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CHEEK

By Anita Kovačević

This story has been classified as medium sensitivity, which means parent or teacher guidance may be required for younger readers.

CHEEK

By Anita Kovačević

Sunday afternoon, home

Big trouble at church today! How could God do that to me? My English teacher was there, with her tough face and eyes which stare at you like a police scanner. Hate her! The woman actually goes there to pray! All alone! Always looking like she’s got nothing else to wear but those old-fashioned dark blue or black dresses. And that awful hairstyle! Looks like she’s a hundred years old, the frump!

And my mum! Being all polite and God-fearing, always sucking up to teachers, actually goes over and says ’hi’ to her! I mean – really?!? Why, God, why? So, now mum knows I have an essay to write for tomorrow. If I don’t do it well, it’s a B. Hate Bs. But I won’t write it. She can’t make me.

Mum might forget. The whole family is over for lunch again, keeping her too busy. I hate them, too! The only things good about them is the fact that my piggy bank gets filled to the top every time they visit. Love it when they buy my love!

Monday early morning, on my way to school

Mum remembered. I told her I’ve already done it. Gonna get one of those nerds to do it for me. Can’t just pick anyone. I’m Erica Brown – the Browns don’t get Bs. I must get me an A kid to do it for me. Hmmmm… I know! Gonna get me that Gemma Something kid. Gemma Paulson, I think. Who cares! She’s good – writes well and fast. Looks like a freckled chicken, tiniest in class, too. Haven’t used her services much. I need her to act fast.

I know. I will get some reinforcements. Daisy and Joanne, as usual. Stupid enough to do whatever I tell them to and not ask why. Will even take the blame if need be! One fat and huge, the other one uglier than a toothless witch on a bad day. We’ll get Gemma to do it in a sec! She’ll get me an A+, that one!

Or else… Head first in the toilet? T-shirt up in gym-class? Trip her down the stairs? Cut her hair uneven from behind? Throw her books out the window in the rain? Trash her on the Internet? Send fake text messages to her parents? All of the above?

Nah, she’ll get me an A+, no worries there.

Monday morning, school recess

Daisy on my left, Joanne on my right. I put on my meanest face and pull the Gemma-dwarf by the hair from behind. Kid actually trembles.

’You’re gonna do my English essay now. Sit and write. And make it an A+. Now!’ I shout.

’No,’ she whispers.

’Nooooo?’ I scream and put my nose right next to hers. Gonna break that nose of hers, sleezy little wimp!

’And do my handwriting. In my notebook. Don’t waste my time!’ I say coldly and in a low voice, hissing through my teeth.

She looks at the clock on the wall, lips quivering.

’No,’ again.

I push her like a wrecking ball, she falls on the floor, bites her lip, hits her head and cries.

Daisy pulls out Gemma’s notebook from her handmade rucksack and gives it to me to copy from it. Unbelievable! No time for this hassle! Would ask Joanne and Daisy to do it, but idiots write horribly! Need an A! If Mum tells Dad, I will have hell to pay.

I must copy it myself. This time. Hurry! Joanne watches the door for teacher’s arrival. Time is scarce. Daisy holds Gemma from behind, screaming in her ear to shut up and stop crying. Joanne even gets other kids quiet by shouting, hitting, kicking and tripping them as they come back. Routine that works!

Monday, English lesson

Bell rings. I’ve copied it all just in time. I toss her notebook on the dirty floor and spit on her. Useless crybaby! Gonna teach her a lesson after this one! She knows that. She knows who I am. She knows who my folks are. Knows what I can do. That scrawny, little, welfare maggot!

Teacher comes in. Everyone keeps quiet in their seats. Midget Gemma Paulson sits in front of me. She won’t tell. Knows what I will do if she does. Who’d believe her anyway?

My dad would fix it. Ain’t like we’re in church for nothing every Sunday. Knows the principal, the ministers, the mayor, everyone who counts.

Teacher collects essays. I smile my biggest smile.

’My mum and dad say ’Hi’,’ I say, just letting the teacher know who’s in charge, in case she starts getting any ideas other than As.

The wretched woman ignores me. I must set her up for something at the end of the school year. Wouldn’t be the first teacher my family gets fired!

Gemma sobbing. I kick her chair with my leg from behind to stop. Snivelling crybaby. I could just squash her like a bug right now. Daddy always says wimps should be obliterated. But too much audience around now. And Mum’s just texted – she’s taking me shopping if I get an A. I saw this great cell phone with some extra stuff.

Teacher gives us some worksheets to do as she corrects essays. Yeah, right! As if I’m gonna! Slip it backwards to Tom to do it for me. Knows what I’d do to his little sister if he doesn’t.

Time ticking away. Good! I play on my cell. Log into Joanne’s profile, send some fake messages in her name to her parents, post some photos I took of her in the school toilet this morning… Bitch can be useful, but she did wear the same top as me to the party last Friday! Had it coming!

Five minutes till recess. Need that A now. Teacher gets up. Here comes my A! And my new cell! New everything. Gonna make mum splurge on me for being a good girl. She’ll believe anything, that one, even Dad’s fibs.

