Does the boy’s hand tremble when he doesn’t know the chronological order of events? Does his temple throb with tension when he doesn’t remember the powers Congress has over the President according to the Constitution? Does he nibble at the sleeves of his jacket and tear at the gray threads with his teeth when the half-reaction of chromium doesn’t match with that of zinc? Does his stomach tighten and heave when his dimensional analysis doesn’t make sense?
Is the boy not able to walk when a teacher calls him ‘insensitive’? Does the boy crumple to the floor when he’s alone and someone spits “fucking faggot” into his face? Does he feel that his opinions are misconstrued? His actions misinterpreted? Does anyone care? Does he tell anybody that this is what he feels?
Has he ever had a genuine conversation with someone? Does he tell an anecdote about someone who sat with his pants around his ankles, eating a box of Lucky Charms stark naked because he was high at two in the morning? Does he comment on the blotchy acne of someone who passed by? The acrid whispering from one teacher to another regarding a certain student? Does he make the people around him chuckle at his artificial humor? Does he feel warm and fulfilled?
Is he frightened by the number 2400? 800? 5? 36? Is he terrified by the idea of expectations he will never fulfill and scores he will never achieve? Does the prospect of college admissions make him queasy?
Does the boy go back home after the first trimester ends? Does he drink water until his stomach swells with fluid so he feels full? Does he fill out his problem sets? Does he copy his notes from one notebook to another in sharp black ink? Does he have a razor?
Does the boy cry when he does it?
Does he do it with precision? Does he wash his wrists beforehand, so as to avoid infection? Does he cover his forearm in suds before rinsing it with warm water? Does he watch the soap melt off? Does he gradually ratchet the dial further to the right until he sees steam rising from the porcelain? Does he sit cross-legged on the bed? Does he lie down?
Does he peel?
Does he scrub the skin off his wrists? Does he scrape the razor up and down and then left to right? Does he do it with a rhythm – a rhythm that is as dull as it is painful? Do the lacerations crisscross with each other? Does the skin flake away like the ruddy skin of a moldy apple? Does it reveal the gunk underneath? Does he keep going? Does he scrape and scrub and peel and feel everything and nothing at the same time? Is he trying to plug himself back in?
Is he trying to plug himself back in?
Does he plug himself back in?
Is his skin raw? Do the razor burns pulse in his arm? Does he dab at them with a tissue and wait for the cuts to clot? Does he roll down his sleeves and go back to sleep? What does he want? Does he hope that no one will notice? Does he hope that no one will see them? Does he hope that someone will grab his hand and ask him what has happened? Does he tell them? Does the other person tell him that this is inherently wrong and disgusting? That he needs to go back home to recover? Back to his lazy suburb in Iowa where nobody becomes anything?
Are these the thoughts that run through his head as he kisses his mother goodbye and gets on the bus to go back to boarding school? Does he realize that his actions are wrong? Does he realize that he should stop doing it?
The bus rumbles through the streets and the tires cut through the rough gravel. The orange sky blurs with the evening. Does the boy close his eyes? Does the boy lean his head against the cool glass of the window? Does it hum gently against the soft flesh of his temple? Does he inexplicably find it comforting – this kinesthetic movement?
When he gets back to school, is he nervous? When he unpacks his bags, is he frightened? When he sets his notebooks back on his desk, is he scared? Is he overwhelmed and exhausted? Does he want someone to just please take him away? Does he no longer want to compete with everyone around him? Does he want to exit and leave and escape and go?
Does it matter?
Ethan Woo is a junior at Groton School. His work has been published in “The Marble Collection” and is forthcoming in “Spry.” He has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in the Short Story and Flash Fiction categories.