Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The 11th Ring, by E. Flanigan

Raisa says people are like trees: you have to cut them down to see what they're made of.

Raisa's really smart, and she's also the funniest person I've ever met. She's always cracking jokes and playing tricks and stuff. And she comes up with things really fast. When Margot didn't save her a seat at breakfast, Raisa said, "Hey, Large Marge, I know you got your red hair from your mom, but did you get your chest hair from your dad?" It was so funny.

She has nicknames for everybody. Smelly Shelly. Sticky Nicki. She calls me Scabby Gabbi, but nobody has a nickname for her because nothing rhymes with Raisa.

We're best friends. They call us the Rainbow Twins because we always wear two different colored socks. If she wears red and blue, I wear pink and purple. We also wear yellow and green sometimes, but not black or white, and not orange. Raisa hates orange.

Raisa wears two different socks even when she’s not at camp because rainbow is her favorite color. I do it because we’re the Rainbow Twins.

She can tap dance and French-braid and count to 10 in Japanese. She went to Hawaii last year and rode in a helicopter. Her dog's picture was on the Today show. She likes being interesting.

If you can't take a joke, you're boring, and nothing is worse than being boring. "What good are you?" That's what Raisa says.

Last summer Sarah and Raisa were best friends, but not now. Raisa says Sarah is boring. She calls her Snoozy Sarah.

Last night we played a trick on her. Right after lights out, Raisa called for our counselor Michelle. “Sea-shell, I need to use the bathroom!”

“What are you up to?” Michelle shined her flashlight toward Raisa’s bunk, and Raisa was hopping up and down with her hand between her legs.

“I really have to go, Sea-shell. This is très serious.”

Michelle said, “You have to take a buddy.”

Raisa grabbed my hand and pulled me out the door. We started toward the bathrooms, but then Raisa turned off her flashlight and stopped.

“What are we ….?”

“SHUSH!” she said. She looked around, then pulled a piece of paper out from under her shirt. "Wait 'til you see this letter the Snooze wrote her mom today: Boo-hoo, I miss home, I miss Daddy. Wahh!"

She yanked a roll of masking tape from her shorts pocket and started walking toward mess hall. "This will be hilarious. Just wait 'til tomorrow."

Raisa taped the letter to the door and we went back to the cabin and went to bed.

This morning, when Raisa and I walked up for breakfast, the other girls were gathered around reading the letter.

"What a big fat baby!" Raisa started laughing.

Nobody had a chance to say anything because just then Sarah walked up and saw. She ripped the letter down and looked at Raisa like she was about to cry. "You know, Raisa, you're a jerk!"

Raisa laughed. "Why don't you go get your diaper changed, Snoozy? Or is it time for your bottle?"

I laughed, and Sarah turned to face me. "Gabbi, grow a brain of your own!"

A few girls giggled and Sarah walked away, back toward the cabin.

"She's such a joke." Raisa snorted and went in for breakfast.

This afternoon when I walked up to the cabin to change into my swimsuit, Sarah was sitting on the stump next to the cabin.

"Where's Raisa?"

"Still down at the lake."

Sarah sat there for a minute, then wiped a tear off her cheek. "Gabbi, did you know me and Raisa used to be best friends? But she's not a good friend."

I thought about what Raisa would say if she were here. "You're just mad because she thinks you're boring."

Sarah shook her head. "No, Gabbi. You know that thing she always says about how you have to cut something down to see what's inside? Well, it's not true. You can see what's inside her if you just look."

“As if you would know!" I said. I thought about walking away from this très boring conversation, but I didn't.

Sarah stood up and pointed to the middle of the round stump.

“The rings are small in the middle, see? This tree didn’t start off good. Michelle told me if the amount of rain and sun is just right, the tree makes a big fat wide ring. But if it’s too dry or too cold or too cloudy, then the ring is real thin.”

"Thanks for the science lesson."

"Gabbi, you don't have to cut Raisa open to know she's real small inside. And she's making us small, too. And you're helping her."

