After thinking of content when looking at what you have written, the first draft takes its promise and grows it into an actual story, just like with the one I’ve been working on.
So, because the story is long, I’ll just let you guys read it. Here is the edited version of The Crime in the Essay. (Here is the link to the first draft for comparison)
The Crime in the Essay
© Vanesa L. Perillo 2016
Lara ignores the deafening silence her classmates regale her with the moment she comes back from break. She feels their stares like needles on her exposed face. She doesn’t want to look at them. She doesn’t want to see their cloned furrowed brows, their identical orthodontic snarls and smirks. Walking to her desk, her green eyes are fixed on her destination.
Someone in the crowd dares say what everyone thinks. “Here comes ugly Betty, the know-it-all. All bow to the walking brain. May she vanish and make our lives beautifuler.”
The cackling of laughter filling the room pierces the shield of detachment that Lara surrounds herself with. Her eyes burn but she has enough self-control to avoid any damage other than overly bright eyes.
“If you are going to insult me, at least learn proper grammar, Nate,” she replies, sitting down at her desk. Her voice is too soft for anyone else but herself to hear.
She picks up the newspaper on her desk and hides behind it. The newspaper screams the day’s bloody headlines. The police have no clues about the person responsible for the murder of the school district’s president two days ago inside his house. The article ponders if the salary dispute between teachers and the school district will be resolved after this tragedy. She feels pity for the man and his family; the journalist seems to worry about money than the lost life.
The newspaper is but a front. Her mind is in the story packaged inside the book hidden behind the wordy sheets of paper that constitute the newspaper. There are dragons and magic in the story, and foretelling of war. She compares the newspaper and the story. Lara finds reality lacking. Murder scares her and she wishes magic was real. If she were in a world of magic she could do something about murders and murderers. She could blast her classmates into oblivion and roam the land, free of sitting in English class and learning something she already knows.
Her parents insist that she stays and practices her English. Her mother had a bad experience when they moved to the US for a year, not knowing English and she doesn’t want Lara to have the same problem some day. Lara is bored with English. She would much rather learn another language, like French or Russian. There is something so appealing about learning a new alphabet and new sounds. She could imagine the dragons in her story with thick Russian accents coming from their slippery tongues.
Mrs. Klattenhorn, Lara’s teacher, doesn’t mind that she reads the newspaper in class. The newspaper is in English and the woman thinks it is cute that Lara wants to know more about what is happening in the world.
“As long as you keep quiet and do the exercises, Lara…” Mrs. Klattenhorn had said with a flat smile when Lara asked. The woman didn’t add “Whatever works to keep you and the rest of the students quiet and interested”, but Lara could see the words fighting to come out in the woman’s bored expression. One less student to worry about.
Lara is tired of being considered a threat to the others, the one that teachers prefer. It is not her fault that the others never do what they are asked to. She is even tired of being looked at as the girl at the front of the room. She has learned by a broken heart that she is safer from harm sitting at the front of the class. It happened the one time she sat at the only free desk at the back in History class. Lis, the prettiest, fairest of them all had come to her desk just as class was about to start.
“Lara, Matt said he might like you…” she had said.
Lara’s heart had beaten faster, green eyes wide in wonder. Could it be true?
“If you’d stop making his grades look bad. No one likes the teacher’s pet!” Lis had added just a breath later, as she stood in her delicate knitted pale sweater and frayed skinny blue jeans, laughing, manicured hands on her slim hips.
Lis is everything that Lara isn’t. She is thin and joyful and smart and beloved by every single person in the class. And somehow had managed to know Lara’s deepest crush, having fun in embarrassing her in front of the whole class. Lara didn’t miss the smirks and snickering from the others, including her crush.
Lis had no compunction in lifting Lara’s spirits then making them crash and burn. She returned to her seat, a look of smug satisfaction in her eyes. Lara had watched her from the desk at the back of the room. On her way to her desk, the girl had gone to Matt and had given him a peck on the cheek before she sitting on her chair next to him. Sitting in the back, Lara had had to endure the whole History class watching Lis fawn over Matt. The bitch had even turned to look straight at Lara as she laughed at his jokes. Lesson learnt, and Lara had moved back to the front. At least that way she didn’t have to see Matt and Lis together. She could pretend there was no one behind her.
