Bull

“Hey Ty, did you hear about Margot?”

I was a bit taken aback by Stephanie’s first words of the morning. Usually they’re something along the lines of “Hello” or “Good morning.” To be accosted by new words on a Tuesday morning, a time I’ve spent years developing into a perfect routine, threw me slightly off balance. Blinking with sleepiness, I looked around to make sure the hallway was the same one I had begun my mornings in for three years: Black and green stripes? Check. Cream—colored lockers? Check. Well, it looked like Eastborough High School. Still didn’t feel quite right, though.

“Uh… no,” I said, tilting my head in question. “What about her?”

“Bitch is dead,” Stephanie said, with a slight smirk that hinted at restrained glee.

“What!?” I don’t think my eyebrows could go any higher without shooting off my head. Any hint of somnolence vanished in an instant. “No way. You’re just messing with me.”

“No, I’m not. She’s really dead.” Stephanie’s lips parted now in a true grin. She tossed her hair with a quick snap of her head.

A palpable feeling of excitement passed through me like hot ants parading under my flesh. “Holy shit. How…What happened?” I tapped the tips of my spiked, blond hair to make sure they still thrust upward.

“She got hit by a bus. People are saying it was Old Jim driving.” Stephanie shrugged her backpack from her shoulders and set it against the wall of the hallway.

“Yeah, well, he drives like, twice the speed limit,” I said. I set my messenger—style bag next to Stephanie’s backpack. Stephanie slumped down on the floor beside our bags, just outside the door to our English classroom. I, however, was still far too infected with energy to consider sitting. “So, when did this happen?” I asked.

“I don’t know exactly. Sometime this morning, though.” Stephanie chuckled to herself. “I bet she popped like a rotten watermelon.” I laughed far harder than I should have at this sentiment. The glee inside me rose so high I had to fight to avoid vomiting it out as a squeal of joy.

Despite this, I felt somewhat guilty. Should I really be happy about someone dying? I mean, it does seem pretty horrible. But really, I think some deaths just deserve to be celebrated. Nobody complained when Hitler died, right? If I had known even a fraction of what I know about Margot, if I’d experienced even a tiny portion of the time I’ve actually had to deal with her, I would probably still celebrate her demise. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with her any more, now that she’s dead.

Ah, does it feel good to say that. Margot was like a bloated devil. She used to be skinny, and I’m pretty sure she even did ballet back in grade school, but about halfway through junior high it was like someone stuck an air hose in one of her orifices and puffed her up like a party balloon. I’m not sure why this happened, if she developed an eating disorder or if her metabolism changed or what, because by then I had wised up and realized Margot was not someone who made a good friend.

Yeah, once upon a time I called Margot my friend. But after elementary school I began avoiding her, trying to give her the hint that I didn’t want to be around her anymore. I’m not sure she ever caught on. Until the day she died her foul lips dripped false kindness upon me. Her face formed sweet expressions, but her eyes held the steel of a predator. Every day she approached me, asked how I was, said “I really miss you, Ty. We should hang out sometime.” Luckily nothing ever came of those invitations. What came instead were myriad tiny cruelties.

All through junior high and high school, Margot would pinch my arm if she passed me in the hallway. It was never a soft pinch, either, but always hard and sharp, like a raptor’s talons, though she tried to soften it by saying “Hey” in a sugar—coated voice. If I happened to get sucked into a conversation with her, she made it known that she was smarter than me, that my opinions were wrong, and that no matter what I said, I would never approach her level of wisdom. “You really believe that, Ty?” she would say, or “I can’t believe you just said that.” Sometimes she just laughed in my face, her eyes wide, her whole body jiggling.

This made me hate her more, but it’s not what made me hate her in the first place. I met Margot when we were both “Little Ravens” at Eastborough Elementary School, because she sat next to me on the bus from kindergarten through the sixth grade. I got on the bus the stop before she did, so I didn’t really have a say in the matter. Actually,I never really did when it came to Margot, but back then I didn’t really mind. I was scared and insecure and I basically felt like I needed someone to tell me what to do, and I must admit that Margot always had a talent for telling people what to do. So I was friends with who Margot let me be friends with, I played the games Margot said I should play, and if Margot told me to do pretty much anything, I did it.

