The bump had certainly grown. And the glowing was most definitely coming from the center of her forehead, that girl in the mirror. But she got dressed in her best outfit, one sure to shine in pictures and get her noticed by Graham. She buttoned the pearly white buttons of her green shirt, the pretty one with white dots and a small breast pocket. The pocket was quizzically small, since she had no items that would fit in it, but it was a nice decorative touch, if not too odd to be noticed by her peers.
Mother was asleep when the girl tiptoed out of the house, wanting to avoid a fight over how the green shirt didn’t match her brown eyes. And the powder puff Mother would surely dab all over her face. And possibly even a forced set of Mother’s old pearl earrings and necklace which would match so well. Her mother’s work day wouldn’t start until after nine, though she might take a day off since she worked late the night before. Yes, she had not come home until past eleven, and it never went unnoticed by her daughter.
The girl put the steak back in the freezer, it was still hard in the center. Despite cartoon belief, it had apparently not been effective in reducing her bump. She popped a bagel in the toaster, but when she leaned forward to grab a plate, she was pushed back by an invisible force.
“What the heck?” I said, stumbling back.
It was then that I realized what happened. By reflex, not by my intention, I touched it. And it had certainly grown. The bump was extending out from my head like Pinocchio’s nose.
“Maybe I should try a hat?” I said, to myself apparently since Mom was still sleeping.
I reached into the coat closet, nothing. We never really wore hats. And my bandana would not fit over something like this.
It’s just my imagination, I said over and over again in my head. I realized for the second day in a row, my forehead was not itchy. In fact, it had gone from being numb to feeling an oddly buzzing sensation of not feeling anything. It felt kind of good. Like every sensation to itch had disappeared. And at the same time it felt like nothing. And well, it seemed to be growing and glowing.
I walked to school slowly. I wanted to observe people’s reactions to me. I needed to know if this thing was real. This bump that had turned into a glowing, sparkling, twisted horn overnight. And would it keep growing?
Nobody was around. The street was quiet. I went all the way to school unnoticed.
I walked into the classroom, sure that my imagination had gotten the best of me, and that I had a bad dream, bumped my head again, and that’s what was making it all seem fuzzy, hazy, or something. Maybe this was a dream, and that’s why nobody was around.
But in class, the seats were full.
I took my place in the back row and class began as usual. We stood up and saluted the flag in the corner, said the Pledge of Allegiance, and sat through announcements about volunteering for the Fall Ball and class elections, and this and that, and I tuned out, closed my eyes to shield myself from the make-believe light shining down from underneath my bangs.
Nobody looked at me.
When the teacher walked around the class to pass back our tests, she came to my desk and set the paper down in front of me. She looked at me, perhaps to smile and congratulate me on my B-, but instead stopped and stared.
“How could you?” she said to me in horror or disgust, or both. “And on picture day, of all days. Does your mother know?” she asked, then put her head down, shaking it as she walked away.
I found it annoying when people asked you a question, or series of them, then walked away without waiting for an answer. And the way she said that made me feel like I had done something wrong. Like I had done this to myself in some kind of adolescent protest to uniformity.
My Mom’s words echoed in my head, “No makeup until high school,” she had said over and over. But I wished I had at least tried to put something on this to cover it up. Or maybe if I had purple eyeshadow on then nobody would even notice my forehead. Maybe a purple highlighter would work.
It was nearly 10:30 (recess time) and our class was next for pictures, so the teacher moved our break to later. We lined up in the hallway by class, then by alphabetical order. I was at the end, like always, but at least it placed me out of sight of everyone else who was eagerly looking on ahead to see who was getting their picture taken. And it placed me six classmates away from Graham, which means, if I did my math correctly, that will place him directly above me in our class picture.
Our class was half-way done, when who of all people showed up in the hallway—none other than my very own mom. Oh dear God, what have I done to deserve this? I cringed, tried to lower my head into my body and disappear like a turtle. But if I was lucky enough to hide my horn from the class this far, my mom was sure to expose it. And in sixth grade, this could be terminal.
“Honey!” she shouted down the hall, “you forgot your brush and spray that I left out for you,” she said waving it around and looking for me.
I thought I had done a good job of disappearing myself somehow, no questions asked, just gratitude. But when I opened my eyes she was standing in front of me, reaching the brush out to my head. She started hacking away at a tangle in my bangs.
“Just look at you,” she said, using her fingers to untie a big knot right near my horn. I hoped she didn’t touch it. Even though it was numb, I had a fear that it would hurt if she scraped it with that brush.
I put my hands up to shield myself from her wrath.
“Please stop, Mom. Do you see any other parents here? No. Please leave,” I said, getting whiny so as not to sound mean-hearted. “Please,” I restated, “just go. I will see you at home later.”
She stopped in her tracks, arms frozen mid-air in front of my bump which seemed to glow brighter and hotter in my embarrassment, which I hoped, prayed even, that she wouldn’t notice.
