Thin Ice by Victoria Buitron
By the time I’m dropped off, the sun is still obscured by clouds, a shrivel of dim light making it an overcast day—so dreary even the buildings seem to share the same grey hue. I’m wearing a white jacket with thick padding, a hoodie over my head, the backpack weighing me down, the tips of my fingers already becoming tingled chill on the walk from the car to the thick door. It’s early enough that the main entrance of my school remains closed, but the side door is open for those who need to escape the frigid February morning. When I get there, I pull the handle towards me like I do on most weekdays, but it doesn’t budge. There are two kids on the other side, who see me, but refuse to open the door. Their blonde hair is rugged from the hats they were wearing some moments before, and their hands are missing mittens.
“Can you open it?”
They don’t speak but catch glimpses of each other, as if their eyes make a dare to see who will end up being the nice loser. They start laughing, and neither of them raise their hands to let me in. I ask again. Their snickers continue, and at some point shame trickles in—hugging my throat, reddening my cheeks—but I try to cloak it with anger.
“Open the damn door.”
This makes their laughs louder. With my hand on the handle, I kick the door, which has—both at the top and the bottom—a clear glass panel. I’m just in fifth grade, so I don’t think I can do anything, especially with sneakers on, but the bottom glass splinters. Not enough to fall into tiny pieces onto the floor, but the breaks flow out like trails of a kaleidoscope, as if I had just walked on shabby lake ice and the pressure leaves fissures.
“Look what you did,” I hear one of them say before they both disappear.
I’m left in the cold, the anticipation weighing on me, the future flashing before me. First, I think about the money my parents don’t have to fix a door that’s not theirs. My mother will get a call saying I damaged school property. Then I think about getting suspended, about this moment defining next week next month maybe next year. Those ripple effects throughout a kid’s life. To have my schoolmates look around and say, “She was always quiet until one day she just went berserk.” This is who I am. I don’t make mountains out of mole hills, I make slippery cliffs out of knolls. Moments later, the vice-principal appears.
He’s so tall, so languid, that I remember his neck—too long for any man—and the most protruding Adam’s apple I’ve ever seen. Everything from his nose to his fingers extend like stalks of grain that continue stiff and long even in the force of winter. The brown blazer he wears seems stunted, and a trace of coffee reaches my damp nose.
He opens the door, but I’m still not let in.
“So, what happened here?”
“I was waiting. A long time. They wouldn’t open. Wasn’t on purpose.”
I wait for a formal invitation to the principal’s office. But he just stares at the boys who went to find him. They gulp, and I hear nothing but the wind.
I wait all day, my pencil almost tearing through paper, the eraser becoming a stain on written mistakes, my teacher’s chalk dust falling on her teal sweater. The day is marked by the expectation of the intercom. I imagine my father’s disappointed look, not using words, but his eyes telling me that they brought me to this country to build, not break. I try to pretend during the cold of recess that I am okay, and that if I can take the freeze on my lips during our free time, surely I’ll be able to endure it tomorrow morning. The grey of the day hasn’t changed by lunchtime, and I wish the lasting snow speckled with dirt would melt already, and that maybe spring could come early this year, so I can wait in a breeze instead of the sharp brisk.
I go home and nothing happens. I say nothing during dinner. The following day is a tad warmer, and I prepare to wait outside. The glass has cardboard taped over it. I stop, see no one inside, then reach, pull with all my strength and the door tiredly swings open. It’s just me, screeching sneakers absent, high voices still an hour away from overflowing the halls. The inside cardboard poster already has vile doodles and words with black marker written over it: Jack was here. I think about how this Jack wouldn’t have crouched down to write about his presence if it weren’t for me. I picture me writing Jen did this, but I’ll never sign my name to recognize this moment. Like old and tasteless gum in the mouth, it’s best to wall it up and eat it. I walk to the cafeteria, the smell of old meat looming, and I open a book, waiting for my cheeks to warm.
Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Fairfield University. Her work has been featured or is upcoming in Barren Magazine, Bending Genres, Lost Balloon, and other literary magazines.