by Kurt Kirchmeier

Anna-May stared down at her plate. It was square. It wasn’t supposed to be, she knew, but it was. So, for that matter, were her eggs, even the middle part, the part she always dipped her toast in.

“Uh-oh,” she said, remembering the last time this happened.

Her mother–her square-headed mother–paused from her breakfast duties and looked over her shoulder. “What’s wrong, honey?”

Anna-May blinked, hoping the problem might go away. It didn’t work. “I’m seein’ block-eyed again,” she said. “Do you think we could go see Uncle Steve before school?”

Uncle Steve was the man who fixed her eyes from time to time. He wasn’t really her uncle, but he’d said she could call him that if she wanted to.

Her mom swore, and then apologized for using the bad word. She didn’t like Uncle Steve very much. She always yelled at him.

“I’m sorry, honey, but we don’t have time. You’ll have to wait until after school.”

Anna-May groaned. She hated seein’ block-eyed.

“It’s just a few hours,” her mother said. “You can handle that, can’t you?”

“I guess.”

“Just remember, whatever you do…”

“…don’t take them out at school,” Anna-May finished. She’d been told before. She still wasn’t sure why she couldn’t take them out–her eyes, that is–she just knew she wasn’t supposed to. For some reason, it scared other kids.

“You’ll understand when you’re older,” her mother always said. Sometimes Anna-May wished that she were older now.

Anna-May averted her eyes as Suzie Barrens approached her desk. Suzie had pigtails and glasses and was the closest thing to a real friend Anna-May had made since starting at Fairmont Elementary. But friend or not, Suzie’s round parts were still square, which made her hard to look at.

“Mrs. Jones is holding a marshmallow-stuffing contest,” said Suzie. “Wanna play?”

Anna-May shrugged without looking up. The lunchroom supervisor was always holding silly competitions. The week before it had been a limbo contest. First prize got a box of chocolate-covered almonds (Mrs. Jones always gave out chocolate as a prize). Anna-May had played along, but she didn’t do so well. For some reason, her back didn’t bend like everyone else’s.

“Bobby says he’s gonna win again,” Suzie said. “He’s been blabbing ever since the bell rang.”

Anna-May scanned the room in search of the braggart, trying not to get distracted by all of the hard angles. She’d spent the whole morning avoiding eye contact, all the while wondering if her own head looked as boxy as everyone else’s did. As tempting as it had been to pop out an eye and have a peek at herself to find out, she’d managed to resist the urge.

Bobby was standing at the front of the classroom, waiting for Mrs. Jones to hand out the marshmallows.

Anna-May hated Bobby. He was the biggest jerk she’d ever met, and he seemed to be getting worse with every contest he won. A whole box of almonds and he hadn’t even shared.

“Okay,” she said, “I’ll play.”

Stuffing marshmallows wasn’t as easy as it looked. As much as Anna-May wanted to wipe the smirk off Bobby’s stupid face, she just couldn’t fit more than six of the spongy sugar treats in her mouth. Every time she tried adding a seventh, the ones at the back started sliding down her throat, giving her that tickly feeling she always got before she threw up.

Most of her classmates were having the same problem, she could see. One by one they tipped their square heads forward and spat out their gooey square blobs into the garbage can.

Some of them managed seven, and a few even managed eight, but none of them could match Bobby, who somehow got all the way up to ten. He swallowed the marshmallows afterwards just to show off, and grinned the sort of grin that Anna-May’s mom would have called “shit-eating.” He bowed to the rest of the class, like he was on stage or something.

Anna-May sighed, her block-eye problem now overshadowed by the realization that her least favorite person in the whole school would be gloating for the rest of the day. Again.

She turned to share her disappointment with Suzie, only to discover that her friend was still in the running. Anna-May had been so distracted by her own failed attempt that she hadn’t even noticed!

After nine, it looked like Suzie might be done. She was beginning to gag and her cheeks were turning red, and the look in her square eyes made it obvious that she wanted to give up, but Anna-May wasn’t about to let that happen. Not when she was so close.

“C’mon, Suzie!” she cheered her on. “Just two more to win!”

She glanced around to see if there was anyone left other than Suzie, and though she did, in fact, spy two other boys still stuffing, both of them ended up dropping out by the time her eyes made a full circuit of the room. Suzie was their last best hope.

Some of the kids started chanting “Su-zie! Su-zie!”

Anna-May felt sorry for her friend, what with having to deal with all that pressure and all. It was like she had to win no matter what now.

Suzie met each of the hopeful faces in turn, her eyes eventually coming back to Anna-May. She tried twice more for number nine, and then a third time, but in the end she just shook her head, her expression apologetic. Despite the cheering and the support, Suzie, too, was going to fail as the others had. She, too, was going to quit.

But this time Anna-May didn’t try to stop her. Nor did she have to, as Bobby himself decided to pipe up.

“Just quit already,” he said, mockingly. “You know you can’t do it. You know you can’t beat me.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against a desk, laughing.

Suzie’s square eyes narrowed; her expression hardened. She looked again at Anna-May and whispered something strange.

“Please don’t hate me.”

Anna-May was confused, but only for a moment.

With one last deep breath, Suzie reached up and took hold of her own chin, fingers pressing down on her bottom row of teeth. She pulled her jaw forward a little, jiggled it back and forth, and then quickly yanked down hard to unhinge it, which made a sound an awful lot like an air rifle.

With space enough and more now, she stuffed the last two marshmallows into her mouth and swallowed several times to get the whole glob down.

The other students fell instantly silent and stared, square mouths open, fingers pointing in her direction.

Anna-May, too, stood gaping, though only for a second and only partially out of surprise. She couldn’t help but notice that the reaction to Suzie’s jaw trick was exactly the same reaction she’d always gotten when she made the mistake of popping out her eyes.

Anna-May thought back to the talk she’d had with her mother after the last time she changed schools. “Am I different in a bad way?” she’d asked.

“Of course not,” her mother had replied. “It’s just that kids can be cruel. You understand?”

Anna-May had nodded yes, but had wondered all the same if maybe she should just be herself, and let the other kids say what they would. How was she supposed to get a best friend if she kept secrets all the time? Real friends didn’t do that with each other. Real friends told the truth and stuck together.

With that in mind, Anna-May smiled and jumped forward.

“You did it, Suzie! You won!” She gave her slack-jawed friend a congratulatory hug before turning to face the rest of the class, at which point she plugged her nose and forced pressure into her sinuses and up behind her eyes, thereby dislodging them. She caught one in each hand and ran straight at Bobby, holding them out on her palms, like insects meant to scare.

He fled the classroom as though it were on fire, the rest of the students following hot on his heels and the supervisor heading in the direction of the office, her high-heels clicking.

Anna-May chased the others halfway down the hall before finally returning her eyes to their rightful place and rejoining her friend behind the last row of desks. Suzie’s jaw was back where it was supposed to be. They smiled at each other.

“Did you hear the way Bobby screamed?” Suzie asked.

Anna-May nodded. “Like a girl.”

The two of them shared a laugh and, afterwards, a box of chocolate-covered almonds.

4 Responses to “Squares”

  1. Kara says:

    Ha, lovely story, wonderful writing!

  2. Kurt says:

    Thanks, Kara. 🙂

  3. Kaylee says:

    Awesome story Kurt!!!! This is a creative story with a great message, I could actually see this being made into a novel. It really makes me think of what kind of world they live in, but it’s great as a short story too. You really are the most talented writer out there, no one has the creativity you do. Keep writing and keep creating new worlds! love always Kaylee

  4. Kurt says:

    Thank you so much for the kind words, Kaylee. 🙂

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