“Fine,” she said, snippy.
“Thanks for bringing these, though” I said, trying for damage control and taking the things from her with a forced smile.
It was almost my turn. At least my mom didn’t blow the cover. I just needed to keep my bangs in place. Sure. That would do it. I held still, as not to let them expose my secret. I had to get rid of these things so I dropped the brush and bottle in the trash can nearby. They landed with a clunk, and several kids turned around in line to see what the noise was. I looked away quickly, as if I too were looking for what made that loud noise.
The line inched along until, for better or worse, it was my turn. I walked up to the tape line, pointed my toes toward the photographer, tried not to look at all the umbrellas, but directly into the camera. Into the lens.
It was working, I thought. I smiled, and it felt radiant. I felt confident. I was shining, I thought. But then my eyes focused in on the reflection in the glass. Me. Sitting slumped over even though my spine felt straight, and of course, I saw the bump. Which was now the horn. Which was glowing through the part in my bangs that formed as it grew, trying to poke out from behind my carefully curled and sprayed bangs. I shook my head in disbelief and disappointment.
“Stay still,” the photographer said, scolding.
But it was too late. My bangs had opened like a curtain parting and the brightness of my horn was released in it’s full embarrassing glory. The camera lens cracked and shattered, so I closed my eyes in an effort to make it all stop. Light bulbs popped and children began screaming. It was all my fault.
I ran to the bathroom, my horn blazing a bright path before me and seeming to whisk me off me feet, quickly to my destination. I went to the last stall, my favorite, and leaned my back against the door, blocking out the world.
I touched my forehead, afraid of how much bigger it was going to feel, and like a frozen steak, my fingertips soothed the burning sensation that I felt all over my face. The light from the horn went out, a relief to my eyes which had become squinted in their efforts to filter out the brightness. If I had been a light bulb burning hot it was like someone has finally turned off the switch to give me a rest.
I wanted my itch back. I wanted to only be in here for that, running the paper towel under the cool water and pressing it to my head. This, this thing, was too much.
When the bell rang and I was sure the bathroom was clear, I stepped out of my stall. There it was—the mirror. I looked up, unsure of what I would see this time, but it was clear. It was a tall, slender, twisted, sparkling white horn smack dab in the middle of my forehead.
Had it grown? Or was it me fooling myself to think that I had covered it up with my hair only this morning? And why hadn’t my mom said anything when she came? Didn’t she notice? She notices everything, right? Was she too offended by my attitude? Or distracted by her late night “meeting”?
I knew it would be inevitable to have to return to the classroom. I fumbled by, having waited so long so that now I was sure to be an interruption. Trying to be stealth, I kept close to the cabinets, but my horn knocked a paper off the wall as I walked past.
The class turned in unison and looked.
“Please take your seat, Ms. Tardy,” the teacher said, sounding like a cross between a snake and a bee whenever she pronounced Mssssss.
I sat down.
“You must now take your turn wearing the tardy sombrero,” she announced. “Let this be a lesson to all of you,” she said while holding the straw hat high above the class.
She went to put the hat on me but it fell right off.
“Now this is most disrespectful,” she scoffed at me.
She tried once again to put it on my head.
“You take that thing off this instant,” she said to me, pointing at my horn.
I looked at her, puzzled. The class was silent.
“I don’t know how,” I said bluntly. It was the truth.
“Don’t talk back to me. You take that thing off,” she said, and gave it a good yank, as if she could just pull it right off that easy. Like I hadn’t tried that.
“Ouch,” I screamed, even thought it was a lie. It didn’t hurt, but it was quite rude and that needed to be addressed in some regard.
“That’s it, you march yourself down to the Principal’s office immediately,” she said.
So I walked away, down the center aisle, and across the front of the classroom with my head hung low.
“Bye Unicorn girl,” a voice said. It was a beautiful voice, the voice of an angel it seemed. I looked up and Graham was waving at me with one finger stuck out by his forehead.
I smiled. He was right. I was like a unicorn.
But when I got to the principal’s office he was steaming. He knew it was me that had broken the photographer’s equipment and then run off, so he was not happy. Well, maybe happy that he had me in his office to reprimand. He was the kind of principal who liked to reprimand. He’s the only principal I ever had to go see in their office.
“Does your mother know what you’ve done?” he asked me from across the mile-long desk.
All I could think about was how badly I wanted one of the strawberry candies from his crystal dish.
“Can’t I plead the fifth amendment?” I said, knowing it would sound smart alec, but not caring. This was the new confident me. The one with the horn. No itchy forehead. The one who smiles great in pictures and who now might have a boyfriend named Graham (as these things can happen very fast in sixth grade).
He stood up and reached across the desk, right for it, right for my horn. And he pulled it. When that didn’t do anything to satisfy him, he yanked it hard, pulling my head with it.
“Ouch!” I said, and slapped his wrist out of instinct. “That was rude. What is the matter with you?” I said. I got up and stood near the door, ready to run.