Sarah sat back down. “Michelle said people like Raisa make everybody’s 11th ring small. Forever.”

"You wouldn't say that if she was here."

Sarah shrugged. "OK, Scabby. Just think about it."

I went in the cabin, but I don't have to think about it. Sarah is boring, and Raisa is interesting, and which would you rather be?


Erica Orloff said...

Another really good story, E. I love the symbolism of the rings/tree. And thought the depiction of camp (which for me, was a horror show as a kid) was great.

For me, my only quibble was the ending . . . the "which would you rather be?" took me out because of her seeming to speak to the reader. Until then, I was "in" the story.

But great job. Once again, spot-on characterization.

Merry Monteleone said...

So glad I caught this one!

I thought the voice was great, you did a fantastic job of capturing Gabby and the idea that your reader can see exactly what's going on while your mc is missing the reality of it is so genuine for that age.

LurkerMonkey said...

I really liked this, too. The first time I read it, I laughed out loud at the "tres serious" line. And I agree it was a spot-on characterization of a mean-girl-in-training and her minion.

E. Flanigan said...

Thanks, Erica.

I don't know if it makes the 2nd person ending any more forgivable, but I did do it that way on purpose. In other words, it was a conscious choice (as opposed to a bad habit or laziness or something) that may not have worked.

What I was thinking when I wrote it was that the final line would help underscore what Merry said: that the reader can see what's going on when the narrator can't.

Guess I should've listened to Lurker. He has told me before that 2nd person is really hard to pull off!

E. Flanigan said...

Thanks, Merry! As a kid, I avoided girls like Raisa like the plague because they scared me to death. That whole way of operating was (and is) like a foreign language I don't speak.

I didn't figure out until much later that those chicks aren't as fabulous as they would have us all believe .... if I had figured it out at 11, middle school would have been a lot different!

Merry Monteleone said...


My daughter's twelve and she had a Raisa messing with her almost all year this year. The girl threw paint on her new jeans in artclass, called her names any time the teacher wasn't around, and kept threatening to beat her up.

Gracie's not a fighter, she's a stand-up comic, really. And she dealt with it pretty well, apparently, she just kept shooting back witty comebacks or laughing when one of the girl's insults was funny (which I definitely couldn't have done at twelve)

Anyway, they had an overnight band trip last week, and her Raisa actually had a conversation with Gracie, for part of the busride. And I, being the worried mother I am, asked how that went and if she was messing with her and all of that.

My daughter said, "Na, she's been leaving me alone lately. You have to understand. The only things she really has that she thinks make her special are being tough and being good at sports. She'll stop being mean when she likes herself enough to know other people might like her, too"

Being the parent here, I'd love to think my kid is beyond humanitarian compassion. But I think the reality is that most kids empathize like this. Most kids get this. It's why I love to see YA and middle grade writers cover real issues without spoonfeeding a moral.

As far as the last line, I kind of thought you rushed it in there because there was a limited word count. You didn't need it for the reader to understand Gabby's mental state, or the reality... but, I would looooove to see this fleshed out as a short story. You have a great knack for the voice. But then, everything I've read of yours so far has been excellent.

Erica Orloff said...

You can't upset the balance of power and ever let Lurker Monkey know he's right. It's bad for womankind. :-)

Really? It's such a solid story that it's a small quibble. I agree with Merry. You have the makings of a longer short story here! Or a story for American Girl or a YA pub.


Melody Maysonet said...

Great voice. Sadly, Gabbi reminds me of myself when I was young. I went through a phase where I wanted so badly to be liked that I was willing to sacrifice my own morals. Fortunately, it was a short phase, and I like to think that this is only a phase for Gabbi as well. I agree with others about the ending. It was a little too "hit you over the head with the point." I think it would resonate better if readers were able to come up with the point more for themselves. Overall, I'm impressed, E! I never knew until I started reading this blog that you had the makings of a writer. And BTW: I chuckled that "rainbow" is Raisa's favorite color. My son went through a phase where rainbow was his favorite color.