Read an Excerpt
By Amy Goldman Koss
Roaring Brook Press Copyright © 2006 Amy Goldman Koss
All rights reserved.
I'll tell you what I can, but to be honest, I wasn't paying much attention at first. I half remember Gold wanting to do a mock trial, since we were studying the judicial system and all that. She asked if any of us had any conflicts that we'd like to try in class, but no one did.
She brought it up a few more times but got the same nothing, so I thought that was that. I figured the whole scheme was just Gold's pathetic attempt to wrangle a Teacher of the Year kinda thing or get a raise or whatever. That's what it smelled like to me: a publicity stunt.
But what do I know?
Then the stuff with Ivy and the Anns came up, and it took off from there. It's my guess that Ivy was just looking for a little sympathy. My dad says half the cases clogging the courts are folks who want an apology from people too stubborn to apologize.
But this case wasn't that simple, and it wasn't a very pretty story, so if you're looking for "nice," you better ask someone else. On the other hand, if it's the truth you're after, I'll give it a shot.
It was the end of the day, so all the fish swam in the same direction: out to the breeding grounds. Moving together as the connected scales of one cold, single-minded sea beast. I'd lost track of my binder, however, so I swam upstream, alone against the current. Way off course, like those whales who end up panting in terror, waiting to die on dry sand. Seagulls shriek and circle. Flies appear out of nowhere to swarm. To a whale, flies and gulls are bizarre, nightmarish beings from an alien dimension: air creatures!
I felt a tap on my shoulder and assumed, with a spasm of dread, that it was The Evil Three. I pretended I'd mistaken the tap for a stray flick of a passing fish tail. Then a firmer tap and my name spoken in a voice that belonged to none of them. I turned to see tiny Ms. Gold, my American Government teacher, struggling to keep up with me through the mash of fins and gills.
I stopped dead and so did she. The stream of students surged past us. Ms. Gold looked up at me and said, "Ivy, have you got a minute?"
I said, "Sure," although the only thing I was sure of was that I'd miss my bus. I could call a cab, but the driver would have to wait while I ran inside to ransack Mom's underwear drawer for money to pay him. Or I could hitchhike home — and probably end up as fertilizer on some psycho pervert's veggie patch, haunting his zucchini.
All Ms. Gold heard was my "sure."
She answered, "Good," and motioned for me to follow her back to the classroom.
When we got there, Ms. Gold sat at Shannon's desk. I took Bryce Winsky's seat next to her. Then Ms. Gold eased open her notebook, took out a sheet of paper, and slid it over to me.
Oh! How'd she get that? Should I act like I didn't recognize it? Run? Say it wasn't mine?
Before I'd settled on a reaction, Ms. Gold said, "Ivy, dear, I find this very distressing. Would you like to talk about it?"
My eye skimmed the page. Not good. The part about wanting to float belly-up. The lines about being spit out by the tide to bleach, beached on the sand, going dry, feeding flies. No, it didn't sound good.
"It's not how it looks," I said.
Ms. Gold nodded.
"It's not like it was a suicide note or anything," I insisted. "I swear! It was more just a poem kind of thing. A joke almost."
She shook her head, not buying it. I noticed that her teeny feet barely grazed the floor.
I could imagine her showing it to my parents. Them blaming each other. They'd reel in the school shrink and who knows how many other "experts." I figured I'd better start treading, and treading fast.
"I was so tired of being treated like dirt that I'd just had enough there for a second," I explained.
And that's how it all started. I told Ms. Gold how The Evil Three have been after me, feeding off me since fourth grade. How they'd practically moved inside my skull, making me hear their insults even when they're nowhere around. For instance, they've been calling me "Poison Ivy" for so long that when I refer to myself as just Ivy, it sounds blunt and shortened, even to my own ears. That's how bad it has gotten.
If I were older, I could move away. But for now, I'm stuck with nowhere to turn. I told her all that and more. I told her that Ann was the worst of them, getting right up in my face to sing lead-mean while Benita and Sophie cackled the do-wop backup curse.
I let loose a gush of self-pity — and it felt good. Like finally letting rip with a monumental fart. I told Ms. Gold what The Evil Three did to me on the Catalina Island trip, and I told her about the time they wrote that stuff about me on the board. I rained on and on until I felt light as a cloud and temporarily empty of hate.
Was that weightless, floaty feeling worth what followed? The jury's still out on that one. But Ms. Gold had been itching for a trial, and maybe I always knew that when she went trolling around in the waters, she'd net me.
ANN — The Accused
Can you believe that poisonous little weed? Was I entirely right to hate her guts or what? She must've gone to Ms. G and cried, and told her I'm only the worst person since Osama bin Laden. Benita and Sophie too, but mostly me! And now everyone thinks this entire trial thing is such a hoot and I'm all, like, "What? Is this even legal?"
We were minding our own business when Ms. G nabbed us in the hall before class and said it had come to her attention — which meant Ivy told her — that Benita and me and Sophie have been — get this —"emotionally abusing" a classmate. Ms. G says she has two possible courses of action. One is to report us to Big Bad Broccoli — our illustrious principal, with her zero tolerance policy — so we could be suspended, if not expelled, and our war crimes stamped on our records to permanently screw up our lives.
