Find My Eyes

In the hallway between After and Before, there are exactly 82 steps. 

“Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight,” she whispered. It helped to say the numbers out loud, to visualize the march down that immortal hall. It helped. Since it was better to wake up drenched in sweat than not to fall asleep at all. 

“They say sweat, t’s good to clean out though, so eff my body’s doin t on ts own, t’s a good thing, uh?” He had asked her. When it was May and he was 13. 

“Who says,” she had asked him. “Did you tell the nurse?”

“Nah,” he said. His gaze broke free and wandered upwards, to the heavy blinds shading the classroom from the afternoon sun. 

“Find my eyes, James,” she said. “Find my eyes and try that again.”

He blinked toward her face but couldn’t stay put. Something, a tentacle or a shooting star, waved him away again. 

“No, Ms. Carson.”

“Any reason you get so hot when you sleep, James? Do you have nightmares? Are things happening when it’s nighttime?”

“Nah,” he said. His eyes flitted but landed on her shoulder for a solid second. “No. Just gets hot.” 

“Do you get hot when you take the medicine, James?” Her face was level with his. He sat, squirming, at his desk. At the mention of the medicine, James grabbed a pencil in his right hand and her arm with his left. She bent the pencil toward the desk and removed her arm from his aim. “James, focus.”

No one had told her about the Aripiprazole at first. She had approached the school nurse on her lunch break after finding James less jittery, but at a complete loss with forming sentences. By April, he had seemed more aware again.

“Psh, I’m int takin’ that stuff,” he said. 

“Why not?”

“I int have it. Big James took it.”

“Your dad took it? Do you know why?”

James shrugged.

“I unna know. He said he’s a use it.” 

All packaged away at the front end of the hallway. Inside the classroom before she ever opened the door. Steps negative 12 to zero. 

“…Fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four…” she continued. It helped. It wasn’t perfect, and the sweat had already beaded under the bottom of her hair, ran like a goblin along the waistline of her shorts. By morning she would be sunk in it, laid in her own, damp shadow as a liquid coffin. The opposite end of the hallway, tucked away in this room with no light and no shade. 

And in between, those steps. Step 64 is where she had known something was wrong. The door to the library room was open too soon. The students were too quiet. If they weren’t in a line, they would generally be in a scatter, leaping, touching anything they could find. Instead, it was a crescent shape she found. A small moon curved around its stars. James. A thin line of blood streamed from the end of a pencil stuck into his left forearm. His right hand gripped the throat of the girl he loved. Her feet dangled an inch and a half above the ground, her head dimpled the bulletin board butcher paper. 

Her gurgled gasps barely broke the surface. They made as much noise as her right, untied shoelace did as it tapped the ground. All those steps and all that time, and this last bit expanded to take up all the room. 

One kid to the room across the hall. One kid to the principal’s office. One kid to stand beside her while she tried to pull him away. 

“James,” she said quietly. “James find my eyes.”

But even as she said it she knew his eyes were gone. No longer hummingbirds to every object around, now they were locked in, focused in the way no one intended. The girl had turned him down. Said he smelled like piss and sweat. He stared down her insults, watched her eyes roll back.

“…Eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two,” she says, choking. She fills the space between the After and the Before with a pool of sweat every night. Every night hoping against what she knew, and reliving what died. An endless loop of echoes and steps.


Any hope of sneaking in expired at the intersection of Room 12 and the library cart. Asher paused to sling the second backpack strap over his left shoulder - the not-cool way - and proceeded to sprint the length of the hallway. 

“…Abigail Queensbury…Thomas Rabinot…” Ms. Petersen’s voice bumped against the lockers across from the open door of Room 27. One name stood between Asher and death-by-tardy-mark. 

“…Faith Ramsey…Ash…” 

“HERE,” Asher wheezed as he skidded into the perfume-scented, notebook-heavy, fifth-grade classroom. 

“Asher Rasmus, you are the luckiest little slowpoke I’ve ever met,” Ms. Petersen said as she left his attendance row unblemished. Asher flashed Ms. (not married) Petersen what he hoped was a charming smile but was more likely an unsettling sort of scheming grin. Or the face of someone pretending not to have the stomach flu. He took his seat at the back of the room and fed the contents of his backpack to the gaping, metal envelope of his desk.

Writing notebook. Reading log. Math workbook. Math textbook. Social Studies textbook. Independent reading book (Harry Potter #4). Unused notebook. Five Star binder with six folders. Pencil case with 17 erasers and only two working pencils. And one Ziplock bag with 22 Jivamodo cards. 

It had taken Asher the course of the school year to date to earn those 22 cards. Harvey Elementary had banned them for all of September, relented mid-October, and because of their illicit past, now enjoyed a heightened popularity. Those who had them did too.

“What does this mean, then?” Ms. Petersen asked the class. Asher tried to look deep in thought while he leaned hard to the right to read the dry-erase board behind Ms. Petersen. 

“It’s like when you want something, but like, when you’re not like allowed to get it?” said Stupid Tammy Pigalle. Tammy had once caught Asher staring too long at a boy on the playground. She sang out, “Ass-her” and it ivied all over the building. You can make anyone’s name into something terrible, and Asher wondered if this ever stopped. Look for the bad things and they appear. Stupid Tammy. 

“Yes, good, Tammy,” said Ms. Petersen, “But so how is this different than when your parents won’t let you get a new toy?” 

The class snickered.

“Oh, OK, you’re all basically adults and toys are dumb. So, your parents find out that you didn’t do your math homework and now you aren’t allowed to get the new Jivamukti or whatever card.” 

“Jiva-MODO,” shouted Abby Queensbury from the row of desks by the windows. 

“Jivamodo. OK. How is that different than what we’re talking about,” said Ms. Petersen. 

Asher peeled open his Ziplock bag inside his desk and looked at his cards. Last week he scored a coup - two Deveries for a Gilopcus and a Vixary. He hoped to trade his last Figben for something good today. 

Mikel Bridges tipped too far back on two legs of his chair and fell to the floor, otherwise the room was silent. 

“That’s why we don’t do that,” said Ms. Petersen, “Alright, Wolf, what do you think? How is it different?” Wolf would know. Wolf always knew. He was everything Asher wanted to be as a fifth-grader and a person: taller, surer, less sweaty. And he had 150 Jivamodo cards. 

“Because with the cards, your parents tell you, ‘you can’t,’ but with this, its not like someone tells you. It just can’t happen,” said Wolf. Sitting upright in his chair, Wolf stuck both of his hands in his desk’s mouth and nodded to Asher. 

“Wha?” Mimed Asher, and a paper knot promptly hit him in the face.

Asher unfolded the note from Wolf: 

Lunchtime. I’m giving you all my cards. 

Yes! Exactly. That’s perfect,” said Ms. Petersen. “Now, it’s your turn to write about it. You have twenty minutes.”

All the cards? 150 Jivamodo cards. The keys to the kingdom. The ultimate score. The Harvey lottery. 


Wolf had deemed Jivamodo not cool enough to play with anymore, rendering the cards value-less. 

Confused, conflicted, longing to snatch a glance at Wolf, and still damp from running the halls in a 30-lb backpack, Asher opened his writing notebook and began his assignment.