I am writing “Her Chapter Was Cut” as a serial, to be completed in ‘parts’ when I have an extra hour or two. The parts will be largely unedited, in the sense that they’ll be checked for grammar, spelling, and consistency, and published directly thereafter. Depending on the success of the serial, it may be brought together as a single work and edited thusly.
Of course, it goes without saying, that this work is copyrighted. This and future parts are exclusively the property of the author (me), and shall be distributed only in the form of links to the original work, which I shall gather together by category.
Her Chapter Was Cut
Elsie Brooke’s face was inched up to the dirty low mirrors of the girls’ bathroom. She hated being so close to the rust and the grime, but she needed to find the tiny slivers of rock lodged in her cheek. Picking carefully, so was relieved to see the red scrape starting to fade. At least it won’t leave a mark, so it won’t remind them what happened. If she were lucky, her classmates would have forgotten, blithely discussing whatever it was —those— kids discussed.
Finishing up, she washed her hands and took a second look before rushing up to class. Recess would be over soon, though she had a bathroom pass. The recess monitor, an older lady who doubled as a second-grade teacher’s aide, had looked at her disapprovingly while writing out the pass. “Go get yourself cleaned up,” she’d rasped, quickly turning back to the gaggle of first-grade girls who surrounded her in adoration. Elsie didn’t think twice about the aide’s callous response, for she’d expected no better.
The bell rang as she slipped into her desk, surrounded by the group of children she internally qualified as her friends. Nick, her best friend from before they’d gone to public school, came over. “The book fair is coming after school. Are you gonna to stay?”
“Yeah. My mom’s gonna pick me up, since I’m helping Mrs. Qualters.”
“Yeah, me too. Can I get a ride home?”
Elsie never thought twice about helping Nick. His dad was never available to pick him up, or spend much time with him; even when she slept over Nick’s house, his dad was downstairs, watching movies and drinking thirstily. She and Nick would make soggy microwaved French fries, or eat cereal with milk on the edge of going bad. Nick’s dad never seemed to notice, though once in a while he asked forlornly if they were okay.
One time they came down after midnight, having stayed up giggling over Mad Libs. Nick’s father was sprawled on the living-room floor, face-down, an empty brown bottle sitting next to his head. Nick’s childish face hardened, telling Elsie to go upstairs. She climbed to the top and sat, resting her head against the cool white wall, listening to Nick, feeling protective. “Dad, get up,” he pleaded. “Dad—Dad, you should go to bed. It’s bed time. Let’s go to bed, Dad.”
But the last year or so she’d stayed over Nick’s less and less. He always seemed busy with the boys he’d befriended. She grudgingly acknowledged them, which seemed necessary since she didn’t want to be squeezed out of Nick’s life. But they were strange to her, always talking about uninteresting things like Transformers, model cars, and the girls in class they wanted to “go out with” (she was never included in those particular speculations).
Nick went back to his desk as the bell rang, and she tentatively touched her cheek. It was still a little warm, but she thought that probably the redness had gone away. She didn’t understand people or how she was supposed to be a part of a group. She thought she and Nick would have fun staying after school together. Since it wasn’t recess, and those boys would never stay for a book fair, she wouldn’t have to worry about him pushing her down on the tar like he did today, running away, laughing as joined in their calls of, “Moo! Moo! Moo!”
The rest of the day went by quickly, and soon she found herself staring at row upon row of books. She took a slow breath in through her nose, relishing in the sharp sawdust-y smell of new paper and the glue of the bindings. The book fair was wonderfully empty, being on its last day at the school. She tidied up the rows, running her finger over the smooth backs of the colorful bindings: “The Babysitter’s Club,” “Goosebumps,” “The Black Stallion,” “Harry Potter,” and other series called to her seductively. E. B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, the book from which she learned to read, smiled at her like an old friend. Sometimes she found a book she hadn’t read yet, inviting her with a dog, horse, or cat on the cover. She’d slip the thin tome from the shelf and flip it open, the smell of its newness pouring out with the promise of great adventure.
The yellow words, dripped over a pink background, were what she noticed first. She pulled out the book and smiled at is substantialness, liking the way it felt in her hands. Real Stories of Real Girls sprawled yellowly over the pink cover, with stars and a few subtle hearts sprinkled to frame the faces of a group of girls her age. They were of all nationalities, all hair colors, different heights and one girl, she noticed eagerly, larger than the rest. She flipped it open and read a few sentences, one of the girls talking about how she didn’t feel like she “fit in,” and that she had entered third grade very lonely.