In addition to me, Margot deigned to befriend another boy by the name of Shane. Unlike Margot, he’s thinner than a sapling, and has been since I met him. I hate him almost as much as I hate Margot. When he, Margot, and I formed our trio, there apparently was some decision made that they would be the rulers and I would be the servant. I don’t know when that happened. I certainly wasn’t let in on the decision. But being the submissive kid I was, I let it happen. I think Shane just realized how easily Margot manipulated me and decided to cash in.

For five years, I let Margot and Shane run me around Eastborough Elementary School. I wore what they said I could wear, I used the crayons they let me use, I even ate what Margot and Shane said was ok to eat. Getting my hair cut brought fear to my heart. I worried over every last lock of blond hair that fell before my eyes: What if Margot and Shane don’t approve? If they wanted something of mine, it was theirs, no matter how much I thought I needed it, and it was this that truly drove me to the edge.

In the fifth grade, I received what I thought at the time was the most wonderful present in the world for my ninth birthday: a teal Gameboy Color, complete with both Pokémon Red and Blue, and the official Nintendo strategy guide. My grandparents from California always send me great gifts, and this year was no exception. Margot and Shane attended my birthday party, of course— in fact, they were the only people there, aside from my family. As soon as we finished with the birthday cake my other grandma made, we ditched my little sister Elisa and sped to the living room to play with my new toy.

“Your grandparents are amazing!” exclaimed Shane. He and Margot sat next to me on my parent’s huge brown couch. For once, Margot didn’t immediately reach for the television remote. Instead she stared raptly at Gameboy Color box as I picked at the plastic holding it shut.

“Give me that!” she snapped. With her sharp fingernails, she easily peeled away the sticky plastic bindings. I was actually somewhat surprised when she handed it back without opening it all the way. I think I must have shown so, because she said “What? It’s your present. I was just helping.”

I slid the Gameboy Color out of the box, cradling in my hands like a tiny plastic baby. “It’s so shiny,” I said. Disregarding the instruction packet, I reached for Pokémon Blue, because blue was my favorite color. Margot already had it open.

“Hurry up already, Ty. You’re always so slow.” She rolled her eyes to show she was joking, kind of.

I fumbled with the game cartridge. Once more, Margot snatched my gift from my hand. She slid the cartridge into the back slot and flicked the power switch before handing the Gameboy back to me. We all listened raptly as the deedly theme music played and two Pokémon bounced back and forth on the screen.

“This is so cool, Ty!” Shane practically bubbled over with excitement. His face was only inches from mine as he leaned forward to see the small screen. “You should let me borrow this sometime.”

So great was the magnitude of Margot and Shane’s control that, even to a request of this significance, I submitted. I played through Pokémon Blue as fast as I could, even though I knew I was missing out and I really wanted to savor the experience. I really wanted to make my Pokémon as powerful as possible. What I desired even more, though, was to please Shane, and avoid Margot’s wrath. The day after I beat the Elite Four, the crowning achievement of the long path of gym battles in the game, I took my Gameboy and Pokémon Red to school and presented them to Shane. His reaction was not quite what I expected.

I held the Gameboy and game out before me like precious gems as I handed them to him. He raised his eyebrows in a manner that didn’t quite seem to indicate surprise. “Oh, thanks,” he said, taking those precious artifacts and plopping them carelessly into his backpack. My jaw dropped in shock, but Margot was standing there watching, so I didn’t dare say anything.

Well, I never held that Gameboy or Pokémon Red again. I saw it a few times in Shane’s room when he had Margot and me over, but I don’t remember ever seeing him play it. Apparently he lost interest in playing it before I lent it to him and just never bothered to tell me. Months later, I confronted him about it on one of the few occasions Margot happened to be absent from our gathering. We were in his living room watching TV.

“So, umm… Shane?” I began timidly, fearing reprisal. “Do you think, maybe, I could possibly have my Gameboy back? And my Pokémon game too.”

