Authors: Jo Knowles
“I am not afraid of Molly Lo,” Ryan tells me from inside the stall in the boys’ bathroom. He refuses to use the urinal, just like everyone else.
“Then why are you hiding in the bathroom?” I ask.
“She’s stalking me,” he says. “Stalkers make me nervous.”
The toilet does not flush as Ryan’s head appears at the top of the wobbly metal wall of the stall . . . then his sneaker, as he slings his leg over. He struggles with getting all the way over, grunting and cursing, then finally slides down the side to land in front of me.
“You forgot to flush,” I point out.
He shrugs and straightens his shirt. “I’m conserving water. ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow.’”
“Seriously? No wonder it smells so bad in here.”
I wait for him to wash his hands.
No one knows who the original person was to leave the door to the stall locked from the inside, but for some reason, no one wants to be the person to unlock it. This means that in order to use the bathroom, you have to either crawl under or climb over to get in and out. Since crawling under would mean having to touch the boys’-room floor with your hands, there’s really only one choice.
I usually just try to hold it.
“I wish she’d get the hint that I’m not interested,” Ryan says. He peers into the mirror to inspect a zit on his upper lip.
“You should pop that and get it over with,” I tell him.
“I know, but I bit my fingernails down too far and can’t get a good squeeze.” He gives me a look as if he’s considering asking me to do it for him.
I give him a
Not a chance
“Forget it,” he says. “Just c’mon.” The mini volcano on his upper lip leads us out.
In the hallway, Lily Smith is standing next to Small Tyler and pointing at his locker. “We know it’s you,” she says, all bossy. “And it’s disgusting. You have to clean it out.”
clean,” Small Tyler tells her. Small Tyler isn’t actually that small, but the other Tyler in school, Tyler Gingritch, is kind of a giant, and that’s how people distinguish the two of them.
“What smells like fish?” Belle asks, coming up behind Lily. She wrinkles her nose and whips her long, shiny black braids over her shoulder at the same time. Belle is an eighth-grader, but she’s friends with Lily because Lily
like an eighth-grader.
“What’s the problem out here?” We all turn to see the Tank coming down the hallway. His actual name is Mr. Sticht and he teaches social studies. All the girls love the Tank. He has huge muscles and a tattoo on his arm of some military crest that everyone in his unit got when they were deployed in Iraq. The Tank is our hero, even though most of us are from families who opposed the war. I think you can be antiwar but still be grateful to people who have to go fight in one. No one messes with the Tank, and no one
calls him that to his face.
The small crowd moves aside as he approaches the locker, which, now that people have cleared a path, does smell suspiciously like fish.
The Tank swings open the locker, and a wave of even stronger fishiness wafts over us. People cough and gag.
Small Tyler steps back. “I swear there’s nothing in there,” he says. “I’ve looked! It’s just paper and stuff.”
The Tank steps backward. “Well something’s making that smell,” he says, covering his face with his enormous hand.
“Maybe someone put something in there as a joke,” Small Tyler suggests.
“It smells like death,” Ryan says.
“OK, OK, pull everything outta there,” the Tank orders. “Someone go get the trash can.”
Max Fitzsimmons volunteers, holding his arms out as he struts down the hall, as if his muscles are so big they prevent his arms from resting at his sides.
Ryan elbows me and rolls his eyes. “His muscles aren’t
big,” he mutters, shaking his head in disgust.
“Whose muscles aren’t that big?” our friend Sam asks way too loudly, coming to stand between us.
“Tell you later,” Ryan says.
Max drags the trash barrel back, and everyone steps even farther away because the trash smells
as bad as Small Tyler’s locker.
“Well, get going,” the Tank tells Small Tyler.
He starts pulling crumpled papers, books, and other stuff out of his locker.
“How did you accumulate so much junk in just two months?” the Tank asks.
Small Tyler shrugs. The tips of his ears are bright red. I feel bad that we’re all just standing around watching him. We’re not
friends, but I do like the guy. Our school is on the small side, so everyone is kind of friends at some level.
I step forward and motion for Small Tyler to hand me the trash from his locker so he doesn’t have to do it all by himself.
“Thanks, Noah,” he mumbles.
The more he empties it out, though, the stronger the smell. People step back farther and farther down the hall. Even the Tank looks a little worried about what we’re going to find when we get to the bottom.
I glance over at Ryan and Sam, who have stepped way back from the scene, shaking their heads at me, as if I’m the biggest sucker in the world.
This is what I get for being the nice guy.
Small Tyler stops. “Uhhhhh,” he says quietly.
“What is it?” I ask.
A few people step closer, risking the smell just to see. People have a sick fascination with gross things.
Slowly Small Tyler lifts another handful of crumpled-up balls of paper out of his locker, but these ones have something brownish dripping from them. He tries to hand them to me, but I step back. Even
have my limits.
Unfortunately I’m not fast enough, and a drip lands on my sneaker.
” the Tank asks, screwing up his face.
“Locker juice,” someone whispers.
“Ewwwww,” everyone whispers back.
“Well, get it the hell out of there!” the Tank bellows. He drags the trash barrel closer so Small Tyler can get the dripping trash in without getting any on the floor — or anyone else’s shoes.
When he tosses it in, an even stronger smell hits me all at once, and I stagger backward into Max, who staggers into Lily. We are like dominoes falling into one another and gasping, eyes watering. I try to think of a worse smell but can’t, and that’s saying something. There are three things I can think of off the top of my head. A dead mouse whose smell spread through the whole school the day the heat kicked in for the first time this fall. Tyler Gingritch’s farts after his parents had a chili-contest party in October and he wandered through the school leaving gas in every room just to torture us all, and then Zach Bray and Max Fitzsimmons, who were also at the party, formed a group called the Fart Squad and went around leaving stink bombs right before class. And finally Mrs. Phelps’s coffee breath, better known as Death Breath. It fills the science room every morning and makes even Miranda-with-the-Always-Stuffed-Up-Nose gag.
This is the smell of a thousand dead mice. A million Fart Squad bombings. And worse than a fan blowing Mrs. Phelps’s Death Breath
straight into your mouth.
“I found it!” Small Tyler says, holding up a leaky sandwich bag. It looks like it once held a sandwich but now holds a brown, moldy thing with putrid liquid dripping out.
“Tuna sandwich,” he says. Then he covers his mouth with his hand like he’s trying not to throw up.
Students start gagging and stumbling down the hall. The Tank points to the garbage can and yells, “Drop it in! Drop it in!” as if he’s yelling to one of his commando buddies during mortal combat to drop a grenade down an enemy’s trench.
Tears roll down Small Tyler’s face. It’s not clear if they’re from humiliation or the horrible odor. It doesn’t matter. We all understand.
He quickly drops the dripping bag into the trash. Then, in one brave gesture, he scoops up all the remaining dripping papers at the bottom of his locker in his arms and dumps them in. The Tank slams down the rubber lid and motions to Max, who grabs the handle and quickly wheels the garbage down the hall.