Ten Scratches


I’m staring at you while I’m sitting here, and I’m wondering why people like to write about cigarettes. Like, every book I open, every poem I read, has got some dude curling a joint between his fingers, dragging on it until the red eye at the end is glowing like an ember. Or some shit like that.   

I’m not a writer. Hell if I know what makes a good one. I’m just gonna sit here and smoke—forget the books and poems. Your face is classic enough for me. You’re sitting there with this constipated twist in your face, like you’re gonna explode or panic. I know you should expel me for lighting up in your office. I know you’re trying to decide what to say because no one’s been dumb enough to actually smoke in front of you. Or brave enough.  

When I first pulled out this cigarette, I remembered what  my English teacher said about smoking: that writers make bad things beautiful. In all their stuff, they make smoking beautiful. They got the—shit, what did she say? The gift of light in darkness. So just think. I’m making things beautiful here. I’m giving writers a reason to write all their crappy books and torment people with them in English class.

No, get that curious stare off your face. You looked better constipated. I don’t really care about class, and I don’t want you to ask about my homework again. I actually did it this time. Even if I’m still going to fail that one research paper, because let’s face it: no one cares about the puffins in Canada. If they did, I wouldn’t have had such a hard time writing about it. I wouldn’t have had to make stuff up and copy an entire paragraph from Wikipedia to save my grade. 

Stupid internet. Stupid puffins. Stupid everyone else who wrote about gun control and behavioral psychology and cults. 

You think this is funny? I’m serious here. Stop looking at me like that. 

Or look at me any way you want. That’s what everyone else does. And if you wanna turn me in for plagiarizing Wikipedia, by all means feel free. Get me kicked out for that too.

I don’t wanna be here.

Yeah, go back to scribbling on your clipboard. I’ll just sit here and continue to smoke my cigarette. Don’t you dare ask me to put it out. And if you start waxing shit about glowing embers and my stately position as I stare out the window, I’ll burn you. 

But why would you even ask me about my homework? It’s not like you care about that. We both know why I’m here. We both know it’s got nothing to do with my smoking or my hair color or how English is the only class I’m not failing right now. 

My eyes slide down to all the crap you got stacked on your desk. Your office is a disaster, as always.  

But I bet you’ve got a gun stashed in there now. 

I bet you’ve got an emergency call button. I bet you might even hide pepper spray in that jacket of yours. Extra protection, right? 

Bad news: you wouldn’t get to any of those things fast enough—not with all those papers in the way and that fat on you. You’re pretty slow. You probably haven’t worked out in decades because you’ve been too busy eating chips and telling lies to people. 

I bet you got into this job thinking you could help kids down in the dumps and…oh wait, more clichés. My teacher says to avoid those. 

Let’s start this again: I bet you got into this job thinking you could help kids lost in the dark abyss of life itself. Yeah. Deep, man. Real deep. 

Do you regret that decision now? Was it worth it? Does your job make you proud or paranoid?      

This seat I’m in has ten scratches from someone you counseled last year. One scratch per finger, digging into the plastic with some serious anger and frustration. Must have taken a lot of appointments to get them so deep. 

As I sit here, smoking my cigarette down (or up, I guess), I’m reflecting on what it takes to wake you up from your naïve cradle of comfort—your heroic, noble quest to save the world one student at a time. 

I know my brother tried to wake you up before he died. I know he wiped the smile off a lot of faces, including yours, melting you all into shockhorrorfear with a bunch of bullets during lunchtime. Don’t think I didn’t see it. 

With my one hand, I trace five scratches on the seat’s edge. My brother’s hands have been here. The same ones that patted my head and helped me with geometry but shot your best friend—that gym teacher, right? 

And now you and I have sat here for several minutes without saying anything, and it makes me wonder how the hell this is helping either one of us. This is our eleventh session of silence. I’m not apologizing for him. 

At least I’m getting better at staring contests.

     “Mr. Carmichael,” you say. You even sound constipated. Is that a thing? Voice constipation? “I am very disappointed. I do not accept this kind of behavior from my students. You can be sure I’ll write a report about this. You’re dismissed from school for the rest of the day until I can come up with a proper punishment for you. And put that cigarette out.” 

Oh, thank god. 

Maybe there really is one, after all. 

Or maybe I just hallucinated those words out of your mouth. Either way, I’m leaving. I wish I could leave for good—you know, slip off in the night. But I’d disappear only with the solid knowledge that you’d probably call the FBI to track me down, and so would every other parent in the district. Mom included. 

I’m a loose cannon and shit, you know. 

I push out of the chair and drag in a really deep breath on the remains of my cigarette. Your office smells bad now, but not as bad as the principal’s office, which still has a sterility to it from all the chemicals they used to clean the walls. 

I see your eyes narrow at me as you cough from the cigarette smoke. I know you see my brother in me. I know you think I’m hopeless. I know you’re wondering where my line of sanity in the sand is, or if I even have one. 

Me and my brother were close. You know why.

You don’t think I can do better, do you? You think I’ll turn into him. Packs of cigarettes one day and a semi-automatic the next. But this cigarette isn’t just for kicks. It’s a way to ease the anxiety out of me. It hides the smell of this place. 

It’s even better than the depression meds you suggested to my brother that flipped his brain inside out.  

I can still feel your heavy stare as I turn my back and walk away from your office. My footsteps echo in the halls. I look up at the security cameras following me. Newly-installed.

Don’t think I haven’t heard your conversations with other teachers. You’re saying I’ll be the next to crack. That they should expel me now while they still can, because look at me—I’m smoking and wearing black and keeping quiet and everything. 

And then you say to my face that you’re here to help me. That you’ll listen, even if no one else will.

For the record: if I ever do go bat shit crazy like my brother, I’m sure it’ll be because of you. And you better hope that emergency call button works. 




Jennifer Davis is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University with a B.A. in English and Writing. She works as a content developer and editor as well as a freelance writer online. She has also published articles for Wesleyan News in the past.