Or, Ms. G said, we could skip Broccoli and do this little trial thing in class. My friends and I would be tried by a jury of our peers.
Some choice. I call it blackmail! So I said, "You call that a choice?"
And all Ms. G had to say for herself was, "Well, Ann, dear (I love the dear) you will have legal representation to look out for your rights."
And I'm all, like, "Excuse me?"
And how were Benita and Sophie about this? Ticked? Pissed? Insulted, like reasonable people would be? Not. Beni was high off the — I don't know what — attention? fame? You wouldn't believe how giddy she seemed about the whole stupid — if not out-and-out criminally insane — trial thing.
And Sophie was as paralyzed as if she'd been injected with frozen Botox. A perfect ice sculpture!
I hate to say that my sister was right, but it's true, my gal pals don't exactly burn brightly. Nope, no high beams here.
Anyway, where was I?
Oh yeah. So, the rest of the kids show up for class and Ms. G gives them a pansied-down version of what she'd told me and B and Soph. She tried to make it sound educational, since we've been studying the justice system and like that, but it's a feeble ploy. She's just trying to cover up her sicko plot to make me suffer. Ms. G was probably a total gnat in middle school and this is her revenge!
Meanwhile, my genius classmates adore the idea, of course. What's not to love? They get to burn me and my friends at the stake and watch us scream, while they have less than nothing to lose. And all this in front of Marco, the only halfway interesting boy in this whole stinking school! Of course this has to happen in one of the only two classes I have with him. I guess on the good side, if there could be a good side in this mess, which I totally doubt, at least this'll force Marco to notice me.
Did I mention that he's gorgeous? Black hair, blue eyes — my favorite combo. And he's tall but not towering, with glasses that make him look intensely brilliant, and he dresses dark. Not all gelled and studded and Look how cool I am! Just plain black. I think he seems older, kind of mysterious, maybe. And he keeps to himself and doesn't run in a pack, although all the guys like him.
I guess you can tell I've got it bad.
Okay, back to the trial. Ms. Gold had everyone (except Beni, Soph, me, and, of course, Poison Ivy) drop their names into a paper bag. Then Ms. G had Beni pull a name to be our legal representation, which meant lawyer.
I crossed my fingers and silently prayed, Marco! imagining me and him having long, steamy late-night meetings, planning our legal strategy.
But does Benita pick Marco? No. Guess whose name she gets instead. Owen Anderson! Can you stand it? Owen of all people. He's such an egomaniac, thinks he's so hot. And he's not even that cute. We went out for a while last year and it was all about him! The live-action, nonstop Owen Anderson show. After maybe five minutes, I'd had enough of that, but he told everyone he dumped me! As if!
Then it's Toxic Poison's turn to reach in and she draws Daria for her lawyer. Doesn't that just entirely figure? Daria's only the best student in the class. Actually, I think she got the best marks or scores or something, in all of Sea View not just our weenie grade but Southern California or whatever. That's why everyone calls her "Einstein." She's not exactly personality-plus, but still, brains count for something in the law biz, right?
Then, in case that doesn't reek enough, Ms. G pulls Jeremy's name out of the bag to be the judge! And the entire class dies.
Especially that dork-wad Wayne Martin. He gets all frazzed and goes, "This total disregard of aptitude or qualifications is absurd! Surely a less arbitrary selection procedure is warranted in a situation like this!" That's how he talks. I guess he thinks he should've been the judge, by rights of know-it-all-ness. And for once I practically agree with him, at least for sure compared to Jeremy!
We may as well just shoot ourselves right now because not only is Jeremy a total and complete goat turd, but everyone knows he hates Benita ever since she laughed, blowing Pepsi snot-rockets at him, when he asked her out. But to be fair, who could blame her? And now he'll probably give her the death penalty, and me and Sophie along with her!
This is so gross. I hate it here. I hate everyone. I hate Ms. G And I totally hate that infectious Poison Ivy even more than I did before, if that's even humanly possible.
DARIA — Counsel for the Plaintiff
I'm really and truly sorry. I'd like to help you, but even thinking about talking about it makes me queasy. That wasn't my proudest moment; although, I'm not so sure that if I had a chance to do it over, I'd do any better now.
I don't know how to correct the past, the best I can do is attempt to erase it. I doubt I'll convince myself that events went otherwise than precisely as they did, or manage to forget a single moment of the whole horrific ordeal. But I have to try.
I suppose I could save my money in hopes of having my memories surgically erased someday. Would a lobotomy work? Shock treatments? Wasn't there a movie like that?
But even if I could alter my recollection of reality, I could never change the facts. And possibly the worst fact of all is who I am — the precise concoction of phobias and fixations that created the mess that is me, and by extension, made such a dismal disaster of the entire trial.
I'm sorry. Really I am. But you see what talking about it does to me.