All Lara’s classmates see of her is a weird, clumsy, uncomfortable girl that would rather spend her time immersed in the latest fantasy books. They see her chubby, double-chinned face, her too dark T-shirt and pants, her silence in the midst of crowds, the wrinkled scar on her forehead, crudely hidden by uneven bangs of dark brown hair. They don’t see someone the cool kids would want to get to know and if they do, it is just to make fun of her. She doesn’t want it to matter, but it does. She wishes she could talk more, share their interests in lipsticks and Teen Vogue and shopping expeditions to the mall. The only shop in the mall Lara is interested about is the small used book store that was in danger of being closed every month.
English class is the only refuge in the school where Lara can hide inside the extraordinary worlds her books provide. There, she forgets about hurts and jokes on her expense and dreams about worlds far away, of possibilities closed to her because of reality.
Mrs. Klattenhorn comes in, dark circles under her eyes. Over her newspaper, Lara can see the woman already dreading the start of the two hours she needs to teach. She greets the students and all she gets are blank stares for her politeness.
“If they’d act like decent human beings, not being paid much wouldn’t be so bad,” Lara hears the woman tell herself. “Patience. Not long now.”
Lara wonders what Mrs. Klattenhorn means, but shares the sentiment. Not long now and the semester will be over.
“My perfect crime”, says the teacher as she writes the words with difficulty on the waxed blackboard that rainy morning of June. It has been raining for days now and it is cold outside, yet inside the classroom the heat distorts the writing, making the faded chalk words harder to read. Her voice is thick with a cold she has been dragging for the last couple of days.
“Just a trick you played on your brothers and you got away with or something like this”, she adds. “Just a couple of pages, no more. Have it ready for the end of the period.”
My perfect crime, Lara reads to herself, raising an eyebrow, yet knowing the outward effect is a look of surprise that doesn’t fit her true reaction. It is an essay that diverts from the usual in the class, leaving the basic vocabulary of second year English learners behind.
A crime? Lara finds no use in committing crimes or tricks. What if she were found guilty? There would be the business of dealing with convincing others of her innocence. She would be better off declaring herself guilty.
As long as she actually writes the pages and keeps the writing as close as she can to the instructions of the assignment, infinity is the only limit. The newspaper is her savior for this task. A perfect crime all delivered for her to work on. Find the who, the how, and let the magic of words create a world of murders and intrigue.
The room quiets down, though here and there there are bursts of rebellion as Lara’s classmates, uninterested in their grades, talk about their next night at the disco, or how their favorite soccer team is doing. She forgets about them as she focuses on the page and on the second best thing in the world other than reading about other worlds. Writing them.
The words flow into the page without needed thought. She sees the ink start to fill the page in shades of blue, her mind almost detached from the movements of her arms. She knows that if magic were real, it would feel this way. So carefree, so powerful.
Before she realizes it, she is done. The last word is written. Lara caresses her words that dent the soft texture of the pages. She can almost smell the blood dripping from her words as she carefully runs her fingers along the edge of the page.
She becomes aware of the cacophony of voices of her classmates and over them, Mrs. Klattenhorn’s, trying and failing to quiet the unruly classroom that is under her charge. Not that she tries very hard, Lara notices. The woman seems distracted and out of sorts. Lara doesn’t blame her. She would be too, if she didn’t have to keep her grades up.
Lara can almost listen to the sigh that leaves her teacher’s lips when the bell rings. Ten-minute break, then the class resumes, Mrs. Klattenhorn says.
Lara walks to the woman and gives her her perfect crime essay. Mrs. Klattenhorn presses the pages into a folder. The edges get crumpled and Lara winces at the hurried treatment her work receives. The woman then dashes out the door, seeking freedom from the four white walls that trap Lara every weekday for seven hours. The folder with Lara’s work is still clutched to her fingers.
Lara goes back to her desk, to her book, to her world away from school. Short, but long at the same time, the way back to her desk is, as always, unbearable. Despite her efforts to become less noticeable with her faded hobbit shirt and black jeans, she knows her classmates are looking at her. She can feel the familiar looks of distrust, of apathy, of accusation from the others as they watch her walk. She can feel her skin bristling from the negative emotion burning up the room and aimed at her. She knows the others haven’t done as they have been told and their grades will be punished because she did. She wishes she could make them all disappear with a thought.