“No,” he said, just like that. I actually wasn’t too surprised, but it still hurt. However, I wasn’t really expecting what came next. “Well, I mean, I don’t have a problem with you having it back, but you’ll have to ask Margot. She took it a while ago.”

“She what?” I hollered. “But I lent that to you! Why did you give it to her?” Shane shrugged, and that was the end of the conversation. I guess he could never really explain why he did things for Margot either. Regardless, my anger at him was not absolved in the slightest. I made the mistake of letting this show when I asked Margot what she knew about my Gameboy at recess the next day.

“Shane said you have my Gameboy.” I was the picture of an angry little boy, with clenched fists and clenched face and clenched words. “I lent it to him and he says you took it.”

“Your Gameboy?” Margot spoke condescendingly, as though she couldn’t believe I was asking her about it. “Ty, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why would Shane borrow your Gameboy? He hates video games.”

“What are you talking about? You were there when I gave it to him!” I was yelling now, which was a mistake. Margot would not forgive yelling. Her eyes narrowed.

“You better lower your voice, Ty.” Margot’s own voice, while still calm, somehow managed to have the undertone of a predatory growl. She ran her hand through her long dark hair, the only thing that was ever pretty about her. “You don’t want the playground moms to think we’re having a fight.”

“Give me back my Gameboy!” I shouted.

“I don’t have it, Ty. I don’t know why you think I do. The last time I saw it was at your birthday party.” She was clearly lying, I knew she was, but she sounded so wholly truthful and convinced of her own words that I could say nothing. I stomped off and sat on a swing set until the bell rang.

Shortly after the escapade with my Gameboy, I began to avoid Margot and Shane. I didn’t want to have any more to do with them and their manipulation and stealing. I started finding new friends, like Stephanie, who saw me as an equal and not someone to tread upon. Margot, for whatever reason, continued on like nothing had ever happened between us. A while passed before she stopped calling to invite me over to her house or trying to find me at recess.

In the ninth grade, the rest of the school finally realized the true evil of Margot. No one really liked her before that either. She wasn’t exactly nice to anyone but teachers and authoritative figures, because she knew the easiest way to manipulate them was with kindness. And after she got her nose pierced in the summer following 8th grade, everyone became a little afraid of her. It was as if she were trying to take command of her own last name like she did all the people around her. Margot Del Toro, Margot of the Bull, received a hoop piercing between her nostrils that really did make her look like a bull. Yet despite her unpleasantness, Margot had yet to do anything truly bad.

On the Thursday before our homecoming football game, the kicker of our football team, the Eastborough Ravens, decide it would be a good idea to mess with the bull. His name was Josh. Josh was small and light, unlike the other football players, because all he had to worry about was the fact that he could kick a 40—yard field goal if the day was right. He had longish blond hair, down past his ears. And most importantly, he was conceited.

Josh sidled up to Margot while she was bending over, grabbing some books from her locker. Somehow Margot’s locker always ended up near mine, no matter how I tried to avoid it, so I heard and saw everything that went on next.

“Hell, looks like bull—girl’s ass lives up to her nickname,” he said to his little entourage, which consisted of cheerleaders and other football players. “Let’s hope she doesn’t back up. It’d be like getting run over by a semi.” He gave a quick hi—five to the jock standing behind him. When he turned back to Margot, she was standing up with her backpack held loosely in one hand. She held it easily though it sagged under the weight of several books.

“Don’t mix metaphors, you dumb jock.” Margot was obsessed with English class, and sought to correct anyone she felt was using the language improperly. She made fun of me all the time for using big words, saying that “little” words can be more effective if used properly, but I never paid attention to her.

“I’ll mix whatever I want, Bull—girl. I don’t give a damn what you think about my words, just like you clearly don’t care what people think of your appearance.”

“Oh, that’s original.” Margot rolled her eyes. “I can see you care what you look like. Your hair is so silky smooth.” Her sudden change of subject and the suggestive flutter she gave her eyelashes caught Josh of guard.

