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Life As an After-School Special

Rachel Lieberman
This is a place where people came to die, but had families instead. Population: 10,217.


People say to their kids, “Stay here only as long as you have to. Make the most of your time here. Then get the hell out and make something of yourself.” It's tradition, not truth.


Our hero has a girlfriend who tans in her backyard. He tells her he needs to get out.


“So get out. Go do something stupid. You always gotta be the hero.” She stands up. “I need chips. You want some?” Her ass and thighs have red marks from the plastic chair. He stares as she walks away.


All of them always gotta be the hero. This town is full of heroes. He and his friends, all identical heroes.


You're a hero when you beat the high score at the arcade. When you blow up your sister's Barbie dolls. Everything's a triumph here. Time is relative.


Which is why you're a hero when you sell acid.


“What about cough syrup?” one of his friends asks right after a hit. “It'd be cheaper.”


“They look for cough syrup now. They look for prescriptions and over the counter stuff, hell, my mom keeps the Motrin locked up. They don't look for this.”


Once, everything was a scandal. A new TV could start a riot.


“I told my girlfriend I gotta get out.”


“Your girlfriend's a bitch.” This is hilarious. They all laugh.


The ceiling turns into a Michelangelo painting. Cracks turn to colors. He lifts his arm up and echoes the delicate lines of a dead genius.


People get out every year. They claw their way out. Our hero closes his eyes and sees thousands of high school students clawing each other's eyes out for a shot at never coming back here. Feral monsters he now suddenly hates. “Who wants to be part of that?” he says. “It's all just bullshit.”


“Fuck your girlfriend.”


“Yeah, fuck her.”


They echo each other. Everything feels interchangeable.


He used to save the world every week.


“Did you know you get radiation when you fly?” another says.


“The superhero kind?”


“No, the cancer kind.”


“I hope you get cancer.” They laugh. They only laugh when things are funny, and they're always funny.


Our hero thinks about flying, about security lines and taking off his shoes. He kicks off his shoes. He thinks about painting Michelangelo across the sky.


“Fuck, I have cancer,” another says.


“No, you don't. Shut up and lie down.”


“No, I have cancer. I can feel it.” He rubs his hands up and down his body. “Oh man, oh man. Can't you see the tumors? They're huge.”




How do you get out of here? When he was little he painted flames on his wagon. That made it go faster, fast enough to pass any car on the highway. When he was sixteen, his father gave it to a kid cousin five states away.


You don't get out of here. You tell the kids, “Stay here only as long as you have to. Make the most of your time here. Then get the hell out and go make something of yourself.” Have dreams of leaving before you leave, they mean.


First, they tell you you can get cancer from flying. So you paint flames on things to make them go fast enough to get you out. Then the grown-ups take them away, give them to some other poor kid so he comes up with ideas of leaving. Take it away from him when he starts getting old enough to leave too. Rinse, lather, repeat.


Rinse, lather, repeat.


“I'm freaking out right now,” another says. “I think I'm turning into a superhero.”


“Good. Go jump off a building,” another snickers.


The superhero crawls over to our hero. “You wanna get out? I can save you. I'll throw you over my shoulder and we'll fly out.”


Everyone always gotta be the hero.






Rachel Lieberman received her BA in Creative Writing from Chester College of New England. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such lovely places as A cappella Zoo, Awkward, Anemone Sidecar and Black Lantern Publishing. She is also on the editorial board for A cappella Zoo. Currently, she's trapped near Albany, NY, but she'll be transplanted to NYC later this year for some sort of exciting grad school adventure.


A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau


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