The ten minutes fly past with dragons going into war and heroes doubting of their bravery. Her mind refuses to leave them, but it is unavoidable. She wants summer off and that means passing grades in all her classes. She doesn’t compromise. Summers in Lara’s opinion are for laying on a hammock and reading too many books to count. Summers would be even better with elves, magic and quests, but books are second best option.
The class resumes. She notices Mrs. Klattenhorn is giving her an odd look. She seems to want to say something to Lara, but immediately seems to change her mind and turns to talk about the next assignment to all of her students.
Lara tries to focus on the new task, but feels watched. She lifts her eyes from her page and looks at her teacher. She is looking back at Lara, her blue eyes wide, her brown eyebrows together in a frown, as they clash with the fake blonde coloring of her long, curly hair.
She motions Lara to come closer. Off Lara goes again, to the front of the class, feet moving almost against her will, already dreading having to communicate.
They look at each other in silence, Lara unwilling to be the first one to utter a word. Mrs. Klattenhorn is the one that called her after all.
“I’m sorry, dear. I’m going to have to give you detention”, she finally says into their mutual silence. “You’ll have to stay after class.”
Lara blinks, surprised. She has never been given detention. She has done nothing wrong. Her grades are the highest of the class and she is even in track to become valedictorian.
The pages on Mrs. Klattenhorn’s desk draw Lara’s attention attention. She recognizes her own messy, still too childish handwriting. Her essay. It dawns on her. Maybe she deviated too far from the instructions. Too much blood and realism, fantasizing about events too dreadful for just an English learning class.
Mrs. Klattenhorn seems to want to say something else, but closes her mouth into a thin line that makes her upper lip disappear for a second. She motions Lara away with a flick of her wrist.
Puzzled, Lara goes back to her desk and spends the rest of the class reading her book behind the newspaper, but she doesn’t register what the elf king says as princess is lost to a great beast. She forgets to wish again that the stories or magic were real. She is too busy with reality for once, her mind circling back to her essay.
Maybe she has gone too far. The subject was too dark. She had been inspired by the story on the newspaper. Choosing the role of a paid murderer as the central subject of her essay might have been pushing the limits of what Mrs. K. found agreeable for an English essay. Lara thinks back on it, trying to recall the details she wrote.
With her blonde hair hidden poorly under a soaked hat, the murderer goes into the old dark manor through the garden door. The president of the school district is too trusting of his beloved status to believe in security guards or cameras around his house, making her entrance a simple job.
She feels the cold in her bones and bristles at the feel of her hair wet against her skin. The hard wind had made a mess of the bun she had put her hair in and she shivers as a few drops of cold water drip from her once curly hair and slide down underneath the collar of her black clothes. If it weren’t for the pay, she would be home watching the new season of House of Cards on Netflix, a cup of hot cocoa warming her hands.
The house is dark; everyone, even the old russet husky, sleeps the dreams of the safe. The woman smiles at the dog and makes sure there is no sound as she walks and maneuvers safely the old creaking staircase the animal had been guarding.
She reaches the bedroom, with its Louis XVI furniture and overcrowded walls. Her feet avoid shoes and clothes and in no time she reaches the bed. There he is sleeping, facing upwards, an arm extended so his wife is able to cushion her head on his shoulder.
It is all in the slice of the knife. It is soundless and fast. Without even disturbing the sleeping woman, the murderer watches as the blood gushes from the cut she had made. As the gurgling of red thick liquid begins, the woman leaves with the conscience of a job well done. The wife will wake up soon and the screams will begin. The murderer will be too far away to hear them. She will be even farther away before disposing of the weapon. She knows what needs to be done to stay safe.
Lara doesn’t think that a bloody, imaginative account of what happened to the school district president is enough to get her detention. Maybe a consult with a counselor about bloodthirsty ideas, but not detention. Lara looks at the blond curls of crowning Mrs. Klattenhorn’s head, remembers her preference for Netflix and hot cocoa and winces. Could she have? No, surely not.
Part of Lara’s mind registers the bell, and the sounds of her fellow classmates leaving, cheering the end of the day, closing the doors behind them. She notices the closing of the door and the sudden lack of noise in the room as the relief of silence booms in her ears, yet she stays still, her mind busy with reeling details.
Mrs. Klattenhorn walks toward Lara, a thoughtful look on her eyes. Lara’s gaze drops to her hands, and her heart stops. In her left hand is Lara’s essay and in the other, a sharp, silver hunting knife. The clicking of her shoes is the only sound that fills the room, besides Lara’s heavy breathing.
