*Young Adult Dystopian*
“I gladly sacrifice my life for the good of others. One life will make the difference, and that life could be mine. For this reason, I’m devoted to finding the cure.” I said the words out loud, but I wasn’t thinking about them. A couple of squirrels chasing each other held my attention more securely than the pledge we’d been forced to say since kindergarten. By tenth grade, the thing had lost all meaning.
I sat back down among the rows of desks, still eyeing the squirrels. I folded one of my legs under me and let the other one swing. At five foot three, I wasn’t the tallest member of my class, but I wasn’t the shortest either. My violet eyes followed the dance of the squirrels while I toyed absently with a lock of my jet-black hair.
My teacher was blabbing about our latest reading assignment, but those dang squirrels were so cute I couldn’t focus on her.
I turned to face her. She was one of the younger members of the faculty, but dressed to try and fit in. Her loose-fitting floral print blouse was tucked into her high-waisted navy skirt. She stared at me over half-glasses perched at the end of her nose. I imagined she referred to them as spectacles and liked to put the end of them into her mouth while pondering literary stuff.
“Hmm?” I asked.
“Care to answer the question?”
I glanced out the window to curse the squirrels, but they were gone. “Could you repeat the question?”
She half-smiled as she leaned against the front of her desk, knowing she’d caught me. “Certainly. Why do you think Billy has a stutter?”
“Oh jeeze, I don’t know. I didn’t understand a single page of this book, Mrs. Whitehead.” A few snickers escaped from some of my classmates. “Hey, guys, don’t throw me under the bus here! I couldn’t have been the only one who didn’t get anything from this!” A few faces turned to Mrs. Whitehead and nodded. “Look, I know this was the shortest thing we’ve read so far, but it was all moon language to me. Quite frankly, I hated it and think it was a waste of time.” I nodded to accentuate my point.
A couple of kids clapped, but soon it died down under Mrs. Whitehead’s unceasing gaze. The bitter taste of regret worked its way to the back of my throat. It burned a little like a vurp.
Mrs. Whitehead frowned. “Fair enough. Let’s go over it, then, and maybe you’ll get more out of it.”
Even after talking about it for the next hour, I still didn’t get it. I mean, Mrs. Whitehead seemed to find Billy Budd very enlightening, and if all that was in there, great. I didn’t see it. Sometimes I wondered if people overanalyzed a book. Maybe the writer didn’t really mean all that stuff, and you saw something that wasn’t meant to be there, ya know? In this case we’d never know. Melville had been dead over two hundred years, so asking him wasn’t really an option.
When the bell rang, I gathered my things quickly, hoping to escape the classroom without confrontation. With her gaze burning a hole in the back of my head, I kept my eyes glued to the floor. I was pretty sure her spectacles magnified her stare, the way the sun’s heat is more intense through a magnifying glass. I reached up to scratch my scalp, making sure she hadn’t given me a bald spot. I rounded the front row of desks and, by some miracle, made it out into the hall where I disappeared among the sea of bodies.
Once I was a safe distance from Mrs. Whitehead’s room, I leaned against a row of lockers. One of these days you should really learn to hold your tongue, I thought. I took a deep breath, checked the top of my head one more time, and continued on to my next class: History.