Grade: 12th grade
Age: 17

Presentation

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As I scan the assembly of formally-dressed, attentive parents, I wonder how they’re ignoring the smell of stale nuggets from the cafeteria’s kitchen. To me, it’s unbearable; the reminder of elementary school lunches is sickening. I whisper an excuse to my mom, planning my great escape, and she nods at the pamphlet in her lap that reads HOPKIN ELEMENTARY EXHIBITION: 6 PM! The squeak of my sneakers is unbearable as I leave the cafeteria, so I speed to the hallway. I open the door, and there’s my little brother, Noah; his presentation is soon. Noah walks up to me.

“I peed in the bathroom earlier today,” Noah whispers.

“Well, that’s good. I hope you weren’t planning to pee somewhere else.”

“I mean I peed my pants. Can you tell them I’m throwing up?”

“I don’t think so. Did you change your pants?”

“Yeah. the nurse has lots of pants. It’s creepyyy.”

“Probably cuz you fourth graders can’t stop peeing your pants.”

“Nuh uh. I haven’t had an accident in months!”

“Yeah? I’ll bet the janitor has to clean more pee than an ER nurse.”

“Oh. I remember the ER.” I remembered the ER too.

(Noah in his Sweater zips around the waiting room pretending to be a rocketship . He is constantly swerving to an empty plastic cushion between Mom and a woman who chews her lips at every fourth tick of the clock. The cushion pushes Noah up higher and higher. At last, with one mighty jump, he breaches a saggy ceiling tile. As the tile flops on the floor like a desperate fish, Mom glances up from her magazine to declare three months of no-dessert.)

“I’m sure you do,” I say. I check my watch. “Shouldn’t you be going?”

“I feel sick. And the show starts way later.”

“In five minutes. Where’s your project?”

“They have it already, I’m going first.”

“Hey, that’s great.”

“No. First is the worst.”

“Nuh uh. You’ll get it over with first.”

“No I’m not because I’m going home.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Can you pleaase just tell mom to take me home?”

“No! It wouldn’t work.”

“Yes it would! She believes everything you say.”

(Noah, in his Rain Boots, bursts through the door. I had swiped Noah’s magnifier he had used to catch a rat (which he swore had been stealing from the pantry). Noah doesn’t take off his outside clothes, and Mom catches him by the collar and yells something about mud on my floor? I don’t think so Mister. Now where’s that other mess-maker? Mom is about to make her next catch when I plead, No mom I was in the whole time; see how my clothes aren’t wet? Mud on your floor? I would never .)

I frown. “You’re just trying to get out of this.”

“Duh. I don’t wanna go up there and perform. I’m scared.”

“You have to!”

“No I don’t!”

“It’s not that bad. Just pretend everyone is naked.”

“Ewww, naked people? That’s just gonna scare me more.”

“Well, what makes you so scared?”

“They turned off the lights during practice and Mrs. Lidske said that the room will be too dark to see anybody. But I know people can see me.”

“Just pretend like no one’s watching.”

“But I know they are!”

“Like how you know you went blind?”

“Shut up!”

(Noah, in his PJs, falls asleep before his pillow turns warm. Hours later, Noah feels a prickle on his calf. Phantom itch. Then, his leg involuntarily jerks. Rush of blood. He tries to see, but his eyelids are crusted shut. Eye Boogers!! He scrapes and scratches but it won’t bust. Noah’s squealing wakes mom, who growls Christ what is it, then grabs the eye drops after Noah proclaims I’ll never see again!! The eye crud’s making me blind! I’m going blind! Then, drip drop, there was mom’s angry face.)

“I’m just saying you’re paranoid.”

“Well, you’re para-nipple.”

“Nice. Where’d you get that, Urban Dictionary?”

“I’m funny enough on my own. Unlike you.”

“What’s your problem?”

“I’m just sick of you.”

“I haven’t done anything today except help!”

“You’ve only made me remember how stupid I am!”

“You’re not stupid.”

“I’ve never done anything right and I can’t do anything and I’m so stupid!”

“If you’re stupid, how did you learn to write at 3?”

(Noah traces outlines with a Crayon in a Sesame Street Coloring book. Years later, Noah is the only one that can write the alphabet in his class.)

“If you’re stupid, why does Valentine like you?”

(Noah gives a handful of Berries to Valentine who forgot her lunch. Noah with a Ladybug on his finger lets it crawl onto Valentine’s palm. Noah’s Frisbee whacks Valentine in the head.)

“If you’re stupid, how come the principal chose you to present first?”

(Noah presents his 1st-place Ribbon to Mom who goes congrats to her newspaper.)

“If you’re stupid, why does mom love you?”

Noah looked at his sneakers. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t think mom loves you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course she does because you’re smart!” Noah won’t look at me. “I know she can be harsh, but she only wants you to improve. She did the same for me, and I’m thankful.” I hesitate. “You have to know she does it out of love.”

Noah sniffs. “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that.”

“You’re only nervous. And hey, you get to talk about something you love for six minutes straight.”

Noah giggles. “That’s true.”

“You ready?”

“Yeah.”

At 6 o’clock, Noah presents on Mars. It isn’t particularly engaging; he dribbles through his words, but his passion about space is clear. As he delves into future Mars expeditions, my chest swells. Then mom whispers, “Well this is boring. I told him Neptune was a better subject.” When I meet her face, her look says I-know-you-feel-the-same. When I don’t make a face that agrees, her smirk disappears. I look back at Noah who’s finally flourished, declaring Mars his favorite planet, and my chest falls.

One thought on “Presentation

  1. The author presents an interesting sibling dynamic between Noah and the narrator. The dialogue reads authentically content-wise, but could definitely use some refinement in terms of word choice and lack of attribution.

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