“Whoa, hey now— UMPH!” Whatever his next words might have been, they were cut off as Margot suddenly chucked her heavily laden backpack at his chest. He caught reflexively, leaning forward a bit with the sudden weight. Margot’s hand shot out like a snake. Her fingers wove easily into his golden locks. She yanked his head past her with a sudden thrust, slamming it into the edge of her open locker with a sickening clang. Josh fell to the ground, stunned. Everyone nearby, including myself, could only look on in awe.

Next, Margot reached down, pulling Josh’s head up by his hair. She whispered something inaudible to me in his ear, and then rolled him over onto his back. In retrospect, I can’t believe how everyone just stood there, watching. It was like witnessing a murder. Once Josh was splayed out on the tile, groaning, Margot smiled down at his wild eyes. She lifted her foot and brought it down with all her force on Josh’s right knee. He hollered in pain, no longer stunned. He lay clutching at his knee, touching and releasing as though it were a hot pan, with a bit of blood leaking from his head and gathering on the floor, as Margot calmly shut her locker and walked away.

As if all this wasn’t enough for the school to be angry at Margot, she only got suspended for a week. No one found it fitting punishment. We all wanted her to be expelled. But I’m sure she found some way of sweet talking the principal, portraying herself as the victim rather than Josh. Josh might be an ass, but I don’t think he deserved what Margot did to him. I mean, what Margot did to him was probably the most shocking thing I’ve ever witnessed, but he’s taken away physical as well as possible emotional damage. He’ll probably never play football or even behave quite like he used to.

Contrary to how of I feel about Josh, I’m still convinced that Margot deserved what befell her. Anyone who’s so needlessly cruel shouldn’t have the right to live in this world. This belief is why I am so pissed that my mom made me come to Margot’s funeral. I don’t want to mourn her death, I want to throw a party! The whole school would probably attend. But no, I got stuck wasting my Saturday standing next to Stephanie— who I convinced to come with me, so I wouldn’t have to suffer alone— as they lower Margot’s casket into the earth forever. For a brief moment I wonder how they fit Margot’s bloated body into such a slim—seeming casket, and then I realize that if she really burst like Stephanie suspected, there probably wasn’t much of a body left to cram into the wooden box.

Shane is standing several people away, next to Margot’s mother. He looks incredibly stern. The only thing moving on his body is his hair as it blows in the cool breeze. He isn’t crying, but I’m pretty sure he’s actually making an effort not to. He’d been too obsessively close to Margot all those years to be unaffected by her death. Margot’s mother, Mrs. Del Toro, practically has faucets for eyes. If she becomes dehydrated from the constant stream of tears flowing down her face, I won’t be surprised.

The funeral goes by at an achingly slow pace. Afterwards, as Stephanie and I head back to my car, Mrs. Del Toro approaches me. I try to hide my surprise. Mrs. Del Toro is a small wisp of a woman, in sharp contrast to her daughter, and she holds none of the intimidating presence Margot once possessed. I always figured Margot got the bull side from her father, just like the name. “Yes, Mrs. Del Toro?” I ask politely. I wave for Stephanie to continue on ahead.

“You’re Ty, right?” she asks, with her faint French accent. She dabs the last of her tears from her face as I nod. “I haven’t seen you in years. I missed you when you stopped coming around. Margot would never say why.”

“Well, we had a bit of a falling out.” I don’t really want to reveal the truth of Margot’s sadistic actions to her grieving mother.

“Ah. Well… would you mind stopping by the house? I’ve got a little something I think you should see.” With that, she walks away without giving me a chance to respond, leaving me to think she is more like her daughter than I’d thought.

I sigh and tromp back to my car, kicking aside the fallen leaves that have just started decorating the ground. Stephanie is leaning against the passenger side door, waiting for me to unlock the car, so I hit the automatic unlock button on my keychain.

“What’s up?” she asks as she opens her door.

“Margot’s mom says she wants me to come over. Says she’s got something to show me.” I plop into my seat and draw my seatbelt across my chest. “Do you want me to drop you off at your house first, or do you mind waiting in the car for a little bit? Her house is on the way to yours.”

“I can wait, that’s fine. Just try to be quick, ok?”

“Oh don’t worry,” I say with a grimace. “I don’t want to spend any more time there than I have to.”

