it usually meant somebody had died or you were failing. Jack started doing a mental list of aging relations, but it was short. He came from good stock and his family aged slowly. Report cards weren’t due for six weeks.
“Have a seat,” said Mrs. Etimes, when they entered her office.
It looked like a living room from some homey sitcom, brown sofas, bookcases, and one oversized coffee table instead of a desk.
“Do you know Filease White?”
“Yeah,” he said suspiciously.
“What did you two fight about in the parking lot this morning?”
“Nothing,” said Jack. He sat on his hands for good measure. He was becoming fidgety.
“Jackson, I’m afraid that Filease may have done something to herself. Now this is very serious, what happened this morning? Other children saw you having a discussion.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s in the nurses’ office. Now…”
“She said she was allergic to iron, and that her step-mom was trying to poison her. I told her she was over reacting. She got upset.”
“Iron?” Mrs. Etimes looked concerned. “Are you sure she said she was allergic to iron?”
“She screamed it for half the school to hear. So yeah, I’m sure. Can I see her?”
“She’s sleeping,” she said.
But there was something in the way she said it that made Jack nervous.
“Can I go now?”
She nodded and Jack went out, but instead of leaving, he went further into the warren of offices, casually slipping by open doors in attempts to look like he belonged, until he found the Cot Room. All the kids called it the sickroom; it was a closet with a low uncomfortable cot, a sink, a trashcan, and a chair. The door was slightly ajar and Jack pushed it in. He didn’t look at the body on the bed. A shimmer caught his eye in the opposite corner.
“Now do you believe me?” asked Fizzy.
Jack nodded and looked down at the girl on the cot. Someone had covered her with a thin sheet that rose and fell with regularity.
Filease White would never again be teased about being Snow White’s sister or asked if she had a reflection. She would go back to being a boring mortal girl who didn’t believe in fairy dust, much less blow it at fellow students. Not that they had ever known that’s what she had done.
Fizzy, on the other hand…Jack looked her over again. The shimmer she’d become was starting to solidify. He watched as her ears had stretched to perfect points and sprouted the softest of rabbit down. Her nose twitched briefly and turned pink, but the rest of her body kept its girl shape.
“Come on, we need to get you out of here,” Jack said.
Fizzy hopped involuntarily and he smirked at her beleaguered expression. The new ones always became rabbits.
“There’s this great tree just outside of school grounds. We could climb up to the top and spend the day there,” he teased.
She stuck her tongue out at him and he grabbed her hand and led her from the offices as casually as he’d gone in. When they reached Mrs. Etimes’ door, he paused. They could hear her talking to someone.
“Did you contact a parent?” a man asked. It sounded like Principal Canons.
“Her step-mother, Tatiana White. She said the girl forgot to take her iron tablets this morning. We had some here, so everything’s fine. She’s just sleeping.”
“Is someone coming to get her?”
“Well, Mrs. White said she’d send someone, but that was an hour ago. There’s no answer at the house,” Mrs. Etimes said.
“Alright, let her sleep.”
Jack pulled Fizzy along quickly and they made it into the hall before anyone saw them.
“Guess Mrs. White is the wicked witch after all,” Jack said. “Come on there are trees to climb.”
“Do rabbits climb trees?” Fizzy asked, wondering why she was taking this all so calmly. What had her stepmother done to her? Who was that girl that she used to look like sleeping on the cot? What was she now?
“You are not a rabbit. You’re a pooka, and pookas’ climb trees,” Jack said as if that was the definitive answer to every one of her questions.
They walked out and barely saw a soul save the janitor. Fizzy waved, but the man didn’t wave back or try to stop them.
They left the school lot and headed straight for Mr. North’s without another word. The tree looked different now. It was still an oak, but now it was greener and seemed alive with other things.
That’s when the thought struck her. “So which one of us is the imaginary friend?”
This was originally posted on my Live Journal account in 2008. I am trying to move some of my favorite posts here, without being too repetitive.