One afternoon in the 5th grade the boys and the girls were cleaved from each other.
We were shuffled from the gym into a classroom and, after a few minutes, Mr. Millins wheeled in the TV cart. A movie. A real treat. He bent and grunted, plugged in the VCR and the TV. He pushed in a tape and then ambled to the back of the room and sat in one of the child-sized seats.
We watched a single, unbroken shot. The camera did not move. We struggled to define the image. Through context clues, the identification of thighs, of a butt, we understood that we looked at a vagina. For most of us this was our first vagina. It was furry and confusing. Just as we identified the object it transformed, stretching, screaming, blood and shit and undefined muck, like snot, like pudding, there on the screen. The vagina shit itself. Some other thing, some other harry flesh emerged from the vagina and retracted, emerge and retracted. The other thing became a head, a head like an old man, a head like an alien covered in snot and blood and hands pulled a baby from the vagina. We thought the movie would end now but it began again, the stretching and screaming and the vagina pushed out a chunk of something misformed, dead.
Mr. Millins paced silently to the TV cart, held down the rewind button and we watched the dead thing and the mucky, skinny baby and the blood and shit and snot go back into the vagina and then Mr. Millins took his finger off the rewind button and we saw it all again. After the dead thing came out of the vagina a second time, Mr. Millins unplugged everything and wheeled the TV cart out. For several minutes we sat quiet, unsupervised. Mr. Millins returned.
“Go to the lunch room,” he said. “Single file.”
They took the boys away and we were left in the cavernous gym. We, all, had been seated together so, when the boys left, gaps existed between us, girls adrift and stranded cross legged on the shellacked wood. They were saving energy a lot that year so the lights remained mostly off except one row of florescent tubes on the far edge of the ceiling.
Ms. Jenevieve said, “Girls, we have a special visitor.”
A nun came and stood in front of us.
The nun spoke about how she had been a fallen woman. How she had made a baby inside her. How she had birthed the baby and how the baby had been taken from her so that it could have a better life. She told us she had become a nun when she was eighteen. The way she talked, the inflection, we expected her to touch her belly but her hands always stayed stretched a few inches to the sides of her body.
She spoke and, if we leaned the right way, we could make it so that, from our perspective, her head blotted out the basketball hoop behind her.
Ms. Jenevieve said, “Sit still,” in the same yelling tone that our mothers used if they were scared we were going to tumble out of a third-story window.
The nun went to the big double doors of the gym and opened one and wheeled a trolley back to where she had been standing. The trolley had a tall something on it covered with a sheet. She pulled the sheet off and reviled a bloody, skinny Jesus. He looked upwards, begging for something, rivulets of blood all down his ears and cheeks and nose. He held his hands out a few inches from the sides of his body, the palms full of blood as if he was going to cup his hands and drink.
The nun told us that this was where she found salvation and where she would remain for eternity. We did not know if she showed us the Jesus as an offering or as a threat. She covered up the Jesus and Ms. Jenevieve applauded so we all applauded and the nun wheeled the Jesus out.
Ms. Jenevieve left for a while and then rolled the TV cart in, plugged in everything, turned off the row of lights and started a video. In the movie nuns sang in a choir and then the camera zoomed in on a Jesus and then one nun sat in a small room for a while and then the camera zoomed in on a Jesus and then, on top of Jesus’s bloody face the screen said St. Magdalene for the Fallen, and then the screen went to static.
“All right, girls. Let’s head over to the lunch room,” said Ms. Jenevieve and she turned on the one row of lights and we all filed to the lunchroom where they had Capri Sun juice boxes lined up on a table and we each took one and, as gently a possible, punctured a hole in it with the pointed end of the straw. After a minute the boys came in and we made way for them to get to the juice boxes.
We all asked each other to the prom. We went to the high school gym and wondered what would happen, after midnight, in the back seats of cars. We drank juice from plastic Champaign glasses. If we were not careful the long plastic stems of the glasses disconnected from their round bases and toppled over. The tables and floors and our hands became sweet and sticky.
-- Kathryn Kruseis a writer and educator living in Chicago and the executive director of Residency on the Farm, an interdisciplinary artists residency. She has received a Disquiet International Literary Program scholarship and is a finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award. Among other places, her work is forthcoming from or has appeared on the walls of the I Hope You Are Feeling Better Collaborative Art Exhibition, on the stages of the San Francisco Olympians Festival and in the pages of Indian Review, Quiddity, Interim, and The Adirondack Review.