by Angie Spoto

I am a little girl in the playground. It is twenty-three minutes until recess is over. I have twenty-three minutes to pretend I have friends, or pretend that I am happy playing alone, or pretend that I am not panicking.

One of the older boys sees me sitting in the corner of the sandbox. He has caught my eye. I know he will come over. I push sand into the shape of a tower. He kicks it with the toe of his bright white Nikes. That’s okay. I knew he would do that. He is standing above me, and his eyes flick all around me, and I know he sees my backpack, half open, exposed, leaning against the sandbox. Inside that backpack is my most prized possession. My green pencil box. It holds all the tools I need. Lots and lots of pencils. And erasers for cleaning up mistakes.

The boy grabs my backpack and turns it upside down. He did not have to do that to get the pencil box, but he wants to make a point. My homework papers flutter around me. He holds my pencil box way up over his head. Even if I were standing, I would not be able to reach it. I know this, so I don’t bother standing.

‘Want your stupid pencil box back?’ he asks, grinning.

‘What box?’ I ask.

He laughs. ‘This one, stupid.’ He shakes it. I can hear the pencils screaming for help.

‘What do you mean?’

He thrusts the box in my face, and to do this, he has to bend low. ‘This box, stupid. I have your stupid precious pencil box.’

I shrug. ‘That’s not a pencil box.’

‘Yes it is!’ he shouts. He undoes the clasp, and the pencils come rolling out. The erasers plop into the sand around me. ‘Look, pencils! It’s a stupid pencil box.’

I begin shaping another tower. ‘I don’t see any pencils.’

‘Yes you do!’ He is still shouting. ‘They’re all over the ground.’ He crouches and picks up a pencil, shaking it in my face. ‘This is a pencil!’

I allow him one glance from me. ‘I don’t see any pencil.’

He roars, throwing his head back. He falls into the sand. ‘I don’t want your stupid pencil box, anyway.’

‘I don’t have a pencil box,’ I say. My tower is looking good.

‘You do! You do!’ he shouts, but already he’s scrambling from the sandbox. Other kids are looking at him. He doesn’t like this kind of attention. ‘You’re an idiot,’ he spits. The spit doesn’t land anywhere near me. He leaves.

‘How did you do that?’ There is a girl standing beside me. She’s standing just outside the sandbox. She has a look of panic on her face. It’s a familiar look. She is alone.

‘I watch a lot of politics,’ I say.

She nods. ‘It’s a really nice pencil box.’

‘Thank you,’ I say. ‘Want to help me with this tower?’

It is twenty minutes until recess is over.

Angie Spoto is an American fiction writer and poet. Her most recent endeavours include a lyrical essay about her Italian family, a collection of horror surrealist fairy tales, and a fantasy novel about grief. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines including Crooked HolsterSWAMP Magazine and Toad Suck Review.

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