“How did they get that on there so strong? Who did this? Why would you do this? I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, holding his jaw with his hand and staring awkwardly at my horn.
“I don’t have to answer your questions without my mother present,” I said in my final attempt to avoid the topic, since I myself didn’t know the answers.
“Well she is on her way,” he said, then stared into his computer, fiddled his keys around, wiggled the mouse, and pretended to work while we waited. “So sit down and don’t move until she gets here. I have…work to do,” he announced in a strange, radio-show-host sort of way.
And we waited. My mom had a tendency to run a little late. I helped myself to one of the strawberry candies. Didn’t even ask, just unwrapped one right in front of him (staring into his computer) and crunched it hard, filling my mouth with gooey liquid. And then another. Before I knew it I had eaten the whole bowl and there was a pile of crinkly gold wrappers laying on the desk as evidence.
I closed my eyes and wished I hadn’t eaten so many of them, or that the pile of wrapper evidence would just disappear. I had in fact really enjoyed eating them and didn’t wish to give that back. I wondered if wishes worked that way, if you could take them back, or re-do them if you don’t say the right thing the first time. Because I have a way of not saying things right at first.
I opened my eyes and the pile of wrappers was gone. The candy dish was full. The flavor of strawberry lingered in my mouth.
“Hm,” I uttered, impressed with myself—either my magic or my insanity.
“What is it?” Principal Berryman said, still gazing at his “work”.
“I…uh, uh, uh,” I tried to hold it in, but it was coming out, “a-choo!” I sneezed, and when I looked to see the snot flying, instead it was a cloud of glitter that came out, splattering Mr. B’s desk with the sparkliest, most translucent glitter I’d ever seen. Like ground up diamonds. The most beautiful snow.
“Kazuntite!” he said, in a reprimanding tone. Then sent a box of kleenex sliding across his desk toward me, still without looking up, for which I was thankful for. I wasn’t sure how I would explain this one. I was still trying to come up with some excuse for the horn which I had nothing to do with.
I averted my eyes, hoping he wouldn’t notice the sparkly mess if I pretended not to. I let a few moments pass, then swiped a tissue from the box and tried to casually wipe the glitter off. I tried to catch it in my hand off the side of the desk, but as it fell it disappeared into nothing. I had to figure out what happened to me the night before last to understand what was happening now. I had to get this thing under control, whatever it was.
The more I wondered about this condition, the more it began to hit me—I just did magic. Right? Or was that my imagination? Am I crazy? I couldn’t be sure, but the still-sweet flavor of artificial strawberries told me to believe. And I wondered what else I could do that I hadn’t realized before. That I had convinced myself wasn’t real either.
“Knock, knock,” my mom’s voice sang in the principal’s doorway. I found it irritating when people actually said “knock” instead of physically knocking. If you have the arms, use them, I thought.
And when I turned around to watch her enter the room, I noticed she was waving her arms around like some kind of hula-dancer-octopus.
“What are you doing?” I asked her, my eyes measuring up her movements. I often asked her questions like this since she was always embarrassing me one way or another. And I guess I should have somehow politely just said “Stop doing whatever it is you are doing!”
She ignored me. Mr. B asked her to have a seat.
I had so many thoughts racing through my head. First of all—it’s not fair that I’m getting in trouble for something that’s not my fault. Or is it? I tried again to think back to that night it all started, but it’s as if the memory just doesn’t exist.
I stopped listening to my mom and the principal talk about what “issues” drove me to act out in such a manner. “Mutilation” and “indignation” he even called it. But as it had become part of me by now, I begun to feel offended by such rudeness. And, after all, Graham called me beautiful. Well, not in those words exactly, but he may as well have by the smile he gave me.
I walked out of the office ten minutes later with a paper bag over my head. It was forced on me. Oh it wasn’t that bad, the eyes and mouth and nose were cut out. But my horn seemed to ache under the rough texture of the bag. It wasn’t glowing anymore either.
My mom kissed the top of my bag and darted off. A meeting with her Fairy God Publisher, I assume.
I thought for a moment that, Hey this is what I wanted, for it to go away. But it wasn’t gone, and this felt even more embarrassing, more shameful, and none of this was my fault but no one would believe me, or maybe they just didn’t believe in anything. I hadn’t imagined it would happen like this—making the horn disappear by simply placing a paper grocery bag over it.
And I still couldn’t be sure that the bag had any effect at all on the horn, though it was hurting my self-esteem like a stupid, floppy Easter hat your mom still makes you wear even though you’re eleven! Still, I marched on down the hall back to class, where Mr. B made sure I kept the bag in place as I entered back into my dreaded classroom.
The class was instructed not to look at me, but those kind of instructions always work in opposite. Everyone looked at me, only they weren’t looking at me—all they could see was recycled paper with knee socks and rain boots. Hey, it looked like it was going to rain today. And it was a very large bag.