Entry for Hone Your Skills Blogfest: Esperanza

No one believed her name was Esperanza, but honestly, none of us cared enough to try to ferret out the truth either. Since Esperanza means “hope,” a lot of people called her Hopeless behind her back. Although her hair was always brushed, it never actually seemed to be clean, and she never did anything with it. Her clothes were clean enough, but we weren’t sure her mother had an iron.

Laurie had to share a locker with her, since their last names were so close together alphabetically. Poor Laurie. She said everything Hopeless had – her furry navy blue winter coat, her school books – all smelled like cigarette smoke. Rhonda said it could be worse; she wasn’t sure Hopeless bathed all that often and the cigarettes probably covered up worse smells.

Don’t think for a minute though that Hopeless smoked. We thought smoking was sort of cool, and so of course we ruled out right away that it was her own cigarettes that we were smelling.

Mr. Norris hated her. He was our English teacher. Everyone knew that he taught high school English so that he could stare at cute teenage girls. His coffee cup would have a half-dressed girl when the coffee was hot. Unbuttoning the top couple buttons of your blouse, wearing short skirts or low cut tops, these are the things that brought your grade up in his class. She wasn’t even a little cute and didn’t even try. Worse, she thought he was a dork.

Naturally, everything she turned into him was slashed to bits by his red pen. The thing he killed the worst was her poem. It was nearly Christmas, and she wrote this:

Holly –
Cheerful
Decorative
Beautiful
But ultimately
Poisonous

Of course I remember every word of that short poem, because it was a dig at me. Not that I was all that crazy about my name, but it wasn’t hers to mess with. So anyway, when she wrote the poem, I knew that I was on her radar. That might sound a little weird, but really, until then she mostly pretended none of us existed. Now I knew that she was perfectly aware of us, or at least of me. It wasn’t that great of a feeling, to be honest. So I wrote my own poem. An acrostic.

Hopeless
Obsolete
Pathetic
Expired
Lowly
Exact
Stinky
Sayonara

OK, so it wasn’t exactly a Shakespearean sonnet. I wrote exact in there because she had this weird meticulous thing she did. Things had to be on her desk and in her locker just right. But not everything. Like, her books were always stacked largest to smallest, and always smack up against the right side of the locker, but at the same time her papers would be just shoved in next to them. Everything on her desk was perfectly aligned, but it looked like her purse hadn’t been emptied in years. That’s probably why no one knew how long she was carrying the gun.

So anyway, one day Mr. Norris asks her to stay after school. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s stinking cold out and it gets dark early. She has her dark blue furry coat that stunk like cigarette smoke, and she’s mad at Mr. Norris because he destroyed her Holly poem. He’s mad at her because she said something against me, and she stunk, and she wasn’t pretty, and she didn’t care. And she thought he was a dork. I don’t know if she didn’t have the sense to have a friend go with her to his class after school, or if she just didn’t have a friend, or if she asked someone and they said no.

Mr. Norris said that she was distraught over her poem. He said that he got shot trying to take the gun away from her, but she’d already shot herself once. Luckily for him, he only had a minor wound. Before she died, she said that she’d shot him trying to protect herself, that he attacked her. Pushed himself on her. You know what I mean. Of course, no one believed her. I’m sure if she had a funeral, only her mother went. Her mother, smoking the whole time, no doubt. Stinking.

I didn’t think about her after that. It was almost Christmas vacation. When we got back to school, Laurie got a new locker partner, some girl named Evalyne. She was more normal, and life went on. We had a lot to do, like get ready for finals. Time just sort of passes, you know? And then it’s another semester, although I didn’t have Mr. Norris this time, and then it’s finally summer vacation.

I ran into Mr. Norris over the summer. End of July, early August. That time when you’re bored of summer vacation but don’t want to admit it. So one of my babysitting jobs turned out to be in the same apartment complex as Mr. Norris. The money was decent, but the kids were pretty awful. Mr. Norris said I could come over and have a beer when I was done. He said I looked like I really needed one.

