To 2015 - 2016

By Svetha Pulavarty

  1. Untitled
    By Allison Rothrock, 10
McKinley was wearing the same damn shirt he always was, the same shirt that everyone wore. Gray, with blocky black letters. Be Different, said the shirt. The word different was about twice as large as the word be. Darling had seen it a hundred times before. Store aisles, librarians, football players. The same shirt, over and over and over. Some company somewhere had fought its way into the fad, marketed it and popularized it and shoved it into Times Square. Packaged and polished, just like McKinley himself.
His father, they said, had been bronzed and placed outside the President’s office. His mother, according to rumor, had founded the largest charity in the country before disappearing for a year and reappearing in the Congo. McKinley himself was captain of the rowing team. He’d gotten a full scholarship to Harvard for it.
Darling couldn’t believe it was the same McKinley sitting in his car now, hands tensed over the steering wheel. The backseat was filled with spray paint and danger. “Are you sure?” asked McKinley, and for a moment he was his father, his mother, the polished and packaged creature that the world expected him to be. Polite and considerate, a paragon of virtue and chivalry.
In reply, Darling slid into the passenger seat. “Where to?”
McKinley stared straight ahead without looking at her. “You should wear your seatbelt,” he said.
“You’re going to commit a felony anyway. Do you really care if a cop catches me with my seatbelt off?”
“That’s different,” he said. “A cop won’t kill you, but a car crash might.” He looked oddly serious, sitting there in the driver’s seat, as though he’d done this a thousand times before. Then again, he probably had.
Darling put her seatbelt on.
The car flung itself out of the driveway, then slammed forward, careening towards its destination. Darling wished she’d asked where they were going. Maybe McKinley didn’t know himself. Maybe they’d just drive until his Ferrari ran out of gas, or broke down, or until a cop caught him for speeding past a red light. But McKinley always knew where he was going.
And where he was going was the Ellison Avenue overpass, where people jumped to die. McKinley pulled over on top of the bridge, then flung the car door open. He gripped the top of the car and leaped out. “Could you get the spray paint, please?” he asked. And that question was McKinley. Outwardly polite, but when Darling hesitated for a second, he slammed open the car doors and pulled out the paint himself, then the tow cables. McKinley snapped the cable into place, linked it to the back of his car, then harnessed the other end around himself.
“Do you need me here at all?” asked Darling, watching the procedure.
McKinley glanced up. “What? Oh, right. Here, take this. And please be careful with it.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and tossed it to her. Darling caught it.
“If I fall, could you call an ambulance? There’s a hospital about a minute away, so I shouldn’t die.” While he spoke, he took a spray paint mask out of his car and pulled it around his head. The goggles made his eyes look a little misshapen.
“Is that why you chose this place? Because there’s a hospital nearby?”
Unruffled, he said, “Yes. It’s my first time tagging a bridge. I don’t want to take unnecessary risks.” With that, he slowly let himself down the side of the overpass. “Could you hand me a can? Burgundy.”
Darling handed him the can, then watched as he worked. McKinley hung upside down, fingers lightly touching the concrete. Gray shirt with black letters. He shook the bottle and sprayed, sweeping the color over the concrete in long, easy strokes. “Could you hand me an aquamarine?”
And then the police siren started. It came closer and closer. McKinley froze. “Darling,” he said. “Pull me up, quick.” The politeness had fallen away from him. So easily, like a change of clothes.
Darling didn’t respond. She slowly put the spray paint back in the car, then bent over the edge of the bridge to look at him. “I thought they’d never come,” she said. “Took them long enough.”
McKinley glared up at her through his goggles. He held up the can of spray paint. “At least take this then,” he said. “It’s tiring, holding it like that when upside-down.”
She took the spray paint from him. He pulled off his spray paint mask and handed that to her, too, still suspended by the tow cable.
“Well,” said Darling. “I suppose you can’t go to Harvard now, with this on your permanent record.”
“Is that why you called the cops? Because of Harvard?”
“Never said that.”
He scoffed. “I wasn’t going anyway. I hate rowing.”
 “Sorry,” said Darling. “Your dad paid me two hundred to get you caught for this. Said you were destroying public property.”
“I see,” said McKinley, in a tone that said he didn’t. Darling wondered if he was surprised that his father knew. Darling wondered if McKinley hated rowing as much as she hated his damn shirt. Darling wondered if McKinley knew the real reason she’d called the cops, or if he was satisfied with the reason she’d given him. Maybe he’d never find out, and would continue into eternity hating his father for ruining his record. Darling wondered a lot of things, then decided they didn’t really matter.
The siren came closer, then halted a few feet away. Darling pulled McKinley back up the wall. “I’ll be at your court case,” she said.
McKinley hesitated, then handed her his car keys. “Take it back home, won’t you? And be careful with it.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I will.”