’Thank you, Miss,’ I dazzle her. She walks away.

I open my notebook to take a picture of my A to send Mum.

An F. An F??????

Is she mental or what? She’s praising Gemma right now – to the whole class! Gave her an A+!

No way! She’s got no idea who she’s messin’ with!

I get up in the middle of her sentence, push Gemma’s chair on the way and demand an explanation from the teacher.

’What’s this?’

I shove my notebook into her self-righteous face. She opens her mouth and dooms herself to my vengeance.

’Stop copying other people and start taking responsibility,’ she says coldly.

The bell rings and she leaves.

Monday, recess after English lesson

I could throw my notebook into the back of the teacher’s head. Nah… witnesses.

Kids feel a storm coming and start fleeing.

’Get ooooouuuut!’ I scream.

I grab Gemma by the hand and point to Daisy and Joanne to watch the door. No patience to wait for everyone to leave this time.

’You bloody idiot, you cost me my grade. Wanna see just how much I can hurt you??? Wanna feel some pain? Huh? Huh?’

My face is in her face and I see tears springing from behind her frightened pupils. My head is pounding with rage. I lose control and slap her right across one cheek with all my might. Good! All five fingers leave a mark! Burgundy red, yes, you are. Well-deserved, too!

Blood in the corner of her mouth makes me want to inflict more pain. She slowly wipes it off with a sleeve, hand shaking like a leaf. But no tears come out.

No tears?

She looks straight at me. Gemma Paulson dares to look at me??? Unbelievable. Wants to speak?

She calmly turns her other cheek to me.

My blood freezes at the image.

’Wanna go for two out of two?’ she suggests, resigned.

My blood boils at the message.

Silence swallows the room. No air. Nothing moving. I can’t breathe.

She just stands there and waits.

Run, go away, cry, flee!

She just stands there, her white cheek turned to me. I start hearing a church sermon in my head. I hear Dad in my head. I hear Mum in my head. My middle brother has just been ordained minister. I hear him in my head, too.

’Turn the other cheek,’ they all say.

Turn the other cheek? And her folks are not even regular church-goers!!!

She just stands there. Stands there looking at me. No tears. Not daring. Just surviving.

I stare at that white cheek. I am paralysed.

A thousand drums pounding in my head now. My belly hurts as if punched by a heavy-weight champion showing no restraint. Heart beating louder than club music on a Saturday night. Head hurts beyond belief. All those voices blending in, preaching, teaching… and that cheek! Oh, God!

Teacher’s hand on my shoulder from behind pulls me back to reality. Taking me to the principal’s office. I glance back at Gemma, that tiny kid still standing there, my five-finger slap tatooed on her right cheek, her left one still glowing proudly, forever etched in my mind.

The principal is mad. I don’t care. Any punishment will do. I deserve it. And more. He calls Dad. Dad comes, smooths things over in the office, promises a donation, yells in the car. I don’t care.

We get home. Dad tells Mum. She is shocked. I just stand there. They talk about my sentence. Who cares?!? I deserve every punishment they can think of. And more.

They take me to church for confession. I go through the motions. She was just standing there, showing no fear. Feeling horror, but showing none. Time comes to actually confess. Her other cheek glaring at me with its pride. I cry. I disgust myself. The minister talks about forgiveness, penance and finding peace.

I’m thinking redemption.

Monday, evening at home

My brothers and sisters have all said their prayers and everyone is asleep. I am lying wide awake in my bed.

I get up. I go over to my walk-in closet, find my biggest suitcase. No, take two. Empty my box of cell-phones, not one over a year old, but discarded, already bored by them. Jewellery is next. Then brand name clothes, shoes, bags… Fill both suitcases, sit on them, zip.

Feels good. I know a charity I can take it to tomorrow before school.

Go to laptop. Enter Joanne’s account, send anonymous apologies and delete account. Go back to closet. Pick up that hat Daisy likes so much. Put it in a gift bag. Her birthday was last week. I ruined it by flirting with Bob. She has a crush on him. I write an apology card and put it in the bag, too.

She was just standing there, her white cheek to me.

Shake that image off!

I can’t.

Lie down. Try to sleep.

I can’t.

Wait till morning. Just wait. Breathe.

Tuesday, morning at school

There is Gemma.

Redemption.

Walk over to her. Look her in the eye.

She’s just standing there.

I apologize. For real. I mean it. She knows.

I offer my hand. She takes it. We shake hands.

I cry. In school.

Witnesses all around.

Two years later, primary school graduation

Finishing primary, moving off to secondary school. We are all going our separate ways. I’ll be getting into any high school my parents pick, probably be married before university, have a bunch of kids.

Teach them to believe. In good. And be good. Do good.

At the party, I hug Gemma goodbye. Kept her safe from other brutes these last years. She kept me safe from my darkness.

Ten years later, family home

My nephew took an international English exam and passed with flying colours. The whole family is proud and threw him a huge party. My twins are toddling around, almost two years old now. Hubbie’s gone to get me a drink.

My nephew gives a speech. Thanks us all for the support. Flying off to New York next week on a scholarship.