So it turned out that Hopeless was telling the truth. Esperanza. But I didn’t tell anyone. Not then. Neither had Rhonda, second semester. Nor Laurie. When school started again, though, Laurie guessed. She gave me a piece of paper that had been in her locker.

Holly –
Cheerful
Decorative
Beautiful
But ultimately
Poisonous

Neither of us said a word. But I managed to add a little something to Mr. Norris’s coffee cup a few days later – think of it as a little bit of hope for the girls who came after us.

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7 responses to “Entry for Hone Your Skills Blogfest: Esperanza

  1. This is just a note for now to tell you that I’ll be reading your story in the car on my way out of town. I’ll post my comments later tonight. Thanks for participating! 🙂

  2. Wow, whatever I was thinking about what didn’t work flew out of my head with your ending. Awesome! I loved how in the end the girls were on the same side. High school can be cruel and you captured that really well. There is also forgiveness and understanding when teens mature. That’s all in this story too.

    Your descriptions are great, the poems are perfect, and the voice is clear and enjoyable.

    Ok, time to look for nitpicky things:
    There is a lot of passive voice that can be fixed to give everything more impact. For instance, “Although her hair was always brushed, it never actually seemed to be clean, and she never did anything with it.” would become something like this “Although she kept her hair brushed, it never looked clean and she didn’t bother to fix it in any special way.” Or something. Note: Passive voice usually makes me feel sleepy and disconnected from the story, so on a positive note, you used the passive well because I never felt that way.

    That’s really all I can say because I loved your opening sentences and the last one was perfect. Thanks for participating!

  3. Wow, this is the best I have read so far. I loved the theme and how you handled it. The story is a heartbreaking one too.

    I like how you slipped in the turning points, a lot like how a teenager would tell the story. About the gun, the rape, Holly’s own rape, poisoning Mr. Norris. Classic!

  4. Slow start, but as soon as you wrote about a gun, I perked up. Consider putting that earlier to hold your reader. Great short, though. I especially like the poetry (though I’m a terrible poet, and boy, do I know it). I’m confused at the end where you say ‘added something to Mr. Norris’s coffee cup’ then mention the ‘girls that came after us.’ At first, I thought she poisoned him, but if that was the case, there wouldn’t be girls after. Right?

    Lots of lovely description. There are so many kids in middle and high schools like Esperanza. Bad home life, no friends, teachers don’t care. Nice take on that.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Marie at the Cheetah

  5. I liked it from the beginning to the end. I thought you represented the age well. I liked the poems. Well done and real. I was also a little confused by the poisen and girls that would come after. I liked how none of the girls told. Very real I thought. I can agree with the passive voice part but I also felt like that was part of the voice. Almost like an old police drama and I can’t think of the name of it. 🙂 Great work

  6. Thanks, everyone! Yeah, it would make more sense if the final line was changed a bit, since no one would be coming “after us.”

  7. Great entry. I’m with Charity in that the twists just keep twisting, and at the end you have a neat little package that’s nothing like what you were expecting (kind of like an origami crane).

    Kudos:
    1. I like the details. The smoke. The coat. Her books. I get such a neat sense of Esperanza. And Holly’s attitude toward her is perfectly in line with a HS girl. Nice job.

    2. I love how you come full circle with the poem and how it’s ultimately the cause of the downfall of Mr. Norris. It all ties together so neatly, and make for a great read, which I already said, but I wanted to say again 🙂

    Suggestions:
    1. How, in this day and age, has no one accused Mr. Norris of sexual harassment. I’m not necessarily talking about the rape, since we all know girls generally aren’t forthcoming in these situations. I’m talking about the coffee mug. How can he get away with that?

    2. I know this isn’t possible in such a short space, but I want to know more about why Esperanza decided to single out Holly–despite her name being connected to the holidays and your need for having her be poisonous. There’s almost no indication before this poem that the MC and Esperanza have had any interactions with each other. Something had to put Holly on Esperanza’s radar, right?

    Thanks so much for sharing. Well done!

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