Elsie eagerly paid for it, and a few other selections, with the book money her mother had given her. That afternoon and evening found her, with the exception of hurriedly eating a bland, low-fat dinner, in her bedroom, devouring the pink-covered Real Stories. She was looking for Marie’s story – it was Marie, a description of the photo in the introduction explained, who was the larger girl of the group. The stories were alphabetical by first name, and after reading about Leisl, a German exchange student who had been nervous about going to America (though fortunately discovering her classmates were warm and receptive), Elsie turned to the new chapter in anticipation.
Chapter 10: Natalia.
Confused, Elsie checked the index. Marie wasn’t there.
She made sure she wasn’t dreaming up Marie, checking the photo again. Maybe they only featured a few girls from the group? But no: Andrea, Catie, Elizabeth, Fei, Georgia, Kysa, Leisl, Marie, Natalia, Rheanna, Tayla, Vicki, were listed, and all those girls – except Marie – had gotten chapters.
Disappointed, Elsie read to the end of the book anyway. She wondered what had happened to Marie; she got a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach, a feeling she couldn’t quite explain.
Most of the stories ended on an anticipatory note, as a girl was entering a new grade, or starting a new life after finally fitting in, or getting ready for the Olympics. The Epilogue was called: “Followups.” There, she discovered, was mentioned Marie!
The year after Marie told us her story, she enrolled in High Pines Summer Camp, determined to finally lose the weight and come back to school in the fall a new person, ready to make friends. While her story was the saddest in the volume, we hear she’s now buying the clothes she’s dreamed about since she was little, and is considered one of the most popular girls in her school.
Elsie swallowed. Marie’s chapter had been cut; but they’d forgotten to take out her follow-up. Why did they try to erase Marie? And the follow-up — it left Elsie feeling mortified, small, like a big hand had reached deep inside and crushed her.
It would be years before Elsie would notice her Real Stories had been edited by CHWC, the Child Health and Wellness Committee, appointed the year before to make sure that not only were children getting low-calorie foods and plenty of exercise in public schools, but that they were also not being subjected to “unhealthy” messages. That included obliterating fast-food commercials during cartoons and on children’s networks, and making sure that books fairs, funded with grants from the federal government, didn’t have books that contained unhealthy messages.
Marie’s chapter, they’d agreed, was very sad, and it might make a heavy child angry, indignant at her treatment, feeling like she had the right to be treated like the other children. It sent the message that Marie was just another “real girl,” to be accepted in the group of other “real girls.” The committee found this dangerous. They never saw her followup and, when the book was edited to erase Marie, this important bit had remained.
Indeed, it was on the 20th anniversary of the “War Against Obesity” Elsie discovered the CHWC stamp of approval on the back cover of her now-worn copy of Real Stories. She’d been going through her children’s books after having her first pregnancy confirmed, and the sex of the baby (a girl) divulged. Her hands shook slightly as she held the garish pink book, recalling her school years afterwards, and her struggle through college.
She brought the box of books down to the livingroom, wanting to catch the news as she sorted. Old book smell, really just as nice as new book smell, enveloped her pleasantly as she created piles to keep, donate, and throw away. “Welcome back, folks,” chittered a perky, female newscaster. “And welcome to our special 20th anniversary report on The War on Obesity. The last segment was the history of the struggle for the health of our nation against America’s growing waistline, and now we have breaking news. In honor of the anniversary, the Health and Wellness Committee is announcing its “Break the Cycle” campaign. That’s right: the HWC wants to finally obliterate childhood obesity for good, starting with the next generation. Parents who are obese or who have “risk factors” of obesity will be required to register their newborns with HWC, who will enroll the babies into the Break the Cycle program, monitoring their health, offering the services of special schools, camps, and after-school sports and wellness, all the way until the children are 18. Break the Cycle will be a significant cost to the taxpayer, opponents have claimed, but supporters of the program say that cost will be more than made up for in avoiding the medical bills from problems associated with obesity. More on this later, now, the weather.”
Elsie dropped her book.
To be continued….