She stops right in front of Lara and drops the story on Lara’s desk, over the newspaper.
Lara tries to swallow air through a throat that dried too fast. Lifting her eyes to Mrs. Klattenhorn’s face, she finds her eyes narrowed in suspicion and curiosity. The knife reflects the light from the ceiling and hurts Lara’s eyes.
“Tell me”, Mrs. Klattenhorn says, “how did you know?”
Lara looks at down the newspaper hiding her book of magical worlds and then at Mrs. K.
“Magic?” she ventures.
Mrs. K. laughs and plays with the knife. “Nice try, dear.” Her eyes don’t laugh with her. Lara shrinks in her seat as the knife draws near her face. “Now, tell me the truth. How did you know?”
Lara shakes her head. “Really. I didn’t. I just imagined it. I had just read the news and had no “crime” of my own. So, so I wrote that. I swear I had no clue.”
“You little minx,” Mrs. K. says, changing her grip on the knife and points it at Lara. Lara closes her eyes, looking for words to pray, but she has forgotten them. She doesn’t want to die. She tenses, waiting for the pain.
Lara jumps, feels no pain. She squints to see what happened, afraid to fully open her eyes. She is still waiting to feel agonizing pain somewhere in her body.
Instead, she sees the knife trembling from the force of the blow that drove it through the essay, the newspaper and into the book. Mrs. K. is squinting back at her. Lara’s words seem to have left Mrs. K. thinking.
She lets the breath she has been holding out in a long subtle sigh.
“You’re really the one who did it?”
“Yes. Someone needed to,” Mrs. Klattenhorn says with a sigh, one hand playing with a few of the curls that managed to escape her ponytail. “Or at least someone thought that, enough to pay.”
“You get paid?” Lara feels her eyes widen. “How? Why? How–how did you start?”
“It’s a long story,” the teacher says. “I guess it started with a bully and went on from there.”
Mrs. Klattenhorn tilts her head and stares deep into Lara’s eyes, as if searching for something. She walks to the desk next to Lara and sits, legs crossed showcasing black leather boots way above a teacher’s pay grade.
“Lara, if I didn’t know you, I’d think you are quite the bloodthirsty gal,” Mrs. Klattenhorn says after a few heartbeats of silence.
“You don’t know me,” Lara says, defensive. She is still scared, but she feels more comfortable every minute.
“True. Four hours a week don’t account for much, but I can tell you don’t get along with your classmates and you think yourself smart enough and so little of me that you believe you can fool me with that newspaper.”
Lara smiles, guilty of charge.
“Reading is the only way I can stand them, and still, doesn’t always work. They always find ways to make me want to throttle them or make them disappear…” She shrugs her shoulders, looking down. “If only life were a book.”
Mrs. K. doesn’t say anything. She just watches Lara.
“Wait,” Lara raises her head and locks eyes with Mrs. K. “Can you make them disappear?” She pauses, then adds in a unsure whisper. “It’d be my price for keeping quiet.”
Mrs. Klattenhorn laughs. It isn’t a quiet laugh, or a polite one. It is a full blown cascade of sound, making Lara feel small and dumb.
“Oh, Lara. You’d be dead already if I wanted.”
“Too many people know I have detention with you. If I go missing, they would suspect you first.”
“True,” she says, but shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t really care. I’m getting paid today, so I can leave the country and they won’t see me again.”
Lara’s shoulders sag. “So either you kill me or I keep quiet.”
“You’ve always been a bright student.” Mrs. Klattenhorn nods and smiles. “I don’t feel inclined to kill you, though.”
She stops. Lara perks up. There might be hope still.
“I have a proposal for you.”
“Really?” Lara raises an eyebrow, intrigued.
“I can help you with your bullies.”
“You’d take them out?” Lara asks, and imagines coming back to school with no eyes set on her with anger, or hate, or even boredom. It would be so wonderful, so magical.
“No,” the older woman says, “but I’m a teacher… and teachers teach.”
Lara smiles at Mrs. Klattenhorn, her eyes going towards her book. She has been wanting for a quest, a way to change the dull and hurtful world she is in and here it is, all the ingredients for the opening chapter of one of her books. She is ready to begin.
A story is always being edited; always in motion. So, don’t get surprised if in a few years the story changes…
I hope you enjoyed it!