Gold — that's the teacher — asked who knew the difference between a civil trial and a criminal trial and not even Wayne Martin raised his hand, which was weird.
"It was thoroughly covered in your text," Gold said with her particularly annoying brand of sarcasm. "The chapters you supposedly read over the weekend?"
Still no hands. So, of course, Gold called on Einstein. And, of course, Einstein knew the answer. That's how she got her name in the first place. I don't know about anyone else, but I could barely hear anything that girl said. Either I'm going deaf or she talks in a range that only dogs, and teachers, can hear.
No matter, I knew I could ask my dad later. He was all over that stuff. He went to law school, even though he didn't end up practicing law. And if he was busy, worse comes to worst, I suppose I could read the chapters.
I don't know why I bothered, but I tried to tell Gold how the Tlingit people use circle talk to settle their arguments instead of suing. But she cut me off, saying, "This is American Government class, Marco. We'll do it the American way."
"Tlingits are Americans," I said, even though I knew she wasn't listening. "They're an Inuit tribe," I added. "Eskimos in Alaska? Alaska, America?"
"Take your seat, Marco," Gold demanded, covering her stupidity. I bet she's one of those mainlanders who think Alaska and Hawaii are wannabe states. States clomping around in Daddy's big shoes, playing pretend.
Some teachers prefer their students dumb and smarmy, kids who'll say Oh gee! I hope I'm as smart as you someday! Some teachers fawn over the Einstein, Wayne Martin megabrains. Others go for the power-elite — ruling class — popular kids. But so far, there's never been a teacher who likes the kind of kid I am — whatever that is. Not that I care. I'm only stating a fact.
But this one, Ms. Gold, wasn't only indifferent toward me, she hated my guts. I swear I don't know why. My dad says I shouldn't take it personally. He thinks maybe I remind her of a guy who dumped her, or of someone who gave her grief way back. My mom thinks I'm probably imagining the whole thing. But she also says I might as well get used to dealing with different personalities because the world is crawling with freaks.
I considered going to the principal to ask for a schedule change, but Ms. Brock is even crabbier than Gold.
DARIA — aka Einstein
I've given it more thought.
Apparently shock treatments and frontal lobotomies aren't performed routinely on minors in this part of California. And my own efforts haven't made a dent in my nightmares. So, perhaps if you and I discuss it, our conversations will double as low-cost psychotherapy, and help me put the whole unspeakable business behind me.
What I'm trying to say is, I think it's worth a try, if you're still willing.
* * *
The beginning ... Well, starting way back, Ms. Gold wanted to have a trial in class about something real. It could not be a criminal trial, of course, since we supposedly didn't break any actual laws. But a civil trial, meaning between two individuals, as opposed to between an individual and the state. She repeatedly asked the class if there were any conflicts we'd like to resolve, or any differences that needed to be settled. But no one came forth.
It's interesting, on reflection, that I didn't even think of the Ivy situation, and as far as I know, no one else did either. Perhaps we were simply too close to it. On some level, we were all so accustomed to Ivy being mistreated that we didn't even recognize it as wrong.
Therefore, when Ms. Gold announced Ivy as the subject of our trial, I thought, of course! It was inexcusable how long she had been enduring torment, and something absolutely should be done to stop her tormentors. Then when Benita, one of Ivy's enemies, drew Owen's name to be the attorney for the defense, I approved even more. Owen was ideal for this — he thrives on attention and he's smart, in his own way.
But when Ivy drew my name out of the bag to be her attorney, my insides screamed, No!
Ms. Gold chirped, "Congratulations, Daria!" Then, seeing the horror on my face, she added, "You'll do fine, dear." And she rolled on, leaving me breathless with dread. You'll have to ask someone else what happened next, because I was too upset to notice.
I was certain Ms. Gold was aware of my ... handicap, so I couldn't fathom why she would make me do this. My name had no business being in that bag. If I had no legs, would she have insisted that I dance? Was she insensitive or an outright sadist?
I didn't actually say or do anything, but panic and anger boiled and heaved inside me. Within the privacy of my skull, I berated Ms. Gold for not asking for volunteers or nominations to take the part of Ivy's attorney. Wayne Martin being the obvious choice. He is obsessed with rules and law, and even totes around a briefcase instead of a backpack. Further, Wayne has a profound natural — or unnatural — distance from normal human interaction, surrounded as he is by a moat of formal icy waters.
There'd been a mix-up at the holy distributor of life events and I'd been mistakenly assigned the role Wayne had been preparing for, in his own peculiar way, all his life. It was crystal clear to me that this error could, should, and must be corrected immediately.
I resolved to march up to Ms. Gold's desk after class, to suggest — strongly suggest — that she appoint Wayne Martin to his rightful place as Ivy's attorney — instead of me. Surely she'd see what a perfect fit he was, and conversely, what a ragged, misshapen misfit I would be in this particular puzzle. Yes! One look at Wayne Martin and it would be settled. Disaster averted, peace restored.
Excerpted from Poison Ivy by Amy Goldman Koss. Copyright © 2006 Amy Goldman Koss. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
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