From the book
In laboratories dim
We bend to Fleischman's whim
And suffer twice a week
Horrors terrible to speak.
Will you deign
To ease my pain?
Or will I slowly
Say you'll be my partner true
In Chemistry, it's me and you.
--written on yellow legal paper in Noel's cramped, somewhat illegible scrawl; found in my mail cubby, folded eight thousand times and with a bit of coffee spilled on one corner.
the first day back from winter break, junior year, I walked into Chem to find a head of red cabbage on every lab table. Also a juicer. Tate Prep is the kind of school where the chemistry teacher has a budget to buy fourteen juicers. I go there on scholarship.
Mr. Fleischman started the class yelling, "Happy New Year, people! Wash your hands and juice your cabbages! No fingers in the machinery!"
He was a small white man, only five foot two, with a pug nose and a large bald spot ill concealed by a comb-over. He jumped up and down more than most fifty-year-olds do and dyed what little hair he had left a shiny black. "Kitchen science!" cried Fleischman. "That's our new unit, people. Everyday chemical reactions that happen in your very own home."
I washed my hands and juiced my cabbage. Sadly, I was familiar with the procedures for juicing vegetables because my mother had started the new year by embarking on a raw food diet. Her new idea of breakfast was celery juice.
The cabbage was my cabbage and my cabbage alone because Noel was late. I'd gotten his note that morning in my mail cubby, but I hadn't seen him since before the holiday.
"Say you'll be my partner true/In Chemistry, it's me and you," he'd written.
Only now he wasn't here.
"Come to the front and get six plastic cups, protective gloves, baking soda, orange juice, liquid Drano, ammonia and vinegar," announced Fleischman. Katarina and Ariel, golden girls of the junior class, were squealing at the semi-disgusting purple glop that had formed in our juicers.
"I think I'm gonna puke from the smell," said Ariel.
"Don't puke," called Fleischman. "There's no puking allowed in chemistry. Scientists never puke."
"You smell it," said Ariel. "See how you feel."
Fleischman ignored her. "Be careful with the ammonia, people. And the Drano. I'm not seeing the gloves on your hands. The gloves go on your hands. Is that too much to expect you to figure out?"
I had to make three trips to the front to get everything. The third time, Ariel was there too. She held a little dish of orange juice. "Hello, Ruby," she said to me. "How was your break?"
"Good," I answered. Since the debacles of sophomore year had died down, Ariel, Katarina and Heidi all spoke to me if they had to. But I knew what they really thought of me.
"We skied Mount Baker over New Year's," Ariel said.
"Cool." I shrugged. Skiing is not in my budget. I spent winter break helping my dad repair cracks in his greenhouse off the side of the houseboat we live in and watching way too many movies. Dad runs an obscure and deeply earnest gardening newsletter entitled Container Gardening for the Rare Bloom Lover.
Why was Ariel making conversation with me, anyhow?
"Yeah," she went on. "Me, Katarina and Heidi were all about Sneaky Pete and Blueberry Cat Track."
I had no idea what she was talking about. Possibly ski trails. Possibly coffee drinks. Video games? Sexual positions?
"But Cricket skied the Chute and Kim owned Gunners Bowl," Ariel went on. "Jackson, Kyle and those guys came for New Year's. Such an excellent party."
That was why she was telling me this.
Kim and Cricket are...