Nick tossed the essays he’d been correcting into his briefcase with a frustrated sigh and gazed out the train window. He wondered how some of the students in the freshman English course he assistant-taught had even managed to graduate high school.
One girl had actually written supposably for supposedly.
Just as he was opening his book, his cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID and sighed again. “Hi, Mom,” he said.
“Hi, sweetie,” said his mother. “I just couldn’t wait to tell you — I’m making broccoli pie with Thanksgiving dinner.”
“That’s great, Mom.”
“Well, aren’t you excited?” she said. “The only reason I’m making it is because it used to be your favorite.”
“Mom,” he said, “how many times have I asked you not to say, ‘the reason is because’? It’s redundant.”
“Oh, right. I’m sorry, sweetie.”
Once he was off the phone, Nick realized the teenage girl sitting next to him had turned up the music on her iPod to an obnoxious volume. “Excuse me?” he said.
She didn’t answer, so he said it again, louder. When she still didn’t acknowledge him, he tapped her shoulder.
She turned, hit the Pause button, and removed her earphones. “Yeah?”
“Would you mind turning down your iPod a little, please?”
She glanced at it, concerned. “Oh, could you hear it?”
“Yes,” Nick said, “that’s kind of why I asked you to turn it down.”
She smiled and rolled her eyes. “Oh. Right. Duh.” She caught sight of the trade paperback on his lap and said, “Oh, hey, you’re reading Lolita.”
“Yes, I am,” Nick said, turning back to the book.
“I’ve read that,” she said. “It took me two tries, though.”
“Mm,” Nick said, not taking his eyes off his book.
“The first time I tried to read it, I was home from boarding school for the summer,” she continued. “That was my first mistake. My dad caught me reading it and flipped out. Said it would pollute my mind, and took it back to the library.”
Nick glanced at her, then back at his book. “That’s too bad.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Then he burned down the library.”
Nick turned his head sharply. “He what?”
“Yeah, that’s my dad,” the girl said with a tender smile. “He’s not always like that, though. Just when he’s off his meds.”
Nick suspected she was messing with him, but couldn’t be sure, so he said, “Well, I’m… sorry to hear that.”
She shrugged. “It’s not so bad. Keeps things interesting. Like, this week, my brother says Dad’s been refusing to take his meds, and he thinks he’s turning into a beetle. You know, like in that story by Kafka? Thanksgiving dinner should be a hell of a ride this year. So, are you on your way home for the holiday?”
“Yes, I’m… on my way to my parents’ house.”
“That’s cool. I’ll bet your mom’s making turkey like a normal mother, right? My stepmom’s gone vegan, unfortunately. She recently became born again and started hanging out with a bunch of holy rollers, and one of them told her if you cut out food that comes from animals, you can hear God speaking to you better. So this year, we’re having something called a tofurkey.” She stuck her finger in her mouth and gagged.
Nick gave up and closed his book. “That’s too bad,” he said. “So why does your father refuse to take his meds?”
“Oh,” she laughed. “He thinks his nurse is trying to poison him. Ever since he caught her conducting a ritual with her coven in the backyard, he’s got it in his mind she wants to drug him and use him as a human sacrifice to Satan.” She shook her head. “I mean, how ignorant is that? Just because she’s a Wiccan, that doesn’t mean she worships the Devil. Wiccans don’t even believe in the Devil, for crap’s sake.”
“Is that right?”
“Absolutely. One of my teachers is a Wiccan. One time, she had a bunch of us over to her dorm room, and did this thing where she looked into a bowl of water, like it was a crystal ball, and told each of us how we were going to die.”
“Yeah. Apparently, I’m going to fall down some stairs and break my neck. But not until I’m really old and have grandchildren, so it’s cool.” She tucked her hair behind her ear, revealing a bandage on her earlobe.
Nick couldn’t resist. “What happened to your ear?”
“Oh,” she giggled and touched it self-consciously. “My boyfriend bit me while we were fooling around last weekend. He’s into animal shamanism, which means he’s able to take on the characteristics of animals, and sometimes he gets a little out of control when he’s — you know — excited.” Before Nick could think of how to respond to this, she shrugged and said, “It’s kind of freaky, but it could be worse. At least he’s not a furry like my brother.”
“You know, one of those people that dress up like animals? At first, my brother only wore his bear costume in private, but his wife says he wears it everywhere now. Fortunately, he’s a freelancer, so he works out of their house.”
She glanced at the book in Nick’s lap once again. “I’m sorry, I guess you want to get back to Lolita.”
Nick looked at the book, read the title a couple of times, then looked around, feeling somehow lost. “Oh,” he said, “yeah, I guess.”
“Well, it was nice talking to you.” She put her earphones back in and resumed her music at the same offensive volume. Nick didn’t bother asking her to turn it down.
His phone rang and he answered it. “One other thing,” his mother said. “I just found out Uncle Rudy’s coming to dinner. Supposably, he’s finished with rehab. Think you can be nice to him?”
Nick smiled. “Sure, Mom.”
“Thank you, sweetie. Love you lots!”
“Love you too, Mom,” said Nick.
Megan McGee has a degree in Creative Writing and loves to read and write stories about messed-up people and their weird little obsessions. She works in the development department of a nonprofit organization in New York City. Her work has appeared in Common Ties and Everyday Weirdness.