By Alex Caballero
Siobhán meowed on the first day of high school. She wore cat ears to class and dressed in a manner that was reminiscent of a witch’s Halloween costume. Always black. Sometimes she would pair her dress and ears with a foxtail that she would pin on the back. Her eyes were turquoise like a muddy sea. She had brown hair and small lips. Her nose was pointed and she pulled her chin down to her chest when she meowed. Her hair was shoulder length, and it was always frizzy.
Mrs. K was our advisory teacher. She was blonde and had freckles adorning her nose and cheeks. It was her smile that stood out because her teeth were large and, combined with her long face, gave students the ammo to secretly call her horse face. She never found out, but we were all sure she suspected. Whenever Mrs. K heard us laugh, she would eye us suspiciously and purse her lips. It was in good fun, but sometimes her eyes would grow and it seemed like our jibes did, in fact, pain her. We never wanted to actually hurt her! It was completely by accident.
The first time Siobhán meowed, the other students looked at her in disbelief and began to avoid her, with their eyes, and even their body language. When it became habit, some began to bark back at Siobhán. Every time she meowed the whole class stopped in their tracks. The boys laughed at her in deep tones, and the girls snickered. Mrs. K would try, God bless her soul, to regain control of the room. She’d scream at us to be quiet. Her eyes would shift back and forth looking at each of us with her mouth agape.
“Everybody needs to calm down!” Mrs. K would yell, but it wouldn’t work. We were deaf to her.
Mrs. K would just end up throwing her hands in the air. At the last minute she’d remember about the whistle she bought for this type of occasion and she’d go to her desk, open the drawer, and blow with a screech to quiet the class.
There were times that Siobhán would come in sweaty, and a smell would emanate from her. A smell like burnt plastic. These were the days she was late, claiming that she had to take her brothers to school. It was hard to believe, especially since, after the first time it happened, Mrs. K asked her to bring a note from her parents confirming that this task was delegated to her. The letter was never brought.
After the third week of the term Mrs. K got wind of Siobhán’s plan to meow every time she heard her name, so Mrs. K would search for her during roll call, furrow her brow, and say, “Ok, well she’s here.” And, as if to one-up her, Siobhán began to meow randomly during class. Mrs. K would force a smile at this, but you could tell it bothered her. She’d get flustered and let out a sigh. I’m sure this pricked at her sides. It was easy to judge from the way Mrs. K’s hand traveled to her head and twirled her hair on her finger. Mrs. K’s nose would crinkle as if she’d smelled something off-putting. She’d only do this when the class got too loud, or when the principal stopped by to look in, and, especially, when Siobhán meowed. That off-putting smell would get stronger then.
I hated Siobhán. I always sensed when she walked by me because I felt an ebbing distaste behind my throat. I only ever saw her speak to a boy who’d wear a tail as well, and a girl who dressed from a distant time. They played Pokémon or Magic: The Gathering in the hall. Together they sat Indian-style with cards spreading out in crooked branches.
Once in a while, they’d burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter that rang throughout the hall. Sometimes, and I remember this very clearly, they would speak in British accents. They’d say to each other “What is the use of a book, without any pictures or conversations in it?” It was a line from Alice in Wonderland. They’d re-enact scenes from movies, anime, and cartoons that they liked. They were their own acting troupe. Siobhán never meowed with her friends. They knew her, and when she was around them Siobhán wasn’t the weird girl who meowed but the girl who made them laugh—the girl that did outrageous things just to see them smile. Siobhán had handpicked them to be her close friends.
My buddy at the time, Tyler, once told me that he saw them play fighting. They brought plastic swords from their houses and could be seen having epic battles on the grass during lunch. They stayed clustered together with their tails floating in the wind and their ears on their heads, defeating evil and saving the world.
Her friend, Laura, would wear lacy dresses and wigs. She’d carry an umbrella at all times and twirl it in the sun. She was pretty, her lips were full, but not one boy approached her. When someone other than Siobhán or Michael spoke to her she shrunk in size. Her voice would falter, and she could barely look them in the eyes. Her skin looked soft and white like Chinese porcelain. Laura smelled like sugary flowers. She ate sushi that she brought from home. She was an expert with chopsticks. She could pick up a grain of rice and insert it in her mouth without touching her lips. I had read that this was considered the highest form of grace in Japan. Geishas would practice eating this way until they had perfected it.