“You’re going to get in trouble if you sleep in class, it’s that simple. You sleep at home, not in class. You know this.” The Principal leans back in his faded burgundy chair, arms crossed like the period at the end of sentence.
Marley nods, scrunches down in the hard, wooden chair in case she might actually be able to disappear.
“You should be tired of this by now. How do I get you to understand?”
Marley stares at the front of the wooden desk, the ugly words scratched there, bites both lips since her fingernails are already gone.
“Then why do you keep doing it? You know it’s not okay? Why not just go to sleep earlier?”
She wants to answer, wills the words to expose themselves, but nothing happens.
“Watch less TV… listen to classical music….”
Marley’s fingers strangle each other in her lap.
“Do you have something you want to talk about?”
It feels as if one of them might snap.
“I can’t help if you don’t let me.”
“Do you go to bed early?”
Somehow her head bobs once vertically on its axis.
“Then why are you so tired?”
She doesn’t even know where the shrug comes from.
“Do you have nightmares?” He seems hopeful. “Is something waking you up?”
A single nod, like a flower poking through snow.
“Yes?” He straightens.
Marley leans forward almost imperceptibly, lips parted.
“You can tell me.” The Principal leans in to meet her.
Marley tastes the words, not sure if they even make sense.
The Principal collapses back into his chair. “I can’t help if you don’t let me.”
Marley struggles to make the words work in her head first. Some things you have to live to understand.
The Principal sighs and drops his head, waiting patiently. Marley blinks, trying to see clearly. A plane goes by outside. The words mix, get lost, mix again, then form something she allows to squeeze through the cracks. At first just a small croak escapes her, then something just above a whisper… “My mother… she… gets sad a lot… at night… she wakes me up so I can… help her sleep.”
There’s a long pause as the Principal stares into his lap seeming to take this in. Marley stares into her lap as well, waiting for whatever comes next. Another plane goes by, just a sound, hundreds of people riding a hum in the sky. She listens, wishing she were anywhere else. Then another sound from under the desk, the unmistakable whoosh of an email flying through the ether.
The Principal looks up at her with a concerned frown. “Look, I can’t help you unless you’re willing to share. We’ll overlook it this time. Get back to class and sleep at home. Okay?”
Teja BenAmor is a fiction and screen writer from East Village, New York City. Her screenplay Toothbrushes & Cowbellswas a finalist in the Cinema Street Screenplay Competition. Most recently her work has appeared at Every Day Fiction.