The graveyard is almost on the other side of town from the Del Toro house, so the drive takes about fifteen minutes. When we pull in, Mrs. Del Toro’s car is already parked in the driveway. The house looks almost exactly the same as it had when I was nine, though it does look a bit more weathered.

I leave Stephanie in my car and quickly ascend the steps to the porch. The Del Toros have never had a doorbell, so I knock loudly on the frame of the door. I can see into the house through the mostly glass door, so I watch as Mrs. Del Toro comes from the kitchen into the living room. She walks as though she’s afraid the floor might break and drop her into the basement.
She smiles sadly as she opens the door. “Hello, Ty. Why don’t you step on inside.”

“Hi, Mrs. Del Toro. Is this going to take long? Stephanie’s waiting in the car. I still have to take her home.”

Mrs. Del Toro keeps smiling. Her eyes dart back and forth, resting everywhere but upon mine. “No, I think it should go fairly quickly.”
We stand there awkwardly for a moment as we both wait for the other to say something more. After a minute I slip off my shoes and say, “So, what did you want to show me?”

Mrs. Del Toro shuffles over to her cream—colored couch and sits down. I make a move to sit down as well, but she stops me with a gesture. “No, what I want you to see is upstairs. I just… It’s in Margot’s room. I don’t think I can go in there right now. You remember where it is, don’t you?” I nod. “Good. Just…. Just head in there, and look in her closet.” She shoos me away with her hands.

More than a little confused, I make my way over to the staircase. When I used to come over in elementary school, I was a little afraid of that staircase, because it’s not only incredibly steep, but is made of slick wood with no carpeting. Over the years the steps have become a bit worn, so there is a bit more traction than there used to be. Halfway up, I glance back down at Mrs. Del Toro. She’s leaning forward with her face in her hands, shaking her head. I suspect she is crying again. I sigh and make my way to Margot’s bedroom.

There are no lights on in the house, because Mrs. Del Toro loves to conserve energy, so the upstairs hallway is a bit creepy despite the sunlight outside. I remember Margot’s room being the last one on the left. The door is closed, but not latched, so I push on it and it swings open just enough for me to step inside.

Being in her room makes me feel like bugs are crawling on my skin. For what I hope is the last time, I set foot in the room of the girl I’d come to hate. I hope against the existence of ghosts. Margot would probably make the most horrifying, messiest poltergeist in the world. Perhaps not, though, because her room seems incredibly neat. The papers on her desk are all stacked, the plum carpet completely unobscured, the dirty clothes stacked in the hamper; even her bed is made, with just one corner folded back as though she’d gotten out of bed with great care. It’s a complete turnaround from Margot’s room of childhood, which always looked as though a giant had reached in and fumbled around with his fingers. In fact, the only thing I don’t find appealing about her room is the odd, too-sweet smell that permeates the air.

I shake my head in an attempt to rid my nose of the smell and walk around Margot’s bed to her closet. Like the bedroom door, the door to the closet is closed. It sticks a little bit when I try to open it, so I yank on the handle. It comes free easier than I expected and I end up slamming it against Margot’s dresser. I swear at the resulting bang, then again as I behold the contents of her closet.

A few shirts hang on a metal pole, pushed to the sides, but those aren’t what draw my eyes. On the floor in the back of the closet is a tiny black footstool, and in the center of the footstool sits my old teal Gameboy. Its whole surface is caked with lipstick in the shape of Margot’s lips.

Pictures of me, many of which I don’t think I realized were being taken, and many of which are clearly clipped from yearbooks, coat the surface of the footstool. Two larger pictures, in frames, stand on either side of the Gameboy like guardians. On all four corners of the footstool stand partially melted white candles. The wax has dribbled down the legs of the stool and hardened. The amazing hooded sweatshirt I thought I’d lost in 10th grade coils around the legs of the footstool like a cat.

I cover my mouth to prevent a shout from escaping. I slam the closet door and, ignoring Mrs. Del Toro, run out of the house, and leap into my car. Stephanie asks what’s wrong, but all I can do is clamp my hand over my mouth as I start the car and back the car out of the driveway. I speed as I drive her to her house, even though the road is blurred by confused tears.

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