Inspired by Hernando Tellez’ story Lather and Nothing Else
he came into study hall with a flounce. I was the only tutor on duty that day. Amanda carelessly tossed her bag onto the floor and sat in the chair across from mine. To cover my nervousness, I stacked my notebooks to the side and checked the tip of my mechanical pencil.
She began to apply some lipstick. Her lips were full and pouty, framing perfect teeth. She used her phone to check for stray marks or blemishes on her face. Of course, there were none. Blond hair. Sculpted eyebrows. Just the right amount of flush in the cheeks to show she was alive and with a hint of innocence, lightly veiling availability.
We had a few classes together but not Spanish. I was a student Spanish tutor. She was in Spanish 1. That’s why she was here today. For my help.
“How long will this take?” she said, not looking at me, still stuck to her phone.
“I–it shouldn’t take long,” I said. “You needed chapter four recorded?”
“Four. Five too. I want to finally get through this. Everybody told me you have the best pronunciation.”
My parents had lived in America since before I was born, but they were originally from Colombia. We spoke Spanish at home, and they still called me chica. They wanted the language to remain alive in me in case I should ever want to do something with it.
Amanda had acquired something of a reputation in school over the last three years. She had rifled through a few boyfriends, leaving each one behind as she made her way up. Her current guy was Carl, probably the best-looking guy in school.
But recently, her facade was starting to crack. A rumor was going around that Carl had taken her to some clinic across town, somewhere nobody knew them. Just a rumor.
As I looked at Amanda, smoothing her perfect hair, I realized that she probably didn’t remember what she had done back in ninth grade. We were in Short Stories, reading a piece by a Colombian writer, Hernando Tellez. The teacher had asked me to read. I fell into the rhythm of the piece, and suddenly, I was pronouncing the name of one of the characters. Usually, I Americanize my pronunciation, but I was lost in the text, and the name came out distinctly Colombian. I froze.
Behind me, I heard her whisper, “Well, she would know how to say it.” A titter of laughter followed from the back of the room. My face began to burn.
And now, here she was.
I opened the book to chapter four. “Oh, here,” she said, holding up her phone. “Just put it on mine. Save me the trouble of figuring it out later.”
She slid her phone across to me. Her screen saver hadn’t faded yet, which was a pic of her and Carl. The screen abruptly turned black.
I picked it up. “It’s off,” I said. “Can you?”
“Password’s 3465,” she said and leaned back in the chair.
I typed in the code, and the screen came alive. Her home screen had the usual series of buttons, heavy on the social apps. I slid right a few times and found the recording app.
“Listen,” she said, “I’m gonna go to the nurse’s station. Can you do this by the time I get back?”
Before I could say anything, she was gone.
The room was quiet. I could hear a teacher’s voice from the next room. Somewhere down the hall, cheerleaders practiced. I sat there for a moment. Her phone had gone dead again. I typed the code, and her phone lit up.
I hovered my finger over the screen, waiting. Then, before I gave myself a chance to think about it, I tapped her photos app.
A second later, a timeline appeared. I scrolled back a few weeks and tapped into a folder. It was from prom last month. Lots of selfies. Lots of Carl.
A whole row of Carls and Amandas slid across the screen. Cheek to cheek. Arms flung to the sky. Heavy photoshopping. Sunbeams and artistic flares.
Then last week’s thumbnails changed. It was…no. I clicked into the folder and stared at the screen, unblinking. There were several shots of a familiar plastic stick with a small slit on one end. A solid blue line. A faint pink one just below the slit.
The teacher from the next room had lapsed into silence. I could hear the sound of the wall clock whirring as the second hand crawled around the dial.
I looked back at Amanda’s phone. I reached for mine. I clicked the photo icon, held it above her screen, and pressed record. As it recorded, I refreshed her screen saver, so it showed her and Carl. I typed in the code and panned my phone across the pic of the plastic stick.
Before I had time to change my mind, I clicked off my phone and slid it back into my bag.
That night, in my room, I pulled out my phone and spent a long time looking at the recording. I must have been pretty nervous, considering how the plastic stick shook in the recording.
I opened my Snapchat and took a slow breath. My thumb hovered over the send button. I blinked a few times and finally looked out my window at the moon. It wasn’t easy to kill.