At the end of his speech, he wants to thank someone who is not family and not at the party.

He thanks his English teacher, Miss Gemma Paulson.

’Best teacher ever,’ he says.

I completely agree.

The End

Andy- I still think it is harder to do what Gemma did than it is to stand and fight.

George- And I’m still not sure about that, fighting someone who is obviously bigger and more powerful than you isn’t easy you know.

Andy- I never said it was, I just think what she did was much harder. Anyway, we will just have to agree to disagree on that one.

George- Yeah! I’m sure the readers will have their own opinions on the story. But I want to know how come the term ’bully’ became so negative, if it started out so positive.

Andy- The meaning didn’t just go from good to bad overnight, it deteriorated over the course of the seventeenth century.

George- How?

Andy- Historians do not agree on how, but they say that it went from ’lover’ to ’brother’, to ’fine fellow’, to ’blusterer’, and onto ’harasser of the weak’.

George- Which is a pretty good definition of the meaning these days. Ok, on to the next story.

Andy- Any of our readers who watch The X-Factor will quickly identify with the next story.

George- It is by Frank, and it is called ’Dancing UK’. Enjoy!

Dancing UK

By Frank Letras

This story has been classified as medium sensitivity, which means parent or teacher guidance may be required for younger readers.

Dancing UK

By Frank Letras

Monday morning at the Global TV Studios

The breakfast show is in full swing. The daily news bulletin is over, as well the national and local weather forecast. The hosts, James Martin and Sandra Lewis are getting ready to welcome their first guests. As the make-up crew fuss around Sandra’s already impeccable hairdo, the suave and sophisticated James looks up from reading the bio of the guests they are soon to introduce.

Have you read these, Sandy? he gestured towards the bio cards.

His long standing co-host squinted from within a cloud of misty hairspray:

I can’t say that I have, darling. Why?

James frowned, and the small brown mole in the middle of his left cheek vanished briefly into the dimple that formed whenever he grimaced.

This is simply sensational! These two are going to be huge! he said, staring intently at the bio cards.

My darling James … Sandra had extricated herself from the clutches of the make-up crew and was adjusting her mike absentmindedly. Where were you last night? Didn’t you watch the show?

I was getting some much needed beauty sleep. You know I don’t watch those darned talent shows. They bore me to tears. James flashed a full set of perfect white teeth at the reflection staring back at him from the stainless steel cabinet at his side.

"Well, darling, thirty five million viewers happen to disagree with you. That is ninety five per cent of the audience share which tuned in last night to see those two. So, yes, they are going to be huge. They are huge."

Ninety five per cent? Are you sure? Of course you’re sure, silly me. But that is incredible! Even the royal weddings didn’t get that much. James’ brow furrowed as if the number was preposterous. He was in his late forties and extremely easy on the eye for at least half the female viewing public, and no doubt some of the male viewers also. James Martin had not been touched by even a hint of middle-age spread. He was trim, naturally tanned and devilishly handsome. Age had not started catching up with him yet, though he did have a hint of silver on the hair of his temples, but then again he had been dying it that way for years, convinced that grey hair gave him the kind of debonair, sophisticated, millionaire look that women found irresistible. He was yet to be proved wrong. James hadn’t lost hope of being given his own prime time chat show, and was always looking for opportunities to impress his bosses, the network executives.

Daydreaming again? Sandra asked as she adjusted her sitting position to show the camera just a little more leg and less skirt. Or has that German gentleman started to pester you, darling?

German gentleman? James asked tilting his head slightly to the left, as he often did when he was confused.

Herr Alzheimer. Sandra actually laughed at her own joke. Her perfectly made up face showed no sign of the scarring which had cost her many news anchor jobs. The selectors’ opinion being that, as a news anchor, the frequent close ups would eventually show a hint of the car crash scars, which might offend the sensitivities of the audience. Thus she had to settle for being James Martin’s sidekick. Not that she minded though. She got plenty of air time, and had even developed her own small band of dedicated viewers. Not a large one, but enough to have her ignoring the tele-prompt every now and then.

How very funny of you, my dear Sandy. James had his best camera face on, showing no hint of the sarcasm that was bubbling just below his oesophagus. But back to our two guests, how do you want to play it?

I think you’d better forget the good cop, bad cop routine with these two, darling. They are the nation’s favourite couple, so if we try to ridicule them, we’ll be flooded with hate mail for the next three months.

Hate mail was something that James Martin feared above all else. He could handle a drop in the audience share, having invented a thousand and one excuses to explain it away. He could ride roughshod over any amount of complaints about his interviewing techniques, but he simply dreaded hate mail. He was the darling of breakfast TV, and he was adored by millions. He simply could not be hated. Would not.

So we just run a straight interview? Let them talk about winning the show, describe their path to victory, blah, blah, blah? He was grimacing again.

James, these are the winners in the most watched reality TV show of all time. Sandra was always at her best when she was smiling. "They did it with the biggest viewing figures ever for a live show. They fooled the entire nation for the best part of the series, and they managed to make a monkey out of Trevor Kinkade. Nobody, but nobody, has ever done that. So,