That year I was smoking cigarettes, swishing past boys, and worrying about Vladimir, the classroom tortoise. Tim’s desk was inches away from the terrarium and he seemed to be keeping an eye on him. Vladimir appeared too wise to be trapped.
The lettuce in his terrarium turned brown, but Tim would replace it with new lettuce, because the teacher didn’t bother. He’d bring it from home in a smelly plastic container. Vladimir rarely extended his head. He reminded me of the other boys in class who’d suddenly become too careful with me, as if I were defective or easily broken.
I followed my damp interest in boys toward the trees behind the school library. Tim wasn’t worried about ruining me, and he met me there.
“Hungry?” I asked, offering him a few of my mother’s cookies.
“You have just the right face,” he said.
This made me glad. I’d never been sure what my face was right for.
I thought about Mom’s hot flashes and her anger about growing old alone. About my father’s absent, unknowable eyes.
Tim said I should come over to his house after school sometime, that he had a swimming pool. “I have a real backyard ocean,” he said.
He opened his pocket for me. I slid my cold hand into his jeans like a reptile trying to find some sun. It felt warm, and happily unsafe in there. I fished around and found his animal, outside of his shell, breaking free.
Meg Pokrass is the author of five flash fiction collections, two novellas-in-flash, and is the recipient of the Blue Light Book Award. Her work has been internationally anthologized in two Norton Anthology Readers, Best Small Fictions 2018 and 2019, the Wigleaf Top 50 List, and her work has appeared in over 350 literary magazines including Electric Literature, Craft, Tin House, Passages North, Wigleaf and Smokelong Quarterly. She currently serves as Flash Challenge Editor at Mslexia Magazine, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K. (Bristol) Co-Editor of Best Microfiction, 2020, and Founding/Managing Editor of New Flash Fiction Review.
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