Tuna Fish

Tuna Fish

By Kathryn Kulpa

WE DIDN’T LIKE HER SO WE HUNG HER ON THE WALL. Hung her on a coat hook by the back of the stupid dress she always wore, because she wasn’t allowed to wear pants.

There were other kids like her. Out where town met not-town, where cars without wheels bloomed in tall-grass yards and roads turned to dirt and pebbles, never plowed in winter, rutted and muddy in spring. We saw those kids when our parents drove our dogs to boarding kennels, when we went to tag trees at the Christmas tree farm. We saw them through car windows, pale and staring. We didn’t see them in school.

Why wasn’t she homeschooled like the rest? Her mother was a widow and had to work. Or her father had left her mother for a woman who wore pants, or a man who did. Or her mother wasn’t allowed to homeschool because she couldn’t read.

One of these things was true.

She hung there and all the teachers were gone. In an empty classroom in the old part of the school, the basement wing nobody used except for health and gym, the small auditorium with wooden seats where we saw a movie called A Girl Becomes a Woman. She didn’t see the movie. She had a note from home.

She hung there and we told her every way she was wrong, her round eyes with almost no lashes, her flaky, bitten lips (“Use some chapstick!”), her queer little elf ears that stuck out through wispy, mouse-colored hair, the halo of frizz that circled her head like a sweater needing de-fuzzing. (“Have you ever heard of a comb?”)

After we’d gone through her ugly dress and ugly shoes and the smell of tuna fish from her lunch bag–tuna fish every day—the oily fish stains on her backpack and how even her breath reeked of tuna, and they killed dolphins for it and didn’t she know that, she was still there. Still ours, and what could we do with her?

Four of the boys went into the bathroom together with the trash bag so we weren’t sure whose shit it was, but the first time we smeared it down her peach-fuzz cheek, by the low uhhh sound she made we knew it was all of ours, even those of us who didn’t touch her, who just yelled, Put it in her hair! Put it up her dress! Sometime before the janitor came she stopped making sounds. She had excused herself from the world. Only her eyes kept watching. Marking all of us.

About the author

Kathryn Kulpa

Kathryn Kulpa is the author of Girls on Film (Paper Nautilus), a flash fiction chapbook, and she has stories published or forthcoming in Atticus Review, Jellyfish Review, and Fiction Southeast.